TITLE: Homeward Bound
GENRES: Fantasy, drama, emotional, mythology.
SUMMARY: The Rainbowbringer decides to return home...but will he be accepted?...
WRITING STATUS: Completed.
WRITING DATE: Circa 2002.
LENGTH: 4300+ words.
CONTENT WARNINGS: None.
COPYRIGHT: This story and all characters, unless otherwise stated in the Disclaimers, are copyright © tehuti_88 and may not be used or distributed without permission. The reader is free to print out or download a copy of this story for offline reading as long as the author's copyright information remains upon it. Please do not distribute; if you wish to share this story, send a link to this page.
DISCLAIMERS: Ocryx and his "species" are © the Haunted Theatre of Mackinac Island. Certain characters are from Ojibwa mythology. Although aspects of this story are loosely based on Ojibwa mythology and culture, artistic license has been taken as this is a FANTASY story. Please take note that this story was written around 2002 and that my writing style and understanding of the mythology I created may have changed vastly in the meantime.
ADDITIONAL INFO: NA.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This short story ties in with the Manitou Island serials listed above; as such, it might not make much sense out of context. Please see "Rainbowbringer" for the immediate prequel to this story. Seeing as rejection is a major recurring theme in the Manitou Island series, where different characters are either feared or rejected outright simply because of who and what they are--and seeing as I know the feeling all too well myself--I felt I should explore this in regards to one of the more prominent "halfling" characters on the Island, X'aaru. What do you do when you don't fit into either of the worlds of your birth...?
HE FELT SAFEST right before dawn, when it was still dark enough out to move about unseen, yet not so pitch black that every shadow frightened him. So that was when he decided it would be best to set out.
He didn't tell the old manitou woman before he left. He knew she would most likely try to deter him from going; and most likely, he would let her. He didn't like arguing, and he didn't like disobeying her; still, he badly wanted to go and see for himself if what she'd told him was true. He had no reason to disbelieve her, but...he had to know.
He crept into the main room where she slept, a few fireflies in a birchbark lamp dimly lighting the place. He sniffed at the air, making certain she was still asleep. She could be tricky that way; many times in his youth she'd fooled him into thinking she was asleep when she wasn't, but he'd since learned to tell the difference. She let out a soft snore, so he knew it was safe. He trod silently across the sandy floor and out the entrance, into the cool dim air. He shivered at the mist which licked at his fur, and sniffed the air again. Then he turned and wandered away into the woods.
Not too far from here, as he'd never gone too far from home, he'd first met the one who prompted him to ask the old woman who he really was. He'd been nothing more than a pup, large in size, yes, but still quite young, tumbling about through the woods; when a large looming shadow had brought his play to an abrupt halt. Looking up, he'd seen...a face strangely like his own. When he'd never seen anyone like himself before. He'd seen only the old woman, and, from a distance, others who looked basically like her. He'd thought he was the only one of his kind, until then.
The larger version of himself--with wide-spanning horns and flaring wings--had gaped down at him with wide eyes. He'd stared back, his own eyes huge, before instinct took over. Here was another like himself...surely they should know each other? He'd lifted his head and sniffed tentatively at the larger creature's muzzle, hoping it would do the same. The fact that there was another out there, like himself, was an exciting prospect. How many others were there besides the two of them? Did they know each other? His tongue had lolled out, and he'd wagged his tail in greeting.
Instead of greeting him back, however, the larger creature had responded by raising his hackles and growling, a loud, harsh sound that made him shrink back in on himself with a whimper. A sharp bark then sent him running off toward home, yelping, tail between his legs. He'd spent the rest of the day curled up behind a rock in Sugar Loaf, whining and trembling. Not even offers of food from the old woman could draw him out for many hours. He wasn't certain if she'd understood...it hadn't been so much fear that had kept him back there...it had been disappointment.
If one of his own kind had rejected him, then who else?
Upon crawling out from behind the rock, he'd found her seated at the fire, tending to their dinner. He'd approached with his tail and wings drooping and sat down next to her, a small dejected furry lump. She'd placed her hand upon his head and stroked his ears. To this day he remembered their conversation.
"Who was he, Grandmother?"
"That, boy, was your father."
"My...my father? I have one?"
"Yes, little one, and a mother and a family too. We all have them, even if we do not know them well."
"If...if he was my father...then why did he growl at me like that?"
"Because he is afraid of you, boy. I am sorry you must learn it this way...but your kind is a solitary creature. They keep to themselves; they do not play about with others of their kind."
"But...wouldn't they get lonely that way?"
She'd paused. Then,
"Yes...they would. And they do. But they prefer it that way."
"If he is my father, then...my mother...would she treat me the same way? Would she growl at me like that?"
"I do not believe so, boy. Your mother is different. She would not turn you away..."
That conversation had been very long ago, and they had not repeated it since. Still, her last words had remained with him to this day. And now, for some reason, he felt compelled to find out if they were true. His father had rejected him...would his mother do the same?
He had to know.
She'd told him one other bit of information that had startled him, not long after that...his mother, apparently, was not the same kind as his father. She was human, in appearance similar to Old Mother Manitou. This confused him, but he didn't ask her to clarify further. If his father was a demon, and his mother human, why should it matter? He didn't care what she was, he just needed to know if she would turn him away or not.
This was where his anxiety arose. The old woman had warned him before of the humans. They did not like his kind. This was why he had been raised at Sugar Loaf, because they would not accept him. His mother, it appeared, even though she did not reject him, would have had to bend to their will eventually. And so he had been left with Old Mother Manitou to raise him, and he had never known his true family. The old woman had never let him too close to the humans, either, as, she'd told him, they would not like to see his approach. No matter how curious he'd been, he'd always kept away from their kind, even when he'd longed so much to join the children in their play. They looked so happy...why did he always have to be alone?
He'd never pressed the matter until now. He stopped and sniffed at the air to make certain he was on the right path, then continued.
His mother had left him a gift, the old woman had said. She'd gained it on visiting the woman's tribe, and brought it back to him where he'd eagerly examined it. It was a covering of soft doeskin, trimmed at the edges with fur and beaded in the center with a graceful yet simple design. An arcing band of color spread from edge to edge, with various other symbols around it. "Look, boy!" Old Mother Manitou had said on giving it to him. "That's your name, right there. She called you that. Actually, she called you something else, but I could hardly pronounce it. Doubt anyone else could, either. But this is what it meant. I hope you treasure this, it must have taken quite a while to make. Silver Eagle Feather was never much one for crafts, she was always more interested in plants and herbs and such..."
Silver Eagle Feather. He felt the old woman hadn't even been aware she'd given him this information, the name of his mother. He'd taken the covering back to his bed with him and nuzzled against it as he slept. He'd never slept so peacefully before; it was as if she was there, with him. Her scent was upon it; he even swore he dreamed of her, though he didn't know her face. And when he'd awoken, he'd done so with tears in his eyes, to find it had been only a dream after all.
It had taken him a while longer to decide to go. Maybe the old woman had meant him to go, and had given him the covering for that purpose, so he would seek out his mother. Whatever it was, he now walked slowly through the woods, following the faint scent. His nose was very acute, as were those of all his kind, the old woman had said. He sought out a scent similar to the one upon the doeskin covering and it was a short time before he found it, but find it he finally did. His ears pricked up and his wings lifted with hope. He carried the doeskin draped over his back to lend him courage, and just in case he forgot the scent, though he knew he wouldn't. He could sense her now, further away than he'd ever gone on his own, but he had to find her. He had to see the one who so far hadn't rejected him. Yet.
He didn't stop to think what he would do if she did turn him away. He knew he couldn't bear to think about it. Picking up his pace, he ambled down a slope and among the trees, following the faint trail.
The sun began to rise, lighting the land; eventually the dew dried from his paws and he yawned. A stray butterfly floated overhead, its wings the color of an evening sunset interlaced with tree silhouettes; he smiled at it, as it reminded him of the one thing he could do well. He allowed it to distract him for a bit before he went on his way. He loved colorful things; they always took his mind off of sadness. Once it had disappeared into the treetops he reminded himself of where he was going and what he was supposed to be doing, and with a sigh, he continued.
He had been far away from Sugar Loaf with Old Mother Manitou before, but never on his own. And never quite in this direction, along this path. For a path did emerge into the woods, smelling strongly of humans, and he followed it. Maybe it would lead to where he wanted to go. He hoped that should he meet anyone hostile, that they would run rather than attack, as he wasn't sure if his wings would carry him away quickly enough. Though truthfully, he hoped they would do neither. He didn't want to frighten anyone away.
He put his nose to the ground and snuffled as he went along. Many people had been traveling this way, and recently. The scent he was looking for was not among them, though. Perhaps that meant nothing; he had smelled it, before. To keep himself preoccupied along the long, winding trail, he started trying to differentiate the scents, storing them in his memory for when he should catch them later. This, at least, kept him from worrying that he might not find her after all. It also gave him the opportunity to see many interesting things, with his face so close to the ground. He went over roots and rocks and hills and back down again, and made certain to examine every insect and spider and snake he came across along the way. As such, he went very slowly, though by now, it didn't matter very much.
Something suddenly snapped ahead of him and he heard a gasp. His head jerked up and he saw someone standing before him in the path, eyes wide and mouth hanging open. His ears pricked. It was a human, but not a woman; he carried a bow over his shoulder, and for a moment he was afraid the man would shoot him. For a long moment they stood staring at each other, unmoving.
Finally, he allowed himself to tentatively sniff at the air, trying to pick up the man's scent. The man seemed to be more afraid of him than he was of the man, if the look on his face was any indication; he didn't move, lest he disturb him and cause him to let an arrow fly. It was another moment or two before the man seemed to untense, just slightly, from his anxious pose, his look growing a bit confused. The man stood and stared while he continued to sniff at the air, and eventually he seemed to realize he wouldn't be attacked. He even took a step or two forward, and his scent became clearer. He held up one hand, and this was inspected also, nose snuffling at the fingers.
He was too busy sniffing to notice that the man was more interested in something else. When he felt a weight leave his shoulders, and saw the man take a step back, holding on to the doeskin covering, he let out a yelp and started so abruptly that the man gasped again and backed away. But he still held the covering. He barked with dismay and hopped from paw to paw, desperate to get it back but not certain what to do.
The man stared at him a moment more before taking another step back and unfolding the covering. He held it up before himself and looked it over. A whine rose in the watcher's throat; he wished he'd never come this way, if his beloved belonging was going to be so easily stolen. The man made no move to run away with it however. Instead he lowered it slightly, a puzzled look on his face. He finally spoke, and his voice was faint.
"Silver Eagle Feather..."
Ears pricked. He lifted himself out of a crouch on hearing the name. The same name the old manitou had spoken! The man noticed his interest and turned toward him. He held up the covering and the watcher's tail slipped from side to side.
"This is yours?" the man asked. "It was given to you. This is your name?"
The man traced his fingers over the rainbow pattern. The watcher wagged his tail again, whimpering and bouncing slightly.
The man seemed to finally understand. He lowered the covering and his expression changed. He squinted at him a bit, as if trying to be certain, then relaxed. He carefully held up the covering, and extended it toward him, but the watcher was too wary to approach outright.
"You do not remember me, then," the man said. "I carried you the day you were born. Your mother was tired. Two days she stayed in the woods before you were born."
His eyes widened. The man apparently knew him, but he had no idea who this was. On seeing his surprise the man smiled and held out the covering again.
"I know it belongs to you. I hadn't meant to take it from you, I just needed to see it. I was there when she gave it up, to be taken to you."
He stared at the man for another moment before taking a tentative step forward and taking hold of the corner of the covering in his teeth. The man let it go and he pulled back with it, setting it gently on the ground in front of him. He lifted his head and stared at him again with wide eyes. The man adjusted his bow over his shoulder and smiled at him again.
"You're nothing like your father, it seems."
His eyes grew wider. The man knew his mother, and his father! His surprise must have shown, for the man blinked, then furrowed his brow.
"You...have a name, don't you? The symbol upon the blanket? I was never told exactly what it was, only that it was in this picture."
The watcher lowered his head a little, looking meek. He averted his eyes. When he finally managed to summon his voice, it came out as nothing more than a whisper.
The man blinked, seeming confused. He'd known the reaction would be thus, and whined softly. The man shook his head a little and offered a smile. He gestured at the covering.
"Your name...what does it mean? Rainbow?"
"Rainbowbringer." He still whispered, but the man could hear him. He nodded and stepped aside, gesturing now at the path still meandering before them.
"You came to look for her...did you? I can take you to her. She lives with my tribe."
The watcher's ears pricked again. He lifted his head with hope in his eyes, and the man smiled and waved at him, taking a step forward.
"Come. It's not too far; you were going the right way."
He started off, and the other had no choice but to follow, or be left behind. He replaced the covering on his back and trotted to catch up, but refrained from stepping up beside the man, instead walking a little ways behind him. He had to struggle to get his voice to work, and it still came out much quieter than he'd intended, so he hoped it could be heard.
"You...you know my mother?"
The man turned his head slightly to the side, then continued walking. For some reason he was relieved he didn't look back at him. "Yes. I joined her tribe a long time ago. She's a skilled medicine woman."
"Do you know my father?"
He sensed the slightest pause in the man's step, and cringed inwardly. He still received an answer, though he now spoke in a subdued tone.
"Yes...most know him."
"He was...like me?"
"Yes. An Ocryx."
This was the first time he'd ever heard a name other than demon or monster applied to his kind. "Ocryx?" he said, slowly, rolling the word on his tongue. He saw the man nod.
"Yes. This is the name of your kind...the wolf demons...and also the name of your father."
"So...so I am an Ocryx."
Another nod. This time the man did peer back at him. "You were never told?"
The Ocryx shook his head. "No...I've only been called demon before." He lifted his head and his ears flicked. "Your name...I don't know your name."
"Stick-In-The-Dirt," the man said, and the Ocryx smiled now, for a moment forgetting his earlier anxiety.
"'Stick-In-The-Dirt'...this is the first name I've heard, besides Silver Eagle Feather."
He hoped that they could speak more, as he found he liked conversing with another aside from the old manitou woman. He'd never spoken with anyone besides her before, and found it very interesting. Unfortunately, at that moment the trail took another turn, and rounding it, he could see a clearing not too far ahead, with people moving about. He nearly froze, and continued only because he would have been left behind otherwise. The trees and undergrowth shielded them from the people's view, while allowing them a peek into the camp; only when they had practically set foot into the clearing itself did all activity cease, everyone freezing in midstride and gawking at them. Or rather, at him. This time he did pause, his heart squeezing in on itself. After the briefest moment of silence, activity resumed, though not the same as before.
Most of the children who had been playing about the clearing ran shrieking back to the wigwams, scurrying inside. Many of the women did the same, and some of the men; several of these latter emerged again with weapons drawn. The Ocryx, who had started to follow Stick-In-The-Dirt across the clearing, now froze again, hunching close to the ground and letting out a terrified whine. There wasn't a friendly face to be seen among the bunch.
He felt Stick-In-The-Dirt tug lightly on his wing, and had to continue. They were accosted by one of the braves, who stopped in front of Stick-In-The-Dirt and whispered at him harshly.
"What are you doing leading that in here? Have you lost your mind?"
"It's all right," Stick-In-The-Dirt retorted, keeping his voice low. "I wouldn't lead him in here otherwise. You know this."
The Ocryx's ears twitched--how would he know this?--but the man backed off slightly, still giving him a vicious glare as they passed. The Ocryx didn't meet his eyes. He didn't want to appear any more threatening than everyone apparently thought he was. A small boy approached, his finger in his mouth, peering up at him with large eyes, and the demon sniffed to catch his scent; but just as abruptly the boy's mother appeared, snatching him up with a withering look and dashing away. The Ocryx's wings sank and he hurried a bit to get away from the others, and to draw closer to Stick-In-The-Dirt. They both approached one of the wigwams at the far side of the clearing, and he nearly ran into the man when he halted and held up his hand, motioning for him to stop.
"Wait here a moment. I won't take long."
He approached the closest wigwam, a depiction of an antler on its blanket, and disappeared inside. The Ocryx had no choice but to sit where he was, casting nervous glances left and right. Nobody came near him, but he could feel their eyes boring through him. He felt he'd made a big mistake coming here. The old manitou woman had been right about them. It was obvious they didn't want him around, even though he'd done nothing wrong. At least, he didn't remember doing anything wrong. Perhaps just by coming here he'd broken some sort of taboo.
A rustling noise came from the doorflap of the wigwam, and he stiffened. It was pushed to the side and the man stepped out again. He gave the Ocryx what seemed to be a sympathetic look, then walked away. The Ocryx turned his head to watch him go, panic rising up inside him. So far, this person had been the only one to not be afraid of him. What would he do without him nearby--?
Another noise from in front of him caught his attention, and his head whirled around. His eyes widened when he found himself staring at a woman, who stared back at him, her hand still on the doorflap. She was the same as any of the others he'd seen so far, yet...different. Her hair was long and glossy, several strands falling forward around her face, the rest braided or tied with feathers and bits of hide. She seemed both old and young at the same time. What truly caught his attention, though, was her eyes. From what little he'd seen of the eyes of the rest of the people in the camp, they were dark brown or black. This woman's eyes were a rich green.
He slowly got to his feet, unable to stop staring at her. Her own reaction was similar; she let go of the doorflap and stepped outside, standing straight, her own eyes focused on his. She seemed surprised to see him. It was the same way he felt.
Her gaze finally wandered down to notice the covering he carried over his back. He heard her suck in a breath but she said nothing.
Confused, he stretched out his neck a bit and sniffed at the air, seeking her scent. The breeze was blowing in the wrong direction, so it was a moment before he could smell it. When he finally did, a strange sense of joy, relief, anxiety, and terror filled him. The scent was the same one as on the covering. This was the person he'd been looking for.
And so now what was he supposed to do?
They stayed standing as they were for a long while, saying nothing. He began to feel like fidgeting, even though he knew it would be rude. After several moments he began to realize that nothing would ever happen unless one of them reacted. With great trepidation he clamped his teeth over the corner of the covering again and pulled it from his back, gently settling it on the ground in front of him. He then lifted his eyes to meet her own.
She stared at him a moment more before slowly leaning down and picking the covering up. He watched her as she unfolded it and looked it over. He blinked a few times when her eyes started to glimmer, a tear sliding down her cheek. He whimpered again. He hadn't meant to make her cry!
Instead of seeming upset, however, she lifted her head to look at him and smiled softly. But her eyes were still crying. His ears flicked in confusion; he couldn't understand how somebody could smile and cry at the same time. She came toward him and he instinctively hunched in on himself, squeezing his eyes shut when she was right in front of him. He felt something settle itself over his wings, and opened his eyes in surprise to see that she had draped the covering over him like a cape. He met her eyes once more.
She smiled at him again and reached out her hand.
His eyes widened. She said the name perfectly, not mispronouncing a single syllable. Her fingers met his cheek and ruffled the fur there, a soft touch that sent tingles through him. Her eyes were so green, like his own.
The sight of her blurred. He felt heat in his eyes, then his vision cleared again when the tears spilled down his cheeks, dampening the fur. He'd almost expected her to not be there anymore, but she was. His chest started hitching, and he found he had absolutely nothing to say. He couldn't even say, "Mother?" to verify if it was truly her or not. His throat stuck, and not even the smallest noise would come out.
She seemed to understand him anyway. He felt her arms encircle his neck, and pressed his head to her shoulder, shutting his eyes and taking in a breath. She smelled just like the covering, only stronger; and she was warm. For some reason that was what struck him the most. Aside from Old Mother Manitou cradling him to sleep sometimes, he'd never been held before. He hadn't known something could be so warm and comforting. All of the fear and hesitation he'd felt earlier evaporated and he whimpered and burrowed his head against his mother while the other members of the tribe stood around at a distance and watched.
And it was strange, how hard he cried, yet he didn't even feel sad. And her arms didn't let him go, not once.