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The Twin Brothers
Many, many winters ago, there lived a young man who had learned the secrets of plant and animal lore. He knew which plants and herbs cured illness, which could be used to purify the body and spirit, and which could help the People see more clearly their thoughts and dreams. He came to be known as Medicine Man.
Medicine Man loved a young girl named Clay Pot Woman, and she loved him. She chose him as her husband, and they were married in a ceremony witnessed by their entire village. They built their grass house outside the village, near the river.
One winter later, Clay Pot Woman was going to have a baby. But she grew ill, and the birth of the baby was a difficult time for her. Medicine Man was very afraid for Clay Pot Woman. So Medicine Man went out and gathered all the good herbs and plants to make the strongest medicine he could for both body and spirit. He made a drink from some of the herbs. He burned some of the other plants in the fire to make a good smell and purify the air in the grass house. Other plants he placed at the head of Clay Pot Woman's bedding, to give her spirit comfort and strength.
After a difficult birth, Clay Pot Woman presented Medicine Man with a new baby son. Medicine Man gathered up all the herbs and what was left of the drink, the dirty bedding with all the things left over from the birth and threw them on the midden pile, where garbage and broken pots were thrown. The medicine mixed with the things left over from birth and a magic event occurred: up from the midden pile sprang another baby boy, larger than the one inside the grass house. Because the medicine was so strong, the second boy born was larger and seemed older already. According to Indian custom, that would make him the older brother. Because he was not born in the grass house, he ran away into the forest and grew up with the wild animals.
Winters came and went, and the young boy born in the hut grew up. Medicine Man and Clay Pot Woman loved him and taught him well. He was known by a boyhood name, but he looked forward to the day when he would be a hunter or warrior and earn himself a manhood name. For that day, Medicine Man made the boy a strong bow and many straight arrows, and the boy spent many happy days practicing his bowmanship.
One day in summer, Medicine Man went out to hunt and Clay Pot Woman took one of her pots to the nearby river to get water for the day. The boy played in the bare yard that his people always cleared around their grass houses.
The boys mother did not return as the shadows of evening grew long across the grass house, she did not return as the sun went down behind the trees. Medicine Man came home, but not Clay Pot Woman. Fearing for his wife's safety, Medicine Man took his son with him to the river's edge. There they saw the footprints of Clay Pot Woman, they saw her pot lying broken by the riverbank. Two sets of footprints went into the river. No footprints came back out.
Medicine Man knelt in the clay at the river's edge and wept. "The ogres from across the river have come and taken her away," he said. "The tribe of creatures that lives over there eats people for supper. My wife, your mother, is gone forever." The boy also knelt and wept with his father.
Medicine Man and his son went back to the grass house, built a fire, and stayed inside and mourned for six days. On the seventh, with all their food gone, Medicine Man prepared to go hunting again. The next morning he said goodbye to the boy and told him to stay near the clearing that was their yard, near the protection of the village. Medicine Man promised to return before sundown.
The boy played in the yard as usual and shot his arrows into a wooden target. Suddenly, when the sun was high in the sky, another boy stepped out of the forest and greeted him. The other boy was taller and stronger and appeared older than the younger son of Medicine Man, but he resembled their father, and he looked very much like the younger boy's reflection in the water. The Wild Boy had a nose just a little bit too long, like an animal's snout, and his hair was long and unkempt. He wore no clothing at all, but he spoke gently and the two boys played together.
They laughed and joked, and shot the bow in turn, each trying to better the other's aim. They became fast friends. At last, the Wild Boy revealed his secret. "I am your older brother," he said, "born out of Father's magic. But you must not tell Father about me, I choose to live in the forest."
As the sun was setting, the Wild Boy left quickly. Medicine Man came home with game for supper. For four days it was the same. Each day, Medicine Man left the grass house to hunt or to go into the village. The Wild Boy came, and the twin brothers played together. At sunset, the Wild Boy left, saying, "You must not tell Father about me, I choose to live in the forest." Each night, missing the companionship of his new found brother, the younger son moped about the grass house and stared vacantly into the fire. His father noticed, and asked what was troubling him. The boy, who would never lie to his father, told him all about the Wild Boy.
"We must capture him," said Medicine Man joyfully, "and bring him into our house to become part of our family! When you see him tomorrow, walk to him, and pretend that you see a little bug crawling in his long hair. Tell him you will remove the bug, but instead tie four knots in a hank of his hair. By this magic we will capture him, and bring him into our family. I will transform myself into a flying insect, and hide in the grass nearby. The next day, Medicine Man became an insect and sat on a blade of grass at the edge of the yard. The Wild Boy came. "Where is our father?" he asked, suspiciously. "He is not here," said the younger brother, for in fact, their father was not present in his usual form. "Then who is that man on that blade of grass?" asked the Wild Boy, and he ran into the forest.
Four more times they tried to fool the Wild Boy. Medicine Man became a bird, he became a dog, he became a crawling bug and hid behind the fire. Every time, the Wild Boy saw him. Finally, the father told the younger boy, "Today I must go hunting. But if your brother should come, try to tie the magic knots anyway."
Medicine Man took his bow and arrows and left the grass house, but a short walk away from the yard he stopped and hung his weapon on a tree limb. He transformed himself into a insect and returned to the yard without his younger son's knowledge. The Wild Boy came again. "Where is our father?" he asked. "He is not here," said the Village Boy, unaware of their father's presence. The Wild Boy smiled, came into the yard, and they played together.
"Brother," said the Village Boy, "you have a bug in your hair. I will take it out." With that, he tied four knots in a hank of the long hair. Just then, Medicine Man became himself again, and he and the Village Boy took the Wild Boy by the arms and led him into the grass house.
Medicine Man took a sharp shell and snipped off the excess nose from the Wild Boy and cut his hair like the boys of the village wore it. He gave the Wild Boy a robe made of buffalo calfskin to wear. Later, their lather gave the boys supper, and while they ate, he went for his bow and arrows. When he returned, to show the Wild Boy that he was welcomed into the family, Medicine Man presented him with a very special arrow, blackened from the smoke of herbs burned in the medicine fire. To show his love for his younger son as well, Medicine Man gave a blue arrow to the younger boy, painted with juice and oil of many medicinal plants.
The Wild Boy, now dress and behaving as a proper village brother should, cut bark from an elm tree and made a wheel of bark for the two boys to shoot at. They painted the target in two colors, black and blue. They spent many happy hours in target practice, sometimes rolling the wheel of bark along the ground to test their skill with a moving target. One day the wheel rolled in to the forest without either boy hitting it. When they went to look for it, it was gone. "Someone has been here, watching us," said the Wild Boy, "and he has taken our target wheel!"
The twin brothers grew stronger and taller as the winters came and went, and the three were very happy as a family. One day in the spring, while their father was away for many days, the Wild Boy said to the Village Boy, "The time has come for us to take our manhood names. Let us go on a long journey." Each took his own bow, made from the wood of the bois d`arc tree, and his arrows, and parched corn to eat on the journey. The Wild Boy also carried his black arrow, the special gift from their father.
The twin young men walked the path deep into the forest, along the river. The Wild Boy led the way, and they left the path to go into the dense woods. There they met a great squirrel, larger than a dog, who was a friend of the Wild Boy. The great squirrel gave the twins two pecans that had unusual power within them. The great squirrel told the Wild Boy that his many friends in the forest remembered him and missed him. This gift was a remembrance from the animals and birds in the deep woods.
When night came, the twins made camp and planted one of the pecans in the soft earth. When they awoke the next morning, a great pecan tree had grown overnight. It was so tall that its upper branches were among the clouds, up in the World of Dreams. The Wild Boy explained to his younger brother, "The Great Father Above has special gifts to give us as we reach manhood. He promised me the gifts when I was a very little boy living in the forest. Now I will climb high in this tree and see a vision, a dream. All my bones will drop out of my body and fall to the ground. The head bone will fall last of all. You will think that I am dead, but it will not be so." "Take my bones and put them in a pile, with the head bone on top. Cover the pile with my buffalo calf robe and shoot the black arrow into the air. Then, just as we did when we played together and shot our arrows into the air to watch them turn and fall to earth, call out to me, "Look out, Brother, for the arrow is coming straight toward you!'"
The younger boy was afraid to look up as the Wild Boy climbed, and just as he had said, soon the bones began to fall, the head bone last of all. The Village Boy gathered the bones, covered them, and shot the arrow. He called out, "Look out, Brother, for the arrow is coming straight toward you!" The Wild Boy ran out from under the calf robe whole and healthy as ever, just before the arrow struck the buffalo hide. "Now," said the older boy, "you must also climb up and see your vision, your dream, and receive the powers the Great Father Above has reserved for you. I shall do as you did for me, and we will meet here below afterwards."
The Village Boy was fearful as he climbed into the clouds, but soon he felt warm and comfortable, as if he were asleep, and he saw a vision of power. He felt no pain as his fell out of the cloud and struck the earth.
But he did hear his brother call out to him, and he ran out from under the buffalo robe, whole and healthy as ever. The arrow struck the hide and trembled upright. "What gift did you receive?" asked the older brother. "Listen," said the younger brother, delighted. And he opened his mouth and spoke a word that rumbled like a earthquake and echoed off the trees and rocks.
"We will call you by the name Thunder," said the older brother. "What powers did you receive?" asked Thunder. "Look," said the older boy, and he opened his mouth and spoke a word that lashed out of his mouth like a snakes tongue, and flashed like flames reaching across the sky. "We will call you by the name Lighting," said Thunder.
The long day was ending, but strengthened by their new powers and their new manhood names, Lighting and Thunder walked together to the edge of the great river that also ran past their village. As they laid down to sleep for the night, they planted the second pecan. By daybreak, when they awoke, another great pecan tree had grown overnight. Its long branches drooped across the river, giving them a way to pass over. Lighting and Thunder climbed up the second great pecan tree and walked down its drooping branches to the opposite side of the river. There, after walking only a short distance, they came to the village of the ogres, creatures that ate people for supper. They saw piles of bones here and there in the grass.
"Look!" cried Lighting, pointing at a pile of bones. "These are the bones of our mother!" How he knew this, Thunder could not imagine, but he trusted his brother's wisdom. Quickly they piled all the bones in a heap, and the head bone last of all. They put the buffalo robe over the bones and Lighting shot the black arrow into the air. "Look out Mother," called Thunder, "for the arrow is coming toward you!"
The black arrow flew higher and higher in the sky shot by the greatest strength Lighting could gather, it turned slowly, and fell to earth, faster and faster. Suddenly Clay Pot Woman ran out from under the robe, and the black arrow struck the ground so hard it pierced deep through the calf robe and shattered into splinters. Despite the many years she had been gone from among the People, Clay Pot Woman knew both her sons the moment she saw them. They embraced and wept with happiness.
Just as they hugged each other, the Great Chief of the Ogres came from the grass house nearby. He was very ugly and very cruel. As he approached, Thunder drew his blue arrow and notched it into his bowstring. As the ogre chieftain drew closer, the brothers saw he was wearing their target wheel as an ornament on his right side. By this, they knew he was the ogre that has crossed the river, that had watched them, and that had taken their mother so long before. Taking aim at the ogre's side, Thunder sent the blue arrow at its target and the great beast-man fell dead.
Before the rest of the ogre village was aroused, the three People ran back to the pecan branch and crossed the river. As they were on the branch, the first of the ogre warriors came running out of the village and came at the People, throwing spears. Thunder turned back and spoke his word, and the great roaring rumbled rolled out across the water and frightened the ogres from ever coming across the river. Once Thunder had helped their mother down the tree trunk, Lighting turned back and spoke his word. A great white bolt of lighting writhed out of his mouth and split the great pecan tree so that its drooping branches fell into the river and washed away. No People would cross the river to the land of the ogres out of curiosity.
Soon the three People were back at the village, and they came into the grass house and greeted Medicine Man. He embraced them all, and they were a family again. They lived happily for many years, but finally the day came when Medicine Man, old and having lived a good life, died quietly. Clay Pot Woman did not stay long in this world without her husband, she soon was also dead.
Lighting and Thunder, now grown men, took the bones of their mother and father, wrapped them in buffalo robes, and buried the bundles as their People had always done. Then, no longer wanting to be in this world, Thunder and Lighting went back down the forest path they had traveled so many years before, climbed the first great pecan tree, and stepped off into the clouds. The old tree fell away beneath them and became a long log in the forest.
Thunder and Lighting lived thereafter in the sky and came and went with the wind and the storms, the People below looked up and remembered. When they gathered around the fires at night, they told the wonderful story of the Twin Brothers.
More stories to read:
American Indian hero stories
Legends about giants and ogres
Legends about thunder
Legends about lightning
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