MacDuffy Suite

by Tom Ray

This is part three. Read the suite from the beginning.


MacDuffy’s Tribe

Britney walked through the camp, making sure everybody finished packing. She arrived at her own family, where her oldest, 12-year-old Abel, had just loaded the pack horses.

“Good job, Abel,” she managed to say, before her knees buckled and she fell to the ground. Then, whispering, “Go get Yoder.” As the boy ran toward the other end of the camp her younger children gathered around her.

“What’s wrong Mom?” the 10-year-old asked, his face and that of his siblings reflecting fear.

Britney shook her head, her eyes closed, finally saying, “Round up as many of the old people as you can and bring them here.”

Abel came back accompanied by Yoder, a tall man in his early 20s. Kneeling by the motionless body, Yoder said, “Britney, can you hear me?”

Slowly opening her eyes, she whispered, “Tell me when you have a crowd around me.”

“There’s half a dozen here now, they’re all coming.”

She turned her head to see the people gathering around her.

“Listen, everybody. I’m done. I told you before, Yoder will be the new chief. Now he is the chief. Do what he says. Leave me here and go on to the jam. Damn this hurts.” She closed her eyes again, her fists clenched to her chest.

Yoder said, “Abel, do you know how to make a travois?”

“Two poles make a frame that a horse pulls?”

“Good man. Make one to carry Britney.”

She said, “No, leave me,” but in a voice so low nobody could hear her except Yoder.

#

They started out before Abel finished building the travois. Britney and her family, led by Abel, caught up by the time the tribe reached the campsite for the night and set up their tents.

Yoder and Essie had saved space next to their tents for Britney’s family, to watch over Britney’s last hours. Both families sat by the fire after supper, except Britney, who lay in her tent. Ozzie approached with a group of elders, 20 somethings. Yoder sat silent as Ozzie stood opposite, the campfire between them.

Ozzie said, “We have to talk about this.”  Yoder guessed Ozzie talked so loud in order for the whole camp to hear.

“About what?” Keeping his eyes on Ozzie, Yoder stood and walked around the fire toward him.

“You’re not the next in line to be the leader. You’re barely 20. I’m four years older than you. I’m taking over.” He glared at Yoder as the two stood face to face.

Moving so fast nobody saw it, Yoder’s fist hit Ozzie with an upper cut squarely on the chin. As Ozzie crumpled to the ground his wife Carla stepped out of the crowd brandishing a club. Essie ran at Carla with a stout walking stick, jabbing it into the other woman’s midsection.

Carla maintained her footing, but doubled over. “You bitch,” she said, as soon as she could speak.

Motioning with his head toward Ozzie, Yoder said, “Get him up.”

Carla reached down to grasp her husband’s arm. “Come on, baby. Come on.”

The entire camp stayed quiet. Ozzie finally moaned, then sat up.

“God, what happened? Man, my jaw hurts.”

“You should have seen it coming, dumbass. That’s why Britney named me the leader instead of you. Plus, you don’t know shit. How many people are in our tribe?”

After a silence Ozzie answered, “’Bout 60 or 70.”

“The answer’s 83, stupid. It’ll be 82 when Britney passes. How many head of goats do we have?”

“One or two hundred.”

“Two hundred eighty-three. The leader has to know this stuff. Get on up and get some rest. You’ve got a daughter due to be swapped at the jamboree with the Weavers. We have to be at the forks of the river in one week. There’s no time to fool with this shit.”

As Ozzie and Carla hobbled back to their tent a man in the crowd said, “Good job, Yoder. I wasn’t with that asshole Ozzie. He came through the camp saying you called a meeting. That’s why I came. If I’d known what he was up to I wouldn’t have come.”

“Yeah,” another man said. “Everybody knows, the old leader picks the new leader. That’s the way it’s always been. Besides, Ozzie’s almost as old as Britney. He’ll be dead in a year or two.”

A third man laughed. “Ozzie’s still pissed because Fender picked Britney. Hell, we all knew she had more sense than that damn Ozzie. And you do, too.”

People in the crowd laughed, talking among themselves and moving about now, relaxing after the tension of the confrontation.

“Like I told Ozzie and Carla, let’s get some rest. We have to be up early tomorrow to head to the jamboree. We have brides to swap, and after that head south before the cold sets in.”

“You’re right, Yoder,” a woman called out. “Life goes on like it’s always done.”

END





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