Manitou Island: Part 33
The Name Game
CHARMIAN GAPED AT the three of them for a moment before finding her voice.
"What?" she screeched.
"That's not Ocryana," Red Bird said again, voice growing anxious. "Ocryana's smaller than Father, but about as big as Tal Natha. She has gray fur, and black wings."
"And her horns," Silver Eagle Feather added, "they're small. Still effective, but not as long as X's even."
Charmian could literally feel her guts sinking down into her ankles. "You mean...there's another one?" she wailed with disbelief.
Silver Eagle Feather's look grew troubled. "I never knew of another...until now. This makes no sense. The only true Ocryxes on the Island are Ocryx, Ocryana, and Tal Natha."
"Well--could the two of them have had another kid together? If Tal Natha was somehow born, then--"
"No," Red Bird said, shaking her head adamantly. "She fooled him that time...used some kind of medicine on him. He's said he won't let her fool him again...I believe he means it."
"Then where did she come from?"
Silver Eagle Feather went back inside. Red Bird shook her head and shrugged mutely. Charmian finally turned to look at the three who had come with her.
"Don't tell me," she said. "Did any of you three know this?"
X's ears lowered and he scuffed the ground. "I...I've never exactly seen Ocryana. So...I'm not certain what she looks like. I only assumed..."
"Same," Pakwa answered. "Never seen female Ocryx."
Her gaze fell on Drake. He stared back, that annoying look.
"We received the impression it was not she," he said, "but the fact remained that she was attacking, and we had to flee."
Charmian turned to see Red Bird blink and stare at Drake. She gave Charmian a concerned look.
"Is he all right?" she murmured. "He seems...not himself."
"Yeah--you could say that." Charmian hastily changed the subject. "Well then maybe this explains things, at least a bit. This means Ocryana herself is still out there, right? Well, she already conned Augwak into helping her. Maybe she got someone else."
"But--they are Ocryx. How did she do this?"
"Ocryxes are shapeshifters, right?"
"Well, maybe that's what she's got, a shapeshifter."
What she had meant was that the female Ocryx was actually a shapeshifter who had mimicked an Ocryx. But she could tell that Red Bird had reached a different conclusion.
The girl's eyes grew large. "Then--" she stuttered, "--then--that means Ocryana--Ocryana has had a child too!"
Now Charmian--and the others--stared at her. "Huh?" Charmian said, thinking she must have gone nuts.
"Think," Red Bird said, wringing her hands. "Father has had children with our kind, humans. Why did we never consider that Ocryana may have, as well?"
Charmian's face fell.
"Then this other Ocryx would not have to be Ocryx like Father or Tal Natha. She may...she may be like...me." Her voice trailed off and she stared at the ground.
"...Well," Charmian said after a moment, "maybe...maybe my idea was right and she's just a shapeshifter. It could happen."
Red Bird said nothing. Silver Eagle Feather returned from the rock, carrying several leather pouches over her shoulder. "Come," she said. "We head back to camp. Tal Natha will stay here; Old Mother Manitou will look after him. Even if this is not Ocryana, we need to warn the others."
The others numbly obeyed. Charmian went in to get her pack and belongings, watching Drake get his own. Red Bird passed them to go over to Tal Natha, touching her head to his and murmuring something. When she joined them again her eyes were wet.
"I'm ready," she said softly.
They went back outside. The others, Silver Eagle Feather leading them, turned away from the rock and started off into the woods. Charmian was grateful for the large group now, with what had happened earlier...hopefully they would be better protected if that thing decided to show up again.
Rather than fly, X walked along behind them, using his arms almost as forelegs. He stared at the rocky trail as if lost in thought and Charmian let herself fall back to walk almost beside him. It was several moments before he even noticed her there, and started.
"Oh--Charmian. I'm sorry. I didn't see you."
"That's okay. Do you have any idea how long back the walk is? My watch is in my pack and I don't feel like digging it out..."
"Well, for us it's not-long, but I believe for you mainlanders it's some-long."
"Oh..." Charmian frowned. Were those Ocryx terms?
"I would fly you, if you like."
"Oh, no, that's okay. I'm not tired yet. Thanks for offering though."
"You're welcome...and Charmian, I truly am sorry I couldn't help the Drake." He paused and glanced forward at the boy who walked ahead of them. "He doesn't seem to be himself since he fell. I thought for certain he would be dead. Is he all right?"
"Yeah, just a bit...out of his head for the moment. I think he'll be fine." I HOPE he'll be fine, if that Ocryx ever lets him go!
"I'm glad to hear that...I do hope he's all right..."
The demon lapsed into silence again, once more staring at the ground. Charmian took a chance to look him over. She decided that if Ocryxes lived in a hierarchy, like wolves did, that Ocryx and Ocryana would be the alpha male and female, Tal Natha would be the beta male, and X...well...she figured he must be the omega male. For his size and fearsome looks, he was strangely meek. After all her interactions with him she couldn't believe he'd tried to take on both the GeeBees and the manitous, by himself. What did it take to summon up his bravery?
"X, you mind if I ask you some questions? I'm bored."
"--Huh? Oh, no, no, not at all. Please do. I'll be happy to answer anything I can."
"Besides these little run-ins we seem to keep getting into, have you...you know...ever really met your dad?"
"Yeah, your father--Ocryx."
"Oh. Well...I'm not certain." His ear twitched and he frowned. "I don't remember him from when I was little. Mother says I shouldn't. He let her have me to raise."
"You mean, he didn't ask to keep you or anything?"
"No...at least, not from what Mother told me."
"Oh...so the two of you have never really talked, huh?"
They walked on for a while, now reaching an incline so she had to lean forward into the hill to keep her balance on the way up. X climbed up the hill like a pack animal.
"What does Black Elk Horn think of you?" Even as she asked it, she bit the inside of her mouth. It didn't seem to be a very polite question. Indeed X flushed a little and looked away, and she hoped she hadn't hurt his feelings any.
"Oh...well, he...he respects me. He is my father, now."
"He was never upset...?"
"I wouldn't know...I've never asked Mother. I don't want to ask her, if it would hurt her to think about it. Though I wonder sometimes. I am not his son, and, well...as for what I am..." He lifted his wings in a sort of "Look at me!" gesture. "...I don't think most people would be so accepting as he is. So, I am grateful for that."
"Yes, I suppose..."
"So what's your real name and who gave it to you? How come it's so hard to pronounce?"
"Oh!" His mood seemed to lighten a little bit. "Well...I believe my mother gave it to me. Though perhaps she got it from Father. It's an Ocryx name, very difficult for the human tongue. Even we--ahm--Ocryxes don't use the word very often."
"Well, what is it?"
X seemed to bite his lip and consider before answering.
At least...that was how Charmian would have tried to spell it, had she put it down on paper. The truth was, that wouldn't even have been a good approximation of the sound the demon let out. It sounded like a cross between some strange native expletive and a wolf growling. As soon as he said it, X lowered his head again and Charmian was left trying to figure the word out.
"Um...so...what does it mean?"
"Er...yeah...you know, like 'Tal Natha' means 'Dreamspinner.' What does...well...that name mean?"
"Oh--it's an old Ocryx word, obsolete. It means Rainbowbringer."
Charmian smiled in spite of herself. "Rainbowbringer?"
"Yes--now that I think of it harder, I believe my mother gave it to me, but after she had asked my father. I don't know why she gave it to me. Well--at least, I don't know how she knew."
X just lowered his head again, seeming embarrassed. Charmian spoke quickly, trying to cheer him back up.
"It's a nice name, really. The meaning, I mean. If only it wasn't so hard to say!"
"I know...this is why the Frenchman started calling me X, and then everyone else did as well. It's easier for them. I don't mind..."
"Well, I know...but X isn't very much of a name. It sound like you should have adamantium claws or something."
When he looked at her oddly she pressed on. "Have you ever thought of coming up with another name, your own name? Something that's not so generic?"
"Well...no...I'm not good at coming up with things. Others do that."
"How about I try to think of something, then? Just for the fun of it?"
"All right." He looked at her oddly again. "What sort of idea do you have?"
"Could you say the name again, just so I can hear it more clearly? Could you say it a bit slower this time, too?"
"Xrr'grra'nghraghu. What name could you get from that?"
"Well, let me think...it's got an X sound in there, and an R sound, and an A...it sounded like it had a U at the end, too...the rest of it's just kind of a growling noise, and that's what makes it hard for us to say. Get rid of the growling noise, and maybe it's more pronounceable." Her face lit up. "I know, I've got it! Hey X! I've got the perfect name for you!"
"You do?" The demon now shifted from foot to foot almost excitedly. The others glanced back at them for they were making quite a racket. "What is it, will you tell me? Please tell me!"
"Okay--but you have to promise me that if you like it, you'll let everyone know it's what they're supposed to call you from now on. No more plain old X!"
"All right, all right, I will--will you please tell me?"
"Okay," Charmian said, and moved so she was close to him, cupping her hand to his ear. "Now--if you don't like it, you can use your old name--but I thought I would suggest it anyway."
"What is it, what is it?"
Charmian smiled and whispered in his ear.
The demon blinked.
"I know it's kind of hokey, but it beats having just a letter as your name, right?"
X was silent for a moment as he thought it over. "X'aaru," he said, rolling it over his tongue, testing out the sound. "X'aaaarrrrrruuuuuuuu."
"You see? Like your real name, but simpler. Without all the growling. And it sounds like a wolf howl when you draw it out, like that--X'aaaarrrrrruuuuuuuu." She bit her lip and tried to gauge his reaction. "Well? What do you think?"
"X'aaru." X said again, thoughtfully. Then--his face and his eyes both lit up, a giant smile coming to his muzzle.
"I like it! It's a good name!"
"You do? Really?"
"Yes, yes! Like my real name--only easy to say. X'aaru!" He barked and jumped like a big dog, tongue lolling from his mouth. "Thank you, thank you! For giving me a name!"
"You're welcome," Charmian said, unable to stop the goofy grin from crossing her face as well. "I'm really glad you like it!"
"I must tell Mother. I have a new name!" He licked Charmian's face, leaving her sputtering, before bounding up the hill after Silver Eagle Feather. Despite her now-soppy condition, Charmian didn't lose her smile. Perhaps that was what was wrong with him after all, he'd just had a poor name? The new one had certainly worked at cheering him up remarkably.
She used her sleeve to dry off the side of her face as Drake fell back beside her, pack bouncing lightly as he climbed.
"That was kind of you to do."
"Yeah, well, I was bored."
"He has not much faith in himself," Drake said, looking forward at the Ocryx who walked beside Silver Eagle Feather now, talking excitedly. "Much like someone else we both know."
"Huh--? Oh. You mean Red Bird, right?"
"Yes. I mean also others."
Charmian didn't bother asking him to clarify. She didn't feel like it. The day was starting to wear on already and despite the slight chill in the air she was sweating and dirty from all that had gone before. "You really think all he needed was a new name?"
He peered at her. "This was your thought, not mine. Though perhaps it may help him, a little."
"I'd hate having to go around called 'C' all the time."
"No one has made you do this."
"It's called a hypothetical situation, stupid." She flushed when she remembered, too late, that she was addressing Dakh and not Drake. He didn't seem to care.
"When we get back to Silver Eagle Feather's camp, I trust you won't tell them about this yet."
"About you and Sikt? Don't worry. They'd think I'm nuts anyway." She squirmed. "Your sister's pretty quiet. Half the time I keep forgetting she's up there."
"In my head. Wherever. Hey, while we're talking. What do you two have to do with Tal Natha?"
He looked at her, same old neutral stare.
"You know what I mean. You were in his dream, remember? And you share the same...last name...or whatever."
"'Natha' means merely 'sleeping-thought.' A dream."
"That's what I figured. But what, is that like 'Smith' where you come from, with all three of you having it?"
When he just stared at her some more she sighed and shook her head, facing forward again. "Never mind. It was easier talking to Drake."
"I apologize, but it was necessary to save him."
"I know, I know. I just wish you had a bit more...personality, or something."
He didn't say anything and so neither did she. She became so bored with the walk that she pulled her pack off her shoulders and dug out her guidebook, trying to figure out where they were and how far they'd gone. She couldn't make any sense of it; the trails were all different. With a frustrated sigh she put it back and looped the straps back over her shoulders.
We are not far now, Charmian, Sikt Natha said.
"Yeah, okay. Just make sure to wake me up if I fall asleep before we get there."
She sensed a mental question from the Ocryx and shrugged it off. These two were impossible.
Within fifteen more minutes the sounds of other people had become clear ahead, and she lifted her head and picked up her pace, eager to find a spot to rest. The trees around her started to look familiar now, only she faced them from the other side; after another moment or two the clearing of the camp came into sight and she let out a sigh of relief. Finally! A boy walked into the clearing, saw them approaching, and ran off calling the others. Seconds later it seemed everyone had appeared out of nowhere, boiling forward and surrounding them, pulling them back into the camp with them and chattering excitedly.
"You spoke?" Stick-In-The-Dirt asked Silver Eagle Feather, hopping along in front of her and wringing the staff that he carried. "You spoke with him and he explained what to do?"
"Yes," she answered, then, "No. Explained, yes, what to do, no."
The medicine man's face fell before Black Elk Horn appeared, shoving him out of the way. "Silver Eagle Feather!" he exclaimed, stopping her in her tracks and feeling her arms as if expecting them to be broken. "You--are you all right? All of you were gone for so long! We were preparing a party to set out and find you!"
"I'm all right, Husband. It's a long story with many details though...too late to tell everyone tonight."
"We'll have a meeting tomorrow then," another native whom Charmian didn't recognize said. "In the meeting lodge. You'll explain it all then?"
"Yes, yes, I promise...but I have to speak with my husband alone...and then I have to speak to the chief."
Charmian tried to see which direction the two went in but the crowd had surrounded her, all chattering at her at once. She resigned herself to shaking her head and shrugging as if she couldn't understand them. She suddenly resented Silver Eagle Feather for just leaving her behind like this. How was she supposed to know where to go or what to do! The last time she'd been here she'd stayed all of an hour or so!
As if in answer she felt somebody take her arm and pull her out of the crowd. She nearly yelled with surprise, only to see that the person who dragged her along was a young woman, probably around Red Bird's age, wearing a white doeskin dress. A moment later two other young women escorted Drake and Red Bird out of the tangle and they all went in the same direction.
"Would you please mind telling me where we're going?" Charmian squawked.
"Please, friends!" Red Bird cried. "She doesn't even know who you are!"
"Oh!" The girl pulling Charmian along let go of her and started giggling. The other two looked mildly annoyed. Charmian could tell they were older, though they all wore the same style of dress, and they all shared a resemblance, but the youngest was the prettiest by far. Charmian flushed when she found herself thinking this.
"I apologize, friend," the girl said, tipping her head as if she'd been taught and then taking Charmian's arm. "My name is Little Dove. These are my sisters, White Deer and Lily Flower. We are daughters to Stick-In-The-Dirt."
"OH!" Charmian said, grinning widely. "I didn't know he had daughters! Well, hi! Are we going back to our own place?"
"Yes, we've been setting up a place for you in case you returned; I hope you don't mind that you and Red Bird and your friend will be together."
"No, not at all--thanks! This is really nice!"
"Please, do not thank me. Father told me that you three are going to help our Island!"
With that she turned away, dragging Charmian forward again and chattering excitedly about her hopes for the Island's safety, while Charmian forced herself to bite her tongue and forced her face to remain as neutral as Drake's. No need upsetting them this late in the day. She supposed bad news could wait until tomorrow.
And she bit her tongue even harder. That is...IF there's a tomorrow!