Manitou Island: Part 6
"NUTS," CHARMIAN WHISPERED.
"Do you think he's a native?" was all Drake said.
"What do you think? Well...obviously, he is. I mean, look at how he's dressed." Charmian slowly lowered the hand holding the guidebook. "This isn't good...I don't know anything about native tribes. Are they friendly? Are they mean?"
"What kind of Indian do you think he is?"
"Well, I know we had Algonquin in the area...but I have no idea what he is...and anyways, I don't know how to speak their language in order to find out!!"
This whole time they'd been whispering back and forth to each other, or more like hissing, but Charmian's mouth clamped shut as soon as she saw the look on the stranger's face change. He seemed to find it displeasing that they must be talking about him under their breath; his eyes darkened and his frown grew, and Charmian couldn't be sure if he lifted the stick a little higher or not.
"Shhh," she hissed at Drake. "He's listening to us."
"Well, like I said, if we're lost, we can just talk to him."
"He doesn't look very friendly, if you know what I mean!"
"The worst thing we can do is find out, right?" Drake said, and stepped away from her, toward the cliff. He raised his hand and actually said, "How!" Charmian cringed and felt like vanishing into the ground. She wondered how sharp a stick had to be before it could effectively pierce the human skull.
The native just stood and stared down at Drake as he approached. He moved slightly, as if to take a step back, and his frown grew as if he were puzzled.
Drake stopped at the base of the cliff and waved. "Hi. Are you friendly or not friendly?"
The native blinked. The hand holding the stick lowered and he cocked his head, staring down at Drake.
"You speak my language?" he said, in flawless English.
Charmian's jaw dropped. She rushed forward, pushing her friend out of the way. "You mean...you speak our language?"
"No. I speak only my own." A curious look. "You mean you speak your own tongue, but I can understand you anyway?"
Charmian nodded. "Yeah. We're talking English--our language. And we can understand you."
After a moment the native appeared to relax. He lowered the stick completely and nodded with a smile that looked relieved. "Of course. You must be from the mainland. There was a big fog this morning, but it's burned off by now. You came here through the fog?"
Charmian nodded. "How did you know?"
"People who come here through the fog...they have understanding that others who visit the Island do not. They can speak and understand our tongue, even while they claim they aren't speaking it. I try not to question, only Gitchi Manitou can know for sure." He raised his hands in a sort of shrug toward the heavens. Then his gaze focused on them again. "You came here by accident, or with a purpose. Mainlanders do not come here for trivial matters. Why have you come to the Island of the Manitous?"
Charmian cleared her throat. "Well...we were rather...invited to come here."
"Invited? You mean, you were asked to do so?"
Charmian nodded. "It's kind of hard to explain...I don't know if you'd believe us anyway." This was only half of what went through her mind as she said it. We don't have any idea who this guy is, she thought. For all we know he could be in league with Ocryana! Why couldn't Tal Natha have sent out a welcoming party or something? Just to make this a bit easier?
As she offered this excuse not to elaborate, the native had been scrambling down the side of the cliff, using the sharpened stick to slow him down as he reached the bottom. He dusted himself and came their way, looking them over curiously. Charmian stared at the ground uncomfortably--there was no way of telling if this person was friend or foe or what--but Drake smiled back. Idiot that he was, Charmian thought with irritation.
"Anyway," Drake said, "what we wanted to talk to you about, we just got here and we need to find our way around. We've got this guidebook, here, but--"
"'Guidebook'?" The native saw the little book Charmian held in her hand, and took it from her before she could protest, flipping through the pages. He frowned at the pictures, turning to look at the cliff behind him and doing the same thing Charmian had, comparing the differences between the two sights. "I've seen something like this before...from a man who comes here often. A trapper, named Francois. Or rather his friend. Something like a painting, only it looks real. Or else a scene snatched out of thin air and placed on the page."
"A photograph," Charmian explained. She fidgeted. "Listen...we just got here, and the guidebook is good, but we're...well...not exactly sure where it is we're supposed to go. We were never really told."
"Why is it that you're here?"
Charmian bit her lip. Drat. No way to get any idea where to go without telling him their story, and no way to tell if he were trustworthy enough to hear it. She took the guidebook back. "Well...maybe we don't need to know exactly. We've just heard that...well, somebody told us this Island isn't exactly the same as the other Island. You seem to have had some experience with visitors. Could you tell us what things here are different, what we can expect, so we don't end up in some kind of trouble?"
"Different?" The native frowned again, putting a finger to his chin as if in thought. "Well, you already see we have few of these...'houses' you have on your Island. Not many of your people have come here, and they have not stayed long enough to build 'towns.' The biggest 'house' you will find belongs to the family Dupries."
"Yes. A French man and his wife. Pale, like your people. They came and stayed. There are a few others. Francois and his friend. Most I do not know well; Silver Eagle Feather is the one who welcomes most of them. She can communicate well, unlike me." He shrugged.
"That reminds me," Charmian said, feeling suddenly stupid. "You never told us your name. I'm Charmian, this is Drake."
"Charmian? Unusual name. And Drake. You are named after a duck?" He smiled while Drake flushed. "I apologize. My name is Stick-In-The-Dirt."
"Stick-In-The-Dirt?" Drake blurted out before Charmian could stop him. He started guffawing. "And you think CHARMIAN is a funny name? That's hilarious!" He abruptly doubled over, but not from laughter. Charmian's elbow had again found a space between his ribs, and he clutched his arms to his stomach, nearly going down on his knees.
Thankfully, the native didn't appear to be upset by Drake's reaction. "I am medicine man for my tribe--'shaman,' I believe your people call it. Though my medicine is nowhere near as powerful as Silver Eagle Feather's."
"Who is that?"
"Silver Eagle Feather is also of my tribe. She is a skilled medicine woman. The task is one which is primarily mine, but she has been able to assist the entire tribe in times of need. I'm hardly worthy in her presence." He paused, turning to look off to his side, as if searching for something they couldn't see. Charmian looked as well, but saw only a stand of trees, growing thicker the further back from the shore they reached. After a moment Stick-In-The-Dirt shook his head and looked back at her with an apologetic smile.
"I apologize again. I was on my way back to the camp. I came to the shore to see if the fog brought anyone this time, and I found you two. If you won't tell me why you've come--" here Charmian felt like cringing again, this time out of shame "--would you at least follow me, where you can meet my people? We will also give you food, if you need it."
Charmian felt her stomach grumble. Some time had passed since breakfast; it felt like days ago. She wasn't certain what passed as food on the Island, but right now she was hungry enough to give anything a try.
"All right," she said. "We'll come with you...how far is it, exactly?"
"Not too far. Just inland. But high. It's best to live as far away from the water as you can get."
He turned and started off toward the little cliff again. Charmian and Drake paused and looked at each other, wondering about his last statement. They followed him when realizing he wasn't going to stop to explain. They didn't want to get left behind.
"What do you mean, as far away from the water as you can get?" Charmian asked, as they started up the side of the cliff. "Is there something...wrong with the water?"
"With the water? No. It's what takes its power from the water that one should fear. Follow me, this way."
They continued climbing in silence. When they reached the top Stick-In-The-Dirt (Charmian found her mind abbreviating his name to simply "Stick") turned and grabbed her hand, helping her and Drake up. They had barely enough time to dust themselves off before he headed toward the trees. They jogged to catch up; he wasn't very tall, but he certainly walked quickly.
"What is it that takes power from the water?" Charmian asked, panting.
"Apologies, I forget. Francois has told me you have no such creatures in your world. This is an island of manitous. 'Spirits,' your people call them. It's difficult for me to explain...Francois understands, he could do a better job. Or Silver Eagle Feather. She has better words than I do."
"Could you at least try? We're curious."
"Well...the way Francois tried to phrase it...he mentioned things called 'elementals.' I believe that's the word. There are five 'elements.' Fire, earth, air, water, and 'ether.' My own people recognize many more things that he would call 'elements'--such as wood and rock--but this was how he simplified it."
"As this is an island, many of our spirits dwell within or derive their power from the fourth element, water. Water 'elementals' are among the most powerful on the Island. They may be good, or evil. But with so much water, they hold much power." He paused as they started up an incline. Charmian was thankful there was at least a sort of path cleared so she didn't have to grab onto weeds to pull herself up. "Usually a manitou is neutral. If we leave them alone, they will leave us alone. If we need their assistance, we bring them an offering. It was always this way. Until..."
A long silence. "Until?" Charmian prompted, sensing the native's discomfort, but choosing to be rude anyway.
It was a moment longer before Stick-In-The-Dirt replied. Even then he didn't turn to look back at her. "Until He came among us, and that was when everything changed."
"'He'?" Charmian echoed again, almost afraid to ask.
Stick-In-The-Dirt stopped suddenly, and the two teenagers had to halt before running into him. Charmian saw his jaw tense and lock. When so much time had passed that she felt ready to yell at him to tell them what he meant, he finally turned and looked her in the eye.
"You say you were invited. You must know something of the Island. Surely you know of Him?"
"Him?" Charmian paused. "You mean...the demon?"
"There are many demons here. I mean one in particular."
Stick-In-The-Dirt flinched and waved his hand, silencing her. "You need not say his name anymore. There is always the chance he listens to us. At any moment, he may be anywhere."
"But wouldn't we notice him? I mean, doesn't he look like a big wolf, with horns, and wings?"
The native glared at her. "How do you know what he looks like? Was he the one who invited you here?"
"No, of course not," Charmian hastened to say, Drake shaking his head violently to illustrate her point. "But...well, the person who did invite us described him, in case we run into him."
"Pray to your God that you don't. This is his Island. He has absolute power here. And what you believe is not true. He may be a demon now, but originally he was a spirit--a manitou, like all those which reside here and in the waters surrounding. And of all the elementals of the waters and of the skies, he is the most powerful of all."
"Spirit?" Charmian's eyes widened. "You mean, he can change form?"
A nod. "He is a great shapeshifter, him and his kind. Most spirits are. He is twice as powerful because his influence is over not just one element but two--the water and the air. There are few other spirits that can claim this kind of power. I cannot question Gitchi Manitou's will, but I have to wonder why he gave a creature such as this such great power." He fell silent, his head lowering slightly, eyes downcast. "Though if the story is true...he did have reason, in the beginning..."
Charmian stepped forward, deciding it was time to change the subject. Apparently the native didn't much like talking about the Ocryxes; she assumed it would be best if Tal Natha's name didn't enter the conversation. If he continued questioning them as to why they'd come, she'd have to tell him why--and she felt he wouldn't be pleased to hear that particular name.
"All I can say is, we're here for an important reason. But we're not sure what we're supposed to do, or who we're supposed to meet. You mentioned a couple of people, Francois and Silver Eagle Feather? They sound as if they might be able to help us. Do you think there's any way you can introduce us? So maybe they can tell us what we should do?"
Stick-In-The-Dirt's mood appeared to lighten a little. "Yes...that sounds reasonable. I'm certain they could tell you all you need to know. Francois is experienced in traveling between the Island and the world of the mainland. He has come here often, taking notes on all that he sees. And Silver Eagle Feather is most wise. If you wish to know more about...the Ocryx..." here he whispered the name "...then she could tell you all you need to know." He turned around again. "Follow."
Charmian stood a moment watching his form fade into the darkened woods. "I wonder why this medicine lady would know so much about Ocryx?" she murmured, just so Drake could hear.
"Who cares!" Drake said, fidgeting and hopping from foot to foot. "He said they have food. I say we follow. Eat food first, ask questions later! After all, if you start asking them all these questions, they might not feel so merry enough to share their food with us anymore! Right?" Before she could reply he'd bounded off into the woods, after the disappearing native.
Charmian's shoulders slumped. She was already tired. Plus she was still hungry. Drake was probably right, she was worrying too much and starting to read too much into everything everybody said. Whether this Silver Eagle Feather was wise enough to help them out remained to be seen. Right now, she just wanted to sit down, relax, and eat.
With a heavy sigh and even heavier feet, she trudged off into the woods behind the two who had gone before.
I hope he wasn't lying when he said that camp's not too far away...if I don't get something in me soon, it'll take a lot less than an air elemental to knock me down!