Gunslingers of Paradiso–The Outsider

December 6, 2009

The Outsider

The plains had been in a deep drought, but that morning when the old Chief woke up. As he sat with his grandson, he wondered if what kind of omen it was. There was great unrest among his people, who had recently been forced west by the armies of the white man.

Tell me grandson, does it bother you that the children of the tribe shun you?”

The boy looked up at his grandfather–his face pale and serious, framed by golden hair. The son of his only daughter, the boy was the product of his daughter’s relations with one of the soldiers at a nearby fort. Dressed in tanned clothes of animal skins, the boy was thin and frail looking–somewhat weak in comparison to the other children. His grandfather–dressed in woven robes–looked every bit the authority figure the village believed him to be. A proud and generally pained looking face appraised the boy cautiously, his headdress keeping his bald head concealed.

No grandfather,” he replied.

Really?” the old Indian asked. “You have always been an outsider here. Your father abandoned you to return to the East with the White Man’s army. Mixed blood does not bode well with the other Elders. Your salvation has always been that you are my grandson and I have always protected you. But that will not last forever. I will not last forever. And now you are at the age of manhood. Tomorrow you will be tested. So I ask again, does the hatred of my people bother you?”

Hatred is useless, grandfather. Why should I let theirs bother me when I have plenty of my own?”

The old man smiled at his grandson.

You are ready,” he said.

#

The Trial of Manhood was a two day affair, beginning with an Elder guiding the young man on a spirit walk before sending them off to accomplish their task. In the case of the Chief’s grandson, the spirit walk ended quickly and he was off into the plain. He was searching for the rare flowers and plants used in a particularly potent healing remedy. The Elder had decided the boy should look for herbs, roots and plants for healing potions.

In most cases, the boy returns from his quest at the end of the second day. The Chief’s grandson did not. At the end of the third day, he had not returned. Midway through the fourth day, he stumbled back into the village. He collapsed on the edge of the village–dehydrated.

The Elder who had sent him on his way came up to the boy as he drank up the water offered by a kindly girl.

You were gone for so long a time,” he said. “Many here thought you were dead.”

You sent me in search of a root that was very difficult to find,” the boy replied. “I had to go many miles to locate it.”

The Elders had gathered around as the boy spoke. His grandfather laughed.

He has more of my blood in him than I thought,” the Chief cackled. “Let him be called the Tender of the Earth. Come with me boy. There is one thing yet to do before your day is done.”

The young man followed his grandfather to his tent. The old man lit his pipe and took a long drag before passing it to Tender of the Earth. The younger man took a drag and coughed, eliciting a laugh from his grandfather.

You’ve done a man’s work on this day,” the Chief said. “You had a greater challenge than most receive. I believe the Elder did that intentionally.”

Will you do anything in response?” Tender of the Earth asked.

No. My position in the village only allows me to protect you so much. Beyond that, there is little I can do for you. Which is why I am concerned for you. Once I pass on, you will be in danger.”

You have many years left grandfather. And I can take care of myself.”

That you have proven, but there are things you must realize. Things you must learn.”

Grandfather?”

I have asked for the medicine man to teach you his ways. I believe you have the potential to be skilled in those areas.”

But Grandfather, I am capable and strong. I can be a great warrior. I should be–”

You are not truly of this tribe. You are of mixed blood. I love you like a son, but you are still an outsider. Such as you are not embraced as warriors. The medicine man understands this. He too is outside the tribe.”

You’ve told me that the white men would not accept me either.”

That is true. They have many of the same prejudices that we do. You will belong to no tribe. But at the same time, all the tribes. These tribes could be united, but they need someone to show them the way. You could do that. So that is why you will study with the medicine man.”

#

The medicine man lived outside of the village, having a secluded area where he could prepare his potions and elixirs. As a child, Tender of the Earth and the other children had been afraid of him. The withered and frail Indian struck fear into any who happened to require his assistance–an impossible combination of old age and lithe agility that most found unsettling.

So it was when Tender of the Earth was sent to the medicine man. The ancient Indian was sitting outside his tent, cross-legged and smoking a pipe by the fire as Tender of the Earth arrived. He did not look at the boy, only kept staring at the flames with his long face staying emotionless. Tender of the Earth stood waiting for the old man to speak or do something.

You must become attuned to the needs of the Earth,” the old man stated. He did not move as he spoke–his long, black braid unmoving. “Sit down and learn.”

Tender of the Earth sat and waited for him to speak again. It was a long time before he realized the old man had fallen asleep. He nudged the man awake again, trying to be gentle about it.

Do not wake a sleeping man unless it is absolutely necessary,” the medicine man said. “It can be bad luck.”

My teacher not teaching me can also be bad luck,” the boy replied. “Are you going to teach me anything?”

You are not truly one of us,” the medicine man said simply. “How can I trust you to actually be an attentive student when you are descended from such recklessness.”

I am the grandson of the Chief. You would call him reckless?”

You are still here, aren’t you?”

The boy remained silent. He did not have a retort. The old man smiled at him.

You’re not as hopeless as one would think,” he said. “I think you have a greater purpose than any of us could realize. Tell me, would you go back to the lands of the white man?”

I don’t see why I’d be anymore welcome with them than I am here,” the boy replied.

True enough. That is your way. You can walk in both worlds, but truly be a part of neither. You can serve a higher purpose to them both. Tell me, what are you called?”

Tender of the Earth.”

Heh. Fitting. When you were born, your mother wanted you to have a white man’s name. To name you after your father, she said. His name was Gardner Lambert. Do you know what a gardener is?”

I don’t.”

A gardener is a man or woman who tends to the raising of crops. The name of your father likely comes from this word. I think that is your destiny to be a gardener for both of your peoples. Not a coincidence that your grandfather gave you that name. That is why I will call you Gardner. Now, will you learn and become attuned to the needs of the Earth?”

Yes.”

#

Gardner learned the ways of the medicine man for five years, studying herbs and healing methods as they worked with the tribe. The Chief died not long after Gardner began studying with the medicine man. There were times of difficulty for him, but he was able to conquer it and persevere with the occasional act of kindness.

The tribe traveled west, moving away from the white man’s armies with the plan to go into Canada or Mexico. They got across the mountains when they encountered a group of outlaws that had been wounded while robbing a train. One was dying when Gardner and his people found him.

Against the wishes of his people, he healed the man–treating the wounds, removing the bullet, and offering some wisdom in how he might better heal. After the man departed–likely to be arrested for another crime–Gardner was exiled from the tribe. The medicine man walked with him as he began to go south.

This is what you meant by not belonging to either tribe,” Gardner said. “I try to help one, the other will fear me.”

That is the way of it,” the medicine man conceded. “Go in peace, my friend. Find your way.”

I thank you for teaching me. I will try to remember your lessons well.”

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