"Why are there no roads in this forest? This trail will ruin my shoes! And will this stupid mountain go up forever?"
Joanna Styrgon, the auburn haired 40 year old president of aspiring Styrgon Industries, had complained for the last half hour at least. Removing the thousandth twig from her furred coat she glared at her lone company, her 23 year old personal assistant George Mason, who had, of course, no part in his boss's choice of designer shoes or the lack of infrastructure on this remote mountain whatsoever. But he was a ready scapegoat for Joanna right now, for there was noone else to see. They had not seen a person since they had arrived here, be it one of the natives they were trying to find or one of the workers who were bound to get them in contact with the elusive Indians. So they had left their helicopter in the valley and started the long climb up the snowcrowned mountain themselves.
Sighing inwardly, George bent a low hanging branch out of the way for Joanna, or Mrs. Styrgon as he was supposed to address her. Instead of being grateful, Joanna kept complaining.
"Where's that plateau where the wild ones are supposed to be? I should have reached it already! This forest can't possibly be any larger! Where's the map? Do I have to do everything myself? I will..."
Joanna nearly bumped into the back of George when he suddenly stopped. She was about to hit him for that slide, but then saw what caused that abrupt lack of motion by her assistant. They had finally reached the plateau, an area filled with colorful wildflowers amidst the first patches of snow, despite the fact that it was still early autumn. The view from here was breathtaking. While the mountain continued upwards, majestetically; all white miles ending in a snowy crown, the still emerald valley, dotted with but a few patches of yellow and red, was far below them already. The river looked like a glittering band of molten silver flowing through it, twinkling in the sun. Joanna Styrgon, pushing George out of the way unceremoniously, saw this with other eyes of course.
"Ah, finally. I thought you'd made yet another mistake, but you were not a worthless scum for once, George Mason. At last, the trip may even have been worth the trouble. We can build the landing place here, I can already see this. Helicopters will bring the most illustrious guests here, and then they will be able to go skiing down to the valley. The trees have to go, of course. Here, and on the other side of that mountain also. And in the valley we'll have to dam up the river. This will bring us energy, and we can use the resulting lake for ice skating or something like that. Downriver we'll remove the trees as well and build a highway to get supplies here while construction is happening, and later on we'll let it be used for cross-country skiing. Yes, I can see it. This place will suit me fine."
Joanna was envisioning the future quite clearly when her thoughts were interrupted by George again. "Isn't this a holy land for the natives, a place dedicated for Fertile Earth herself?" he dared to ask her.
Oh, how she longed to fire him, but he was the grandson of one of her richest contributors, and she had taken him in at his grandfather's urgings. Well, for granddaddie's money to fund this project she was willing to tolerate this financial greenhorn. Most of the time. But not right now.
"Who cares about the natives? Those relics of history? I've done my homework, young man, and this is not reservation land. Believe it or not, they've been living here for ages! What does that tell you? Right. Government will not help them now because of some ancient treaty signed in our glory days by the cavalry. They are ours to push out. Too bad even they will know glass pearls are out, but a few dollars should push them to some warmer place. There has to be a desert somewhere for them where they can open their own casino, sell handmade pottery or whatever else those redskins do with their spare time. I don't care. This place is going to be a ski resort. Now it's a bit far to the north, no rival to the existing resorts more to the south, but the more global warming there is, the sooner it'll bring me money. Lot's of money! Oh yes, this will be my ski resort!"
"No, it won't."
For the second time Joanna Styrgon was thrown out of her greedy thoughts, but this time it was not George who was to blame for this sacrilege. In the midst of the plateau sat a crosslegged Indian, his face stoic, and despite the already colder weather he was dressed only in a loincloth. He was well muscled and totally relaxed, drawing a deep drag out of his long carved and feathered pipe. Where did he come from so suddenly? He couldn't have been there from the beginning! George was startled also, Joanna noticed, but she, of course, quickly composed herself. She had not become president of her company for losing her composure in front of a barbarian!
"What gives you the opinion that you could stop my plans, redskin?" she asked with a sneer. She hadn't needed diplomacy much since she had seduced her husband twenty years ago to get his money, and she was not about to change that for a mere museum-warrior from the stoneage.
The Indian watched her in silence. The vein on Joanna's neck started to swell in anger when George couldn't stand the tension any longer.
"Good man, may I present to you Mrs. Styrgon herself, president of Styrgon Industries, here to offer your glorious tribe a fortune for your homelands."
George always talked like that, like his grandfather. Joanna hated his old-school-babbling and threw daggers at him with her eyes. He was a softie, like his grandfather and, sadly, like her own daughters. Cynthia had been a necessity to force John into the marriage, and Penelope to secure her bond to his money when he was starting to have doubts since he knew her better, but they were a constant embarrasment since then. Now Penelope even talked about love, and her chosen one, William. He didn't even come from a family with money! Just one car they had, one car for three people! Ridiculous. Had she not presented both her daughters with distinguished, seasoned men with lots of wealth to secure the might of Styrgon Industries and therefore their inheritance? Where was their spirit for domination? They were a source of dissapointment, like John had been, and like this George Mason was. A student of botany, of all things, as her assistant! But in this rare case the botanic disappointment had drawn a reaction from the muscled historic leftover amidst the wildflowers. The Indian was smiling at him now. Good, that buffalohunter finally remembered his place!
"She may be a president, but she won't change the home of our ancestors into a playground, regardless of the amount of pretty baubles she offers, as long as I'm the chieftain of the tribe of Earth. But since she's a guest in our lands, I'll give her a gift in the name of Earth."
So much for him knowing his place. Was that living relic out of his mind? He wouldn't be the first obstacle she had removed on her way to the top!
Joanna was about to shout that into the Indian's grinning face when the rest of the sentence dawned in her. A chieftain? At least she had finally found the redskin who had authority. And a gift? Well, she would take that gift first and then she would throw him off the plateau! With visible effort Joanna composed herself enough to put a layer of civilization over herself.
"A gift?" she asked, her voice still a bit strained. "What gift?" Out of the edges of her eyes she saw George flinching. Her anger was rekindled immediately. And worst of all, the Indian had seen that giveaway also and was grinning even more! But before she could react accordingly to this insult by her underling, the tribesman presented her -- two flowers. One was a simple daisy, the other a strangely shining yellow and white flower, with three snowy petals dancing in the soft breeze. A flower like Joanna never had seen in her life. And didn't care to see now.
"This is your gift?" she sneered. "You want to give me two flowers? Are you kidding me? I can't believe it!"
"Nor shall you. I am not giving you two flowers," the copper skinned Indian stated, unmoved. "One is for the young man, one is for you. And he may choose first."
The chieftain now fixed a stare on George, ignoring the fuming Joanna yet again. Did the sunburned Wildman have no manners at all? This charade had to end soon, she decided, and that savage had to see who would be boss from now on.
"George!" she ordered the young man, who already had the unknown flower in his hand, frowning. "You take the daisy, it's enough for you. Give me the other one." Joanna disregarded the slightly hurt look of George as she took the strange flower out of his hand.
"I've seen one of those in a book..." George's voice trailed away, his expression concentrated. "Aren't they believed to be extinct? 'The Trojan's Gift' it is called, as far as I remember ... Didn't the missionary Frederico Bagnalo describe it to Linné before he settled down amidst the Sioux, starting a family? If I could only..."
"That's enough, George," Joanna's stern voice interrupted the useless botanic lecture. It was time for business here, not some dusty stuff out of old books. She turned towards the patient smoker again, presenting him a prepared check. "I'll give you this for your lands. It will be more than enough for this worthless piece of rock," Joanna showed him a check with a ridiculously low number of zeroes on it. She would make a fortune out of this loinclothed idiot.
"You have to eat the flower," the Indian answered her offer, yet again unmoving except for his tense muscles rippling beneath his weathered skin. "You also," he nodded towards George. "The whole flower in your case. Of her flower, one petal will be enough," he added. "Then I'll accept what you're going to offer. Not before." The Indian took another deep drag of his pipe. The smoke hung in the air lazily, as if waiting for something.
George eyed his boss for her decision.
"Let's get this nonsense over with, and soon," Joanna ordered. The wild man accepted the offer, and without even haggling! That was worth eating some flower!
She watched George munching the daisy reluctantly and grinned. Then she plugged a petal out of her own flower and was about to swallow it when she suddenly hesitated.
"Wait!" she ordered herself. "That's a trap! You want to poison me, I've heard about redskins talking with a forked tongue!"
George flinched again hearing Joann's harsh words and her twisting of the history, but the chieftain simply reached out his hand for her petal. She gave it to him, and he swallowed it without hesitation. But Joanna wasn't content yet.
"You have taken an antidote! That's your plan! You won't see me being that dumb!" she cried triumphantly. "George!" she summoned her assistant. "You take the next one. Then we'll see if it's poisoned. Don't hesitate, you worthless idiot. Do what I say or I'll fire you! And don't look to that redskin for allowance, how dare you, George Mason!"
The Indian watched her stoically throughout her outburst, but she thought he may have nodded at George, barely noticeable. Be that as it may, George did indeed swallow the petal. Everyone watched him expectantly, but for long moments nothing happened. A bit disappointed Joanna finally broke the silence, addressing him. "And? How do you feel?"
"It's okay I think..." George said, insecurely. "I feel nothing unusual..."
"Ah, okay. Let's get this over with, finally!" Joanna said exasperatedly, plucking the last petal and swallowing it.
"Now on to business," she continued at once. "Here's the check. You'll leave the mountain within 48 hours, with all your people. Go where you want, but not on my land. If I'll see you here again, I'll..."
Neither George nor the Indian ever heard what Joanna would do in such a case, for she suddenly stopped.
"It's so ... strange..." she said dreamingly. "Why is that so? I..."
George started toward her, worried about his boss in spite her constant abuse of him. But again a sign from the Indian stopped him in his tracks. This, and the behavior of his boss, who was just shedding her expensive fur coat and letting it fall on the ground.