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Manitou Island: Part 7

Silver Eagle Feather

DESPITE WHAT THE native had said...the trek back to his camp seemed to take forever.

Charmian supposed it was merely the layout of the Island. Nothing was simply flat or inclining. It alternated. Just as soon as she'd gotten used to walking, they had to climb up. Then they had to climb down. Then they had to go around something. It seemed the woods was just full of twisted roots and rocks and numerous things to trip over. And trip she did, several times; while Drake somehow always managed to skip and land on his feet, Charmian kept landing on her face. By the time the three of them exited the trees and came into a smallish clearing, she was coated with dirt and had more than a few scrapes on her arms and knees. Not to mention an ugly scowl on her face.

"We're here!" Drake said cheerily. Stick-In-The-Dirt held up his hand, but not to silence Drake. Charmian noticed that as soon as they entered the camp their arrival had been noticed. Natives began appearing out of small rounded buildings--wigwams was the only word Charmian could think of--staring curiously in their direction. There wasn't a hostile face among them, though a few appeared to be suspicious.

Well...I can't blame them.

"Welcome back," one of them, a brave from the looks of it, said, approaching. He wore two upright feathers on his head as well, but they were paired together, not separated to resemble rabbit's ears as they were on Stick-In-The-Dirt. A small piece of horn hung on a leather strand around his neck. He cast a look at Charmian and Drake but didn't speak to them directly.

"I'm sorry it took me so long," Stick-In-The-Dirt replied, wiping his brow. "They showed up on a different part of the beach, not where they usually do. I couldn't see them at first so I had to listen for the sound of their voice."

"Are they lost or do they come here with a purpose?" The brave looked at them again and frowned a little. "They appear to be lost..."

"They say they were sent here. On word of another. They have a mission." When the brave looked surprised Stick-In-The-Dirt waved it off. "They would not tell me more. They wish to speak with Francois--"

"The Frenchman is not here right now. I believe he's off making sketches again."

"--or perhaps Silver Eagle Feather. Is Silver Eagle Feather in the camp today?"

The brave fell silent and this time stared at the two teenagers outright. Charmian felt like squirming. Stick-In-The-Dirt turned to her and offered a reassuring smile.

"No fear. Silver Eagle Feather is Black Elk Horn's wife. Of course he is concerned when strangers should ask to speak with her." He turned back to the brave--Black Elk Horn, Charmian assumed his name was.

"I trust their mission is important, Elk. They're young so I doubt they would have come here on their own unless sent by someone."

"Sent by who?"

"This they would not say. They prefer to speak with Silver Eagle Feather." He craned his neck, searching the camp, which had become crowded with the various natives peering at the newcomers. "Is she here? I've told them she can tell them more that they need to know--ah, here she is, right on time, as always."

Both Charmian and Drake were the ones to crane their necks this time. The crowd of natives parted to allow one of their number to come through. As the approaching woman came up close and stopped before them, Charmian and Drake had their first look at Silver Eagle Feather.

Charmian took in a breath.

She wasn't quite what Charmian had expected. When Stick-In-The-Dirt had mentioned her being a "medicine woman," she had to admit she'd imagined a stooped old woman, hair the color of snow, lines creasing her face, leaning on a staff almost as ancient as she was. Not...this person that came to greet them.

The woman who stood before them was tall--easily five-foot-nine or ten--and dressed in a milky-pale doeskin dress that looked as soft as velvet. The main part of her sleek black hair was tied back in a braid which fell down the length of her back, but two parts of it were allowed to fall free over her shoulders, where feathers had been randomly braided between the strands, making it look as if she were part bird. The leather band around her forehead bore an eagle emblem. As for her age, she appeared to be nowhere near old; Charmian guessed her to be in her late twenties or early thirties. But her eyes--as soon as Charmian looked into them, she seemed to be much, much older.

Charmian gasped. That wasn't the only thing about her eyes. Instead of being dark brown, as she'd expected them to be, the woman's eyes were...green. A strange luminous green, like flawless emeralds.

Charmian and Drake stared, mouths open.

Black Elk Horn didn't appear to appreciate their attention. He frowned again and scuffed his foot against the ground. Charmian snapped out of her daze and shook her head abruptly, jabbing Drake in the arm.

The woman--Silver Eagle Feather--smiled at them kindly. It only reinforced the wise "motherly" feeling Charmian had gotten from her. "Welcome," she said, and her voice was as pleasant and as calming as her looks. "You say you were sent here for an important purpose. You both appear quite young to have been sent here alone."

Charmian bit the inside of her mouth and cleared her throat. "I'm sorry...but he--the person who sent us--said that we were the only ones who could do what we need to do. Age didn't really seem to have anything to do with it, if you don't mind me saying so."

The woman's smile grew wider. Charmian felt her anxiousness melting away. "True, then. You'll forgive me for questioning your purpose here?"

"Oh--of course, ma'am."

"My name is Silver Eagle Feather. Your names?"

"Charmian. And this is Drake."

"Hi, ma'am--er--I mean, Silver Eagle Feather."

"Greetings to you both. If you wish to speak with me, I'm here now. You needn't be afraid or hesitate to ask me any questions, as I'll answer any and all that you have."

"Um..." Charmian cast a glance at the other natives gathered around them, murmuring with curiosity. "If you don't mind, could we maybe...go someplace a little more private? I mean, this is rather important, and I'm not sure if it was meant that just everybody hear about it...I mean, it could cause some concern, and all."

The curious looks quickly turned to looks of anxiety and suspicion. Black Elk Horn's expression was among the latter. Charmian felt her guts twist. Bad move. Silver Eagle Feather simply nodded once and stepped aside, gesturing toward the other side of the camp.

"Not too far away there is a small spring where I often go to sort my thoughts. We will have some peace there. Would you follow?"

Charmian's insides untwisted with relief when she saw the other natives weren't about to argue; Stick-In-The-Dirt must have been telling the truth, this woman seemed to have a lot of authority in the camp. She nodded instead of saying anything, and followed Silver Eagle Feather through the crowd, Drake close behind. The natives closed in behind them but stayed in the clearing, silently watching them leave.

This time, the walk wasn't that far. After climbing a slight incline, then going down a small dip, the three found themselves before a small spring, not more than several feet across, water trickling down over a small outcropping of rocks. Silver Eagle Feather sat down on a moss-encrusted boulder near the edge and gestured for Charmian and Drake to do the same. They sat down on the other side, staring at the water. Silver Eagle Feather reached a hand into the spring and scooped it out; sparkling water trickled over her fingers.

"I find the water soothing, though there are those on the Island who keep away from it as much as they can. They misunderstand that the water itself is not an evil thing, though they approach it only when necessary, and always bring the appropriate offerings."

"The water?" Charmian stared down at her rippling reflection and thought of what Stick-In-The-Dirt had said about "elementals."

Silver Eagle Feather smiled gently again. "I know you have been told at least a little of our Island. You would not be here on an 'important mission' if this were not so. You must know at least a little already of the powers that reign over this Island, and from which sources they draw their strength."

Charmian let out her breath again. So she hadn't been mistaken on seeing wisdom behind those eyes. "Yeah...that's pretty much right. Stick-In-The-Dirt told us a little about it. He said Francois knows more. And you. He said you could explain it to us better than he could."

"I'm not certain that I can...he must have told you all that it's necessary to know. Still, I'll try." She tucked her feet under her and looked down at the water. "As you may know water is the most important element in a place such as this. We are surrounded by it, but it is also upon and within the Island. This spring is one example. There is another spring near a cave...Francois and his people call it the 'Devil's Kitchen.'"

"I told you about that!" Drake whispered to Charmian, and she jabbed him again.

"All the springs and streams on this Island are not fed by what your people call the 'Great Lakes,' however. There is another lake, within the interior of the Island, from which all these streams spring."

"An interior lake?" Charmian frowned. "The guidebook never said anything about that."

"This is because, on your Island, there is no lake. On our Island there is. 'Devil's Lake,' Francois has called it. Though more appropriately it would be called the Lake of the Manitous."

"Everybody keeps talking about these manitous. Stick told us they're spirits? How would we know them if we saw them?"

"You might not know them. They may change their shape to suit their surroundings. A manitou could appear in my own form if it wished." Charmian felt her insides begin to twist again. "Most of them choose to keep to their own kind and cause us little trouble. They are, after all, merely elementals. They control the forces of nature upon this Island. There is a manitou for everything. This spring, for example."

Charmian sat upright, away from the water. "You mean to tell me...there could be a manitou here, right this minute?"

"Yes, and no. You seem to believe a manitou is somehow separate from that object which it governs. This is not so. The same manitou that governs this spring is a part of the spring itself. The two are one. If this spring should somehow dry up...then this manitou would cease to be. The manitou is the power of the spring, and the spring is the power of the manitou. Without one, the other is useless."

Something suddenly clicked in Charmian's mind. "You mean--then if a minor manitou is in charge of this spring, then for this lake--"

"A powerful manitou is in control." Silver Eagle Feather nodded. "I see you understand already. Stick-In-The-Dirt told you more than I thought. There is more than one manitou that lives within the lake--of them, Mitchi Manitou is chief among their number. But these are not manitous like the others on the Island. These are twisted evil things. They were not always this way. They were simply spirits of the lake and the area surrounding it. But as soon as one more powerful than they were took control, they found themselves bent to his purposes."

"You mean the Ocryx," Charmian said.

Another nod. "Devil's Lake is Ocryx's source of power. And although he is the most powerful being upon the Island, the moment that Devil's Lake is no more, then Ocryx is no more. This is why my people see it so important to keep away from watery areas. It's not too much to think that one of the evil manitous from the lake could make its way into a stream or spring such as this. Offerings are best left, just in case the manitou one encounters is a manitou of Ocryx's and not a neutral one. Ocryx has always been most fond of offerings."

"So, he's got an eye for baubles, does he?"

"'Baubles'?" Silver Eagle Feather appeared not to quite understand the word. "He much prefers beautiful things...gems...jewels...precious stones. After all...it is these things that he believes will set him free, in the end."

"Set him free?" Charmian frowned. "What do you mean? I thought he had power over the Island. You mean he's in some kind of captivity?"

"Not the kind of captivity you're thinking of. He is free to do as he wishes upon the Island. As for away from the Island, he has no real desire to leave. His only true desire is to be able to return to his original form...his manitou form." A pause. "You will most likely recognize an evil manitou when you see it. They are also shapeshifters, but they prefer to remain in the hideous form Ocryx granted them. They resemble men, but only slightly. Their whole bodies are covered with fur like some beast. They have claws like those of a bear, and wide spreading antlers like those of a moose."

Charmian's dream--the one she'd had on their way across on the ferry--came flooding back into her mind. That strange glowing-eyed creature, reaching up to her out of the water...

"Ocryx too has his true form," Silver Eagle Feather continued. "I believe you know it already."

Charmian nodded. "A wolf...a wolf with horns and wings."

"Yes. He can shapeshift, but he can never return completely, permanently, to his original form. Unless he achieves his goal...unfortunately, even I can't tell you what that is at this point, as I don't know."

"But he believes the offerings have something to do with it?"

"I believe so. Else he wouldn't hoard them so obsessively. He has no use for wealth. He must have some other purpose for it." Silver Eagle Feather reached into a pouch hanging at her side and pulled out a small polished stone. It caught the light reflected by the water and sent out a tiny fractured rainbow that stung Charmian's eyes.

"This has little to do with what you wish to know, I'm sorry...you wish to know where you may find the one who sent you here, Tal Natha."

Charmian and Drake started. "How did you know that?" Charmian blurted out.

"He is the only one who may travel through outsiders' dreams. None of us, not even Ocryx, have that power, aside from him." She stood, motioning them to follow. "Although Stick-In-The-Dirt was correct in saying that I may tell you much, I still believe you would best speak with Tal Natha himself, if he truly called you here. He is the only one who may clarify anything you wish to know. First we may go back to the camp, and give you something to eat. Then, if you don't mind another walk, I'll take you to him so you can speak with him directly."

"Wait a minute," Charmian said, scrambling to her feet. "How do you even know where he lives? You seem to know so much about the Ocryxes that the others don't know, and now you say you can even take us to talk with one? How do you know all this?"

"I of all people should know better than most," Silver Eagle Feather said, replacing the stone in its pouch and turning to go back to the village. "Tal Natha is my half-brother."

"H...half-brother?" Charmian's face went slack as she watched the native woman head back for the camp. "But...that means--"

"Yes." Voice clear, even though her head never turned around. "We share the same parent. Ocryx is my father, as well."

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