People of the Lightning takes us into ancient Florida, to a village of fisher folk who must face their deepest fear: Pondwander, the White Lightning Boy, the first of his kind to be born in tens of tens of summers. His white hair, pink eyes, and pale skin make him fearsome enough, but prophecy foretells that a Lightning Boy is destined to make Sister Moon bury her face in the clouds and weep falling stars—and unleash the winds of destruction.
Fearing their ultimate demise, the folk manage to trade him off in marriage to Musselwhite, a woman warrior who knows nothing of the prophecy. But when Pondwander is kidnapped, she must face an ages-old enemy who has always been determined to destroy her. But what is truly in store now that this Lightning Boy is hearing voices in the wind, telling him of his role in the coming horror?
New York Times and USA Today's bestselling authors W. Michael and Kathleen O'Neal Gear bring North America's Forgotten Past to vivid life in this epic, romantic historical novel.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
About the Author
Kathleen O'Neal Gear is a former state historian and archaeologist for Wyoming, Kansas, and Nebraska for the U.S. Department of the Interior. She has twice received the federal government's Special Achievement Award for ""outstanding management"" of our nation's cultural heritage.
W. Michael Gear holds a master's degree in archaeology and has worked as a professional archaeologist since 1978. He is principal investigator for Wind River Archaeological Consultants.
Together they have written the North America's Forgotten Past series (People of the Morning Star, People of the Songtrail, People of the Mist, People of the Wolf, among others); and the Anasazi Mysteries series. The Gears live in Thermopolis, WY.
Kathleen O'Neal Gear is a former state historian and archaeologist for Wyoming, Kansas, and Nebraska for the U.S. Department of the Interior. She has twice received the federal government's Special Achievement Award for "outstanding management" of our nation's cultural heritage. With her husband, W. Michael Gear, she is the co-author of many books, including the North America’s Forgotten Past series (People of the Songtrail, People of the Morning Star, Sun Born, Moon Hunt, among others); and the Anasazi Mysteries series. She and her husband live in Thermopolis, WY.
W. Michael Gear, who holds a master's degree in archaeology, has worked as a professional archaeologist since 1978. He is currently principal investigator for Wind River Archaeological Consultants. With his wife, Kathleen O’Neal Gear, he has written the international and USA Today bestselling North America's Forgotten Past Series (including People of the Songtrail, People of the Morning Star, Sun Born, Moon Hunt, among others); and Anasazi Mystery Series.
Read an Excerpt
People of the Lightning
By Kathleen O'Neal Gear, W. Michael Gear
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1995 Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear
All rights reserved.
Cottonmouth could not take his eyes from the young woman warrior who lay on her stomach before him. Feathers of long hair haloed her beautiful face, looking startlingly black against the white sand. Her short tunic, the color of dry grass, had been woven from the finest palm thread, and painted with the green images of bobcat, whale, and dolphin. In the past half a hand of time, so much blood had run from her wound that it had pooled, red and glistening, at her side. As his men moved among the dead, the amber gleam of their torches reflected in that pool like flashes of lightning.
Cottonmouth forced a shallow breath into his lungs. Every wet scent of the night smelled incredibly clear to him, as if it had soaked into his flesh and been carried through his veins like a powerful Spirit plant. The sweetness of the coastal pines mixed with the salty fragrances of fish and sea, and the earthiness of the rain storm that had washed the world just before the battle.
After his dart had pierced her back just below the shoulder blades, she had fallen, then weakly pushed up and tried to crawl away. When she could go no further, she had stiffened her trembling arms and legs, keeping herself upright so that she might turn and defiantly stare him in the eyes.
The shock of seeing that face had been like a hard fist in his stomach.
Blessed Sun Mother, how many times had he gazed into those eyes in his dreams? How many times had he tenderly touched that face?
Clenching his hands to nerve himself, he walked forward and knelt beside the young woman. Huge, amorphous shadows swayed through the trees as a few of his warriors lifted their torches momentarily to watch him, curious.
He had lost only two men in the battle. The remaining ten-and-eight moved through the camp, laughing and joking, kicking over the bodies, ripping Power bundles from around throats, plundering the dead for trinkets to take home to their wives and children. Against the wavering background of firelit palms, oaks, and pines, they seemed somehow unreal ... more like scavenging ghosts floating over the sand than living men.
Cottonmouth broke off the dart shaft and flung it away. His heart had started to pound. He slipped his arms beneath the girl's knees and shoulders, and clutched her slender body against his bare chest. Blood leaked from her wound, running warmly down his muscular belly and legs, soaking his breechclout. His long, graying black hair fell over her face as he lifted her and rose to his feet.
Disapproving murmurs came from his warriors. The customs of their clan, the Standing Hollow Horn Clan, demanded that enemies killed in battle be left for scavengers. If their relatives did not find the dead within two days, their souls would justly be condemned to wander the earth forever.
Mulberry, a small skinny youth, stepped forward and lifted his torch so that it glared in Cottonmouth's eyes, forcing him to squint. The boy had coiled his black hair into a bun and fixed it with a manatee-bone pin. Blood spattered his legs. "Spirit Elder," he said sternly. "We must leave the dead." He cast a worried look over his shoulder. "The men expect it."
Cottonmouth stared at his warriors. They shifted uncomfortably.
Anger creased Mulberry's young face, hardening his jaw. Boldly, he stepped closer. "Elder, our men do not wish this filth to enter the afterworld and live among our relatives!"
Terse whispers passed back and forth.
"Have you searched the dead for Diver?" Cottonmouth asked. The very softness of his voice held threat. "Or did you allow him to escape?"
Mulberry tried to scowl, but his resolve quickly faltered and he wet his thin lips. "I ... n-no. Not yet."
"He is about my age, four-tens-and-five or five tens of summers. I will return soon. When I do, I will wish to know where he is. You had better have an answer for me."
Cottonmouth walked away slowly, drowning in the sensation of her body pressed against his, the silken feel of her long black hair tumbling down his side. When he had first seen her, he'd stumbled and almost fallen. Only after moments of agony had he realized she must be Morning Glory, daughter of Musselwhite, and not Musselwhite herself—but she looked so much like her mother with those high cheekbones, that turned-up nose, and those fierce brown eyes, that he had been stunned and unable to take his gaze from her.
Cool wind blew across his face. Sister Moon shone so brightly tonight that every blade of grass threw a shadow. As he rounded the northern edge of a clearing, he could make out the gangly shape of a blue heron standing on one foot in the meadow, and a short distance further, a snowy egret.
On the western side of the clearing an ancient oak had fallen long ago, blocking the path. Great crooked branches held the heavy trunk off the ground. He would have to crawl through on his knees, then drag Morning Glory behind him.
Cottonmouth laid her on a soft pile of old leaves and slid under on his stomach. Powerful scents of wet bark and packrat dung stung his nose. He emerged on the opposite side and turned.
When he reached through the tangle to grasp her wrist, her fingers had stiffened, raking his arms like curled talons. He tugged. She moved, then stopped abruptly. He jerked harder and heard the sound of ripping fabric as her short tunic tore free from a snag. She came through on her stomach, her face in the dirt. The sight pained him. Blood trickled darkly from her back wound.
Cottonmouth sat down beside her and brushed the dirt from her smooth cheeks and forehead, but drew back his hand when he noticed that one of her eyes had opened. He did not want to look into those eyes again, though tens of times, in a dozen battles, he had lived only for that sight.
He gently spread her hair over her face, then picked her up and carried her on down the trail. When he reached the pond, he lowered her to the green grass, placing her in the same spot her mother had lain two tens and six summers before. Musselwhite had been laughing when they'd loved each other.
Since that day the world had changed. The forest had grown up around their secret places. Deadfall had accumulated, filling the spaces between the trees.
No lovers came here now.
It saddened Cottonmouth, for he could recall very clearly bright days when he and Musselwhite had walked here and felt Brother Earth's age like a warm cape upon their shoulders. This forest had held a stillness so great they could sense the wingbeats of the Spirit birds who flew around them. They had spent days listening to the trees sing. Each had its own distinct voice, and when they sang together, a harmony of extraordinary majesty filled the world.
Cottonmouth's sandals sank into the damp soil as he went in search of sticks to stake Morning Glory's body down. If she had been a member of his clan, he would have wrapped her in the finest blankets, showered her with rare shells and precious stone tools—but she was not, and he hadn't much time. Already his warriors would be growing restless, worrying about his odd behavior, ready to go home to their wives' beds.
Cottonmouth sifted through a pile of deadfall until he had selected nine sticks with sharp points. He tucked them into his belt, and went back to Morning Glory's side.
"I will Sing you to the afterworld," he murmured and began the Death Song in a low voice, just loud enough that the three strands of her braided soul could hear.
I have come with living waters,
To give these healing ways of the Wolves,
these healing ways of the living water Wolves.
Look northward now,
down the pathway of living waters to the
Wolves in the Village of Wounded Souls.
Hear them call you?
They are calling you,
Gripping her by the ankles, he walked into the pond. Cold water swirled around his knees. Her face sank below the dark surface, but her limp arms floated in a wealth of sinuous black hair. Through that half-open eye she watched him.
He rolled Morning Glory onto her left side, then turned her so that she faced north. "Look northward. Do you see the tunnel that leads to the Village of Wounded Souls? All ponds are openings to that distant afterworld, you know. You have a long way to swim, but there will be Spirit Helpers to guide you. Wait for Alligator, he'll show you the way."
With great care, he tucked her knees against her chest and drove one of his stakes through her sandal laces to keep her feet in place. The rest of the stakes he drove through the bloody fabric of her tunic, securing her to the bottom of the pond so she would not float free and lose sight of the tunnel. Black hair writhed in slow motion over Morning Glory's face, covering her open eye, but her perfect body lay calm and still beneath the glimmering veil of moonlit water.
She lay so quiet, like a woman dead for tens of tens of summers, rather than a single hand of time.
Cottonmouth waded out of the pond and piled logs around the edges of the grassy strip, blocking the gaps in the deadfall, making certain no animals could enter and drag her from her grave. Sister Moon's luminous face hung high above him. The Shining People had retreated to the far edges of her radiance, patiently waiting for her to sink into the Village of Wounded Souls so their own splendor could burst forth again.
Tomorrow Cottonmouth would order several warriors to return to the battle site and track down and capture each enemy who had escaped.
Two or three days from now, Musselwhite would start to panic, wondering what had happened to her husband and children, fearing the worst. It would not take long for her to mount a search party. She would do it over vehement protests from the Spirit Elders, who would warn her that if she left, the village would be almost defenseless.
But she would leave anyway.
Musselwhite would boldly face the rage of Sun Mother herself to keep her relatives from falling into Cottonmouth's hands. For twotens-and-six summers his bitterness had been festering, eating him alive. She would rightly fear what tactics he might use to repay that old debt of honor.
He looked up to watch the bats flitting through the darkness, their wings flashing in the moonlight, and wondered what he would do when she came.
The ache in his chest grew overpowering. He dropped his head in his hands, and closed his eyes.
He knew only that he would be waiting for her.CHAPTER 2
Gently, so that he made no sound, Diver gripped the palm frond blocking his path, and eased it forward. When he had stepped by, he returned the frond to its original position and released it. It barely swayed, tapping the dense tangle of grape vines on either side. He scanned the twilight forest, breathing hard, his legs shaking.
His thoughts had grown blurry, indistinct. For long hands of time, he could remember nothing, not his name, nor his clan, not even the direction which led home, then it would all come back in a terrifying rush and he would break out in a dead run.
A short length of dart shaft protruded from the lower left side of his back. It wouldn't stop bleeding. He pressed his hand over the wound, and tremors of pain possessed him. Every move he made caused the sharp chert point to slice deeper. He'd tried pulling out the shaft, but couldn't get a grip on it through the blood. He'd broken the shaft off ... broken it ... when?
Cottonmouth's warriors, he forced himself to think. They attacked ... the dart pierced my side. I fell....
He forced a swallow down his dry throat. Horrifying images of running men filled his souls.
He blinked at the tufts of fog that lay like cattail down in the thick vines looping the trees. As the evening cooled, the mist condensed and a constant patter of drops rained down upon the brown leaf mat of the forest floor, creating a faint drum-like cadence. Soaked to the bone, Diver shivered. Not even the hooded mid-thigh-length tunic he wore could shield him from the bitter wind. It sent probing fingers right through the fabric, taunting his skin.
Birds watched him with their feathers fluffed out for warmth, but few dared to chirp. The whole world had gone silent and glistening.
Only the mist moved.
Silver veils meandered around the broad bases of towering oaks, and climbed the trunks of pines to coil in their pointed tops.
Diver limped forward in ghostly silence. The single dart he carried had grown slick. He clutched it more tightly. He had tucked his atlatl, his dart thrower, into his belt. The weapon consisted of a piece of wood four hands long which had a shell hook in the end. When the butt of his dart was secured on the hook, the atlatl allowed him to cast his dart five times as far as he could have with his bare hand. Out on the sandy beaches, atlatls made lethal weapons, but in this dense forest he would be lucky to get a shot at all, let alone strike an enemy.
He pushed aside a curtain of hanging moss and saw a small pond ahead, crystal clear, ringed by lichen-covered logs. Mist haloed the surface. Desperately thirsty, Diver got down on his stomach and crawled toward it. Scents of wet leaves and grass filled his nostrils. He could not risk being out in the open for long ... but he had to have water. He would die if he could not drink.
As he neared the pond, he saw the alligator that floated motionless in the center, covered entirely with green duckweed. Watching. Waiting. Diver's obsession with quiet, his shaking body, the scent of his fear, and blood, would tell the alligator all it needed to know about this hunt. The prey could not run much further. The desperate game Diver had been playing for two days would end soon. One way or another.
Diver's tunic whispered against the plants as he parted them, laid down his long dart, and stealthily dipped up a hand of the sweet cool water. He dipped another, and another, gulping the water, letting it run down his chin and throat, until he felt ill, then he sank into the grass and propped his chin on one hand. One of his souls, his reflection-inwater soul, stared at him from the calm surface of the pond. Knotted black hair framed his round face. That morning he had used charcoal from an old fire pit to paint his skin, but in the mist the designs had melted to gray smears which circled his brown eyes and flowed down around the corners of his wide mouth. A blood-caked lump the size of his fist protruded above his right temple. He stared at it, unable to recall being struck.
Blessed Spirits ... what happened two days ago?
He had set out with a scouting party of eight to check the boundaries of their clan's territory. Stories had been filtering in on the lips of travelers that Cottonmouth planned to attack Windy Cove Village again, to steal food and women, and kill anyone who stood in his path. On the second day out, Diver's party had run headlong into two tens of Cottonmouth's warriors. He remembered the initial attack, being struck by the dart....
He shook his head. But ... what else? What else had happened?
Silver flashes of minnows darted through the water. Since the fight, he had eaten only what he could gather while moving, a few berries, some nuts. If he'd had the time, he could have woven a net from strips of palm fronds and netted these fish. But the snails inching along the dead logs would have to do. He plucked up several, corralled them with his left hand, then used his right hand to crush the shells, pull each snail out, and swallow it whole. His empty stomach cramped and squealed. He had slept little, allowing himself to doze for a few brief fingers of time before he rose and ran again. Trying to get home.
Old Man Fog thickened as darkness sheathed the forest, but Diver caught sight of some sort of berry, almost hidden in the leaves. Palm berries. He scratched the berries up and ate a handful. Pasty sweetness coated his tongue. Hallowed Spirits, what he would give for a single bite of Musselwhite's palm berry cakes. He had watched her make them tens of tens of times, mashing the palm berries, picking out the seeds, then mixing the gooey substance with pine nuts and pine sap. She spooned the concoction into big clamshells and let them cook slowly at the edges of the fire until they bubbled and steamed.
Excerpted from People of the Lightning by Kathleen O'Neal Gear, W. Michael Gear. Copyright © 1995 Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I love the wonderful descriptions of the familiar Florida landscape here. This, with People of the Lakes, is my favorite in the series. It might just be the setting reminescent of my backyard with powerful storm imagery, but there is something about this book that won't allow me to get it out of my head.
Another tale from the early settlers of America after the crossing on the land bridge, People of the Lightning takes place in Florida, among a people who have no direct genetic link to the nations in the Americas now. The great warrior woman Musselwhite has had her husband captured by Cottonmouth, her former husband. He has had visions of the end of the world coming and has amassed many followers in a village of their own (sound familiar?). In order to boost the community's warriors, which have been devastated by fighting with Cottonmouth and his followers, the elders arrange for Musselwhite to have another husband, a common practice among warriors of great skill. She winds up with a boy named Pondwader, a White Lightning Boy (full albino) about whom many prophecies have been spoken. When Musselwhite learns that her first husband, Diver, is still alive, she sets out to rescue him. Pondwader, who has always been sheltered, has little experience with travel, and very poor eyesight, follows his new wife even though she tells him to stay home. Pondwader's sister Kelp also comes along for the journey, along with some other boys from the newly united village. Along the way, they also have to deal with Pondwader's lascivious mother Dark Rain, whose only interests are gambling and having a man between her legs. Time is running out for Diver as Cottonmouth sees the time coming for the world to end and his followers to enter into their new world. Will Musselwhite and her entourage make it in time and be able to rescue Diver? And what really happened between Cottonmouth and Musselwhite so long ago to sour him so fully against his former mate?Once again the Gears spin a tale which goes beyond understanding by merely one culture.
Great!! I loved everything about it.
Interesting story about two clans of native people in Fla and the spirit world that they live in.