Slade’s stoic face broke as he looked down at his close ally. He cried…but just a little.
Bobcat patted Slade on the shoulder. “Slade, if it’s any consolation, I pleaded with Eagle to allow your town full of lying, thieving back-stabbers to be consumed whole by the zombies as punishment for the many, many years of torment your people have put my people through.”
Slade sniffed. His eyes dried up. “It isn’t, but thanks, I guess.”
“Then perhaps it is a consolation that he cared enough about you and your people to ignore me and come to your aid anyway,” Bobcat said. “Truly, he was a better and more forgiving man than I.”
“I wish it was me lying there,” Slade said. “Instead of him.”
“I wish so too,” Bobcat said. “I really, really do.”
Wandering Snake stepped next to Slade’s right side.
“A bear catches a fish,” the shaman said. “A bear eats the fish. A bear’s belly is full. The bear is happy.”
“A bird eats a seed,” Snake said. “A bird’s belly is full. A bird is happy.”
Slade nodded again.
“But a man,” Snake said. “And, to be specific, your kind of man. He eats his dinner. His belly is full. He wants more. He lives in a home. He wants a bigger home. He has gold. He wants more….”
“I get the picture,” Slade said.
“Do you?” Snake asked. “Because all any man ever needs to do to be happy is to realize he lives in a world bestowed upon him with all the food he’ll ever need to eat, all the water he’ll ever need to drink, all the materials he’ll ever need to survive and most importantly, more than enough of everything to share with everyone. There is no need for anyone to ever be unhappy.”
Slade kept listening.
“Your people have dreamt up some interesting inventions,” Snake said. “Pipes that belch smoke in the air. Iron horses that connect one part of the land with the other. Weapons that can rob a man of his life with frightening efficiency.”
Miss Bonnie squeezed Slade’s hand.
“But in your kind’s quest to see what it can do, none of your people stopped to ask themselves if there are things that they should not do,” Snake said.
Snake tapped the bottom of his staff on the ground. “What do you see when you look at me, Slade?”
Slade was hesitant. “An..Injun?”
Snake shook his head. “You see a crazy old man. Some foolish savage who believes he can do a little dance, wave a few trinkets around in the air and channel the power of the spirits.”
“Maybe,” Slade said.
Snake dabbed his finger into a pouch, then dabbed a few red lines on either side of Standing Eagle’s face.
“Then maybe it will surprise you to know that my people have been channeling the power of the spirits since the beginning of time,” Snake said. “An art that your people would crudely refer to as ‘magic’ I believe.”
Slade was in doubt, but felt it would be rude to not allow the old man to continue his speech.
“There are many like me,” Snake said. “Or rather, I should say there were many like me. Long ago, back in the time before your people decided this land was for them and only for them.”
Snake set ablaze another one of his bundles of incense, waving the sweet smelling smoke all around Standing Eagle’s body.
“Many of us had powers so great that we could have wiped out your kind a thousand times over and saved this land for ourselves,” Snake said.
The shaman stood up and handed his incense to Bobcat. “We considered what we could do, then realized what was right to do, and we decided that the only morally right course of action would be to allow your people to shame themselves, rather than use our power to cause any further loss of life.
Snake removed a sharp stone knife from his belt.
“And yet your people refer to us as savages,” Snake said. “Ironic, isn’t it?”
“It is,” Slade said.
“Oh,” Snake said as he grabbed Slade’s hand. “I don’t mean you, specifically, Slade. Eagle did have respect for you, as you were the only man from your government who kept his promises that any of us have ever met in our lifetimes. Until, of course, you lied about Jack Buchanan.”
“I didn’t lie so much as not explain myself well,” Slade said.
Snake let go of Slade’s hand. “It is of no consequence now. Your conscience should be clear, but I do believe that the shame of what your people have done will follow them far, far into the future. One day, your people will look back on what their ancestors did to my people and recoil in horror.”
“If the zombies haven’t eaten everyone by then, I reckon so,” Slade said.
“And now, I advise you to look away,” Snake said. “For this is a different moment, one where what I can do matches what must be done.”
Snake closed his eyes, gripped the knife with the blade pointed at his chest, and stretched out his arms.
“What are you doing?” Slade asked.
“The spirits require a trade,” Snake said. “I am old and in these dark times, the Eagle must stand.”
Slade grabbed Snake’s arm but Bobcat pulled him back.
“You can’t!” Slade protested. “We can’t just let him…”
Miss Bonnie and Miles looked away as the shaman drove the knife into his heart. Fox and Owl caught him and eased his body to the ground.
“Why?” Slade shouted. “Why didn’t you stop him?”
Standing Eagle sat up and gasped.