Return To Manitou Island: Part 36
Deep In The Woods
CHARMIAN STOOD UP, nearly hitting her head on the ceiling of the wigwam and staring in disbelief at the mussed furs and contents of her pack.
Her dreamcatcher! Where could it have gone--?
She futilely tossed the furs aside again, hoping she'd somehow missed it. Panicked thoughts raced through her head as she looked.
I need that to get back home! What am I going to do without it--?
By sheer chance did she finally look up again, her eyes starting to tear up, and gasped when she saw the hoop hanging from a knot in the wooden wigwam frame, not far from where her head had been resting moments before. She blinked, not certain if it was really there, then reached out to touch it. The dreamcatcher swung to the side and back again, spinning slowly on its cord. A strip of soft doeskin had been wrapped around the break in the hoop so the circle was again whole. Charmian stared at it a bit longer, her confusion only growing.
How did it get there...?
She gasped again when she noticed she was being watched. The doorflap to the wigwam had been pushed slightly aside and White Deer was peering in at her. She noticed Charmian's startled stare and her face softened.
"I overheard what you spoke about last night," she said, looking almost apologetic. Her eyes shifted to the dreamcatcher and Charmian's did the same.
"If it's really that important to you..." White Deer's voice trailed off, then she finished, "It was the least thing I could do."
Charmian let out her breath, unaware until now that she'd even been holding it in. She pulled the dreamcatcher off its hook and held it in her hands, feeling the doeskin bandage. Aside from being slightly thicker than the rest of the covering of the hoop, it looked as if it belonged there. White Deer had even tied it to the hoop with a thin piece of cord knotted with a piece of copper. She lifted her head to look at White Deer again, having to search to find her voice.
"Thanks," she whispered.
White Deer stared at her a moment, then the slightest trace of a smile came to her mouth. She let the doorflap fall shut and disappeared.
Charmian sighed and ran her fingers over the webbing of the dreamcatcher, then carefully put it back in her pack, stowing the other objects around it and strapping the pack shut. She rubbed at her eyes as she gathered herself to go outside, running her fingers through her hair and smoothing down her clothes before doing so.
It was still early, so there was a chill in the air and the grass was still sparked with dew, yet already it seemed everybody in the camp was busy. Charmian made her way past the communal firepit with hardly a glance cast at her; apparently her presence was considered normal, by now. She looked at the various natives doing their various things and thought about the differences between them--how many centuries there were between them, at the least--before shaking the feeling off. It wasn't good to start considering just how far away from home she really was, nor how close a call that had just been.
She paused to take a closer look at what everyone was doing and spotted several women preparing to leave the camp with some bundles of skins. She dug in one of her vest pockets and pulled out a little pouch, looked it over, then shifted it to her other hand and dug some more as she walked toward them. Several moments later she was busily wrapping the dreamcatcher in a newly acquired skin while the women departed, chattering and marveling over the chocolate bars she'd traded with them. She knew she could have probably just asked Stick-In-The-Dirt for a skin to wrap the hoop in, but she wasn't certain where he was at the moment, and for some reason the thought of having a new skin just for the dreamcatcher was more appealing. Perhaps it would be just a little bit safer now, and she returned it to her pack. She absently turned the little pouch over in her hand as she walked back toward the forest path.
She paused and looked back. Stick-In-The-Dirt approached from somewhere else in the camp and she waited for him to reach her before speaking.
"He left a short while ago, though he said he should be back soon. I wished to ask what you will plan on doing, now that you know the name of this person."
She sensed he wanted to be more descriptive of who he was talking about, yet refrained for some reason. Charmian could only shrug, which didn't seem to make him any less anxious.
"I'm not really sure. I'm hoping maybe we can sort this all out without resorting to violence, but who can tell anymore. I have his name, at least, but I'm still just about as confused as you are."
"Oh." Stick-In-The-Dirt actually looked disappointed, and she wished she had more to tell him. What Snow Bear had said about how he thought of her made her feel even sorrier for him. "If you try something, you will let me know?"
Charmian nodded. "Of course."
Even as she said this his stare shifted down to look at something, and his brow furrowed slightly. She looked down as well to notice that it was the little pouch he was staring at; she'd completely forgotten she was even holding it. Its motion between her fingers must have attracted his attention.
"What is that...?"
"This?" Charmian lifted the little bag. "Oh...Yellow Turtle gave it to me before..." She trailed off, unable to think of how to finish the sentence. "...Before I left the camp," she said, feeling her face grow warm. This information only seemed to confuse Stick-In-The-Dirt more, so she loosened the drawstring and shook its contents out into her hand. "Here, have a look."
She held up the little cowrie shell on its cord and dangled it before Stick-In-The-Dirt's face. At the most she expected the same puzzled look he already bore; and so she didn't expect it at all when his eyes grew wide and his face went pale as if she'd held up Ocryana's spirit stone itself. He actually sucked in a breath and took a step back, and now her brow furrowed as well.
What the heck...?
"Y..." He tried to speak, but his voice caught; he swallowed and lifted his hand to gingerly point at the shell. "Yellow Turtle g-gave you this...?"
"Uh-huh." Charmian frowned and lowered the shell. "What is it? Was I not supposed to take it?" She glanced at it, then turned and held up her hand, ready to pitch it into the woods. "If it's bad luck, I'll get rid of it--"
"NO!" Stick-In-The-Dirt caught her wrist, nearly making her lose balance; she turned to gawk at him and he let her go, looking quite flustered with his own actions, but he regathered himself and waved his hands at the little shell.
"Yellow Turtle gave you this--then he had his reasons. You MUST keep it safe. Did he tell you anything, anything when he gave it to you--? Like what it is, or why he wanted you to have it...?"
"Not really," Charmian replied, her frown deepening. "He only said I'd know when I'd need it..." She blinked, then her eyes grew and she stepped toward him, staring at his chest. Her mouth fell open.
"Hey! You have one too!"
Stick-In-The-Dirt looked down, as if from habit. He had always worn several necklaces full of beads and totems, so she'd never paid much attention to their particular appearance; but now that she looked more closely, she could see that he wore a cowrie shell almost identical to the one Old Yellow Turtle had given her. She reached out to take hold of it, but he stepped back before she could. She looked up at him in confusion.
"If it's so special, then how come there's more than one?" she protested.
In response he stepped toward her again and took the loose shell, putting it back in its pouch and tying it shut. She didn't even think to protest again when he opened her vest pocket and put it in for her, even though he had to pull at her clothes to do so. It was only after he'd already pulled away that she flushed and poked at the pocket as if he hadn't closed it properly. He gestured again, though she wasn't certain what the gestures meant.
"Just make certain to keep it safe," he repeated himself, then added, as if inspired, "as safe as you would keep your dreamcatcher."
This managed to subdue Charmian, and she lowered her hand from her pocket. "It's that important?"
Stick-In-The-Dirt nodded vigorously. "Yes. He would never have given it to you if it were not. Just trust in what he told you, and don't let it out of your sight...all right?"
Charmian stared at him for a moment more before replying. "All right." He showed relief at hearing this, which just made her feel more perplexed. "You can't tell me what it is...?"
Stick-In-The-Dirt looked uncertain, then shook his head. "If he told you you would know when you need it...then I would simply trust in this."
Charmian suppressed a sigh--his evasiveness was frustrating--but checked to make sure her pocket was properly closed anyway. "Okay, then. I just hope all of this ends up having a point to it sometime..."
She turned away from him as she spoke, trailing off in an unintelligible mumble and taking the path from the camp. Only several steps out she came across Thomas returning from wherever he'd gone, and he cocked his head, then turned to fall into step beside her, Cloud following.
"I hope you slept well," he said.
"Sort of," Charmian said, but for some reason didn't feel like describing the odd dream. She rubbed her arms. "White Deer fixed my dreamcatcher for me..."
"Yes, I saw her working on it just before I left. Do you think it'll still work?"
"I guess I'll find out as soon as I try to return home. But I think I need a full moon or something for that." She glanced upwards and Thomas furrowed his brow.
"You're thinking of leaving already--?"
"Huh--?" Charmian looked at him, then blinked. "Oh--no! Not yet. I still have...stuff to do." She frowned. "What were you so busy with this morning, anyway?"
"I had to go see to something," Thomas said, and glanced off into the woods, as if that answered everything. Charmian had to think for a moment before remembering what he'd told her about the offerings left to the Shadow Wolves, and flushed a little.
"Oh. I see." She paused. "You're sure I can't help...?"
He gave her a frank look. "Trust me, Charmian, if you do any more helping, you'll need to see a physician!" When she flushed again he laughed. "Don't worry. I'll be all right. Rather I was more concerned about you."
Charmian blinked again. "Huh--? Why me? Do I look sick or something--?"
"No, just preoccupied. But around here that can mean a lot." He tilted his head to get a better look at her. "You're certain you slept well...?"
She nodded quickly. "Yeah, I'm fine...just thinking. I'm wondering if I should try returning to the Fairy Realm or try to find--" She nearly said, "Manabozho," but then cut herself off when she remembered Thomas didn't know about him yet. "...Somebody else," she finished lamely.
"Do you think they would let you go back there? With how you went jumping in and jumping out, I take it they weren't the friendliest people in the world..."
"They're not...but they have their reasons..." She fiddled her fingers. "Actually I think I might try to drop by there and see what they have to say." She peered up at him. "I'm not sure how they'd react to a half-GeeBee showing up, though."
Thomas smiled. "If you want me to bugger off, then all you have to do is say so."
Charmian's face went brilliant red. She opened her mouth to protest but he was already laughing.
"Don't worry. I know you have important things to do around here...and you hardly need somebody tagging after you every moment. You do know where you can find me if you want some company after all, right?"
Charmian nodded, still blushing. Thomas smiled and squeezed her hand, then took Cloud's reins and continued up the trail without her. She watched them go as she fiddled with the edge of her vest, then let out her breath once she was alone.
"That guy has got some REAL patience." She looked up into the treetops and sighed. "All right, now that I'm alone, what do I do? I can hardly go back to Geezhigo-Quae like this..."
"You do not have to."
Charmian gasped and jumped, whirling in a circle. A sort of rise formed a bank alongside the trail she walked, and somebody stood atop it. The lighting was such that she couldn't tell who it was, until something shifted behind its back and she could make out wings.
She frowned and took a tentative step toward the bank. "Niskigwun...?"
The figure took a step forward and she could tell it was in fact him. Charmian approached the bottom of the slope so they stood closer to each other, and gave him a puzzled look.
"What are you doing here?"
"You wondered if you should let Geezhigo-Quae know of what you've learned," he said, ignoring her question. "She already knows."
"You mean, she was watching?"
"Not everything. It would be discourteous to spy inside the Crooked Tree, for Geezhigo-Quae and Nokomis are sisters in spirit. She did hear you mention the name 'Chakenapok,' and that this creature is a relation of Manabozho's."
"He's his brother. I was going to ask if Geezhigo-Quae knew anything about him."
"She has never heard the name Chakenapok before," Niskigwun replied. He shifted his spear. "Although Grandmother Geezhigo-Quae knows much, she does not know all. She has never seen nor heard of this creature before, and so there is nothing she can tell you of him, except what you already know."
"I see." Charmian couldn't hide the disappointment in her voice. "Well, thanks anyway. I thought it was worth a shot."
"There was one other thing," Niskigwun added, then dug in a pouch hanging at his side. He came down the slope, holding out a small bag in Charmian's direction. She took it with another frown and looked it over.
I hope it's not another seashell...
"You recently had difficulty entering sleep," Niskigwun explained. "This is a medicine mixed in our own land. We have medicine men much more skilled in this art than the Island's people, so you do not have to worry about it acting oddly on you."
"Sleeping medicine?" Charmian pulled open the little pouch and peered inside. She had expected to see some sort of glittering powder--for some reason that seemed like the type of thing a Turtle Fairy would hand her--but instead saw that the bag was filled with small, roundish, dark brown objects that resembled either kidney stones or rabbit pellets. She blinked in surprise but managed a smile anyway. "Thanks!"
The Michinimakinong nodded and turned to go back up the slope. "Wait a minute," Charmian said, catching his attention. Her brow furrowed. "You didn't see anything after I passed out...did you?"
Niskigwun blinked. The look on his face was such that Charmian immediately waved her hands in the air. "NEVER MIND, I don't want to know," she said, adding another "Thanks for the sleeping stuff," before he started up the slope again. She rolled the pouch around in her hand with a sigh.
The ONE time I decide to go and get drunk, and half the Island witnesses it! And part of that time I was NAKED!
She blinked when she remembered now why she had gotten drunk in the first place, and this reminded her of something more recent. "Niskigwun!" she called out as he reached the top of the slope, and she felt bad for interrupting him so much, but he turned to look down at her anyway. "Do you know...?" she asked. "Does Geezhigo-Quae have the power to bring dreams?"
Niskigwun frowned as if puzzled by her question. "No, she does not," he finally answered. "Only the Dreamspinner is meant to have this ability."
"I see." Charmian nodded and waved. "Okay. Thanks again." She watched him leave as she'd watched Thomas, then took a good look around herself just to be sure she was really alone this time, and continued walking, though by now she wasn't certain where she would go.
If Tal Natha's the only Dreamspinner...and he didn't send that dream, which I'm pretty sure he didn't...does that mean Chakenapok did? But why would he send me a dream like that? I got the feeling it was almost trying to...tell me something...
And where would Chakenapok have gotten this ability, himself...? Is he related to Tal Natha--? That can't be possible, that means he'd be related to Ocryx or Ocryana! And Manabozho's not related to either. So where could he have learned that...?
Speaking of Manabozho--where the hell is he!!
That was right--she had called to him during her fight with Moon Wolf--or whoever he was--yet hadn't heard from him since. He'd known she was in trouble. She assumed he could tell when she didn't need his help anymore...but still, at least showing up would have been thoughtful...
She halted on the trail again and fiddled her fingers, looking up the slope. The Fairy Arch was a little distance from here; Niskigwun would still be on his way, if he hadn't decided to fly. Without bothering to consider what she was doing, Charmian clambered up the slope and jogged into the woods in the direction the Michinimakinong had taken. She supposed it was just boredom, or not knowing what else to do, but for some reason she felt like walking with him a bit.
She had to run a little ways, but eventually she spotted him making his way toward the East Bluff, still walking. Perhaps they used their wings only when they really needed to, like turkeys or chickens? She shook her head to rid it of this thought and called out, waving her hand. "Niskigwun! Hold up!"
Niskigwun turned his head and stopped, giving her a puzzled look. She caught up with him, panting slightly, and stopped beside him. "Would you mind if I...walked with you back to the Arch?" she asked hesitantly. When his look changed she waved her hands. "Not through it...just to it. That's all."
He furrowed his brow but didn't object. They started walking again and Charmian put her hands in her pockets, fiddling with the little pouches inside.
"I'm not actually supposed to be on my own right now," she said after a while. "I got into this fight with this guy..."
"This we saw," Niskigwun said. "The one with the wolf mask, he is controlled also by this Chakenapok?"
Charmian nodded. "He's somebody I knew...at least, he looks like somebody I knew." She paused. "But that person's supposed to be dead. Niskigwun, do you know anybody who can bring back the dead?"
The Turtle Fairy shook his head. "This is a very powerful medicine," he replied. "Only the most powerful manitous, and a few lesser beings, possess it; and they most often use it for darker ends, not for good."
"So Geezhigo-Quae can't do it, can she."
He shook his head again. "There are some who say that even Pauguk himself does not have this ability, this is how strong it is."
"I've heard that name before."
"He is the spirit of death, who guards the path to the Spirit Land." He made a sweeping gesture with his hand, and she guessed he was indicating a long path. "He is a fearsome creature," he continued, "with the face of a skeleton, and fire for eyes...it was not meant that those who have died should return to the living."
"I kind of figured that much." Charmian rubbed her arms, although by now it was no longer chilly. "Anyway," she continued after a moment, "I wasn't supposed to be on my own...but Manabozho kind of ran off on me again...he didn't even bother to see how I was doing after the fight. The louse! He's always bailing out on me right when I need him most, and he never even has so much as a good excuse whenever he bothers to come back."
Niskigwun peered at her from the corner of his eye. "He has not told you where he goes?" he queried.
Charmian shook her head. "No. The least he could do is make something up. I suppose he goes off and pulls practical jokes or steals things from traps or leaves rabbit doo on doorsteps or something, knowing him..."
Niskigwun slowed his step, so she had to slow down as well until they both stopped. "Are you expected?" he said, and she frowned in puzzlement.
"Are you expected anywhere?"
"No, not at the moment...why?"
He looked into the woods, as if searching for something, and she noticed with surprise that he was fiddling with one of the feathers which decorated his clothing, the same way as she had been fiddling with her pouches. It was such an odd gesture to see from someone so staid. Then he cast her a brief glance before turning and waving his hand at her. "Follow."
Charmian frowned but obeyed. They changed direction, away from the Fairy Arch and heading further inland. She looked around them several times, hoping nobody spotted them; for some reason she didn't think the Michinimakinong would like being seen, though she wasn't sure why. He didn't seem to care much at the moment. After they had walked a while in a direction she didn't remember ever taking, she spoke up.
"Where are we going...?"
"You know already that we see much from the Sky Tree," Niskigwun said, and she nodded.
"Yeah, I know."
"We keep watch over the Island," he said. "Although it is no longer our land, I suppose we do this out of habit...though there are times when we try not to spy. We do not see all for this very reason. Yet there are some things we see which were meant to be private."
"Private--?" Charmian's frown grew. "You mean you DID see me after I...?"
Niskigwun hurriedly waved at her, flushing. "This is not what I was talking about!" When she opened her mouth he waved at her again and held a finger up to his own mouth. "Be quiet," he said, then gestured her forward. Only now did she notice they had come to a slight rise, and judging by the way sounds echoed beyond it, she guessed a hollow of sorts rested on the other side. He started silently climbing up the slope, and she bit her lip before following.
He already rested on his elbows at the top of the rise, and waved once more. She crawled up beside him with an irritated look, spitting wet grass out of her mouth.
"You better not have seen me..."
He shushed her and pointed down into the hollow. "You wished for an answer," he whispered. "There it is."
Charmian gave him an odd look, then followed his gesture to look into the hollow. It was much steeper than she'd expected, and she wondered how she'd missed it the last time she was here; maybe it was another thing the Island had not wanted her to see until now? In any case, she could now see that a small wigwam sat in the middle of it, in a little clearing surrounded by trees. A woman sat just outside the entrance, smiling. Out front of the hut, Manabozho was playing with a little girl, who hopped and ran around and laughed.
Charmian's brow furrowed again. "This is it?" she asked. "This is what he's doing whenever he runs off?" She paused, then scowled. "Well why didn't he just TELL me? Like I'd get mad at him because of this?" She leaned forward to get a better look and her face softened. "He doesn't have to be embarrassed about liking kids...I think that's kind of sweet. Like he'd be any less of a guy if I knew that. I don't understand some people..."
"He comes here frequently," Niskigwun said quietly. "He has made it his duty to see to the child's welfare."
"Well, I still don't see the reason for all the secrecy. He doesn't have any reason to be ashamed of having a heart." She gasped when Manabozho tossed a handful of little colored stones into the air, and they changed into butterflies. The little girl laughed and waved her arms, trying to catch them as they fluttered away. Charmian watched the scene with awe. She hadn't known he had that sort of power. But even more, she was surprised by how much he smiled. He'd never seemed so happy whenever he was around her. In fact, until now she'd always assumed he was just the cranky sort of person who would hate little kids.
"He should come here more often," she murmured. "It looks like he really cares about her."
The woods were silent for a while but for the sounds of the two playing below, the woman every so often saying something herself. Charmian leaned on her elbows and watched the scene, a faint smile tugging at her mouth.
"She is his daughter."
The words pierced through her brain like a needle. Charmian blinked, and it was as if the three below came into even greater focus; she then glanced up at Niskigwun in disbelief. The Michinimakinong stared at her silently.
"That...that little girl...?" Charmian's voice came soft, hesitant. "She's...she's Manabozho's daughter...?"
Niskigwun nodded slowly.
"Then that woman--" Charmian pushed herself up to get a better look at the woman seated outside the wigwam. "Does that mean that she's--"
"She is not the girl's mother."
Charmian's brow furrowed. "Then who..."
"Her mother is Michinimakinong."
She looked up at him again, even more confused than ever. Niskigwun knelt down beside her and they both looked at the scene below.
"Relations among our people and others are forbidden," he murmured. "This much you may have realized from your visit to our land."
Charmian nodded, still perplexed.
"Her mother could of course not keep her if she wished to remain among the Michinimakinong. So she left her here, with an Island woman. He did not ever know of her existence until he discovered it himself, by chance."
"She never even told him...?" Charmian stared at the little girl who was now running in circles around Manabozho. Understanding finally came to her face, and her eyes softened.
"That's why, then." When Niskigwun gave her a questioning look she leaned on her elbows again. "When we went to the Fairy Realm. He didn't want to have anything to do with it--he even knocked a bowl of food out of a girl's hands. I thought he was just being a jerk, but if this is what happened..." Her voice faded to a murmur. "That's why he hates the Michinimakinong." After a further moment of staring her eyes grew a little, and she lifted her head.
"That means she's part Michinimakinong, too?"
Niskigwun nodded again. "Although you cannot tell from looking at her. She obviously takes after her father's side of the family, which is probably best for her."
Charmian watched the little girl pick up handfuls of leaves and toss them into the air, still laughing; Manabozho turned the leaves into feathers which drifted back to the ground, making her laugh even louder. For some reason she couldn't take her eyes off of them. She found that something in her chest was hurting.
"Then that means that part of her is something Manabozho hates."
Niskigwun gave her a curious look. Charmian pushed herself to her feet and he rose alongside her. "I think we should go," she said in a subdued voice, and she was glad that he didn't ask her any questions. Instead they turned and made their way back down the slope as quietly as they could, leaving the hollow and its occupants behind. It wasn't much further to the Fairy Arch, where Charmian stood and watched as Niskigwun entered and vanished, making his way back home; she rubbed her arms again and stared at the rock for a while before turning and deciding to head back to Stick-In-The-Dirt's tribe. She didn't know what else to do for today; maybe some free time would clear her mind until then.
Of course, she had no way of knowing that free time, or a clear mind, was the last thing she would find back at the tribe.