An old enemy has returned to Cahokia with vengeance in his heart. Will the empire’s living god choose to save his city?
A thousand years ago, the mighty Cahokian civilization dominated the North American continent. At the heart of the empire stood a vast city, teeming with tens of thousands of residents, traders, and travelers. The city of Cahokia sent settlers and priests throughout the continent, from Wisconsin to the Gulf of Mexico, carrying word of the power of their gods. People who wouldn't bow to that power were conquered or slaughtered. Power rested in one being, Morning Star, a god resurrected in the body of a living man.
A new threat has come to the city, emissaries from a civilization that rivals and perhaps even surpasses that of Cahokia. It soon becomes apparent to the gods-possessed Lady Night Shadow Star, human sister of Morning Star, that her people could be conquered by this technologically advanced culture. With the fate of their cosmos as a wager, the people of Cahokia are faced with a battle between the gods.
Morning Star is unwillingor unableto fight to defend his people. Who then, will save them?
With Sun Born, the second title in the Morning Star Trilogy, W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear take readers back to this amazing place with a tale of murder, magic, and the battle for a people's very soul.
About the Author
W. MICHAEL GEAR holds a master's degree in archaeology and has worked as a professional archaeologist since 1978. He is currently principal investigator for Wind River Archaeological Consultants.
KATHLEEN O'NEAL GEAR is a former state historian and archaeologist for Wyoming, Kansas, and Nebraska for the U.S. Department of the Interior. She has twice received the federal government's Special Achievement Award for "outstanding management" of America's cultural heritage.
Read an Excerpt
By W. Michael Gear, Kathleen O'Neal Gear
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2016 W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear
All rights reserved.
A thousand fires lit the darkness; the great city of Cahokia pulsed and throbbed as if it were a bizarre and disparate organism — a sort of mindless being. Its avenues and arteries overflowed with celebrating people. So many people: from the exalted members of the ruling Four Winds Clan; the subordinate Earth clans with their chiefs and matrons; the myriads of priests, shamans, and Traders; and, of course, the tens of thousands of immigrants. Known as "dirt farmers," they'd picked up entire towns and flocked to the burgeoning city.
Despite the numbers and vast diversity of Cahokia's population, the burly man known as Seven Skull Shield considered himself to have few — if any — equals.
He glanced at the Anilco Trader who walked beside him. A case in point.
Like all river Traders, the man, whose name translated as "Water Bird," was all shoulders and arms, and little else — though he dressed in finery. Of medium stature, he wore his hair up, had a thin straight nose, and fleshy lips. He spoke Trade pidgin and supplemented his words with sign language.
The Anilco — a Nation several weeks south of Cahokia by fast canoe — had established themselves in the eastern floodplain at the confluence of the great Western River where it flowed into the Father Water. Their swamp-surrounded town occupied a strategic position, controlling access to Western River and its upstream Nations, including the Caddo.
Two days back, at the canoe landing outside River Mounds City, Water Bird had Traded with Seven Skull Shield for his services as a guide. In return for two fabric bags filled with salt, Seven Skull Shield had committed to show Water Bird the highlights of Cahokia's Green Corn celebration, or Busk as it was locally known.
As they strolled north along the dark, crowd-packed margins of Cahokia's Great Plaza, Water Bird kept gasping his amazement. Within twenty paces he could hear a dozen languages, most of them incomprehensible. Every manner of dress, hairstyle, body adornment, and peculiar facial tattoos from a hundred different peoples were on display. Like a whirlpool, Cahokia had sucked in pilgrims from a half-year's journey in all directions.
"Just how many people live in Cahokia?" the Anilco wondered. Hundreds of fires burned within sight of the plaza, and hundreds more covered the uplands in the distance. The orange glare was so bright only the largest stars could be seen in the night sky.
"Tens of tens of thousands," Seven Skull Shield replied. "In the last two days, you've only seen a piece of the city stretching from the canoe landing and River Mounds City, to the Avenue of the Sun, and the Great Plaza. There's just as much to the south, north, and east. It would take you weeks to see it all."
"I'd heard ... but never believed." Wonder gleamed in Water Bird's eyes.
Seven Skull Shield pointed to the high palace atop the magnificent mound on the plaza's northern side. "That's where the living god dwells."
"Right there?" Awe filled his voice.
Water Bird fingered his receding chin, eyes speculative. "Then ... it is true? The storied hero from the Beginning Times, the Morning Star, has been resurrected into a living human body?" The Anilco shook his head. "It is so hard to believe. Some say that your Morning Star is not a living god but just a man playing a role."
Seven Skull Shield shrugged. "I've been up there in that palace. Sat face-to-face with him. If that's Chunkey Boy, the young man whose body was used as host for the resurrected god's souls, he's pretty convincing."
"So ... what do you believe?"
Seven Skull Shield rubbed the back of his neck. "I don't believe in much, good Trader, but I've seen some pretty amazing things happen around the Morning Star. I might scoff at the priests and some of their sleights, but I've been in the center of Power. And let me tell you, by Piasa's swinging balls, it's scary."
When it came to guile, craftiness, and the ability to lure adventurous young women into his bed — all the most pragmatic of skills — Seven Skull Shield considered himself a man without peer.
Power, however, was a whole different critter.
Hard experience had taught him that a wise man didn't underestimate the living god. The resurrected hero was just as cunning and capable as Seven Skull Shield, though in a different sphere. After all, how hard did a living god have to work when it came to filling his bed with women? He just had to point, saying, "I want that one."
On the other hand, the Morning Star had never had to steal so much as a loaf of bread, avoid a jealous husband, or hold his own in a knock-down, eye-gouging brawl down at the canoe landing.
Those kinds of skills weren't just granted to everyone.
"Why are you scowling at the Morning Star's high palace? Is it that you yourself really don't believe he's a reincarnated god?"
"No. Just wondering who's the craftier. Him or me?" After all, Seven Skull Shield was still alive — clanless and unprotected by privilege as he was — which proved he was the consummate survivor in this great city.
Which, of course, meant the world.
"Come, Water Bird. I'll show you where the high and mighty live. Let you stare up the great staircase to the Council Terrace Gate. Point out Lady Night Shadow Star's palace. She's something, she is. A real beauty — and possessed by your Piasa, too. Scoff all you like, but I've seen her under the beast's spell."
"Then she is a dangerous woman of great and unusual Power." Water Bird gave him a disbelieving glance.
"Indeed, she is," Seven Skull Shield replied as his stomach growled. "You hungry? Don't move a step or you'll get lost in this crowd and I'll never find you. Be right back."
He slipped sideways in the press and prowled the crowd. For some reason he couldn't shake a sudden foreboding. The feeling that something was about to go wrong clung to his souls like a morning-spun cobweb.
This was the final night of the Busk ceremony. Tonight's feast was the joyous celebration after four days of fasting, ritual prayer, cleansing and purging, and sexual abstention — the biggest, grandest festival in the Cahokian world. It celebrated the resurrection of Morning Star. This evening's festival began when the first ears of this year's green corn were consumed by the Morning Star.
Seven Skull Shield should have been as jovial as the ebbing and flowing crowd. And, pus and blood, Water Bird was certainly paying him enough. Instead, his thoughts, unaccountably, were plagued with notions of murder and mayhem.
Seven Skull Shield located his target: a Deer Clan Trader who stood behind a raised table on which roasted turkey legs were displayed. The stall beside him was manned by an old Panther Clan woman selling pigments and dyes, the colors filling assorted clay bowls on her blanket.
"How's business?" Seven Skull Shield asked the old woman.
"Slow," she told him as the crowd jostled past.
"You've got a good location." He pointed at the white-clay-capped mound behind her where the frame of a huge new building loomed in the firelit night. "That's the Four Winds Tonka'tzi's new palace going up."
"I thought it would give me a little more prestige," she told him. "I'm only asking what's reasonable. Look at these yellow clay dyes. Have you ever seen such bright colors?"
Which was when Seven Skull Shield's opportunity came. Three little boys, giggling and pushing each other, ran behind the turkey vendor's booth, squealing as they tore past.
"Hey! You boys!" Seven Skull Shield roared and pointed. "Bring that turkey leg back you little scoundrels!"
The boys stopped, blinking in surprise.
"How'd they do that?" Seven Skull Shield asked the Deer Clan man in wonder. "Grab that leg right out from under you, and you never saw?"
The turkey vendor swung around to stare at the boys, who, suddenly terrified — and accused of something they hadn't done — whirled and ran for their lives. The Deer Clan turkey vendor let out a bellow of rage and pelted off after them.
"Vile little thieves," Seven Skull Shield told the Panther Clan woman, and paused only long enough to snare two turkey legs before stepping into the crowd.
Stealing was simple. Killing other human beings, by contrast, was such a complicated thing. He considered it as he slipped through the throngs packing the plaza margins. In one set of circumstances men and women lauded each other, singing, feasting, and calling upon Spirit Power to aid their mutual quest to dispatch other human beings, often in the most hideous manner; clubbing, slicing, bashing, burning, suffocating, and crushing among them. Doing so was not only justified, but encouraged in the pursuit of territory, loot, or as a remedy for some real or perceived insult.
At other times, the "good of society" required that a person sneak up behind a relative who had transgressed, stolen, or committed an outrage, and bash his or her unsuspecting brains out with a heavy club. Families were responsible for the actions of their own. Such elimination of a miscreant for the betterment and peace of mind for all was considered a distasteful but necessary duty. Again, it took place with the full sanction of the community.
Everyone understood that hanging a war captive or political prisoner in a wooden square and burning, cutting, and beating him for days until he finally succumbed was not only just, it was a measure of the victim's courage — which provided his miserable afterlife soul with a path to redemption. More, it served as a religious observance, one that helped balance the red Power of chaos and blood with the white Power's order and tranquility.
But change the circumstances, even a little, and what the community once gleefully sanctioned became taboo and evil. Should a kinsman goad his relative into a sudden rage and a lethal blow be delivered? Such a killing crossed the line into murder. It was all a matter of rules.
Picky little subtle rules.
Seven Skull Shield had always had trouble with rules.
Mostly because they were made by people who expected him to obey them.
Water Bird, true to his instructions, stood exactly where Seven Skull Shield had left him. The man was watching the Dancers in the stickball field and gratefully took his turkey leg.
As Seven Skull Shield sank his teeth into the juicy flesh, he wondered why these perplexing notions of murder and mayhem were popping into his head on this of all nights.
"Have you ever seen anything like this, Water Bird? They're celebrating this most important of rituals — the renewal and rebirth of the entire world."
"It is more than I can believe," the Anilco replied with a full mouth.
Seven Skull Shield pointed with his turkey. "The sacred fire up there in the Morning Star's temple was extinguished and relit by the Morning Star himself. That was the moment of rebirth."
Water Bird shook his head, eyes still on the lines of Dancers out in the plaza. "For the last three days I thought you were all head-struck crazy. I can't believe you strip your houses and temples down to the walls and replace perfectly good furnishings."
"They call it ritual cleansing." Yesterday in River Mounds City, he'd watched Water Bird's awed expression as last year's matting was committed to monstrous bonfires and new matting laid across the packed-dirt floors.
"Well, Water Bird, you can go back and tell your Anilco that you survived days of deprivation. That the purging, prayers, sacrifices, and acts of atonement didn't kill you. You've seen miscreants pardoned for their deeds. Exiles, whose petitions were granted, will be allowed to return home to the embrace of families and friends. Happy times all around. Just like the Morning Star himself, the world is risen from death. Everything made whole. Even the new corn crop."
"It's so much grander than our First Fire celebrations held at the solstice and equinox," Water Bird lamented.
The feasting going on around them included people gorging on new corn and roasting entire carcasses of deer, turkeys, ducks, geese, and swans. Basket-loads of fish, turtles, cattail roots, coontie-root bread, and nuts and berries of every kind were everywhere.
Yet here Seven Skull Shield was, chewing on a succulent turkey leg and unable to think of anything but murder as he led Water Bird through the smoke-filled night.
Crowds of brightly dressed people thronged around them, laughing, chattering happily, and clapping their hands in the warm summer air. An eerie illumination filled the night sky as tens of thousands of fires reflected orange over the sprawling city.
The sound of flutes and drums rose and fell, coupled with the rhythmic thumping of feet in the great plaza. Thousands Danced in honor of Corn Maiden, Old-Woman-Who-Never-Dies' daughter, from whose vagina had come the gift of corn back in the Beginning Times.
Lines of men, their arms linked, shuffled and stomped as they faced similar lines of women. Bodies illuminated by leaping fires, the Dancers moved in a sinuous and beautiful unison, swaying and singing on grass trampled by four days of frantic stickball games.
The plaza margins, where Seven Skull Shield led his Anilco charge, were packed elbow-to-elbow with vendors. Food, pottery, textiles, carvings, and trinkets were laid out on blankets or offered from portable stands. Throngs of passersby looked on or stopped long enough to dicker for a necklace or feathered cloak.
Seven Skull Shield barely grabbed Water Bird out of the way as a flock of screaming children tore through the throng. A sudden break in the crowd gave him an unrestricted view of Morning Star's mound.
"There, Water Bird. Look. This is the best view you can get."
The massive mound dominated the northern side of the Great Plaza like some hulking monster. On the heights, the Morning Star's soaring temple rose behind its palisade and seemed to glow in the fluttering orange gleam.
"The palace is huge!"
"As befits a living god. You see that terrace that juts out on the south? That's the Council Terrace where the tonka'tzi receives embassies from every Nation, including the Anilco. And there, at the top of the stairs, do you see those people standing in the Council Terrace Gate? You wanted to see the Morning Star? There he is."
Even over the distance the colorful and feathered costumes stood out, dominated by the Morning Star's magnificent red feather cape.
"The people around him? Those are the high-born rulers of the Four Winds Clan and their retinues. Come on, let's get closer and I'll point them out."
Like all things pertaining to the Morning Star, the spectacle was magnificently orchestrated. The living god of Cahokia and his servants were suitably displayed for the masses to see and marvel over.
The thunderstruck Water Bird appeared to be getting his value in Trade, his eyes wide, mouth hanging open to expose half-chewed turkey.
While the southern half of the Great Plaza hosted the thousands dancing in honor of Corn Maiden and her gift of the sacred plant, the northern half was dedicated to the noble born. Unlike the inclusive Corn Maiden Dance where anyone could participate, in the plaza below the great mound only elite individuals Danced in honor of the Morning Star.
Each of the Four Winds Clan "Houses" was represented, of course, but so, too, were the Earth Clans and the representatives of foreign Nations like the Pacaha, Casqui, Yuchi, Muskogee, Albaamaha, and Caddo.
With the exception of the long strips of manicured clay dedicated to the chunkey courts, the whole grassy area north of the World Tree pole was filled with costumed Dancers and their musicians.
To Seven Skull Shield, it appeared a chaos and cacophony as feathered and painted Dancers wheeled and leaped, each seeking to outdo his competition.
All that for the living god who stood above with his arms raised in blessing.
The Morning Star cut an imposing figure. His polished-copper headdress glinted in the gaudy light; exotic feathers rose from shoulder splays. His remarkable feathered cloak gave his spread arms the appearance of mighty crimson wings. A snowy white apron — a representation of a scalp lock — hung before his hips, its tip dangling between his knees.
"He looks like a Spirit Being from the Beginning Times," Water Bird marveled.
"You can barely make it out from here, but the living god painted his face white with black forked-eye designs. The forked eye? That's the sign of the Sky World. His soul was recalled from the sky during the resurrection."
Excerpted from Sun Born by W. Michael Gear, Kathleen O'Neal Gear. Copyright © 2016 W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Kathleen and Michael Gear continue to keep the readers on the edge of the seats! The background in archaeology that each has helps them create the surrounding countryside so well! Their storytelling ability is greatly enhanced because of their chosen professions. It's wonderful that they have such awesome publishers with the faith to continue releasing these type of books! Great books by great authors! You won't be disappointed!
Sun Born : People of the Morning star (2) (North America's Forgotten Past, #23) by W. Michael Gear Sun Born, the second book in the eye opening new series featuring one of the most remarkable archaeological sites in North America will entice readers to learn more about its history and mythology. Cahokia was at its pinnacle over a thousand years ago, it a remarkable rise in trade and prestige would be the focus of Power and North American mythological Gods. The Morning Star is the reborn embodiment of the cross culturally renown Twin God whose influence and connection throughout the North American world laid the foundation of many of the cultures throughout North and Central America. His story of rebirth would spread far and wide and would gain interest in far flung places like Mayan empires. How would the two great powers of the prehistory world share their mutual mythology, and influence? What would be the outcome of these two Cultures colliding in a clandestine nova of subterfuge and intrigue? The internal conflicts within Cahokia is not prepared for the advent of a new Powerful players into the world. The the Four Winds clan, and its contenting conflicts within Cahokia and its neighboring communities are ripe for exploitation. Blue Heron has just the ex-husband who could stir up the entire boiling pot of power and conflict. Can the tenuous connections brought together to save Cahokia in People of the Morning Star find a solution to this new and contemptuous advisory? Can Seven Skull Shield, “that rascal” find a way to save his world, his friends and his people? Lady Night Sun Morning Star will face a new dilemma right on the heels of her new found freedom. Can she sacrifice her ideals, her prestige and her heart in a way that will bring Power into balance? Or will Thirteen Sacred Jaguar the lord of the Itza bring this magnificent city and its culture to heal, and making the Four Winds Clan Neal at his feet?