To Spoil the Sun

To Spoil the Sun

by Joyce Rockwood

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A classic about the devastation of smallpox is back in hardcover after many years

"'You cannot imagine what it [smallpox] is like. It falls on everyone and soon there is no one who can stand. It is like a fire that sweeps through the town, an invisible fire. People begin to fall with fever, and blisters rise on their skin and turn to running sores, and there is no way to give them comfort.'

I reeled at the force of it, horror-struck, unable to imagine it."

It is the sixteenth century and Rain Dove, a young Cherokee girl, lives in Mulberry Town. If things continue the way they always have, she can look forward to choosing a husband (her grandmother advises picking a young warrior) and raising a family. But after smallpox strikes, life for the people of the Seven Clans will never be the same.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429937221
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date: 09/01/2003
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 192
File size: 259 KB
Age Range: 12 - 18 Years

About the Author

Joyce Rockwood was born in the Midwest but has spent most of her life in Georgia. She studied anthropology at the University of Georgia, where her husband, Charles Hudson, is a professor of anthropology. Together they have immersed themselves in researching the culture and history of the Native Americans of the South. Other highly acclaimed books Ms. Rockwood has written about Native Americans include Long Man's Song and Groundhog's Horse, as well as Apalachee, an award-winning adult novel published under the name Joyce Rockwood Hudson.

Joyce Rockwood was born in the Midwest but has spent most of her life in Georgia. She studied anthropology at the University of Georgia, where her husband, Charles Hudson, is a professor of anthropology. Together they have immersed themselves in researching the culture and history of the Native Americans of the South. Highly acclaimed books Ms. Rockwood has written about Native Americans include Long Man's Song, To Spoil the Sun and Groundhog's Horse, as well as Apalachee, an award-winning adult novel published under the name Joyce Rockwood Hudson.

Read an Excerpt

To Spoil the Sun

There were four omens. I was young, only nine years old, when the first omen came. I heard it discussed around the fire, told and retold until it became a part of my own knowledge, until it became as if I had witnessed it myself.
The first omen came to Mink alone. Only he saw the hawk dive into the cornfield. He saw it strike down in the midst of brown stalks and rise with a snake in its talons. A snake in winter in the cornfield. A rattlesnake in the cold of winter. Mink saw the hawk rise, beating its wings, the snake writhing beneath. He watched the hawk as it struggled with its prey, as it beat its wings toward the brown hills beyond the valley. He saw the snake whip suddenly, striking its fangs into the heart of the hawk. The hawk stiffened and fluttered down through the stillness of the air. Mink ran toward them as they fell and he saw them sprawl against the earth. He saw the snake crawl away through the dry weeds beneath the broken stalks. He went after it to see where it would go. But already it had disappeared. He went back to the hawk. As he looked at it, piteously dead upon the earth, he was seized with fear, and he hurried back to Quail Town.
My father was the watchman that day. He stood atop thepalisade, on one of the bastions in the wall of closely set timbers. He saw Mink coming up through the valley. My father knew Mink was disturbed. He knew it by the way his bearskin robe was drawn too tightly about his shoulders. He saw Mink cross the log bridge over the ditch outside the palisade. He saw him wind through the wall's entrance and pass along the streets between the houses to the open plaza in the town's center. There, Mink went directly to Gray Hawk's house, a small dwelling beside the great townhouse.
Inside he sat with Gray Hawk at the fire. After they had smoked together, Mink told him what he had seen. Gray Hawk sent for Shaker and then for several other beloved men. In their age and wisdom they smoked tobacco and talked. Late in the afternoon it was decided that Mink should speak to the Seven Clans in council.
In the evening when the people had gathered in the townhouse, Shaker spoke to them for Gray Hawk, announcing that Mink wished to address the council. They divided then into seven clans, each person moving to his proper seat on the tiers of benches, all the clans in order, forming a circle around the great room. The fire was in the circle's center, Ancient Fire, flickering, throwing its dim light upon the Seven Clans.
The pipes were passed to open the council, to bring the people together into one mind. Then Mink rose to speak.
"People of the Seven Clans! I stand before you as your nephew, and as your brother, and as your uncle. Whenever I speak to you within this circle, standing as I am before this Ancient Fire, it is a walk we take together along the straight path of truth. I see the path now stretched before us. Come and let us walk upon it. Let me speak to you about a certain matter."
Mink told them of the disturbing things he had seen in the cornfield. A snake, traveler of the warm seasons, going about the earth in the cold of winter. And worse, a bird of the sun struck dead from the sky by a creature of the Lower World. Mink's words were like the fangs of the snake striking into the heart of the Seven Clans. Fear swept in a circle around the fire. As Mink took his seat, another of the beloved men rose to speak.
"People of the Seven Clans! You who are my brothers and my sisters; you who are my nieces and my nephews; you who are my grandchildren. The words of my younger brother are straight, but the truth does not always put our hearts at ease. We ask ourselves what it means that he has seen such a thing. Does it mean that our corn will fail? People of the Seven Clans, we must prepare against a famine. I think this is the meaning of what was seen."
Mink rose again. "My older brother is very wise. He has often seen the true shape of strange events. I am not so wise, and perhaps that is why I fear that some misfortune even greater than this has been foretold. But what could it be? I myself do not know."
The incident was discussed throughout the night, Mink repeating the story, adding to it every detail he could remember. Different ones thought they knew what it meant, but in the end there was no consensus. The council adjourned without deciding what to do.

When in the same winter the second omen came, it was for everyone to see. I myself remember it clearly. It began with a thunderstorm that awakened me in the night, a violent storm with beating rain and crashing thunder. I lay frightened inthe darkness and heard my mother say to my father, "Thunder in winter. It is not good."
I called out to my mother.
"Go to sleep, my little daughter," she said. "It is nothing. Listen to the rain on the roof and let it take you to sleep again."
I pulled the blanket over my head and listened to the rain striking against the bark roof and to my mother and father whispering together in their bed. Then outside the house there was noise and confusion, there were people running in the streets between the houses. "Seven Clans, come running! The warriors' tree is burning!"
My father leaped from his bed, and my brothers too, and they ran out into the rain, my mother following behind. No one told me to stay or to come. I jumped up and went with them, although I did not understand the reason for the excitement. Women were wailing. People were running through the town and out through the palisade entrance and over the ditch to stand and look across the valley at the warriors' tree. I followed my brothers to a bastion in the palisade and they began scrambling up to the top.
"Let me!" I cried, and Two Crows stopped and helped me up until I was standing beside him at the top, looking out over the valley, staring at the small orange glow in the distance. The rain had turned to a fine drizzle. Beneath us were the people watching the light of the burning tree. A few men were running out across the valley, while others were returning, crying as they ran, "It is the warriors' tree!" Women were wailing; they loosened their hair and let it fall disheveled, as if someone had died. I began to tremble, not because I understood what was happening, but because the women were wailing and because the men were running and shouting.
It was not until later that I knew the reason for their distress. The tree that burned was the honey locust tree. That was where the warriors stopped when they returned victorious from the war trail. They would hang their scalps and other trophies on the long thorns of the tree and paint themselves for celebration while a herald ran to the town to announce their return and their victory. The people would come to the tree to meet the warriors and lead them back to the town in a joyous procession. The honey locust is Thunder's tree, and Thunder is the force that guides men safely along the trail of war. In the Ancient Days he promised never to allow lightning to strike a honey locust tree. His promise to the Seven Clans had never before been broken. But that night it seemed that Thunder had abandoned our warriors, and that was why the women wailed.
On the day after, word spread among the children of the town that the tree had burned completely away, that there were no charred pieces, only a scattering of white ashes. Who had ever heard of such a thing? It must have certainly been an omen. Some of the older girls among us, their fears revived, began to wail anew. But I was too young. I went off with girls my own age and we played that we were married and that our husbands had been killed on the war trail. We wailed and mourned, but for us it was only play. Nothing more.

The third omen did not come until the following summer. On the day it happened, almost everyone was away at the ball ground watching the warriors play stickball. It was Mink who left the game and went back alone to the empty town. When he entered the palisade he noticed that there was no smoke rising from the townhouse. No smoke where there had always been smoke before. He hurried into the townhouse andfound Shaker crying and beating his head against a post. In the hearth the Ancient Fire had died; there was nothing but charred wood, cold and black, no smoke, no heat, no breath of fire.
"My beloved older brother!" gasped Mink. "The fire is out!"
Shaker nodded, moaning, beating his head still harder until Mink ran to him and pulled him away from the post.
"How did it happen, my older brother?"
"I was not asleep," groaned Shaker. "I was sitting with the fire just as I should have been. Look at the wood! Look at it there. I didn't starve the fire. You can see the wood. You can see it for yourself. You can see that it was burning. I was not sleeping! I did not let it burn out!"
"I can see the wood. I can see that it was burning."
"It was burning, but then I realized it was starting to die. And yet it was nothing alarming. I went over and stirred it a bit. I didn't want it burning too much, just enough. But the coals kept fading, losing their heat as if they were being slowly smothered. I asked myself, What is this? and I added dry moss to bring up a flame. I put dry moss on hot coals and no flame came up. I blew and there was no flame. The coals still lost their heat. There was smoke and smoulder, but no flame. The moss was smothering it! I knocked it off and blew the coals. They glowed a little, but they were fading, dying. I put on some splinters, but they wouldn't light. I tried, but they would not light. I was the keeper of Ancient Fire. I was the keeper ... ." Shaker moaned and rocked.
"It didn't die because of you," Mink said to him gently. "It was something else, something beyond you. There was nothing you could have done."
"I was the keeper!" Shaker began to bite at his own arm, drawing blood. Mink stopped him and pulled him to his feet.
"Come with me, my older brother. Come with me to visit my mother."
The town was empty that day. All of us were at the ball ground, all except the sick and the very old. Mink's mother was old, too old to leave her bed. She was alone in her house with Trotting Wolf, Mink's nephew, who had been given the task that day of watching over his grandmother. Trotting Wolf was only fourteen at the time. He was not happy to be missing the ball game. As he later told me, he thought Mink had come to relieve him.
Mink took Shaker into the house and sat him down.
"Here is Shaker, my mother. He has come to visit you."
Mink's mother was extremely old. As she peered at Shaker from her bed, her small head shook slowly back and forth. Her voice was soft and tremulous.
"It is good that you have come," she said.
"Trotting Wolf is leaving now," said Mink. "Shaker will stay here with you. He will take care of you until we return."
Shaker looked up at Mink.
"I am entrusting you with the care of my mother," said Mink. "She must have someone with her. I am sure no man would do himself violence before the eyes of such a venerable old woman."
Shaker bowed his head. Mink and Trotting Wolf left the house. Outside, Mink said, "Something terrible has happened, my nephew. Ancient Fire has died in the townhouse hearth. Shaker was the keeper and he blames himself, but it seems not to have been his fault. I am going back to the ball ground now to tell Gray Hawk and the people, but you must stay here and watch to see that Shaker does not try to leave your grandmother's house. I am afraid of what he might do. Don't let him see you or he will realize that he doesn't have to be sitting there with your grandmother."
"I'll try to keep him safe," said Trotting Wolf. "But what does it mean that the fire has died?"
Mink shook his head. "I don't know," he said. "I don't know what it means."
He left Trotting Wolf and went out of the town, down through the valley, and along the river to another valley, much smaller than ours, a flat expanse of bottom land where the ball game was being played.
The day Ancient Fire died in the townhouse, my brother Two Crows was the hero of the ball game. While Shaker was weeping and beating his head, I was laughing and cheering as my warrior brother carried the ball six times through the goal for our team from Quail Town. Once that day, he even got turned around in the fray and began running the wrong way, carrying the ball toward Bear Hill's goal. We laughed and screamed as the Bear Hill team helped him through. His own teammates tried to reach him to wrestle him to the ground. But suddenly he realized his mistake and spun around and raced all the way back to the Quail Town goal, hurling the ball through with his ball sticks and scoring a point. All the cheers were for my brother. I could hardly take my eyes from him. Two Crows, the finest warrior on the ball field, the swiftest, the most cunning, the most good-natured, the favorite.
My eyes were so fixed upon him that I did not realize anything was happening until he himself noticed it. Then I looked where he was looking and saw Gray Hawk and several beloved men hurrying from the ball ground toward the town. I saw the game officials standing together on the ball field with Mink in the center. Then the head official for the Quail Town team left the others and walked to the center of the field and raised his arms for silence.
"Quail Town must call an end to the game," he announced. "At this moment we are ahead, but all of us know that the game has not been played to the finish. We know that a team often comes from behind to score the winning point. Therefore we give the game to Bear Hill. The spoils of victory are theirs."
Not a sound was heard on the ball ground, not a whisper, not a question. In dreadful silence we waited to hear why such a thing was happening. But child that I was, my distress was not for any impending news of calamity, but for the loss of the shell ear pins I had bet on the game. I had put my faith in Two Crows when I had added these, the finest of my possessions, to the wager piles at the edge of the field. It had never occurred to me that I would lose them, and now I wanted to creep over and snatch them back before the Bear Hill people took them away. But I forgot my ear pins and everything else when Turtleback went onto the field and began to speak, for even a child such as I knew the meaning of Ancient Fire.
Turtleback was too old to speak loudly, and we strained to hear his words. "Seven Clans of Quail Town! You are my grandchildren, most of you, and some of you are my nieces and my nephews, and even a few are here, white upon the head as I am, who are my brothers and my sisters. These few, like I, were born away from here, in Blue Valley, our mother town. We still remember how in our youth our parents brought us down the river to a new valley and built new houses and a palisade of timber, tall and secure, to protect us from our enemies. But at first we had no townhouse and no Ancient Fire. We would journey back to Blue Valley for our feasts and celebrations.
"In the fullness of time it fell to me to stay in Blue Valleyto study with one of my mother's brothers who lived there, an uncle who possessed the deep knowledge of the Seven Clans, who had learned it from his uncle, and he from his, and so on back into the Ancient Days of our people. At the end of my study a townhouse was built at Quail Town and the coals of Ancient Fire were given to me by the headman of Blue Valley. He addressed me with these words :
"'Quail Town now receives a fire of its own. It is like a baby jumping down from its mother's womb. For the first time it has a breath of its own. The Seven Clans of Quail Town have chosen you to be their headman. You are the keeper of the fire. It is for you and your brothers to guard the breath of your town until others are chosen by the Seven Clans to take your place.'
"Now my nephew Gray Hawk is your headman. He has been admired all around the circle for his fairness in guiding the council and for his reliance on the gray-haired wisdom of the beloved men. He and his brothers have been loved by you as they have faithfully kept the fire.
"Beloved people of the Seven Clans! My heart is in pain and my eyes are filled with tears! The breath has gone out of Quail Town! Our town lies in the valley like a corpse in its bed! There is no heartbeat in the center! The fire has gone out!"
There was no outburst from the people. No wailing as on the night the warriors' tree had burned. Loved ones drew quietly into clusters and clung to each other, and on many faces there were tears.
The next one who spoke was the headman from Bear Hill. His speech was very short.
"Brothers and sisters of Quail Town. We tremble and weep with you in your misfortune. We are kinsmen of thesame Seven Clans. We will not claim from you the spoils of a victory we have not won. There has been no victory on this day. Let each go home with what he brought."
And so the ball ground was soon empty, and we were walking back to the town. A few of the women began softly wailing, but there was, overall, a calm. Husband stayed beside wife, and child beside parent; yet each was alone with a cold, dark fear, and many were whispering to themselves, "What does it mean?"
The council met day after day. Every aspect of the thing was discussed. There were many at first who blamed Shaker, believing that he had slept. Gray Hawk declined to lead the council because, as he said, "A man must answer for the act of his brother." It was debated whether to choose another headman, but when consensus was at last reached, Shaker was exonerated and Gray Hawk was persuaded to resume his position of leadership. But for Shaker it was too late. He could not bring himself to lift his head and walk among us. I can still remember the day I heard that he was dead, that he had pushed an arrow into his own heart.
The council grimly carried on. They considered whether or not to abandon the town. There were some who felt that this would be the safest course. But our valley was very fertile and well-situated, and most of us loved it too much to leave. And so it was decided that the townhouse and all the houses of the people would be cleansed and the bark taken from the frames and burned and we would begin anew. Some, like my parents, burned even the frames of their houses and started over completely. Old Turtleback was sent to Blue Valley with Gray Hawk and the beloved men, and they brought back Ancient Fire and placed it in the townhouse. The beloved men then decreed that a new town had been born. Wecalled it Mulberry Town. But of the two hundred people who had been living in Quail Town, there were perhaps thirty who did not join the consensus. Quietly withdrawing from the council, they gathered together their things and moved back up the river to live in Blue Valley.

The last omen, like the first, was also seen by Mink alone. It was the fourth, the completion, the closing of a circle around that which was foretold. But there was no one in the Seven Clans with power enough to see into the circle. No one knew what was there. "It is a black circle," the priests would say, but even I knew that, and I was but a child.
When Mink saw the fourth omen, he was downriver near Bear Hill, traveling off the paths gathering herbs and roots for medicine. He came to a large clearing in the forest, a place known to most of our hunters for the deer that could often be found there. He squatted at the edge of the forest to dig a root, and when he looked up again, he saw Immortals standing together in the clearing. How many were there he could not say. They looked to him like ordinary people of the Seven Clans, but he knew they were spirit people because they had appeared so suddenly. He nodded to them, but decided to stay away from them. One can never be sure about Immortals. Usually they are friendly. But they can sometimes be mischievous.
So Mink stood back from them and watched. A herd of deer came into the clearing. Then, to his surprise, the Immortals went among the herd and began to leap onto the backs of the deer, and the deer began to run about the clearing carrying the Immortals on their backs. The Immortals looked at Mink and laughed at him. Yet there were some who were weeping--there were some who looked at him andmourned. The herd bolted suddenly from the clearing, carrying away the Immortals as they ran. Mink tried to follow them through the forest, but they left no trail, no tracks of any kind, and he soon gave up and went back to the town.
When the Seven Clans were told of this, they were afraid, for they knew that a circle of omens had been completed. More of our townsmen, about twenty in all, packed their things and moved up the river to Blue Valley. They did not know then that in all the mountains and valleys of the Cherokees, in all the land of the Seven Clans, there would be no sanctuary.
Henry Holt is a registered trademark of Henry Holt and Company, LLC Text copyright © 1976 by Joyce Rockwood Hudson All rights reserved.

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