Return To Manitou Island: Part 33
The Seeds Of Hatred
CHARMIAN AND MANABOZHO stared at Nokomis, unable to believe what they'd just heard.
"You...named Chakenapok?" Charmian finally asked, as no one else was speaking. When she received no immediate answer her brow furrowed in confusion.
"Why would you name him?" Manabozho asked the exact same question she had been thinking.
Nokomis fiddled her fingers, staring off into space as if remembering something. "It was a very long time ago," she said. "And all this time I had thought him dead...but somehow I was wrong. It seems as if I did it all for nothing, then..."
"Noko," Manabozho said. "You're not making any sense!"
Nokomis gave the two of them a sharp look, as if reading their faces, then sighed and gestured to a nook at the other side of the room. They gave each other a confused look but followed, sitting on the wooden floor when the old woman sat down on a carved seat protruding from the wall.
"It was a very long time ago, before even Manabozho here was born," she said, waving at him. "His mother, Wenonah, was my daughter. She could be foolish sometimes...I often told her to watch herself when she was out berrying, yet like her son here she sometimes failed to heed advice. And so of course she did not know what to expect when the manitou of the west wind took a fancy to her and decided to visit her in the field. I knew it was to be ill fated..." she sighed again "...yet who turns down a manitou? He came to her as he wished, and eventually, she bore him Manabozho and his elder brothers."
"Brothers--?" Charmian started, turning to look at Manabozho in surprise. "You have brothers?"
Nokomis nodded. "Four elder brothers...the first was Mudjikawiss, the Bear...a tall strong warrior he grew to be, and as soon as he was old enough, departed for the west to be with his father. The old west wind was always proudest of him, for he was the only one to take after him in both form and spirit. It was difficult to amuse him, as he was always so stern and forbidding; indeed I feel he was grateful to get away from his younger brothers whenever he could. Perhaps that is why he left so early...
"The second was Peepaukawiss, or Puka as I called him, the Grasshopper...nothing like his older brother was he...he wasn't interested in hunting or fighting in the least. Dancing and jesting was more his style...he could never be found doing any serious work, or sitting deep in thought; everything was a game to him. So many times he caused the rest of us no end of grief with his pranks, but he had such a cheery spirit, that none could be angry with him for long. But he was a wanderer, and of course he could not stay here forever...
"Then came the third, Wabasso, the White Rabbit...he was as unlike Peepaukawiss as Peepaukawiss was unlike Mudjikawiss. Always very quiet and reflective...he loved nothing more than to walk the woods, and peer into the waters, and listen to the sounds of all the animals around him. He would play the flute and the drum, and sometimes Puka would dance, that is, before he wandered away, but Wabasso much preferred to be alone. He was a strange boy...to this day I am not sure where exactly he wandered off to.
"And then, of course, came Manabozho...Rabbit here..." she gestured at Manabozho and Charmian glanced at him, though it was obvious already who she was talking about "...like every one of his elder brothers in some way, yet unlike them, as well...he was the youngest of the four of them, and by the time he was born Mudjikawiss and Peepaukawiss were already long gone...oh, they did return occasionally to see him, but not often, and eventually we no longer heard from them at all...Wabasso was the only one who remained. Poor 'Bozho would have been so lonely had it not been for him. Wabasso played with him and told him stories and beat on his drum and sang songs and kept him company all as he was growing up here at the Crooked Tree...he worked so very hard to keep 'Bozho's mind on happier things, so that he would not miss his brothers, or his father, who never once came to see to him...or his mother..." She trailed off, then said softly, "Poor Wenonah died as she gave birth to her last child...Manabozho never knew her. He has only heard stories of her, from Wabasso and myself."
Charmian peered at Manabozho again. He remained silent, apparently knowing this part of the story; as with Nokomis earlier, she wasn't certain she wanted to understand what the look on his face meant.
"It must have been difficult," was the only thing she could think of to say, just to break the silence.
"Oh," Nokomis said, "it would have been, had not sweet Wabasso remained to help me...I could tell at times that he wished to leave, as his brothers had, but never once did he complain. He loved 'Bozho so much, I never saw him act toward anyone else the way he acted toward his little brother. He was always so serious, except when the two of them were together. Then he could laugh and sing and be just as silly as Puka was. Of course, he eventually had to leave, to seek his own place in the world..." she paused as Manabozho stood and wandered off to another part of the room, then lowered her voice slightly "...'Bozho was heartbroken, as was to be expected...but he has grown up well enough, considering he has never known any mother or father but myself. Though I do still often wish that my poor Wenonah were here...if only for him, for a child should never grow up not knowing his mother."
She fell silent again, and they all stayed that way for quite a while. Charmian had a hundred questions to ask--why had Manabozho never told her he had brothers?--but bit her lip and sought out the most important one.
"Nokomis," she said carefully, hoping she didn't sound pushy or impatient. "You said that you had named Chakenapok...what does he have to do with you and Manabozho?"
Nokomis looked at her for a moment, then down at her hands, her knotted fingers still tracing over each other absently. "I have always told Manabozho of how his mother died, giving birth to him," she said, raising her voice a little so he would hear, "for she was only part earth manitou, and 'Bozho's father was a powerful wind manitou, and she had never been very strong...and perhaps her heart was broken, that he never took her to stay with him in the west, and only ever showed favor toward his eldest son..." She paused, then said, "Yet none of these are the real reason Wenonah died that day. I have not been truthful with you, Manabozho." In the other part of the room, he finally turned to face them again, his brow furrowing. Nokomis's fingers continued dancing over each other. Her voice came soft and distant.
"The day you were born," she said, "it was indeed a difficult birth for Wenonah...but she held up, just as admirably as she always did...as with your older brothers I kept her here, so she would not be alone when she delivered any of you. The poor thing still hoped her wind manitou would come to her, although I knew he would not...I had seen how he had had so little interest in Puka, and knew he had none left for you, no matter who you were to him. Still I did not tell her this. I think sometimes her hope helped keep her alive through everything that went before." She sighed. "Even now, I shrink from telling what happened...for I hate having lied to you this whole time. But it was the only thing I could do, to keep you happy."
"Noko." Manabozho stepped closer. "What are you talking about?"
"Wenonah did not die giving birth to you," Nokomis replied.
Both Charmian and Manabozho stared at her in disbelief. "She...didn't?" Manabozho whispered, then shook his head. "But...you told me, Noko. It was too difficult for her...she died right afterwards, right after naming me. She wasn't strong enough."
"This is not the truth," Nokomis said. She looked down at the floor, and ran her hand along the wood, as if tracing something there. Charmian's eyes followed her movement, although she saw nothing.
"After you were born," Noko murmured, "your mother did name you...and these were the last words she spoke. For then she was overtaken by agony...all she could do was scream, and scream..." Her fingers halted and she shut her eyes. "Wenonah died as she gave birth to your younger brother...your twin...Chakenapok."
Charmian sucked in a breath. Manabozho stared at Nokomis with what she would have called shock, if the word had been strong enough to describe his expression.
"I...have a younger brother...?"
"Chakenapok?" Charmian echoed. "Chakenapok is Manabozho's brother?"
Nokomis nodded. "His birth was violent...Wenonah could not stand the pain. She died, before she could even name him...and so this was left to me. Even as little 'Bozho cried I held his brother in my arms and named him myself. Chakenapok...the Flint. He whose very birth was hard and sharp, and burned like fire..."
The yellow eyes of the shadowy apparition in Charmian's dream--surrounded by fire--flickered in her brain, and she shivered. Then she lifted her head, a thought striking her. She glanced at Manabozho, but he still seemed too dazed to bother asking. She leaned forward on her hands, peering up into Nokomis's face.
"Nokomis, if Chakenapok is Manabozho's brother...then what happened to him? You said Manabozho grew up alone except for Wabasso...and Chakenapok isn't here...so where did he go? And why?"
Nokomis shut her eyes again and sighed. "Would that these were questions I never had to answer...for I feel that as soon as I do, you will both hate me, you especially, Manabozho...though answer them I must, if my spirit is ever to be clear." She opened her eyes now and met Charmian's, and Charmian nearly started at the hard look in them. It was something she wasn't used to seeing from the kindly old woman.
"From the very moment he was born," she said, and her voice had taken on a hard edge as well, "I knew that he was trouble. He did not even come into the world as most children do--it was only by luck that Manabozho came first, for Chakenapok fought his way out, as if merely being born were not good enough for him. He practically tore his way out of poor Wenonah, as she was in too much pain to push him out. The way she bled after he was born...perhaps it is best she died so quickly, rather than witness such a dreadful sight...
"Still, although I knew my poor daughter was dead...I tried to keep my head together, for her children...Manabozho was already crying, and quite loudly, as he had no one to feed him...but Chakenapok..." She shivered now, and the gesture filled Charmian with dread. When she spoke again her voice was hardly above a hoarse whisper, yet somehow it still carried throughout the Tree.
"Chakenapok did not cry even once...I never saw any tears come from his eyes. They were not normal eyes...for they were pale yellow...like those of a wolf. And instead of crying, he merely opened his eyes, and looked up at me...and grinned..." Nokomis shivered again, and drew her shawl more tightly about herself. "He had teeth already...sharp, pointed ones...very small, but I saw them. And claws upon his tiny fingertips...they were still lined with the blood of his own mother, the one he'd killed, just to be born into the world...I had hoped it to be just misfortune, yet when he smiled at me like that, I knew...knew that he had killed her as surely as if he had plunged a knife into her heart...and he had meant it. I do not know how or what happened...but that was no child Wenonah bore...it was a mitchi manitou of some sort, a bad spirit, a demon even...for no child has eyes and a grin like that, and no child laughs after he is born instead of crying. For when he opened his mouth to grin, he let out a laugh...it was a babe's laugh, but it was more than that...no normal child laughs in that way. It chilled my very bones to hear it. I knew he was no sane creature. I knew that if he were allowed to grow up in this world, he would bring pain and violence and sorrow to all he would meet, just as he had brought them to poor Wenonah. I looked at little Manabozho, still crying in his basket at my side...and then I looked at Chakenapok, lying on the furs beside his dead mother, still grinning and laughing and staring at me with those yellow eyes...and although I hated the very thought of it, I knew what I had to do."
She lifted her hands into the air, pantomiming holding onto something large and round, and then dashed the invisible object at the floor as hard as she could. Charmian winced, cringing in on herself and shutting her eyes tight at the horrible vision that passed through her head--the sight of the dead woman lying bloody on the furs, the squalling baby in his basket, the old woman staring at the other leering, laughing child, before bringing the rock plunging down at his head...fortunately the vision faded before she could see what followed, though she still sat in the Tree with Nokomis and Manabozho, and the story was still a true one. She rubbed her arms, feeling queasy again, although not from the whiskey this time.
"I knew that the only way to spare the Island from such a creature," Nokomis said softly, "was to see it dead."
"Only he's back now," Charmian said, and the old woman nodded.
"Apparently the measures I took were not enough." She sighed. "That terrible thing I did, all for nothing. You must think I am a horrible old woman now."
Manabozho turned and left the Tree. Charmian watched him go, then turned back to Nokomis. "You said you had no choice," she murmured, even as part of her felt ill at ease even being in this place anymore. She started and shrank back when Nokomis touched her arm, then felt guilty for having reacted in such a way. Did she really expect to be hurt?
"If there had been any other way," Nokomis said, meeting her eyes, "no matter what, I would have gladly done it. No matter what sort of thing Chakenapok was, not a day has gone by since when I have not thought over what I did and shivered from it the way you do. I only hope you realize what sort of being you are dealing with, now, if the mere sight of him would make an old woman kill a newborn child, her own flesh and blood."
Charmian nodded, though no words would come from her throat. Fortunately Nokomis accepted the gesture and sat back, waving at the doorway. "I believe he's left you here...you'd best try to catch up with him, and figure out what you plan to do. I have already done all I can think of, and little good it did; I guess Chakenapok's medicine is too great for even an old manitou like me."
Charmian nodded again and stood. She exited the Tree, climbing down its tangled roots toward the little hollow below. The sky had darkened considerably since she'd entered, and she looked up to see stormclouds hovering overhead. Thunder rumbled in the distance as she caught up with Manabozho, who was taking the trail back past Chimney Rock. She fell into step beside him, rubbing her arms to try to dispel the sudden chill and wondering what to say.
"Well," she finally ventured after a long while of walking through the tall grass. "At least now I know who he is, even if not what to do about him..."
"What makes you think you can do something about him?" Manabozho asked, and she had to look up at him, noticing the sharp tone of his voice. Well, at least they were still on speaking terms. "Even killing him doesn't seem to help, so what else would you suggest?"
Charmian chewed her lip. "I'm starting to think maybe it won't be as hard as we thought it would be."
"What?" This made him stop and stare at her in disbelief. "What out of ALL of that you just heard makes you think THAT?"
"If killing doesn't work, then violence is already ruled out," Charmian explained. "We can't hope to attack him and win. The way he controls that mask guy and the Shadow Wolves already proved that anyway. So that leaves using some kind of magic, outsmarting him, or winning him over."
Manabozho blinked. Then his feathers stood on end and if he'd had hackles, they would have prickled.
"Win him over?" Instead of yelling, as Charmian had fully expected him to do, he abruptly turned and started walking again, albeit much faster. She scowled and jogged to catch up.
"A child isn't born evil!" she shouted. "Something must have happened before he was born. Either way, that's NOT the way he was supposed to be. Something went wrong, and Nokomis tried to stop it, but that didn't work." She caught up with him again but had to continue jogging just to keep up with his long strides. "Anyway, it's been years since then, and maybe he's changed. Maybe I can try to get through to him."
"Through to him? Do you even hear what you're saying?" Manabozho snapped. "Are you even TALKING about the same person Noko was? Did you even hear what she said he did to our mother? Do I have to remind you of all the times he's sent those Wolves after you--?"
"I've faced him TWICE so far and he hasn't even touched me!" Charmian protested. "That has to mean something--"
"It means it's not YOU he's interested in!" Manabozho scowled now and started walking even faster. Charmian again picked up her pace.
"I remember when I first came here," she said, "everybody was always talking about how big and bad and evil Ocryx was. And it turns out--? He's hardly even EVIL at all! He just wants to be left alone! And Ocryana? She's just crazy! If someone is willing to kill the very thing which keeps them alive just to settle an old grudge, they MUST be crazy. Even Tal Natha says so! And even Augwak is a creampuff if you know how to deal with him." She waved her arms in frustration. "It just seems like every time I face somebody who's supposed to be so hideous and awful, they're nowhere NEAR as bad as everyone makes them out to be! Who's to say Chakenapok is any different? Even if he was evil back then, maybe he's changed by now. I just have to meet him on his own terms!" She slowed her step as Manabozho continued walking. "The least you could do is show a little compassion yourself," she shouted after him. "He's YOUR brother, after all!"
Manabozho halted and whirled around, jabbing his finger at her. "I couldn't care LESS about that thing!" he hissed. "Even now I do not consider him my brother! He is the one who could have shown some compassion, and then my mother would still be alive today. Now not only do I get to learn he's related to me, but I get to learn I've been lied to this whole time!"
He turned away again. Charmian clenched her fists and yelled after him over a growl of thunder.
"You can't be mad at Noko about this! She did it to protect you. She couldn't have told you about Chakenapok any sooner--she couldn't have known how you'd take it!"
She gasped and staggered back when he whirled around a second time, stomping toward her with his own fists clenched. She thought she saw his eyes flash, though it could have been the lightning flickering over the Island. When he reached her she saw his teeth were bared and his nose wrinkled in a hideous look which made her shiver.
"You think I'm mad she never told me about him?" he snarled. "I don't CARE about that! I could have lived my entire life never knowing about him and would have been FINE!" He hurled his arm in the direction of the Crooked Tree, gesturing wildly as the rain started pelting down over them. "IT'S BEING TOLD ALL THESE YEARS THAT I WAS THE ONE WHO KILLED MY MOTHER WHICH IS UNFORGIVABLE!"
Almost instantly, he was gone. Charmian watched him stalk back up the path and into the rain, unable to think of anything to say. Just as he faded from sight she managed to cup her hands to her mouth and yell, "What else was she expected to do?" Her voice echoed hollowly off the trees, and she sighed and slumped in on herself, water dripping down her face. The question had been a pathetic one, she knew; she could only imagine how horrible it would feel, thinking one had been responsible for their parent's death.
This thought made her eyes water. She didn't stop to think of why, simply rubbing the tears away before they could fall and trotting up the trail in the growing dark, hoping to catch up.