Manitou Island: Part 39
CHARMIAN GASPED AND immediately backed behind Justin. The manitou stopped and let out a singsong whistle, and she covered her ears, but not well enough to miss a voice saying,
"You'll be here forever, if you keep hiding behind others."
She slowly brought her hands down from her ears, confused. Justin stared down at her. She peered out from behind him to see who had spoken.
The manitou had turned its head also. With a start she suddenly recognized it--it was the same one Justin himself had healed, earlier on. What was it doing here?
She craned her neck further and saw another familiar face, seated near the cave wall. He offered her an odd smile.
"You must admit, it's true," he said.
Charmian let out her breath and stepped from behind Justin to walk forward. She made certain to skirt the manitou, who whistled again, causing her to plug her ears a second time. It whistled at Justin instead, who stood silent and listened to it, nodding a few times, frowning, then nodding again. She still couldn't understand what it might be saying.
She stopped by Moon Wolf and glanced back at it, nervous. "What's it doing here?" she whispered. "I thought you'd be the only one here."
"As it turns out, this was what I believed as well. At least, until he turned up. I don't know the language of the manitous, but it looks as if your friend does."
"He came here looking for you," Justin said, and Charmian turned to him.
"For me? Why?"
"I'm not certain...he's talking pretty quickly. He seems to remember you from earlier. He was told you would be coming here, and so he came to meet you when you arrived."
"He was told?" Charmian frowned. "But I think the only people who knew were in Stick-In-The-Dirt's camp. I didn't get to talk to anyone else before I left, and I didn't see it there. Who would've told it?"
Justin shrugged. "Perhaps...a windling told him, or some such."
"You mean a GeeBee?"
"The Island keeps plenty of secrets," Moon Wolf said, drawing her attention again, "yet many of them don't stay secret long. You'll find that many of the things you take for granted as being private will be better known to others than they are to you. I trust the reason you came here was for some advice, some assistance of some sort?"
"Well...yeah, kind of." She shuffled her feet, not feeling quite right about talking so openly in front of the creature, which just kept staring at her. "They kept telling me I need to be better trained before I can keep an eye on Red Bird, and everyone keeps saying you're the best person for the job, so I decided I should--is it smart for me to talk in front of it? It's from Devil's Lake, isn't it?"
"Devil's Lake?" Justin paused. "I thought Ocryana was the one you were suspicious of."
"Yeah, but I haven't heard any glowing reviews for Ocryx, either..."
"I doubt he'll leave anytime soon," Moon Wolf said, poking a stick in the fire near him. Somehow it made little noise, and no smoke clogged the room. "He's been waiting all day and night, and I can't convince him to go elsewhere. I believe you'd have to talk with him yourself."
"Talk with him--? I don't even know that language, I have enough trouble with French!"
Justin's shoulders started shaking and he covered his mouth. Charmian's ears burned again.
"Well, I believe you have an interpreter, right here."
Justin stopped laughing, and blinked and coughed. "Oh...apologies. I'm not using my head tonight." He offered a guilty smile and shrugged at Charmian. "Well, if you wish to ask him anything, I suppose you ask me."
Charmian bit her lip. "Well...for one thing, why is he here? Why's he waiting for me to show up?"
Justin waved his hand to catch the manitou's attention, and started whistling. The creature listened to him for a moment before whistling back, and Justin spoke for him.
"He says he remembers you from when he saw you at my house. He remembers me telling him you saved him."
"I figured that, but why's he here now?"
They exchanged whistles again. "He never thanked you properly, I suppose. This has been weighing on him."
"Oh. Well, he's welcome, I guess."
Justin relayed the reply. The manitou stared at him a moment, then shook his head and said something in return. Justin's look turned perplexed, but he shrugged and turned back to Charmian.
"Well...this is a bit odd."
"He tells me this is some sort of...custom, I suppose, among manitous. Since I claimed you were the one who saved him, he feels he owes you some sort of debt, and he wishes to repay it."
"Debt?" Charmian blinked, then shook her head. "Oh, no. Tell him it's okay, everything's settled. I'm thanked, he's welcomed, he can go home now."
The manitou said something else to him and he shrugged again.
"Believe me, I don't think he's going back anytime soon," Moon Wolf echoed himself.
Charmian scowled at him. "It isn't advice-giving time yet. As soon as it is, I'll let you know." Back to Justin--"Didn't you tell me that if he doesn't get back to Devil's Lake, he'll be in trouble? Well, isn't he in trouble just for leaving there? I don't think Ocryx sent him out just to help me. He'd better get back before he decides to send Mitchi out."
"Trust me, Moon Wolf is right, he won't go back. The manitous are...well...they are much like the Ocryxes in their stubbornness. If he feels he owes you, then he owes you."
"But I don't want anything from him."
"I'm supposing you'll get something from him, anyway."
Charmian sighed. "Well...what did he intend to do? Maybe I can have him do something dinky, then he can go home."
"I doubt you could fool him like that...he feels he owes you a favor of the same magnitude, and I think that saving one's life is about as high a magnitude as one can get."
Now she growled. "I just came here for training, not to argue about manitou customs!!"
"Perhaps this is a good place to start?" Moon Wolf put in.
She whirled on him. "Would you shut up!!"
The manitou whistled again. Charmian felt like ripping her ears off and yelled. "AAAAGGGHHHHH!! Justin, can you make him SHUT UP?!"
"If he thinks that he owes you a favor, I believe you'd best just humor him!"
"Tell him I don't have any ideas! And I'm GETTING SICK OF CALLING HIM 'HIM'!! Doesn't he have a name or something?!"
"The manitous don't usually have names. They call each other mainly by sound and scent."
"What about Mitchi?"
"That's...that's an exception, I guess."
Charmian looked up at the manitou. "Don't you have a name or something?"
Justin whistled her question and the creature replied, then he shook his head. "It's as I told you, he says no. I don't know if he fully understands the concept of 'names.'"
"Oh, GREAT. I won't try explaining!" She turned to the manitou again and pressed a finger to her chest, saying, "CHARM-I-AN" loudly, then reaching up to put a finger to his breast, causing him to look down at her hand. "MAN-I-TOU. Mani, Tooey, whatever. Get it?"
Justin said something that sounded like *whistle*whistle*mani*whistle.* The manitou cocked his head with a curious look, then peered at Charmian. He gave an odd three-syllable whistle.
"Uh-huh," Charmian said, flustered. "Charm-i-an."
He repeated the whistle a second time and now...she paused and frowned. It hadn't sounded like merely a whistle after all, it had sounded like aah-eee-ehh. Then he added, aaa-ihh-ooo.
Charmian blinked and stared.
Justin lightly nudged her arm. "Ahm...I believe he's asking you if he's got it right."
"Huh?" She shook her head, snapping out of it. "Uh--I'm not sure. Maybe he could...repeat it or something?"
Justin nodded. The manitou whistled again. Aah-eee-ehh. Aaa-ihh-ooo.
"Wow," Charmian whispered. She sensed, rather than saw, Moon Wolf get up to come over and join them. The manitou stared at her, large brown eyes curious. She put her hand to her chest and whistled through her teeth, as best as she could--
The manitou's ears pricked and he touched his own chest.
"He left off a syllable." Charmian looked up at Justin. "He changed the sound. And he forgot the 'ooo.'"
"I don't think he forgot it...you did say 'Mani or Tooey,' didn't you?"
She looked back at the waiting creature, awed. She couldn't quite believe what she'd heard.
"He just...named himself."
"I believe you did that for him," Moon Wolf said.
Charmian sighed. "I'm starting to feel like Noah here."
Justin was the only one who seemed to get it; the other two just stared at her. The manitou whistled, Ooh-aah?
"No, no, the first one was just...fine. Uh...excuse me a minute." She turned back to Moon Wolf. "This is all really interesting and everything...but I was kind of sent here in a hurry, so maybe it was important that I get here early?"
"I wasn't expecting you until the morning. You changed your plans?"
"I don't know how you were even expecting me in the first place!"
"Word travels on the Island." He moved back to sit down near the strange fire and waved her over. When she sat down Justin leaned against the wall and pretended to lose interest in what they were saying, while the manitou--Mani--whatever--huddled down in the corner again, looking like a furry brown bush with antlers. "You don't have to tell me why you changed your plans, but you should know I wasn't really prepared for you at the moment, so you might have to wait until morning anyway. I don't think anything would be much use at night, in the dark."
"Justin has a light."
Moon Wolf looked up at him. The young man flushed a little and put his hand over the necklace, which didn't appear to glow as brightly now that they were inside.
"Hm," the native said. "Well, I doubt he'll be here for long. He has other things to do, as do we."
"I may as well let you know what I intended to do. You're supposed to protect Red Bird, yet you hardly even know the ways of the Island, and you keep hiding behind others whom you believe are stronger than you."
Now Charmian flushed. "Well, it's not like I mean to--"
"Of course not, it's merely a reaction. But not a good one. If you and Red Bird were alone in the woods and trouble were to strike, would you jump behind her?"
"I--I don't know!"
"At this point in time, it looks as if you would. Which wouldn't make you a very good protector." He poked a stick in the fire and it made a sharp popping sound. Something small and bright burst from the flames, zooming around the room. Charmian and Justin both ducked as the fireling hissed and disappeared out the entrance, leaving a flaming trail behind it.
"I get those, sometimes..." Moon Wolf made a face and poked at the fire again before setting the stick down and resuming his speech. "What I was thinking is that you merely feel like a...hm...what is the phrase your people use...a 'fish out of the water,' as they say. Things are strange here for you, and often, rather than ask why, you decide to look as if you understand when you don't, and hide behind someone with more knowledge and strength than you." He waved at the fire. "That, for example. Don't tell me that didn't surprise you, yet you didn't even ask what it was."
Charmian felt like shrinking into the floor. "Well...you didn't offer to explain it, either."
"See? You wait for others to act. Take some initiative. Don't be afraid to look ignorant every so often, else you will be ignorant."
She remained silent for a moment, sulking, then said, "Well, what was it, then?"
"That thing that came out of the fire? I have no idea. That just happens sometimes." He shrugged and she nearly fell over.
"Also don't expect an easy answer every time. Sometimes there is none. But you should at least ask and find out, or wonder about it forever."
"Okay, fine...so I'll ask things more, and make myself look stupid." She grimaced. "But what about training? Everybody keeps saying I'll need some kind of training. Is that all it is, thought motivation or whatever?"
"'Thought'...? No, I don't think so. Whenever a GeeBee or a manitou appears, your first thought is to let the strongest person fight it. But if you are alone, or protecting one weaker than you, then you will need to be the one to fight."
"Red Bird's not weaker than me," Charmian groused.
"Perhaps you think so. We're all strong and weak in our own ways." He shifted his foot and stretched it a bit. "You're only weaker because you don't know how things work here. You've lived your life in a house, with lights and stoves and traveling carriages without horses. To you, a difficult day is getting your schoolwork done on time or making sure you're wearing the right clothing. This is not how things work here. You have to learn."
Charmian didn't bother replying. By now she felt as if she were receiving a lecture from one of her teachers, and she didn't need that here. She got enough of that in school. She managed to keep the tears in place behind her eyelids, but she still felt them burning there.
It's not like you ARE my teacher, she thought to herself. So you can't stand here and tell me what to do!
"Perhaps you're being a bit difficult..." she heard Justin say. "She's just a girl, you can't blame her for not knowing..."
"Then she'll either have to have a teacher, or she'll learn the hard way," Moon Wolf snapped. "Perhaps both. Remember how you learned? You didn't exactly make it across the ice safely on your first try--did you?"
Charmian looked to see Justin lower his head and cough sheepishly. Well, at least I'm not the ONLY one, she thought with annoyance.
She suddenly wished Drake were here, getting chewed out along with her. Now why would she think something like that?
"I'm not quite so exacting as to ask you to try anything tonight," Moon Wolf continued. He stood up and stretched, then kicked at the fire. "I believe there are a few more hours until daybreak. You can sleep here, since you went to all the trouble to arrive early."
"Oh." She glanced at Justin again. "Um...well, thanks for bringing me here...sorry for the trouble."
"Really, it wasn't," he hastened to say, holding up his hands. "Ahm...Mr....Moon Wolf...if you don't mind, I would like to stay here for the rest of the night as well...I believe it was starting to rain, and it doesn't seem worth the time to head back now."
"If you can make yourself comfortable on the floor, you're welcome to stay. The same for him, I suppose." He waved absently at the manitou. "This place is getting far too crowded, but I guess..." He trailed off mumbling to himself, kicking the fire again and dodging a few more firelings that popped up and flew away.
Charmian sighed. She stood in the middle of the room and watched him as he moved around, spreading out some furs, snapping at Justin to get out of the way, smacking a straggling fireling to the ground as if it were a giant fly, and putting some ashes on the fire. She reached down and picked the pathetic creature up. It seemed to be unconscious, but still alive. She wasn't sure what to do with it, so let it dangle from her hand, holding on to one wing and making certain to keep out of Moon Wolf's way. Her eyes were ready to start brimming over. He'd seemed so polite the first time she'd "met" him.
"Try not to mind," Justin murmured to her, and she almost jumped, not expecting him to be standing there. "He's...well...he tends to get a little...you know...when looking after others. Perhaps I'm just used to it and you're not."
"TIME TO SLEEP!" another voice practically bellowed, and Justin flinched away, retreating to the other side of the room. Though she didn't like the yelling, she was a bit relieved that he chose to sleep over by the manitou, who just stared at her the whole time, as if waiting to be called.
She turned away and toward the furs Moon Wolf was gesturing at. When she reached them she noticed she still held the unconscious fireling, and set it on the floor, carefully nudging it away from her. It wouldn't be pleasant to wake up with her bed on fire.
These are the people I'm going to have to deal with, she thought as she lay down and shut her eyes with another sigh. A conked-out fire elemental next to my bed. A manitou who wants to be my own personal Jeeves sitting over in the corner. A French guy who turns into a demon. An Indian who won't stop yelling at me.
And as it had so many times before, sleep came and went far too quickly only to end up interrupted yet again. She gasped and opened her eyes to darkness when something boomed far overhead, causing the entire cave room to shake. Pebbles and bits of rock broke free, pelting her face and pattering to the ground around her; the tremor came again, followed by a faint whispering shushing sound, which started to grow louder as the room grew colder. The whispers started to take the form of high far-off laughing and her heart seemed to shrink, her fingers pulling the furs up as if to cover herself completely.
I knew I forgot someone, she thought in a panic. Giant evil windlings who want to eat me for breakfast!!