Manitou Island: Part 71
CHARMIAN GAPED. A little rabbit no longer stood before her, where she had dropped him; instead, what appeared to be a native stood there now, scowling and dusting bits of glitter from his arms. Like Stick-In-The-Dirt, he wore two upright feathers like a rabbit's ears, but he didn't wear two in back as the medicine man did; the buckskin he wore wasn't the usual color, but instead a darker brown, the same color as the fur of the rabbit she'd been holding. His eyes were just as dark as the rabbit's, and he had the same look he'd given her just before transforming. He didn't look at her again immediately, though. He peered over his shoulders and examined himself for more of the glittery substance that had been covering him. All Charmian could do was stare.
Stick-In-The-Dirt stepped forward meekly. "Please forgive her," he said again. "Mainlanders, they can be ignorant sometimes--perhaps they've not heard of you, where she comes from."
"I thought everyone on the mainland had heard of me," the brave said now, scowling at them both.
"Well...perhaps, where my people came from, but she's from...well, she's from considerably later."
"What? A different time?" He looked at her with some curiosity now, then sighed. "Of course, I suppose it figures...and what century are you from?"
"The...the twenty-first," Charmian murmured, still in a daze.
"Twenty-first?" Now he looked at the medicine man again, waving at her with disbelief. "Even the Englishman is only from the late nineteenth, early twentieth! Where do you keep getting them? They just get more ignorant the further along they get!"
Stick-In-The-Dirt winced and started wringing his hands. "I apologize, truly...I can't explain it. Perhaps their teachers are ignorant..."
"I should think so." He turned back to Charmian with an aloof look. "So? Does she at least know what I am?"
"I have yet to ask..."
They both fell silent, so Charmian got the feeling she was intended to speak. She swallowed, and could only get her voice to come quietly, half formed.
"I'm...I'm assuming you're some kind of manitou..."
"Mm. Close," the brave said in a disinterested voice.
Stick-In-The-Dirt nudged her arm. "Half manitou...he is only half manitou. Part sandling, part human, like us."
"His father was manitou, his mother was part sandling, part human--"
"I'm standing right here," the brave said with annoyance.
Stick-In-The-Dirt flushed and ducked his head. "Apologies...I didn't mean to speak for you!"
"You apologize a lot."
"I'm...I'm sorry." Stick-In-The-Dirt looked confused.
Charmian's face screwed up. "So, what is he to you? You wouldn't be so tongue tied if he were just a nobody. Is he somebody important?"
Stick-In-The-Dirt chewed on the inside of his mouth as he tried to formulate a proper answer; the brave stood nearby and tapped his foot. The medicine man gave a flustered sigh.
"I can't think of the proper phrase...the Englishman told me a story once, of your people, of a giant named Bun-yan--"
"Bunyan? You mean Paul Bunyan?"
"Yes! This is the name...a man as tall as a tree with a giant blue...um...moose?"
"Yes--ox. He said a name for this Bun-yan, what he is to your people..."
Charmian frowned with some puzzlement. "You mean...a hero? A culture hero?"
Stick-In-The-Dirt snapped his fingers at her. "Yes! This is the word he used. 'Hero.' Why I can never remember it when I need to..."
"So...you're saying this guy is like our Paul Bunyan, a hero."
"Yes. Well. Sort of. Mar-cott made this Bun-yan seem as if he didn't exist." He waved at the brave. "This is obviously not so here."
Charmian sighed. "So this guy is your people's hero, right?"
"Similar...we don't have the words to express it."
"So what's his name and why's he such a hero and all?"
Stick-In-The-Dirt opened his mouth to answer but the brave stomped his foot. "Manabozho!" he yelled, annoyed. "My name is MANABOZHO!"
"Mana--" She stumbled over the odd name. "Manabozo?"
"BO-ZHO!" He said the last syllable stressing the zh as if it were the si in Persian.
Charmian just gave him a skeptical look. "We never read about you in Social Studies..."
Manabozho whirled on Stick-In-The-Dirt, fuming. "They hear of this giant blue moose and yet they never hear word one about me. What sort of teachers do they have on the mainland, anyway?"
The medicine man held up his hands in a supplicatory gesture. "I'm certain some have heard of you! The Englishman told me they tell stories in the south about a rabbit!"
"Oh, brother." Charmian rubbed her eyes. "Hold on. Time out. At least explain this, please--what have you got to do with rabbits already?"
"My name," Manabozho said, and he gave her an unpleasant look. "You don't know what it means? Useless teachers..."
"Great Rabbit," Stick-In-The-Dirt filled in. "This is what Manabozho means."
"Great Rabbit...?" Charmian trailed off as she remembered what she and the medicine man had been discussing not that long ago. The rabbit she'd found in the snow; the rabbits she'd seen in her "vision"; the strange little rabbit that showed up and had turned into this guy, the "Great" Rabbit. She turned and stared off in the direction of Arch Rock.
"There was this little rabbit in the snow..."
"Yes, yes," Manabozho said impatiently. "He died and passed over the rock. He told me of this though. That when he was in pain you gave him shelter. I supposed it was the least I could do to help you out, but apparently it's gone unappreciated."
"You help me out?" Charmian returned. "What are you talking about? I haven't seen you before!"
"Yes you did. Stupid mainlander. You passed over the rock yourself, you know!"
"Passed--?" Charmian stared at him as realization dawned. "You...you mean I...died...?"
Manabozho rolled his eyes and sighed. "You needn't be so melodramatic about it...it's not as if it never happens. You were just one of many."
"Then...what am I doing back here?"
"The spirits there, they kindly informed me it wasn't your turn yet. Something about protecting somebody...or something..." He shrugged. "I really don't care. They don't stand up for anyone unless it's genuine. Far be it from me to disrupt the order of things, so I sent you back before you could cause any more trouble." He glared at her. "Do you have any idea how it's been down there since you arrived? Not one day passes when everybody isn't yapping about you."
"Beneath the rock! What did you think I was talking about, under the lake?"
Charmian turned to Stick-In-The-Dirt. "Stick, tell me what the hell's going on!!"
"You said you fell near the rock," Stick-In-The-Dirt said, holding up his hands again. "You fell and hurt yourself--badly--isn't this what you said?"
"You must have passed over because of your wounds. The halfling spirits saw you go. They must know your purpose here--they told Manabozho to bring you back. So he did." He waved his hands at the brave. "You owe him your life, you know! You should be grateful--the Great Rabbit doesn't bring back just anybody!"
Manabozho seemed just slightly placated by Stick-In-The-Dirt's words. He stood up a bit self-importantly and pretended to dust more of the glitter from himself.
Charmian began to scowl. "So you mean that this WHOLE TIME I've been running for my life, all I had to do was just let it happen and HE would have brought me back anyway? What sort of JOKE is this?"
Manabozho held up one finger. "You begin to speak way out of your place. I brought you back only because the halflings requested it. If you die again, consider me uninvolved."
"So much for not messing with the order of things," Charmian spat. Manabozho's fists clenched and the two of them glared at each other, flashing the evil eye. Stick-In-The-Dirt quailed and stepped between them.
"Please, PLEASE! Can we just let up this petty fight? There are more important things to think of right now!"
"You're right." Charmian stood down, still giving Manabozho a dirty look. "I can deal with Mr. Chepi here later."
"Mister What--?" Manabozho exclaimed, voice rising.
Charmian ignored him and turned back to Stick-In-The-Dirt. "Remember you said if after an hour I didn't see any animal I could give it up? I think I give it up. Maybe I'm just not meant to have one. It seems Moon Wolf would've taught me that himself."
Stick-In-The-Dirt didn't look entirely convinced. Manabozho frowned, then looked to the medicine man himself, pointing at Charmian.
"She's the one who trained with Moon Wolf?"
Stick-In-The-Dirt nodded. "This...does this make a difference?"
"I'd heard there was a mainlander supposed to be training with him...doing pretty well, too...but I had no idea it was a girl." He looked her up and down and she felt like belting him.
"What's the matter?" she snapped. "Too hard to believe a girl could be trying to save the Island?"
"No," he replied. "Too hard to believe a girl would be training with Moon Wolf." When she opened her mouth to retort he added, "As if it means anything anyway."
"What does THAT mean?"
Manabozho's mouth twitched, an amused look she found infuriating. "It means I believe you wasted your time all this winter."
Charmian fumed. "Look, you. I COULD have spent all season sitting on my butt. Instead I learned how to throw spears and dodge arrows and walk over ice and find food under the snow. You think that's worth nothing? I'd like to see you do any better--though it would hardly be fair!"
"He taught you to walk over the ice?" Stick-In-The-Dirt murmured.
"You apparently misunderstand," Manabozho said calmly. "I didn't mean that YOU were the waste of time, for training with him. I meant that HE was the waste of time, for being the one to train you." He examined one hand as if disinterested. "If you had come to me first, I suppose I could have taught you things that actually mean something..."
Charmian chomped on her tongue. Stick-In-The-Dirt, seeming to sense her anger, came forward again.
"You mean, you offer to train her? You yourself?"
"Moon Wolf already did that," Charmian almost yelled. "I don't think I need any more from him."
"So I suppose he taught you how to make a fire using only your own medicine," Manabozho said. "Or how to talk to the fish to ask them for directions if you're lost. Or how to determine how many manitous are in the territory you're within at any given moment, and whether they're friendly or not, and what element they're aligned to. I suppose he taught you all this? And more?"
Charmian stared at him for a moment, mind blank. After a minute or two she blinked and her head lowered a little.
"No," she finally admitted, almost in a mumble. "He didn't teach me any of that..."
"And I suppose, neither would you be interested in learning," Manabozho went on, lifting his nose at her.
Her fists clenched again. "There's no need to rub it in. I got by just fine without any of that!"
"And you can continue to get by just fine? When you're lost in the woods in the cold and there are manitous all around you?"
Stick-In-The-Dirt touched Charmian's arm and she glanced up at him. He didn't look at her, but at Manabozho.
"You'll teach her all this?" he said. "For no cost?"
"No cost...?" Manabozho stared at him. Then he gave an annoyed sigh. "Fine. I had expected at least some kind of offering, for saving her life...you think it would mean something...but I can waive that, I suppose. Mainlanders have no sense of what to offer anyway."
"I already trained under Moon Wolf!" Charmian exclaimed.
Stick-In-The-Dirt squeezed her arm and hissed in her ear. "Think on it. Moon Wolf is a human, like us. You have the chance to train with the son of a manitou! The Great Rabbit doesn't train just anybody! Think of what you'll learn that can help you protect Red Bird. Training you'd never get from any of us!"
"I'm tired of training!"
He looked ready to start jumping up and down and tearing at his feathers. "Would you rather get caught in a situation in which you might need this wisdom, without it?"
Charmian ground her teeth together. "Fine. But only if HE stops with the attitude."
Manabozho flared. "Likewise!"
Now Charmian whirled on him and held up a finger--she would have liked to hold up a different one. "Look, I'm only acting like this because you had to start it all off on the wrong foot."
"I tend to be like that when I don't get a simple offering or SO MUCH AS A THANK YOU!!"
Charmian balled her fists and flailed her arms. "Fine! THANK YOU!!"
"YOU'RE WELCOME!!" He slammed his foot against the ground. "That's ALL I wanted!" He turned once more to Stick-In-The-Dirt, and when he spoke now, his voice was calm and pleasant, and the two of them started talking as if negotiating a deal. "Now, is this training meant to be an immediate thing, or an after-the-winter thing?"
"I would think immediate--though she does have other business, taking care of Red Bird."
"This is another matter, will she be staying with me, or living elsewhere while training?"
"I should say living elsewhere...at Sugar Loaf. She can travel to where you might be."
"So that would mean it wouldn't be daily, I would say a few times a week. To avoid so much crisscrossing through the snow. Has she a reliable means of transport?"
"She has a manitou she can ride, or an Ocryx or a GeeBee who may take her."
"Good, because I haven't the time to be taking her back and forth so often. Who will provide her feeding?"
"I thought perhaps you could do so."
"Well...I hardly have enough with all the rabbits. How about I provide for her feeding every other visit, and you or one of the others take care of it the rest of the time."
"This is arrangeable. But what if she should be injured as a result of your training? Will you be the one to tend to her?"
"Oh, I suppose I can do this; but if I'm otherwise occupied, then one of her rides can take her back to Sugar L--"
"What the HELL is this?!" Charmian cried. The other two stopped talking to look at her. She glared at them both. "Do you guys even remember that I'm standing right HERE?!"
They stared at her for a moment, as if asking, "Is that all?" before turning back to face each other again.
"And in the event none of her rides can bring her, who will provide her transport?"
"You must have some connections. You can arrange something to get her there."
"All right, agreed; I'll send a manitou or something. So are we agreed that she comes to visit every...first, third, and fifth day?"
"This seems a bit much for her...how about every second and sixth day."
"Every second and sixth day, and should it be necessary, the fifth day also."
"Half of the fifth day."
"This is arrangeable."
"Oh, that's IT." Charmian pointed at Manabozho, then at Stick-In-The-Dirt. "You're my mom, you're my dad, and now you're DIVORCED." She turned and stalked away to sit on the rocks.
Manabozho frowned at the medicine man. "Did she just insinuate that I'm a woman...?"
"So, every second and sixth day, and half of the fifth, and she stays at Sugar Loaf and provides her own transport and half of the food, but you provide healing if she's injured, food every other visit, and free training. This is agreed?"
Charmian dropped her head into her hands and groaned. "Please make them stop. I was just supposed to SIT out here for an hour to look for a dumb ANIMAL, not be bargained over like some stupid custody battle!"
"Animal?" Manabozho echoed. She heard Stick-In-The-Dirt reply.
"We came here to seek her spirit animal; but aside from your rabbits, we haven't had much luck. Perhaps another day."
"Why did you not point this out sooner? It would have saved some time. I don't see why you insist on sitting around waiting for them to show up when all one has to do is just call them."
He snapped his fingers. Charmian's head jerked up when she heard a faint flitting, fluttering sound in the air. Something came darting her way, zooming over her head with a barely audible squeak; she ducked and yelled, tossing up her arms to protect herself. It veered away, only to return and latch itself onto her arm. She screamed and started waving her arm wildly to toss it off before she saw what it was, and stopped jerking around, eyes growing.
"Huh...?" She blinked when she saw the little bat from Sugar Loaf Rock clinging to her elbow. She peered up at her with tiny glittering eyes, and opened her mouth, letting out a silent chirp. Charmian stood up.
"This is Old Mother Manitou's," she said, confused. "She told me to stop running off with her."
"Eh, she may as well be yours now," Manabozho said, waving dismissively. "Close enough. Her name's Apakwaanaajiin, though I suppose you could find a shorter name more suitable, since you mainlanders seem to have a problem with our real names..."
Charmian cast a look at Stick-In-The-Dirt. "This is my spirit animal?" she exclaimed. "A bat? A rabbit would be better than a bat! What the heck do they even do?"
Manabozho rolled his eyes. Stick-In-The-Dirt held up his hands once more, a bit desperate.
"I told you. Every animal with its strengths! A bat, well...they destroy vermin."
"And they can sense things others can't." His face brightened a bit. "They can find their way in the darkness without the help of another...and they can fly upon the wind undetected." He gave her a hopeful look. "Isn't all of this good and useful?"
"I...guess." Charmian just stared at the bat. The tiny creature's head twisted about and she squeaked again. The teenager found herself thinking of the time she'd wandered around the Island in the dark, with only Sikt to help her...and Sikt had chosen that time, conveniently, to shut up. She could have used a spirit animal then. Then she thought of Pakwa carrying her through the air, and of sensing the presences of the others upon the Island, and then of fighting off Kawaduk. He was vermin if she'd ever seen it.
"I guess," she echoed herself, with a bit more conviction.
Stick-In-The-Dirt appeared to relax. He looked to Manabozho, who stared at them both with arms crossed.
"Is that all then? Is it a deal?"
The medicine man nodded. "Yes--this is all. We have a bargain."
Manabozho yawned and stretched, turning and wandering away. "Good. I need my sleep, which she so thoughtfully interrupted when she decided she just HAD to die..."
Stick-In-The-Dirt watched him go, his form eventually shrinking and hopping off as a tiny dark blur in the snow, before letting out a great gust of breath. He held his hand to his head.
"That was all too close...you have to learn how to show more respect for some around here!" He turned to her to make his point. "Think of what you could probably be doing by now, if you learned common courtesy!"
Charmian only continued staring at the tiny furry mass clinging to her elbow. Her brow furrowed with disappointment.
"I was hoping for a bobcat, or something..."