Introduction: Náápiikoan Winter by Alethea Williams

Posted on April 26, 2016


Naapiikoan Winter Cover

Genre: Western historical

Publication date: May 9, 2016


At the turn of a new century, changes unimagined are about to unfold.

THE WOMAN: Kidnapped by the Apaches, a Mexican woman learns the healing arts. Stolen by the Utes, she is sold and traded until she ends up with the Piikáni. All she has left are her skills—and her honor. What price will she pay to ensure a lasting place among the People?

THE MAN: Raised in a London charitable school, a young man at the end of the third of a seven year term of indenture to the Hudson’s Bay Company is sent to the Rocky Mountains to live among the Piikáni for the winter to learn their language and to foster trade. He dreams of his advancement in the company, but he doesn’t reckon the price for becoming entangled in the passions of the Piikáni.

THE LAND: After centuries of conflict, Náápiikoan traders approach the Piikáni, powerful members of the Blackfoot Confederation. The Piikáni already have horses and weapons, but they are promised they will become rich if they agree to trap beaver for Náápiikoan. Will the People trade their beliefs for the White Man’s bargains?


LIGHTNING FLASHED, the nighttime autumn weather resembling a ferocious spring thunderstorm. The walls of Buffalo Stone Woman’s tipi glowed in the electrical streak. Heart gladdened, she went to the door to watch the play of light on the prairie. She had thought only the twin troubles of Bear Dog and the vision of white wings weighed on her, but suddenly she realized how she had been dreading the looming winter months without the power of Thunder’s protection.

She walked outside, her big wolf-dog rising to its feet as soon as it spotted her. Leaving the temporary camp behind, she climbed a rise to watch the play of light on the prairie. Unafraid, buffalo robe pulled tightly around her, she sat on a stone escarpment—surely an untouched place where no person had ever sat before.

She waited.

In the blackness of a night where no star shimmered, lightning flashed from low dark clouds. Streaking across the land in jagged purple lines of power, the light danced in a final awesome display before the cold sleep of winter arriving from the north blanketed its power. To the west, for a moment illuminated as clear as day, Buffalo Stone Woman could see a distant herd of bison circling nervously. Shaggy humps like moss-covered boulders, they formed a protective barricade, this year’s calves to the middle and the old cows to the outside. Thunder boomed, echoing reverberations rolling away across the valley, chasing after elusive lightning.

The storm came closer, each serrated flash a little nearer. Buffalo Stone Woman, who had been basking in the raw power of the weather, started to feel a little jittery. Suddenly the tipis clustered in the trees below looked vulnerable instead of impervious. She thought of the deadwood lying about that had baked to tinder all summer, and the children of the camp lying defenseless in their beds. She got to her feet already running, the dog leaping behind her, but by the time she reached the outlying tipis of the camp circle, her worst fear had been realized. Fire swept through the dry brush above, wind that she hadn’t even noticed in her rapture blowing the flames toward camp.

“Fire! Everybody wake up. Fire!” Her heart drummed. Nothing stirred. She thought the People would sleep clear through to their deaths as she yelled, racing ineffectually around the circle of lodges. Then the scouts set out on the hillsides to watch for enemies arrived in camp to wake the People, and finally tipi flaps began to open. The men emerged first, those left in camp. Then women, hair disarranged and whipping around them in the wind, herding children capable of walking on their own and clutching tightly in their arms those who couldn’t.

“Leave it!” men cried to wives who struggled with the precious rawhide boxes of stored meat. “Save the People!” The Piikáni abandoned everything, clothing, shelter, and food. People poured from camp in darkness tinged eerie orange. Most fled southwest, ahead of the wind-driven fire. But the capricious wind changed direction often, and here and there a person, driven by terror, became separated from the bunch, loners who would have to face unaided whatever came next.

Buffalo Stone Woman searched frantically for her family. Though she hardly comprised a central portion of the Orator’s family, in crisis her loyalty instinctively went to them. She hurried among the groups of frenzied women, looking into faces distorted with fear for Sweetgrass Woman or Makes Rain. The small complement of Inuk’sik men left in camp had gone back for the prized horses tethered outside their lodges after seeing their families to safety, and only women answered Buffalo Stone Woman’s frenzied queries with short shakes of the head or one word responses. No one had seen the family of the Orator.

Heart thudding, Buffalo Stone Woman raced back toward camp, toward the fire slicking down the hillside. Her dog, until now ever loyal, dug in its claws and refused to follow her into an inferno. He sat, watching her advance into the raging fire, and his massive head lifted in a drawn-out howl that wavered just like a wolf’s.


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Alethea Williams is the author of Willow Vale, the story of a Tyrolean immigrant’s journey to America after WWI. Willow Vale won a 2012 Wyoming State Historical Society Publications Award. In her second novel, Walls for the Wind, a group of New York City immigrant orphans arrive in Hell on Wheels, Cheyenne, Wyoming. Walls for the Wind is a WILLA Literary Award finalist, a gold Will Rogers Medallion winner, and placed first at the Laramie Awards in the Prairie Fiction category.

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