Shadows creeped up the side of the bluff overlooking the Valley of the Moon, as the sun passed low over the endless desert and nestled momentarily in the crook of the Whispering Mountains, before slipping behind the distant ridges. Brave Turtle watched in silence as the skies over the western horizon gradually shifted from the amber of eventide through shades of lavender to deep violet, and then into the pitch darkness of the realms of the night. The ancient though familiar travelers of the night sky peeked through the growing canopy of darkness, and marked ageless pathways across the heavens. The tiny points of light touched memory traces deep in the recesses of Brave Turtle's mind. In deep contentment he sat under the night skies, and listened to the song of the Ancients as it wafted across the heavens and whispered through the trees in the canyons below.
Hannah slipped off the seat of the buckboard and onto the dusty trail that led down into the valley in the direction of the Canyon of the Ancients. Uncle Terry held the horses steady as Hannah waved goodbye and made her way down the trail and into the underbrush. "You be careful, y'hear?" yelled Uncle Terry after her. "I will," Hannah called back. "And you call when you get to Grandma Ann's," added Uncle Terry. "OK, don't worry"; and then she was gone.
The sun was past mid-day, and without any wind was threatening to raise the temperature even higher than it was. There was a light cloud cover that took some of the edge off the heat. Hannah was traveling light because of the good weather, but was prepared for anything. She knew that a sudden storm could come up without warning in the badlands, and if it did the canyons would become raging torrents. Her plan was to make it through the Valley of the Moon by nightfall, and bed down under the stars on the bluff above the bend in the river half way through the valley. Then, with an early start she should make it to the Canyon of the Ancients by late afternoon tomorrow. Dad would be waiting there, and they would make the final leg of the trip to Grandma Ann's the following day. Hannah adjusted the collar of her windbreaker, and set her face for the far mountains.
Brave Turtle took the hand of the young girl, and as they walked beneath the trees in the silent canyon, he told her the story of the Flute Maker of the Ancients. "He walked among these very trees and spoke with the buffalo from the Great Plains," said Brave Turtle. "He listened to the beating of their hearts, and to their taking in of the breath that sustains. He listened as they spoke of their dreams and their longings, and he listened as they told their offspring tales told by the Ancients to their offspring in ages long ago. He listened to the winds as they came off the prairies that told the buffalo of the coming of a thunderstorm." The young girl looked up into the steel-grey eyes of her elder, and her eyes lit up and a smile crossed her lips. "Did he really listen to the buffalo, Brave Turtle?" asked the young girl. "The Flute Maker was a very wise man, and he knew the languages of the animals, but he was a most skilled listener," said Brave Turtle. "He above all others, heard the song of the buffalo."
Hannah found the going was getting more difficult because the trail wasn't clearly marked. She tried to stay on the shortest most direct route through the valley, but occasionally found that she had to go around a rock formation or an impenetrable stand of shrubs. Going over a rock barrier was the most difficult, and the most tiring. She checked her compass against her topo-map to make sure she was moving in the right direction, and she thought she was. Then she stuffed her map into her backpack, and started off again toward the west. The sun seemed to move quickly over the arc of the afternoon, and as she approached the bend in the river, she could feel the wind kick up a little. It was a dry wind, and warm, that gently rustled the leaves of the cottonwoods near the river's edge. She climbed a slight rise to the bluff above the river, and picked out a flat area near the edge overlooking the broad valley. Tired, she covered herself with her windbreaker and lay in the open under the stars and dropped off to sleep.
Hannah was up before the sun, and after a quick breakfast of power bars and trail mix, set off in the direction of the Canyon of the Ancients. She came to two huge rocks barring her way, and started down the narrow gap between them. As she neared the bottom she stumbled on a rock and went tumbling headlong onto the landing below. She felt a little dizzy, and thinking she must have bumped her head when she fell, shook her head to clear it. "Are you hurt, little one?" came a soft voice from behind her. Startled, she swung around and found herself looking into the face of an old man - a face of timeworn wrinkles and of dark skin the hue of rich clay, and a shock of silver-grey hair. His eyes were large, steel-grey and deep, yet kind and warm. A young girl stood at his side, and her large brown eyes looked out of a face framed in hair of jet-black. "Who are you?" Hannah stammered, her voice wavering. "Are you hurt," asked steel-grey eyes again. "Hunuuh," said Hannah cautiously. The old man knelt down beside her: "I am Brave Turtle, and my young companion is called by the name Wings of the Eagle." "Are you able to get up and walk?" asked the young girl. "Yes, I think so," answered Hannah, and with the two helping her she gingerly got to her feet. She wobbled a little, but remained standing.
"What are you doing in the Valley of the Moon without an elder?" asked Brave Turtle. "Are you lost?" "No, I know where I am, and I can take care of myself," said Hannah a little irritated. "I'm on my way to my grandmother's house on the other side of the Canyon of the Ancients." "Ah, you know of the Ancient ones," said Brave Turtle, his eyes suddenly alight. This was more a statement than a question. The young girl stood silently beside him, her eyes, too, fixed on Hannah. "Well, I only know stories my father used to tell me," said Hannah hesitantly, searching the closets of her memory. "He used to tell me bedtime stories that he said were about the Ancient People who lived in this valley. There was this wise old man - a story teller - who told of a Flute Maker that walked with the buffalo and talked with them." At this, the young girl started, and her eyes grew large. Brave Turtle nodded, "Yes - it seems your father knew well the stories of my people." Hannah's eyes narrowed ever so slightly - "What do you mean my father knew about your people?" she asked. Brave Turtle was silent for a moment.
"The teller of tales of whom your father spoke knew the Flute Maker," said Brave Turtle with a smile. "This Ancient artist would visit the Great River, and searching amongst the trees along its banks find just the right slender branch for his instrument. He was very careful in selecting the right wood, listening for its song, and would sometimes take a full cycle of the moon to find the right one." Hannah held Brave Turtle's eyes. "The Flute Maker would take that twig and work the wood just so, and in his nimble hands the wood came to life and worked also with him, and it became the finest of vessels for the hymns of the Ancients." Brave Turtle paused, and as he did so Hannah whispered, "This is the same story my father told me when I was younger." Brave Turtle nodded and continued: "By the next new moon, the buffalo heard a deep music, as though the heart of the night sky itself sounded - low, almost below a warrior's hearing, it would beat as their hearts beat." Brave Turtle pointed beyond the treetops to the ridge of the canyon above them. "Do you see the high point in the rocks above? It is the place where the sun first strikes the earth in the morning - a place where the sun at twilight last touches the earth before making its nightward journey." As Brave Turtle paused again, Hannah added, "and, the Flute Maker would stand in that spot and his music would rise to the heavens, and the buffalo would weep." "Yes," said Brave Turtle nodding.
Then, Brave Turtle's eyes grew dark and took on a pall as though a shadow had passed before the sun. "Sadly, the Ancients were visited by men of darkness - those who dwelled in the shadows for their strength, who delighted in the misfortunes of others. Theirs was not a path chosen for its light, but for ill deeds of a darker more sinister nature. T'Mas Nellsohn was the most vicious and unfeeling. Given to attacks against great and small alike, he held forth with such intense ferocity as to kill the spirit of the People. Jaysonn Gaellordh was the most eloquent of these men, speaking in the silvered tongues of the Ancients. A most deceptive skill, this, for he spoke with a split tongue, and his dual and ill thoughts turned my People from the sun until they saw naught but shadows in the midst, the very handmaidens of evil. Their hearts hardened, and life became spare and without hope - the breath of life eventually left them. A third messenger of darkness, one Jamison Bhurtone, was the coldest of heart of these three, and blood ran cold at the mere mention of his name. His eyes were deep pools of anger, unfathomable in their darkness, and cold as places in the deepest heavens hid from the Ancient lights. These men freely dispensed their collective venom, poisoning the land, and the hearts and souls of my People. Life in the face of such could not survive, and in time my People died away, most of a broken spirit.
The young girl was saddened on hearing this tale - the Ancients were a people of mystery, proud and full of life, and she had up to this time heard nothing but their stories of life and creation. Saddened by this revelation, her eyes filled until huge tears rolled down her cheeks. Hannah reached out a hand, and laid it gently on her arm, and taking her by the shoulders pulled her in to herself and enveloped her. Brave Turtle, his eyes shining with a deep fire, reached out his arms and enveloped the two young girls in his large and warm embrace. "Do not weep, young one," he whispered. "The Flute Maker works still, and his ancient art prevails - his song comes on the south winds that glean from the prairies the song of the buffalo. You hear his song in the dew of the morn that graces the flowers of the hillsides. It is in the scent of newly turned earth, and in the call of the raven in the deepest canyons. It is in the eyes of all creatures, and in your own heart, if you but remember. So, be still and know that the song of the buffalo is still heard and not forgotten."
Hannah blinked her eyes, and shook her head again - it still hurt a little. She found herself lying at the base of the narrow gap between the two huge rock formations she was climbing down when she fell. The earth was soft and cushioned by a layering of grasses and low-lying shrubs and had broken her fall. She sat up and felt her arms and legs - she was scratched up a bit, but seemed intact and none the worse for wear. She looked around, but found herself alone. "Hello…! Anyone there? Brave Turtle…!" she called out, her voice echoing off the far wall of the Canyon. Silence - not even the gentle whisper of the wind in the cottonwoods nearby. Hannah dusted herself off, all the while looking around to find her companions. Nothing. She checked her watch - 4:20 - time she was on her way if she's going to reach the rim of the Canyon of the Ancients by nightfall.
The sun completed its arc across the heavens, arriving at the rim of the Canyon at the same time as Hannah - at dusk. The light cloud cover had cleared, leaving the skies a deep azure. As the sun set beyond the mountain ridges to the west, the heavens underwent its nightly transformation from the realm of the sun to the domain of night, and Hannah could feel the earth making its peaceful transformation in concert. As she approached the grand oak tree just back from the rim of the Canyon, she heard her name called, "Hannah - hey, Hon - over here." Dad stood leaning against the ancient guardian of the Canyon, a smile lighting his face. Hannah waved, and rushed over to him and threw her arms around his neck. "Hey, what's with this?" blurted her father, "Are you OK…?" "Yeah, I'm all right," answered Hannah, "but, do I have something to tell you…!"