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Return To Manitou Island: Part 5
Back To The Tribe
CHARMIAN CRINGED AND threw her arms up over her head just as the two ash-colored wolves leapt over the rise and straight at her face. She could practically feel them tearing into her already, and prepared herself for the worst. Were they rabid--?
She felt heat wash over her arms and heard a snarling, but then instead of her own scream--which she fully expected to hear--she heard a whish, a crack, and a yelp, then a thud. She lifted her head in time to see the second wolf hastily backing away from her, teeth bared and fur prickling.
Did I do that--?
She now noticed the first wolf, off to the side, lying on the ground; it struggled to push itself up and she saw a bloody streak across its muzzle. It snarled, but then something else snarled and the two wolves raised their hackles and turned to flee. Charmian watched them bound off into the woods, still growling angrily as they vanished. She watched them only because she preferred that to looking to see what else could still be snarling.
That was two wolves...then...where's that OTHER noise coming from?
It was coming from behind her, but as she realized this, it stopped. Charmian felt her hands shaking but forced herself to turn around.
The very first thing she saw was a wolf's face--so her reaction was to yelp and jump, falling over backwards. The second thing she noticed was that this creature was wounded also, if its bloody wrist was any indication. And the third thing she noticed was that...
Charmian sucked in a breath. The tawny Ocryx standing before her grimaced and licked at its--her--wounded arm, and Charmian immediately recognized who her savior was.
Even as she thought this, the air around the demon shimmered, and then a woman was left standing there, her long black hair falling down around her face. She winced as she held her arm, looking it over. Charmian pushed herself upright, still shaking.
"Th-thanks," she whispered, but wasn't sure if Shadow Water heard. She gave no indication that she had, so Charmian got to her feet, rubbing her arms and trying hard not to look stupid. Shadow Water finally lifted her head, but not to look at Charmian. She stared off into the woods where the wolves had disappeared, and Charmian followed her gaze with some anxiety. Nothing was there.
"What were those things?" Charmian asked, still trying to stop herself from shaking.
"Shadow Wolves," Shadow Water said, and Charmian turned back to her. She continued staring into the woods with a dark look. She sighed and turned about, so Charmian hurried to jog over to her before she could leave. "They first came to the Island a few years after you left."
"Came? Did they walk across the ice on the lake, or..."
"No, no one knows where they came from. They simply appeared. No one knows who commands them, if anybody."
"Commands them?" Charmian frowned. "What do they do?"
"When they first appeared, they did little," Shadow Water said. "They only watched from the woods. At first only a few saw them and most thought they were only illusions. But then more of them began to appear. They started to attack people every so often. When there were only a few of them, it was easy enough to fight them off. But lately there have been more and more, so an entire pack must wander around the Island. No one knows where they come from or where they hide. No one can tell when to expect them. They attack, and then they disappear again without warning. Without any purpose."
"Have they killed anyone yet?" Charmian asked, dreading the answer.
Shadow Water's gaze wandered to the trail ahead of them. "They have yet to do this," she said quietly. "Though a few have later died of their wounds."
Charmian stared at the trail as well. "Why would wolves do that?" she murmured. "I've read about them, and unless they've got rabies or something, they're nothing like that...not unless they've been moved out of their territory, but the Island isn't their territory..."
"They are not normal wolves," Shadow Water said. "I know even you could tell this when you saw them."
"Yeah, I could...they're bigger...and smarter...and their fur color's strange. They look almost like..." She paused. "Like they're made out of smoke. Or shadows."
"This is how they got their name. No one knew what else to call them." Shadow Water halted and winced again. Charmian stepped forward to look at her arm and saw the bite marring her wrist, blood dripping down to her elbow.
"You're hurt too."
"It's only a small bite..."
"I know, you've had worse. But I was going to see Silver Eagle Feather; you can probably get help there, too."
Shadow Water looked hesitant but Charmian took her other arm and pulled her forward. "C'mon, it's not too far from here," she said. "And it's probably best to get it taken care of before you lose too much blood."
Shadow Water finally seemed to give in, and let Charmian lead the way through the woods, the way she'd originally been headed. Charmian was relieved for the company, though she didn't say anything. She sensed Shadow Water didn't much feel like talking; maybe she still felt awkward after their parting the last time Charmian had been on the Island. Shadow Water had been one of her harshest enemies back then, but Charmian knew she'd been this way only at the command of her mother, Ocryana. Ocryana had ended up turning on her...and Charmian couldn't even begin to imagine the pain she'd gone through. So she didn't press the other woman to talk as they went along down the path. Shadow Water would talk if and when she wanted to, she supposed.
And so they walked in silence for a time, until the trail began to open up before them and the sound of voices and laughter grew ahead. Charmian's spirits began to rise. It sounded peaceful here...which was just what she needed, by now.
Sunlight filtered down through the trees and lit up the ground below as the two of them walked out of the woods and into the clearing of the camp. The children running about were, as usual, the first to notice them, and went running back toward the wigwams, yelling for their elders. The women who had been busy doing their different chores in the middle of the camp looked up in surprise, craning their necks. The few men in sight did the same. Charmian and Shadow Water halted and Charmian shielded her eyes, looking around for any familiar faces. She hadn't gotten to know many of the people in the tribe very well her last time here, but a few of them did strike a chord.
Then a few children came running back toward her, a tall woman in tow, and her eyes lit up. Shadow Water turned to look at Charmian with curiosity as she grinned and waved wildly.
"Silver Eagle Feather! Silver Eagle Feather!"
Charmian didn't even wait for the group to reach them. She dashed off across the clearing and threw her arms around Silver Eagle Feather as soon as they met. She couldn't even feel the pain in her arm anymore. Her last time here, Silver Eagle Feather had been almost like the friendly aunt she'd never had. She couldn't explain why, but for some reason she always felt comforted in the medicine woman's presence. Silver Eagle Feather touched her arm and Charmian looked up into her face with a huge smile.
"Charmian," Silver Eagle Feather said, and smiled in return, though her eyes seemed a little puzzled. "How did you come here?"
"It's a long story," Charmian said, not particularly feeling like telling it right now. "I kinda ran into Augwak and..."
"Your arm is hurt. Did he do this?"
"Yeah, kind of...I don't think he really meant it, but I thought I'd get it taken care of anyway. I'm sorry to bother you, but I couldn't find Justin and I was on my way here anyway..."
"Please, let me take care of it. I'll put something on it to stop the bleeding. You're no bother at all."
Charmian smiled once more and let Silver Eagle Feather steer her toward one of the wigwams. She halted when she remembered Shadow Water and looked back over her shoulder, causing Silver Eagle Feather to do the same.
Shadow Water still stood where she'd been left, looking uncomfortable to be there. Charmian turned to face her and gestured.
"C'mon, Shadow Water. You too."
Shadow Water lifted her eyes but still looked embarrassed. Silver Eagle Feather turned as well now.
"You're welcome to come with us, Shadow Water," she said. "I'll see to your wound, also, if you wish."
Shadow Water hesitated a moment before following. Charmian and Silver Eagle Feather headed toward a wigwam bearing the sign of an elk's antler, and stooped to go inside the entrance.
Charmian expected to see Silver Eagle Feather's husband, Black Elk Horn, but he was nowhere to be found. She sat down while Shadow Water stayed near the door and Silver Eagle Feather hunted around for something to tend to their wounds. "I take it you're quite happy to be back," she said, pulling out a pouch and some strips of leather. Charmian nodded and held out her arm while the woman dabbed at the wound, cleaning it off and applying moss which she tied to it with the leather. She stood and went over to do the same to Shadow Water's wrist and Shadow Water accepted the treatment in silence.
"I know it might be a little hard to believe but it was this gift I got that brought me here," Charmian said.
"Yeah! I couldn't believe it either! And it was just what I needed, too. I've been wanting to come back here for so long but I couldn't find the way. It's so great to be back! I'm going to say hi to everybody and everything." She got up and went to the doorflap, lifting it and peering outside. "Where is everybody, by the way? I saw the kids and some of the women but most of the men seem to be gone...are they hunting or something...?"
She pulled her head back in in time to see Silver Eagle Feather finish treating Shadow Water's arm, a faraway look on her face. She turned and went to put the rest of the moss and leather away.
"You came at a difficult time," she said quietly.
Charmian's smile faded. "Difficult?" she echoed, and let the flap fall. "Is...something going on?"
Silver Eagle Feather turned back to the doorway and lifted the flap, stepping outside. Charmian frowned and followed her. They walked into the sunny clearing and now Charmian noticed that although the children still played, as normal as ever, the women were subdued, going about their daily tasks, and what few men she'd seen before had vanished. Silver Eagle Feather looked at one of the wigwams and Charmian followed her stare. Her frown grew when she recognized the symbol emblazoned on the blanket there.
"That's Chief Yellow Turtle's place, isn't it?" she asked, confused.
Silver Eagle Feather nodded and started walking toward the far side of the camp. Charmian followed again but her step began to slow as she noticed the building they were headed toward. It was a long, low building--a lodge, she told herself--with various symbols painted on the birchbark exterior. Just looking at it she felt anxious about approaching any closer, even though Silver Eagle Feather gestured to her that it was all right. She bit her lip and obeyed. Silver Eagle Feather lifted the doorflap and Charmian peered inside, swallowing as soon as lots of dark eyes glittered in her direction. At least she'd figured out where all the men had gone.
She gasped when Silver Eagle Feather put her head in the door as well. "She wishes to speak with him...alone, please," she said, and the men stood and shuffled toward the entrance, Charmian backing out of their way. They crawled out one by one and most of them cast her a look before making their way back to their own homes. She sensed their displeasure with her presence, and her fingers twisted at the edge of her vest.
Silver Eagle Feather touched her back and she tried to relax. "Sorry," she mumbled. "I don't know why they don't like me."
"It isn't that they dislike you; they merely don't know you well enough. We have had some bad experiences with mainlanders." Silver Eagle Feather gestured inside. Charmian looked and now could see what the rest of the men had been gathered around.
A wood-and-bark pallet covered with furs had been constructed inside the lodge, and it stood at the far side of the room, its foot pointed toward her. It took her another moment or two before she realized the bed was occupied. She sucked in a breath as soon as she saw the frail form lying upon it, buried in furs which moved slightly with each shallow breath. Her grip tightened on the edge of the doorway.
"Yellow Turtle," she whispered, recognizing the old chief. She turned to Silver Eagle Feather with an anxious look. "Is he sick?"
Silver Eagle Feather nodded.
Charmian bit her lip and looked in at him again. "Well...he'll get better, right? With you and Stick-In-The-Dirt taking care of him, he..."
"No," Silver Eagle Feather said, and Charmian's insides clenched. She felt the woman's hand on her shoulder, but rather than comfort her it just reminded her how cold she felt.
"He is old," Silver Eagle Feather said, "and he is very ill. This is what the men have been preparing for...he will not be with us much longer."
Charmian's vision blurred. She wasn't sure why; though Old Yellow Turtle had been kind to her, she hadn't known him very well at all. She suddenly felt the urge to turn and run away from the lodge, but Silver Eagle Feather's grip on her shoulder tightened, preventing her from fleeing.
"One of the things he spoke of was that if you ever returned, he should like to see you again."
"Me?" Charmian glanced up at her in surprise. Silver Eagle Feather nodded and pulled the flap up higher.
"Go ahead...he'll awaken, if you talk to him."
Charmian continued chewing on her lip, but again obeyed. She stepped inside the lodge and froze just inside the doorway, looking back, but Silver Eagle Feather let the flap fall so she was alone. She fiddled with the edge of her vest and turned back to the pallet, then summoned up her courage and approached it.
Why am I so scared to be in here? Why do I feel like I'm about to fall to pieces?
She reached the bed after what felt like an eternity and forced herself to kneel down beside it. Yellow Turtle had been old on her last visit here...but now he was even older. She wondered if he had gotten smaller as well, or if it was merely the furs piled around him that made him look that way. She searched around for her voice and had to try a few times before it worked.
"Yel..." She cut herself off. "...Grandfather Yellow Turtle?" she said instead, haltingly, and it sounded strange.
The old man's breathing changed. At first she feared she'd done something wrong just by coming in here, but his head moved to the side a little and his eyes slowly came open. He had to blink to focus on her, and his eyes were cloudy with age, but she thought she recognized at least a little of his spirit there.
"The mainlander," he said after a moment, and Charmian's tensed shoulders relaxed.
"Uh-huh," she said, then mentally berated herself and spoke clearer. "Yeah...Charmian. I, uh, came back."
"I wondered if you would return," Yellow Turtle said. She was relieved to hear that his voice was the same as before, if somewhat quieter. "We did not get to say goodbye, the last time..."
"No; I think it was good luck that we didn't. It meant you would come back, and you have." He smiled, and all the wrinkles of his face seemed to smile along with his mouth. This made Charmian smile in return, even though tears were beginning to puddle up in her eyes. The look faded almost as quickly as it had come and she glanced down at the edge of the bed instead, hoping he wouldn't notice. She felt Yellow Turtle take her hand, and curled her fingers around his.
"You've spoken with Silver Eagle Feather," he said, and Charmian nodded.
"She said...you're not doing very well."
"She tells the truth. I have been here a long time; now I feel the Island is beckoning me to leave."
"The Island...?" Charmian looked up again in confusion.
He nodded. "You know already...the Island is a living thing. It changes all of us, even as we change it. You were not the same person when you last left, were you?"
Charmian thought a moment before shaking her head. "No," she said quietly. Even back then she'd known that she had left a different person from the one she'd arrived as.
Yellow Turtle smiled. "Well...we all have our time alotted here...and mine is almost gone. I am needed elsewhere." He squeezed Charmian's hand. "There is a pouch lying over by the wall...bring it over here."
Charmian stood up and obeyed, going to the side of the room and digging around until she found a small leather pouch tied with cord. She brought it back and Yellow Turtle pushed himself up a little bit with a wince, taking the pouch and pulling it open, fishing inside.
"I want you to have this," he said, and pulled out a smaller pouch, merely the size of a pendant, handing it to her. As she took it he held up a finger as if reprimanding her. "Do not open it up right now."
"When do I open it?" Charmian asked.
"You will know when. But not now. Keep it safe." Charmian put the pouch away in one of her pockets. "I'm not supposed to give you that, but I think you deserve it."
"Thank you," Charmian said, not sure what else to say.
"You are welcome...and I hope that it is something you can be proud of, when you claim it." Charmian didn't know what this meant, but didn't ask. Yellow Turtle flinched and she felt a surge of anxiety spring up inside her. She took his hand again.
"Black Elk Horn is outside with the others," Yellow Turtle said, his voice even softer than before. "Go call him, and have him come here so I may speak with him."
Charmian nodded and got to her feet. She turned to the entrance and made her way across the room.
She glanced over her shoulder. Yellow Turtle managed to turn his head to look at her and their eyes met.
"I know how you feel about the Island...as if it is a home, your home." Charmian flushed a little, as it was as if he had read her thoughts. "When the Island talks to me," he added, "it tells me that you may find a home here."
Charmian's eyes stung. She swallowed and nodded again before turning away, lifting the doorflap and stepping outside.
The men and now the women had started gathering outside the lodge, and they all looked up at her as she came out. She sniffled but managed to keep her eyes from overflowing, and glanced up at the crowd, looking to the left and right. She finally spotted Silver Eagle Feather off to the right, and beside her, her husband, Black Elk Horn. They both looked at her and Charmian waved.
"He...uh...wants to talk to you, Black Elk Horn."
Black Elk Horn blinked. He cast a look at the crowd, who all stared at him in return; as he made his way to the door Charmian could have sworn she'd seen his ears turn red. He disappeared inside but the doorflap caught on the way down so they could still see inside, just a bit. Everyone crowded even closer, including Charmian, who craned her neck to see what was going on.
She couldn't hear anything, but Black Elk Horn was kneeling now by Yellow Turtle's side while the chief spoke to him. After a moment Black Elk Horn's stare moved to the floor, but only for a short time; he looked back up again when Yellow Turtle spoke once more, and reached out to take the old man's hand. Yellow Turtle continued talking for a moment or two, holding Black Elk Horn's hand in return...then he took a breath, closed his eyes, and let it out. Charmian saw his fingers loosen their grip on the younger man's hand as they went limp, and Black Elk Horn leaned toward him, his face stricken. He might have said, loud enough for her to hear, "Grandfather?" but Charmian didn't stay to listen. She abruptly turned away from the doorway, tears welling up in her eyes, and pushed her way through the rest of the group, ignoring their stares as she hurried past. She found herself running across the clearing before she even knew what she was doing, until she reached the edge of the woods; once she had entered the trees she slowed to a stop, gasping for breath. She leaned one hand against a tree and used the other to wipe at her streaming eyes, her chest hitching.
I barely even knew him! Why am I feeling like this...?
She stayed this way for a while, trying to bring her breathing under control, but it felt as if someone had taken her heart and squeezed it hard enough to hurt. She hated when she felt a certain way and didn't know why. Sure, feelings didn't always have to make sense...but couldn't she at least know where they were coming from?
She had almost worked out her breathing, but her eyes still streamed freely; she continued wiping at them when a voice from behind startled her.
"You grieve for someone."
Charmian gasped and turned around. She had expected Silver Eagle Feather, but it was Shadow Water who stood at the edge of the woods. Charmian had completely forgotten about her.
She rubbed her eyes. "Sort of."
Shadow Water stared at her for a moment before coming forward. She stopped a few feet away and Charmian continued trying to clear her vision.
"I feel it isn't Yellow Turtle," she said softly. Charmian's mouth twitched and she pushed herself away from the tree.
"I'm that obvious, huh." She let out a shuddery sigh. "You know...I know it sounds silly...but when I came here...I don't know. I expected it to be all great and happy and stuff...like, nobody dying or anything. Everything perfect. Like a dream."
Shadow Water's brow furrowed. "People have always died on the Island," she said.
Charmian nodded. "I know...that's why it's silly that I thought that. I don't know. I guess I just wanted to take a break here, and I show up and everything's the same as it is in real l--back where I came from." She sighed once more and her gaze drifted to the ground, her own brow furrowing.
Is that it...? Why I'm feeling like this? This isn't about Yellow Turtle...this is about someone else...
She was lost in this thought for a moment or two when an eerie wail started back in the camp, making her tense and look up even though she could see nothing but the trees. Shadow Water looked toward the camp as well and another wail joined the first, then another, and another. Soon the woods were filled with the strange cries, rising and falling like the howl of the wind. Charmian bit her lip and took a step back when she realized what the sound was, what it meant.
"I don't think I can go back there," she quavered.
Shadow Water took her arm and turned her away from the camp. Charmian allowed herself to be led through the woods, the keening sound fading with every step. Her eyes overflowed again and she spent the walk wiping the tears away, though it was a futile effort, as more just kept taking their place.
Why did I think it would be any different here? The Island isn't paradise. Things go wrong here too. I should have known that!
But...why right the day I get here? Why did it have to happen now? Couldn't I have had just a few days with nothing going wrong? All I wanted was to get away from it all...but it looks like I just stepped right into it again...
She felt guilty now, as well, realizing how selfish she was being. Even the Islanders were handling their problems better than she was. As they walked she remembered once more that she was supposed to give Shadow Water something, which she didn't have on her, but at the moment it no longer seemed so important. The thought only made her think of someone else who had died long ago, and she dropped her head and rubbed at her eyes as they continued through the woods in silence.
Yellow eyes narrowed as they watched the two walking through the woods, the image wavery as it was superimposed upon heated air, but clear enough to make out. He could hear them as well, even though there was no sound.
She mourns even for those she does not know. Interesting.
At this point he saw the younger of the two--the mainlander with the red hair--stop and turn around. Her eyes focused directly on his. For a moment he felt mild surprise, until he understood she could not actually see him. With a tense look she turned away again and continued on her way. He was impressed.
She has powers unlike most of them...unusual. And her heart is pure as well. As he thought this, the two passed beyond a stand of trees and disappeared from his sight. The image faded and evaporated, leaving him alone in the dimness.
A pure heart, he thought to himself. It will be entertaining to try to change that.
And he smiled.