What if the Navajo legend of the Twin Warriors is more than just a story?
Warriors Of The Sun is a spine-chilling 4-book series that pulls you into a web of survival and the malign terror of shape shifters, it knots the forces of nature with intangible mythical powers. It makes your flesh creep and leaves you anxiously wondering whether there is indeed more to this world than we can see at first sight.
WARRIORS OF THE SUN is a low fantasy adventure series for age group 10 to 15. This coming-of-age series immerses readers in North American native myths and legends. Like sand paintings sold to the public do not depict the entire painting to protect the sacredness of the original, I have not tried to accurately retell the myths and legends. I leave that precious task to the storytellers of the different tribes, like the Navajo, the Kwakwaka’wakw and the Tsimshian.
The Warriors Of the Sun series is written to tempt non-Native American children to further explore the ways of the ancient and the rich history of the first peoples of North America. I hope that one day they too will feel the presence of Thunderbird.
Book 1 – THE SUN SPIRIT
During summer break, 12-year-old Tom travels to New Mexico and Arizona for the first time. During a kayak trip he trails off and plummets down a waterfall. When he comes to, he meets Jay, a young Navajo sent out by the storyteller of his tribe to find his unknown father. Strengthened by the storyteller’s clues, Tom decides to team up with Jay. Together the boys set off into the scorching deserts of Arizona, but their quest soon turns into a struggle for survival as they face forces persistently trying to prevent Tom and Jay from finding Jay’s father, for finding him will forever change their world. And it is not just nature’s forces, but forces like the mysterious Billy C., who constantly tries to break up the boys fragile friendship. The boys fight bears and snakes, and have to steel themselves against the thunderstorms and flash floodings that so frequently ravage the Dinetah.
Will Tom and Jay survive and find Jay’s father? The Sun Spirit is a tale of hardship and friendship.
No! Not again. Tom looked over his shoulder at his campmates and the instructors. He slowed his kayak. What had they covered so far, a mile? In what, two hours, maybe more? “Come on. Come on!” he muttered, paddling in place. The two instructors drove the kayaks of his campmates back onto the current to prevent them from being dragged into an eddy. “Pull! Pull harder!” The instructors shouted at two girls, sharing a boat. The girls didn’t pull. Instead, they shrieked as if they saw ghosts rising from the water. The kayaks swirled into the vortex, like logs adrift. Tom heard the impatience in the instructors’ voices. It was the same impatience he felt. He wanted to ignore it, but it kept creeping up at him. There was so much to see, so many miles to cover! And the hours were ticking away. At this pace, they would never reach the next campsite, let alone have time to explore the area. The girls’ piercing cries echoed of the high cliff walls, scaring an eagle that had been resting in a dead tree on the high bank. Tom followed the majestic bird with his eyes until it disappeared out of sight. If only he would be as free. He sighed, willed his patience back. The agitated current kept daring his kayak, bouncing it up and down, and beckoning him to go on. The water whirled around the paddle he’d jammed between two rocks to prevent him from gliding further down the river. “Can I go on?” he shouted. “Don’t go past the bend – there are class 3 rapids up ahead!” one of the instructors yelled back. Class 3 rapids! That was what he wanted, what he needed! Some good solid action instead of waiting till the river ran dry. He jerked the paddle from the rocks. For a short time, a split second maybe, the water didn’t notice that it had free play, but then the kayak blasted off like a slingshot. Tom’s heart raced with it. From the corner of his eye he scanned the riverbank. Rocks and bushes flashed by. He concentrated back on the river. The faster he went, the quicker he had to choose where to pass a rock. He pulled his paddle through the water. The white kayak leaped forward and sped to the river bend. The instructor hollered after him, but Tom closed his ears. For a second, he wavered. But the water already decided for him. It bubbled and boiled, and tugged him past the bend. Sharp and edgy rock tops revealed themselves in between the ruffles of the rapid. Tom clasped the paddle with both hands and plunged it into the water. Losing speed would make him a rudderless toy. The blade scraped the riverbed, secured itself. The boat brushed past a rock and dove between two others. Unharmed, he swung out of the rapid. The river widened, washing out the rapids. Tom reversed the kayak and let it float sternward. He leaned back, looked up at the blue sky and he laughed out loud. His laughter rolled away over the water, echoing of the cliff walls. Brilliant! With a swift jostle of the paddle he turned back downriver. Water splashed up alongside the kayak and cooled his suntanned arms. The sun stood right above the gorge and sweat pricked his scalp. He rested the paddle on his legs for a moment to loosen the chinstrap of his helmet, when the current drew him through another bend. “Shoot!” Tom gasped for breath and let go of the strap. He grabbed the paddle. That wasn’t a class 3. That was a 4, maybe even a 5! In less than a hundred feet the river narrowed, turning into a roiling boiling mass. The noise of water hitting rocks reverberated of the cliff walls, deafening him like he was in an echoing well. He forced the paddle blade against the current. A six-foot wave train rushed under him. Huge boulders and ledges blocked the way. He tensed his arm muscles. He had to slow down or he would crash. But the roaring water dragged him on. He couldn’t do anything but paddle. Paddle like a madman. Waves pounded the boat, heaving it up high, smacking it down. Within seconds his arms hurt from fighting the water. A giant rock loomed up. He braced his feet against the sides of the kayak, rammed the paddle back into the water, forcing the blade against the current. The kayak grazed past the rock, and headed straight for another. Tom thrust the paddle down, pushed off from the riverbed. No grip! He slid forward, slightly tilting the boat. He ignored the burning in his arms and pushed again. The kayak’s nose shifted, not more than a hair’s breadth, and the whitewater swept him past. A massive wave lifted him up. And there, at the highest top of the wave, he caught a glimpse of what was waiting for him. No more rapids. No more rocks. Just sky. And a gargantuan waterfall. Lift the bow! He had to lift the bow. The kayak shot over the edge. He hopped up, but the kayak already pitched forward. “No!” he yelled. “No!” For a split second he hung mid-air, motionless, then the kayak nosed down. The water lashed his face, pulled him under, kayak and all. Rocks took bites out of him as the water thrashed him to and fro. The kayak whirled round like in a spin-drier on full speed. His lungs burned. He had to breathe! He opened his mouth, gulped for air. Water flooded into his mouth, filled his lungs. The kayak spun on its axis. He should go up! Not down. Not down! The water pressure squeezed his eyes out of their sockets. His head hit something solid and pain shot through his neck like a burning hot arrow. His brain exploded, leaving nothing but a black gaping hole that sucked him in.
First chapter from The Sun Spirit (De Zonnegod) ISBN 978-90-00-03756-8
© Mina Witteman (translation Mina Witteman and Dan Nielsen, edited by Laura Watkinson)
Book 2 – THE SOUL SNATCHER
Tom, Jay and Yazhi only met recently but are already inseparable friends. All are children of the Sun Spirit and together they travel the land of the Navajo in North America. During their journey, Yazhi is thrown off her horse and falls down a ravine. She seems in coma; her soul has been stolen by the Soul Snatcher and without the aid of the Dreamer, a healer from the North, she will die.
Tom and Jay are sent out to find the Dreamer. A long and dangerous survival trek across the continent awaits them. They are hit by a tornado, have to survive bitter cold and kill a grizzly. Tom is captured by Dzunukwa, a cannibal giant.
Will Tom escape and reunite with Jay? Will the boys find the Dreamer and save Yazhi’s soul?
The Soul Snatcher is the sequel to The Sun Spirit, but could be read as a stand-alone.
The Sun Spirit stood in front of his hogan, proud and seemingly unapproachable, his arms folded before him. Tom felt his piercing look going right through him. He tried to read the Sun Spirit’s face, but it remained blank, as did his attitude. Nothing showed that the Sun Spirit regretted sending Tom and Jay away so soon after he had proclaimed them his sons. Just as there hadn’t been the slightest trace of surprise about Tom’s blond curls and his blue eyes that stood out between the tanned skin and the dark eyes of the Indians. No, he corrected himself immediately. Indians were a fabrication of times long gone, when Columbus thought he had reached India. The Apache, a neighbouring people, called them Navajo, enemies of the cultivated land. They called themselves na Diné, the People.
Tom studied Tsohanoai’s face again. He desperately wanted to see the tiniest indication that the man was happy that he had finally met Jay and him?
But Tsohanoai’s face remained expressionless. Only his pitch black eyes twinkled now. With amusement? Tom wondered. He would’ve loved to stay a bit longer. He had so many questions that needed answers, but Tsohanoai had been unyielding: they had to go. People were waiting for them.
Feeling a pang of disappointment in his chest Tom turned Shah-bekloth, his horse that was named after a bolt of lightning. About fifty meters down Jay and Yazhi rode towards the woods that covered the mountain’s north side, and he was just in time to see Yazhi turn sharply and steer her horse past some big rocks that looked like giant carbuncles in a further smooth landscape. Within a moment she was gone, and in the same blink of an eye Jay disappeared, too.
‘Wait!’ he yelled. ‘Wait for me!’ Over his shoulder he threw a last glance at Tsohanoai and the people in front of his large hogan. Then he spurred on Shah-bekloth. The horse followed Jay and Yazhi like the bolt of lightning he was named after. Tom steered Shah-bekloth in a wide bend around the four small dark rocks that guarded Tsohanoai’s hogan. He shivered when he remembered the night that he and Jay arrived at the village of Tsohanoai. In the scanty moonlight these same four rocks had come to life and had changed into four furious bears. Thinking back he realized that he had understood but a fraction of the world of the Diné.
‘It doesn’t matter,’ he muttered to himself. As soon as they got back to civilization he’d bombard Yazhi with all his questions. The girl was a walking goldmine of knowledge. She knew absolutely everything about the Diné, about their myths and legends, about the customs of the elders. She knew so much more than Jay, who’d been raised in the reservation but seemed to have been interested in finding his father only. Even though sometimes he thought that Jay knew more than he showed.
‘Come on, Shah-bekloth,’ he roused his horse. ‘We shouldn’t lose them.’
They galloped past the high rocks, but not a moment later the horse reared up. Tom could only just grab his mane to steady himself.
‘Hey!’ he shouted. ‘Watch out!’
‘Just checking your reflexes.’ Jay chuckled.
‘There’s nothing wrong with my reflexes,’ Tom grizzled. ‘And neither with Shah-bekloth’s.’
‘You’re right,’ Yazhi acceded. She tried to swallow her laughter, but didn’t quite manage to do so.
‘What’s so funny?’ Tom asked. They weren’t laughing at him, were they? First they scared him silly and on top of that they ridiculed him for it.
‘You should’ve seen your face,’ Jay said. His laugh echoed through the mountains.
‘I’d like to see your face if someone had scared the living daylights out of you.’ Tom tried to ignore Yazhi and Jay’s laughing faces. ‘Why are we stopping here?’
‘We’ve got to decide which route we take,’ Yazhi said.
‘Don’t we just need to go down the mountain? Back to civilization?’ Tom asked.
‘Yes,’ Yazhi agreed, ‘but we have two possibilities. One is the safe route.’ She pointed towards the east. ‘That’s more or less the route you took coming up the mountain.’
‘And what was safe about that route?’ Tom smiled. ‘If you only knew what we encountered there…’
‘I know,’ Yazhi said quietly. She hesitated for a moment and then pointed straight down. ‘We could also take the short route. It’s faster and goes straight through the forest.’
‘I’ll vote for the shortest route,’ Tom said resolutely.
‘More dangerous than the way we came up is hardly possible,’ Jay chimed in. ‘I’ll take the risk.’ He grabbed Natseelit’s mane and turned him towards the fringe of the forest.
‘It ís the fastest route,’ Yazhi said, ‘but…’
‘But what?’ Jay asked.
‘Nothing.’ Yazhi shook her head. She cast a nervous glance towards the rocks that kept them out of sight of the hogan of the Sun Spirit.
Tom studied her face. Yazhi looked like she was wondering whether to continue her story, he realized. ‘What nothing?’ he urged. What did she not tell them?
‘Nothing,’ Yazhi said again, pointedly. Too pointedly? ‘It doesn’t matter. We can just choose between the longer and the shorter route. Which one do you want?’
‘I want to get back to civilization as quickly as possible,’ Tom said. ‘And Jay’s right; it can’t possibly be more dangerous than on our way up. We’ll take the short route.’
Jay did not hesitate. He probed Natseelit’s side with his heel and trotted toward the forest fringe.
‘Not that far to the left,’ Yazhi whispered. ‘Or else…’
‘Or else what?’ Tom asked, but he knew it was because she wanted to keep out of Tsohanoai’s sight? Yazhi’s face still reflected doubt, but in her eyes shimmered a stubborn look. He wouldn’t get anything out of her, he understood. That well he knew her by now. He nodded. ‘Come on,’ he said reassuringly. ‘We’ll be fine. We’ll just take the short route.’
He tapped his horse in the neck to spur him on. Restlessly Shah-bekloth scraped his hoof over the rocky ground, but refused to move. ‘Go,’ Tom urged him. Unwilling the horse began to move and followed Jay and Yazhi who rode into the woods.
Tom bent the branches apart, at the exact spot where he had seen Yazhi and Jay disappear into the forest. He could barely discern a path in the dusky light of the thick growth. Surprised he pared up the narrow path. Where were they? He strained his ears and after a short while a faint rustle reached him. Was that them? He steered the still unwilling Shah-bekloth further into the forest.
Shrubs and the branches of young trees, trying to climb up to the sky in the shadow of extraordinary high pine trees, lashed his arms and legs. What a lucky thing that he wore the dark grey tunic and knee-high moccasins that Tsohanoai gave Jay and him. They seemed to be made of a material far denser than the buckskin tunics that Yazhi had given them earlier. The sharp branches could lash out as much as they wanted, they didn’t leave the slightest scratch on his arms or legs.
Tom concentrated on the path. ‘Jay!’ he shouted. An uneasy feeling crept up. It was strange here. Just outside the forest it had been light. The morning sun had set the landscape in a bright glow, but here, in this unnatural darkness, it seemed almost night.
‘What?’ Jay’s answer sounded as if he had to be really close by.
Tom peered down the path. Why couldn’t he see Jay and Yazhi? Where were they? Suddenly he discovered a vague silhouette in the dim light that seemed to be Jay and Natseelit’s. At least, he thought it had to be their silhouette as Jay had sounded so close and he had entered the forest after Yazhi, but it could be Yazhi just as well.
‘I can hardly see you,’ Tom said uncertain. ‘Do you see me?’
‘Of course I see you.’ There was a hint of impatience in Jay’s voice. ‘We’re right in front of you, man!’
Tom rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand. It felt like a dark film floated in his eyes, like someone had tied a cloth over his eyes through which he could hardly see. He rubbed his eyes again and opened them, but his vision stayed blurred. He had to come closer. Tom urged Shah-bekloth on. The horse inched forward.
‘This darkness is so weird,’ Tom said. How was it possible that Jay could see him, but not the other way round? Suddenly it was as if he stepped through a curtain. Right in front of him, not even three feet from Shah-bekloth’s nose, stood Natseelit, clear-cut and with Jay on his back. Jay had turned halfway and looked at him puzzled.
‘What was that all about?’ the young Diné asked.
‘I’ve no idea,’ Tom mumbled, ‘but it was very scary.’ He slapped Shah-bekloth in its neck and the horse stepped forward until his nose touched Natseelit’s crupper. Now Yazhi became visible to Tom as well. She stood right in front of Jay but not as clear-cut as he was. K’os diil hiil, her black horse that was so suitably named Thundercloud, was barely noticeable in the dusky light. Tom hesitated. Yazhi and Jay seemed so surprised. Had he not paid attention? ‘It seemed like you were hidden behind a dark screen,’ he whispered uncertain. ‘Only when I got really close could I see Jay’s silhouette and now, now that I’m this close by, I can clearly see you too.’
Agitated, Yazhi’s eyes darted from Jay to Tom and back.
‘What’s wrong?’ Tom asked. She looks worried, it hinged in the back of his mind.
‘Nothing,’ Yazhi responded quickly, maybe too quickly. ‘Let’s go on. The sooner we’re out of the woods, the better.’
‘Yazhi, what’s wrong?’ Tom demanded. ‘What’s going on? Why are you acting so secretive?’
‘I’m not acting secretive,’ Yazhi replied. ‘I… I…’ Again her eyes darted nervously back and forth. ‘I just don’t want to be in this dark forest. I prefer the sun,’ she volunteered at last.
It sounded like a lame excuse, Tom thought. For some reason or another Yazhi didn’t feel like being in this forest, but it was she who’d pointed out this shorter route. Why had she done that?
‘Then we’ll go back,’ Jay said. ‘Let’s just take the other route. I don’t care.’
Yazhi hesitated visibly.
Tom shook his head. ‘We just need to stay close together,’ he said. ‘Let’s move on.’
‘Yeah, let’s go,’ she said softly. ‘This way we’ll be down quickest.’ She turned around and prompted K’os diil hiil.
‘Quickly,’ Tom said to Jay, who showed no signs of leaving but glanced puzzled from Tom to Yazhi. ‘We’ll lose her!’
‘Don’t be so panicky. We won’t lose her. Besides, where would she go? There’s only one path here.’
‘Whatever,’ Tom answered. He hated the uncomfortable feeling the forest gave him, he hated Yazhi’s secretive attitude, but he didn’t feel like taking the long route along the east side of the mountain either. He kicked Shah-bekloth in his sides. His horse moved forward and pushed Natseelit into moving, too.
Jay shrugged and turned around. Without a word he followed Yazhi.
Tom did his utmost to stay as close as possible to him. The feeling that Yazhi knew that there was something wrong, even though she pretended not to, kept nagging at him. And it sure as hell didn’t matter to him that Jay didn’t.
The sun only sporadically got a chance to break through the roof of dense foliage and the crowns of the pine trees above them. If it did, a ray shot all the way to the ground and at that moment the leaves seemed to almost catch fire. Apart from that rare sunbeam it remained cool and twilit. Every now and again Tom’s hand strayed involuntary to the small pouch that Begochiddy had given him and that hung around his neck. It felt safe, just as the big leather bag on his back in which Tsohanoai’s presents were packed. The soft buckskin pouch with the shiny almost pearly stone in it, radiated a reassuring warmth. Subconsciously he knew that everything would be all right.
Shah-bekloth lost its footing and brought him back to reality. He shouldn’t daydream like this, he warned himself. A stone in a pouch couldn’t guarantee a safe trip. He himself had to watch out as well. He glanced at Jay and Yazhi who still rode right before him.
The path steepened and sometimes it seemed to drop straight into the ravine. Shah-bekloth’s hoofs scraped waveringly over the loose stones on the path. The horse had great difficulty not to slide away. Tom hung back as far as possible. That way Shah-bekloth had more chance in finding its balance.
How far down were they? Tom wondered how high in the mountains Tsohanoai’s village was. He remembered the long and dark passages in Spiderwoman’s cave. When they had left the cave it had been night and they had been unable to see how high up in the mountains they already were. Had the thin air been a sign of height? Or had it only been the oppressing atmosphere of the nearing thunderstorm that had made breathing difficult? They had had to climb quite some time before they arrived at the village. From that moment on events had followed each other with such a terrifying speed that he’d lost all sense of time and place.
Time would tell, he decided. As long as the path went down, they were going in the right direction. He sped up Shah-bekloth. The horse snorted unwillingly and cocked its ears. Immediately Tom was on his guard. He listened intently. What had Shah-bekloth heard? The rustling of leaves reached his ears, as if a sudden stiff breeze rose, but when he looked the leaves of the undergrowth along the path hung utterly motionless. With a slight shock Tom realized that the rustling formed a name, Yazhi’s name. Just as he wanted to alert Jay the sound disappeared in the distance. Unsure, he studied Jay and Yazhi’s backs. Had they heard it? Or should he warn them? He shook the thought off. It was just his fantasy playing tricks on him. He shouldn’t see ghosts everywhere. Of course there was a rustle in the forest. There was always a rustle in a forest.
First chapter from The Soul Snatcher (De Zielensluiper) ISBN 978-90-475-0751-2
© original text and translation Mina Witteman
Why would a non-native American author write stories based on Native American and First Nation’s lore?
I have always loved myths and legends, ever since I could read. We base our knowledge on the journeys of Odysseus, we pull strength from the adventures of Thor, and wisdom from the musings of Vishnu, but we rarely quench our thirst with the wealth of stories that spring from the first peoples of North America.
Searching the Dutch libraries, I couldn’t find a single book that showed the children in my country the original cultures of the United States and Canada. Instead, they were still fed the cowboy and Indian misconceptions. Informing them about the rich culture of Native Americans was long overdue and urged me to write the Warrior Of the Sun series.
Research for the series brought me to the lands and tribes of North America. I wandered the desert and the mountains in search of Thunderbird and Coyote. A Diné guide in the Navajo Nation showed me sacred places like Canyon De Chelly and when we got caught in a thunderstorm that seemed to come out of nowhere, I could almost literally feel the presence of Thunderbird. Linda Curtis of the Navajo Nation Library helped me with the Diné Bizaad translations. I visited the Kwakwaka’wakw on Cormorant Island, the Wendat in Québec, and the Abenaki in Vermont.
I read a large volume of books on Native American and First Nations’ myths and legends, as well as books on their origins. I was struck by the resemblance to European and Asian myths and legends and the role the forces of nature play. One book stood out: Where the Two Came To Their Father, a Navaho War Ceremonial Given By Jeff King, by Maud Oakes and Joseph Campbell.
Praise for WARRIORS OF THE SUN
On THE SOUL SNATCHER
‘… a great, spine-chilling story that makes me eagerly look forward to the third sequel!’
Ineke van Nispen, Plantage Books & More, 5 out of 5 stars
‘Enjoyed the new Witteman very much. What an enthralling book! Full of suspense, a classic adventure.’
Rietje Nivard – Children’s Book Store, Amsterdam
‘What a brilliant book. […] the result of a very talented storyteller.’
Gea van der Broek – Selexyz Booksellers
‘Within the smoothly written story the tension arc is built up well at the different stages of the quest. The friendship between Tom and Jay is worked out well and the scenery is described full of atmosphere.’
A.W.M. Duijx MA, Dutch Library Association/Biblion
On THE SUN SPIRIT
‘It’s obvious that Mina Witteman traveled Arizona, New Mexico and Navajo Nation before writing this book. The vivid picture she paints makes you feel like you are traveling there yourself and makes you appreciate the magic of native America.’
Ineke van Nispen, Plantage Books & More, 4 out of 5 stars