He was in his fourth summer when the Mexicans rode against us.
Tazhi, my brother: the child who delighted the hearts of all who looked upon him. The wind flowed in his veins, and the sun itself seemed to shine through his eyes when he smiled.
Only Tazhi stood and faced them.
And for that, he was cut down. In a flash of reddening steel, Tazhi was sent to the afterlife, condemned to walk forever headless, and alone.
We were orphans of the Black Mountain Apache, Tazhi and I. Our mother had been slain by Mexican soldiers when Tazhi was a babe of ten moons old. Our father had gone from us two winters before that. He had ridden with warriors on a raid into Mexico; there they had been ambushed. Our father was one of many who did not return.
So Tazhi and I belonged to no one, and thus we belonged to everyone -- or Tazhi did.
When he was small, he had no mother to embrace him, so all the women of the tribe cuddled him, squeezing his plump limbs and tickling him until his laughs rang through the camp. As he grew bigger, he had no father to grapple and fight, so all the warriors wrestled him, delighting in his growing strength and fearless bravado. Golahka, that powerful young warrior,would play with Tazhi, although he had three children of his own. And slender Tehineh, Golahka’s tenderhearted wife, would smile and look on quietly as she knelt beside the fire.
But it was I Tazhi turned to at night; I who held him through the long, black time when the coyote cried and the owl called. Tazhi would shut his eyes only when his head rested on my shoulder, and I would curl around his sleeping body to protect him from the unseen terrors of the dark.
We were at peace that summer, and happy to be so. The Mexican, it seemed, had tired of his endless war against my people and instead had invited us to trade. Thus the whole tribe left the settlement of tepees in our Black Mountain home and for many days traveled south across the flat plains, deep into Mexican territory. Tazhi and I moved lightly, ourhearts untroubled, our spirits soaring with delight to be roaming free across the land created by Ussen, the Life Giver, for the Apache.
Each night of our long journey we made camp, sleeping wrapped in blankets beneath the stars. By firelight, the old men of the tribe told tales, and Tazhi and I listened with eyes wide as they recounted how -- many lifetimes ago -- strangers who spoke the Spanish tongue had come from the south, butchering every tribe they met and putting whole settlements to the flame. Those they did not murder, they enslaved.
The Apache had held their freedom by moving high into the mountains where the strangers dared not venture. They kept themselves apart, and safe. But, in time, these Spanish men mingled their blood with those few of other tribes who survived their slaughter. Thus a new race was born: the Mexican, who now squatted greedily on Ussen’s land and called it his own.
Conflict between the Apache and this murderous race was woven through our history like a red thread through a blanket. But now the blanket was folded and put away; there was to be no more warfareor bloodshed.
At last we stopped outside the Mexican town we call Koskineh. There Tazhi and I sniffed the air; the faint scent of cooking spices drifting from the dwellings thrilled us with its strangeness.
In the dip of a broad, open valley, where the river ran cool and clear, our tribe bent saplings and cut brushwood to fashion into wickiup shelters. We gathered wood and built fires, setting pots of meat bubbling in the flames.
For some days all was calm. In the mornings, the warriors went to trade in the town, leaving behind a small guard for the protection of the women and children.
I was then in my fourteenth summer and was counted a woman. In the absence of my own mother, Nahasgah -- mother of Golahka -- had been trying to teach me the skills of womanhood that I should have mastered many, many moons ago. I had no aptitude for the tasks she set me. Myfingers were clumsy when they attempted to coil baskets and stupidly awkward when they tried to tan a deerskin. I could not scrape free the hair without nicking the outer surface, and thus each hide I worked became worthless.
To make weapons was a different thing. As soon as Tazhi could walk, I had fashioned him a small bow and a quiver full of arrows. Other boys played with sharpened sticks, but for Tazhi I made arrowheads of stone, the flint shaping easily beneath my fingers.
On our third day outside Koskineh, I made Tazhi a spear.
It was not the full length of a grown warrior’s lance, and yet it was no plaything. The weapon stood taller than Tazhi but was well weighted so he could thrust it with ease. The head was long and slender, crafted from a dark flint, as sharp as the blade of the knife that all Apache carry. The shaft I had decorated with an eagle’s feathers; I had found them on ourjourney, lying on the ground before me, as though a gift from the bird above.
When the warriors returned from trading that night, Tazhi, armed with his new weapon, barred their way. He singled out Golahka, shaking hisspear threateningly, vowing to slay the warrior if he took another step.
Golahka’s dark eyes glinted with seeming terror as he held his hands up placatingly. Tazhi drove him back, ordering, "Away, miserable coyote! Away from my women! Away from my children! Away, away!" And Golahka fled from the camp, screaming like a maiden.
There was much laughter among the women and warriors, and Tehineh smiled. Tazhi did not. In his fourth summer, he stood proud as a mighty warrior, believing in his victory.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from I Am Apache by Tanya Landman. Copyright © 2008 by Tanya Landman. Excerpted by permission of Candlewick, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.