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Spearfinger

(In Charles Frazier's Thirteen Moons, the main character, Will Cooper, a white man adopted by a Cherokee clan, has been sent to convince a fugitive clan leader named Lichen to come with his men and join a posse for another Cherokee named Charley, who with several others has murdered some U.S. Army soldiers. The commanding Army officer has told Will and the remaining Cherokee - a small clan under the wise leadership of a chief named Bear, who have escaped the Trail of Tears because they actually own their land - that they will be evicted all the same if they cannot track down the murderers and bring them to justice. Will has just finished arguing his case, part of which involved defending his credentials a genuine member of the tribe.)

Lichen said I was not the issue. He could not be at peace because soldiers had hunted them like wild deer. A year ago he had a wife and child, a woman he loved and a brave bright-eyed boy. And because they would not become slaves and be told where to live, they were left to starve upon the mountains. He had buried his child, and then shortly thereafter he had buried his wife. And this was his own country. How could that be right? Hunted like animals in your own country. Every man and woman with him had a similar story. So Lichen would agree neither to come down from the mountains nor to join in the hunt for Charley. They had known each other since boyhood. There was no precedent for hunting your own people like game. And so he scorned my proposition.

Bear had guessed at Lichen's response and had suggested that at some point I might need to tell the tale of U'tlunta. Spearfinger the Monster. I sat by the fire and told the story that everyone already knew. But I fleshed it out and used the best features of the language to make it live anew. I told how Spearfinger had been one of our people. A respected old woman until she went bad and began shifting shapes and became covered in scales as hard as plates of shale that no knife or arrow could break. She grew a forefinger like a spear point and poked everyone she met to the heart, men and women and children. Then shed opened them on and ate their livers. She brought threat and disorder down on the people. They didn't ask for it, she brought it. She went through the mountains singing a song, and it was pretty if you didn't listen closely to the words, for they were all about eating people's livers. Spearfinger forced the people to band together and find a way to kill her. They chased her through the mountains, and then they dug a pit and trapped her in it. A bird told them where to aim their arrows between the scales of rock to strike her heart. Her death was a sad victory for the people, for Spearfinger had once been one of them. But she had left them no choice.

At the end of the story, I paused. Five dramatic heartbeats. I could feel them beating in my wrists and temples. I said that by killing the soldiers, Charley and his people had brought similar threat of annihilation to all our people. And, similarly, we were left with no choice.

In the end, Lichen's people came on down to Wayah with me. Along the way, we collected a few more fugitive stragglers. After eating from the community stewpots nonstop for two or three days, Lichen's men joined us in searching for Charley. We scoured the rivers and creeks and streams like hounds after foxes. Charley and his family fled before us like driven deer or quail flushed to the guns by beaters.

- Charles Frazier, Thirteen Moons (Random House, 2006), pp. 260-261.

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