The Five Medicine-Riding Sisters
Iya-Ko-Naya — She-Who-Walks-Up-Mountain, The Mother of the Stars
Iya-Ko-Naya, or simply Iya, or Nichi-Iya—Little Iya—as she was called when she was younger, has raven-dark, waist-length hair that cascades over her slender, gracefully contoured shoulders and torso. She is tall. Stately even, and is extremely world-smart and Medicine-savvy, primarily from her maternally given Legacy, but also from her own experiences walking both a Dark Path of Medicine, and a now-transformed, up-Mountain Path of Light. She is unrelentingly committed to her own up-Mountain Destiny and to the betterment of her People. Her naturally tan-colored, Native face is high-cheekboned and high-browed. She is stoic and proud, and has raven dark eyelashes and eyebrows to match the color of her long, feathers-adorned, shining, dark-as-Night tresses. She is noble and graceful, elegant and Medicine-skilled—in ways that others both envy and honor, adore and despise.
Darkly alluring, both because of her Legacy-endowed status within the Clan of the Mountain and her own, unpredictable moodiness, Iya is considered pretty, and more winsome, rather than the ravishing beauty she could be—due to how seriously she takes life and her responsibilities. Her looks could just as easily be strikingly beautiful—if that were her main goal in life. But it's not. Iya's long nose has a slight bump in the middle where it was once broken in a bar-fight. The slight contrast to the otherwise graceful slope of her long, slightly upturned nose, which rests on her high-cheekboned profile, only serves to accent her fetching, up-Mountain beauty—which is marred only by the white, waning-crescent-shaped scar on her right-cheekbone, which exists as a constant reminder of her escape from her abusive ex-husband, Numo Black-Feather, a Dark Brother of Medicine.
Not only is Iya-Ko-Naya elegant and shapely, he is also firm-muscled and extremely agile. She is a healer, climber and Shadow-fighter, and skilled at Medicine-Riding, which means she can easily jump a steed from one World into the other. She bears the Spirit-Marks, or scars, of several life-changing, re-Awakening trials on her slender, thirty-year-old body—the most bothering of her Marks being a regularly re-opening, Dark-Medicine-tainted wound on her upper arm just below her right shoulder, which continually plagues her, even ten years after receiving it. She gained the Dark wound from an encounter with an indigenous Dark-Medicine Brother on a contraband-running excursion across the border from Mexico. She also bears a long, white scar along the inside of her right thigh, which was inflicted by a dreamtime encounter at twelve years old with an ancient-stone-knife-wielding Aztec priest.
The quarter-sized, waning-crescent-moon scar that rests on her right cheekbone, just below the outside of her lower eyelid, as well as the forearm-length scars along the underside of both of her wrists, are a personal legacy from a wicked push by her ex-husband—from which she nearly died—which also caused her to lose her unborn Star-Child. Unfortunately, those scars serve as a permanent reminder of that personal loss, from which, even ten years later, Iya has never fully emotionally recovered. Iya's ebon-dark eyes sparkle with ancient medicine, or starlight, when she is vexed, or touched by magic. Her arms almost always constantly ache, and she can regularly be observed brushing or rubbing the lengths of her forearms. Being, like her Sister-cousin Te'o-Hai, "as lovely as the Nighttime Sky," more than one Warrior would have her instantly—if, that is, she were interested. And occasionally she is. But only to assuage a need. Then she resumes her aloofness.
Her lips are Kah-ta'i-lips, russet and round and full, seductively pretty, especially when she smiles ever-so-wistfully at the children gathered around her prettily garbed, traditional Native attire for Storytelling, which includes full, flowing, single-color or large-floral-design skirt and sleeveless, abalone-snapped, bust-revealing denim blouse. Her wrists are often adorned with several jangling, hammered silver bracelets that show brightly against her dark skin, and match the long, hammered-silver loops that dangle from her ears. Occasionally she wears an ankle bracelet. But that is the look of Iya the healer, the Medicine Sister and the storyteller. When she is notoriously and sleekly dressed for fighting as a Shadow-Warrior alongside her other, similarly dressed Sisters and Brothers who step into Otherworld, Iya wears only a leather loincloth, leather bandeau and flop-topped leather moccasins.
There are noteworthy time-shifts in Sisters of Light—most told from the predominant point of view just described, with many flashbacks in order to insert character development. Some of these come as stories within stories. At the beginning of each chapter, there is a fable, maxim, story or saying, or a bit of conversation that precedes the rest of the content.
A notable segment of the story takes place while Iya is wan, pale and emaciated from her addiction to shadow-plant. (Not sure that's fodder for art, but I had to mention it.) During the ongoing telling of her life among the Free-Rangers, Iya and her Sister-cousin are crossing the Frontera as Medicine-Riders, working in the company of other desert-Riders. In that particular desert setting, she's a tight-jeans-wearing, no-nonsense Shadow-Riding Medicine Sister, both desperate to please, and at the same time resentful of her addiction. She despises her dependence on her larger-than-life, hulkingly muscular, headstrong Dark-Medicine Brother-husband Numo. He alone holds the source to her addition. And although she loves him deeply for his leadership qualities and his prowess as a Shadow-Fighter—and despite the fact that she was initially attracted to his skills as a Dark Brother of Medicine—Iya has come to hate how manipulative and controlling and ruthless the Leader of the Free-Rangers must be in order to preserve his status among the Clan.
Unless dressed for Storytelling, Iya most often is seen in work clothes, which hide her shapely figure—meaning worn jeans and long-sleeved work-shirt, which protect her from the sun and brambles of the herbs that she collects both for her own use as a Healer and for her Grandmother's similar use. When gathering herbs, she often plaits her hair into two thick, waist-long braids. Most commonly, though, she wears her hair down, flowing in long, shining cascades that ripple across her waist and shapely buttocks. Most notably, she is never, ever, without her left-temple-braid Otherworld Feather—Moon Woman's Feather, as those who have one often refer to it—that denotes her personal status, along with three other Apprentices and a few renowned Warriors, as a Seeker of Medicine among her People. When in quiet conversation, the up-Mountain Sisters often plait each other's hair into intricately woven braids.
Iya's favorite footwear has forever been flop-topped, dual-soled moccasins—which are leg-protecting, long-leathers that can be pulled up to knee-length, but which both Iya and Sweet-Star, her Sister-cousin, like to wear unbound and flopping loosely around their ankles. Iya-Ko-Naya walks with a pronounced, elegant yet alluring sashay—most notably when she wears her long skirts for ceremonies or storytelling, but common, still, even if only wearing jeans—which conveys both her inward pride and her self-confidence in the fact that she is a Legacy-carrying Sister of Light, among other things. She frequently attracts the stares of both Sisters and Brothers alike, whose Kah-ta'i-dark eyes linger on her even—or especially—after she has passed.
If ever Iya laughs, or has the opportunity to enjoy life, she meets the moment with a white-toothed grin that is infectiously full, dimpled and radiant. She is, after all, Keeper of the Ways of the Mountain, the de-facto leader of the up-Mountain Clan, and she didn't become that because she has a weak personality. As Daughter of the Mountain, Iya is followed with more loyalty and singular, heart-felt devotion than any other character in any of the books in the entire series.
Tah-Nak-Te'o-Hai — Sweet-Star
Tah-Nak-Te'o-Hai, Sweet-Star, or simply Te'o-Hai, is Iya's younger (by three and a half-years) ultra-loyal, look-alike Sister-cousin. Sweet-Star could be, and likely is, Iya's half-sister, hence their similarities in appearance. Sweet-Star, like Iya, is a buxom, Raven-dark-haired, incredibly beautiful, up-Mountain Clan-Sister. And she knows it. Although—much to her added attractiveness—she maintains an honest-to-goodness, modest humility. Her starlight-bespeckled, night-dark-eyes glimmer with Starlight as much from joy and laughter as from her Legacy-gifted skills with Ancient Medicine. She and Iya's Healing abilities are nonpareil, second only to the two Elder Medicine Sisters, Nora-Feather, who is Te'o-Hai's and Iya's Grandmother, and Moon Woman, to whom Te'o-Hai is an Apprentice Seeker of Medicine.
Sweet-Star loves to dress in fashionable short dresses, tight jeans and designer blouses. Unlike Iya's cut-short-to-the-skin, midwife-trimmed nails, Te'o-Hai prefers to wear French-manicured nails—a habit acquired since leaving the Mountain to study with Moon Woman at the university in Tucson. She has a flawlessly smooth face. From a distance, Te'o-Hai and Iya are indistinguishable, in shape, height and general appearance—something the two forever have used to their advantage, especially during their teenage years, whether it was to share a boyfriend, or with the other's help, to allow one or the other to slip away unnoticed.
Tall like Iya, Sweet-Star, too, is a skilled Medicine-Rider, Healer, Singer and Teller of Stories. She studies—much to Iya's chagrin—away from the Mountain of the Ancestors, at the U of A Medical Center in Tucson. When Te'o-Hai visits up-Mountain, she often forgets to change into more traditional dress, having poured herself into too-tight t-shirts that bear the university logo, or into skin-tight, designer jeans. The two are formidable when they fight in tandem against Shadow, or Shadow-Beings, or against random, ill-intentioned thugs, or simply against Darkness, or when they work side-by-side as Healers.
Inseparably close since they were tiny girls, whenever Sweet-Star returns to the mountain the two Sister-cousins continue to sleep together, just as they did during their entire youth, in a far-too-narrow bed, wrapped tightly in each other's arms, their fingers wrapped in each other's hands, holding each other protectively in case either of them, in their sleep, might fall into Shadow—which would, intentionally, and as they have promised each other since their earliest days, cause them both to be pulled together into Otherworld. Their promise to each other is simple: if one Falls...they both Fall.
Sweet-Star is elegant, sharp-witted and sharp-tongued, fiercely (to a fault) loyal to Iya and ultra-protective of her slightly older Sister-cousin. Te'o-Hai most avidly, perhaps more than any other Sister or Brother of Light, is convinced that the Ancient Legends are entirely true. Sweet-Star, like her mentor Moon Woman, is a quintessential Storyteller, and knows more about the up-Mountain lore, fables, tales and Legends than any other Clan Sister on the Res. Iya's and Sweet-Star's closeness is mythical, literally, and those who see them often call them by their Ancient Namesakes, which were derived from the Pantheon of the Sisters-of-the-Sun-Filled-Sky from legend, instead of by their given, personal names.
The two Sister-cousins have re-Awakened incredible skills from their ancient memories. Te'o-Hai also holds the same maternal legacy as her Sister-cousin Iya, and should anything happen to Iya, Sweet-Star would, as Nora-Feather's second-oldest granddaughter, become Keeper of the Ways of the Mountain. And yet, because Te'o-Hai loves her Sister-cousin so dearly, she is not at all envious or even remotely jealous of Iya's Legacy. Instead, Sweet-Star is fervently protective of Iya's right to hold the Legacy-bequeathed position as Daughter of the Mountain.
O'hai Ne'ah Cho-roh-taya-nook — Day-Star Black-Feather
O'hai Ne'ah is a gifted Healer, and an incredible Medicine-Rider--if, that is, she were ever allowed by her Free-Range Leader brother, Iya's ex-husband, to believe it. In the wake of Iya's disappearance from the desert-Riding Clan, Day-Star is forced by her brother to take all of the Medicine-risks for her Free-Ranger Brothers and Sisters...and then some. Every proverbial bump, bruise and trial are hers to both take...and then to Heal, after her Shadow-stepping tasks are done. She even spent time in the Federal Pen for her brother.
Day-Star is shorter of stature than most Medicine Riders, but she is lithe and nimble and, when she makes the effort, extremely pretty in her long, Raven-dark-hair and Medicine-touched, sans-mascara-lined, jet-black eyes. Perhaps most noteworthy among her Rider-Brothers, O'hai Ne'ah "rides a mean horse," which is as close as Numo Black-Feather will ever come to complimenting his Blood-sister on her no-less-than-extraordinary talents, both as a Shadow-Fighter and Sister-Healer. She desperately seeks approval from her brother, who stoops to no end to make her pay for her part in having stolen Iya-Ko-Naya away from their Clan. She willfully complies when he sends her on nearly impossible missions to collect Ancient artifacts, or to guide travelers across the desert, or to help him smuggle drugs--sometimes making her run for days through Shadow to meet him on one side or the other of the Frontera--only to send her back again with some clandestine message to one of his henchmen.
O'hai Ne'ah makes up for her diminutive slightness and less-strong stature through sheer determination and often mindless Courage to accomplish risk-taking Tasks. Then...she simply waits to be sent again. In the meantime, she takes care of her Rider-Sisters and the children, and tends to the reckless wounds of the Free-Range Brothers. Because of her brother, she is distrustful of men. Still, Day-Star is notorious for hooking up with those whom she favors, and is unmatched, even by her brother, for finding solace in the Shadowy realm of Otherworld, where her Shadowdancing talents can be as deadly as they are salacious. That, too, is a skill she has used for her brother.
As sharply dressed in leathers as she can be in either tight-fitted blue-jeans and blouse or a sleek dinner-dress as she hosts parties at her brother's West Hills Lodge, O'hai-Ne'ah finds comfort in practical solutions, rather than in the Dreamtime realm of Shadow, or in the Legends, which, she says, she's never had the time, nor the luxury, to believe in or to dally. To her, the skilled use of Dark Medicine is simply that. A use. And she is as skilled with turning Darkness to her advantage as any of the other Sisters that she Rides with can turn Light. To the one, her Sisters of Light continue to respect her for that, because she, in turn, wholly respects and honors their Ways.
It is not until she meets Shatwa Hei, and her own memories of her Ancient connection to that Warrior-from-beyond-the-Stars gradually begin to emerge, that Day-Star begins to wish her life were different. Aloof and solitary, O'hai Ne'ah meets life as it comes--often disastrously, but at the same time, equally often with hidden blessings that make her both happy and immensely appreciated by others. To most of the Free-Rangers Day-Star is as equal in stature as Iya is to the up-Mountain Clanfolk. And if there were a name among the desert-Riders equal to that given to the Daughter of the Mountain, O'hai Ne'ah would have been graced with it long ago. Quietly, and with an insecurity that is at once evident and then immediately lost in the Medicine-filled depth of her ebon-dark-eyed stare, Day-Star is content with her desert-Bound life, knowing all the while that she, too, can carry Secrets.
Dja-ne-ke'a Hawkman — Walks-Far
Wispy-thin, with black, auburn-tinged hair that has long-since been bleached and streaked with gold, purple, electric-blue and neon-green highlights along its outer edges by the numerous jaunts she has made into and out of Shadow, it is neither in jest, nor disdain, that Walks-Far has earned the name Crazy-Spirit-Touched-Rider. She, like the ascetic Warrior-Riders of old often rides sans-clothing into Shadow, so as not to disturb the senses she needs to "move like the wind."
As a Sister-runner, she is nonpareil. As a risk-taker, she is, in a word, crazy. As a Shadow-Fighter, she considers it less of a risk to be on a Horse--and on Horse, she most certainly is. It is impossible to mention Dja-ne-ke'a without bringing to mind Sky-Foot, her Shadow-Stepping, jet-black, Star-nosed Pi'a, or Stallion. Or vice versa. As Legends form, and are begotten, there are already some Storytellers among the Kah-ta'i-hai'a--their People--who claim that Walks-Far was born alongside her head-high Steed, or he alongside her.
With no bridle, saddle, noose or hackamore, with only the bareback touch of her hands, heals, thighs, palms, toes or the slightest of squeezes of her heels to his withers or flank, Sky-Foot jumps as easily across rocky gullies as he does into and out of Shadow. And they both do it fearlessly. For this reason, it is Walks-Far to whom the Warrior-Sisters and Brother-Maktah-hai'a entrust their messages of most dire import. There is no Dreamtime battle in which Dja-ne-ke'a and Sky-Foot are not seen--if only but for a fleeting moment.
Dja-ne-ke'a is Blood-sister to Jack Hawkman, or Sergeant Jack, as most who know him call the capable tribal police officer. Jack is in charge of the south-range officers who patrol the South Wastelands--a foreboding network of blind draws and box-end canyons, where unwary Outsiders are frequently lost, without water, in the treacherous southern reaches of the Res. Walks-Far suffers, solely by association, from her brother Jack's notoriously bad reputation as a handsome, but not-so-nice ladies-man. As a Shadow-tremor-stricken Runner, Dja-ne-ke'a relies on alcohol to numb the paranoid, jitters-causing effects of too much Shadow-jumping. With the drunken effects of the alcohol she consumes, Walks-Far must bear not only the constant putdowns and jibes and wicked, behind-the-back comments regarding her reputation, but of being, as Jonathan might say, "an untouchable"...and far worse.
Keh-Le-Tah-Bik-Te — Eagle-Sight
Tall, thin, exceptionally willing, but gifted like her brother as a Medicine-lance-wielding Shadow-Fighter, Eagle-Sight is the youngest of the five, Medicine-Riding Sisters. Dark-haired, lanky and often mistaken for her Flatland-Guardian brother Stands-By-The-Brook, Keh-Le-Tah-Bik-Te is known for her no-nonsense judgment, her coolness under pressure, and her stalwart loyalty to those whom she loves--including Iya-Ko-Naya and her brother, to whom she has always been close.
In Walks-Far's stead, when the up-Mountain runner is not available, Eagle-Sight runs on foot into Shadow--a most dangerous task--but she does so willingly, having great trust in all her training and her Ancient, re-Awakened skills as a Warrior-Sister. In battle, she and Walks-Far often work in tandem as runners. But in close Fighting, when she must, there is no other Sister that another Warrior would want as partner. Because Keh-Le-Tah-Bik-Te is so observant, she always understands the grander flow and subtle nuances of battle, both into and out of Dreamtime and Shadow. For this reason alone, she has become a close confidante to all the up-Mountain Warrior-Sisters, and as equally important to the fringe-Riders, and to the rogue bands of Free-Rangers who ride in both the desert and along Dah'jeh-le-vah's foothills.
Keh-Le-Tah-Bik-Te does not readily offer her opinion. But when she does, those who hear her should be well forewarned to listen, and to listen carefully, as she often only speaks once, and then, with a flip of her long braids and a raising of her jet-black eyebrows over her Medicine-touched, Night-dark eyes, the lanky Warrior-Sister vigorously resumes her Guardian tasks.