He had begged his father, Chief Running Bear, to let him wait with the leaders in the tent. Grandfather had been chief for many years, until ill health caused him to step down. His son was elected unanimously, so now he was chief. Jonny and his grandfather had been very close. The old man had taught Jonny the history, legends and traditions of the tribe. They had spent many hours together, and often, Jonny had sat to one side listening to the elders discussing tribal matters. But father had said no, this was a time for adults only, and Jonny was to go to bed and sleep. As if he could sleep when his best friend in the world was dying, leaving him. So he had quietly made his plans, set the log in a shadowed spot, and pretended to obey.
He could hear the women singing the song of Chief Standing Tall’s long life, all of his accomplishments and wise decisions. He sank deeper into the shadow as the flap opened, and old Martin Sly Fox, the oldest man in the tribe, came out. He stood, looking up at the sky, hands raised, as he beseeched the Great Spirit to welcome grandfather's spirit home. Jonny was thrilled to see the spirit dancers, faintly at first then growing brighter and brighter, until they covered half the sky, dancing in welcome. Inside the tent the chant turned to keening, and Jonny knew grandfather was gone. Sly Fox went back into the tepee to join in the final chants, and help prepare the body.
“Oh, Dad!” he looked up at his father. “I couldn’t go to sleep and not say goodbye, I just couldn’t, Dad!”
“I know, son, I saw the log, and knew what you were going to do. I wanted to let you be with us, but it is an unbreakable law, only those who have made their first kill can be there.” Father patted him on the shoulder. “And yes, I know you have killed rabbits and such when you’ve been out with grandfather, but that doesn’t count. A first kill has to be something big, and maybe dangerous. Like a stag, or a bear. Now, off to bed with you. You may come with us when we lay him on a chief’s platform tomorrow.” Jonny stood up, hugged his father and said thanks. Then he headed back to their tepee. He was ready to sleep now. He paused before going in, to look once more at the dancing, glowing green lights. Goodbye, Grandfather, he whispered, and went in. Soon he was sleeping, dreaming of the great times he had had with that wonderful old man.
The next day was sunny and cold, and he dressed warmly after eating his breakfast. When he stepped out of the tepee, he saw his father and mother with the elders, just coming out of the big tepee. Four braves were carrying the wrapped body. He hurried over, and fell in beside his father, who smiled at him. They went some distance from the camp, into the forest. At last they came to a large tree where a platform had been built between two branches, high enough to keep animals from the body. While the women keened and chanted, the braves lifted the body, and set it carefully on the platform.
Father stepped forward, and prayed to the Great Spirit to give grandfather welcome into the spirit land. Slowly, they all turned and headed back to the camp, all except Jonny and father. They both stood for a moment, silent. Then they turned, and Jonny gasped.
“Father, look!” he exclaimed. “What is it? It’s so beautiful!” There in the sky was a fiery, dancing rainbow. “What is it, Dad? What does it mean?”
Father smiled. “The weather man calls it a Fire Rainbow. It only happens on rare occasions, under special conditions. To us, it means that your grandfather is already accepted by The Great Spirit. He is dancing with the spirit dancers now, young and healthy again. And he will be watching over you as long as you live.”
“Oh,” Jonny sighed.” Grandfather, I‘ll miss you so much. I love you. But I’ll remember everything you taught me. And I am so happy for you. Farewell for now; I know it isn’t goodbye.”