Whiteface - Part I
by Jared Oliver Adams
2nd Place - Best Story - 2011
Before Otter-in-the-grass, nobody among the Ka-akin peoples had ever chosen
more than one color. When he was ten moons old, he was presented to the chiefs
like any other baby, and like any other baby he was placed on the ground of the
meeting place in the middle of a circle. Around the edge of the circle were dry
piles of different-colored dyes, each hue mixed carefully to be pure in color. Some
of the piles were big and some small, but they were all placed with precision,
according to tradition.
Infant Otter-in-the-grass (and this was before he was given his name), sat still for
awhile and looked around, not at the dyes but at the people crowded along the
outside of the ring. He considered them with great wonder, for everyone in the
front row of onlookers had their faces covered in reddish mud to obscure their
identity to the child, and each shook a rattle so that the babe would not be
distracted by any sudden noises. Otter-in-the-grass watched them as many babies
had done before, but then he did something unheard of. He turned completely
around, crawled over to the back of the circle where all the rarest colors were, and
flopped down across three separate mounds of dye.
Neither the chiefs nor the sages knew how to interpret this, for at that time the
color a baby chose determined what his role in society would be. If he had plunged
his hand into the pile of red dye, then he would have been a war-chief; if yellow, a
peace-chief; if purple, a sage -- but as far as any observer could tell, he touched all
three colors at once.
The decision was made to train the child in all three disciplines, and he was given
the name Otter-in-the-grass, for an otter has three natures: it swims like a fish, has
fur like a squirrel, and interacts with its fellows like a man.
Otter-in-the-grass was a clever boy, and this training bore much fruit. As a peace-chief he became skilled at rationing food, smoothing over conflicts, and directing
trade. As a war-chief he became a master of weapons and tactics. And as a sage he
learned not only the lore of the Ka-akin, but that of the surrounding tribes as well.
Such was his success that the other clan chiefs of the Ka-akin began to fear that
one day he would set himself up as the sole ruler of the tribe, becoming like the
oppressive Chieftains of the neighboring peoples. Seeking to lessen his influence
while still respecting his colors, the chiefs decided to make for Otter a unique
position, that of an ambassador, for in this way they could use his great skills,
while at the same time keeping him from the village for long periods of time.
At this too Otter excelled. He opened many paths for trade, halted many wars
before they started, and his name was known among all the surrounding tribes. His
absence from the village had little effect on his popularity. Though the Ka-akin
said they respected all people the same, in truth they respected him the most.
Now, it came to pass that Otter married and had a son, and this is where the true
story starts, for this was the great crisis in Otter's life, the thing that made him the
man he is today.