Year of the Mountain Lion

A Tribal Short Story by Maria E. Schneider

Year of the Mountain Lion

by Maria E. Schneider


Outcast from her tribe and hunted to break the curse she brought upon them, Jolan must survive the badlands and stave off dehydration beneath the desert sun.

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Jolan ran across the sand and stopped near the top of a gully, crouching. She glanced backwards,
scanning the dry, gritty landscape. There wasn’t much time. They were very close now, and if she
didn’t lose them soon, their arrows would have her heart.
She jumped and rolled, not away into the sandy center of the gully, but up against the base. From
there, she used her agave swish to brush the sand where she had landed. The rolling marks barely
showed, and she left them because there wasn’t time. The hunters might easily mistake the slight
markings as those made by an animal anyway.
Her clan didn’t know the desert like she did. When they had abandoned her in the cliffs, blaming
the lack of rain on her curse, she had learned to live on the scant water that trickled occasionally in the
last, drying stream beds. She had learned to move deeper into the desert in the winter, living on even
less water, finding it with the same curse that had gotten her cast out from her clan.
Keeping close to the crumbling sidewalls, Jolan headed for the red rock overhang. The harder
ledges would give her some cover and the ability to run full out.
This was the third time her tribe had hunted her. Two seasons ago, her comfortable existence had
been shattered when she looked down at a curious pattern in the sand. Jagged sticks formed a lightning
bolt. Animal hide, representing thunder, was held down with pebbles. It took all her discipline to keep
from scattering the pieces into the wind.
“Wat—” Out of habit, she had started to mutter the name of her people, but her voice was so
disused, she uttered only a croaking whisper.
Could it be an enemy of the Watahal who chased her and not a tribe member?
No. Only someone from her clan would know that the lightning bolt with clouds was her old
name: Taima, Thunder.
Each time she found the sign, she trembled. Each time she took the old, worn piece of hide, torn
from…she could not tell. Whoever followed left only rotted hide, likely desperate, likely out of water.
Leaving a few false trails and wandering in random circles, she had led the enemy away from
water until they gave up the chase. Finding water was her forte and traveling her life. If she didn’t stay
too long in any one place, her curse didn’t steal the rains for too long.
But the enemy got smarter. She had found the signs again this fall, including a few parched oak
twigs from the valley, twigs that signified her new name, Jolan: Dead-Oaks. Part of the wood had been
burned, a way of cursing her.
Over the seasons, the clan learned where she roamed: the plains, the mountains or the low hills.
And they were close this time.
Her breath came hard as she ran under the protective rock outcrop and then out into the open, sun
flashing into her eyes before steady steps took her under the next overhang.
She didn’t slow, even as she tossed her swish into a bundle of fallen rocks. It was nothing there,
only a dried branch.
Better they chased her now, rather than in the northern mountains where she stayed after the
spring melt. The heat of the desert would discourage them from hunting her for very long.
Panting, she found the wedge. She dashed forward, out into the center of the wash to the other
side, before backtracking in her own prints.
The sound of rock hitting rock froze her for a moment.
Then into the wedge she burrowed, seeking handholds, letting the rock pinch her moccasins. Had
she time, she would have taken them off to better her grip. As it was, she had to hope that the sturdy
lizard leather didn’t tear and leave evidence.
Her fingernail ripped. The rock she tore it on fell away. “Jolan,” she cursed under her breath. Her

head reached the top, and she pulled herself halfway up before she saw him.
He stared so carefully into the lower reaches of the small canyon, he didn’t see her at first. Dark
hunting paint shadowed a young face, twisting his features. He had the advantage. His feet were
planted firmly on Mother Earth, while hers were twisted and pinched inside the rock.
She had no choice but to move. When she wrenched one leg upward, he turned low, his mouth
She held his stare, not recognizing him. He was younger than she expected. Had he been left as a
scout because of his age?
Too bad.
“Aeiii!” he screamed, alerting the plains, the gullies, the mesas and the hawks on their midday
While he whooped victory, she wasted no more time. Without bothering to free her other leg, she
lunged forward, catching one of his. He immediately tried to pull away.
Holding him, even with one finger nearly broken from being smashed in the climb, wasn’t as
difficult as it should have been. He was not a seasoned warrior. Though he pulled instinctively, he
foolishly viewed her hold as him catching her.
The minute his weight dragged her free of the wedge, she swung her legs sideways, taking his

away. Without hesitation, she pushed him over the edge, stopping the answering cries of his warrior-
mates below.

She did not wait for the sickening crunch. If he rolled properly, he might live.
A hollow whooping from the opposite side of the shallow canyon made her spare a glance in that
There was another warrior. They had left two sentries, one on either side of the steep walls. No
matter where she had climbed out, they would have had her.
No more. If they watched the uppers, it was under she would go.

* * *

The red stone hollows were not true caves, but they held her until night. The cool respite did her
good, although she dared not sleep.
When the moon was up, she ventured out, trailing back the way she had come until she reached
the canyon to make certain the hunters had not tracked her further.
Even with only the moon, she could see there were no new tracks other than the ones where she
had pushed the hunter down.
With a grunt of disgust, she decided to climb down to make sure the hunting party was headed
back. They would have at least a moderately injured member to care for. There was no point in trying
to continue to track her without first caring for him and replenishing supplies and plans.
Since climbing was by feel, she didn’t miss the light. The night breeze was a caress, the cool rock
a compress. There was no hurry until she heard noise.
Within jumping distance of the bottom, she saw a sitting form.
Eyes searching, she saw only the one. He moaned. “Water?” One leg was stretched straight, the
other slightly curled – not a fighting position.
She stared hard into the shadows. “They left you?” Her seldom-used voice was only a half
He made another noise, a cross between a groan and a snort.
She tilted her head, not understanding. Finally, she asked, “What are you called?”
After a long pause, he answered in a surly voice, “Tocho.”
She jumped down, not bothering to roll. She did inspect the corners, by luck finding a cactus
stick, but no other enemies. “As a mountain lion, you landed on your feet, but it would have been wiser

to land otherwise. You would be walking if you had.” She had only been outcast five years, but Tocho
was unknown to her. That fact clashed in her mind. The clan had died the day it left her, stuck in a
solid, unmoving, unchanging memory.
Jolan made certain the cactus wood was fully parched, with no spines. It was the best she would
find as a splint. She handed him her water sack before carefully beginning to bind his leg, using the
fewest strips of her precious buckskin possible. “Why do your people search for me?”
His great gulps at the water sack paused.. “Why do you run from us?”
Confused, she stopped. Deliberately, she chose her words to show she was not a coward. “You
hunt me. Therefore I escape.”
“We don’t hunt you,” he denied. “We left your name in the dirt, calling for you to help us.”
“Was that not a war-cry you gave when I came out of the canyon?”
He dropped his head. “For whoever brings you home, it will be a great victory.” He sucked in a
sharp breath of pain when he tried to move his leg. Panting, he didn’t try again.
“Home?” she repeated in disbelief. “This is home.”
Unwillingly, she grasped his arm. Together, they stood. She looped his arm around her shoulders,
but he was barely her height.
“My name is really Aponi. I am not yet mountain lion…not yet a great hunter.”
“You would have earned Tocho had you captured me.” Even as she said this, she remembered the
toddler Aponi. Because the mothers had begun to fear her curse, she had not been a caretaker of the
small ones, but she dimly remembered a boy perhaps five or more years her junior.
It was not easy to get Aponi to shelter. He fit into one of the dry tunnels, but he could not back in
as she did because of his leg.
“I can’t see,” he cried, banging his leg.
“Nothing to see,” Jolan said. “I must get water. It will be too hot later. Stay here.”
There were few daytime shelters this far from the mountains where he might be able to survive
for a time on his own. Her scant jerky would be a poor meal for two people. Dawn yielded no late
snakes or lizards.
Upon returning, she shared her stored jerked strips and the water, all the while contemplating
what to do with him. Aponi had somehow managed to get himself backed into the tunnel with just his
head sticking out, watching for her.
The two ancient carved waterways were loosely connected by holes at the far end. She preferred
curling back into her own space, against the small tunnels that went far into the ground, releasing cool,
underground air during the heat of day.
“Shaman says we die because we abandoned you, you who are thunder.” Aponi swallowed his
jerked strip whole, the easiest way to eat the stringy meat.
Jolan crawled into her space and spoke from within. “Rain comes from thunder, and that I am
“Shaman says that the four-winged hawks from the sun have chosen to bring you water when
there is none. We must bring you back so that the creatures bring us water, too. He said his vision of
noise and thunder at your birth was the great winged ones calling for you.”
Jolan’s blood ran cold. She noticed that Aponi did not name the shaman. It could only mean that
the man who had said the words had drifted as smoke after breathing no more. Jolan said, “I get my
own water.”
“You cannot have survived out here without their help! You must have made friends with the
legends, and they helped you survive.”
Jolan closed her eyes. She had befriended creatures, but they were not the great legends. She
lived on what the lesser creatures lived on, smallish lizards and snakes. Her friends were not of the
great songs, and they had not handed her water. They had only shown her the keys. “The four-wings do
not know me, Aponi. Wherever they fly, it is in a better place than the badlands.”

“You must tell us how you command them so that we will be able to live prosperous again in the
Jolan dropped her head to the smooth rock, breathing the cool air from inside the earth. “Shaman
sent you to find the legend? Is this the same shaman who declared me outcast, the thunder with no
Aponi didn’t answer right away. She heard him wasting energy as he tried to rotate so that his
head was near the small connecting holes. “Shaman told us that your survival meant you were favored
by the great winged ones,” he finally said. “He said we had to follow the same way.”
“Shaman said that I must be abandoned, too. I was the reason the rains came no more. Perhaps
you were too young to remember.”
“You are cursed, it is true. But you did not die. You are thunder, the voice of the great ones, not
the thunder that has no rain, like Shaman first thought.” Doubt crept into his voice.
Jolan was tired, and talking wasted water, drying out her mouth. “Sleep, Aponi. In the night, we
must get you close enough to get home.” Still, she knew it could not happen until his leg was healed
more. He was too injured to make it on his own, and she needed to go toward the mountains, not away.
The winter days were growing into spring. She had already moved her camp twice to get closer to the
Jolan pillowed her head on her arms, dozing. She did not want to show Aponi water, nor did she
want him to know about her friends. It had not been the great winged ones she had learned from. The
sun creatures had ignored her—as had the rain. Her water came from Mother Earth, not Father Sky.
Because of Aponi, she did not expect Putla to come close this day, but that made it all the more
worrisome when she felt the nip at her ankle.
Lie still, she thought, snake. It was not unusual to wake with a snake nearby, but normally, she
arranged dried scrubby leaves that crackled if an enemy—or dinner—slithered into the coolness of the
Her knife was strapped to her ankle, but that wasn’t what caused the sudden burning sensation
when she twisted her body towards the light.
Putla had indeed come to her, but the tiny rat was covered with crawling desert bloodsuckers.
“Putla!” Jolan grabbed her friend, cursing and swatting at the same time. Even in the dim light,
she could see hundreds of the sand-colored parasites, each with a single red line down its back. The
creatures hopped and crawled up her legs. She gasped as the long mandibles bit down, searching for
“It’s too early!” The insects didn’t swarm until closer to summer. This was all wrong.
She scooted outside. The sun was easily at midmorning. Too hot!
“Aponi, we run,” Jolan yelled. “Quickly, move!” She tied her water sack on her waist and dared
to reach back for her arrows and leather sack. The six-legged parasites leapt atop her arm, biting in
tandem. Blisters mounded painfully.
Aponi was barely half out of his tunnel. He did nothing quickly with his leg still bound. She
hadn’t time for him. Checking her legs again and then the rat, she made sure every one of the
bloodsuckers, each about the size of a small maize kernel, was smashed.
The dead bodies didn’t fall; their pinchers clung to her skin and leathers. She yanked dead bodies
from Putla. How many times had the rat been bitten? What of her mate?
High bumps covered Putla’s back legs and most of her spine. Jolan stashed the rat inside her quill
bag, knowing Putla would chew the rest of the bloodsuckers off.
“What…are these things!?!” Aponi gasped.
He had to know the answer. The legends taught about the bloodsuckers. He may not have seen
them, but he would know what they were.
Aponi swiped several of them from his feet, smashing down his good foot against the ground, but

unable to do more than drag his other leg behind him.
“They swarm. We must run!” Jolan stepped further back, stomping and swatting at the
encroaching line. The swarm could easily follow and last longer than she in the daytime heat!
She looked to the foothills, but they were too far. There was not enough water in the lower
streams to stop the marching army of bloodsuckers.
She needed to move at full speed. Jolan spared a glance at Aponi, who scooted more quickly now,
then hopped as he gained his one good leg. His eyes caught hers, but he looked down quickly. He
smashed more of the burrowing creatures as they poured from the tunnel.
He did not say, “Go.”
Neither had she said “Go,” when the clan abandoned her. Of course, in Aponi’s case, he would
die. It was a worse death than she would have died even had she starved after the clan left her.
“Come on, then.” She offered her shoulder. “Keep killing them. We must find water…or…”
“They drown?” He slapped at his leg, wincing. His face was tight with the same pain she felt
along her own legs.
“They feed voraciously before summer, but it isn’t nearly time yet. No, they won’t drown. They
form a floating battalion with their bodies, strung together. But they cannot chase in water.” The nearest
water was a dry hole, which she dug into each morning after hunting and following Putla to succulent
cactus plants through the night. Sometimes the hole yielded nothing, and she relied on the cactus. There
was no such thing as flowing water and wouldn’t be until spring floods.
Desperately, Jolan dragged Aponi as he hobbled, but the parasites were faster. Jolan slapped at
them, killing and prying them off.
Into the sun! She headed for the canyon, the same one that had broken Aponi’s leg. They could
throw themselves over the side of the steep red rock and get slightly ahead of the crawling swarm.
Aponi would probably break his other leg, assuming they reached the canyon.
It was too far. The swarming, whitish bodies weren’t having any trouble keeping up. There were
even some ahead of them now, waiting for the collapse.
She had seen it happen. The swarm would chase the wild goats near the bottom of the dry
foothills. The bloodsuckers weakened whatever they touched. Eventually, the animal would fall over
and be covered.
She dragged Aponi faster. He used his bad leg now, as desperate as she to get away from the
They skirted a rocky outcrop and then passed a long-dead blackwood shrub that still reached for
the sky. Jolan dropped Aponi’s arm. “Keep going,” she panted, twisting towards the parched limbs of
the desert tree. “Jump into the canyon if you make it.”
Aponi mewled in despair, but the prick of the bloodsuckers forced him painfully forward.
With as much force as she could muster, Jolan ran at the tree, ramming her shoulder into it. She
grabbed a branch, snapping it off with her forward motion, but the old wood didn’t topple as she hoped.
Still, something inside made the mistake of moving, and that was all the parasites needed.
Jolan carried her prized branch back to Aponi, checking over her shoulder only once. Snakes,
lizards, sometimes a vulture or two—all used the dead blackwood at times, sheltering in its crevices
away from the brutal sun. She had caught dinner there more than once.
“Keep running!” she yelled.
Aponi grabbed at her, and she nearly fell trying to get his arm around her shoulder.
“Won’t they stop?” His neck turned nearly backwards as he watched the tree stump in horror.
“It won’t keep them.” She refused to look. Once the victim was covered in several layers of
parasites, the rest of the swarm would flow over the top and follow anything else that moved. “They
can still smell us. Feel us.” She pointed. “There!”
Aponi just wheezed.
“We have to jump. A few steps more, and we’ll be there.”

They weren’t fast enough. By the time they reached the edge, the insects were at their feet again.
Hundreds more closed in, making an odd clacking noise as millions of legs hit rock.
“Go,” she shouted, throwing her quill bag and the stick down. She waited only long enough to
make sure she wouldn’t have to push him. With both feet, she jumped, giving herself as much room as
possible to clear the jumbled rocks that formed the sidewall.
The fall hurt. Her body crushed in on itself, leaving no air. She felt strangely compressed, dizzy,
as though she were still moving.
Without air, she crawled anyway. “Huuuung.” Nothing. She pulled desperately, clutching her
lungs, commanding them to expand. She fell over again. The jarring against the sand released her
paralyzed lungs. “Huuuuung.” A little air.
Enough. She crawled forward, gasping. As she reached her bag, Putla peeked out. The rat had
fared better than she because she was lighter.
“Fire,” Jolan whispered. She yanked flint from her belt. She backed towards the canyon wall that
wasn’t crawling with parasites. On the way, she grabbed a single cactus branch, and, with a gasp of
triumph, she found her agave sweep.
“Putla…” She pushed the rat back inside her bag, leaving it against the base of the canyon. She
used the brittle agave swish as kindling, willing the branch from the blackwood to blaze. With the
canyon wall protecting her back, she arranged the few burning sticks into a small, triangular barrier.
The bloodsuckers could climb the rock around either side of the fire and come back down, but they
weren’t smart, they were swarmers.
He didn’t move, other than to breathe, his pants harsh. “Why didn’t you just leave me?” he asked.
“Get behind the fire,” she said. “Hurry.”
He didn’t hurry. With audible grunts of pain, he dragged himself towards the pitiful fire.
Jolan jumped outside the tiny area of protective flames. She ran down the canyon, finding
another stick. By the time she made it back, the parasites had turned toward her vibrating footsteps. She
smashed them without hesitation as she jumped the small flames.
The bloodsuckers finally helped her. Mindless beasts, they swarmed into the fire, snapping
backwards as their bodies hit the heat. Some caught and burned. Putla trembled behind Jolan’s foot.
“Keep them from putting the fire out,” she told Aponi. She used her bow to sweep the swarm
back, even as they committed suicide.
A wall of smoking corpses formed. The bodies smoldered. Oncoming parasites bit into the dying
bodies of their brethren or burned trying to climb over.
Sweat poured down Jolan’s face, worrying her almost as much as the swarm. There were many
hours left in the day. Hot, deadly hours.
She choked on the smoke, even though she tried to keep her mouth covered with one arm. She
watched in fascination as the parasites flamed. Without them, there wouldn’t have been enough fuel for
the fire to keep them back. She wondered if she could eat them.
Despite the deadly heat, her body shivered in disgust. With a harsh breath, she scooted back
against the canyon wall. Putla was very still, only her nose twitching. Beady eyes searched the rock for
a safe crevice, but she did not move.
Wisely, Jolan took the hint. She held an arm out to Aponi and said, “Shh. Be still.”

* * *

Like times before, it was Putla that saved her. When the parasites were gone, distracted by the
heat and unable to smell food through the smoke, Putla limped into a crevice. It was too small for Jolan
and Aponi, so the two of them moved as far into the canyon as possible.
There was shade, but not much else. Jolan dug into the cool sand, but working made things

worse. Her water skin was finished shortly afternoon.
Putla found them. The little rat dragged a fresh cactus pod through a nearby crevice.
After eating most of her portion of the cactus, Jolan took a long, dried root from her pack. She
needed water to help hydrate it, but since there would be none until dark, she mashed the root with the
juice from the leftover cactus as best she could.
Patiently, she smeared the stuff across Putla’s back, wiping bits of leftover on her own wounds.
Putla was small and hurt badly. To take her mind off her friend, Jolan said, “I saw the wing-legends
Aponi stopped fooling with the buckskin strips that were barely holding his leg splint in place.
Jolan handed him the rock that contained the last of the smeared paste. “Put what you can on the
“What did the wing-ones teach you?”
Jolan thought about it. “I’m not sure it was the legend. It was big, larger than the vultures. It had
a hump on its back, and I thought it might store water there. The feathers were strange, more like
scales. The place I saw it was even deeper in the badlands.”
“Did it fly? Did it lead you to water?”
Jolan thought about it. “In its way, I guess.”
Aponi crowed, “So it is true! The legend saved you!”
Jolan shook her head. “No. I had already learned many times how to find water, moving with the
seasons in search of it and food.”
“But you said the winged one showed you−”
“The legend reminded me that I could always drink blood if there was no water.”
Aponi stared at her, his mouth open.

Jolan put her face against the rock, hoping for a bit of relief. “That is all I learned from the wing-

“You didn’t drink the legend’s blood!”
“No, but that is the lesson I learned from it.” She pointed at Putla. “The rat was the important
teacher. I saw Putla for the first time at night when I was hunting. I nearly speared her with an arrow,
but I noticed she was eating the flat succulents, chewing around the spines. It made me thirsty,
“You drank her blood?”
Jolan snorted. “Of course not. That night, I ate the cactus and came back to find her again the
next night. I followed her and learned what to eat. I learned of the tunnels where she nested in the
daytime. Watching her taught me that it is better to leave things alive because you might need them
more later.” She jutted her chin at Aponi. “Even someone such as you.”
Aponi looked down. “You could have left the rat behind at the tunnels. The bloodsuckers would
have stayed to eat her and left us alone.”
“I could have left you also, and they would not have followed Putla and me,” Jolan said. “I would
have had more water. We cannot go back to the tunnels even now. That means the days will be harder
because I still must find water for us both and better shelter from the sun.”
She ignored his defiant look and continued. “But there is almost always a reason to save
something for later. If I had to, I could have let you jump into the canyon and left you then. Or even
earlier, when it looked as though we couldn’t run fast enough. It’s always best to save something for
later, not to…abandon too quickly.”
The afternoon sun was unbearable, and she was wasting water by talking. Without another word,
she pushed back against the canyon wall and closed her eyes.
* * *

By dusk, Jolan was parched. They had to move. She pointed Aponi in the right direction. “You’ve
got to make the end of the canyon. We’ll probably be stuck there tomorrow during the day. Tomorrow
night, you’ll have to climb out, and we’ll start crossing to better coverage.”
“What about you?”
“I will get water and food. I can move faster without you and get these things. But,” she warned,
“you must make the end of the canyon. Climb out if you think you can.” She didn’t know where they
would stay if he made it out, but the more ground he covered, the better their chances.
She needn’t have worried. By the time she collected the rich cactus pads, snared a lizard and then
dug for water, Aponi was barely three-quarters of the way there.
Though his lack of progress wasn’t his fault, she hated him. They might die.
She let him drink a full skin before disappearing to get a last fill. On the way, she stopped at the
tunnels, watching first to see if the parasites were now nesting there.
Warily, she allowed Putla to investigate.
The little rat came back with a store of cactus, and then on the second trip, with the water skin
that Aponi had left behind. The parasites only wanted blood, not plants or leather.
Jolan filled all the skins and spent the early morning getting Aponi to the canyon end.
The next days were more of the same. It took nearly ten suns to get near the lower hills.
At dusk the tenth night, she pointed Aponi in the right direction. Because his progress was so
painfully slow, she was forced to go back to the last water, rather than forward. They simply weren’t
close enough.
She cursed him as she jogged. She was worried about Putla. In the past, she always left the desert
rat because she was capable of surviving on her own. But this year, Putla was too weak to make it
through a summer without a mate and stores of food. Though the parasites wouldn’t eat cactus, they
would roam the tunnels for a long time searching for blood food.
Wanting food herself, she cursed. The animals were scarce this night.
It was this lack that slowly burrowed into her consciousness.
Her steps slowed. Periodically, she stopped to listen, taking cover.
The wind carried the first sounds.
Jolan changed her path. She had to get water, but she did not have to use such a direct route.
Careful now, she covered her tracks at least half the time.
Had she not been weighted down with Aponi, she might not have noticed the followers. She
would have moved quickly and made her spring camp in the hills—and then been forced to move when
they found her.
After climbing a boulder, she saw them. They must have camped during the day at the water that
could sometimes be found in the rock tunnel to one side of the nearby gully.
She grinned. The water, if it seeped at all, only did so near morning. The group had not caught
Jolan and Aponi because they had been forced to wait for water. Once they had it, there was no
traveling in the heat of the day.
Jolan circled around them, back to the gully. She dug and waited.
When the skins were full, she headed back, running, but made sure to keep away from the enemy.
The next night, she didn’t forage on her own. She helped Aponi only as far as a good shelter.
By the time the moon was setting, she had him settled in a small cave at the base of the hills.
“They will come soon,” she told him. “I will not wait with you.”
“What? Who? Why would you leave me here after saving me?”
“Why not?” She shrugged. “I have no need to keep you with me. Your clan has come for you.”
He shook his head. “No, they have come for you. They have no need of me.”
Jolan smiled. “Yes, they do. You have traveled with me long enough. If you listened to what I
told you, if you learned from what you ate, you have exactly what they need.”
“No! I have not seen the winged-ones, I don’t know where the valleys are green!”

Jolan sighed impatiently. “The clan is looking for paradise, for the place where the waters still

run. If they are to survive, Shaman was right: I hold the answer, but it is not the legend of the winged-
ones. The answer is that the clan must live within the means of Mother Earth. The clan must take on the

life that I have, roaming and following where the water is, rather than waiting for it to come to them.”
She loaded her pack and pointed to the succulent cactus leaves. “You need to search for these
each night. You need to show them to your friends when they find you.”
Jolan had almost climbed back out of the hole when his quiet whisper bounced across the cave.
“What if they leave me like before?”
She turned, but did not go back. “That is your first challenge, to convince them of your value.
Although I think your name will not be Tocho, mountain lion. You will be Mindo, he of knowledge.”
This time when she climbed, she did not stop. She hated to have shown him the cave, but he
could last many days in it, and so could those who followed. They would either believe Aponi or try to
follow her. With the lead she had, they would not find her.
Shaman had named Jolan, but he had been wrong. She was not thunder without water. She was
really water without thunder. She could not bring water from the heavens, but she could find it in the
Shaman had visions, but his interpretation left much to be desired.


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