Manitou Island: Part 19
Little Girl Lost
CHARMIAN DUCKED HER head as she went inside Sugar Loaf Rock again, although there was no need to; the ceiling in the passageway was high enough to allow her clear access. She emerged in the great central room to see that a fire still burned near X, who still slept; looking around further she finally noticed Red Bird in the far corner, off to her right, curled up so as to be almost invisible. She was sniffling and rubbing at her eyes. Charmian approached. When Red Bird heard her she lifted her head to see who was coming; the firelight hit her eyes and for a moment it looked as if they glowed, but then she blinked and the illusion was shattered. Noticing it was only Charmian she relaxed and started rubbing her eyes again.
"I'm sorry you saw that," she murmured when Charmian sat down beside her; from the way the furs were arranged she assumed this was where Red Bird had slept last night. "I should have waited for a better time, like he said."
"It's okay. I'm just kind of...well, surprised. I didn't know you were that upset."
"You're right," Red Bird said, sniffing. "He does get angry, often. He doesn't shout at me. When he did yesterday, that was the first time. But he gets angry. Frustrated. He claims to believe in me, he says that I have power, yet he treats me as if I know little of anything. How can he truthfully say he believes in me when he thinks of me as a child?"
Charmian was, frankly, at a loss for an answer; she had no real idea what could be going through the Ocryx's mind. What Red Bird had said about frustration somehow stuck with her. "Maybe he feels it would be better if you didn't know so much?"
Red Bird sniffed again and looked up at her, eyes questioning.
"Well," Charmian tried to explain, "I think he knows that you're not stupid...otherwise he wouldn't put so much faith in you, right?" She pressed on without waiting for an answer. "But maybe he just thinks it's too much of a responsibility for you...you are pretty young and all...maybe he'd rather you don't have this knowledge or this power, just so you can be...you know...normal. Like everyone else."
"Normal?" Red Bird's eyes grew. She glanced down at her hands. "I've always wanted to be normal..." She rubbed her eye and sighed. "I've told him so...even when he first came to me, I told him it was all I ever wanted. He told me I had nothing to be ashamed of. He never told me I was normal. That would have been a lie. But he told me not to be ashamed of what I am. I feel he's the first one who ever looked at me and saw somebody who's equal to what he is. Not normal, and not frightening either."
"That's it," Charmian said. She could think of nothing better to say, but at least the girl had stopped crying. "You see? He didn't lie to you. Maybe it would have made you feel better, but he didn't do it. But he has to see how upset it's all making you. Maybe he's just angry that he can't do anything about it. He's supposed to be guardian of the Island and all, and all he can do is see you be miserable. I think he knows you don't want this responsibility and he'd rather see somebody else have it, but if it's really yours to have, he can't very well tell you it's not."
"Yes," Red Bird said softly.
"And I'm not saying he has any right to yell at you or get mad at you because of whatever's upsetting him, but maybe that explains it...I know he doesn't really like the idea, but from what I've seen, he does kind of take after his dad."
A tiny hint of a smile. Red Bird's eyes were brimming but the tears stayed where they were. "Yes...that much is true. I wish it were not, but perhaps it's the way of all Ocryxes...except for X. I have yet to ever see him become truly angry about something, he's always been very sweet. But he's not full blooded like the others--"
As if hearing his name enter the conversation, a low moan came from the other side of the room. Charmian and Red Bird glanced over at the still form lying upon the pine boughs to see it was no longer so still. X's chest had started heaving; his tail writhed and he grimaced as if in pain. He let out a yelp, and the two shot up and ran over to him, looking him over.
"What's wrong?" Red Bird asked, voice anxious. "Is he dreaming?"
"I don't know," Charmian said, checking the moss that served as a bandage. There was some blood on it, but that was to be expected...right? X continued whimpering and she pressed a hand against his head. She couldn't be sure if it was the same for Ocryxes as it was for people, but he felt warmer than usual.
"I think maybe he has a fever," she said. "That's not good...maybe it got infected." Red Bird's eyes widened and she started checking the bandages. "Listen, I don't really know anything about dressing a wound--I thought Old Mother Manitou would get it right. Maybe she overlooked something. Tal Natha went off looking for her but I don't know where he went or how long it'll take to get back."
"She gathers things," Red Bird said. "Mushrooms and roots. Far out in the woods. There is a trail, leading away from the rock."
"Okay." Charmian picked up her backpack, lying near her pallet. She slipped it over her shoulders. "I'll go down there and see if I can find her. You'll stay here and make sure X is okay?"
Red Bird nodded. Charmian dashed out the door, scanning the woods for any break which might indicate a trail; she located it and jogged down the slope and into the woods. She wanted to tell Silver Eagle Feather and Drake where she was going, but felt she didn't have the time. She didn't like how warm X's head had felt...
The trail was much the same as the one Stick-In-The-Dirt had led them on before, and the one she'd gone on with Silver Eagle Feather and the others--barely a footpath through the woods, knotted with roots and rocks, very easy to trip upon. Still, she must have been getting used to the place as she didn't fall once as she ran, and stumbled only once or twice. She thought of the manitous the whole time she ran, remembered how one had carried her through the woods on the way to Sugar Loaf Rock...she thought of how fast they had been, and let the memory give her feet wings...
Still, after running for some time she began to get tired and had to slow down and finally stop, bending over with hands on knees and sucking in breath. She knew it wasn't good to stop running so abruptly but her lungs were burning, and she couldn't see or hear Old Mother Manitou or Tal Natha anywhere. Just how far had the old woman gone out, anyway?
"Helloooooooo?" she shouted, cupping her hands to her mouth. She didn't like shouting in the woods, not in this place, when whatever answered her could be any sort of strange monster; but there was nothing else to do.
Her own voice echoed back to her from nearby, then from further away, and still further...
For goodness' sake, this is stupid.
She walked on a ways and shouted again, listening carefully. Birdsongs, angry squirrels, the occasional rustle of leaves which could have been anything. But nothing called back and nothing came forward.
She wandered further and further along the trail before realizing she wasn't getting anywhere. By now Tal Natha had probably found Old Mother Manitou, and they could have made their way back to Sugar Loaf. The old woman was probably tending to X at this very moment. Why had she thought she could reach them sooner?
Yep, I'm dwelling in Stupidville today.
With an annoyed sigh--she really would have liked to help out some way, any way--she gave up, turning to head back up the trail to Sugar Loaf and back to Red Bird and the others.
There wasn't one trail leading away...
There were several.
She started, shocked. Her eyes scoured the ground. Somewhere along the way, during her wandering, she'd evidently taken some sidetrail where the main one forked off, and had walked off into the shorter grass, not even noticing where she was. Or else another trail had intersected her own a ways back. She didn't know. Whichever it had been, there was more than one trail there now, and she had no idea which one she'd been on. They all looked alike, equally knotted and bumpy, and all the trees surrounding her looked alike as well. The sun was high in the sky, around noon, so she had no idea which direction was which.
She started looking around wildly for any familiar landmarks, but her thoughts had been so preoccupied with finding the manitou that she'd never even noticed any.
She was lost.
Brief panic entered her mind. LOST! Where is an Uroona when I need one!!
She even tried sending out a message, trying to mentally contact one of them, or perhaps Tal Natha, but nothing responded. She cursed herself inwardly. Either telepathy worked over a limited distance, or they could sense her whereabouts only when she was in a dream state.
Well, she most certainly didn't feel like lying down in the woods and going to sleep!
She sighed. The anxiety was still storming strong in her chest but there was nothing she could do about it now. If she was lost, then she was lost. What was the best thing to do when you're lost? Stay put where you are, and wait for someone to find you. If she stayed put, Tal Natha or Francois or somebody was bound to come along and find her...right?
God, did she hope so...as if having to spend the night on the Island hadn't been bad enough, well, the thought of being lost and alone in this place was far worse.
She selected a large shady tree with moss underneath it and plopped down, putting her arms on her knees and staring off into space.
How long before someone would show up? Red Bird would have to tell Tal Natha where she'd gone, wouldn't she? The Ocryx would wonder where she was. He'd come looking for her, no doubt about it. And Francois was a good tracker, from the looks of it. If for some strange reason Tal Natha couldn't find her, then the Frenchman could. And if not either of them, maybe Silver Eagle Feather...
Or someone else...
She squeezed her eyes shut. I'm not going to cry. For God's sake, it's not that bad, I'm not going to cry...!
A bitty squeak. She opened her eyes and blinked, looking down. With some surprise she noticed that the bat she'd taken from Sugar Loaf still hung from her vest pocket, and it was staring up at her. She'd forgotten about it. Well, at least she wasn't completely alone. She stroked its tiny head with one finger.
"Looks like it's just you and me," she murmured. "Who knows. Maybe I should've left you back there, huh? Why drag you in on all this, right?"
It just stared back at her with little black eyes.
Charmian sighed again and put her head back against the tree trunk. "Yeah...I know what you're thinking...I'm nuts for talking to a bat. Well, right now I think this is the sanest thing I've done all day. You know, I wonder how Miss Anne is doing...she's this lady in an antiques store...I kind of miss her now, I wonder if she still has that pretty necklace..."
She tried to envision the green glass necklace in her mind again, and wondered what Ocryx would do if offered it. Certainly, it wasn't real gems, but it was a shiny bauble. Would he accept it, or no?
She thought also of Red Bird, and then of what Tal Natha had said about Ocryx...He has known her for a long time. How? How did the two know each other? And why?
She realized that Ocryx had reacted toward hearing Red Bird's name much the same way Tal Natha had first reacted on meeting X. A strange, restrained fear, mingled with something else...
Things just weren't adding up. There had to be a reason Tal Natha believed the girl had such a strong power, and why even Ocryx had seemed in fear of her. He was the most powerful being on the Island, from what she'd heard. So why should he care about someone so much lesser than he was?
Well...he obviously feared Ocryana...so perhaps Red Bird had some power, after all.
But what kind of power? And when would she ever show it already?...
Better question, Bat, she thought, what on Earth am I doing mixed up in all of this!
She was beginning to think Tal Natha had chosen very poorly when he'd chosen her. "Dreams of power," yah, right.
But the Uroona had sensed her, and had come to warn her...why would they warn someone if they didn't believe she had any power?...
She shut her eyes again and growled to herself. Too many things to think about when you were lost and bored and alone, except for a bat. Maybe if she tried she could doze off, and then Tal Natha could hurry up and find her. Knowing her luck she was probably sitting in a patch of poison ivy or something...typical...
She thought that maybe she was starting to doze off when a faint rustle distracted her, and then a raspy voice from above literally made the blood in her veins freeze like ice water.