Niyol was only a boy when the white men came and wiped his village off the face of Mother Earth. His limbs had gotten ahead of his body with a growth spurt that had suddenly made him the tallest of his generation of young warriors.
Niyol was going to be a warrior of his Hopi tribe, like his father and grandfather before him. He was learning to shoot his bow and arrow when the men came.
His bony fingers bore marks of a scuffle, dark brown blood crusts still covering his knuckles, as he set an arrow against the bow and aimed at a random spot on a dried up coolibah tree. And as he imagined shooting at an imaginary white man, a swarm of them poured through the village.
They rode their strong horses with iron hooves, and they hacked and stabbed and shot at all the men in sight. They didn’t spare the elders either. They chopped and killed anyone who opposed them, even the women who came at them with sticks and cutting blades.
Niyol froze then, fingers clutched on his bow and arrow still pointing at the old tree. He thought for a moment, he thought real hard and decided that his chance of shooting anyone dead with that one flimsy strip of wood was close to nothing.
He sought refuge behind the tree instead, praying to the wind god to take him away. He fell to his knees and watched his mother die, her bare chest pierced by a bayonet. He watched her bleed out, choking and losing the sparkle of life from her amber eyes. And he used his hands to muffle his own cries and kept himself out of sight, while the white men killed his people and burned the huts down. No one saw him.
The night settled over the Canyon. The shadows grew above the river as it snaked its way between the stone giants. Niyol slept under a bush, shivering beneath clusters of desert willow flowers.
Lizards rushed around him, their glassy eyes glistening under the moonlight. Niyol slept as the embers of his village ruins finally died down, in the silence of death. Crickets crinkled in his ears as the moon made its way up to the middle of the sky.
The white moon goddess looked down at him, and her heart twisted and strained. The boy had lost his father to the invading white men just seven moons earlier. He didn’t even have time to grieve his mother, not even a moment. She felt sorry for the child. She felt so much grief, that a tear rolled down her pearly cheek.
The droplet fell through the tourmaline sky, passing stars and wisps of cotton clouds until it reached the entrails of the canyon. It hit the ground at the bottom with a tremor and a loud bang, and the world shuddered.
The little boy woke up, and found the great canyon spreading at his dusty feet. He looked up and saw the full moon smiling at him. The stars twinkled and the wind sang songs he’d never heard before. And a milky light shone from the river bank – a singular star somehow lost on earth.
For one brief moment, Niyol looked around and his gaze lingered on what was once his home, his village. Where conical huts once peaked, emptiness and columns of smoke rose gently. The smell of burnt flesh suddenly invaded his lungs and he had to get out of there. He had to leave.
The brokenhearted boy rushed down the steep path that only he and his now lost cousin knew about, and made his way to the river. It no longer smelled of smoke and death down there, and the overwhelming silence was replaced by the sweet rush of fresh water rolling through the canyon.
No less than forty feet away, a light continued to shine where the river kissed the stones. Niyol walked towards it, as the wind continued to sing in his ear.
Words of strength and resilience rested on his shoulders, as he approached the gentle light. A figure became clear as he got closer. A young girl, perhaps a few summers older than him. Her hair was black as the crow’s feather, and cut straight above her wide shoulders.
Her eyes were dark and twinkled in the night, as the light surrounding her dimmed itself to a shimmer. Rich, long eyebrows curved upwards, made her look like she held all the secrets of the world in her mind. Her cheekbones were the colour of dark roses, and her smile reminded him of the safe embrace of his mother.
She was beautiful, bathed in the moonlight and wearing nothing but the decorative beads of the Hopi on her arms and around her neck, and the firebrick war paint around her eyes and on her forehead.
Niyol didn’t know who she was, or what she wanted. He didn’t know how she got there. He couldn’t understand why she shone like the moon. But his heart and the wind spoke to him and told him to give himself unto her. They told him to trust her with his life. To follow her.
He looked up and found the moon still smiling at him. His head turned towards the upper edge behind him, where smoke rose towards the stars, black and heavy. He then looked at the girl, and couldn’t help but sigh.
She was taller than him, her skin the colour of cinnamon. And most notably, she wore the wing of a giant white falcon instead of a right arm.
She smiled at him, patient and endearing.
‘Who are you?’ He asked, his voice but a tremor.
The girl said nothing. Instead, she touched his cheek with her left hand – her fingers barely a flutter on his dry skin.
‘I bear the name of the Wind,’ Niyol said. ‘What name did they give you?’
The girl looked up at the moon, and shrugged.
‘I’m just a tear. The moon suffers when her children suffer. So she cries. Tonight she cried, and I fell out of her eye. I don’t have a name.’
Niyol wondered for a brief moment, but ultimately accepted her answer with a short nod.
‘Why do you have a wing for an arm?’
The girl extended the wing, and the long white feathers with crimson tips fanned out, reaching all the way to the ground and high above her head. The boy’s jaw dropped with awe – he had never seen anything so beautiful.
‘The moon cannot control what comes out of her eyes. Sometimes, when she cries, her tears give birth to acacia trees. And sometimes, they create giant falcons that soar through the sky and breathe fire. Tonight she made me. And I have a wing.’
‘But why just one wing? Aren’t you supposed to have two, so you can fly?’
‘I’m not supposed to fly, Niyol.’
‘Then what are you supposed to do?’
The girl shrugged again, pulling her wing back at her side. She looked at him, her eyes black and wide and full of hope and dreams – HIS hope and dreams. He saw himself shooting arrows across the field and riding horses and killing the white men who ended the life of his mother and father.
He saw himself growing up stronger, his chest wide and his heart filled with bravery and strength. He saw himself holding his son for the very first time. He saw himself holding his grandchildren on his knees, as he told them stories of the First People. And he saw himself give his last breath, as his spirit left the earth and went on to walk on the moon with his mother, his father, his wife and his village.
And every single time, he saw the shadow of a wing covering his back – the feathers long and pure white with familiar crimson tips.
And without the girl having to tell him anything else, he knew that she was his shadow. His saviour. His lifetime companion.
She reached out and took his hand into hers, and together they walked along the riverside, the water splashing at their feet. Together they walked south.
‘I’m here to be with you. To protect you. To guide you,’ she said, looking straight ahead as shadows drew themselves into sinuous stone beasts guarding the river. The canyon was always breathtaking and overwhelming to Niyol, its grandeur impossible to overcome.
‘Yes, boy named after the wind. The white man is taking your lands away, lands that the moon gave you. I may not be able to give you back your land… But I will spend my life protecting you and your bloodline.’
‘Why me? Why my bloodline?’
The girl smiled and her eyelids dropped just a little bit.
‘You ask so many questions... One day, a little boy named Ahiga will be the last of the Hopi warriors. He will belong to your bloodline, and no one else’s.’
The boy sighed and his brow furrowed. Thoughts darted through his head. Contradictions challenged his reasoning.
‘But if you already know that Ahiga will live, this means that I’m going to be fine either way.’
‘There are many directions in which the wind blows, Niyol. It can shift as the moon changes. If the moon had not shed its tear tonight, I would not be here. If I am not here, you will find yourself in iron shackles by the break of dawn. The white men patrol the areas around your village. They will catch you and enslave you. And Ahiga will not find enough strength in the stories of his forefathers for him to do what he needs to do. He will lack the one story he will truly need, a story about an ancestor named after the wind, and he will fail in his quest to preserve the Hopi heritage.’
‘And if you are here?’
‘I will take you to freedom. I will keep you safe. My wing will protect you. And the last of the Hopi will have a good story about freedom to remember for when he will need to remember it. He will need the strength of all his forefathers. No one else can give him that if you’re enslaved, Niyol. No one.’
As they walked, the moon shone above them with content. The crickets serenaded all the way into the morning. The wind continued its song in Niyol’s ear.
‘Will you stay with me forever?’ He found himself asking.
‘I will be your wing for as long as you will be my wind.’