TITLE: The Prize
GENRES: Fantasy, drama, emotional, romance/love, cultural.
SUMMARY: What will Remy have to give up to win the ultimate prize?...
WRITING STATUS: Completed.
WRITING DATE: Circa 2005.
LENGTH: 11,800+ words.
CONTENT WARNINGS: Fantasy violence.
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 2005 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. For the serial Escape From Manitou Island, I created the new characters Remy LaCroix, the young (and nearly feral) son of voyageur/trapper Francois LaCroix and his second wife Crooked Creek, and Winter Born, the daughter of the chief Black Elk Horn and the medicine woman Silver Eagle Feather. (See "Winter Born" for her story.) I decided to look ahead to when these characters, who are around eleven in EFMI, are older, and it was no surprise to find that Remy and Winter Born made a nice couple. By the time this story takes place, both are full grown, around nineteen or so; Winter Born is following in her mother's footsteps as a medicine woman while also utilizing her father's skills of leadership and diplomacy, whereas Remy has lately returned to the Island after several years' absence, following in his own father's footsteps as a voyageur. The two childhood friends/rivals bump into each other and are surprised by how much has (and hasn't) changed, including their feelings. The story picks up from there. A few translations: "Ogimah"--chief, leader; "Wemitigoji"--a person of French-Canadian descent; "manitou"--any of various types of spirit beings which take various forms (my "tribal manitous" are very mooselike in appearance). One error I'm well aware of--Remy, being half European and half native (and I can't be sure Francois doesn't have some native blood, himself), could not possibly have blue eyes--at least, as far as I know--but let's just say things work differently on the Island.
THE FIST MET Remy's face, and his head spun to the side with an awful crack, and before he knew it he was on hands and knees in the grass. He blinked, dazed, and winced at the taste of blood in his mouth, rubbing at his split lip. The anger bubbled up inside him; without a second thought he pushed himself up to his feet, whirling around and raising his fists. He bared his teeth--now stained red--but the one following suit before him didn't back down.
Black Elk Horn's eyes narrowed. "You do not learn so quickly?"
Remy gave a silent snarl and ran at him. He swung, and missed; swung again from the other direction, and missed. Black Elk Horn's fist slammed into his face again and he stumbled backwards, pinwheeling his arms before regaining his balance; with a furious yell he ran forward, ducking his head and aiming at the other man's middle. He connected, and plowed Black Elk Horn partway across the clearing, but before he could do anything, CRACK!--he felt the ogimah's balled fists slam down on his neck, and dropped to the ground with a pained grunt, facefirst in the weeds. He lay there for a moment, sputtering weakly, just barely able to turn his head so as not to choke.
Black Elk Horn just stood beside him, his shadow hovering over Remy's back. "As I said," he said in a mild voice. "Your people don't seem to learn too quickly." He turned around. "Go back to your cabin. You have no place here."
He started walking away. Remy lay in the grass, panting weakly, but the rage inside him just grew. He managed to push himself up onto hands and knees, wincing at the throbbing in his head and rubbing at the knot forming at the base of his neck; when he saw Black Elk Horn walking away toward the trees, he hissed and stumbled up, clenching his fists and shaking.
"I know my place!" he snapped, raising his voice. "My place is next to Winter Born!"
That halted the ogimah immediately, just as he'd thought it would. He stood his ground as Black Elk Horn slowly turned around to look at him. Their eyes, jet black and pale blue, met and they scowled at each other. Black Elk Horn turned around completely to face him and his own fists went tight.
"Her place is not beside you," he said in a dark voice. "Go back to your own people, and do not bother us again. If you insist on this, I will knock your skull in myself."
Remy's temper flared. "You wouldn't, because she would be upset if you did! I know you would never sadden her like that!"
The look in the ogimah's eyes went absolutely livid then, and Remy braced himself for an attack. "YOU DO NOT KNOW ME!" he shouted, his feathers very nearly flaring. "I do what is BEST for her! And YOU are not what is best! You will not EVER be!"
He turned around once more. Remy hated sneak attacks--yet it was as if something snapped in his head at this comment--You will NEVER be best!--and before he knew what he was doing he was running, straight at the other man, letting out a strangled yell of rage. Black Elk Horn turned his head just in time for the younger man's fist to meet his face, and his head spun around just as Remy's had; he staggered sideways and landed hard on one knee. Remy launched himself at him and landed a vicious kick on his chin, whipping his head back so he toppled into the grass. Black Elk Horn pushed himself up, blinking dizzily, and pressed his hand to his jaw with a wince. He shook his head a few times as if to clear it and looked up at Remy in utter surprise. For a brief moment, Remy had the distinct thought that the ogimah would accept him right then and there, for having beaten him down like that.
That thought vanished just as soon as Black Elk Horn shot to his feet, struck him in the face, then a second time, then kneed him in the gut. Remy wheezed for breath, then--CRACK--his head flew backwards, and he plummeted to the ground with a thud. He landed on his back, but slowly rolled onto his side, curling in on himself in agony. His head pounded and it felt like his insides were on fire.
Black Elk Horn staggered to stand beside him, his foot poised so that Remy was certain he would be kicked again. Yet all the ogimah did was stare at him hatefully, spitting on the ground next to him and turning away.
"Go home!" he snapped, and made his way back to the woods.
Remy just lay still upon the ground, gasping for breath. He drew his knees up to his chest, hands clutching at his stomach and his face contorted in a grimace. It was a very long time before his head stopped pounding so hard that he couldn't even move, and he very, very slowly rolled over, using his shoulder to push himself up just a bit. Every time his head threatened to throb even worse, he halted, then resumed as soon as the pain abated; and in this manner he managed at last to inch himself up onto his knees, his arms still wrapped around himself and his shoulders shaking. He even retched at the ground, once or twice, but as he hadn't eaten all that day, nothing came out, and after another long pause he rose to his feet. Walking was another matter entirely. He could take only a step at a time, as each time he moved it felt as if his brain would fall out of his skull, and as a result it was practically nightfall by the time he made it back home.
He sat upon a wooden bench some time later, staring with silent angry eyes at the wall of the cabin as the split to his lip and the numerous bruises to his head and stomach were tended to. He winced more than once, and hated that he did, yet he'd never felt a pain quite like this before, and he had never been a cautious child. Crooked Creek pursed her lips as she pressed more damp moss to his swollen cheek, and he could tell what she was going to say even before she said it.
"I do not know why you bother with him," she said, patting at the moss.
Remy sighed. It felt as if they had had this same conversation a hundred times, yet it always played out as if it were the first. "Because I need his permission."
"You know he won't give it," Crooked Creek said matter-of-factly, turning his head to the side with thumb and forefinger to look at his other cheek.
Remy nudged her hand away and held the moss in place when she let go of it. "I have to keep trying," he murmured. "This is the only way for me to marry Winter Born."
His mother retreated to the far side of the room and started poking around in a box. "There are plenty of other girls," she said, still in that oddly logical voice, and pulled out a small packet, looking it over critically. "You should stop wasting your time on her, and try for one of them. They are every bit as good as she is."
"But they're not her," Remy snapped, his voice coming out harsher than he'd intended; when Crooked Creek looked at him with arched eyebrow, he flushed and ducked his head guiltily to stare at his knees. His fist clenched and unclenched and he took a breath and let it out, trying to steady himself. "She is the one I'm interested in," he said at last. "She is the one I want. None of the others. None of them matter but her."
Crooked Creek pursed her lips again. "But if her father will not give you permission, what is there left for you to do?" She came back with the packet and opened it up, pouring out some dusty powder upon the moss, which he had removed, and pressing it to his face again so he winced. "The ogimah is a fool," she murmured as she did so. "He has the head of a moose, and moose can never be swayed. They will batter their heads against trees rather than do so." She examined her handiwork, then pressed her fingers beneath his breastbone; Remy gasped and flinched, covering his ribs with his arms. "So, why not just give her up, and find somebody whose father will show some sense. There are plenty of fathers out there who would like you as a son-in-law."
She stood and walked away again. Remy was left holding his belly and staring disconsolately at the wall. He watched her as she cleaned up the small mess she had made tending to him and returned to cooking dinner over the fire; it glinted off the traps and guns and knives hanging on the walls, and he stared at these for a long while, chewing lightly on his lip although it hurt. He had barely even noticed all the traps in years, even though he worked with them all the time. They had just seemed to blend in with the background.
"Why did you choose Father?" he asked, almost on a whim.
His mother didn't even turn around to look at him. "Because he was the only one who would take me," she said, matter-of-factly again and without the slightest hint of upset.
Remy rolled his eyes and let out a gusty sigh. "Not that story again! There must have been some reason you chose him, and not one of your own people! Your father--wasn't he the same way as Winter Born's? Didn't he try to keep you two apart?"
Crooked Creek at last turned her head to give him a curious look. "Like Black Elk Horn?" she asked, then frowned slightly. "He was not too happy, but no, he never tried to stop it. Why?"
He sighed again; as much as he loved her, she could be a little clueless at times. "Because Father's not one of his people," he said, slowly rising to his feet with a wince. "This is why he wasn't happy, right? He didn't wish you to marry a Wemitigoji? Didn't he fight one bit to keep this from happening?"
Crooked Creek tilted her head, then shook it. "No," she said. "He would have preferred one of the men for my husband, but there were none. So your father it was. I know Mother talked to him, but he did not fight it." When Remy's shoulders sank she picked up a cloth and started rubbing her hands, stepping toward him. "I am not pretty and talented like she is," she said, her voice still as composed as ever; he lifted his eyes to meet her own. "And my father was not the ogimah. I did not have men beating down our door to ask for me, so he was glad for whoever would take me!" She put her hands on her hips and cocked her head. "You, on the other hand, are not in such a state. And you will not ever be. I hate seeing you come back here hurt every day, your head or your heart. It is good to try but there is a point when one gives up."
The gloominess which had been building inside Remy was suddenly pierced by a jolt of anger, and he stood upright, ignoring the stab of pain in his stomach. "I don't believe that!" he retorted. "I would never give up on her! You didn't give up seeking a husband, did you--?" he added, seeing the skeptical look on her face and needing to prove his point. "So you even took a trader as husband! Why should this be any different--?"
"Because it is," Crooked Creek said. "And you will not ever change his mind."
Remy clenched his fists. "We'll see!" he snapped, and whirled toward the door, striding toward it and glad that his back was to her so she couldn't see the grimace on his face. He flung it open and stormed outside, slamming it behind him; she didn't follow, as he knew she wouldn't, but sometimes he hated being the only one who seemed to really care.
He sat with his back against the large rock formation standing out in the middle of the clearing, not far from the Sugar Loaf Rock, and stared up at the sky for a long while as the stars spun overhead. He liked to come here to think, yet he hadn't been able to think of anything but one thing in quite a while. And that one thing was the very reason why he needed so much time to think. The rock used to inspire him, give him ideas, yet nowadays all he found was frustration, and dead ends, one after another. Even the stars, which had seemed to whisper so many things to him when he was little, withheld their advice, and aside from the crickets and peepers the Island was silent.
He sighed and tilted his head forward. The moon was full, flooding the clearing, and all open spots upon the Island, with pale blue light, and he could see just as well as if it were day. He lifted his hand and looked at it, turning it about, from back to palm, and back again. His skin was dark, coppery colored, and it looked even darker now in the moonlight.
He stared at his hand for a moment, then reached into one of his pockets and dug about, fishing out a small container. He flipped it open to reveal a compass and a small mirror. He ignored the compass and tilted the mirror up toward his face, examining himself. The skin there too was coppery and dark, his cheekbones high and prominent, his hair dark like coal. He looked at all his features one after another, and saw one thing there.
Then he fixed on his eyes, and saw their pale blue color...and he scowled, snapping the mirror shut and shoving it back into its place. He could have passed easily for one of them...if not for his father's eyes. Just that one little glaring thing, and it was keeping him away from his Winter Born.
You know this is not true. Even if they were as dark as night he would still not accept you! It's not what you look like, but who you are. You are not one of his and you are not one of your father's. You are both and you are neither. That's what keeps her from you.
Remy's dark look just grew darker, the moon moving slowly across the sky. He didn't even hear the crickets or the shushing of the wind anymore, his thoughts were so preoccupied. He dug his fingers into his knee but didn't feel it. He loved his mother, and his father, almost more than anything. He had loved growing up in their household. He had never had any reason to dislike being who he was, and had even been proud of it, to follow in his father's footsteps, to know his mother's ways. Yet now...he wished so much that he were just one, and not both, just for this one thing that he could then have. Just the one thing that mattered most, but that he would never be able to have.
He sighed and shut his eyes.
The grass rustled softly at the far edge of the clearing. Remy's brow furrowed, but he didn't move. The noises halted, then grew closer; then halted again, then grew closer again. When they were only a short distance away he at last leapt to his feet, whipping his knife out in one fluid motion and swinging it out in front of him; he blinked when the figure which had been approaching halted immediately, eyes wide, and that strange pale blue-white hair in its single braid immediately told him who he was looking at. He lowered the knife and let out his breath.
"Winter Born!" he exclaimed, then his muscles relaxed and his brow furrowed again with confusion. "But--what are you doing out here--?"
Her own tensed posture relaxed and she stepped toward him again. "I heard some talk..." she said, then halted just before him, staring into his face. As soon as he realized what she was looking at he averted his eyes and tried to turn his head; she quickly grasped hold of his chin and turned him back to look at her. He couldn't help but wince, and he hated the look in her eyes.
"Your face," she whispered; then she noticed how he held his arm wrapped around his ribs, and her eyebrows drew together in disbelief. "He did this to you?" she asked, and then she raised her voice. "He did this--?"
"It's not as bad as it looks," Remy mumbled, not meeting her eyes.
Winter Born clenched her fists. "It IS as bad as it looks! He did this to you? Because of me--?" She backed away from him and stomped her foot in a gesture which he would have considered comical, and might have even laughed at, if the situation hadn't been so bleak. "I am sick of all this! The two of you going at this like children! You're supposed to be men! I thought you had grown up while you were away!"
Remy's mouth dropped open. "I--I never wanted to fight him!" he insisted. "But he--" He cut himself off and flung up his arms. "What am I supposed to do? Just let him keep you from me? I already brought him payment, to show I can care for you! I did so twice! I brought him a deer AND an elk, and I brought him blankets, and beads, and STILL he refuses to give me permission! And so what am I supposed to do--?"
She stomped her foot again, her eyes glimmering. "Give up!" When he stared at her mutely she unclenched her fists and let out her breath. "You should just give it up! He'll never accept you! Even now you talk about keeping to it? Look what he did to your face! He'll end up killing you if you let him!"
"He will kill me if he won't let me have you!" Remy retorted. He held out his hands in a helpless gesture. "Do you not want me as your husband--? After everything I said and did? I never would have gone to all this trouble if I felt you didn't want the same! And you never protested until now! Do you want me to give up--?"
He saw the tears well up in her eyes, and her lip trembled. "This isn't it!" she snapped, though her voice trembled, and she sounded ready to cry. "You know it isn't!"
Remy let out his breath. "Then what is it? Because between all of this, I think I'll go crazy just trying to figure it out!"
Winter Born swept her hand across her eyes. "I do not want you getting hurt again!" she cried. "This is why you should give up! He did not accept your offerings. He will never accept them no matter what they are or how well you can provide for me. Don't you understand? Nothing you do will ever be good enough."
"Don't you want to be my wife?" Remy begged.
She flung her arms up, flashing her teeth. "Yes! But not at the cost of your LIFE!"
"Talk to him, then! He's your father--he's doted on you your entire life! Isn't there anything you can say to convince him--?"
She sniffled and wiped at her eyes again, her temper deflating. "Don't you think that if it would help, I would have tried? I know him. He only does this because he cares for me. He does not think one of your kind could care for me, no matter how hard you try to prove it. He thinks you will never be good enough. Nothing I could say would change his mind."
"Can't you try harder?" Remy asked.
She glared at him. "He is my father! As stubborn and stupid as he is sometimes, I still love him! And I would not disrespect him for anything!" She bit her lip, then sighed, her head lowering so it looked as if she were shrinking; after an awkward moment she hesitantly approached him, and they stood several inches from each other, their eyes not meeting. The moonlight glinted overhead and shone upon her strange hair; he wanted to put his face to it, to smell it, yet sensed her reluctance and kept his distance. She fiddled her fingers in front of herself, staring at the ground.
"If there was anything I could do," she murmured softly. "Anything that might change his mind...you know I would have done it by now. But there is nothing I can do short of disobeying him. And I will not do that. You must understand. I know you would never lightly disobey your parents."
"This isn't lightly," Remy said. "We're speaking of marriage. I thought this was what we both wanted."
She lifted her head and looked at him now. Her eyes were large and dark, yet luminous somehow, in the moonlight. "It is," she said. "But if I disobey him...I live with this the rest of my life. And so do you. He would never give his blessing." She paused, then said, even more softly, "I want all of us to be happy."
"This will not happen," Remy found himself saying, although he hated it.
She shook her head slowly. "No," she murmured. "It will not." She started to turn away before she could see the look of devastation enter Remy's eyes, and stepped silently away from him. "Whenever he hurts you it hurts me," she called back softly as she headed toward the woods. "Please stop trying."
"I can never stop trying," he insisted, finding himself almost yelling at her back. "You can't ask me to do this! I could never give you up!"
She halted and her fists clenched at her sides. After a second she turned her head and he paused at the angry look on her face.
"Then if you will not do this one thing for me, I do not want to marry you! I do not want to be your wife! Go home and go away!"
She turned about, her feet moving again. He stood in silence and watched her disappear from sight. For the longest time his limbs refused to move, not that he tried to make them do so. He stared for so long that his vision grew hazy, and it was only when the moon began to set that he even thought of heading back home. He trudged back to the cabin in the woods with feet of lead, and lay upon his cot the rest of the night staring at the wooden ceiling as shadows played across it. It seemed that in every shadow he saw her face.
You cannot mean this...I know you don't. All this time, you seemed so happy thinking of being with me...what would make you change your mind, your feelings, so quickly?
I know you do it just because of him...because you'd rather I give up, than get hurt again...but I'd take a million blows and more just to be with you...you know that...don't you, Winter Born...?
What do I have to do...?
His brow furrowed and he bit his lip, grinding his knuckles against his head in frustration. He turned over onto his side and squinched his eyes shut, and tried to will himself to sleep, but it was a very long time in coming, and even then, the only thing before his eyes was the one thing he could never have.
He took to scouting the woods more often, thinking hard over what sort of animal he could kill that would be more impressive than an elk. He had had high hopes when he'd brought down the deer, and carried it to her father's door. He still chafed at the memory of the look in the ogimah's eyes as he nudged the deer away, and told him to leave. Remy had brought the deer home and his mother had gutted and skinned it and prepared the meat. He had not wanted any part of the hide once it was tanned. Something must have been wrong with it, if it had not been acceptable.
And so he had been certain that the elk would be impressive enough, when he'd brought it to Black Elk Horn's door, barely even able to manage its weight...which was why he had not been able to believe it when it too had been nudged away from the wigwam, and he had been told not only to leave, but to not come back, as well. That elk had taken him two days to track and kill! Its antlers were large and perfect, and its coat as glossy as water. What could have possibly been wrong with it?
He'd known there had been nothing wrong with the deer or the elk, but it was still easier to believe that than to believe the problem lay with him. He'd detested the idea of offering trade for Winter Born's hand, but he'd tried blankets and beads and furs, and anything else he could think of next, thinking that perhaps that would be more appreciated. The ogimah had even refused the gun and knives Remy had offered him. When out of anger he had half-jestingly offered to bring back gold and jewels and all sorts of things, he had been told, in no uncertain terms, not only to leave, and to not come back, but to not come back or else. When he had last thought of making his way to the tribe, that had been when he'd met the ogimah in the woods, and had made the mistake of stating his intent. And now his face was still bruised as a result, and his ribs still ached.
Still, he carried his gun and scoured the woods silently, trying to think of what would be most impressive to bring back with him, though honestly, what would be more impressive than an elk? A bear, he thought to himself, yet there were not quite so many of those on the Island, and he hesitated at the thought of killing a bear. He wouldn't have minded doing it, to win her hand, but he knew his mother would certainly not like the idea, and Winter Born probably wouldn't like it either. He knew they had always cherished bears. He rubbed at his head and sighed. There was nothing more impressive than a bear, so he was stuck.
He thought he spotted a white elk as he passed among the trees, and halted to aim at it, but after a moment he could tell it was in fact a manitou, one of those strange deerlike beings who wandered through the woods every so often, sometimes in tribes, usually invisible to most people. He usually didn't even see them himself; perhaps it was his distracted state that allowed him this glimpse. In any case, he knew for certain that shooting a manitou would not go over well with the tribe, and so lowered his gun, watching it go on its way. He frowned a little when it paused and scraped against a tree, his view partly blocked by bushes; a dull thudding noise came, and then the creature drifted away from sight. Curiosity burning, Remy picked his way through the underbrush toward the tree it had rubbed against, and halted as soon as he saw what had been left.
An antler lay upon the ground here, rising wide and mooselike from the grass. Remy stared at it for a moment before stooping to pick it up. He looked it over in awe, its weight nearly dragging his arms down; this had just been a small manitou, yet the antler was wider than his arm was long. He ran his fingers along its smooth grooves before his face lit up; he slung his gun over his shoulder and quickly walked back home. He located some cheaper furs and wrapped them around it as best he could, though the tines still stuck out but he didn't care. Within moments he was on his way back to the East Bluff, having to keep himself from whistling cheerfully.
A manitou's antler! Such a thing had to be an impressive gift. Who knew, perhaps it was even a sign of favor. Who would want to anger a manitou by denying him what he wished? He made certain it was balanced carefully upon his shoulder as he neared the camp within the woods, his heart lighter than it had been in ages. The sound of excited chattering made him pick up his pace, as he recognized from the noise that something had already been noticed in the camp. Perhaps someone had espied his approach and had already informed Black Elk Horn! Greatly cheered, he made his way to the edge of the camp.
Here he paused and stared in confusion to see that all the women were whispering and chattering and giggling not about him--no one even noticed as he walked up--but about something else. Craning his neck, he spotted the cause of the commotion. A brave he did not recognize--he must have been from a neighboring tribe--was standing before the wigwam of Black Elk Horn, and even as Remy watched, the blanket upon the doorway was pulled aside and the ogimah stepped out. That was when the first man took a step back, and Remy sucked in a breath to see the large deer already lying upon the ground at their feet. His eyes grew in disbelief.
The brave held his head high and gestured at the deer. "I wish to ask for the hand of Winter Born!" he declared, for all to hear.
All the blood drained from Remy's face. He barely even heard the fresh titter that arose from all the watching women, who turned to each other and whispered excitedly. He did, however, see the look on Black Elk Horn's face--and then, just barely, saw Winter Born herself, still inside, far back in the wigwam. He saw her eyes go wide with panic, a look of horror upon her face, and felt as if his heart were being torn out. To his even greater surprise, Black Elk Horn peered back into the wigwam, saw her, then turned to look again at the man still in front of him, and frowned.
"Your claim to asking this?" he said in a displeased-sounding voice.
The brave drew himself up to his full height--which was taller than Remy. His build was stronger as well, and he had no fewer than seven feathers in his hair. "I am most respected of the warriors and hunters among my tribe. I could easily provide for her--this deer was barely a challenge. I know she would make a good wife, and I would make you an excellent son! And so again, I ask for the hand of Winter Born."
Thud. The antler slipped from Remy's hands and hit the ground, making the women gasp and whirl their heads around to glance back at him. Their eyes went as wide as saucers, then they gasped again and scuttled out of the way as he stormed through the trees and into the camp clearing.
"You cannot ask this!" he shouted, and now the brave frowned and turned to look at him as well. "I have already asked for the hand of Winter Born!"
Even before the words were out of his mouth, he saw a flinch pass across Black Elk Horn's face...then the ogimah turned his head to look right at him, and his own eyes went wide in disbelief. The brave gave him a brief look up and down before making an amused noise and turning back to Black Elk Horn with another gesture toward the deer.
"I have already proven my worthiness," he said. "I am already well respected; I know that your daughter would be as well, if she were to be my wife. This is why I ask for her hand."
Remy clenched his fists and bared his teeth. "You CANNOT ask this!" he snapped. "I've already asked for the hand of Winter Born!"
Every jaw dropped--even Winter Born's. The brave turned to peer at him and his face twitched. He looked Remy up and down again and snorted.
"You?" he sneered. "You are not even one of us! Go back where you belong, and let her go to a decent husband."
Remy's teeth felt about ready to break. "I asked this first!" he hissed, and stormed toward him, across the camp; everyone quickly dodged out of his way. Black Elk Horn held his place, but didn't even swing at him; he seemed more surprised than anything, now. Remy halted so the brave had to turn to face him, and he had to look up to meet the brave's eyes. His fingernails dug into his palms painfully hard.
"I've already asked," he growled. "You go back to where you came from! It's obvious she does not want to marry you!"
The brave snorted again. "And do I see you being accepted--? The reason you came walking in from the woods? What, was your offering rejected?" He glanced at Black Elk Horn, who still stared at Remy but didn't answer. The look on his face wasn't quite readable by now, though Remy thought he preferred the surprised look. He ignored the ogimah and jerked his hand at the deer.
"I brought her a deer--AND an elk! Do I see you bringing her anything nearly so great? You cannot win her over with a paltry deer. She belongs with me, not with you. YOU would never make her happy!"
The other man sneered. "Did I say this was my intent, fool?"
Remy just barely caught the way Black Elk Horn's stare flicked in the brave's direction, his eyes going dark. He didn't have a chance to say anything before the bigger man turned to Black Elk Horn, waving dismissively at Remy. "Do you wish me to rid you of him?" he asked. "Just say it, and I will do it! To prove that your daughter belongs most with me."
Remy clenched his fists again and spread his feet. "If you even touch me I will beat your head in myself, stupid mutt!"
The brave rolled his eyes in amusement. "Well--?" He shrugged at Black Elk Horn. "Apparently he challenges me! You would object to a match of skills, for the hand of your daughter--?"
Black Elk Horn just stared at them both with crossed arms. "Go ahead," he said, his voice neutral but oddly menacing, at least to Remy's ears.
Remy saw Winter Born open her mouth as if in protest--before a fist came flying at his face. He ducked it just in time and the other man stumbled forward, then whirled around. Remy punched him in the stomach and he winced, then his fist cracked into Remy's face. Within seconds the fight was on, as the two of them swung and kicked and wrestled and hit. The women all gasped and clapped their hands to their mouths, the men shaking their fists and hooting and cheering them on. Black Elk Horn stood passively in front of his wigwam, looking on as if the two of them were merely a puff of wind moving about the camp. Every so often Remy caught sight, between blows, of Winter Born peering out of the wigwam, and her face was what prompted him to continue.
Even when the bigger man began to beat him down, hitting him once, then twice, then a third time, and kicking him in the stomach, and cracking his arm down over his neck when he fell to his knees. Remy saw stars sparkling all over the ground, then struck it chinfirst, biting into his lip so it bled. He received a kick to the ribs, then another one, and let out a wheezing gasp of pain. The injury Black Elk Horn had dealt him earlier hurt all the more, but nothing like this.
His fingers scrabbled at the dust and the hooting yelling noises around him faded, though he could tell from the looks on everyone's faces that they still cheered on the other man; he stopped kicking Remy long enough for him to roll over onto his back, and see the way he smiled gloatingly at them and gestured at his victim. Remy felt blood seeping from his mouth; his ribs were on fire. His vision went hazy, then cleared, then went hazy again, and he dizzily put a hand to his head.
"Who again is best?" the brave called out, then looked down at him, sneered, and kicked him in the head. Remy rolled over hard, landing on his stomach; a second later he was hauled to his feet, his head lolling to the side. He caught the look on the other man's face before he went sailing through the air, slamming into the side of one of the wigwams and crumpling to the ground in a messy heap.
A fresh cheer arose, and Remy considered simply passing out, just to end it; but then a voice in the midst of all the cheering cried out, "Stop it!"
Remy blinked his eyes open.
And he saw her, her knuckles white upon the blanket of the doorway, her face staring out with eyes as wide as moons. Black Elk Horn didn't even look at her--his eyes were focused on Remy's. Before Remy could speak--if he was even able--her face contorted in rage and she shouted again.
The brave stooped down to pick up Remy by the front of his vest, lifting him straight up to his feet. A moment ago, Remy would have not even resisted what came next--yet the look on Winter Born's face, and the sound of her voice, sparked something in his head, and the next thing he knew his fist was flying.
"Listen to her!" he yelled, and CRACK!--the brave let him go, his head snapping back at an almost impossible angle. He stumbled and tottered, nearly losing his balance, but managed to regain it; he stood up unsteadily, rubbing at his bloody lip in disbelief. He gawked at Remy, and fury entered his eyes; but Remy had caught a second wind, and clenched his fists, his own mouth streaming. He bared his teeth.
"You're upsetting her!" he hissed, then his nose wrinkled in hate and he launched himself forward. "LEARN TO LISTEN TO HER!"
The brave's head whipped to the other side when Remy struck him, then without even thinking, he found himself raining blows just as hard and heavily as those that had been rained upon him moments before. The cheering quickly faded and everyone just stood and gaped at the scene, the bruised and battered Remy now battering down the much larger man. They moved ever closer to the far end of the camp, nearing the woods, everyone shifting aside to give them room while continuing to watch in awe. The big man managed to stay on his feet an impressively long time, but wasn't able to get in so much as one more blow; just before they could step into the woods, Remy drew back his arm and punched him in the jaw as hard as he could, and he collapsed at the camp's edge with a thud so loud it shook the ground. Everyone sucked in a breath; a second later Remy was straddling his chest, his hands around his neck and his thumbs digging into the brave's throat. The other man's eyes grew big and he gripped Remy's hands in a grip that would have been agonizing at any other time, but by now Remy couldn't feel anything anymore except the steady buzz of rage in his skull.
He leaned over to hiss in his face. "ALWAYS make her happy!" he snarled. "This is the one thing that matters! The one thing her husband must do above all else! Make her happy, and LISTEN!" His fingers dug in deeper and the man started choking and gasping, his face going red. "You are not worthy to be her husband!"
The brave couldn't answer, though it sounded as if he were valiantly trying. Everyone stared at them with wide eyes; after a moment or two Winter Born took several steps away from the wigwam, clenching her fists at her sides, her eyes wet.
"Stop it! You're killing him!"
Her voice shot through Remy's head like a bullet, and he took in a breath of his own, suddenly seeing the face staring back up at him. The same eyes that had been filled with contempt before were now tearing up and full of panic; as soon as he noticed this, he let up his grip, and the other man sucked in a ragged choking breath, starting to cough convulsively beneath him. Remy got to his feet before he could start hitting him again but all the other man did was roll himself over and push himself up, getting to his feet and tottering from side to side as he rubbed at his bruised neck. He gave Remy a look that showed he thought he must be mad, before turning and stumbling from the camp without another word. Remy watched him go, then turned back just in time to see Black Elk Horn put out his foot and nudge the deer away from his doorway, the same way he had when Remy had brought his own offering. Remy blinked to see the gesture, then glanced at Winter Born, then clenched his fists and turned to the ogimah again.
"I ask for the hand of Winter Born!" he cried.
Winter Born's own eyes went wide and she put her hands to her breast. The look on her father's face, on the other hand, did not change one bit. "Go home," he said, and all of Remy's spirit deflated in an instant, until he was left gawking at him in stunned disbelief.
"But--" He blinked, mouth opening and closing soundlessly. "But--I defeated him! I proved who was worthy!" He jerked a hand savagely toward the woods. "I beat him! You said we should fight for her and I won! I've done everything you asked!"
Black Elk Horn's eyes darkened. "I did not say either one of you would deserve her," he snapped. "If you two choose to fight over nothing, then I hardly care! You do not win what was not a prize in the first place!" He kicked the deer so it rolled over, its head flopping on its long neck. "Go home!"
He turned and lifted the doorflap, then gave Winter Born such a look that she meekly ducked her head and retreated. Remy opened his mouth to cry out her name, but she was gone from his sight before he could form the words. Black Elk Horn followed her...then the rest of the tribe turned and started to disperse, drifting away from the scene as if he were no longer even there. Remy watched each of them go, his jaw hanging and his hands spread out before him; a few cast him last glances, but didn't say a word, and as soon as they turned away no one showed any interest in him anymore. Everyone gradually returned to what they had been doing before he arrived, and he was left standing in the middle of the camp circle, alone.
He stood there for perhaps a good five minutes, before realizing it was truly over; the casual talking and laughing he heard from a distance proved that. His shoulders slowly sank and his brow furrowed, his stare fixed on the wigwam of Black Elk Horn, yet nothing else happened, not even one eye peeked out from behind the blanket. He stared so long that his vision blurred; gritting his teeth and sucking in a shaky breath, he turned and stormed out of the camp as quickly as he could, lest any of them see the tears of frustration welling up in his eyes. He strode out into the woods, managing to turn onto a side trail and continue for several paces before grimacing and crumpling to the ground. He knelt near a big rock and wrapped his arms around himself, biting back a whimper of agony.
I defeated him! I won! And he can tell me that it means nothing--? It makes no difference--? I've done everything required just to win her hand! WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO--?
He shut his eyes tight, the tears squeezing out from under his lids, an odd strained sound escaping him. He had done every single thing required to win Winter Born's hand--but so long as her father stood in the way, it did not matter. Crooked Creek, Winter Born, they were both right. There was nothing at all that he could do. If everything he had done so far was not enough to change the ogimah's mind, then he had absolutely nothing left. He'd done everything he could. He had nothing left to try.
He clutched his ribs tighter, not bothering to choke back the whimpers now. His head hurt, his ribs hurt, his hands hurt, but more than anything his heart felt like it was being smashed into mush between Black Elk Horn's hands. He could practically see the blood seeping out between the other man's fingers, the sadistic gloating look in his eyes, the sneering, singsong tone of his voice--You can never have her--she is not your prize!--you can never have her--before he slumped over, his forehead touching the earth, and his tears dripped to the ground and dampened the earth beneath him.
Soft footsteps came down the trail behind him, and he sensed someone stopping just beside him and kneeling down. He didn't bother opening his eyes until he felt something cold press against his side, then he gasped and popped up with a grimace. He had to blink a few times to recognize the man kneeling beside him, and after a moment or two realized he was the medicine man of the tribe. He was busy tearing a hunk of moss apart and spreading some sort of powder over it, and as soon as he noticed Remy was looking at him he pressed a piece of it to his face. Remy winced but held the poultice in place as Stick-In-The-Dirt poked around in his medicine bag.
"I do not know what it will take for you to learn," he murmured as he dug, looking at one packet and putting it back in.
Remy almost scowled, except it hurt too much. "There's nothing to learn. I want her as my wife, and she wants to be my wife, and that's all there is to it. He's the one who won't learn!"
"He is also her father," Stick-In-The-Dirt said with a pointed look, and held out another poultice; Remy reluctantly accepted it and placed it under his shirt, wincing at the feeling of it against his bruised ribs. "And nothing you say or do will change that."
"What does he have against me? My mother is one of your people. It's not like I'm a stranger or know nothing about this place. I know everything I have to! He knows I could care for her." He gestured at the medicine man, feeling desperate to make his point. "Your daughter--your youngest one! She married a Wemitigoji! And you allowed it! Your own wife isn't one of your people--and it was allowed. What's so different about this? Why am I the exception?"
He saw Stick-In-The-Dirt flinch when his daughter was mentioned, but he did nothing more than start putting his medicine away. "Morning Star has never been fully accepted by this tribe," he said quietly. "Every day she faces their stares of contempt. And Little Dove..." He looked at Remy and shrugged. "Little Dove is not Winter Born, and I am not the ogimah." He rose to his feet and gave Remy a sympathetic look which he hated. "I have known him a lot longer than you, and he won't change his mind. He would rather she not marry anyone at all than take one of you people as her husband." He turned to head back to the camp. "If you keep doing this, I do not think anyone will be able to tend to whatever he does to you next! You should take this chance, and let it go. There's nothing you can do to change it."
He walked away, back toward the trail to camp, and Remy watched him until he disappeared. After a long while he sat back against the base of a tree and rubbed at his aching ribs, staring off into space. He couldn't even see anything around him anymore, he was so numb.
Everyone...every one of them tells me to give up. My mother, the ogimah, Stick, even Winter Born...nobody believes it will ever happen...
I've done every single thing I can think of! He cannot let her stay so unhappy--I know she wants to be with me! How can he ignore that? If he truly cares for her, then why won't he allow it? Why won't she stand up to him? Why won't anybody agree to this?
I've done everything I can, but give up...and I could never give her up...what do I do...?
His eyes started to drift shut, pain and exhaustion taking their toll. His eyes stung but he no longer cared about anything by now; the only one who believed he should keep trying was himself, and he'd done everything he could. There wasn't anything left to try. The thought of giving up made his heart want to wither away, but if there was nothing else...
He tilted his head back against the tree and stared upwards at the branches for a moment before shutting his eyes again...then he opened them, a moment later. He focused on the branch just overhead and found himself frowning slightly at its stripy white pattern. It took him a moment to realize he was staring at birchbark, and when he tilted his head back a little further he could see that was exactly what he was leaning against, a birch tree. He looked at it for a long while, silent.
Giving up is the only thing I haven't done yet...
The leaves rustled in the breeze. After a moment or two Remy slowly sat forward, lowering his head and pressing his hand to his ribs; he turned around as carefully as he could to look at the trunk of the tree. Dark furrows were etched against smooth white. His own brow furrowed on looking at them.
What if giving up is the one thing I should have been doing all along...?
It was as if this thought made the entire woods fall still. Remy stared at the birch for a few moments more, then got to his feet without even noticing the flare of pain in his ribs. He turned and started jogging back along the path toward the cabin in the woods, his feet barely making any sound.
The women in the camp were the first to notice him when he returned. They halted in their activities to stand in a small cluster and murmur to each other, wondering what he was doing, stopping just beyond the edge of the camp and dropping several items to the ground. The crowd of them grew bigger the longer he stayed, and there was much discussion over what he was doing, until his actions made it clear, and then the women began to giggle. He cleared the ground and commenced sticking long wooden poles into it at intervals, making certain they were firmly in place before bending them overhead and tethering them together, and then adding more poles along the sides, leaving an opening in one side and in top. Ever more women, and then some children, gathered to watch his progress, though he completely ignored them, being too busy tending to his task. When he brought out the reed mats he'd strung together, they giggled even more loudly and put their hands to their faces in disbelief. They chattered openly, not even caring if he could hear them or not, as he wrapped these around the lower sides of the structure and secured them to the poles. By the time he was adding birchbark mats to the top, everyone else who was present in the camp had joined the crowd to watch, and they had quite a good conversation over what his motives might be, setting up a wigwam just outside their camp when he had a perfectly good cabin to return to.
The commotion grew to be so much that at last Black Elk Horn himself appeared, pushing his way through the crowd to see what was going on. When he saw Remy affixing the birchbark mats to the roof of the wigwam his face grew dark, and he took several steps forward which made the rest of the tribe take a step or so back and drop their chattering into a murmur. He watched Remy for a moment or two before scowling.
"What are you doing?" he snapped.
Remy glanced at him over his shoulder, and gave him a dark look in return. "Exactly what it looks like I'm doing."
Black Elk Horn bristled. "You do not belong here! Go back to your own home!"
Remy stopped affixing the birchbark just long enough to face him squarely. "I'm outside the camp property," he retorted, and gestured with his foot at the invisible line which separated the camp from the woods. "I have every right to be here. I'm not on your land."
Black Elk Horn stared at him in disbelief, then his face grew red. Just when it looked as if he were about to fly into a rage, he turned and stormed off into the camp instead, shoving aside anyone who got in his way. Everybody watched him go, then turned back to look at Remy, but by then he was again busily assembling the wigwam and paid them no attention. After a while, they began to disperse, and by the time he was finished and had made a trip or two to move his belongings into the little structure, and had closed the doorflap and started a fire inside, no one was watching anymore, and he was left in peace.
He was still there when morning came, and there were many remarks and even several bets placed as to how long he would stay there. Aside from the curious looks they gave him whenever he appeared, he was left to himself; he didn't set foot inside the camp, but neither did he keep himself far from their sight. Whenever he went into the woods to gather anything or find game, he did it in the same areas they did, so they always saw him nearby and knew he was still about. At first there was much talking over how he wasn't even using a gun when he hunted, but rather a bow and arrows, and how the traps he made were like theirs and not the metal ones the other Wemitigoji used. He dressed his game and prepared his food the same way they did as well, so that after a time they mostly stopped paying attention to him. Black Elk Horn was the main exception, always glowering at him whenever he was spotted, but not even setting foot near him or speaking to him. Remy ignored him as well, though this fact seemed to frustrate the ogimah more than placate him.
By the time several weeks had passed, the little wigwam at the edge of the camp was a familiar sight, and barely anybody gave it any second thought. Remy hunting with his bow and arrows and wooden traps was familiar as well and no one questioned it. When he appeared in the woods to gather berries, the women laughed at him more because he was a man, doing a woman's work, rather than because he shouldn't even have been there in the first place. He didn't pay their amusement any attention, though a day or so later when he opened his doorflap, he did find several baskets of berries sitting outside his door. He looked around to see who they might belong to but all he got in return was some giggling from the women, and so he was forced to take them inside and make use of them.
Once or twice, he dared to stop by the wigwam of Black Elk Horn, dropping off a deer and renewing his request; the ogimah did not yell at him, though he did still kick the offering away, and Remy returned to his wigwam, emptyhanded, but vowing to himself to try again later. At least he still had his head, which was more than what he'd expected to leave with. The look on Winter Born's face every time he tried was the one thing which convinced him to return again.
One day as he returned from deeper in the woods, several rabbits over his back, he found a group of children running about in the main trail to the camp, laughing and shrieking as one of them, wearing leaves in his hair, chased them around. Remy stopped to watch the game, the younger children occasionally poking at the older one with sticks, pretending to wound him, then running away again when he yelled and gave chase. Once or twice he caught one and pretended to bite them, after which much screaming commenced, and then the game started anew. Remy turned to his wigwam and stepped inside to put the rabbits away. He returned several minutes later, a fur on his head and mud streaked over his face; with a roar he leapt out of the woods and into the trail, sending the children screaming and fleeing. He chased after one of them and grabbed him up under the arms, play-biting his shoulder and then letting him go; after a brief confused pause the rest of them came running back, yelling and striking at him with their sticks. By the time the adults came out to see what was going on, the game was in full swing again, Remy roaring and stomping around like an angry Wendigo while the children alternated between attacking him and running away in fear. When evening fell and their parents called them back they returned only reluctantly, as the cannibal game had never been quite so exciting before, and with that Remy pulled the fur off and wiped at his face and retreated back into his own wigwam as well without another word.
Black Elk Horn stood near the middle of the camp and ground his teeth at the excited chatter of the children as their mothers led them back home for the night.
Within another week or two, Remy no longer hunted and gathered adjacent to them but even among them, and they didn't so much as bat an eye. Even the women no longer laughed at him when he gathered berries, since it was obvious why he had no woman to do that for him, and so when he appeared near the bluff with the others, they didn't even bother glancing at him as they chattered and stooped to pick the fruits from the low bushes. A few did wander further along the bluff to grant him space to find his own, but other than that, it was almost as if he were one of them, doing what he usually did. A few children accompanied their mothers atop the bluff, poking around for berries and mushrooms and occasionally chasing each other around playfully before resting again. The sun filtered down through the trees and the air was hazy and hot, and after a while several of the women stopped to sit upon the rocks and talk to each other, politely ignoring him as he gathered in the bushes nearby. By now even he was hot and somewhat irritated, brushing away the occasional mosquito and longing to dip his head into one of the springs once he was done. He yawned and rubbed his stinging eyes, then reached down to pluck a berry hiding under a leaf almost beyond his sight.
A short scream caught his attention, and his and the women's heads popped up like rodents popping out of a hole. He looked up just in time to see one of the children vanish from sight over the edge of the bluff, and his eyes went wide in surprise. One of the women leapt to her feet and went running, panic in her eyes, but Remy reached the bluff first. He skidded to a stop just long enough to see the child hanging onto an outcropping rock, crying with fear; he could tell from looking at her hold that she wouldn't stay there for long. Without thinking he vaulted over the edge of the bluff and went tumbling several yards before catching hold of some roots and halting his progress; he shook his head and glanced up to see the mother and the other women pacing back and forth atop the bluff, crying out. The little girl was too far above for him to reach, so he began pulling himself back up, crawling his way toward her. The women stopped pacing to watch him, their eyes wide and their hands to their mouths.
Remy managed to work his way up just beneath the outcropping of rock, seeing the girl's little feet kicking back and forth. He glanced behind him and planted his foot against a root since there was no way to climb up further without falling back down. He made certain he was supported as best as he could and then reached up an arm, trying to grasp hold of her leg, but if he pulled her down he knew she would strike her head on the rock. He looked down once more at the view of the bluff descending steeply to the lakeshore far below and bit his lip, then turned back to her. She'd noticed him at last, and was looking over her shoulder with tears streaming down her face. He gestured with his free arm.
"Let go! I'll catch you! I promise!"
Her face screwed up and she shook her head wildly. Remy attempted to push himself a little bit higher and reached out for her again. "I won't let you fall," he called out. "Just jump back into my arm! I promise you won't get hurt!"
The women started pacing and exclaiming again. Remy saw the fear plain on the girl's face, but her fingers shifted. He couldn't tell if she let go, or slipped, but a split second later she let out a cry, the women screamed, and then she was dangling from his arm and he himself was very nearly tottering back to fall down the bluff. He forced himself forward and grabbed onto a tree before he could, keeping her supported under one arm, and started to tentatively climb back up. This was considerably harder than climbing down, and it felt like forever before he at last reached the top. The girl was snatched from his grip and he was left to pull himself up to level ground, gasping for breath; the women crowded around the mother and her girl, talking loudly. They didn't offer him any thanks, but he didn't care. He just sat where he was, chest heaving and head spinning, trying to rub the shakiness out of his arms. It was an even longer time before he could even get himself to stand and make his way weakly back to his wigwam, and he was so exhausted that he didn't even look at anyone as they exclaimed amongst themselves over that day's near-disaster. And so he didn't see Black Elk Horn watching him from the edge of the camp, arms crossed and a dark but odd look on his face. Remy dragged himself into his wigwam and slept the sleep of the dead that night.
The day following, he set out again to hunt, and ended up sitting in the woods all through the next night, not seeing so much as one deer. He even ventured closer to the west side of the Island, where the others were reluctant to go, yet spotted nothing, and his spirits only grew dimmer when the weather turned to rain, and he was left trudging through the mud with his hair dripping in his eyes. On the third day he thought he saw movement in the trees, and hurriedly fitted an arrow to his bow and fired it. It hit something which landed with a small crash; puzzled, he went to inspect it, and sighed to himself when he found a grouse with the arrow protruding from its breast. He crouched down beside it with a gloomy look and lifted one little wing, stretching it out and letting it fall back again.
Three days of hunting, and this was all he had to show for it. "I'm sorry," he mumbled to the bird, and pulled the arrow out of its breast, picking it up by the legs and looking at it as if he expected it to talk back. It didn't, and he sighed again, rising to his feet and reluctantly heading back to the East Bluff. He stared at the ground the entire way there, his clothing soaked and muddy and the little bird growing bedraggled at his side.
He hated that this was the best thing he had to bring for today. But the more he thought about it, it wasn't like any of his better offerings had been accepted, either. By the time he reached the camp he looked as if he'd swum across the lake itself, and he didn't meet anyone's eyes as they peered out of their wigwams or hurried to finish what outdoors duties they were tending to. He made his way to the wigwam of Black Elk Horn without even having to look for it, he knew the path so well; and as he slowed before it the blanket over the door was pushed up and the ogimah looked out at him, as unfriendly as ever. He stepped out and let the doorflap fall back into place so Remy couldn't see inside, and the two of them faced each other in the rain.
Remy couldn't even meet his eyes anymore. He scowled to himself, feeling utterly foolish, and set the grouse down on the ground in front of him.
"I ask for the hand of Winter Born," he said sullenly, and awaited the sight of Black Elk Horn's foot kicking the pathetic animal away. Perhaps this time, he would just go back to the cabin and never return here, since it was obvious nothing was going to change no matter what he did.
Black Elk Horn took a long time rejecting the offering, which just made him chew on his tongue in irritation. He was soaked through to the skin by now, and muddy, and tired, and it felt as if every person in the tribe were peering out at him and probably laughing behind his back. He'd thought this might be the one last thing he could try, but after weeks now it seemed to have failed also. He had to keep himself from fidgeting, wishing the ogimah would just get it over with so he could go home.
After another moment Black Elk Horn stooped down over the grouse and picked it up by the neck. Remy waited for him to toss it across the camp--that would result in a good laugh at his expense--but he merely held onto it, its feathers dripping wet. He turned away, and Remy felt his heart nearly stop when he heard the sound of the doorflap being pulled back. His head jerked up to see the ogimah stepping inside his wigwam with the bird in tow; near the back, he at last spotted Winter Born, and she stared at him with wide eyes. Remy stared at her before noticing that he too was being stared at; he turned his head to look at Black Elk Horn, who still stood in the doorway, holding up the flap. The look he gave him was still unwelcoming...yet he held the grouse in his hand, and one foot was already over the threshold.
"You are staying out in the rain?" he snapped.
Remy blinked. He hastily shook his head, and the ogimah responded by pulling his other foot inside. Remy almost expected the doorflap to fall back into place but he held it up with a grudging look on his face; he quickly followed him inside, and only then did the doorflap fall back, and he found himself staring directly at Winter Born. Her mother, Silver Eagle Feather, sat off to the side, and Remy saw the look in her eyes when he looked at her. He turned around and Black Elk Horn was still holding the soaking grouse as if he had just strangled it. He held it out and Silver Eagle Feather rose to take it from him, and he gestured sharply at the floor; Remy immediately sat, and the other man did likewise. He couldn't help but peer over his shoulder at Winter Born again, and though she didn't dare smile at him, the look in her own eyes before she averted them made his heart speed up.
"Wemitigoji," Black Elk Horn said in a voice that made him quickly turn around again. The ogimah's eyes were dark. "Your claim to asking this?" he demanded, and Remy almost stumbled over his words, not even having prepared anything to say. So he just said the first things that came to his mind.
"I can provide for her. You already know I can. I can take care of her, and be a good husband, and I would not make her change her ways or leave her people." He allowed himself a very brief glance at her, once more, and his frayed nerves settled, and he let out his breath. "And most of all...I would always make sure she is happy."