Shaqueh’s pine-green eyes glowed as she stared out over the forest stretching before her.
She tucked her long, thick black hair behind her ear and glanced back. Her family was moving slowly. Her younger sister, Demerza, was helping their baby brother, Histon, through the rocks, and Shaqueh’s father was aiding her stumbling, pregnant mother. They had made a long journey, but Shaqueh was sure it was worth it.
“Hurry up!” she urged them, wanting them to see the spectacular view. Shaqueh’s limbs, exhausted and dragging moments before, were now filled with energy at the sight of their new home.
Demerza and Histon reached her first and peered out behind the rocks toward the lands beyond. Both caught their breath.
Shaqueh grinned. Her family had walked for five moons, fleeing from a larger, hostile family. They had headed for the snowy, winter-gripped mountains, trekking through snow and ice. Shaqueh’s elderly grandmother, Geela, had not made it to the end. But now they were almost there.
Shaqueh and her siblings scampered away from the view and looked for a way down the mountainside.
“Wait now, children,” Malara, their mother, interrupted. Her brown eyes were weighted down with fatigue and worry as she clutched her pregnant belly.
Papama, their father, wheezed as he came up behind.
“Come on!” Shaqueh growled impatiently. She wanted to be free in the forests again. Her fingers trailed lightly over her beautiful bow, carved by Geela’s hand. The willow wood reminded her of the sandy riverbank, dotted with the gorgeous trees, where she and her siblings used to play. Shaqueh sagged slightly. That was all gone.
We’ll find a new willow bank, she told herself firmly, for the child in Malara’s belly.
Slowly, painstakingly, they skidded along a treacherous slope toward the bottom. It grew warmer and warmer as they continued to descend. Finally Shaqueh leaped free of the rocks and spun around, breathing in the sweet springtime air.
“This is our new home, children,” Papama murmured. He looked very old, as if the journey had withered him away. Shaqueh felt a rush of fear. What if Papama didn’t make it?
Of course he’ll make it. Shaqueh gulped. She doubted herself.
They headed into the woods, and Shaqueh relaxed. She felt the tension lift from her shoulders, the worry lines fade from her young eyes. She was at home again. She notched a feathery arrow to her bow and pulled on the taut string ever so slightly, searching for something to hunt.
“Not yet, my daughter,” Papama whispered to her, leaning forward so that only her ears would hear. “Let us settle in before we catch anything.”
Shaqueh nodded and reluctantly replaced the arrow in the quiver at her shoulder. She wanted to do something to make these unfamiliar trees feel like a real home.
They found a nice clearing to stay at and went to work immediately, clearing away fallen leaves until only rich red earth remained.
Shaqueh frowned. Red earth? Earth was brown. She touched her fingers to the ground. It was soft like the earth of her former home, just a different color. She breathed a sigh of relief as she glanced around.
Histon was playing at the edge of the clearing, his resting mother keeping a watchful eye. Demerza was working on a fire with Papama.
“Papama, may I please hunt?” Shaqueh pleaded of her father, heading over to Demerza and him. “We need more skins for shelters and beds.”
Papama hesitated. Then he nodded. “Be back by sundown.”
That gives me plenty of time, Shaqueh thought, glancing at the late-morning sun. She turned and padded into the woods on silent buckskin-clothed feet. Her bobcat-skin dress hung limply from one shoulder.
It was time to hunt.
* * *
Shaqueh returned to the clearing with one coon, three squirrels, and a possum. The hunting was rich here; the animals did not know to fear humans and their bows. Shaqueh skinned her catches and roasted them one at a time over the now roaring fire. The family feasted that night on rodent.
They had to pitch their shelters with what little they had brought—a few buckskins, one cougar skin, one wolf skin, and a few smaller skins. Everyone slept together in a makeshift stick-and-skin propped-up shelter.
Shaqueh didn’t sleep very well. The wind rustled in her ears and woke her every time she drifted off.
The next day brought distress. Malara was in labor with Papama’s child. Her shrieks brought Shaqueh to a sudden waking.
“Go find a stream with snowmelt! Now!” Papama snapped at his just-awake daughter. She nodded and ran off, grabbing a water skin. Her mother needed it badly. She finally found a snowmelt stream, filled the water skin, and sprinted back. She could hear her mother’s agonized wails as she drew near.
Papama took the water skin and immediately used it to cool Malara’s feverish head. Shaqueh, scared for her mother, left the shelter. She curled up on the ground and cried. Her mother was doing poorly. It was a hard labor.
Finally she heard a newborn scream. Flushed with relief, the sixteen-year-old girl peered back in.
The child was a girl, small and slender and beautiful. She took Shaqueh’s breath away with her young loveliness. Malara tenderly swaddled the baby and sat up.
“What shall we name her, Hauven?” Malara whispered to Papama.
Papama smiled. “Cherokee would be nice, wouldn’t it?”
“People of the fire, mother of many,” translated Malara, closing her eyes, “Yes. Cherokee will be the mother of many.”
Cherokee opened her eyes. They were blue, like all babies’, but Shaqueh could somehow tell they were going to turn very dark brown. The child’s hair was all over the place and dark, almost black. Her skin was olive, and her cheekbones were high.
Shaqueh imagined an entire family of people with dark eyes and hair, olive skin, and high cheekbones. A race of beautiful people. Shaqueh smiled. Hopefully Cherokee was the mother of many.
As Shaqueh backed out, she glanced around the clearing. It had been so unfamiliar yesterday. But now it felt different.
It felt like home.