Return To Manitou Island: Part 21
TAL NATHA TILTED his head at an odd sound which echoed in the forest beside him. He caught the briefest glimpse of something scurrying away, but it was gone before he could turn to look at it. He paused where he was and waited a moment or two to see if it should return, then continued on his way.
He left the woods and set foot on the grass overlooking Devil's Lake, and immediately spotted the great moose antlers rising from the water. The glowing blue eyes followed his movements balefully as he came forward, tilting his nose down as if to drink from the lake. The two creatures stared at each other.
"You were singing again," Tal Natha said aloud. Then, with his mind, I take it you were not successful this time, judging by those noises in the woods.
The blue eyes flared. You are not welcome here, Dreamspinner. He said the name as if it were an insult.
Tal Natha's ear flicked. You know I would not have come if it were not important, Mitchi Manitou. I thought I should warn you though, that your master will no longer take so kindly to you singing humans to their death in his lake.
Mitchi Manitou's eyes flared again and he sank beneath the surface, leaving a ripple behind him. Tal Natha sat on the shore and waited. A few moments passed. Then another ripple formed, and another; the water began to roil several yards away from the shore, and Tal Natha watched as what looked to be a pillar of water rose from the surface, trickling and splashing and rippling. It moved toward the land and then, like the petals of a flower unfolding, its sides peeled down, three of them vanishing back into the lake and the fourth forming a pathway onto the grass. Tal Natha rose as the one who had been concealed within stepped down this little path, the water falling to the ground and trickling back into the lake behind her.
Tal Natha bowed his head. Sister.
A slight smile came to Shadow Water's face as she reached out her hand. "Brother." She touched his cheek and when he raised his head she stepped closer so their foreheads touched in greeting. She stepped back again and Tal Natha sat, folding in his wings, so that he would not tower over her so much. Her brow furrowed in what looked to be concern.
"You realize you may cause trouble by coming here," she said softly.
Tal Natha bowed his head again. You know I come with nothing but respect, Sister; and that I would not be here if it were not important. But if it is truly such a troublesome time, perhaps you can convey my message to him for me?
Shadow Water nodded and Tal Natha's wings relaxed. He stood and took a step or two away, sniffing at the breeze.
I could ask you as well...have you noticed anything different lately? A change, or something...not quite in its place? Something you have not noticed before?
I cannot be more specific...I wish to know only if you have sensed something odd lately, about the Island.
Shadow Water frowned and twined her fingers together. "I believe so," she said hesitantly; Tal Natha turned to look at her and she lifted one shoulder. "I'm not certain what it means, though."
Could you explain?
Shadow Water took a breath. "Something...in the air. Feels ominous. Not well. Your father has noticed it also. This is why he keeps the manitous in check. It's making him tense. He...does not know what it is. I get the feeling he had thought you might know."
Tal Natha's wings sank a bit again. I had hoped the same about him...
"You do not know...?"
The demon shook his head. No...and this is what troubles me most. The mainlander...Charmian...when she came here, I did not even notice it. She was here fully a day and more and I had no idea until she came to my step. Usually...usually I can sense everyone who steps upon the Island...but I could not sense her. His nostrils flared. Not even when she stood before me.
Shadow Water stared at him. "Her dreams," she said after a moment. "They...?"
Tal Natha shook his head again, slowly this time. I do not sense them...I do not know if she even sleeps. She told me she had had a dream...but I did not send it to her. And I did not sense it, nor her. If I had not seen her standing before me...it would be almost as if...she were not really here at all...
The breeze flared into a tiny gust, ruffling the grass. Shadow Water stared at the demon in open confusion now, but he didn't bother explaining what he'd just said. The wind eventually died down, leaving the trees and the lake still; here, even the song of the birds was distant, muted.
"The dreams of others," Shadow Water finally said. "What of those...?"
They I can still sense. Tal Natha's ear tilted back and his brow furrowed. But...
It was a long time before the demon could bring himself to answer, and even then his voice was soft, subdued.
But they seem to be growing fewer...every day. He peered at Shadow Water. Do you suppose that she...?
Shadow Water shook her head. "When she was here I could always sense her...she's sleeping now. She still is. I don't feel her anywhere. And neither does he."
Tal Natha nodded absently. I suppose I am only growing negligent...perhaps most of it is in my mind, after all. Shadow Water looked ready to disagree, but he rose and turned about before she could do so. I apologize for intruding here, Sister. Please let him know of what I said.
Shadow Water nodded. She took a step back when Tal Natha crouched and spread his wings, flapping them and launching himself into the air. He pushed himself upwards, away from the lake and the strange dark silent woods surrounding it, clearing the trees and rising higher over the Island.
Up here, further away from the dreams of the Islanders, he could think.
Faint clouds of mist pelted against his fur as he flew in a slow circle, barely paying attention to the land and water below. The last time he had stopped sensing dreams, it was because the Islanders had lost faith in their power, and because Ocryana had then taken what dying dreams remained and used them for herself. Even a dead dream had strong medicine to it, if used right. They'd been fortunate in that the mainlander girl had figured this out in time, aided by Nathalit, the Dreamer, she who had given Tal Natha his abilities in the first place...but if Ocryana was still asleep far beneath the Island, then what could be happening to the dreams now...?
It is not so much the people giving them up, and them being stolen, this time...rather I sense it is simply someone else...appropriating them...
He felt the dreams were still there...it was just someone else giving them out, somehow. But how? Aside from Dakh and Sikt Natha's limited abilities, he was the only one capable of doing that...or so he'd thought...
Could there be another one...? Another Dreamer, somewhere out there...?
Tal Natha cleared a bank of clouds at just that moment, and discovered he had soared out over the east bluff. He turned his wings slightly to alter his course back inland, when something in the water far below caught his eye, making him halt and hover in midair. He frowned and squinted his eyes to see what it was.
In the vast blue expanse of Lake Huron, a tiny canoe frantically paddled its way eastward, away from the Island...but not toward the mainland, or the upper peninsula.
Tal Natha's confusion grew. In all his time here, he had never seen someone paddling away from the Island in that direction. As far as he knew, there was only wilderness that way...almost everyone he had seen traverse the lake had come from the south, with a very few from the north. And so what could this be?
The timing was too strange. Feeling tense, he spread his wings and continued out over the lake, following the canoe.
It cut a sharp white trail through the water as it went. Tal Natha had to flap his wings hard just to catch up with it, as the wind was against him; yet it didn't seem to deter the canoe any. Just as he managed to come almost directly overhead, the person in the canoe--a native--glanced upwards over his shoulder and spotted him. His eyes grew wide in panic and he bent over his paddle, slapping it at the water furiously. Tal Natha watched in astonishment as the canoe put on an unexplainable burst of speed, skimming even further ahead. He couldn't keep up with it.
Where was the little boat getting such speed from...?
Tal Natha's nostrils flared. He pumped his wings, determined to give chase, when something sparked in his head. He halted again and looked back behind him. Far away from him now, the Island shimmered in the mist, green and gray surrounded by blue. He attempted one more flap away from it, but the feeling that had come over him grew stronger, and again he halted. He had to settle for looking ahead of him and watching the canoe vanish across the water, before turning and slowly flying back toward the Island.
Maybe the canoeist would return.
He would make certain to keep his eyes open for him the next time.
The yellow eyes of the watcher narrowed a bit when he smiled in amusement, spying the abrupt stop of the demon as Tal Natha sped over the water. He laughed silently at the creature's conflicted expression before he turned and headed back home, leaving the canoeist in peace.
"Too bad," he murmured aloud. "Your leash has never felt quite so short, has it? You may be the powerful Spinner of Dreams...mate of the Light of the Island, reader of all the thoughts of others...but the truth is you are as chained to that rock as a dog is to a tree. You cannot leave it behind, can you? Of course not...you know what would become of it, and of you, if you did..."
With a wave of his hand the vision dispersed, being replaced by another one. He leaned on his elbows to watch in interest as the rest of the game unfolded before him.
An odd vision of a canoe drifting into the distance faded from Charmian's mind. Her eyes slowly came open and she stared up at what looked to be a hole in the sky with sticks poking out of it. She could hear birds and laughter.
She turned her head, her gaze traveling down the sticks to see that they formed a sort of pole in the middle of the room. Various pouches and such hung from curved wooden beams which supported birchbark walls. Three other pallets, similar to the one she was now upon, rested against the opposite wall.
That's right. I'm in Stick's camp.
Charmian sat up, pushing the light blanket off of her--she peered at it as she rose, puzzling over the colorful patterns that adorned it; everyone had seemed to have only furs and skins the last time she was here. She stretched and rubbed at her neck, looking around some more as her faded memories of the night before drifted back.
She'd followed Stick-In-The-Dirt back to the tribe, by which time it had been early afternoon. There had been a swarm of children present, as always, and this time they'd practically dragged her toward the main lodge, demanding stories of the mainland. She couldn't think of anything interesting to tell them--certainly tales of Algebra I and Academic Biology wouldn't be quite the entertainment they must be seeking--so she'd spent the better part of the next few hours outlining the plots of the Indiana Jones movies to the best of her storytelling ability. By the time she was halfway through The Last Crusade every mouth had long been hanging open in suspense; she'd been worried that their jaws might start to hurt, when their parents had arrived to drag them all back home in protest. Which was just as well, as she couldn't quite remember how the movie ended anyway. Later on had come supper, and more appropriate stories from one of the elders; by then Charmian had been lapsing into a drowse, but she'd been awake enough to notice the slightly subdued nature of the proceedings. On looking at the old storyteller and noticing he was not Yellow Turtle--who she had been expecting to see--she then understood. The pang she'd felt had been enough to unsettle her for a while, but she must have fallen asleep anyway. She couldn't even remember coming back to Stick-In-The-Dirt's wigwam, but here she was, pallet and all.
I must've been really tired, to sleep until daylight!
She made sure to roll the pallet up and tuck it close to the wall like the others so it wouldn't trip anyone, then started poking around for her backpack. It wasn't beside her, so she couldn't be certain where it was. She had begun feeling a bit of anxiety that it might have been stolen and raided by the inquisitive children--what if they had taken her dreamcatcher?--when the doorflap opened, letting in a stream of bright light.
Charmian halted over a group of deerskin packs, shielding her eyes. A woman stood peering into the doorway, but in the light Charmian couldn't tell who she was; Stick-In-The-Dirt had three daughters, two of whom she believed still lived with him, so it could be either one of them.
She put down her arm and waited to see which one it was. The woman stepped inside and let the flap fall shut behind her, the little hole above lighting the room well enough for Charmian to see her face now. And it wasn't either one of Stick-In-The-Dirt's daughters.
Charmian blinked in puzzlement. The woman who came toward her was about as tall as White Deer, the oldest of the three, but was dressed and styled much differently. The braids in her hair weren't as tight as White Deer's and Lily Flower's usually were, allowing her long dark hair to frame her face; and rather than being in simple braids, the hair below was wrapped with colored cloth. Her skin was darker and her cheekbones higher than the younger girls'--for now Charmian could tell she was older than any of them, as well--and although her long dress didn't seem any more ornate than theirs, something about it just seemed different. She wore a necklace with silver bells on it, and was carrying Charmian's pack in her hands.
Charmian's eyes widened on seeing this. The woman held it out to her; she accepted it with a sigh of relief, hugging it close to herself.
"I thought they might be interested in peeking through it," the woman said with a slight smile, "so I kept it nearby, where it would be safe while you slept."
"Thank you." Charmian stepped aside to keep out of her way as she started tending to the rest of the things in the wigwam. Only now did she notice that some coals had been smoldering in a little pit beneath the poles, a pot settled atop them; the woman turned and held a cup up toward her.
"Are you hungry?"
Charmian felt her stomach growl and bit the inside of her mouth. "Yes; thank you." She took the cup and drank its contents; the woman stood and dusted off the knees of her dress, again with the same slight smile.
"You must be the mainlander Stick-In-The-Dirt talks about so much, the one who fought the wolf demon."
Charmian's cheeks flushed. Before now, she'd always thought it would be cool to be thought of as a hero; that was before she'd considered all the embarrassment involved in everyone knowing her name. "I guess so...only I didn't really do it on my own, like they keep saying."
"Still, you were quite brave, from what everyone has said." The woman's smile grew when she took the cup back, and Charmian found herself starting to like her. She smiled in return as the stranger took the pot off the coals and doused them with a container of water, a sizzle of smoke drifting up out of the hole above.
"I'm Charmian," she said after a moment, wanting to hold out her hand but knowing that a handshake probably wouldn't be recognized anyway. She settled for a sort of half nod, half bow when the woman turned around again, smiling and returning the gesture.
"Morning Star," she said.
"That's a pretty name."
This comment seemed to amuse Morning Star. "Thank you," she said, and covered the pot with a piece of deerskin, tying it tight. Charmian looked around the room again as if she hadn't seen it before, putting her pack over her shoulder.
"So...where is Stick today? Did he bring me back here last night?"
"He is out seeing to Old Yellow Turtle's grave, at the arched rock. You were sleepy last night; you were not even awake enough to make your own bed. You slept as still as a mouse."
"Do you know where--"
The doorflap opened again and a head peered in. The two of them turned to look at it; Charmian sensed a second's hesitation before the next person entered. When the flap fell shut she recognized White Deer, and her smile returned.
"Hi, White Deer!"
White Deer blinked, adjusting her eyes. "Charmian? You're awake?" Now she smiled as well, which was odd enough, as Charmian remembered her as one who rarely smiled. "You could not even keep awake enough to finish your Kru-saed story last night!"
Charmian grinned and rubbed at the back of her neck. "Um--I think the good guy won. I'm pretty sure of it, in fact. And they left the cup behind and rode off into the sunset. And then Indiana Jones went on to become president and order people to get off his plane." She laughed at the confused looks on the women's faces. "Never mind...different movie. I heard Stick went back down to Arch Rock...? Do you think he'll be busy there for long?"
"He had to leave his watch early, and it's been worrying him," White Deer said. "He wishes to make certain Yellow Turtle's spirit has crossed the path properly. I know he will be beside himself if he feels he didn't make it to the Spirit Land..."
Charmian's smile dimmed somewhat. "Oh...I think that's my fault." Her shoulders sank a little bit when White Deer gave her a questioning look. "I was in a little trouble in the woods...Stick was the one who came and got me. I probably dragged him away from Arch Rock. I hope everything's okay over there..."
"I was heading out to look for herbs," White Deer said. "I wanted to come and see if you were awake, if you wanted to come along or not."
"That sounds good. I could use a walk...I think I'm getting lazy!" Charmian grinned again and turned to Morning Star. "Thanks for taking care of my backpack, Morning Star. And for the soup. I really appreciate it."
Morning Star nodded and smiled. "Take care." She held up her hand in farewell as Charmian and White Deer exited the wigwam, and Charmian waved in response. The doorflap fell shut behind them and she had to trot to catch up with White Deer as she strode across the camp and toward the wooded trail. They started off down it, White Deer balancing a basket on her arm, Charmian still adjusting the straps on her pack to make it more comfortable. She looked around herself at the trees, breathing in the warm morning air. She decided to wait a few moments to bother asking what was on her mind.
"So...who is she?"
White Deer looked at her, but Charmian could tell she knew who she meant. She turned to look back up the trail again.
"She is...Father's second wife."
Charmian blinked. She peered over her shoulder at the path behind them, as if to see back into the camp itself. Of course, it was obscured by trees by now.
"So he finally got married again, huh...?" she murmured, then arched her brows. "Hm. About time."
White Deer didn't respond, so Charmian looked up at her. It looked as if the older woman was trying very hard to keep her face neutral, but barely succeeding. Charmian tilted her head in curiosity.
"I take it you're not quite as happy about it as he probably was..."
"I do not like her," White Deer said abruptly, then fell silent. Charmian sensed she wanted to say more but was refraining out of courtesy. A few more prodding questions would probably be more than enough to get her to open up.
"She seems nice, to me," she said.
White Deer's mouth twitched. "This is not it. Of course she is friendly. It's just that...he could have at least married one of our own kind."
Charmian frowned. "Your own kind--?" She looked back over her shoulder again. "She didn't look like she was white..."
"No, no. She is of a different tribe. She is...of the enemy tribe."
"Oh." Charmian's brow furrowed in puzzlement. "You mean the Iroquois."
White Deer nodded. "This is what Monsieur LaCroix's people call them, yes." Charmian kept silent now until White Deer took the hint and elaborated. "Her people were attacked by another tribe. An enemy common to both of our peoples. She and some other women were taken captive. They were not treated well...she was the only one who survived."
"Oh," Charmian said again, feeling her spirits sink.
"Some of our men overtook the war party when they came to the Island and took them as prisoners. She...Morning Star...she was in poor shape, and none really wished to care for her...and so Father stepped forward and said that he would. I do not know what he was thinking. It was weeks before she would even speak to us without cringing and hiding her face. As if Father would ever hurt a woman."
"Maybe he felt sorry for her," Charmian suggested. "I mean, you're alone and hurt, and surrounded by strange people, wouldn't you feel sorry for yourself?"
"I suppose," White Deer said in a grudging tone. "But still he did not have to marry her."
"Maybe he was just tired of being alone."
"He wasn't alone!" White Deer retorted. "He had Lily Flower, and he still has me."
"I know, but it's different with a wife. Maybe he just got tired of living like that?"
White Deer got a look that was a cross between a scowl and a pout; Charmian sensed her displeasure with the situation. "And so he wanted a new wife," she said. "Why is that so bad? Like I said, she seems friendly enough..."
"She--" White Deer cut herself off, biting her lip; they walked on a short way before she could finish the sentence. "She reminds me of Mother," she said in a subdued voice, and Charmian nearly tripped over her own foot on hearing this.
"Your mother--?" she echoed in surprise. She didn't know much about Stick-In-The-Dirt's first wife, except that she had died long ago, and somehow Ocryx, the lake demon, had been the cause. From the feelings she'd sensed every time she was around the medicine man, she'd felt he had never really gotten over the grief, despite the years that had gone by. And so she had never felt comfortable bringing the topic up with either him or his daughters; hearing about her now from White Deer came as a surprise, especially in this context.
"She looks like your mother?" she asked, softening her voice. She pictured Morning Star in her head, trying to compare her to the vague image she had formed of Stick-In-The-Dirt's first wife.
White Deer shook her head. "No...not very much...but still...there is something about her that reminds me. If it is her hair, her eyes, her voice, I'm not sure, but it's something. Father must have noticed it too." Her scowl returned.
"Then maybe that's why...?" Charmian ventured. "Maybe he brought her in because she reminded him of your mother..."
"It still does not mean it was right for him to marry her!" White Deer burst out, making Charmian flinch. She sounded truly upset. "He did not have to try to replace Mother! And with one of them! He could have at least wed one of our own--at least then it would be more appropriate. She is merely a strange woman. Who knows what family she even comes from. It's not right."
Charmian chewed on the inside of her mouth. "I know," she said again, even though she couldn't quite understand the reasoning behind White Deer's animosity. "But still...when you fall in love with someone, you don't really think about what tribe they're from...it just kind of...happens. I'm sure he didn't mean to replace your mother, really. But it's not like he could've controlled his heart or anything."
She readied herself for another attack, but White Deer simply drew in on herself a bit, hunching her shoulders and hanging her head. She still wore a pout but Charmian could tell she was more sad and confused than resentful. She felt a pang in her chest, remembering how she'd felt in the hospital with her grandmother; although she'd loved her dearly, she knew it would have hurt even more if her mother had been the one dying. And to lose one's mother to violence was even worse.
Worse? Imagine living with your father all that time...and him never getting over it...imagine having to wake up to that grief every day, almost all of your life...it would almost become your own. And then for him to seemingly forget all about it...no wonder she's so upset.
"I'm sure he hasn't forgotten your mother," she said softly, hoping to at least patch over the hurt a little. "From what I can tell he must still love her very much...I don't think anyone could ever forget a feeling like that. But sometimes, you just have to eventually move on."
"I suppose," White Deer grumbled.
"So where is Lily Flower, anyway?" Charmian asked, trying to change the subject. "I noticed Little Dove is...um...staying at the Dupries place now."
"Yes. It took Father a little time to get used to that idea." White Deer's mouth twitched, as if ready to grin, then she sighed. "But at least she is married. Lily Flower moved out of the home as well, to be with White Coyote. She is not around the camp very much lately. I am the only one still living there." Her shoulders drooped a little bit. "And so I'm looking for herbs and roots."
Charmian's brow furrowed. "Why?" she asked in genuine puzzlement. She then wished she hadn't asked it, as White Deer's expression just grew gloomier.
"Well," she said, "it's not as if I am married. None of the men have shown any interest in me. I have no cooking or cleaning skills that are any better than anyone else's."
"So, you're not married. So what? That's not the only way to make a living, is it? Haven't you tried anything else?"
"I'm not good at anything else! I tried beading, but my fingers are too clumsy. I tried making clothing but it's the same way. I've tried growing plants, but they always seem to die. I've tried fishing, but I'm always tangling the nets. I even tried to deliver a message once, but I tripped and fell at least three times along the way, and by the time I got it there, they knew of it already!"
"Have you tried hunting?" Charmian suggested.
White Deer gave her a horrified look. "That's a MAN'S duty!" she exclaimed.
Charmian rolled her eyes and sighed. "But have you bothered trying it? Who knows, maybe you'll be good. I'm sure some of the women have to hunt now and then."
"To answer your question, I tried setting a rabbit snare once, and do you know what happened?--by the time I returned, yes, there was a rabbit in it, but it was only wounded, and thrashing about, and I could not even bring myself to kill the poor thing...I had to call for help...and Lily Flower was the one who killed it. She laughed at me for being so silly about a mere rabbit. We eat rabbit all the time, yes, but it is always Father or someone else who catches and kills it, not me. I could not even bear to watch her skinning it!" Her face screwed up and she shook her head as if to dispel the unpleasant image. Charmian raised her hands and waved them.
"Okay, okay, sorry I brought it up...well...how about...fighting or something?"
White Deer just gave her a dirty look. "If I am too squeamish to hunt, and too clumsy to even sew, do you really think I could handle a bow and arrow or a knife? I can imagine how ridiculous I'd look, too...tripping and falling over and probably impaling myself...Lily Flower would have a good laugh at that." She sighed and lifted the little basket she carried. "I already tried everything else...believe me. I don't know why but I am not good at anything. I haven't even married anyone, to make Father happy. He says nothing, but I know he's disappointed in me..."
"You can't know that," Charmian said.
"Take a look, Lily Flower is married. Little Dove is married. Even if to a long knife, she's at least had a child by him. What can I do?--I can hardly even boil water without burning down the wigwam. I know Father is disappointed in me. I am the oldest, I should have been out of the house first, or at least brought a man back into it." She lifted the basket again and this time Charmian looked at it. "I thought...maybe, since I tried everything else, then maybe I could try medicine," she said softly, as if afraid of saying it out loud. "It worked for Father...I know he is not the most skilled medicine man on the Island, but he tries hard. Maybe that's what I need to do. Since it's the last thing I haven't really tried yet. I thought maybe I could learn to be a medicine woman, and then I'd make him proud. It's not the same as having a husband, but at least it's something."
"Yeah," Charmian said, skipping ahead to walk beside her. "I bet that's it! Maybe this is what you're supposed to have been doing all along. Like a sign or something? Maybe you were meant to do it--?"
"I have not had any visions," White Deer stated. "So I've only tried it out of desperation."
"Well, maybe you don't even need a vision. Maybe not being good at anything else...um...not having luck at anything else--" she hurriedly rephrased her words when the look on White Deer's face started to change "--was the sign you needed. Like--Gitchi Manitou trying to tell you something, I think."
White Deer sighed and lowered the basket. "The thing is, I don't think I'm very good at this, either...I've tried hard, and I can identify all the plants and roots by sight now...but that's so little to know...there's so much more to it, and they do not like young women to try out medicine. If I had had any men after me to begin with, they would have laughed me off by now."
"Silver Eagle Feather is a medicine woman, and she's not old."
"But she is also part demon--you think they would have refused her?"
"Well...not really." Charmian bit the inside of her cheek. "But still. If she can do it, then I think you can too."
"But she already had power!" White Deer threw up her hands in exasperation. "All I can do so far is collect plants...make teas...and poultices...and dry roots and grind them up and such. It's hardly medicine, unless I can truly do something with it."
"Maybe the problem is you're expecting too much," Charmian said, then clamped her mouth shut, unable to believe she'd actually said that. White Deer gave her a look, and Charmian was certain she would get a tongue thrashing; but the woman just sighed and turned to face the trail again.
"Which is easy for you to say, as you've already made a name for yourself," she said. "With barely any effort."
"It took a lot of effort!" Charmian had to catch up again, trying to keep pace and glare at her while avoiding the numerous roots and rocks in the trail. "It wasn't exactly EASY fighting a demon, you know!"
"But at least you did it, which is what counts."
"Yeah. And it was damn hard, and took a long time, and hurt like anything afterwards!" Charmian stopped, forcing White Deer to slow down. "Look, I admit I'm impatient a lot of the time, but at least I've learned by now that if you want to do something really important, it's going to take time. A LOT of time. It took me almost a year just to figure out how to fight Ocryana! How long have you been studying medicine now?"
"Almost a year!" White Deer snapped, standing her ground. "And look where I am!"
"As crazy as this might sound, I think learning to be a medicine woman should take a WHOLE lot longer than learning to fight a demon," Charmian retorted. "I only had to fight her once. It was one job. Medicine is something you'll be doing your whole life. Do you know how long they have to train on the mainland to practice medicine?--they have to go to school for YEARS, and even then there's no guarantee they'll get the job. A lot of them don't. You're practically a novice."
White Deer blinked, and then a hurt look came across her face. She looked down into her basket and Charmian saw her lip quiver. Guilt seeped up into her chest and she sighed, stepping forward. White Deer gasped when she took hold of the basket, but refused to let go of it. Charmian peered inside.
"What are these things, anyway?"
"The plants I gathered this morning," White Deer mumbled, wiping at one eye.
"Yes, I get up before the sun rises and go looking for them all over the Island. Some are hard to find, and some close their petals and shrink into the undergrowth at daybreak."
"Do you ever gather anything at night?"
"I would, but Father does not want me to. Sometimes he lets me use some of his instead."
"So he's not telling you to stop looking for plants or anything."
White Deer frowned. "No, he isn't."
"You said you recognize all of them already just by looking at them." Charmian let go of the basket handle. "And you're willing to wander all over the Island at practically any time of day just to find them. Stick-In-The-Dirt isn't telling you to knock it off, so that means he knows what you're doing. He can't be too disappointed in you if he's not telling you to stop."
White Deer looked at the ground. "Still, it's not the same as marriage..."
"So? So Lily Flower and Little Dove got married. Big deal; that's them. This is you. Stick was disappointed with Little Dove, even when she got married, so you said; even she said so. He got over it when she had a baby, didn't he?"
"But I haven't done anything important yet," White Deer insisted.
"So keep working at it. It takes nine months to have a baby. You've been at this almost that long. It sounds like you're determined enough to make it work. Me, I'd never be able to get up before daybreak every day just to look for plants...I had enough trouble learning all the bones of the body!"
White Deer still looked miserable. "But what if I never make it...? What if I'm not good at this, either?"
"You recognize the plants, right? And you know where to find them? And Stick helps you out when you need it?"
"So don't worry. Think of it this way, you haven't messed it up, yet. How long did you have to try at all those other things before you decided they weren't for you?" The look on White Deer's face finally started to change, and Charmian breathed a silent sigh of relief; she was starting to run out of arguments. "I bet you didn't work at each of them for a year like you have with this. That says something. Maybe you just didn't know it yet but I think maybe this is what you wanted to do all along."
White Deer dared looking a little hopeful. "You really think so?"
Charmian nodded. "I really, truly think so...take a look, I don't plan on fighting demons for a living, but I'm still learning about it, and still getting pounded every day, too!" She looked at her arms and grimaced. "Besides, you're carrying on Stick's legacy by doing this, anyway."
"I am," White Deer said with surprise. She gave Charmian a bright look. "Thank you, Charmian. I didn't see it that way before."
Charmian suppressed a yawn and rubbed a kink out of the back of her neck. "No problem...though I'm not sure if I got quite enough sleep last night to be very helpful finding plants with you. I can't believe I slept so long and I'm still tired!"
"I know of an herb that can help with that..." White Deer started to say, then slowed her step. She turned to Charmian with an odd smile that seemed almost sneaky. "Then again, there's something else that can help keep you awake."
Charmian blinked at her in puzzlement. When White Deer glanced up the trail, she looked the same way--and her eyes went wide and her face went red in mortification.