Writing "Alsoomse and Wanchese" -- Character Traits
Having introduced Alsoomse and Wanchese as my two protagonists and presented a bit of their family history (See “Writing Alsoomse and Wanchese – First Chapter” – Dec. 13, 2015), I exhibit in chapters two and three several of their character traits.
Alsoomse tells a traditional Algonquian story with certain embellishments to her two 16 year old friends Nana and Odina and their young sisters Pules and Wapun, ages 11 and 12. Alsoomse, Nana, and Odina are grinding corn kernels into flour, each girl using her family’s large stone mortar and pestle. Pules and Wapun are cracking open walnut shells, centering each shell in the depression of a nutting stone and striking it with a flat-edged rock. Alsoomse’s story entertains them as they prepare what is to become bread, which will supplement the day’s main meal. Here are excerpts of Alsoomse’s story.
Alsoomse turned toward Pules and Wapun. Pointing toward the mainland, she said: “Long ago, but not so long ago, monsters walked this land. Windagos, giant cannibals, half human, would hide next to deer paths behind thick pine and cedar branches, waiting to snatch children! Catching two or three, the monster tied their arms and legs with vines.” Alsoomse leaned closer. “Imagine.” She paused, mesmerizing Pules with her eyes. “Outside the cave where he lived the Windago built a great fire. Using more vines, he tied each child to a tree limb. He placed the far end of one of the limbs on top of a high stump. Walking around the fire holding the other end, he brought the tied-up child, a boy, over the fire where he slowly roasted him! When he was cooked, …” She made a loud gnawing sound.
Alsoomse shook her head, pointed her right forefinger. “Their parents, wondering where their children had gone, would go looking for them. Sometimes, if the Windagos were still hungry, they snatched the parents and roasted them, too!” Alsoomse’s face conveyed absolute gravity.
Seated behind Wapun, Nana suddenly stiffened. In two quick motions she raised her right hand and pointed. “Isn’t that … one of them behind those trees?!”
Wapun twisted about.
“Not funny.” Wapun glared. “I wasn’t afraid.”
Alsoomse pressed her pestle against her corn kernels. She smiled. “One grinding motion with each sentence,” she said. “All of you. Ready?” She watched them position their pestles over their mortars.
“The people in all the villages were miserable. Something had to be done.” She pressed down with her pestle. The others obeyed. “Fortunately, they worshiped the sun. Because the great Sun Father liked them, he decided to help them.” She pressed. Watching them, satisfied, she continued. “He changed himself into a handsome hunter, came down out of the sky, and married a beautiful woman from the North.”
Pules raised her head. “Where the Weapomeoc live?”
Alsoomse shook her head. “Much farther north.”
“The beautiful woman gave birth to twin boys. Handsome boys, very brave. They grew very fast; and then, suddenly, they stopped growing. They grew to be no taller than you, Wapun. But they were strong, and they were very intelligent, and were full of questions.”
She [the boys’ mother] said they were special. Two days later she carried out of her longhouse two bows about their height and two quivers full of arrows.” Lowering her chin, Alsoomse resumed grinding. The young girls waited, their hands, grasping their pestles, idle. A drift of smoke temporarily encircled them.
“Why?” Pules exclaimed.
“She told them that their father had left the bows and arrows for her to give to them. Then he had gone away. They were to use them when they became old enough. She went into her long house and brought out several magic rabbit sticks. ‘Take these also and use them but only if you have to,’ she told them.”
“Rabbit sticks? What are rabbit sticks?”
“Sticks covered with rabbit fur,” Alsoomse answered, straining to keep her mouth small.
“Why would anybody want to put rabbit fur on sticks?” Wapun frowned. “You are making this up.”
Alsoomse shrugged. “All I know is that the great Sun Father thought there should be fur on them. You see, there was magic in the fur. Time for two more grinds.” She bore down with her pestle, moved it in a semi-circle.
When the others had complied, she resumed. “The boys wanted to go hunting. Their mother told them to stay far away from the monster animals that could swallow them. ‘And stay away from Windagos! You are just the right size to roast!’ So …” Alsoomse raised her hands, palms up, lifted them to shoulder level. “Being boys, they thought they were all mighty, thought they could kill just about anything.”
That evening Granganimeo,
’s weroance, takes Wanchese aside to
speak to him privately. Roanoke
Stopping in a secluded space shrouded by thick spruce trees, close to the recently expanded burial ground, Granganimeo, arms folded across his chest, studied him. Sensing what was about to be said, Wanchese felt the beginnings of irritation.
“It is hard for me to say this about my son.” Granganimeo rotated his head. “You must not repeat what I am about to say. It is only because Wingina and I recognize you to be strong in character, skillful in providing meat, and, we believe, brave in battle – and because you are Matunaagd’s son – that I say this to you.” Granganimeo squinted, deepened the furrows etched in his forehead. “That I place my trust in you.”
“Tihkoosue is a disappointment. Boys his age have already learned the skills of hunting. They make their own bows and arrows. They play the hoop game, they shoot at tree stumps from different distances. Eagerly! They hunt with young braves. Tihkoosue does none of this. Yet he expects to become a weroance. He expects everything to be given to him. He must be taught otherwise.”
Wanchese shifted his weight, touched briefly his dangling tobacco sack.
“You know what I want you to do, don’t you?”
Wanchese nodded. The large turkey feather, its stem inserted in the groove at the top of his forehead, bobbed.
“It will take much of your time.” Granganimeo’s crossed forearms covered the square-shaped sheet of copper that hung from his neck.
“I know he is willful,” Wanchese answered. He felt he had the right to criticize. “He will not listen to me if he does not listen to you.”
“You have my permission to make him listen. I have seen how you reject weak character. I also know that you are fair-minded. Treat my son as he deserves.”
Wanchese stretched the corners of his mouth. “I will not be easy with him.”
Wanchese and Tihkoosue go hazelwood tree trunk hunting to carve out wood to make bows. Altering Tihkoosue’s attitude and behavior is made possible by Tihkoosue’s curiosity about Wanchese’s deceased brother Kitchie, who at the age of 11 drowned attempting to navigate a canoe in the ocean. Kitchi had been five years younger than Wanchese.
He [Wanchese] knelt upon the soft earth. Reaching behind his back for his skirt waistband, he secured his tobacco sack. He removed it, untied its strings, and opened it. He poured bits of tobacco leaves into the palm of his left hand. He stood. “Tree, I thank you for giving us some of your wood. May the bows we make be strong and send our arrows fast and straight.” He sprinkled the palm’s contents judiciously around the base of the tree trunk.
Facing the boy, he said: “You must remember always to thank the trees you use and the animals you kill for their sacrifice.”
“I know that!”
Wanchese ignored the petulance. Using his knife, he commenced to cut a line approximately five feet long down the tree trunk. “This takes effort,” he said, “because of the bark. You see that I hold the knife with this deerskin hide. “
“I see that!”
“Then you know the reason.”
Tihkoosue didn’t answer.
Wanchese finished his second vertical cut. He stood. The boy had marked half the distance of his first cut. “You are doing all right.”
“But it’s hard!”
“The hard part comes after we eat.”
Tihkoosue turned, looked at him hard. “How?”
“After we eat. Hurry up. I am hungry.” Wanchese grinned.
Thirty minutes later the boy had finished. Flexing the fingers of his right hand, he watched Wanchese make a fire, then build a platform of sticks over the flames to cook three moderate-sized bass he had taken from his previous day’s catch. Each was silent while they ate.
After awhile the boy asked: ”Did you do this with Kitchi?”
Wanchese felt instant pain. “Yes,” he said, tardily.
“How did he do?”
“He complained a lot.”
“It is hard,” Tihkoose had said. Everything is hard. It is meant to be.
“Was it a good bow?”
“Good enough for a boy his size. He was able to kill rabbits with it.”
“Did you take him hunting?”
“Is hunting hard?”
“Everything is hard the first time.” He paused, licked his fingers, reached with his knife for the unclaimed bass lying across two sticks extended two feet above the fire. “It gets easier.”
They returned to the tree trunks. “Watch me while I cut the lines deeper. As deep as the distance of your little finger. “This will be hard work. Then we wedge the wood out using these pieces of deer antler and that hard rock I brought out of the canoe. The sun will be low when we finish. You should know.”
“Did you help Kitchi?”
“Sometimes, when he asked.” Not watching him, Wanchese expected the next question. Tihkoosue didn’t speak. “He didn’t ask that much,” Wanchese answered.
Several days later Askook, a disagreeable distant cousin of Alsoomse and Wanchese and a brother of Granganimeo’s wife Hurit, joins Alsoomse’s group of friends, her first cousins Nootau and Sokanon, and Tihkoose while they finish their meal and hear the conclusion of Alsoomse’s story about the sun god’s two sons and an evil Windago. Before and during Alsoomse’s story-telling Ashkook is rude to the little girls Pules and Wapun, insults the older girls Nana and Odina, and disparages Alsoomse’s story. Alsoomse tells him that he is not welcome. “You are our cousin. Barely. You are not our friend.” Askook continues his sarcastic insults. He declares, finally, that Alsoomse’s two unattractive friends desire him to take them in their beds.
Machk, Nana’s brother, “rose to one knee. Wanchese gripped his right forearm. ‘Sit. You, also,’ he said to Askook. ‘Eat that last piece of meat.’ He pointed at the platter. ‘It might stop you playing the fool.’
Askook angled his head, glanced sideways at Wanchese. Smirking, he settled himself on the bare ground. He looked again at Wanchese, whose focus was on Nana and Odina. Alsoomse, watching closely, detected on Askook’s eyes an expression of triumph.”
Alsoomse’s story ends with the sun god’s two boys killing the Windago with the use of their magic rabbit sticks. Askook speaks.
“Too bad Kitchi didn’t have the sun god protecting him when he took his canoe out into the great waters.” His eyes and the tilt of his head revealed satisfaction. “Too bad nobody human looked after him, either.” He glanced at Wanchese.
Alsoomse watched her brother rise to his feet. For a brief moment she was frightened for Askook. She had never seen Wanchese look like this: controlled, quietly menacing, at any moment lethal.
Askook stood. He brushed the back of his rear apron.
“Follow me!” Wanchese turned, walked to the center of the village lane, faced back. Askook hadn’t moved.
“Are you a coward? Do as he says!” Alsoomse said.
Askook looked at her. “I am not a coward.”
“Come with me!” Wanchese, taking long strides, disappeared past the last longhouse.
“Do not be a woman!” Alsoomse said.
Askook’s expression reflected hate. Taking less lengthy strides, he walked past the longhouse.
Wanchese was waiting for him. “Follow me.”
Wanchese turned about, walked ahead.
They arrived at the secluded alcove of spruce branches where Granganimeo had spoken to Wanchese about Tihkoosue.
“Well?” Askook’s eyes wavered. He pressed the heels of his hands against his hip bones.
“Mind what you say. I am very close to tearing you apart.”
“If I lose control, I will kill you.”
They stared at each other.
“Well, …” Askook looked away.
“You wear Wingina’s four arrows inked behind your left shoulder. That is supposed to mean something. You do not show it!”
“I am as loyal to Wingina as any man.” Askook raised his chin, tightened his legs.
“They mean we are one. We protect each other. We are not each other’s enemy.” Wanchese’s eyes bored. “But you make yourself one! You insult, you accuse, you hate.”
“I tell the truth.”
“I see a man who cares only about himself.”
“I see a man who cared so much about himself that he was never here, to watch over his brother.”
Three feet apart, bodies taut, they faced each other.
Wanchese’s biceps and shoulder muscles strained to be released. “There are two things you can choose to do.” They were the same height. Askook looked at him warily. “You can be what you are supposed to be. Or you can be our enemy and be banished.”
“Not killed?” Askook mocked.
Wanchese struck him full on the right cheek with the heel of his left hand. Askook went down, instantly. He lay still for fifteen seconds, moved his upper body, briefly groaned.
“Not yet you are!”
Askook raised himself to a sitting position. A red welt was forming. “Tearing me apart will do you no good,” he muttered.
“Tell my hands and feet that.”
“You are responsible for Kitchi’s death. That is the truth!”
Wanchese crowded him. “Why does that matter to you?”
“That is for you to find out.”
“You are no cousin of mine. Your blood and my blood are not the same. You would be wise to return to Dasemunkepeuc. Determine there your fate.”
Character traits are best revealed by characters’ actions, not by author explication.