Manitou Island: Part 34
A SCREAM SHATTERED through Charmian's dreams, jolting her awake. She bolted upright, eyes goggling, casting a bewildered glance around the small low building before realizing the sound was coming from Drake. He sat upright at the other side of the room, holding his head and screeching, eyes squinched shut.
Charmian scrambled to her feet. "Drake?"
"MY NECK!!" Drake screamed.
Charmian's eyes grew wider and she moved toward him. "Drake! Is it you?"
He merely ignored her and continued yelling. "THAT HUUURRRTS!!"
She reached him and dropped down in front, grabbing his arms and shaking him. "Drake! You're back!"
"I NEVER WENT ANYWHERE!!" he howled. "MY NECK HURTS!!"
"SHHH!" Charmian hissed, clamping a hand over his mouth. He continued screaming but now it only came out as a muffled murmur. Charmian glanced around the...wigwam...or whatever she supposed it was. They were the only ones here. Red Bird had apparently awoken before they did, and left them alone.
"Drake," she whispered, hoping he'd hear her over his own moaning. "When I let go will you promise you'll stop screaming? I'll explain everything if you let me!"
He kept making the muffled noise, tears squeezing out of his eyes, but nodded.
"Okay. I'll let go on three and then you have to SHUT UP! One, two, three."
She pulled her hand away, expecting more noise. But Drake shut his mouth and merely sat there sniffling and whimpering. She let out her breath. That was amazing. He was actually keeping quiet.
"How's your neck?" she asked, even though it was obvious.
"It hurts," Drake sniffed. "How do you think it is?"
"Okay, all right; I'm sorry. You're lucky that's all that's wrong with it!"
"What for? I don't feel lucky. This sucks! This ruins the whole trip!" His mouth quivered and tears started rolling down his face. "I think I want to go hoooommmmmme."
"Oh, for God's sake. Quit whining! You don't even know how lucky you are? Don't you remember what happened?"
Now his eyes opened and he gave a big sniff. "What d'you mean?"
"With the Ocryx, silly! Don't you remember? When she attacked us?"
"Oh...yeah." Another sniff. "Kind of."
"Kind of? What do you remember?"
"Well...she came flying at us...and I jumped on her back and told you to run...and you told me to run...and then I told you to run--"
"After that part, stupid."
"Well...she turned really fast, and then I was going through the air, and I saw you sitting there screaming, and then..."
He trailed off, frowning. Charmian frowned along with him "And then?" she prompted.
"Uh..." He thought a moment, then shrugged. "And then I don't remember." He winced. "But now my neck hurts! What did I do, get whiplash?"
"You broke it, idiot."
His eyes grew big, watery stare focused on her. "I broke my neck? Isn't that...serious or something?"
"YES, stupid!! You could have died! You're lucky he stepped in and helped you!"
"Dakh Natha. He's the one who saved you, and you should be grateful to even be alive now."
"Wait--Dakh Natha? Wasn't that one of the Ocryxes you saw in Tal Natha's dream?"
"Yes. Now he's in yours."
He blinked, uncomprehending. "Huh?"
"It's a long story." She sighed. "To put it simply, Dakh Natha and Sikt Natha asked if they could stay...with me. In my mind. They have the ability to cast dreams too, so that's how they stay up there."
"Well, yes and no. They told me their names mean Dreamrender and Dreamwanderer, actually. But that's beside the point. When...whoever that Ocryx was chased you, and threw you off the cliff, Dakh Natha left me and moved into you. You told me. Well, he told me, through you. You broke your neck and fractured some bones when you fell." Drake's face went gray. "But you didn't know it because he moved into you and took over right before it happened."
"So...so why aren't I dead? A broken neck, isn't that bad?"
"You didn't die because he couldn't die. He's an Ocryx. Remember? Only if they are impaled by the horn of another Ocryx can they die. A broken neck, it would hurt--"
"THAT'S for certain!"
"--but it wouldn't kill you, not with him in charge."
"So...so how come I can't remember anything? I thought maybe I'd dozed off, or something..."
"Because he didn't just move in, he took over your mind as well. He said you couldn't handle it. I told him you could. He can't leave you until he's healed you, or you'll die. Apparently he gave you back your mind, at least." She pursed her lips. "Though now I'm not so sure it was a good idea."
The boy is harder to handle than I feared, Dakh's voice suddenly slipped into Charmian's thoughts. He...begins to drive me mad.
Drake's eyes just about popped from his head. He jumped up, hands going to his ears. "AAAAAAAAGGGGHHHHHHH!!! WHAT WAS THAT?!?"
"That was just HIM, stupid!" Charmian hissed, smacking him in the arm and knocking him back down. He fell on one knee with a wince of pain but she ignored it and shook him by the arms again. "Look. Nobody else in the camp knows about this. It's just you and me. Dakh and Sikt want to keep it that way. Can you at LEAST pretend like everything's back to...abnormal?"
"You--you mean I have to go around with this--with this guy in my head? And act like it's normal?"
"It really shouldn't be that hard, Drake. I had both of them in my head for a while."
"But--but that's you, not me! I need my mind! I need all the space I can get!"
She rolled her eyes. "Drake--like you're ever going to run out of space."
His look turned sulky. "Are you insulting me and I don't know it?"
"Trust me, if I were insulting you, you'd know it."
His lip stuck out in response but she lost interest in their argument and started looking around. "Red Bird was here when we went to sleep. Where is she now? Did you see her leave?"
"No. I was out of my head, remember?"
"You can pout about it all you want. Dakh's not doing this for his health, you know. He either stays in there, or he leaves and you're toast. Which is it going to be?"
His lip stuck out even further. "I've got a wolf demon in my head. You don't have to be so mean."
"Well, I've got one too! So get used to it!"
He scowled and she moved toward the door, keeping her head low although the ceiling was a foot or so above her. This place made her feel...constricted. There were no windows; the only light available came in through the crack around the bottom, and around the doorway. She assumed they would use candles or tallow or something when they needed light (how did the Indians light their homes?), but now apparently wasn't one of those times. Tripping and stumbling over the furs, she nearly ran into the wall, grabbing onto the door and pulling it open so daylight poured in and blinded her eyes.
"Sheesh," she muttered, rubbing away the sudden tears as Drake came up behind her. "Now I'm getting as bad as you."
She stepped outside and took a breath of crisp midautumn air. She expected to hear crunching, but all the leaves had been swept away from the front of the wigwam, and she made her way to the middle of the camp, as she had recognized it the night before. Her stomach growled at the faint smell of meat but she told it to shut up. After a moment she frowned with puzzlement to find the place eerily quiet and seemingly deserted; not even Stick-In-The-Dirt's daughters were anywhere to be seen. From somewhere far, far off she thought she could hear talking, but wasn't sure.
She frowned and turned in circles while Drake glanced around. "I wonder where everybody could be..."
A scuffling noise promptly caught her attention. She turned to see X--X'aaru, she had to remind herself--ambling their way, almost on all fours again. When he saw them his eyes lit up and he picked up his pace, even flapping his wings and using his tail for balance before nearly skidding to a halt before them.
"X'aaru," she said, not bothering to explain to Drake's questioning look. "Where is everybody, do you know?"
"Yes, most have gone to hunt or clean or gather wood. Big meeting tonight. The women went down to the lakeshore to wash clothes. You slept a long time, the day is mostly past by now."
"Huh?" Charmian looked upwards, at the sun, but didn't really have any idea which way was east and which was west. She looked around her, then at her watch, only to see she wasn't wearing it. "Drat, I left my watch in the wigwam...do you know what time it is?"
"'Time'? Well, for us it's somewhat-late, though for you it might be--"
"Okay, never mind--I'll just go get my--"
"Three forty-seven," Drake said, before blinking with surprise and looking around as if to say, "Did I say that?"
"What?" Charmian stared at him a moment before shaking her head. "Never mind, never mind! I don't want to know! THREE FORTY-SEVEN?! We slept through the whole day? HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?!"
"You were very tired," X'aaru explained, shifting from foot to foot, as Charmian had noticed he tended to do when anxious to say something. "Lots of walking and climbing. Good for you, but also tiring for mainlanders. So you slept like newborn babes..."
"Huh, excuse me, but newborns don't exactly sleep that soundly." Charmian gave an irritated sigh. "Well...now that the day is wasted...where is everybody again? No, wait, just tell me--where's Red Bird? She was with us, now she isn't--did she go to the lakeshore too?"
"Red--? Oh--no. No, I believe she went to the woods. She doesn't like the lakeshore. She likes to gather berries and mushrooms and such."
"Aren't those kind of out of season? NEVER MIND!" she yelled when he opened his mouth to answer. "I'll see if we can go find her--if we don't get lost first. X'aaru, promise me, if you hear any screaming, or if we aren't back in ten minutes, please get some help?"
The demon nodded. "Oh--yes, of course. I'm certain she hasn't gone far. No trouble. Take care."
"Yeah, thanks." She turned away and toward the woods off to the side of the camp. "C'mon, Drake, you're the one with the sense of direction."
"I am?" he said, baffled, nonetheless tagging along. They trudged toward the woods--or rather, she trudged, he sort of skipped/hopped (she assumed he'd forgotten all about his troublesome neck already)--and when they reached the trees she started immediately swatting the tall ferns aside. Jeez, these things would eat her alive if she didn't watch out.
"Look, Charm, I'm sorry about all the trouble with Ocryana, I just thought I might be able to--"
"You don't have to apologize for it, okay? I think you probably ended up saving me after all."
Charmian grated her teeth but forced herself not to mumble again. "I THINK you probably ended up saving me after all. When you jumped on her back that is."
"Yeah, really. So thank you and shut up."
He grinned goofily but said nothing. They continued into the woods.
"I better not get poison ivy," Charmian muttered, swatting aside some weird plant. "Or I'm never coming back here again."
"Well--that plant had four leaves, not three--and wouldn't you have to wait for the next big fog to come here again, anyway?"
"Shut up, Drake. Didn't I tell you to shut up?"
He stopped, cocking his head and wincing at the motion. "Hss, hold on a sec, I think I hear something."
Charmian froze immediately. Too many times being attacked by weird monsters had done that to her, made her paranoid. So what was out there now--?
"Oh. I think it might be Red Bird!" Drake smiled happily and hopped off the trail into the woods without a second thought. Charmian ground her teeth and followed.
"Hold ON!! A monster breaks your neck and you just traipse around like it's no big thing--"
"Well, you said that Dakh guy's gonna take care of it, didn't you?"
"So why do I have to worry about it? Yeah, my neck hurts, but may as well not let that spoil everything!" His grin grew and he cupped a hand to his mouth. "Red Bird! Red Biiiiirrrrrd!"
Charmian grimaced. She kicked a branch aside and caught up with him just as they heard more shuffling and ahead she saw Red Bird in a small clearing, stooping down to pick a berry or something. At least, that was what Charmian thought she was stooping for, until the girl put a hand to her breast and heaved into the grass, vomiting again.
And again Charmian--and Drake this time--came to a dead stop, eyes growing big. "Eewwwww," Drake said, face screwing up.
"That's the second time she's done that," Charmian murmured. He looked at her as she started to push forward.
"Yeah. She must be really sick..."
"Sick?" He frowned and looked at Red Bird, squinting so hard his forehead furrowed. Then his brows lifted and he gave a small interested noise.
"Hm. Sick? Charm, don't you have any little brothers or sisters?"
Now it was her turn to stick out her lip as he brushed past her toward Red Bird, who stood up again wiping her mouth as she saw them approaching. "No," she said a bit too defensively. "Why?"
He didn't answer, but instead poked his way through the grass toward the girl. She carried a small nearly flat basket in one hand, the other still balled against her chest, looking at him apprehensively as if afraid of--what? He stopped right before her, looking her over--even she was taller than he was, so he had to look up at her face--before he smiled and crossed his arms behind his back.
"So. How long?"
Red Bird blinked. Charmian gaped. Huh? How long for what?
Red Bird's expression, however, didn't seem to stem from confusion. After a moment both her eyes and her head lowered, and she looked slightly off to the side, pulling her arms in more closely to her body.
"About three moons," she said softly.
"What?" Charmian said, before realization began to dawn. Her mouth slowly fell open. "Three...months? You...you mean you're..."
Red Bird didn't bother filling her in. Instead she drew her arms forward even further so her hands balled against her stomach. She stared at the ground.
"Wow." Drake's face lit up in a huge smile. "Congratulations!"
"Thank you," Red Bird murmured as Charmian pushed her way around him.
"Wait a minute," she said. "Does Tal Natha know?"
"Yes. He--he was the first one I told. The only one."
"So he knows already?"
"Yes. He is...he is happy. For us. I thought that he would be angry, when I first told him, but he was not. I..." Her voice trailed off for a moment, as thin and wispy as smoke, but then she gathered a bit more courage and continued, "I am lucky, for him."
"Wow," Charmian was the one to say this time. As soon as she realized she'd said it she turned red and started kicking the ground with her foot while she kicked herself mentally. "I mean...uh...congratulations, I guess."
Charmian had started to turn back toward Drake when something suddenly lit up inside her and she yelled, "OH!" so loudly the other two jumped back.
"What is it?" Drake said in a panicked voice.
"I get it now! This makes sense!" Charmian exclaimed. She pointed at Red Bird. "You and Tal Natha! Why he yelled at you!"
The girl blinked again. "Why--why he yelled--?"
"Yeah! When you took on Mitchi. Tal Natha got pissed. I know you were upset about it and I don't blame you. But now I know why he acted like that. He wasn't mad, he was worried!"
"Yeah!" She gave a wide smile. "He's not just protecting you--now he's protecting you and your--well--you know." She flushed a little, then continued. "He's fighting for the two of you, not just the one. He was worried both of you would get hurt. That's why he got so mad at you!"
Red Bird's face seemed to relax a little. "You truly think so?"
"Of course. I would too, if I were him. Trust me, guys always get all overly protective when they've got women and kids to look after. It's a macho thing."
"Cough cough," Drake cut in--not coughed, but said, clearly and distinctly. Charmian turned to glare at him and he fiddled his fingers.
"I thought that after we found Red Bird you were going to check out that meeting or whatever."
"Oh. How--" Charmian started, before sighing and shaking her head. "No, never mind...let's go see if we can find out what's going on."
She turned back for the camp, Drake leading the way again; she called back over her shoulder as she went.
"Red Bird? Do you want to come?"
"No, thank you...the meetings are for the men and those with power in the camp. I'm not of this camp, plus I'm not one of the elders...I'll be fine here, I won't stray far."
"All right...come on, Drake, I'm catching up, you're too slow."
"Am not, you're too fast..."
They trudged back to the camp, Charmian yawning and stretching despite her long sleep. Well, they had been running around the Island for...how long was it now? Two, three days? She'd lost track of time here already, everything blended together so much. Rather than think in terms of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, she was now starting to think in terms of yesterday, today, and tomorrow, one after the other, endlessly. Who knew what day it was or who cared?
I've been here too long, she muttered to herself. I need to get back to reality.
Any other time this comment would have been a half-joke. Now, it was dead serious.
She and Drake reached the camp again and started looking around for the big low building they'd seen yesterday. Thankfully, it was in the same place--Where ELSE would it be? Charmian griped at herself--and she made her way for it, now with Drake tagging along behind her.
When she reached the entrance she noticed a brave sitting out front, and he looked up as they approached, then stood. She didn't recognize him, but he stepped in front of the door just the same, holding out his arms so she slowed to a halt.
"No women or children allowed within," he said.
Charmian frowned. "Where's Silver Eagle Feather, then?"
"She is inside. But she has strong medicine, and so we make an exception for her." A frown came to his own face now. "But there will be no other exceptions. You must stay outside. This is an important meeting, else they wouldn't hold it so early in the day."
"What are they talking about?"
"I can't tell you this. Go back to your own place, or go down to the lakeshore to help the other women."
Charmian started chewing on her lip with annoyance. "Look, we came here from the mainland to help your Island, so how about when we want to--"
"I apologize," the brave said, "but the fact that you are from the mainland makes no difference. You won't get special privileges because of where you came from. This is the way it is."
"Well then, okay," Drake cut in, before Charmian could protest. "So could you point us out the way to the lakeshore? We're not good with directions, y'know--Charm doesn't even have a walk-in closet 'cause she'd get all turned around in circles." And he stuck out his tongue.
"DRAKE!" Charmian yelled, grinding her teeth at him. He merely winked at her and started talking nonstop to the brave, babbling about her poor navigation skills. She was ready to deck him good when it was as if a lightbulb lit up above her head, and then she almost slapped herself instead. The brave was too busy listening to Drake's prattle, trying to figure out what he was talking about, to keep much of an eye on the door. She supposed he'd planned it this way, as unlikely as that was; Drake had never been much of a planner. Perhaps it was Dakh Natha's influence.
Either way, quit stalling and go for it before he loses interest!
She quietly slipped around behind the brave, her hand reaching the door. Drake's eyes just barely met her own as she started to push her way in, and she actually heard him think, Good luck!
Thanks, she thought back, only mildly confused now--it must be the Nathas--before pushing the bark door open and slipping inside.
The building had seemed big on the outside, but as soon as she got in--fell in, tripping over a small ledge beneath the door--she realized it wasn't as big as it seemed, at least, not with everyone in it at once. She fell to the earth with an "Oof!" before getting to her feet, and only then gasping and jumping back as a dozen or so pairs of eyes met hers, almost all of them hostile.
One of the braves--she recognized him from seeing him in the camp their first time there--glared at her with narrowing eyes and said sharply, "You don't belong in here."