Manitou Island: Part 72
The Sum Of Her Parts
AS MUCH AS she hated to admit it, training with Manabozho wasn't quite as irritating as training with Moon Wolf had been. Charmian realized Moon Wolf had most likely been the way he had only to motivate her...but one could take only so much of being ambushed with sharpened sticks while walking innocently through the woods, or being tripped on her way to go to the bathroom, or being yanked up into the trees while looking for mushrooms. Even GeeBees weren't so rude as to grab at her wherever and whenever she went.
Manabozho's approach was somewhat different, not quite as militant. It was true that she still had to keep on her guard just in case he swung a stick at her. But a good deal of the time they spent staring at the fish swimming around in the few streams that hadn't frozen over...he claimed he could hear them talking, though she wondered if he was just insane. He claimed the same thing about the birds and deer and she figured that if he really was hearing things, then she must have lucked out because animals must yap like there was no tomorrow.
Today, she was standing in a clearing with one hand glued to a large boulder, an annoyed expression upon her face. The past few visits he'd been telling her to do this, for as long as she had to, so she would stand out in sun or snow with her fingers going numb against the stone. She fidgeted and planted one foot against the opposite knee, then switched. If her fingers froze to the rock, she knew who she was going to kick first.
The cold was seeping even through her leather boots as Manabozho appeared, walking slowly toward the clearing in which she stood. She shifted from foot to foot and chattered and hoped he brought something warm to eat. He was peering curiously at something in his hand, occasionally tipping it and shaking it, then turning it over and examining it again. As he came closer she saw it was something wrapped in colorful paper, and cocked her head with puzzlement.
"Manabozho? What is that?"
"It's for you." He gave up on trying to figure out what it was, and handed it to her. She accepted it with her left hand and had to set it against her leg to try to open it. "That strange little fellow you hang out with. He left it and said it was a 'present.'"
"Drake? A present?" She blinked and tore at the paper. "He must mean for Christmas! Leave it to him to remember something like that." She had to keep herself from smiling; this was certainly unexpected, but thoughtful.
"Careful," was the only thing Manabozho said. "Don't take your hand off the rock."
"Yeah, yeah yeah." She tore open the end of the package and poked her hand inside, feeling about and grasping what was within. Manabozho stood and watched and she could tell he was as curious as she was. She pulled out what looked to be a leatherbound book, and turned it about a few times with puzzlement.
"I wonder why Drake would get me a book. That's funny. He must know me better than I thought."
"What is it about? Has it pictures at all?"
"Hold on a sec." Charmian crouched, sliding her hand down the side of the rock and setting the book on the snow. She pulled open the lock keeping it shut and popped it open to look at the subject page. She nearly jumped back when cookies met her eyes instead, and started laughing.
"Oh, go figure. He gets me a book, and then he fills it with cookies!"
"Cookies?" Manabozho's brow furrowed and he lifted up the book as Charmian took one, peering underneath it and at its sides. Charmian took a bite from the cookie she held and had to talk around it.
"It's hollowed out. I'm guessing he got it from Marcott. A trick book for holding stuff. Usually jewelry, but it stands to reason Drake would use it to hold a stash of sweets." She started laughing again. Manabozho frowned and set it down upon the snow.
"It has a piece of paper sitting in it."
"Oh." Charmian swallowed and fished out the slip of parchment hiding underneath the cookies. She dusted off the crumbs and unfolded it.
I know you're real busy lately with that Rabbit guy, and he's probably starving you to death and taking away all the food you bring with you, so I thought I'd send these along! I got them from Mr. Marcott! The book too! Neat, huh?
Anyway, Old Mother Manitou told me that tonight's the longest night of the year, and that's the solstice or something, and I remember reading in school that the winter solstice is like where they decided to put Christmas on the calendar, so I thought maybe you'd like a Christmas present! It might be a bit early 'cuz I forgot to ask Marcott what day it is! AAARRRGGGHHH!!! Whatever, close enough, right? :)
Well I thought you might like something with sugar in it to eat instead of all that dried meat and bark tea and stuff, that gets boring real fast, doesn't it? Let me know if this reached you and merry Christmas!
--Drake, though I bet you knew that already, ha ha! :)
Charmian's smile grew. Manabozho snorted over her shoulder.
He stood and started to turn away. Charmian held up the book.
"You want one?"
Manabozho turned back and blinked. He looked at the cookies and she could tell he hadn't expected to be offered any. After a moment he lifted his head and reached out to select one.
"Well...I suppose. You do owe me for what happened at Arch Rock."
"Uh-huh." Charmian rolled her eyes but his sarcasm wasn't enough to ruin her good mood. She slipped the book back into its wrapper and pushed it next to the rock, where it would be protected from any snowfall until she was ready to leave. She yawned and rubbed her freezing hand with a sigh.
"How many more times do I have to come out here and do this, anyway? At least with Moon Wolf I knew why I was learning what I was."
"Sometimes it's best to find out as you go along." He swallowed the cookie almost whole. "Like I said, Moon Wolf isn't the best teacher. Truly, what good is learning to walk over the ice? Without knowing how to speak to the fish below it to ask them for help in case you fall through?"
Another eye roll. "For all you say about talking with fish, I sure don't hear them replying much."
"They REPLY. You simply can't hear them!"
"Uh-huh. So tell me, what is it that fish like to talk about?"
"Things. They talk about fish things." He stood up now and she knew she'd annoyed him; she had to hide her smile again. "Just as birds talk about bird things, and foxes about fox things...use your head!"
"Okay," Charmian said in a condescending voice. Manabozho glared at her before turning away.
"Hey!" Charmian stood up and waved her free arm. "You didn't answer my question! How long do I have to stand out here--?"
She felt something both hot and icy at once bolt up her arm, searing her palm. With a gasp she yanked her hand free and fell to the ground. Manabozho looked back at her as she started rubbing her stinging hand, grimacing. He came back her way.
"I didn't take it off on purpose," she insisted, putting the tips of her fingers in her mouth. They were no longer numb, but prickling. "It was an accident. Something stung me."
"Stung?" He looked skeptical. "There are no bees or anything of the sort around here, just now."
"I'm telling you the rock stung me! I don't know how, it just did!" She scowled at her fingernails; the very tips were blackened as if with soot. "What the heck? Do rocks have an electromagnetic charge or something?"
"Elek--what did it do, again?" He knelt down beside the rock and looked it over.
"It stung me. Like a burn or something. Look at my fingernails! I think that is what it did, it burned me!"
"Touch it again and see what happens."
"You touch it!"
He placed his hand flat against the side of the rock and gave her a look. Charmian felt like growling.
"So it likes you. I guess it doesn't like ME!"
"Rocks do not like or dislike. I would think one with your education would know this?"
"Look. If you think I'm lying, then I can't change your mind. But at the very least you could give me the benefit of the doubt." She pressed her hand to the stone's surface again. "See? Nothing. It always happens when you're trying to prove a--"
And she yanked her hand away from the boulder again with a pained "OOWWW!!" She pressed it into the snow first of all, then blew on her singed fingers. Manabozho tilted his head with mild curiosity.
"Hm. It bit you again?"
"Stung me. It stung me." She sucked on her fingers. "What is it with this thing anyway!"
"What do you feel about it right now?"
"I want to break it to pieces with a hammer, that's what!"
Something flashed blue, then white. Charmian gasped and jumped to her feet when what looked to be a tendril of lightning passed over the surface of the boulder, just missing her. Her eyes grew.
"What the hell was that?"
Manabozho stood as well and looked the rock over. He touched it without any problem and examined its surface before stepping back. "Hmph. Maybe I haven't been wasting my time after all."
"Wasting your time what? I'm the one who's been standing out here all day--and now the rock decides to give me an attitude!" She shook her hand at the air and rubbed her elbow, trying to dispel the sting that still quivered through it like a banged funnybone.
"Touch it again. But don't be so rude to it this time."
"I said do it again! But try to be at least somewhat polite!"
Charmian stared at him in disbelief before letting out an exasperated sigh. "Oh, FINE. You and your talking fish and reasoning rocks!" She placed her hand against it--a bit tentatively this time--and said aloud, "My, what a nice day, what lovely weather, how're you doing Rock, I hope your day's been as good as mine, hope it's not too cold for you or anything, how about a cookie."
She stiffened and gasped. Another tendril shot up her arm, but this time it wasn't painful. Instead, the ache vanished from her limb, and it was as if she dipped her stinging fingers in warm water; the throb disappeared and she pulled her hand away slowly, looking it over with some confusion.
"Well? What?" Manabozho inquired.
"I...I'm not sure."
"Did it sting you again?"
Charmian shook her head. "No...it feels like...it put balm on it or something." Her face screwed up. "All right, now you've got me going nuts, too. Congratulations."
"Hold on a moment. You promised it a cookie, so give it one."
The request sounded absolutely insane, but by now she didn't even care. She sighed and knelt to retrieve the leather book from its wrappings, pulled out a cookie, and set it atop the rock. "There. Happy? Can we go now?"
Manabozho stared at the rock for a moment before waving his hand at her to stand up. "Come." He started walking away.
Charmian got up and followed. He went to a large maple tree and stopped, pointing at it.
"Put your hand there."
"On the tree?"
She bit her lip but didn't protest, instead pressing her palm to the bark. The two of them stood there in silence for a moment, waiting, but nothing happened.
"Funny," Charmian said after a while. "It must like me."
Manabozho pursed his lips and walked around the tree a few times, looking up into its branches, then down at its trunk. "Hm...do you like trees?"
"Do you like them? How do you feel about trees?"
She gave him a look. "Welllll...I built a fort in one, when I was little, if that means anything."
"Tree fort?" The idea seemed to be a new one to him.
She nodded. "And I...I pretended I was a pirate." When he glanced at her she flushed. "Don't laugh! I was little and I liked pirates!"
"Have you ever fallen out of a tree?"
"Well...yeah. I mean, that pretty much happens when you've got a tree fort."
"How did you feel then?"
"I almost broke my--OW!" She pulled her hand away from the tree with a flustered look. "Well great, now you've got the trees stinging me, too! What the heck's going on?"
Manabozho lifted his head triumphantly. "They sense your emotions," he said. "When you're angry, they feel your anger. When you're content, they feel your contentment. They reciprocate what you feel."
"What?" Even as the exclamation exited her throat she turned to look at the tree, then at her hand. She flexed her fingers and her brow furrowed with uncertainty. She remembered what had happened when she'd wielded the stick against Kawaduk...what Tal Natha and Silver Eagle Feather had spoken about afterwards. She shouldn't have been able to hurt him in that manner, with his own element...unless something about her had changed.
She looked back at Manabozho. "How...how did you..."
"Know?" He made a scoffing sound. "What do you think? My mother's mother was of the sandlings. When the earth is upset I feel it. You feel it as well. At least, you will."
"But I'm not an elemental!" Charmian's fingers curled in against her palm and she stepped away from the tree, almost unconsciously. "It must be some kind of--I don't know, some kind of fluke. The Island. They said maybe the Island was changing me."
He nodded. "This can happen. For those who stay here long enough."
"Long enough?" She stared at him. "Then what about Francois? He's been here a long time. And Marcott? And the Dupries family? And Drake? What about them?"
"You have noticed, obviously, the Frenchman's connection to the manitous," Manabozho said. "He observes and he learns. He travels from the mainland safely when he wishes. His connection is to the Great Water, and to the land, and to the mist which brings him here. The Frenchwoman is at ease among the trees and by the water and with the manitous. She has connected. The Drake speaks with the Uroona and mimics the GeeBee. He has connected. The Englishman, and the head of the Dupries family, they have closed minds and have not connected. They do not wish to. But they still have been changed. The Island changes all those upon it, for better or for worse. You are but one more of many. The only difference is the extent. Your connection, for some reason, is much stronger, and only continues to grow as the time passes. The elements are calling to you."
Charmian stared at him for a moment or two, everything he'd said slowly sinking in. Her fingers released their tight grip and the cool air flowed between them. It was the first time she'd noticed it. Suddenly, she noticed even the bumpy texture of the snow beneath her feet, and the whispering sound of the trees, and the particular shade of gray of the sky. She'd never noticed any of it before.
Her voice was as quiet as the shush up in the branches.
"What do I do with them?"
Manabozho crossed his arms. "For one thing, you stop shutting them out. You accept them, and listen to them. They've always been a part of you, but those on the mainland have long forgotten that. As such they lose a great amount of power by denying what is a part of them. Listen to what the elements have to tell you, and stop denying their importance."
"And then what?"
"And then you let them make you stronger. You could have accomplished much more in your time here...if you had only listened when they called to you."
Charmian was silent. She looked at her hands and thought of the feeling that had surged through her when she'd attacked Kawaduk, and Ocryana. The fearful looks in their eyes when they saw the power she'd held--their hopes that she would never understand it enough to make full use of it. She lifted her head and stepped forward.
"Will you teach me? How to listen to them? How to use them?"
His mouth twitched. "You're asking me?"
She nodded. "Will you help me figure out how to use them? To fight off Ocryana? To protect Red Bird?"
He looked her up and down, then sighed and shrugged.
"Well...as long as you're not planning on overtaking the Island..." He pointed at the snow. "Place your hand against it."
Charmian knelt and did as he'd said. The cold stung her fingers but she looked up at him as if to ask what next.
"Ask it for its medicine. Don't demand it. Ask for it. As humbly as you can. And then imagine yourself making use of what it gives to you."
Charmian bit her lip and shut her eyes. She felt foolish, asking snow for anything...but did so anyway.
Please...I'm not sure how to ask, but please help me out. Please give me some kind of sign that this will work...
She felt the cold creeping up her arm, and bit her lip harder, wanting to shiver. It felt as if frost crept under her fingernails, turning her skin blue and white. The insides of her eyelids laced over with snowflake patterns; her eyes crystallized. Her skin felt like the surface of a lake freezing over, tiny fissures and cracks forming in ice crystals. Her hair and eyelashes felt like the soft fluffy snow adorning the tops of trees; her fingers grew to icicles. Her insides froze over as she turned transparent and shiny with the cold.
"Hmph," Manabozho said.
Charmian's eyes popped open and she gasped. Her hand was still planted against the snow, the white melting around her fingers. This was not all that was there, now. A trail had melted down a slight slope, away from her hand, cutting a slice through the white surface; but instead of sinking into the snow and hardening, the melted water rose into the air in a frail arc, swirling and rippling from the tips of her fingers. She slowly lifted her hand, and the rippling trail of water moved with it. She brought her hand back, and the arc moved gracefully through the air. She thought of how the arc reminded her of Arch Rock--and as soon as she thought this, the water swirled and re-formed, coagulating into the rough outline of the rock monument. She thought of the waterfountain in her dream, and the stream thinned again, trickling against the snow, only for the droplets to rise up and rejoin the stream. She thought of a ball and the rope of water curled in on itself to form a floating sphere hovering inches above her fingers. This time she couldn't stop the smile that came across her face, and she laughed. "Wow," was the only word she could get out, and she laughed again.
"Impressive," Manabozho murmured. "Still very basic, but impressive for a mainlander."
Charmian was too busy lightly bouncing the water ball from one hand to the other to much notice what he'd said. The liquid pressed against her fingertips but didn't leave them wet. She smiled as if she'd just been given some intriguing new toy, and only reluctantly looked up at Manabozho when he crouched down in front of her, waving his hand to gain her attention.
"This is a pretty trick, but not very useful. The only thing you've done is proven that they speak to you, and that you can listen."
Charmian let the ball lower to the ground. It began to evaporate into snowflakes, which scattered back into the swath they had left, leaving it smooth and white as it had been before. "So what do I do now?"
"You determine if they are willing enough to help you whenever you should need it. The elements are only as helpful as we are thankful to them. To be ungrateful to an elemental is to lose its respect. You've been lucky, so far, that they still respect you, with how you've shunned them."
Charmian flushed a little bit with guilt. "So, how do I do that? What do I do to prove it?"
Manabozho placed his elbow on his knee and the corner of his mouth quirked up.
"I believe that facing another elemental would prove it admirably. An unfriendly elemental."