New Mexico, August 18, 1803
The stone column of Lo Ikwithltchunona rose dark against the sky. The breath of the gods hung in the air, thick as clouds. Taima crouched against the stone, his eyes fastened greedily on the promised rain. The gods looked favorably on his people and tomorrow it would rain. This year their crops would flourish.
No longer did Lo Ikwithltchunona, the Cloud-Swallower, haunt these canyons. For, according to legend, this giant had once roamed New Mexico, drinking of the clouds that drifted about his head and killing all men he came across. But the gods had grown weary of him and had defeated him, tossing him over a cliff where his body turned to stone. Now the clouds dropped rain as the gods pleased.
Taima headed toward home, passing the half-finished mission house. He smirked at the white man and his crew of sweating fools, working under the open roof. “You see the clouds? Tomorrow the heavens will pour and your precious mission will be full of water. We who belong here will be glad and drink of it. You who came uninvited will weep.”
The white man looked up. “There will be no rain for ten days. The God of creation will give us this time to finish this building, to build a roof to cover His people.”
Taima sneered. “Tomorrow the Zuni people will dance a rain dance. Tomorrow those dark clouds will pour. You had better work fast, White One, or you will drown.”
The next day dawned gloomy. The Zuni tribe was a flutter of activity. Bright moccasins flashed and tortoise shells rattled from many knees as the masked people gathered in long lines. The tribe joined together in unity, men facing women. Left foot step, right foot high! Left foot step, right foot high! Music welled from Taima’s soul, a song created in the moment, sacred and heartfelt. The earth trembled with the rhythm of the dance. The gods would be pleased.
The cracked ground pressed hard against the tiny seeds that had been entrusted to it. Dark clouds still hung at bay, these five days later, burdened with rain, yet none fell. Taima’s eyes narrowed and he strode toward the mission. He found the white man sitting cross-legged.
Minutes passed before the missionary noticed Taima. “Forgive me,” the missionary smiled. “I was praying. Would you like to sit down?”
“Our people dance with song and bright colors and yet the gods do not listen!” Taima mocked. “Why should your God take heed when you sit silently by yourself?”
The missionary was silent for a time. “God listens to His people, whether they cry loudly, or whether they speak silently.”
Taima considered this. “And your God would have drought? Have us starve to death?”
“Rain will come. But first we finish the roof. God would have His people safe.”
Taima’s dark eyes burned. “So this is your God against our gods.” His lip curled. “You are like Lo Ikwithltchunona! Take heed lest you be dashed off the cliff as he was.”
The missionary glanced at the tall rock. “Perhaps Elijah would be a more appropriate name for me. My God is stronger, Taima. He will show you.”
“I am Taima. My name means thunder. Beware! It will thunder here, White One.”
For three more days it did not rain. For three days the seeds in the ground grew drier. And for three days Taima cried out to the rain gods. He sang loudly and he stood quietly. But all the while he heard only the steady hammering on the mission roof.
On the ninth day Taima cried out to the gods, “You defeated Lo Ikwithltchunona. Why do you allow a small white one to keep away our rain? Has he more power than you?” Taima dared mock the gods. But rain did not fall.
On the tenth day the missionary said, “The roof is finished. Tomorrow it will rain.”
Taima laughed. For ten days the gods had held back their breath. The eleventh day would not bring rain at this cloud-swallower’s word.
But something clutched at Taima. Perhaps it was curiosity. Perhaps it was something deeper. Something like fear or awe, deep down in his soul. He stood all night beneath the stone of Lo Ikwithltchunona, watching the sky. All through the night the clouds rolled steadily closer, until they towered right overhead.
As the first glimmer of dawn found its way over the horizon, the rain began to fall.
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