"No." Black Wolf shouted the denial. "I have never stopped loving you, Merry," he told her. "You will return to me this night."
"And Christina?" Merry asked.
"You'll raise her," he conceded. "You may even call her daughter, but she belongs only to you. I have only one child. White Eagle. I will allow Christina into my tipi because her mother saved my son's life. But this child will have no meaning in my heart, Merry. I will ignore her completely."
Merry didn't know what to make of her husband's decision. She did return to him that night, however, and carried her daughter with her.
Black Wolf was a stubborn man. He proved to be as good as his word, too. He did set out to ignore Christina thoroughly.
It was, however, a task that grew more challenging with each passing day.
Christina always fell asleep next to her brother. Yet each morning, when Black Wolf opened his eyes, he found the baby girl snuggled up between him and his wife. She was always awake before he was, and always staring up at him.
The child simply didn't understand he was ignoring her. Black Wolf would frown when he found her watching him so trustingly. Christina would immediately imitate his expression. If she'd been older, he would have thought she dared to mock him. But she was only a baby. And if she hadn't been white-skinned, he knew he'd find amusement in the way she trailed after his son. Why, he might even have been pleased by the baby's arrogant swagger.
Then Black Wolf would remember Christina didn't exist inside his mind. He'd turn his back on the child and leave his tipi, his mood as black as rain clouds.
The days blended into full weeks as the tribe waited for their chief to call Merry before the council. But Gray Eagle watched his son-in-law, waiting to see if he could accept Christina.
When Black Wolf separated his son from Christina, Merry knew something had to be settled. The baby didn't understand what was happening, of course, and spent most of her waking hours crying. She became extremely fretful and finally quit eating altogether.
Desperate, Merry went to her father and put the problem in his lap. She explained that until he, as chief, openly acknowledged Christina, the women and children would continue to follow Black Wolfs lead and ignore the child.
Gray Eagle saw the wisdom in this argument. He promised to call the council that evening. He then went to the shaman to seek his advice.
The holy man seemed to be just as concerned about Christina's welfare as Merry was. The chief was surprised by this attitude, for the shaman was known to be as hostile towards the whites as Black Wolf was.
"Yes, it is time to call the warriors together. Black Wolf must change his heart towards this child. It would be best if he made the decision alone," he added, "but if he refuses to bend in his attitude, I will tell the council the fullness of my vision."
The shaman shook his head when he saw his leader was about to question him. He walked over to a folded animal skin and handed it to Gray Eagle.
"Do not untie this rope, do not look upon this drawing until the time is right."
"What is this drawing, Wakan?" Gray Eagle asked. His voice had turned to a whisper.
"The vision I was given by the Great Spirit."
"Why have I not seen this before?"
"Because I didn't understand the meaning of all that was revealed to me. I told you only that I'd seen the eagle flying above the herd of buffalo. Do you remember?"
Gray Eagle nodded. "I remember," he said.
"What I didn't tell you is that some of the buffalo were changed into the faces of those who had gone to the Afterlife. Merry and White Eagle weren't among the dead, Gray Eagle. I didn't understand at the time, and didn't want to counsel you until I could solve the riddle in my mind."
"Now we both understand," Gray Eagle announced. "They were not dead."
"But there is more to the vision, my friend. At first I thought the sight of the buffalo meant that hunting would be plentiful. Yes, that is what I thought."
"And now, Wakan?"
The holy man shook his head again. "Do not open the skin until Black Wolf has again stated his position. If he refuses to claim the child, the drawing will sway him. We cannot allow him to go against the spirits."
"And if he decides to call the child his? Will the drawing remain a mystery?"
"No, one and all must see the drawing, but not until Black Wolf has chosen the right path. The recounting will then reaffirm his wisdom."
Gray Eagle nodded. "You must sit beside me this evening, my friend," he announced.
The two men embraced each other. Gray Eagle then returned to his tipi with the animal skin. His curiosity was great, but he forced himself to be patient. There was much to be done before this evening's council. The preparations would take his mind off the skin and what the drawing would reveal.
Merry paced the confines of her tipi until all the warriors had gathered into a circle around their leader's fire. Christina had fallen into a fitful sleep on the pallet she no longer shared with her brother.
When one of the younger braves came to take Merry to the meeting, she left Christina alone, certain the baby was too exhausted to wake before morning.
The men were seated on the ground, with their leader at one end of the long oval. The shaman sat on Gray Eagle's left side, Black Wolf on his right.
Merry slowly walked around the circle, then knelt down in front of her father. She quickly recounted all that had happened to her during the past year, putting great emphasis on the fact that Jessica had saved White Eagle's life.
Gray Eagle showed no outward reaction to this tale. When his daughter finished her recitation, he gave her the formal signal to leave.
Merry was on her way back to Christina when Sunflower intercepted her. The two women stood in the shadows of the clearing, waiting to hear what their leader would decide.
Merry's son was next called to give his version of what had happened. When the boy finished, he went to stand directly behind his father.
All of a sudden, Christina appeared at her brother's side. Merry saw her daughter take hold of White Eagle's hand. She started to go after the child, but Sunflower restrained her. "Wait and see what happens," Sunflower advised. "The warriors will be angry if you interrupt them now. Your son will look after Christina."
Merry saw the wisdom in her friend's advice. She kept her gaze on her son, hoping he'd look her way so that she could motion for him to take Christina back to their tipi.
White Eagle was listening to the fierce argument being given by the majority of the warriors. They all wished to show their loyalty to Black Wolf by supporting his decision to ignore the child.
The chief nodded, then deliberately suggested that an old woman called Laughing Brook take on the duty of raising the child. Black Wolf immediately shook his head, denying the idea.
"Merry's child would suffer at her hand," Black Wolf announced to the warriors. "I could not let this happen. The child is innocent."
Gray Eagle hid his smile. Black Wolf was opposed to giving the child to the crazed old squaw, proving he did in fact care.
The problem would be to make Black Wolf realize the full truth—a difficult challenge, the chief realized, for his son-in-law was a proud, stubborn man.
The chief reached for the animal skin, thinking to put an end to the dispute now, but the shaman stayed the action with a shake of his head.
Gray Eagle let the holy man have his way. He rested his hands on the folded skin and continued to mull over the problem while the warriors argued with one another.
And in the end, it was Christina, with her brother's gentle prodding, who solved the problem for everyone.
Black Wolf's son listened to the harsh debate over Christina's future. Though the boy was only six summers, he'd already shown streaks of his father's arrogant nature. Uncaring what the retributions would be, he suddenly pulled Christina along with him as he edged around to face his father.
Christina hid behind her brother now, though she peeked out at the angry-looking man staring at her brother so ferociously.
The chief was the only one who saw the baby mimick Black Wolf's scowl before she pressed her face against White Eagle's knees.
"Father," White Eagle announced, "a white woman saved my life so that I could return to my people."
The boy's fervent words gained an immediate silence. "Christina is now my sister. I would protect her as well as any brother would protect his sister."
Black Wolf couldn't contain his surprise over the arrogant way his son dared to speak to him. Before he could form a reply, White Eagle turned to where his mother stood. He pointed to her, looked down at Christina, and said, "My mother."
He knew full well what was going to happen. Christina had proved to be quite consistent in her possessiveness. What belonged to White Eagle belonged to her as well. White Eagle only had to repeat the words once before the little girl scooted out to her brother's side. She pulled her thumb out of her mouth long enough to shout, "My mama." Then she smiled up at her brother, waiting for him to continue this new game.
White Eagle nodded. He squeezed her hand to let her know he was pleased with her answer, then turned until he was staring at his father again. He slowly raised his hand and pointed at Black Wolf. "My father," he announced in a firm voice.
Christina sucked on her thumb while she stared at Black Wolf.
"My papa," White Eagle stated, giving Christina's hand another squeeze.
Christina suddenly pulled her thumb out of her mouth. "My papa," she bellowed, pointing her finger at Black Wolf. She then looked up at her brother to gain his approval.
White Eagle glanced over to look at his grandfather. When the leader nodded, Christina's brother nodded to her.
It was all the approval the little girl needed. She let go of White Eagle's hand, turned, and scooted backwards. Without showing the least bit of fear, she fell into Black Wolf's lap.
Everyone watched the baby settle herself. Black Wolf visibly stiffened when Christina reached up and caught hold of one of his braids. He didn't push her hand away, though, but turned to look at his chief.
Gray Eagle was smiling with satisfaction.
Merry rushed over to kneel down in front of her husband, keeping her head bowed. Black Wolf could see how his wife trembled. He let out a long, controlled sigh of acceptance.
"My children have no place at this council. Take them to our tipi."
Merry immediately reached out to take Christina into her arms. She was prying her daughter's hand away from her husband's braid when the full impact of what he'd just said settled in her mind.
Merry really did try not to smile, but when she glanced up at her husband, she knew he could see her joy. And certainly her love.
Black Wolf acknowledged both with an arrogant nod.
Gray Eagle waited until Merry had taken the children away. "Do I now have a granddaughter?" he asked Black Wolf, demanding confirmation.
"You do," Black Wolf answered.
"I am pleased," Gray Eagle announced. He turned to the shaman then and asked him to tell the council about his vision.
The holy man stood and recounted his dream to the warriors. He slowly unwound the rope binding the deerskin and held it up for all to see.
There were many startled murmurs. The shaman silenced the group with a dramatic sweep of his hand. "We are the buffalo," he said, pressing his hand to his chest. "The lion does not belong with the buffalo. On this earth, they are enemies, just as the white man is enemy of the Dakota. Yet the gods test us now. They've given us a blue-eyed lioness. We must protect her until the time comes for her to leave us."
Black Wolf was clearly astonished by the shaman's words. He shook his head. "Why didn't you tell me this sooner, Wakan?" he asked.
"Because your heart needed to learn the truth first," the holy man answered. "Your daughter is the lioness, Black Wolf. There can be no mistake. Her hair is the color of white lightning, and her eyes are as blue as the Great Spirit's home in the sky."
Christina's bellow of anger suddenly echoed throughout the village. The shaman paused to smile. "She has the voice of a lioness, too," he remarked.
Black Wolf smiled with the others and nodded.
The holy man raised the skin into the air. "Merry's promise will be fulfilled. The spirits have decreed it."
Christina was formally accepted into the tribe the following evening.
They were a gentle people, the Dakota. Everyone opened their hearts to the blue-eyed lioness and gave her treasures beyond value.
They were intangible gifts that molded her character.
From her grandfather, Christina was given the gift of awareness. The old warrior showed her the beauty, the wonder of her magnificent surroundings. The two became inseparable. Gray Eagle gave Christina his love without restraint, his time without limitation, and his wisdom when she demanded immediate answers to continual little-girl questions of why and why and why. Christina gained patience from her grandfather, but the greatest treasure of all was the ability to laugh at what couldn't be changed, to weep over what had been lost, and to find joy in the precious gift of life.
From her father, Christina was given courage, and determination to finish any task, to conquer any difficulty. She learned to wield a knife and ride a horse as well as any brave—better, in fact, than most. She was Black Wolf's daughter and learned by observation to strive for perfection in every undertaking. Christina lived to please her father, to receive his nod of approval, to make him proud of her.
From her gentle mother, Christina was given the gift of compassion, understanding, and a sense of justice towards friends and enemies alike. She mimicked her mother's ways until they became a true part of her personality. Merry was openly affectionate with her children and her husband. Though Black Wolf never showed his own feelings in front of others, Christina quickly learned that he'd chosen Merry because of her loving nature. His gruffness with his wife in front of the other warriors was all part of his arrogant manner. Yet in the privacy of their tipi, Black Wolf more than allowed Merry's petting and soft words. He demanded them. His gaze would take on a warm expression, and when he thought his daughter was sound asleep, he'd reach for his wife and give her back all the gentle words of love she'd taught him.
Christina vowed to find a man like Black Wolf when the time came for her to choose a mate. He would be a warrior as proud and arrogant as her father, as demanding and protective of what belonged to him, and with the same fierce capacity to love.
She told her brother she'd never settle for less.