Several months before I left our native land, A’mae came to me in a more serious mood than usual. I knew and understood even this uncommon way, and it spoke to me of the long time we had been together. This was to be a time of change.
“You must visit the Lodge of H’tai before you leave us. Tonight is the time!” he announced.
Years earlier I had learned never to question him, to make no comment at all unless he invited me to do so. A’mae valued quiet and patience above all else. I simply nodded as he shuffled away, back to his day lodge.
That evening, I walked along the river bank to the place of ceremony. A’mae was already inside and had started the fire. This was usually my job, so it was clear that he wanted to get under way without any dawdling on my part. I stood outside the lodge and waited until he motioned me inside.
A’mae handed me the herbs and leaves to burn. I walked the lodge in the usual way while he prepared the sacred pipe. We smoked together and prayed quietly, each in our own way. For much of the time, he sat with his eyes closed and said nothing. All we heard was the snapping of the wood in the fire and the muffled hum of the river outside. The quiet of the lodge was light and so pleasant that I wished it would not end.
Finally, he was ready.
“You must go to the Lodge of H’tai before you leave us,” he whispered, making his point again. “You must take your crow spirit and go to the lodge to learn from the Ancient One for what lies ahead on your path. I will guide you there but you must never speak the words of H’tai to anyone.” His expression was outwardly stern yet there was the smallest wrinkle of a smile on his old face.
He handed me the bowl and I drank. My ears became full with the sound of the river yet, somewhere beyond the water, I could also hear A’mae’s voice guiding me. I had learned this way much earlier and knew that the Elder would guide me wisely on the path ahead.
I became the Crow Spirit as I had so many times in the past. I flew high above a dense forest in cool, still air. Below, I could see the four-legged ones, prancing happily, moving in and out of the underbrush. I could smell the wind, sweet and welcoming. After a time, I came upon a clearing in the heart of trees, a circular piece of ground upon which had been built a small, very old lodge of cedar. It was the lodge of an Ancient One.
“Fly down,” A’mae said from far away. “You have arrived and need me no longer.”
I circled down to the lodge and stood in my spirit body, waiting for some sign from within the darkness. I soon began to hear the low rasping of a prayer that I did not know. The words were unfamiliar to me and the voice was very old yet still harmonic and peaceful.
I stepped across the threshold and into the lodge. In the darkness I could see the form of the Ancient One, H’tai. He sat to the east, with the fire between us. His face was large, wrinkled and serene. He spoke in my own language now, always in a soft whisper.
“Welcome, my brother crow.” He waved a frail arm my way, motioning me to move closer to the fire. I stepped forward and waited in silence.
H’tai raised his arm again and pointed to my left. On the smooth, dirt floor was a round, black stone that rested very near the fire.
“You must eat this stone,” he said. “It is the stone of fear, and once you have taken it inside you, fear will never walk with you again, no matter how far you stray from your native land.”
I picked up the stone in my beak and was surprised to find it light, nearly like air. It was tasteless and seemed to pose no harm. I swallowed the stone and felt a warmth that grew from deep inside my belly to every part of my body.
H’tai laughed, obviously pleased with my reaction.
“A beautiful crow, like all the beautiful crows She has given us,” he said with unhidden pleasure. “Now you understand that there is no poison where there is no fear. We know this as the path of the Honest One.”
He motioned me even closer, to stand by his left side.
“Now take these words with you, crow, and speak them never again until you sing your death song. These words will be your guide on the Path to the West.”
H’tai also became the crow and whispered his words to me, words that have carried me on my journey without fear, even though I have strayed so far from my home.