TITLE: Winter Born
GENRES: Fantasy, drama, mythology, emotional.
SUMMARY: Fear is learned. But is it always necessary?...
WRITING STATUS: Completed.
WRITING DATE: Circa 2003.
LENGTH: 6200+ words.
CONTENT WARNINGS: Mild adult themes.
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 2003 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. This story does not contain any major spoilers for the serials listed above, but it does take place a while after Return To Manitou Island. There's no real story mythology in this, it's just a tale about Winter Born, daughter of Black Elk Horn and Silver Eagle Feather (see "Daughter Of The Demon," "Demon's Seed," "Stranger In A Strange Land," "Rainbowbringer," and "Homeward Bound" for more on her), and granddaughter of the demon Ocryx. For another story featuring Winter Born later in life, please see "The Prize." A translation--a "Nebanaubae" is a creature similar to a merperson, known to kidnap people and transform them into other Nebanaubae.
SHE WAS NAMED Winter Born, as it was the deep of winter when her mother walked off into the snow-blanketed woods to give birth to her alone. There was a rumor that a friendly spirit guarded over her birth and granted her an affinity to the season, and so the name seemed to be an apt one.
This belief was only furthered when, as she grew older, her hair came out bluish-white rather than the glossy black of the rest of her people. She had a sweet, friendly disposition so many of the elders decided to attribute this to the winter spirit who had watched over her mother, although a few muttered other stories, and for good reason.
Her mother, they knew, was half demon herself, the daughter of the lake demon whom everyone feared. Her eyes were a brilliant green and even from childhood Silver Eagle Feather had possessed powers that most young girls weren't supposed to possess. It was only in old age that most medicine women gained their full powers and were allowed into the Mide Society; as her father was the terrible lake demon, and her powers were already greater than those of all the others in the tribe combined, she was allowed in at an unusually young age, with little complaint from the others. Of course there was dissent, but this was kept to a minimum; nobody wanted to anger the wolf demon by spiting his daughter, and besides, it was best to keep her happy as well, as even a half-demon's medicine could be useful if needed.
For some reason, the women of the tribe were more sympathetic toward her, even though she was more beautiful and gifted than they were and they had every reason to be jealous instead. Perhaps they merely hid their resentment better, but unlike the men, they could tell she knew of everyone's feelings about her. She simply never spoke about it, and so everybody acted as if the matter did not exist.
Her first child had been a demon, as he had been sired by her own father, a matter nobody ever spoke of aloud, at least in public; though there was probably much talking in private. He bore the same looks as his father, the wolf face and great wings and horns, and for once public opinion had outweighed even Silver Eagle Feather's status and he had been taken away to be raised with an old manitou woman rather than among themselves. They had always feared angering her with this decision, but she'd never sought revenge. Those who knew her, who were admittedly few, explained that she'd known even before the creature's birth that he would never be welcome among her people. She herself wasn't even one of her people, as her green eyes proved.
And so when she disappeared one day into the snow, and returned exhausted with a child bundled up in her arms, there was at first some excited whispering about who the father must be. Some believed it to be the demon again, for she and her husband, Black Elk Horn, had never been successful in having a child of their own, despite the years that had passed since her son's birth. Yet others believed a manitou must be responsible. Still some others believed it must be Black Elk Horn himself, for, even if they had not been successful before, why should their luck always stay the same? When the baby's hair began to grow, an odd snowy white, the discussion only intensified.
"See that? I told you it was the demon who did it! He got his own daughter pregnant with that demon pup, and then he did it again. Just because she could almost pass for one of us doesn't mean anything. Everyone knows Ocryxes take different forms."
"She would look like her older brother if the demon were her father. I still say it's a manitou, perhaps a snow manitou. He probably appeared as a tall man cloaked in beautiful white furs..."
"Why must you carry on with such silly theories? Why won't you believe it was just her husband? The spirits know they've been trying long enough..."
"That's exactly it; why would they succeed now? And she does not even resemble him! No normal child has hair like that..."
"Who's to say she's normal? Even if Black Elk Horn is her father, she still has demon blood in her--from her mother. She would still be a quarter demon, and she could still turn out looking like that. Every child even distantly related to that creature carries some sort of sign of their ancestry. So what if the wolf demon isn't her father. She still has his blood in her..."
"This is what's worst! Who cares who her father is? She's the same as all of them! How can we allow her to live here?"
"We allowed her mother to live here and got by just fine! So stop complaining about it! She's a good woman!"
"Eh, good woman...I would not care even if it's true. She's as much of a demon as the demon himself, so you'd better keep her happy...and leave the girl alone..."
And so the discussions and arguments went on and on, but only behind closed doors, and only when everyone was certain neither Silver Eagle Feather nor the child--Winter Born, as she was called--nor even Black Elk Horn was anywhere near. They dreaded the thought of any of them finding out what was being said, but even this fear was never enough to keep their tongues and ideas stilled.
Another story which circulated even more widely was of Black Elk Horn's apparent disappointment in the child. Everyone knew he would have preferred a son, and to get such a strange-looking girl instead must have been twice as much of a blow. He never said anything about this either, but everyone else in the tribe did more than enough talking for him. They weren't always as quiet on this particular matter as they were on the other.
Winter Born, for her part, was always too busy to notice the gossip. She was always cooing and grasping at things just beyond her reach, and as soon as she was able to toddle about she did so, needing to be frequently snatched back to the camp before she could wander off too far. The other women remarked on what a patient mother Silver Eagle Feather must be, to put up with her so calmly. When Winter Born was beyond her toddling age and could walk and run properly, she only ran about even more, poking her head into every wigwam she could, inquiring after everybody, and following even near-strangers on their way out hunting or washing...or at least, trying to. She always protested when carried back home by her mother or father, but she never threw a tantrum that anyone else could see. Every time she did manage to shed a few tears, something else always popped up to distract her from her sorrows and consume her attention.
A few of the elders of the tribe murmured about how she was definitely her mother's daughter. "Silver was a lot like that when she was little," they said. "Not quite so rambunctious, but always looking into everything. If it weren't for her medicine she probably would have gotten in a lot of trouble, too..."
Everyone watched Winter Born's progress with curiosity and not a little tension. They didn't like the thought of her exhibiting powers like her mother or grandfather, but aside from her odd hair, the girl never showed any strange tendencies. And after a while the talk finally slowed and people moved on with their own business.
Winter Born had come to the age where she was still too young to stay away from the camp on her own, but old enough to wander off unattended so long as she returned before sundown. The Island was just big enough to keep her preoccupied; every day she seemed to find a new spring, or stream, or tree or rock that needed investigation. Although she had to drag herself away at times, she always remembered to return home before it got dark, as the elders always warned against the strange creatures which crept about at night. Winter Born wasn't exactly afraid of the thought of them, but it was best to always obey anyway.
Today, before the sun rose so high that it should grow too hot to run about much, she slipped off into the woods, making her way down one of the many trails before stepping off it and into the trees. She wore no moccasins; she found them bothersome in the summer, and could move about more quickly without them. She loved the feeling of moss and bark under her toes and made sure to sink her feet into every mudhole she could find, so that by the time she had left the trail long behind, her feet were stained dark brown.
Today her mother was busy with her own duties in the camp, and her father had gone off hunting, as usual. Winter Born often wished she could join him; from what she'd heard, hunting sounded like great fun. The young boys in the village always laughed at her whenever she brought it up, however, so she'd learned to stop asking. For some reason it didn't seem like hunting was something girls were supposed to do, though she couldn't figure out why. Female wolves and such hunted, didn't they? Why was it such an odd thought?
A rustling noise in the bush caught her attention and she halted immediately, head swiveling around to look in its direction. Two glowing dots stared back from the dimness.
Winter Born lowered one raised foot and stared back. Deer didn't have red and green eyes. She'd seen eyes like that only once before, and wished to know if these were the same. She didn't speak, and after a while the glow flickered and the bushes moved as something within them came out.
Winter Born's eyes widened when the other eyes reappeared, set now in a long wolflike face crowned with wide horns, fur covering the creature's body except for its long snake tail and giant wings. It crept out on all fours although it looked as if it could walk, and the two of them stared at each other in silence.
Only one thought kept passing through Winter Born's mind at that moment.
He looks like my brother!
Winter Born knew her half-brother, X'aaru, well, even though she never quite understood why he wasn't often allowed to see her; she would go to see him, instead, along with their mother. The demon was always very friendly with her, and although grown and with a mate of his own--another one of the demons--he would always take time to play with her as if he were a giant puppy. His eyes were red and green, the same as this one's. He wasn't quite as big, but they were definitely the same type of creature.
Winter Born tilted her head in curiosity. Were the two of them related?
The creature settled down on his haunches somewhat and continued staring at her. Winter Born didn't know what else to do. She took a few steps toward him and looked him over again, then took a few steps to the side to do the same. Yes, he even had the same sort of tail. X'aaru and Khiieta, his mate, were both friendly enough to her. She didn't have any reason to believe this one would be any different.
She moved several steps closer and smiled, holding out her hand toward his muzzle. The creature stretched out his neck to sniff at her fingers. Her hand was dwarfed by his nose, which was cold and wet like a dog's. Winter Born felt like asking him what his name was, and if he knew X'aaru.
Whistle. THUNK. Winter Born gasped and jerked her hand back, the demon baring his teeth and jerking his head back as well. The shaft of an arrow protruded, still quivering, from the tree beside him, and Winter Born stared at it in surprise. The bushes behind her started rustling and she whirled around.
Her eyes grew wide on seeing her father standing just behind her, wielding his bow, another arrow already fitted to the notch. The look on his face was something Winter Born had never seen before. She glanced briefly at the demon, now crouching near the bushes, and the look on his face was similar. The hair on the back of her neck prickled.
"Go back to the trail, Winter Born," Black Elk Horn ordered, not taking his stare off the demon.
Winter Born blinked. "But--I was--"
"Go back to the trail!" He spoke now in the voice which meant he would not take no for an answer, and so Winter Born obeyed, scurrying toward the trail she'd vacated earlier. She did slow down to peer back over her shoulder, nearly stopping in order to hear what else might happen. The two still stood exactly as she'd left them, though the ugly look on the demon's face had only increased. Her father's back was to her, so she couldn't see his face.
"Go back to the lake," he said in a low voice; at first she thought he was talking to her, and felt confusion, not knowing which lake he was talking about. She then realized he was talking to the demon. "Stay away from her. You have your own. I don't care how powerful you are; you're not touching Winter Born." He pulled on the string of his bow so it was drawn tight. "Go away and leave my family alone. She's not yours, and neither is Silver Eagle Feather."
Winter Born's brow furrowed. Despite how friendly X'aaru and Khiieta had been to her, the look on this demon's face led her to believe he might prove to be the exception; however, after a moment or so of baleful staring, he finally stood and turned, casting a spiteful look over his shoulder before slipping away into the woods. Her father stood facing the spot where he'd vanished for a little while longer, until the faint rustling sounds had disappeared completely. Only then did he lower his bow and turn back to the trail. Winter Born gasped and hurried back to it before he could catch up with her, wanting to look as if she'd been there the whole time.
She was shifting from foot to muddy foot by the time he arrived, giving her a silent, angry look which told he she'd best not talk back to him. She lowered her head to stare at the ground as they started on their way back to the camp. When they were about halfway there, still out of earshot of the others, he finally spoke.
"Do not go near him, ever. If he ever comes near you, shout, or come running back here. I do not want you even talking to him."
Winter Born's lip quivered. "He looked like Brother; I just wanted to know if they knew each other. He wasn't being mean or anything--"
"Did you hear me?" Black Elk Horn shot her a warning look and she silenced herself. "Never go near him, or let him near you. And if you ever come across his lake, then turn away and come back here. You must not visit him, wait for him, speak to him, or anything. No matter how friendly he might seem. Do you understand?"
She knew it was stupid to argue with her father, but couldn't help one small final stubborn response. "I was only looking at him..."
"You must promise NEVER to approach him again," Black Elk Horn snapped, and she knew that her part in the discussion was over. Still, she refrained from promising anything aloud, although he didn't seem to notice, taking her silence as resignation. After another tense moment spent in silence he seemed to relax slightly, and when he spoke again his voice had lost its sharp edge.
"I only worry for you, Winter Born; you don't know all there is to know about the Island just yet. Some things are deceiving. They may seem harmless but they're not. You have to be careful."
"I know," Winter Born said sulkily. She hated being lectured as if she were stupid. The creature really hadn't seemed dangerous at all.
"Knowing isn't all of it. You have to keep on your guard. It would be safest if you left him, and others of his kind, alone and stayed closer to the camp."
Winter Born bit her lip. Even Brother and Khiieta? she almost asked aloud, but didn't. She sensed he hadn't meant those two, yet the comment stuck in her head just the same.
"I didn't mean to make you mad," she said, instead.
Her father sighed. "You didn't," he said, after a while, and when he brushed his hand against her hair she knew it was all right, for now. She took this chance to run up the remainder of the trail, into the camp, her braids flying. When she glanced back at her father she saw the slight smile he wore, as well as the resigned look in his eyes, and almost smiled herself. Until she noticed that he seemed relieved as well, and that puzzled her. Why would he be relieved unless he'd been afraid of something? Afraid for her?
But what was there to be afraid of?
Winter Born frowned. She didn't allow the feeling to nag at her for long, however, and turned her attention back to home, anticipating telling her mother about what she'd seen that day.
Winter Born ran down the short trail leading away from the camp as several of the women returned to the camp late in the evening, carrying baskets full of various herbs and flowers. Silver Eagle Feather was the only one whose hair had not started to go gray. Although the other old women chattered amongst themselves, she walked a little bit apart from them, only participating in their conversations when invited; when Winter Born appeared on the trail she offered a slight smile. The old women merely looked at the girl and continued on their way, still talking; Winter Born fell into step beside her mother, though she had to skip to keep herself from moving ahead too quickly. Sometimes she hated how slowly adults tended to walk.
"Mama, guess what I saw today."
"Did you go exploring in the woods again?"
"Uh-huh. I wanted to go further but Father said I had to come back..."
"You should listen to him. It's not safe to be out after dark."
"I know. But guess what I saw in the woods! You'll never get it right!"
Silver Eagle Feather tilted her head to the side as if in thought. "Was it a cave?"
"Nope. Guess again!"
"Nuh-uh, not even close! I'll give you a hint--it had fur!"
"Was it a deer?"
Winter Born shook her head with a huge smile. "Nope, not a deer. Something bigger!"
Her mother's brow furrowed a little bit in puzzlement. "Did you see a bear?" she asked, sounding a little skeptical.
"No, not a bear!"
"That's about as bigger than a deer as something can get, Winter Born; so what did you see?"
Winter Born skipped ahead and turned so she walked backwards, twining the tips of her braids around her fingers. She smiled.
"I saw another one of those wolf creatures--like Brother! Only bigger! His horns went across this wide!" She spread out her arms as far as she could to illustrate, and she waited for her mother to start asking her the usual questions about what else she'd done that day.
Instead, Silver Eagle Feather's step slowed until she halted completely. Winter Born nearly tripped, then paused. She frowned at the odd look on her mother's face. She seemed tense, somehow.
"Where did you see him?" she asked in a soft voice.
Winter Born felt a bit of the tension squirming inside herself now too, and hesitated answering. "In the woods," she finally said, suddenly not feeling so eager to talk anymore.
"Did he say anything to you? Or give you anything?"
"Give?" Winter Born's brow furrowed and she shook her head. "No, he didn't give me anything...he didn't say anything either...Father came along and told me to go back to the trail, and then talked to him, and then we came home. I didn't get to ask him his name. He looked just like Brother." She started walking backwards again when Silver Eagle Feather continued toward the camp. "Who is he, Mama? Father wouldn't tell me. He just said to keep away from him, and from anyone else like him...but why should I?"
"You should listen to your father," Silver Eagle Feather replied; the response made Winter Born twitch in irritation. "It might not be safe for you to speak with him, especially alone."
"But who is he? Why does he look so much like Brother and Khiieta?"
Her mother was silent for a while; though her step slowed more the closer they got to the camp, Winter Born didn't even notice, being too busy staring at the look on her face. She nearly tripped again--whether over a root or over her own toes, she wasn't certain--when she received her answer.
"He is your grandfather."
"Huh--?" Winter Born gasped and stumbled, pinwheeling her arms to try to keep her balance. She managed to catch herself from falling at the last moment by grabbing onto a sapling, though it swayed beneath her weight, pulling her with it and making her yelp in surprise. Silver Eagle Feather stopped to take hold of her dress and pull her upright again, and Winter Born brushed the leaves from her clothing. She gave her mother a confused look.
"My grandfather...? I have a grandfather, too? Does that mean he's your father?"
Silver Eagle Feather nodded. "Of course you do. And yes, he is."
"And he looks just like Brother? And Khiieta?"
"This is because he is your brother's father, also. And Khiieta's."
Even though she wasn't quite old enough to understand the situation, Winter Born knew it was unusual, at the least. Her face screwed up as she thought it over, then she abandoned the thought, unable to figure it out.
"So how come Brother and Khiieta look like him, but you don't?"
"They have more of his blood in them than I do...it's difficult to explain. Maybe when you're older." Silver Eagle Feather put her hand on the back of Winter Born's head and guided her toward the camp. Winter Born was silent for another moment or two, still thinking it over, before speaking again, trying to sort out her own multitude of questions.
"Does this mean that I have a little bit of him in me, too?"
"Yes, it does. You have one quarter of his blood in you."
"Does that mean I'm part demon?"
An odd look flickered across Silver Eagle Feather's face--it looked like a wince--but she nodded. "Yes...you are. But you live among us, and you look like us, and this is what matters."
"So that's why Brother doesn't live with us? Because he looks like Grandfather?"
"His name is Ocryx...and yes, this is why. The other people...they do not always trust the demons. And with good reason." She looked down at Winter Born from the corner of her eye. "You should listen to your father this time, and stay away from him."
Winter Born frowned. "But if he's my grandfather..."
"This doesn't matter. Even someone you know may be someone you should not trust." Silver Eagle Feather stopped again, kneeling down in the trail and setting her basket aside. She placed her hands on Winter Born's shoulders; Winter Born fell silent, knowing the gesture meant she was about to be told something important. Although she felt she'd received more than enough lecturing that day, it was best not to complain.
"Winter Born...I don't wish for you to be afraid of everything, to feel as if you have to stay sheltered in the tribe," Silver Eagle Feather said softly. "It is good that you explore the Island, and learn to see things on your own. But...there are a few things you'd best not venture near. The lake on the other side of the Island is one. And the cave of the GeeBees is another; you know this place, don't you?"
Winter Born nodded with a twinge of exasperation. "On the west shore, the cooking place of the cannibal giants...I know, I know!"
"You would never walk up to a GeeBee and speak with him, would you?"
The girl shook her head.
"Because GeeBees are dangerous and can eat children like me," Winter Born recited in singsong, as she'd been taught.
"And if you were to come across a nebanaubae in the stream, what would you do?"
"Run away from it."
"Because nebanaubae are dangerous and can steal children like me," Winter Born said in the same singsong voice, rolling her eyes heavenward.
Silver Eagle Feather's mouth twitched in seeming amusement at the tone of Winter Born's voice. She let go of the girl's shoulders and stood again. "Think of him in the same way, then. Not every GeeBee will try to eat you and not every nebanaubae will try to kidnap you, but it's best to be safe. All right?"
"All right," Winter Born moaned, tired of the conversation. She hopped from foot to foot as her mother retrieved her basket and continued on her way toward the camp, then followed. She trotted up to the woman's side, still fidgeting absently and staring into the woods.
"Mama, do you think Grandfather would really hurt me?"
She heard her mother sigh softly. "No; I do not think he would, Winter Born. But it's best to be safe."
They went on in silence. The sounds of the camp grew ahead of them and Winter Born scuffed her toes against the dusty trail.
"Mama...did Grandfather ever hurt you?"
Silence, aside from the camp and bird noises around them. Winter Born waited for a reply, and could tell from the look on Silver Eagle Feather's face that she was trying to formulate an answer, but after a moment or two her mother simply smiled down at her and stroked Winter Born's braids.
"Enough talking. I need you to help me sort these roots."
"All right!" Winter Born exclaimed, instantly forgetting the odd look she'd just seen in her mother's eyes. She raced ahead into the camp to prepare the wigwam for the woman's arrival.
For a few days, Winter Born was content with obeying her parents' command to stay nearer to the camp. A group of pale-skinned people arrived one day from the town and this was more than enough to distract her attention. The men and women of the group met with the women of the tribe near the middle of the camp and there was much talking and displaying of goods; Winter Born occupied herself trying to spot what there was to be traded, and even managed to trade one of her own necklaces for a prettier one from one of the women. As she walked away admiring her prize she noticed the few children who had accompanied the adults. Some children from the camp had gone over to meet them before she had noticed them, and they were now busy hitting a ball back and forth with a stick. Face brightening, she ran over to join them.
"I can play!" she exclaimed as she came up; the pale children gave her a curious look, while her fellows just sneered. Winter Born halted before the group, trying to catch her breath. "I already know the rules--and I am the best player in our camp."
"How many games have you won?" one of the pale children asked, but one of Winter Born's companions stepped forward and nudged him back, holding up one hand as if to hold Winter Born at bay. She frowned in puzzlement.
"You don't want her playing with us--she just brings bad luck."
"I...I do?" Winter Born asked in confusion.
"How does she bring bad luck?" a pale girl asked.
"Can't you tell by looking at her?" The native boy pointed at Winter Born, then pulled on his hair and made a face. "Take a look at her white hair--do you know where she gets that?"
"Perhaps she was frightened when she was younger?" the girl said.
Winter Born's mouth fell open. "I wasn't frightened!" she cried indignantly. "My hair has always been like this!"
"She gets it from the demon," one of the other children of the camp whispered loudly, and suddenly all eyes were on her. Winter Born blinked, then felt her face go red. After an uncomfortable pause, the children all started talking at once.
"The demon? You mean the lake demon?"
"Of course! What other one? You don't believe me?"
"Mama and Papa did say that anyone related to him looks rather funny, or does funny things..."
"Can she do magic at all?"
"Why would you want her to! She would probably burn down the camp, just like the demon did before!"
"I wouldn't burn down the camp," Winter Born protested weakly, but they went on as if not hearing her.
"My brother said to NEVER go near anyone even related to that creature! He said they're all the same--they're all dangerous!"
"My sister told me the demon likes to collect jewels and glittery things. That people make deals with him, but he always requires payment, and if you can't pay, then you're in trouble!"
"I heard that even if you CAN pay you're a slave to him forever!"
"Her mother is part demon, too. She has all these powers. Everyone is afraid of her because she could hurt them if they make her mad!"
Winter Born felt a spark of pain in her breast. "Mother would never hurt anyone!" she yelled.
One of the children held her hands up to her mouth as if to whisper in confidence. "Careful! You're making her mad!"
"The demon hurts people when he gets mad," a boy said in a challenging voice. Winter Born took a step back from the now-threatening group, her chest hitching, but they only turned to face her, their fingers crooked and their eyes glittering.
"They're all alike, you know--the demon and his family! They trick people and then hurt them!"
"They do all sorts of strange things when they think no one's watching, but we know better!"
"You can never trust one of them! They might do something to you if you do!"
Winter Born turned on one heel, dashing away from the group and running toward the woods. For a moment she feared that they would follow her, but it was a long time before she realized that her own footfalls were the only ones to be heard. She allowed herself to slow down until she jogged, then walked, then stopped, by now far off in the woods, away from the camp. She listened briefly to tell if anyone was nearby, but couldn't even hear the chatter from their visitors. Her chest hitched again and she slumped to the ground at the foot of a gnarled tree, drawing her legs up under her and wrapping her arms around her knees, burying her head. She started sniffling, then crying, though she tried her hardest not to let out any crying sounds lest anyone passing by make fun of her for that. The children's words kept ringing in her head.
I've never hurt anyone! Mother hasn't hurt anyone, either! Why do they think I would hurt anyone? We always played before and it was all right; why are they saying things about me now? Have they really felt like that the whole time...? Do they laugh at me when I'm not around? Are...are they afraid of me...?
For some reason, this thought was far worse than the thought that they did not like her, or were laughing at her. To be afraid of someone who had never done anything wrong in their life...what was the point of that? She'd never done anything wrong to those other children...why did they hate her so much, now...?
She lifted her head enough to rub at her eyes, getting her hand wet. She sniffled again--then heard leaves rustling behind her. She glanced to the side to see a shadow looming over her and gasped, scuttling back from the tree in a fright.
The large wolf-faced creature she had met before stood off the path in the woods, staring at her.
Winter Born rubbed her eyes again. "You're the demon," she mumbled. "You're the one they were all talking about." She pulled on one white braid. "They said I got this from you!"
The demon only stared at her, saying nothing. Winter Born continued wiping at her eyes as she got to her feet.
"They said a bunch of other things too..." She sniffled. "I wouldn't ever hurt anybody. Mother wouldn't, either. I don't know why they said that."
The demon's ear flicked. He snorted, startled, when she stepped forward to stare him in the eyes, her nose inches from his muzzle. The look on her face was one of almost comic concentration. He managed to hold her stare, although he seemed mildly uncomfortable under her attention. After a few moments she eased back, wiping the last few tears from her eyes. She shook her head.
"You don't look like you'd hurt anybody, either. So I don't understand why everyone's so afraid of demons."
The demon blinked again in apparent surprise at this comment. Winter Born didn't notice. She turned to look at the trail, rubbing her hands against her dress to dry them off. "I don't see why people are afraid of things they don't even know," she said, as if to herself. "If I were afraid of everything I don't know, I wouldn't have met you." She turned and her face lit up, as if just realizing something, and she started digging in her pouch. "They said something else, too..."
She pulled something out of her pouch and walked toward him with it. He started to draw back, but her arms were around his neck before he could do anything. He snorted when she pulled away, leaving the little necklace she had traded for hanging over his breast. It glittered against his gray fur and he stared at it in puzzlement.
"They said you like glittery things," Winter Born said, "that people give them to you when they want something back..." She gave a huge smile. "You can have this as a gift!" Her head turned when she heard her name being called from far off in the direction of the camp, and she gave the demon a sheepish look. "I have to go now, before they get mad..." She smiled at him again when he lifted the little necklace in one great hand, peering at it. "I hope you like it!" She stood on tiptoe to place a quick kiss on his cheek before running off up the trail. "Bye, Grandfather!"
The sound of her footfalls faded away, leaving the demon now holding his hand to his face with the same wide-eyed look of disbelief. He looked again at the little necklace in his other hand, turning it this way and that. This made no sense. The girl hadn't even asked for anything.
A soft rustling noise came from the trail, and he lifted his head again. The girl was still gone, but someone else had taken her place. Silver Eagle Feather stood in the middle of the trail, her hands folded in front of her and her eyes on him. He stood when he saw her, and they stared at each other in silence.
"Please promise me," she said after a moment. His ear tilted but he gave no response. "Please promise me you'll never hurt her," Silver Eagle Feather said quietly, and his look grew guarded. She glanced up the trail in the direction Winter Born had gone, and for some reason not having to look her in the eyes made him relax just slightly.
"I forgive you for what you did to me," she murmured, making his ear flick again. "And to my mother. But please, promise me you will never hurt Winter Born. My mother only wished for a mate. I wished for a father." She paused, then turned to face him again. "She wishes for a grandfather. I won't ask of you what Black Elk Horn asked...but she may need your strength soon enough. Please never give her reason to be afraid of you."
The demon averted his eyes again with a sullen look. He lifted the little necklace to examine it again, before turning back to the woods. He cast her the briefest of glances over his shoulder as he disappeared among the trees with hardly a rustle, leaving no sign that he had ever even been there.
Silver Eagle Feather listened until the slight sounds of his movement had faded away, then let out a small sigh. She turned away from the forest and made her way back toward the camp and her family.