In the white man's world, it was three days before Christmas. Vin had been with the tribe for awhile now and now he felt it was time to return to that world. He missed it sometimes. And he missed Christmas.
The tribe would have a feast tonight to mark Vin's leaving. Several braves had gone out to hunt and gather food, including Vin and one of their best warriors, Matowa. Vin and Matowa had been like brothers since Vin had arrived and now they were going hunting together one last time.
This time they had gone deep into the hills, far from the rest of tribe. It was like every other time they'd hunted together. It was a time of sharing. Vin told Matowa about Christmas. Matowa told him about his first vision quest.
Matowa spotted some fat birds nearby and crept after them. Vin watched him for a moment, then started in another direction. The two had always shared a healthy competition, and this was their last opportunity.
It was awhile before Vin returned to the horses. He hated to come back empty-handed but there just didn't seem to be much available game today. Matowa would probably have several birds by now and would tease him about it.
But Matowa wasn't there.
Vin went back to the spot where they'd seen the birds. There he found Matowa. Dead. It looked like a mountain lion had attacked him. The animal was nowhere to be seen.
Vin took Matowa's body back to the village. He couldn't help feeling responsible. If he'd stayed with Matowa, maybe...
He stayed for the next three days to help the preparations for Matowa's entry the Sky Lodge. Other times he was lost in quiet contemplation and a deeply private mourning of his own for a lost brother.
Death was a part of life for these people and they accepted it with grace. But it was hard for Vin. Matowa had been his closest friend, had taught him a good deal, and they had saved each other's lives more than once.
On the third day, the necessary rituals were coming to a close. It was Christmas Day. Folks everywhere would be celebrating a birth while these people were tending the dead. And Vin was again preparing to leave.
A young Indian woman known as Nekoma came to him. She was not Matowa's wife, but they had shared an understanding. She looked at Vin with big sad eyes.
"Wahketa wishes to see you before you go." Wahketa was Matowa's grandmother. Vin couldn't begin to guess how old she really was, but she carried much of the tribe's history in her memories.
The old woman was sitting in her tipi with a blanket across her lap. Wahketa smiled at him as he entered.
"Today you go." It was a statement.
She pulled back the blanket. Under it, in her lap, was a leather garment. She held it up. In the dancing firelight, Vin could see it was a coat, handmade, from buffalo hides.
"This was for Matowa," she continued. "He asked me to make it. These skins...they come from the buffalo you killed together. He saved each of them until he had enough for me to make this. He knew you would leave us one day. He said 'when I wear it, my brother will always walk with me.'"
She held it out to him. Vin took it slowly, holding it carefully. It was well-made and consisted of the some of the best hides. He put it on. Matowa had been slightly bigger than him. It fit loosely and yet he felt like he belonged in it. Vin's hands felt the smooth leather. He knew instantly he wouldn't want to take it off much. If ever.
He looked at the old woman and smiled gratefully for the special gift.
"Now my brother walks with me."