The Great Mission • Lydia Hanold

Long ago in what is now Pennsylvania, there was a Native American tribe. In that tribe there was a girl of about 5 or 6 named Atraya. Her father died when she was 2, so her family was short on food frequently. Her brother, Atrayu, was a good hunter, but their mother wouldn’t let him go hunting. Instead, the family grew small plants to eat in the winter.

But one year the ground was dry. So in the fall when the harvest came, their mother realized that they didn’t have enough food. She called for the children to listen closely.

“You two,” she said. “You must go on horses…” She paused as if she was going to regret what she had to say. Finally she took a deep breath and said, “You must go on horseback and find food for the winter.” She took another deep breath, “and you must leave today!” With that, she took another deep breath and burst into tears.

“It’s okay mother,” Atraya said reassuringly. “We’ll be careful, I promise.”

“Go get your things,” their mother sniffed.

A few hours later, Atrayu helped Atraya onto a small but strong pony. Their mother held out her tiny cloak. 
Atraya put it on and waved. Atrayu mounted his tall, black horse and put on his cloak. The two children rode sadly through the twisty forest path. The minutes passed, then hours. The climate grew dry and dusty. The soft swish, swish, swish of the horse’s hooves against the grass grew to a CRUNCH, CRUNCH, CRUNCH against dried up branches and leaves.

A few minutes later, Atrayu spotted a stream. He signaled to Atraya, and the two horses galloped as if they were flying. They skidded to a stop as the riders pulled food out of skin saddle bags. They drank some water and ate some food.

As they set out, Atrayu heard a peculiar noise. “A Spirit,” he thought. He could see that Atraya was scared. “We’ll be all right,” he said trying to sound confident. Inside he was frightened.

The Spirit blew up a cloud of sand and dust. Spirits are not male nor female, not human nor animal. Spirits are simply the dreaded forms of the desert. “WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT IS YOUR BUSINESS HERE?” boomed the Spirit.

“We must find food for our mother miles and miles away!” Atrayu shouted. “And we are not afraid of you!”

“HA!” boomed the Spirit. “YOU ARE NOW MY PRISONERS!”

The Spirit blew up into a sandstorm of dust, pulling in the two children. Atraya screamed, the sound echoing off the cavern walls. A door flew open and the children found themselves in the Spirit’s prison.

Suddenly, they heard a voice. “Who are you?” the voice asked softly. In the dimly lit room a beautiful girl stepped out. “Who are you?” the girl repeated.

Atraya managed to introduce herself, and then added, pointing to her brother, “this is Atrayu.”

“I am Poana,” the girl said. “I can take you home.”

Finally, Atrayu found his voice. “Are you magic?” he asked.

“Yes,” Poana said with a slight smile. She flicked her wrist twice and the three of them went flying through the air.

When they returned, they found their mother happily eating plants from the garden. Overjoyed, their mother asked Poana to stay with them. A few weeks later, she married Atrayu and they all lived happily ever after.