Copyright © 2012 Karen Kay
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Somewhere on Chief Mountain, Montana
“It started with a song.”
“A song?” asked Kali, straightening her shoulders and flexing the tense muscles in her neck. It had been a grueling hike up to this remote yet beautiful spot atop Chief Mountain—even for Kali, who was accustomed to trekking through the untamed wilderness. “What do you mean?”
“You and your father…here to learn legend of mountain, is…not right?” Kali’s guide, Gilda Shadow Runner, gave Kali a glance that could have been construed as calculating, if it weren’t for the seriousness in Gilda’s demeanor.
Kali, however, inured to the unusual nature of hired guides, ignored the look and said, “No, I’m afraid that my father and I are here for no other reason than to record and capture the beauty and romance of the West on film.” Kali bestowed a smile on Gilda, though after a moment she couldn’t resist asking, “What legend?”
“Legend of Star Bride.”
Gilda nodded. “It is said that on nights like this, when…sky is very clear, one can hear…song; song of lovers calling to one another.”
“Lovers?” Kali looked askance at Gilda.
“Aa,yes,” said Gilda.
“How interesting,” said Kali, looking toward the sleeping figure of her father. “You know, Gilda, I think my father and I have perhaps missed something by never having used a female guide before now. Tell me, is your legend romantic?”
“Aa,yes, it is,” confirmed Gilda. “It…said that she was…star, and him, no more than…mortal man who fell in love with her.”
Kali smiled, the expression pure indulgence. In her experience, if there was one thing a body could count on amongst the aboriginal tribes, it was their legends and superstitions. However, that didn’t mean that Kali wasn’t interested. Neither she nor her father would be here today were it not for their curiosity about the native populations, their customs, their beliefs.
“What kind of song was it?” Kali asked after a slight pause. “Have you ever heard it yourself?”
“No, not this one, but I know of many in…tribe who tell of it.”
Gilda nodded. “It…said that only place on earth where a person can hear song is on what my people call Nina Istukwi,Chief Mountain—here. Maybe we…be quiet and see if you can hear it. You should close eyes.”
“Me? Oh, no, not me. I’m afraid I don’t believe in—”
“Try You might…be surprised.”
“No, I… Do you really think so?”
“All right. Maybe I will,” Kali said, and after a moment, she shut her eyes.
Nothing happened. Nothing at all. Kali opened her eyes.
“You must listen with…heart,” Gilda encouraged, “for only a person pure in purpose can hear it. Try again.”
“Well, maybe,” said Kali. “But I must warn you that I have never believed in—”
“No need…you believe. Now try again.”
Kali sighed. “All right. I will.” As she closed her eyes, she was quick to observe that her heartbeat quickened. Why?
Perhaps it was because of the wind, which was howling around the chasms and rocks, sounding to Kali’s ears like a ghostly serenade. Perhaps it was this that others had heard, thinking it was a song, thought Kali skeptically.
Still, the entire affair was enchanting, wasn’t it? To sit here on a summer’s eve, high atop the plains, with nothing but the wide sky above you and the pureness of nature all around you. Even the air up here felt clean and fresh on the lungs.
After a time, a coyote bayed far below them. Then came another yelp and another, as though each one were a successive call to the other. Ah, thought Kali. It was wonderful, breathtaking. But alas, Kali heard no song.
So much for legends.
Taking a deep breath, Kali opened her eyes, catching a rather expectant look on Gilda’s face, which caused Kali to frown.How odd.
Stranger still was Gilda’s reaction when Kali shook her head and said, “I’m sorry. Although I’d like to think that my purpose here is pure, I must admit that I hear nothing…nothing but the wind.”
Goodness, what had she said that should cause such a reaction with her guide? Gilda looked downright crestfallen, as though the woman might have more at stake in the telling of this legend than simply mentioning a song. It caused Kali to speculate.
Had the woman brought Kali and her father here for some other purpose than shooting a few good pictures? What, after all, did Kali really know about Gilda Shadow Runner? Though Gilda had come highly recommended, Kali couldn’t help wondering if the woman might be putting her through some sort of test.
Lost in her own thoughts, Kali was startled when Gilda asked, “Would you like to hear story?”
“Hmmm?” Kali had been in the act of unbuttoning the first few buttons of her blouse—letting the evening breeze cool the bare skin beneath it. But glancing up, she shot a glance at Gilda, and what she saw there caused Kali more concern. Why did Gilda appear anxious, as though she were waiting for something? Kali cleared her throat. “Excuse me. What was that you said?”
“The story of lovers—the legend…would you like to hear it?”
“Yes, Gilda,” Kali admitted cautiously, “that would be lovely. I believe that my father has bedded down for the night—perhaps I should awaken him that he might hear the story also.”
“If you wish.”
“But again,” said Kali, wondering aloud, “maybe not. I’m afraid the climb up here was rather difficult for him, something we should watch in the future. Although he insisted on making this trip, I’m not sure he’s well enough for another hike like this. Perhaps we might try a more gradual path tomorrow?”
Gilda nodded. “I will let white woman decide where we go, and how fast.”
“Thank you. That will do just fine, then.”
“I would be charmed to hear it, if you would be so kind.”
“Aa,this is good,” said Gilda, turning away to pick up a dry bit of wood. “Come closer,” she said as she threw the wood on the fire, “and I will begin my tale.”
Kali shrugged. There could be little harm in that. Besides, her curiosity was, by this time, more than a little piqued…
“This is the legend of…Star Bride. It is said that it happened in dog days, those days before horse was known to my people,” narrated Gilda. “Ah, but it was glorious time. It was peaceful time, too; a time when my people lived close to the land, when stars were gods and goddesses who listened to the pleas of my people.
“Now, it happened that at this time there was a young Blackfeet man…him handsome and pure in spirit. His name was Strong Arrow, and he was looking for a wife. But his would not be easy task.
“It true that there were many young women who would have gladly taken Strong Arrow as husband, for it was well known that him wise, generous and skilled in hunt. But Strong Arrow have big flaw: him believe himself to be perfect, no faults. Worse, him convinced him could give heart to no one except she who also be perfect…”
“My son,” said Strong Arrow’s mother. “I fear that you will be disappointed as you go through life, if you cannot find it in your heart to understand the imperfection of those around you.”
“I understand them well enough, my mother,” said Strong Arrow.
But Strong Arrow’s mother was wise and she said, “Heed my words, my son, for in order to be happy, you must learn that in all the world, there is not one single, faultless human being.”
“Ah, my mother,” responded Strong Arrow. “I know that you speak with concern in your heart. But surely you can see that your words are not true. Look at me. Do I not obey the commands of my tribe? Do I not bring home much food? Do I not give freely to others all that I have? Do I not live an exemplary life? My mother, can you honestly tell me that I am not and have not been a perfect son?”
Strong Arrow’s mother, Shining Woman, did not know what to say to this, knowing that to dispute with her son would only make his resolve all the stronger. Yet she feared that if Strong Arrow could not allow for weaknesses in others, he would never come to appreciate the intrinsic beauty that was held in another’s soul.
And so it was that Strong Arrow became more and more steadfast in his belief of his own perfection, and he resolved that he would only marry one as unblemished as he.
Now, it is said that he was true to his cause. He searched for such a being. He attended every dance, every social gathering given by his tribe.
However, as might be expected, he failed in his quest time and again. In truth, as time passed, he became quite despondent.
Now, Shining Woman, seeing her son’s unhappiness, at last begged Strong Arrow to beseech the Evening Star. After all, said she, was it not the Evening Star who was honored for her compassion, her understanding, her love? Perhaps the star might share some of her wisdom with Strong Arrow.
And so it was that one lazy summer evening, Strong Arrow climbed to the top of Nina Istukwi,Chief Mountain, and, sitting down, took out his sacred pipe. He smoked, letting the fragrance carry up into the sky so that she who was the Evening Star could sniff it and know that he meant to speak with her. He looked up at her, she who shone so brightly in the silvery glow of a half-dark, half-bright sky.
It was then that it happened. Suddenly Strong Arrow’s heart began to beat so fast and so furiously, he felt as though he might have been chasing a foe. Yet he had not moved.
As he gazed up at the beautiful star, he realized that he had, at last, found perfection. Truly, he had fallen in love. But alas, what a love. For he had picked as a soul mate no less than she who was the Evening Star.
Now as time marched on, many in the tribe, hearing of Strong Arrow’s unusual adoration, laughed at him. But Strong Arrow remained true to himself. And each night thereafter, he would return to sit alone upon the plain, there to give his devotion to his star.
Many times he would return to Chief Mountain, and when he did, feeling closer to her, he would talk to her, saying, “Oh, Evening Star, how I wish you were made of flesh and blood that I might take you in my arms and show you all the love that is here in my heart. I implore you, Evening Star, do you return my devotion?”
Sometimes one could hear him singing:
“Ooooo, ooooo, how my heart beats for you.
Ooooo, ooooo, how my lips hunger for your touch.
For I love you. You, the Evening Star.”
But he waited in vain for an answer.
Now, it so happened that one day Strong Arrow came again to Chief Mountain. As he climbed up a slope, he heard a strange sound, an unusual music. Where was it coming from?
Gaining the crest of the mountain, he scoured the countryside around and below him, his sharp eyes assessing all he could see. But try as he might, he could not locate the source of it. Still, his spirits took flight. Had it been a song? And if it was a song, could it be she who was the Evening Star?
But as quickly as the music had begun, it stopped and he heard it no more. He waited all day, and the next and the next, climbing up to the mountain’s summit each evening, hoping to hear again the strange melody. But alas, it came no more.
Now, Strong Arrow was not a stupid man, and it took little effort on his part to devise a plan. The next day came and Strong Arrow hid himself behind some boulders. And there he waited, and he waited. In truth, so long did he pause there that he began to wonder if his tribesmen were right about him. Was he chasing a mere phantom?
However, this day his patience was rewarded, for soon—before the sun had reached its zenith—it happened again. On the wind came an alien yet beautiful refrain.
Where was the voice coming from? All across the wide mountain range, there was nothing but the winds which whispered across barren rock. Nothing to his right, to his left, behind him, in front of him.
Still, the music was becoming louder. Puzzled, he looked up, and there he espied the most uncommon sight he had ever seen. A bird, looking much like a large eagle, coasted down from the heavens. And upon its back was a very beautiful woman.
At the sight, Strong Arrow’s heart began to pound, faster and faster. It was then that he knew that it was she, the one who was his true love.
Soon, the maiden began to sing the unusual, eerie song, at first in words he didn’t understand, and then in the language of his people.
“Come out, come out, oh warrior mine.
For I know that you wait for me.
Come out, come out, take me for wife.
For I have heard your plea.
Come out, come out, my truest love,
come out and play with me.
Show yourself, my warrior true.
For I am the Evening Star.”
With these words, Strong Arrow stood up from his hiding place. The maiden turned to look at him, and they gazed upon one another. And so long did they stare that Strong Arrow feared she might run away.
At last, however, she smiled at him, saying, “Because you are a great hunter, my father, the Sun, has taken pity on you. He has heard your appeal. I, too, desire to marry you, for I have seen you here, night after night, alone upon the face of the earth. And as you fell in love with me, so too did I fall in love with you. Consequently, my father gives me to you in marriage freely, asking only that you take no other for a wife for the rest of your life.”
Strong Arrow said nothing to this, though he yearned to speak of much.
She continued, “My father, the Sun, knows that this thing he asks of you transgresses upon the custom of your people, for within your tribe a man of standing might take more than one wife. But you must refrain from doing this. Do you promise?”
Still, so great was Evening Star’s beauty that Strong Arrow could not speak. In faith, it was all he could do to simply nod.
“You must understand further,” Evening Star said, “that my father does not give me to you easily. Know that if you ever betray this trust he places in you—if you should ever take another to your sleeping robes, my father would ensure a penalty.”
“I understand,” voiced Strong Arrow at last. “And what would this punishment be?”
“You would cease to exist upon this, the face of the earth. So it is said by my father, the Sun,” she said. “Know, too, that my father, the Sun, is a jealous man, and he might test the strength of your resolve. Do you still agree?”
Strong Arrow took a step toward her, his heart in his throat as he said, “Long have I admired and loved you, Evening Star. I will take you as my own. I will honor you. Aa,yes, I agree to your father’s demand.”
Evening Star smiled and extended her arms toward him. “Then come, my love,” she said. “Take my hand and lead me to your people.”
He did as she bid him, and they were married that night. Indeed, in the years that followed, it is said that they embodied the best that is known of love and marriage.
Many years passed. Because Evening Star was a goddess, the regular chores of a wife did not fall to her. Skins were dressed, food was made, wood was gathered without her expending any labor, so great was her magic. Evening Star was also a generous woman and gave freely to the people the things that they desired, and she became the most well-respected woman of the tribe.
However, all was well for so long that the people began to forget that they, too, needed to work, hunt and repair clothing in order to survive. Alas, so easy was it to obtain the goods they needed from Evening Star, the men in the village lost interest in hunting, while the women depended upon the crafts of Evening Star to repair their moccasins and homes. Even the little boys in the village no longer played hunting games, while young girls mimicked the charms of Evening Star.
Truth be told, the people became lazy.
Now, perhaps these things might have had little consequence were it not for the fact Old Man, the Sun, had yet to play out his full hand. Here is what happened.
Strong Arrow was out on the hunt. But on this day, Strong Arrow saw a most unusual sight. Into his path walked a beautiful maiden, one who openly flirted with him; one who begged him to take her home. But she pleaded in vain. After all, Strong Arrow believed himself to be perfect; he had given his word to his wife and to her father that he would take no other into their home. He would stand by his word.
And so he passed by the maiden. Looking back, Strong Arrow observed that the girl vanished, and it was then that he knew the time had come for Old Man to test him.
The next day, again while Strong Arrow was out on the hunt, Old Man sent an even more beautiful woman into his path, this maiden also begging Strong Arrow to take her home. But Strong Arrow was as wise as he was virtuous. He passed this one by, too.
Then Old Man smiled. Indeed, his son-in-law was a faithful husband. Still, there would be one more trial.
The next day, Old Man sent again a beautiful maiden into Strong Arrow’s path. But this time there was a difference. This woman looked so much like Evening Star that Strong Arrow hesitated, confused.
Seeing this, the woman spoke, saying, “Take pity on me. For you are my own brother-in-law. My name is Bright Shadow. I, too, am a star, and like my sister, I desire a good husband.”
“I cannot take you as a wife,” Strong Arrow responded.
“And yet it is your right to have me.”
“No,” said Strong Arrow. “It is not. I gave up that right when I married your sister.”
“Yet,” said Bright Shadow, “I need your help. Do not ask how, but my own future depends on you. If you take me with you, I could aid you in becoming glorious in war.”
Strong Arrow sneered. “You waste your breath, woman,” he said. “For if it is my home that you seek, I cannot help you.”
“Could you not?” she asked. “Think well, my brother-in-law. If you do me this small favor, I could give you much. I could assist you to become the best hunter in your village.”
“I already am the best.” And so saying, Strong Arrow began to walk away from the woman.
“Please,” came again the maiden’s plea.
Strong Arrow glanced over his shoulder. “I do not need or desire glory, or another wife,” he called to her. “I love the one that I have.”
Bright Shadow stared at Strong Arrow, and her eyes narrowed before she commented, “Then you make a mistake, my brother-in-law, for you will surely bring pain to my sister if you do not take me with you.”
This statement gave Strong Arrow reason to pause. Coming to a halt, he looked back at the maiden. “What falsehoods are these that you tell me?”
Bright Shadow took a step toward him. “I do not utter untruths. I am in trouble,” she said, her gaze at Strong Arrow full of appeal. “I am with child, and my father, the Sun, says that there is no room in the sky for another star, my baby. Alas, my father has sent me here upon this earth to bear this child alone. But I am frightened. All I wish to do is see my sister, that she might care for me.”
Strong Arrow hesitated, and turning so that he faced the maiden, he looked deeply into Bright Shadow’s eyes. “If this is all you desire, why did you try to seduce me?”
Bright Shadow cast her eyes down. “Because I am afraid to be alone, and I thought this might be the only way to beseech you.”
Strong Arrow frowned, and it is said that he puzzled over what to do. Duty to a woman in Bright Shadow’s condition would not allow him to walk away from her; however, he also could not bow down to her pleas, for he knew well the consequences of his actions. What was he to do?
He hesitated but a moment before making his decision, and then, lifting his face up to the skies, he shouted, “Do you understand this, Old Man? Do you see that I am taking pity on your other daughter, who is with child? Know that I do not take her to my home as a wife. I take her only to be with her sister.” And with this said, Strong Arrow grabbed hold of Bright Shadow.
Yes, his intentions were honorable, yet in doing what he did, Strong Arrow sealed his fate. For though he could not have made any other choice—not and remain perfect—with this decision came disaster. He never arrived home.
A thunderstorm came suddenly upon Strong Arrow and Bright Shadow, causing Strong Arrow to seek shelter. And though his intentions were decent toward his wife’s sister, a man is, after all, but a man…
Meanwhile, it took little enough time for Evening Star to discover her husband’s betrayal.
A tribe of visiting Crees, seeing the wealth and laziness of Strong Arrow’s people, defeated them in battle, taking Evening Star as their own. And doing so, they fled.
Perhaps it was not Old Man’s doing what happened next. Some kind folk say that it was not. Others, however, tell a different story.
By some trick of fate, the victorious Crees, en route to their own home and bringing Evening Star with them, came upon Strong Arrow and his ward where the two of them had sought shelter. Strong Arrow had no choice but to fight the enemy, and fight he did, well and hard, for unlike the others in his village, Strong Arrow had never failed to take to the hunt each day, and his body was lean and fit. But the outcome was inevitable. There was only one of him against ten Cree warriors.
Seeing this, Evening Star was overcome with grief, as well as with conflict. On one hand, she cried out. For she realized, as she watched the combat, that her husband would die this night.
However, even as her heart broke, Evening Star knew jealousy. For there by Strong Arrow’s side lay her sister, plus the evidence of his treachery…
Still, as Evening Star beheld the enemy’s knife come down to stab into Strong Arrow’s heart, she knew she could not watch. She waved her hand, causing the mortals to freeze.
“What am I to do?” she pleaded toward the midnight sky, opening her arms wide. “Oh, Father, my husband and I were so happy. Why did you do this to us? For I know this is your work.”
But it was night.
“Your father is not here to hear your pleas, my daughter. He is on the other side of the world.” It was Old Woman who spoke, she who is Night Light, the Moon.
“Yes, Mother,” answered Evening Star. “In my grief, I forgot that he is gone. But please, what am I to do?”
Old Woman paused. “It is indeed a bad thing that has come to pass,” she said. “I fear that your father forgets that men are but mortals. My daughter, what is it you would like me to do?”
“I…I am uncertain.”
“Do you love your husband?”
“I…yes, I did…once…”
“Perhaps you should understand that your father tested Strong Arrow to the utmost, and he tempted him greatly. Your sister looked exactly as you do, and your husband was bringing her back to camp, not to take her in marriage, but to bear her to you for help. She told him she is with child.”
“With child? Oh, Mother, if she is with child, she should have come to me directly instead of—”
“As I said, this was your father’s work. It was also your husband’s plan to bring her to you, not to bed her.”
Evening Star sighed. “That may be so. However, it is clear that he failed in this, too.”
“Yes, he did,” said Old Woman. “Perhaps your husband is not as perfect as he would like us to believe.”
“You are right, my mother. I was wrong to think he could be as pure as a star. Only we who are gods and goddesses are without flaw.”
“Yes, of course we are. But Mother, this talk gets us nowhere. Though I might abhor what my husband has done, I do not wish to see this, the end of his existence. Alas, perhaps I have loved him too well. Is there nothing I can do? You can do?”
“There is nothing,” said Old Woman. “Only your father can change what is to take place.”
Evening Star sighed. “Then I will lose Strong Arrow forever.”
“There is one enchantment that is within my power. It would save his life, but it is not without risk.”
“Risk means nothing to me.”
“Very well, my daughter, but first let me explain. While the charm would save him, it might doom you.”
“Me? I think not, Mother. Nothing can harm me. I am a star, and unlike these mortals, I am proof against anything.”
“As you say, my daughter. Still, the spell might yet come to be a test.”
“A test?” asked Evening Star. Now as we all know, a god or goddess can little resist a challenge, and so she uttered, “Tell me more, my mother.”
“The only way I can keep your father’s curse from taking its natural course is to have your husband trade places with you.”
“With me? I would become mortal?”
“I am afraid so, my daughter.”
But Evening Star was barely listening. She had paced toward Strong Arrow, reaching out a hand to touch the powerful line of his jaw. Bending, she whispered to him, “Why—why did you do it? How could you betray me when I have loved you so greatly?”
“My daughter, our time grows short.”
Evening Star stepped around the inert and silent figure of her husband and, casting him one last look, lifted her sight to the midnight sky. She asked, “Is it because of my belief in my own perfection that you are able to do this?”
“Yes, my child.”
“Then say no more, my mother. I will become mortal, if for no other reason than to prove that I can do it. But how long must I remain this way?”
Old Woman cried, “There is but one place in the sky for the evening star, my daughter, and if I am to save him, your husband must take that place until…”
A long pause followed. “Yes?”
“…until a future time when you will both return to the same spot on Chief Mountain—the place where you first met.”
“That is simple enough.”
“Have a care, my daughter, for it is required that you remain chaste in order to return. However, if you can do it, if you can remain innocent, you and your husband will be given another chance: you to understand him, he to beg forgiveness. If you both can do this, all will be well. If you cannot…” There came a drop of rain upon the earth. “Oh, that I could do more than this for you, my daughter.”
But Evening Star was unafraid. “Do not fret,” she said to her mother. “I will prove how easy this is. Go on, my mother. Go on and do it.”
Tears began to fall in earnest from the sky. And in Old Woman’s voice was nothing but grief as she said, “Understand, my child, that you will have no memory of this, nor will he.”
Evening Star thought for some moments, her mind turning over images of the warmth of her beautiful home; remembering again the love of her mother, her father, her sisters. To never see them again…
But upon this thought came another. Did she have so little faith in herself that she could not submit to a dare?
At last she said, “Do it, my mother. Bring him into the sky, but do it quickly.”
“There is one last thing I must tell you, my daughter. Look to the land, to the mountains, for your heart’s desire. For it is in the mountains that the spirits reside. They will help you.”
“I will,” said Evening Star.
“Remember, too, your lover’s song; for you will know him by it, and he you.”
And so it came to pass that Strong Arrow was taken into the evening sky, there to shine brightly upon the earth, while his own true love became doomed to an earthly life.
There are some who say that on a night such as this, when the moon shines so brightly in the sky, that Old Woman searches the mountains, looking for she who isher true daughter, listening for her song. But alas, it is also said that the true Evening Star must have failed the test of chastity, for in all this time, she has not returned.
Still, there are those who hope…