An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.
In the courtyard of the High Priest’s great house stood a towering pine tree, the largest for three or four days’ walk in any direction. The Owl Men looked after the tree, watering it carefully during dry seasons, because its limbs were a favored resting place for owls. They watched the Owl Tree constantly and interpreted the omens the owls foretold.
Each morning after sunrise, the High Priest met in private with Noala, the top Owl Man.
“It is as I’ve never seen before,” said Noala the moment he burst into the room, dispensing with their usual formal greeting.
The High Priest balanced himself on his crossed legs to listen.
“One long-eared owl sat on the low branch facing southeast all night long without even turning his head. This morning at first light, he flew southeast, then turned and disappeared to the northwest. Three tremulous owls came and went during the night, one with a mouse, which he ate, then they all three followed the long-eared owl to the northwest.”
As usual, the High Priest’s mind began to wander during Noala’s recitation of everything the owls had done. Sometimes, the High Priest himself would watch the owl tree overnight and he thrilled at seeing the owls, but he’d never been able to interpret their actions. Each time he’d tried, the Owl Men had smiled as if he were a child making a mistake and corrected him. So he waited patiently for Noala’s forecast.
“Something to the southeast bears watching,” said Noala, finally calming enough to sit down and eat sweet corn dumplings. “Something so disturbing, the owls will not go in that direction.”
Interesting, thought the High Priest. His fortuneteller, Chumana, had been saying much the same thing for more than a week. But he said nothing. He knew of the great animosity between Noala and Chumana. He’d seen Noala change his interpretations of the owls to dispute Chumana’s accounts. Interestingly, he’d never seen Chumana do the same. She had more loyalty to her visions than Noala had of his owls.
Noala, for his part, often felt the skepticism of the High Priest, and he attributed it to the whisperings of the fortuneteller. Noala wished he knew what she told him, but the High Priest rarely let anything slip about anything Chumana had said. So Noala did his best, hoping his owls would tell him things the fortuneteller could never know.
“What do we watch for in the southeast?” asked the High Priest.
“Something that is not yet frightening,” said Noala. “The owls are more wary than alarmed. It’s something subtle. Something you may look at without seeing.”
Noala saw the fleeting shift around the corners of the High Priest’s mouth and eyes. He’d struck a nerve. Had Chumana already told him as much? Or had what he said contradicted what she’d said?
“In a field with many mice, you may not see them,” said Noala, repeating an oft-told aphorism, but shifting it to a context appropriate to owls. “But in a field with only one mouse, anyone with eyes could see it when it moves.”
Noala saw that fleeting change again in the High Priest’s countenance. Noala feared he’d just corroborated the fortuneteller’s story.
“So you would have us watch for mice?” asked the High Priest, almost in a joking manner.
Noala finished his bowl of sweet dumplings with an appreciative smack and nodded his head.
“For mice among men,” he said.
The High Priest took care to mask his internal smile and focused on the tingling sensation in his legs. He used to be able to sit cross-legged for hours at a time, but it had grown more difficult with each passing year. The smile inside, though, made him not care. His fortuneteller and his owl watcher were telling him the same thing. Some threat that did not look threatening lay in the southeast.
The High Priest straightened his legs and felt the thousands of tiny pricks that came before the use of his legs returned. He would instruct Pok, his chief warrior, to send his best spies to the southeast to see what the mice among the men were up to.