Return To Manitou Island: Part 4
How Things Have Changed
CHARMIAN GAWKED WHEN she saw who opened the door at the Dupries house. Not Justin, not Lady Dupries, but...
The name came out of her mouth without her even knowing she was saying it. She simply couldn't believe the sight that greeted her--Little Dove, youngest daughter of the medicine man Stick-In-The-Dirt--garbed in a fancy pale blue dress, makeup on her face and her long dark hair pulled up into a bun. Though she was much shorter than the Frenchwoman, it had been easy enough to mistake them for each other behind the drapes, with the way she was dressed.
At first she thought maybe she was seeing things, until Little Dove's eyes widened as big as her own must be.
"Charmian?" she gasped, and her voice brought Charmian back to reality--such as it was. Her mouth then formed a huge smile and she squealed and threw her arms around Charmian's neck. "It IS you! You came back, you really did!"
Charmian was too startled to do anything but give her a halfhearted hug in return. Little Dove even hopped up and down a bit, which was difficult considering her attire. She pulled back and looked Charmian over from head to foot, laughing.
"I can't believe you're really here! All of a sudden like that!" she exclaimed.
Charmian finally found her voice. "Little Dove--what are you doing here?" She looked down at the woman's dress. "Why are you dressed like that?"
Little Dove beamed and took a step back, pulling lightly at the flared dress as if she intended to walk over a muddy patch of ground. "What do you think of it?" she asked. "Lady Dupries bought it for me--traded for it, with furs."
"It's beautiful," Charmian replied, not sure what else to say.
"Do you really think so?" Little Dove's voice grew uncertain. "She said that light blue would go well with me, but I hope it doesn't make me look too dark..."
"No, really." Charmian felt a bit of her enthusiasm returning, and offered a genuine smile which the other woman returned. "It looks great...you look really beautiful in that, Little Dove."
Little Dove blushed a bit but Charmian could tell she was happy. "I came looking for Justin," Charmian added, and Little Dove stood up straight again.
"Oh--you've missed him. He's out. And Lady Dupries went out to the town. I think she should be returning soon, if you want to wait. There's a servant or so about; you can ask them to make you something, as I'm not very good at cooking." She blushed a little again.
This just made Charmian doubly confused. "Little Dove...what are you doing here? Are you taking care of the house while everyone's gone?"
"Oh." Little Dove blinked, then her cheeks reddened a bit. "That's right, you've been gone a long time..."
A soft thudding noise came from inside the house behind her, and she had to step aside, hand still on the doorframe, to let whoever it was through. She and Charmian watched in silence as a little boy appeared, dressed very dapperly, for such a young child. He glanced up at Charmian as he went, and she was puzzled by his pale eyes, fair hair, and darker than usual skin. He jumped off the porch steps and went running off across the lawn, into the woods.
"Who was that?" Charmian asked, curiously. She stared at the place where he had disappeared, but he didn't return. And so she was still turned away when Little Dove answered in a quiet voice.
"He is Justin's son."
Charmian felt a jolt course through her. She slowly turned back to find Little Dove returning her stare.
"That...that boy? Justin's?" she stammered, and Little Dove nodded. "Then that means that...that you...?"
"I live here now," Little Dove said softly. She offered a small smile, and her shoulders hitched a bit.
Charmian couldn't stop staring, no matter how impolite it was. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. "So you and Justin..."
"We are married." For some reason, it was as if Charmian only half heard her now, like she was speaking from far away. "Once among his people...and once among my people...so it would be proper." There was a long pause, as if a reply were expected, but Charmian couldn't convince herself to respond. She wasn't sure why.
"He told me...how you felt about him."
Charmian blinked. Little Dove's voice solidified in her mind and she returned to the present. The other woman's eyes seemed guarded, though her voice was sincere enough.
"The last time you were here," she said. "He said that you had a 'crush' on him." Charmian felt her ears start to burn and Little Dove looked down at her folded hands. "I'm not certain where he got that phrase from, but he did tell me what it means. I hope that this isn't a problem..."
Charmian blinked again, then hastened to reply. "Oh--no, no, it isn't," she blurted out; Little Dove's eyes rose to meet hers and she made certain to smile. "It's okay. That was--um--just a passing thing. Nothing serious. You know how it is."
"You're not angry?" Little Dove asked.
Charmian shook her head hastily. "No, not at all...there's this age difference thing where I come from...and long distance and stuff...so it wouldn't have worked out anyway. Even if, you know..." She forced herself to trail off before she could sound even more like a moron, and smiled again, though she felt incredibly stupid. "No, I'm not angry...I'm happy for you, Little Dove. Congratulations...he's a cute kid!"
A relieved smile spread across Little Dove's face and she stepped back, pushing open the door. "I'm so relieved...I wasn't sure how to tell you. I didn't want your feelings to be hurt..."
"They're not, honest."
"Would you come in? I'll see if there's something for you to eat..."
"Sure, I'd like that a lot. Thanks."
Charmian followed her up into the house, and closed the door behind them as Little Dove didn't. She smiled to herself on noticing this little oversight as they went toward the kitchens.
I guess you can take Little Dove out of the tribe, but you can't take the tribe out of Little Dove!
"What's his name?" she asked as they entered the large kitchens in the back. Little Dove started poking around as if looking for something.
"Oh," she said, smiling at Charmian over her shoulder. "His name is Page...but I like to call him Sky. It was like the wedding...we couldn't decide which one to go with. Justin wanted to call him Page...but his eyes make me think of the sky. So we call him both."
Charmian laughed. "It sounds like it can get confusing."
"Sometimes, yes...but he always knows we're talking about him." A servant entered from the back and Little Dove blushed a little bit, standing up straight. "I'm...not certain where the pastries are. This house is so big...I can never get used to it. Could you tell me where they are?"
"I'll fetch some, Madame." The servant turned and left, and Little Dove sat down near the island in the middle of the kitchen, Charmian following suit. Little Dove fiddled her fingers nervously.
"I...sometimes feel a little out of place here," she admitted. "I'm used to fetching things on my own, at least, when I know where they are...you would think that living here for a while, I would understand everything by now, right?"
"I don't know," Charmian said. "I'd probably feel pretty confused too. I didn't grow up in a house like this; for all I know there could be hundreds of servants stashed away in hidden rooms all over the place, and you'd never even know they're there."
Little Dove's eyes widened before she realized it was a joke and started laughing. "Oh dear," she managed to get out, wiping at her eyes. "I hope not."
"Don't worry about it too much. You can't be annoying Justin."
"I hope you're right...I hate being a bother to him sometimes. I was always better at retrieving things than at cooking or sewing or anything..."
"So...how exactly did you two get together?" Charmian asked, genuinely curious. Out of all the people on the Island she would have figured Justin to end up with, Little Dove hadn't been one of them. Little Dove gave a small smile and looked down at her hands.
"To tell you the truth, I'm not certain I remember how by now. It was all rather abrupt, I know..." She stretched the fingers on one hand and Charmian saw her wedding ring, and had to stifle a gasp of surprise. The gem was in fact part ruby, part emerald--what had once been Justin's necklace, back when Charmian had first come to the Island. It was now set into a band on Little Dove's finger. Little Dove folded her hands again. "I think he was lonely after Shadow Water left him," she said quietly, and Charmian fell still. "I remember I tried to make him feel happier...I didn't know him very well, but I hate to see anyone so sad." She smiled again. "Eventually he told me that we should be properly wed if I was going to trail after him so much. Looking back, I do not think he believed I would agree to this...I believe it was simply something he said without thinking...but I agreed anyway. By the time I told Father, he couldn't refuse."
"You tricked Justin into marrying you?" Charmian exclaimed, then started laughing. "I can't believe you did that!"
"I didn't trick him!" Little Dove insisted, though she giggled as well. "But I didn't know he wasn't being serious! And I could hardly go back and tell Father otherwise...that would have been so embarrassing for him...so of course, he had to go through with it..."
"That's so unbelievable." Charmian had to rub tears away from her eyes, the image was so funny. "So how did Stick take it?" she finally managed to say. "And Lady Dupries? I hate to think how that might have gone..."
"Actually, Lady Dupries was very kind to me...she still is. She reminds me a little of...a little of my own mother, sometimes." Little Dove's voice faded for a moment before she shook her head and continued. "She arranged the ceremony and everything...with the black robe...and she did not even object when I asked that we be wed among my own people, also."
"How did that ceremony go?"
Little Dove's smile grew. "Not quite as smoothly...not at first, at least. Father...well, I know he was not happy when I first told him...but he has not had much luck marrying us off, so I think that convinced him in the end. Justin is a good man, even if he isn't one of us. And he did shoot an elk, and brought it to Father's door to prove that he could care for me. Father could not refuse him then, though I know it was hard for him to let me go. Justin understands. I go to visit with them every so often, and sometimes Lady Dupries comes with me. It was a little awkward at first, but I think Father has become used to it." She sat upright and her face lit up. "Oh! He even came by the house not long after Sky...Page...was born, and wanted to see him. He had never come to the house to visit before. He didn't say it, but I think he was pleased that Sky's skin looks more like my own than like Justin's. 'He has the white man's eyes and hair, but one out of three is not bad,' he said." And she laughed again.
"I'm really glad it's working out for you guys. How old is he...Sky...Page...anyway?"
"He is seven...seven years old."
"Wow." Charmian put a hand to her head. "I really have been gone a long time...it was only about nine months where I came from!"
"Really?" Little Dove seemed awed. "It seems so strange...I've never been to the mainland, so I wouldn't know what it's like..." She frowned and glanced at the doorway. "I wonder if he found the pastries? It's taking quite a while..."
"Oh," Charmian exclaimed, striking her fist against her other hand so Little Dove jumped. "That's right...I came here to see Justin because--"
"Because you're bleeding?" Charmian blinked and Little Dove pointed at her arm. "I just noticed it...is it serious?"
"No, not really...I just thought I'd have him take care of it before it could get worse. If he's busy, though, I planned on going by your tribe and saying hello to everybody..."
"Oh! I know they would like that!" Little Dove beamed. "I know that Father will be glad to see you. Lily Flower is often away from the camp, but White Deer is there also!"
"Do you want to come? I could use the company."
"Oh...I have to stay here and wait for Lady Dupries to return." Little Dove's face fell. "And I should really go and fetch Sky...he can take care of himself, but I still need to keep an eye on him..."
"I'll send him back this way if I come across him. I'm sorry we didn't get to eat here." She stood up from the stool she had sat down on, and Little Dove followed suit. "I can probably catch something back at the camp, though."
"Yes, I know you can. I'm sorry you missed Justin; I'll let him know you were here."
Again Charmian felt a warmth in her face but ignored it and hoped it was invisible. "Thanks. I'll try to stop by again sometime when he's home!"
Little Dove accompanied her to the door and waved when she stepped outside, making her way down the porch steps. "I hope that you stay for a while this time!" she called out as Charmian crossed the lawn, and Charmian had to wave back, entering the woods and leaving the large house behind.
If she doesn't think I stayed a "while" last time, I wonder how long I'll have to stay THIS time?
Oddly, now that she was away from the Dupries house, she noticed more sound--birds singing and small creatures rustling through the leaves and grass--and for some reason this calmed her. She sighed and decided to walk this time, just to avoid tripping or running into any GeeBees. As much as she enjoyed being back here, she didn't really need to deal with that again.
Just for the fun of it she glanced up at the sky as she went, and tried to determine the time of day from the position of the sun. Her skills, everything Moon Wolf and Manabozho had taught her, were woefully rusty; she didn't even feel confident enough to conjure up a wood manitou, even though she was surrounded by trees.
Thinking of Moon Wolf again suddenly made her feel sad, and her step slowed, her gaze drifting down to the trail ahead of her. He had been her first teacher on the Island, the medicine man who lived in Cave of the Woods, not far from the mystical Crack-in-the-Island, where she had entrapped Ocryana. The two of them hadn't gotten along very well at all...but she sensed now that this was just the way that he was, that he had never felt anything against her personally. At least, his last words to her had made her change her mind about disliking him. He had believed she could defeat Ocryana, even before she believed she could. And he'd been right...though she felt she never would have proven him so, if he hadn't taught her what he had.
Before the defeat, he had ended up dead at the end of Ocryana's horn...so he had never lived to see what she'd done. Charmian still couldn't quite shake the feeling of guilt she had, as he'd died protecting her...even though she'd defeated Ocryana and saved the Island, she still felt she owed him, somehow.
She'd even promised him that she would...
"Aw, NUTS!" Charmian halted and suddenly remembered what she had promised, so long ago. There was an item back at the Dupries household that she'd completely forgotten about!
I can't believe I forgot that! How come I didn't ask Little Dove to help me look for it? How come I didn't remember to get it the LAST time I was here!!
She'd forgotten Moon Wolf's pendant. He had asked her to give it to...Shadow Water. She cringed and felt like beating herself in the head. She had no idea if she would have the chance to run across Shadow Water this time around, nor if she even wanted to, but...a promise was a promise...
With an annoyed sigh she started to turn to go back to the Dupries household. Little Dove would probably have no idea where the necklace would be stored, but maybe Lady Dupries would return soon and help her find it...
A rustling noise--much like the one she had heard on the way here--caught her attention, and she froze again, turning to look over her shoulder. She lowered her foot and looked around herself, in circles, but couldn't see anything.
Then she told herself to stop being silly, and relaxed. She almost laughed at herself, but instead cupped her hands to her mouth and yelled.
"Page? Sky? Is that you?"
The rustling continued, but no voice replied. Charmian stood and waited for a moment; perhaps he was shy. She began to grow impatient after a while, especially when the little noises in the woods wouldn't stop; was he playing some sort of game? Hide-and-seek? She'd never liked that game much...
"Sky? Your mom's looking for you! Why don't you come out? I won't hurt you; I'm a friend. Your dad knows me!"
The rustling settled a bit, and after another moment or two she assumed perhaps he'd wandered off toward home. She was a little annoyed that he hadn't even come out to say hello, but that was the way little kids were sometimes, she guessed.
With a sigh she turned back the way she'd been heading and started walking again, only to gasp and stop. The grass and underbrush at the side of the trail were quivering as something moved stealthily through them. She made herself relax, and forced her voice to remain calm even though she was starting to get irritated.
"Sky? Are you crawling around? Your mom might get mad at you if you get all dirty, you know..."
Something poked out of the brush, and she cut herself off and frowned. This wasn't a little boy. Instead, a long nose protruded from the bushes, its nostrils quivering; then a face followed, and yellow eyes and pointed ears. Charmian stood and watched as a large wolf, its fur the color of ashes and smoke, stepped out of the woods, its yellow eyes fixing on her and its head low to the ground. Its paws padded softly upon the soil.
Charmian relaxed again. "Hey," she said, smiling and holding out a hand. After dealing with the Ocryxes, wolves didn't seem so threatening; she knew enough about the creatures to know that they were relatively harmless, if treated properly. She felt she was a little bit connected to the Island's animals, after her last stay here.
"You a friend of Tal Natha's?" she asked softly, stepping toward it. It stood its ground in the middle of the trail, its small yellow eyes glittering. "If you are, maybe you should tell him I'll be by soon; but I have to stop by the camp first to..."
A low growling noise made her stop once more. It took her a moment to realize it was coming from the wolf itself, and she frowned in confusion. She hadn't made any threatening gestures, so why should it feel frightened? She looked into its eyes then, however, and realized that this creature wasn't frightened. If anything, the look in its eyes was a mixture of malice and...glee.
Charmian froze. The wolf's growl grew louder and finally its teeth emerged, long and gleaming. Its fur didn't prickle, so she knew it wasn't afraid of her. Then why--
This thought was cut off when the creature started bounding straight at her, its claws sending hunks of earth flying as they tore into the trail, its head bobbing as it ran. Its tongue flailed from its mouth and it was only when the wolf was practically on top of her already that she finally got the instinct to run.
She turned and tried to do so--but had waited too long, and yelled when she felt its forepaws strike her in the back, knocking her down. For the second time that day her face smacked into the dirt as the beast mowed her down; she felt its weight leave her back and pushed herself up, scrabbling to her feet and turning to run the other way, as the way back to the Dupries house was blocked. She was too far from both it and the camp to bother screaming for help, and she had no idea if there was anyone wandering around this part of the woods at just this moment. The wolf skidded to a halt and came charging after her so she went running again, as fast as her feet could take her.
She nearly fell over once more when another wolf emerged on the path ahead of her, a replica of the one behind her, tongue lolling and claws gouging and everything. She screamed this time and bolted off the trail and into the woods.
She couldn't believe how fast her feet skipped over the roots and rocks that littered the ground, not that she had much sense of mind to think about that. She dodged every tree she could, but it seemed as if the sounds of panting and flailing leaves were right at her back. And they just kept getting closer, not further away.
She leapt over a rock and landed on her feet on the other side, still running. Her lungs were starting to burn, but so far she wasn't that poorly off.
Maybe I'm not in as bad a shape as I thought? she mused as she ran. After all, I haven't even tripped over anything ye--
As if to spite her, a root seemed to appear out of nowhere and her toes caught just under it, yanking her leg back and sending her body flying forward while her foot stayed in place. For the third time that day she collapsed prone on the ground. This was really starting to hurt.
The scuffling, snorting noises, which had finally begun to recede into the distance, came closer now; Charmian rolled herself over just in time to see one wolf, then the other, appear, and they vaulted over the little rise behind the root, their eyes glittering and their jaws gaping.
Charmian let out a squeal and brought up her arms to protect her head, expecting to feel teeth tearing through her flesh at any minute.