People of the Silence: A Novel of North America's Forgotten Past

People of the Silence: A Novel of North America's Forgotten Past

by Kathleen O'Neal Gear, W. Michael Gear

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At its pinnacle in A.D. 1150 the Anasazi empire of the Southwest would see no equal in North America for almost eight hundred years. Yet even at this cultural zenith, the Anasazi held the seeds of their own destruction deep within themselves....

On his deathbed, the Great Sun Chief learns a secret, a shame so vile to him that even at the brink of eternity he cannot let it pass: In a village far to the north is a fifteen-summers-old girl who must be found. Though he knows neither her name nor her face, the Great Sun decrees that the girl must at all costs be killed.

Fleeing for her life as her village lies in ruins, young Cornsilk is befriended by Poor Singer, a curious youth seeking to touch the soul of the Katchinas. Together, they undertake the perilous task of staying alive long enough to discover her true identity. But time is running out for them all--a desperate killer stalks them, one who is willing to destroy the entire Anasazi world to get to her.

New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors and award-winning archaeologists W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear bring the stories of these first North Americans to life in People of the Silence and other volumes in the magnicent North America's Forgotten Past series.

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466817845
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 09/15/1997
Series: North America's Forgotten Past Series
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 672
Sales rank: 169,930
File size: 2 MB

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 Silence

By Kathleen O'Neal Gear, W. Michael Gear

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 1996 Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-1784-5


Sun Cycle of the Buffalo, Moon of Falling Snow

Sternlight's moccasins went silent behind her.

Young Fawn turned and saw him drop to his knees in the middle of the trail, his white ritual shirt aglow with starlight. Huge sandstone boulders surrounded him. Many sun cycles ago they had broken free from the towering canyon wall and tumbled into the valley to stand like monstrous guardians along the Turning-Back-the-Sun trail. Kneeling in their midst, Sternlight looked pitifully small. Long black hair fluttered around him as he rocked back and forth, his face in his hands, his necklace of copper bells jingling. His cries resembled a lost child's.

"No," he kept whimpering. "No, please ..."

He had stopped twice in the past hand of time. At first, he had pounded his fists on the ground. Now he wept inconsolably.

Young Fawn knew little about the trials of priests, but even she could tell he was weary beyond exhaustion. He had been praying for sixteen days, eating only cactus buttons, and begging the ancestor Spirits to help him. Now, it seemed, the ghosts would not leave him alone.

Young Fawn leaned against a rock and folded her arms on her pregnant belly. Golden owl eyes sparkled in every hollow of the dark sandstone cliff, watching, wondering. To the south, fires gleamed. Fourteen large towns and over two hundred smaller villages lined the canyon walls. The priests would be rising, readying themselves for morning prayers on this critical day of the sun cycle. The fires cast a wavering yellow gleam over the massive sandstone bluff on the opposite side of the canyon. It looked dark and brooding this early, but when Father Sun rose, the sandstone would turn so golden it would appear molten.

Young Fawn sighed. The tang of sage scented the wind, but the fragrance did little to soothe her fears. Sternlight spoke softly to someone, and apparently received an answer he did not wish to hear.

"But why must I do it?" he wept. He lifted his head and looked to his right. As he shook his head, his long black hair flashed silver. "Why me?"

At the age of twenty-seven, Sternlight had been Talon Town's Sunwatcher for nine winters, and his reputation had grown with each one. Chiefs as far away as three moons' walk relied upon his advice. Young Fawn had seen their messengers arrive, packs filled with extraordinary gifts. Over the cycles, stories about Sternlight's wealth had become legend. It was said that twenty rooms at Talon Town brimmed with his fortune—and some dared to whisper that only witchery paid so well.

Young Fawn nervously smoothed her palms over her turkey-feather cape. The brown-and-white feathers glistened in the light. Witches—her own people called them sleep-makers—had great Power. By jumping through a hoop of twisted yucca fibers, they could change themselves into animals, and they used rawhide shields to fly about, spying on people. The most terrifying sleep-makers raided burials to gather putrefying corpse flesh, which they dried and ground into a fine powder. Once the soul had left the body, only corruption and wickedness remained. Corpse powder concentrated that evil, and when sprinkled on someone, could cause death or madness.

Young Fawn had been captured in a raid ten summers ago, but she remembered the sleep-makers among her own people, the Mogollon, who lived far to the south. The Straight Path people called them Fire Dogs, for the Mogollon believed that they had originally come to earth in the form of wolves made from gouts of Father Sun's fire. The Mogollon and the Straight Path people raided each other constantly, taking slaves, stealing food. Her father, Jay Bird, was the greatest and most powerful Mogollon chief. Sleep-makers had continually tried to kill him.

... And the earth had quaked each time, as if the ancestor spirits who lived in the underworlds were enraged by the foolishness of the witches.

Young Fawn reached up to touch the small bags of sacred cornmeal she wore around her throat. On occasion, when she missed her family, she thought about those sleep-makers and wondered if their Power had grown over the long summers. Was her father still alive? The earth continued to quake, more often of late, and she took each tremor as a great omen that he had survived yet another attempt on his life.

The Straight Path people, however, took the recent rash of quakes to mean that their ancestors were growing more and more angry with the greed and malice that filled the hearts of their descendants.

Young Fawn glanced at Sternlight. Could he be a sleep-maker? She had to admit that strange things did happen around him. His older sisters had vanished before they'd turned fifteen summers, and no traces had ever been found. Though rumors persisted that they had been taken slave by the Mogollon, Sternlight's cousin, the great warrior, Webworm, had suggested a dire possibility. Sleep-makers lived very long lives—at the expense of their families. When a sleep-maker grew ill, or wanted to extend his life, he used a spindle to extract his relative's heart and put it in his own chest.

After Sternlight's second sister disappeared, Webworm spent days going from family member to family member, begging them to help him kill Sternlight. Both had been very young at the time, Webworm thirteen, and Sternlight fourteen. Webworm's accusation had been taken very seriously. Sternlight, it was said, had truly feared for his life. The penalty for witchery was death, and the sleep-maker's own family had to carry out the sentence. When they'd killed him, they would throw him facedown in a grave and cover his body with a heavy sandstone slab so that his Spirit could never escape. Alone, locked in darkness, the ghost would wail for all eternity. But no one could hear. No one could save him.

Young Fawn jumped when a flock of piñon jays soared over the canyon rim. Against the twinkling background of the Evening People, they whirled like windblown black leaves. Long ago the jays had lived among her people as sacred clowns, Dancing, bringing laughter, and teaching spiritual lessons. They had chosen to be reborn as birds to watch over the Mogollon people.

Keep me safe, guardians. I fear I need your protection on this day.

Sternlight whispered, "Don't tell me that! I ... I can't."

Young Fawn glanced at him. He had his hand out to no one she could see. Clenching her fists over her belly, she waited. No matter how desperately she longed to run away, she could not. It would shame her master and bring terrible punishment upon herself.

Last moon, the wife of the Blessed Sun had selected Young Fawn as Solstice Girl. The choice had been a competition between Young Fawn and her best friend, Mourning Dove, a fact which had delighted them both. Ordinarily, much older, wiser slaves received the honor. Because of that, Young Fawn performed her tasks with great care. She washed the priest's ritual clothes with yucca soap and pine needles to give them a pleasant scent; held his sacred herbs next to her heart to keep their Spirits warm; made certain the blood of his meats never fell upon the ground, for that might offend his animal Spirit helpers. Despite her youth, she tried to be the best Solstice Girl ever.

But as the child in her belly grew, the work became increasingly difficult.

Sternlight pulled himself to his feet and stood on shaking legs. The turquoise and jet bracelets on his arms winked and sparkled in the silvery light.

She called, "Elder, are you well?"

He jerked around, and his copper bell necklaces jingled wildly. His eyes went huge. "Who—who are you?"

"I am Young Fawn. Don't you remember?"

As sunrise approached, the evil Spirit child, Wind Baby, raced through the canyon, bending the scrawny weeds, flicking dust about and whistling around boulders. He ruffled Young Fawn's turkey-feather cape and probed at her white dress beneath, his fingers frigid. She shivered.

"Young Fawn?" Sternlight came forward like a man picking his way through a field of rattlesnakes. "You are Young Fawn?"

"Yes, Elder."

A hollow sensation swelled her heart. What a beautiful man. He had a straight nose and full lips. When he was an infant, the back of his skull had been flattened by the cradleboard, shoving his cheekbones forward and accentuating his deeply set brown eyes. Each time his moccasins struck the ground, the seashells tied to the laces made music. His knee-length shirt, woven from the finest cotton thread, outlined every muscle in his tall body.

He looks like one of the sacred sky gods fallen to earth.

He halted a hand's breadth from her, and in a pained voice said, "I prayed you would not be here. Why are you here?"

"I am the Solstice Girl for this cycle. I go where you go. I do as you tell me."

Gently, she took his arm and headed him on down the trail. They entered a grove of stunted junipers protected from cutting by the Blessed Sun's decree. There, the light fragmented, scattering their path with pewter triangles and glimmering over the clusters of small purple berries among the green needles. Young Fawn proceeded with care. Deer had scooped out beds in the duff, and rocks thrust up along the way, both threats to safe footing. All around them, gnarled gray branches reached upward for the blessings of the sky gods.

Sternlight gazed at her anxiously, eyes focused on her swollen belly in disbelief. "You are Solstice Girl?"

"Yes, Sunwatcher. I have been serving you for a full moon now."

The trail swung around a large pile of fallen rock and entered the sun cove, a hollow worn in the canyon wall by eons of spring runoff. Sternlight took one look at the stairs cut into the stone, and utter terror masked his face. He threw off her hand and backed away.

"No," he breathed, "Oh, no. I can't go up there!"

"But," Young Fawn said, "we must hurry. We have barely two fingers of time before dawn. You know how frightening the drought and warfare have become. You must help make it right. This is your duty. You are Sunwatcher."

His mouth quivered. Behind him, the flock of piñon jays wheeled, their cackles wavering in Wind Baby's gusts. Sternlight balled his fists. "You ... you go first. I will wait until you are at the top, then I will follow. Yes, I—I will. Now go." When she hesitated, he shook both fists at her. "Go!"

She hitched up her white hem and began the climb. Ice filled the rocky depressions, watching her like ancient glazed eyes. The last rainstorm had washed sand and gravel down the steps. Her yucca sandals shished on the grit.

By the time Young Fawn reached the narrow ledge overlooking the canyon, she was panting. A gently undulating surface, the ledge extended about four body lengths by five. A sandstone wall, taller than Young Fawn, ran along the north side. Scraggly rabbitbrush struggled to grow on top of the wall.

A magnificent vista spread around her. Chunky buttes rose like square towers from the desert floor, their sandstone faces shading purple and pink in the newborn light. She could see two of the three sacred mountains. In front of her, Thunder Peak rose in the south; to her right, Turquoise Maiden made a black hump against the eastern horizon. Spider Woman's Butte hid behind a translucent lavender veil. The few shreds of cloud that clung to her face glowed a rich magenta color. Two thousand people lived in the canyon, and their breakfast fires sparkled like a huge overturned box of amber jewels. Wonder filled Young Fawn. Among her people, beauty was sacred, and appreciating it, a prayer.

Gingerly, she lowered herself to the cold stone and encircled her belly with her arms. She would catch her breath, and then, if Sternlight had not arrived, she would go looking for him.

An ancient painting adorned the sandstone wall above where she sat—a white circle with rays emanating from all four sides. The Straight Path people claimed that the symbol had been drawn by Coyote in the Age of Emergence, immediately after their ancestors climbed through the four underworlds and out into this fifth world of light. She knew the Straight Path story by heart:

"Look!" Coyote had said. "I have drawn a map of the Center Place and the four roads of life and death. Listen, now, and I will tell you what it means.

"There is a Great Circle; it is so huge it holds everything, for it is the universe, and all that live inside the Great Circle are relatives. When you stand at the heart of the circle, in the Center Place, you can see that the circle has four quarters. Each is sacred, for each has a mystical Power, and it is by those powers that we survive. Each quarter also has its own sacred animals, objects, and colors—these make its power accessible to humans.

"When you pray, you must first look down the east road to the dawn place where all the days of humans are born. Its color is white like the snows. It has the power to heal. White clay will cleanse, and the white hide of an albino buffalo will drive away sickness. Only the very strong may run this road to ask advice or give aid to Father Sun. The weak will be melted.

"Then you must look down the south road. It is red-hot like the summer. The pepper pod is its plant, and the ant its animal. This road is only for the dead, or those tending ceremonial tasks. They may travel it to the sacred Humpback Butte, where they will find the ladder to the four skyworlds. Those who climb up will become rain gods, and have the Power to make things grow and flourish.

"Next you must look down the road where Father Sun dies, and all of the days of humans have gone and shall go. Its color is yellow. Its animal is the bear. It has the power to bring peace. The Evening People hold its wisdom. This road is only for the living. People may run it to talk with the Evening People, to learn to live as one.

"Last is the north road. Its color is blue-black like the thunder clouds. Its stone is turquoise. It has the power to kill. It leads to the sipapu, the tunnel of emergence, and the entry to the four underworlds where the ancestors live. Only the dead, and their helpers, may run this road. The entrance to the sipapu is guarded by a huge black badger.

"Where the blue-black road of the dead meets the white road of the living at the Center Place is very holy. There coils the Rainbow Serpent. Her symbol is the sacred lightning-spiral. For those who look upon the Rainbow Serpent with newborn eyes, she shall wake and arc across the face of the world, and they may climb onto her back and rise into the skyworlds without dying. And, if they dare, they may speak with the gods."

Young Fawn gazed to the northwest, toward the Center Place where the roads met. Talon Town sat at the base of the bluff just beneath it. Every morning she looked up, hoping to see the Rainbow Serpent sparkle to life, but she never had. Nor had anyone now living, though the elders spoke of a time long ago when the Straight Path people had seen her arc across the heavens often. But extraordinarily holy people had lived in the canyon then, men and women who ran the east road routinely—people whose profane eyes had been burned away by the brilliant white light. When they grew sacred eyes, and gained the courage to look again, the Rainbow Serpent uncoiled and leaped into the sky.

Young Fawn exhaled in longing. I would give my very life to see that.

Her gaze drifted to her right. In the southeast the sacred rock pillar punctured the heavens. Father Sun had risen over that pillar for the past fifteen mornings straight. On this cold dawn, the shortest day of the cycle, Father Sun would be very weak. If he could travel no further, he would stand still on the horizon. That would be a signal that Sternlight needed to perform the "Turning-Back-the-Sun" ritual: He would have to run the east road to help Father Sun.

Four winters ago it had taken seven days for Sternlight to turn back the sun. By then, he had lain near death, curled on the rock like an infant. He had offered his own strength to Father Sun, and it nearly cost him his life. But if the sun could not be turned back, the world would be cast into perpetual winter, and the Straight Path people would die.

This day, of all days, nothing must interfere with the Turning-Back-the-Sun ritual. Father Sun had to see how hard they were trying, how desperate they were for his approval.


Excerpted from People of the Silence by Kathleen O'Neal Gear, W. Michael Gear. Copyright © 1996 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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People of the Silence 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
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whoknewJW More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books I've ever read, its absolutely entrancing and extremely informative. I will definitely be reading the rest of the "People Of" books by these authors.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was great in so many ways. The storyline was excellent first of all, the plot intriguing till the final page. But outside of that, there was a LOT of underlying spiritual meaning tied into this book. I got goosebumps when I realized what the narratives at the beginning of each day really were and what they meant. This is one of my very favorite novels now, and I can't wait to read another in the series.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought this book when I was sixteen. I read it in one night, and have read it many times since. It's written very well.
Guest More than 1 year ago
as with all the other books in this series I would give them all a 10 star rating if possible.I'm a 1/4 native american and this has increased my intrest in that part of my heritage.Hope there are more books coming.
Guest More than 1 year ago
These are the best books I have bought. I enjoy them alot. Just came by to restock some books that I had read and broke. Thanks
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's a mystery, adventure, history and a very suspensful book all put together. It is really cool how all of the characters come together in the climax. You don't know who's gonna survive and who's gonna get killed off!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a great book that I found to be very interesting. I have read it 10 times now!