The dancing rock fire cast a large shadow behind the man as he stood up and put another oak log on it. “The venom of the serpent shows us a great many things,” the man said. “Your medicine man, Hania, told you demons would visit you and not to fear. What many do not recognize is that the only demons and fear they meet are the ones they already have inside.” He reached up into his golden headband and pulled out one of the eagle feathers. He moved over and knelt down at Eddie’s side.
“You have faced your demon with bravery. You are worthy, and now you must decide.”
He rolled Eddie’s head upright and placed the feather across his forehead. “You must decide if you can exist with your demon, or not. Your demon will always be with you on the earth. If you decide, you may stay here with it and become a brave of the Apache.” The man clapped his hands together hard and rubbed them together. He placed one hand over the feather on Eddie’s forehead and one hand over the serpent bite. His touch was hot, burning like a glowing iron over the bite, but the hand on his forehead over the feather was cool and calming. Eddie, still immobile, inhaled a sharp breath and screamed out.
“When I met your father here many seasons ago,” the man said, “I shared in his vision just as I have shared in yours. The coyote terrified your father. In his vision, he foresaw his death and knew it save a life but would come out of great fear. Not your fear, but his. When the time came for him to choose, he stayed to live with his demon, but was comforted that he would face his fear to save a life—your life—even though he would lose his own.”
All of the feeling came rushing through Eddie’s body like a raging river. Though groggy and painfully difficult, he could move again, but only just. The man helped Eddie to his feet and steadied him. The room was still spinning.
“I have slowed the venom enough for you to decide. Now you will exit the cave with me and make your choice. Should you choose to stay, take your rope and begin your descent. If you choose to leave, I will carry you to meet the Great Spirit. I await you outside, Sahale, brave of the Apache.”
The man leaned Eddie against the wall and walked out, leaving Eddie to think about his decision. This was nothing like he thought it would be. Neither his grandfather nor Hania prepared him for anything that he just experienced. The weight of emotion at remembering the death of his father came crashing down like an avalanche. Eddie fell to his knees and sobbed. He tried to bury the feelings of guilt and remorse over his father’s death. Grandfather told everyone it was an accident, but that wasn’t true at all. It wasn’t an accident that killed his father.
It was Eddie’s cowardice.
It was his fear.
The realization of truth hit him hard. Was his father’s death truly an accident? All this time, Eddie carried the guilt in his heart. It weighed him down like a stone tied to his soul. He ached every time he saw his mother cry over the only photo they had of him. Grandfather would say his time with the Great Spirit was needed, and that is why he was gone. They both told Eddie it wasn’t his fault. He never believed them. But now, facing his guilt he accepted that maybe it was all an accident. A terrible, awful accident.
Eddie couldn’t remember how long he sat there before finally gathering the strength to get up. He could still feel the venom coursing through him. It slowed his movements and clouded his vision. He wondered how long he would feel this way. When he emerged from the cave, the man with the golden head band stood at the edge of the overhang waiting for him. A cold white wind dusted up a light snow around them. The biting icy air made Eddie pull the buffalo hide tighter to his shoulders, but the man seemed unaffected by it. He staggered up face to face with the man. They stood there for several minutes before he spoke.
“Have you made a decision, Sahale?”
“I… I have.”
“And what have you chosen?”
He held open the buffalo hide. In one hand, he held the coil of rope and clutched tightly in the other was the eagle feather. The man looked down at his hands and spoke again.
“You cannot hold both. Whichever you release decides your fate.”
Eddie looked down at his hands, first at the feather. “I hold the line; the line of strength that pulls me through the fear. My fear is that I am the cause of my father’s death.” He then looked at the rope. “I hold the line; the line of life that anchors me to the world I know and the people I love. Tell me, Yellow Eagle, if you were me, what would you choose?”
“I, like you, faced the same trials. I, like you, also came to the Great Spirit with a rope and feather in hand, asking the same question.” The wind and snow flurries danced around them. Flecks of white clung to Yellow Eagle’s dark hair. He reached up and placed his hand on Eddie’s shoulder. “I could not live with my demon and chose to go with the Great Spirit. Unlike you, I was not brave enough.”
Eddie smiled. “You speak as if you know already know what I have decided.”
Yellow Eagle smiled back. “I have always known what you would decide, young brave.” He extended his hand out. Eddie looked down at it and handed him the feather. “Live well, Sahale, of the higher places. May the Great Spirit watch over you until we meet again.”
Yellow Eagle turned and gracefully dove off the edge of the cliff out of Eddie’s sight. He ran to the edge to see when suddenly a great Golden Eagle soared up past him, crying out to the wind and declaring that Sahale, brave of the Apache, was about to make his descent.