PROLOGUE

I-go-hi-da U-nv-da-tlv-i (Eternity Mountain)—Long ago

Mathias kept his eyes on the Shamans as they circled the fire in yet another of their ritualistic acts.  While he wished this was over, he also dreaded the outcome.  Dropping his gaze, he watched their shadows flicker in a gleeful dance over the snow-covered ground; a fitting mockery of the gravity of this event.

He heard the rustling as the six men behind him moved, the fear joining them in a collective nervous shift of their bodies.  Hell, he couldn’t blame them; their lives could very well be over before this long night came to an end. His brothers, Marcus and Lucien, positioned on either side of him remained stoic and immobile.  Jonathan, his youngest brother, stood a few steps in front as if he would shield them all from harm, straightened his shoulders then crossed his arms over his chest in a move meant to challenge.  Mathias could almost hear his derisive thoughts, and hoped Jonathan had the good sense to keep them to himself.

The chanting of the Shamans rose abruptly then tapered off to a low drone. Their muted, melodious voices hovered on the air like the smoke from the fire. A sudden gust of wind sparked the embers, driving the thick haze in Matt’s direction. It drifted around him as if wrapping him in a cloak of condemnation.

Following Jonathan, he squared his shoulders and drew himself up to his full height, refusing to let the men at his back—or the Shamans—see his worry.  They said he didn’t know what it meant to be responsible, the importance of trustworthiness and dependability from every member of the tribe.  But he knew. He might have forgotten it for a few weeks, but with the death of one of his friends, the weight of liability had fallen on him. He doubted he would ever be able to shake it off.

As the chanting faded away to silence, he glanced at Marc then Luke, received a nod from each. Reaching out, he touched Jon’s arm. Jon turned, shook his head in disgust then shrugged his shoulders and nodded once in resigned agreement.  Whatever punishment the Shamans chose to exact, the four of them would step forward and take the brunt of it for the others.  If he could, Matt would stand alone and let the Shamans do to him whatever they chose to do.  But he knew his brothers almost as well as he knew himself.  They may not be brothers in the true sense of the word, but they’d performed their own ritualistic ceremony years ago as boys, mixing the blood from their cut palms together.  The bond, strong and unbreakable, still stood today. They would never allow him to take the punishment alone.

He met the eyes of each Shaman, trying to judge how far they would go in their retribution, but it was a futile undertaking that accomplished nothing.  Shamans were, on the whole, unpredictable.  Some would vote to overlook what he and the others had done, seeing it as an act requiring no more discipline than that of an unruly young boy.  They would issue a strong admonition, perhaps back it up with a period of ostracism or even mockery by the tribe, but that would be as far as it would go.  There would be no physical retribution since Cherokee rule prohibited striking out in any way at a boy.

His fear for his friends and brothers came from the fact that they had all reached the age of puberty and undergone the proper initiation ceremonies, making them all men.  Hence, tribal law dictated they be treated as men.  He recognized that and had no doubt the Shamans would too.  There were two in the group circling the fire who caused more worry than the others; the ones mired in the belief that wrongdoings by any tribe member called for absolute and unmerciful justice.  It wouldn’t surprise Matt if they called for the Blood Law, which required a man’s death in retaliation for another man’s death—whether intended or accidental.

Mathias disagreed with that kind of thinking, but he had no say in the matter of what the Shamans chose to do.  The decision rested with them, and he and his brothers would live or die by what they decreed, but they would also do whatever they could to protect the lives of the other men.   

The weight of blame rested on their shoulders.  They had broken with the Cherokee ways, denied their responsibilities to the tribe, and led others astray with them. Turning away from the warning issued by the Shamans, they’d even gone so far as to encourage the others to do the same.  Now, with the time for atonement upon them, he could only hope the Shamans would allow the four of them to pay the price and not subject the six young men behind him to the same punishment. And perhaps, accepting the blame would lessen the penalty.  

Matt narrowed his eyes, laid one hand on Marc’s shoulder, and the other on Luke’s.  Joined, they stepped forward to stand with Jonathan. Luke raised his hand to Jonathan’s shoulder, but Jonathan shook his head and crossed his arms in front of him.  Luke followed suit, clasping Jonathan’s wrist in his right hand, reaching for Matt’s with his left. Matt followed suit, grasping Marc’s wrist and completing the chain.

United as one, standing tall and proud, they waited to hear their fate.

As time goes by from sun to moon
An endless ever-changing rune
We must defend our way of life,
Protect the tribe, prevent all strife.

Your destiny will come to pass
A penance spun with threads of glass
These many years you will endure
This lonely spell without a cure

For countless years on anguish feast
Your form a mindless, savage beast
Until a hostile, dreadful force
Brings duty as your only course

The death of many in our tribe
A growing menace, spreading wide
A journey you can not prevent
Heart-broken, tearful souls relent

Your function then comes to the fore;
Care for your clan forevermore
When time is right, you find your mate
And fight to free your truest fate

Then deepest love will call to you
Go forth and meet it with its due
These final words ring ever clear
Who finds it first must hold it dear

For each must find the value true
Alone, with no well-meaning clue
If ‘tis not so, the turn reverse
No hope of mercy from this curse.

Snow Shadows, Book One of Eternal Shadows is available in print at Amazon and B&N, in ebook for the Kindle and the Nook.