She crept through the tall grass, as silent as the falling of a feather. Far off in the distance shone the light of the evening fire where Chief Rock Face and his squaw sat and rested after a wearisome day of the hunt.
Princess Lilly Out of Water looked back for a moment, and although she knew it was a betrayal for her face to express what she was feeling, a glare of disapproval did enter her eyes. Princess Lilly Out of Water was thinking about how, before the sun had gone to bed, her mother said that girl Indians could not be braves, because braves were from the tribe’s male stock. Hearing that, Princess Lilly Out of Water’s face had stiffened into an iron mask, and through clenched teeth she vowed, “I want to hunt, to trap, to fight like all the other braves. And someday, I will be chief!”
Princess Lilly Out of Water was staring, hot-faced and indignant, at her mother, when Chief Rock Face walked into the teepee and asked what was wrong. His squaw explained, and he looked down at his daughter, the lips of his stony face compassionate. He said, “Princess Lilly Out of Water, I do not know of any other princess who disobeyed the wishes of her tribe to become a brave, but I will bring the matter up at the next tribal counsel, and I, myself, will support you, for if ever a young one deserved to be called a brave, it is you, my little Indian.”
But all that had happened while the sun was still a golden ball in the sky, and while other Indian children climbed among the trees like careless vines. Now, the sun slept, and other children slept. All, except for Princess Lilly Out of Water and Little Frown, her friend.
Princess Lilly Out of Water heard a hoot coming from the great oak tree by the stream, far from the sleepy peace of the teepees, and surrounded by many small willow trees and scrub oaks. It was to the great oak tree that Princess Lilly Out of Water softly crept. “Hoot. Hoot,” her voice broke the silence. “Hoot. Hoot,” came from the tree in answer.
When she reached the great oak tree, Princess Lilly Out of Water started to climb to the fourth branch from the ground, the thick, flat, strong one that makes so good a seat, and her friend, Little Frown greeted her. “May the evening sit quietly in your heart like a gentle sparrow lying peacefully in the palm of your hand,” said Little Frown as Princess Lilly Out of Water slid onto the branch beside her. “May night draw about you like a curtain of pleasant dreams,” answered the princess, and then, looking proudly at her friend, continued, “Little Frown, Chief Rock Face says that someday I may be a brave, then, perhaps, chief of all the Blackfoot nation. When I am chief, Little Frown, I’ll make you my Medicine Man, if you want to.”
“I don’t want that, Lilly.”
“Well, I’m going to have a lot of power. So you can be anything you want. Assistant Chief, or anything.”
Little Frown straddled the branch and laid down, her face looking up at Princess Lilly Out of Water, her chin resting on her crossed arms. “When I grow up, Princess Lilly Out of Water, I am going to be a great journalist. I’m going to write for a newspaper and go overseas to dangerous places and tell the oppressed people in the world about what freedom is like.”
Princess Lilly Out of Water nodded with understanding. She had known for a long time that Little Frown would one day leave the tribe. The thought of bearing the burden of tribal decisions without her friend to consult made her feel all the vast loneliness of the future, but she knew that Little Frown must follow her destiny, just as Princess Lilly Out of Water must follow her own.
“I want to be your friend forever, Little Frown.”
“Oh, Lilly. Nothing in the world would make us not be friends. Not ever.”
“But it could happen if we don’t do something about it.”
“What could happen, Princess Lilly Out of Water?”
“Once I heard Chief Rock Face talk about the best friend of his youth, whom he no longer sees, and he said to me it is sad, but it happens.”
“I heard my mother say that, too.”
“Little Frown, I don’t want that to happen to us. I want us to become sisters.” The princess stared down at Little Frown, a question in her eyes. Little Frown appeared to be thinking. For many seconds, she thought. Then she nodded her head, and quietly agreed, “Yes. We will become sisters.”
Princess Lilly Out of Water stood up on the limb of the great oak tree. She looked out upon the reservation, with its twinkling, warm lights and rolling, grassy lawns. She looked to the East, beyond the reservation, to the city, wherein dwelled the fast-paced, unhappy white men, and to the North, where sped the noisy highway, and to the West, where rose the majestic mountains, and to the South, where sat the wide lake in which she and Little Frown swam and fished. And were the moment not so serious and intense, Princess Lilly Out of Water would have chanted about the beauty of being part of it all, and about the beauty of her inevitable future as chief of her nation. She was proud to be a Blackfoot, and she was happy in her pride.
Then, her moment of thought finished, she began to climb down the great oak tree.
“Where are you going, Princess Lilly Out of Water,” asked Little Frown.
The princess paused in her descent and asked, “Do you not know how we become sisters?”
Little Frown shook her head. “I must get a needle, Little Frown. When I come back, I have to prick your finger until it bleeds. Then you must prick my finger until it bleeds. And we hold our fingers against each other. Your blood will flow into my body, and my blood will flow into your body. It is only then that we will truly be sisters.” Princess Lilly Out of Water hesitated, looked deeply into the eyes of her friend, and asked, “You want to do it, don’t you?”
Little Frown smiled at Princess Lilly Out of Water, and whispered, “Hurry.”
Princess Lilly Out of Water nodded, and ran toward her teepee. She was so filled with the urgency of her errand that she forgot the first rule of an Indian brave, and did not notice the noise she made as she slammed the kitchen door behind her.
“Lilly, is that you?”
A bolt of regret shot into her heart. “Now they know I have returned,” she thought, “and perhaps they will prevent me from getting back to Little Frown.”
Princess Lilly Out of Water did not answer the call of her mother. She ran upstairs.
“When you’re finished up there, Lilly, come into the living room. Your Aunt Bess is here.”
Princess Lilly Out of Water rummaged through her things, found a needle, thread it through a soft spot on the flap of her moccasin, and again ran down the stairs, as swiftly and with the panic of a deer in flight.
Her mother was standing, a tray of cookies in her hands, at the foot of the stairs. “Aunt Bess stopped in to surprise us. Want a cookie?” Princess Lilly Out of Water shook her head. “Well, they’ll be in the kitchen if you change your mind. Come say hello to her. She’s dying to see you!”
“But, Mother, Little Frown is waiting for me.”
“Then she’ll have to wait a little longer.”
Princess Lilly Out of Water’s mother turned abruptly, and walked into the living room, confident that her little Blackfoot brave was right behind her. Princess Lilly Out of Water followed slowly, miserably. She crossed the room to Chief Rock Face, who was sitting in a big armchair by the window that overlooks the reservation. She leaned against his thigh and toward his ear. “Little Frown is waiting, Chief. Can I go?”
“Soon, little one. Soon.”
Princess Lilly Out of Water nodded in acceptance of Chief Rock Face’s words, and climbed onto the arm of his chair. She looked across the room. “Hello, Aunt Bess.”
“Hello, dear,” Aunt Bess Answered quietly. She was a tall woman. As tall as the chief himself, who was her brother. She had deep lines running from the sides of her nose to the edges of her mouth, and although her lips curved upward into a smile, her eyes looked sad. Aunt Bess dropped the cookie back onto the tray, and stared at it for a second. Then she stared at her niece.
Chief Rock Face was filling his pipe with tobacco, and almost soundlessly humming a melody. His squaw was smiling to herself as her fingers clicked out a pattern with the knitting needles held in her hands; and Princess Lilly Out of Water was looking out the window, toward where she knew Little Frown to be waiting.
When Aunt Bess started talking, her voice was as soft as a cherished memory. Princess Lilly Out of Water turned toward the sound of her aunt’s voice. Aunt Bess was smiling again. Her eyes seemed young and her smile seemed wise and sweet. “Oh, Lilly,” she said. “How your Indian costume carries me back.”
“What do you mean, Bess,” the squaw asked, without looking up.
Aunt Bess’s eyes flicked for a moment to her brother, and then back to Lilly. “What tribe are you, Lilly?”
“Jeffrey was a Blackfoot, too, if I remember correctly.”
Chief Rock Face sucked on his pipe, laid one hand on his daughter’s knee, and nodded. “Still am, Bess.”
“...and I was Cheyenne. My name then was Lazy Moon. Jeffrey, you gave me the name. You said, because I was a lazy squaw, and because I was always mooning over Frank Bukowski down the street. Remember?” Aunt Bess laughed and continued. “I had a costume, too, Lilly. I got it at the five and ten, and it looked pretty cheesy, although I wouldn’t admit that at the time. Yours is beautiful, though. And Jeffrey’s was a sight to behold. You know, Lilly, your father once had a headdress of real eagle feathers.”
Aunt Bess smiled again. Princess Lilly Out of Water recognized something very beautiful in her aunt in that smile, and she returned it. Then, Aunt Bess shrugged and reached for her cup of coffee. She took a sip. “Ah, childhood,” she sighed, her eyes returning to their former sadness, and the curve of her lips once again becoming grown up. “The beautiful and brave illusions, the warm, safe, gallant deceits, and the blessing and excuse of youth that allowed one to get away with it all.”
Princess Lilly Out of Water again leaned toward her father’s ear, “Can I go now?”
Chief Rock Face nodded. He watched as his daughter leaped off the arm of his chair, and listened to Aunt Bess asking his squaw, “Jane, we haven’t heard about your youthful fantasies yet. I suppose you were an Apache or something?”
The clicking of the knitting needles stopped, and the squaw looked up. “Not at all, Bess. Even as a child, I knew that little blonde-haired blue-eyed girls can’t be Indians.”
Princess Lilly Out of Water stared at her mother. Only Chief Rock Face realized that the princess had not left the room. She stared at her mother’s blue eyes and yellow hair, and she did not say anything, nor did she hear another word. Like her mother, she had hair so light it was almost white. Slowly, her eyes moved across the room to look at her father. Chief Rock Face was the only redhead in the family.
Princess Lilly Out of Water saw that the chief was trying to tell her something with his eyes. Something kind, probably. Or comforting. But she would not hear. She turned, and left the room.
The kitchen door slammed behind her, and ever so slowly, she began to walk toward the oak tree at the edge of the Davises’ lawn. Wendy Davis would be sitting in the tree waiting for her. Wendy would have to go to bed soon, so it would be smart for Lilly to hurry. But Lilly didn’t want to hurry. She walked, not caring if she made noise, not looking cautiously around herself for danger, not caring if she was down or up wind of a ravenous animal alert to her scent. She walked slowly, not wanting to get where she no longer wanted to go. She heard two hoots, but she did not answer them.
“Lilly,” Little Frown called out into the night.
“It’s me,” Princess Lilly Out of Water said, and she climbed up to the fourth limb from the ground on the big oak tree at the edge of the Davis property. She sat down beside Little Frown, and she started to cry. Little Frown looked down at her friend, and then looked across the field at the teepee from which Princess Lilly Out of Water had come. She said nothing.
The princess sobbed. She sobbed with all the grief and bitterness and broken love and betrayed promise of which any human being of any age and in any era is capable. And as she cried, Little Frown asked no questions and offered no comfort.
When later, Princess Lilly Out of Water sat, drained of tears, beside Little Frown, still neither spoke. Somewhere off toward the East, a police siren howled tortuously into the night, and then quietly faded into silence. Little Frown asked, “Did you bring the needle?”
Princess Lilly Out of Water shrugged. “We don’t need a needle.”
“Because we can’t be blood sisters.”
“What do you mean, we can’t be blood sisters?”
“Only Indians can be blood sisters and we aren’t Indians.”
“What do you mean, we aren’t Indians?”
“I was never an Indian. Indians can’t have blond hair. I don’t suppose you’re an Indian either. I don’t suppose anyone is.”
Little Frown sat in stunned silence. She looked very carefully at Princess Lilly Out of Water, and knew that it was true. The princess did not look at all like the Indians painted by Charles Russell and Frederic Remington in her art books at home. But this was no surprise to Little Frown. She had never thought that either of them did.
“It doesn’t matter if you have blond hair and blue eyes,” she said.
“It does, too. Wendy. It does, too.”
Little Brown snapped, “Don’t call me Wendy. My name is Little Frown.”
Princess Lilly Out of Water shrugged, and Little Frown went on, unwavering. “I have to go to bed soon, so give me that needle.”
Princess Lilly Out of Water pointed to the needle embedded in the leather of her moccasin. Little Frown, pulled it out, grabbed onto the hand of her friend, and gave her finger a quick jab. Then she squeezed the princess’s finger until a small circle of blood appeared.
“Now, you do me.”
Princess Lilly Out of Water shook her head. “What for? It doesn’t mean anything.”
“Do me,” Little Frown insisted.
Princess Lilly Out of Water took the needle, and stabbed Little Frown’s finger.
“Now squeeze it,” Little Frown demanded.
Princess Lilly Out of Water squeezed her friend’s finger. Another circle of blood appeared. Then Little Frown pressed her finger against the princess’s finger. For a long time, they just sat there with their fingers pressed against each other. After several minutes had passed, Little Frown pulled away her hand. “Now,” she said, “it doesn’t matter what we are. It doesn’t matter if we’re Indians or Vikings or white men or anything.”
Princess Lilly Out of Water looked down at her finger. Then she looked at Little Frown. They climbed down out of the great oak tree at the edge of the reservation. When they reached the ground, they parted.
Many hours before, the great gold ball had glided beneath the horizon. The wind spirit was restless and had begun to stir the tall grass, and Princess Lilly out of Water crept, as silent as the falling of a feather, through it. Far off in the distance shone the light of the evening fire where Chief Rock Face and his squaw sat and rested after a wearisome day of the hunt.
Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2022. Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit www.shellyreuben.com