Where it all began: SING TO ME OF DREAMS (Dream Suite, Book 1). The moment when Saylah begins to be free, and the sculpture that means ‘Take flight!’ to me. Here is an excerpt.
It was a warm summer day and the leaves of the maples were golden, the aspens pale green in the fine, filtered light. Saylah’s hair was restrained in a tidy knot by hairpins that hurt her head and reminded her how much she disliked the heavy, complicated way the Whites chose to dress. When a breeze touched her bare neck, she sighed with pleasure and reached up to take the pins from her hair. It fell loose down her back and she liked the way the breeze lifted it into the fragrant air, let it drift down to rest on her flushed cheek.
Brow furrowed, she moved pensively through the shifting shade. Then she came to the end of the path and stepped from the shadows of overgrown trees into a clearing thick with grass. Her gaze was drawn inexorably to a stump on the far side of the clearing. Once the tree had been a magnificent cedar, cut, no doubt, to clear land for the house. But the stump was taller than usual, and the bark had been carved, over many years, she thought, and perhaps by many hands, into a roughly textured deer.
Saylah was mesmerized by the power of the buck, which, though caught forever in rigid wood, seemed to live and breathe, even to stir in order to look at her with the soft eyes some gentle hand had shaped. The animal rose on its back legs, front legs bent in a graceful arc. On its head was a set of bone antlers that spread like the branches of a tangled tree. Only once before had she seen such magnificent antlers; those she had left on an altar with her blessing and her prayers for the People who had held them sacred.
Moving in a trance, she crossed the clearing, unaware of the dew that clung to her gown, impatient with her buttontop boots which pinched uncomfortably, slowed her down and held her back. She bent and tried to work the shoes free, but without her buttonhook, which lay at the bottom of her bag, the task was not easy. She found a twig and pried the buttons loose, dropped the shoes and her stockings beside her bag.
With a sigh of pleasure, she looked up, caught again by the power of the carved animal. When she was near enough, she touched the roughly shaved wood, ran her fingers down the side of the deer to its strong yet graceful legs. The wood was many shades and many textures; some had been exposed to the seasons for several years, some for only a few, some for a mere month.
She stood for a long time, transfixed by the texture of the wood, the ridges where the knife had not struck true, the planes that edged one into the other. Trailing her palm across the cedar, she moved around to see the animal from another angle.
Saylah stood paralyzed, painfully aware of the rapid beat of her heart. This magnificent buck, carved from a tall cedar stump so like the one she had killed years ago in the mists of legend that had become her childhood, was not a buck at all, but a doe. Whoever had taken knife in hand had not thought of the antlers that proclaimed this beautiful animal a male as the blade slipped through the rich red wood. Some unknown artist had given shape and substance to a memory, a precious piece of an old story, told and retold.
Saylah pressed her hand to her heart, which beat frantically against her palm. Until this moment, she had clung to the past, and now it had come back to her, made new. She smiled as she had not smiled for three years, freely and without restraint.
Then it came to her that she was not alone. She gasped and turned to see a white man, not much older than she, staring at her thoughtfully.
‘Forgive me,’ he said when he recognized her distress. ‘But you seemed lost in your thoughts, and I didn’t want to interrupt. I’ve never seen anyone look at the carved cedar deer in quite the way you did, like you’d found an old friend.’
Saylah stared at him, speechless. How had he guessed her thoughts, well-hidden from the eyes of most Whites?
‘Forgive me again,’ he murmured. ‘We haven’t been introduced. I’m Julian Ivy. You must be the woman the missionaries sent.’
She heard it then, the suppressed pain in his voice, the effort he made to sound at ease. ‘They call me Saylah.’ She noticed his muslin shirt, the sleeves rolled to the elbows, his earth-stained trousers and mud-caked shoes. He had been hard at work when she disturbed him.
She looked more closely at his face, at the lines between nose and mouth, carved deeply by sorrow, she guessed. She saw the film of sweat on his skin, his dark brown hair, blown into disorder by the wind.
He offered his hand in the greeting of his people. She was surprised he did not shrink from the touch of an Indian and a stranger. Saylah put her hand in his. Only then, as his fingers closed around hers, did she look directly into his hazel eyes. What she saw there made her ache with compassion and a fear she could not name. Those eyes were full of suffering, deeply rooted sorrow, a burden too heavy to bear, which he carried on his shoulders, and had for far too long.
Others might not have seen these things in Julian Ivy’s eyes; he had become a master at disguising what he felt. But to Saylah, it was as if he held a mirror that reflected her past, her secrets, her pain. Her sorrow gleamed on the polished surface like afternoon light on a green rippled lake.
‘Saylah,’ he said, breaking the stillness that had fallen between them, trying out the name on his tongue like a ripe red berry, ‘have you come to stay?’
She did not look at his smiling lips but at his eyes, which told his stories without words. Within those eyes was a plea he did not know existed, but she heard it just the same. She felt it as she had felt Kitkuni’s fear on the night of her marriage. As she had felt Koleili’s yearning when she named her Frenchman of smoke-dreamed memories.
But this plea Saylah could answer, because it was also her own. The lilting song of a stray breeze stirred, then settled into stillness. ‘I will stay,’ she told Julian Ivy, ‘for as long as you need me.’
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