Charmian and company get ready to pass the night around the fire...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Escape From Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 38: Catfight!"
CHARMIAN STARED AT Kwemoo and Maang for so long that the two loons began to fidget and shift their eyes from side to side. She felt all of the blood drain from her face, then go roaring right back up, and her eyes nearly went red.
"What?" she said in a dangerous voice; the loons promptly shuffled back a few steps. "An island--?" she echoed, and her teeth ground together. "How--did we get--on a frigging--ISLAND?!"
She glared at Mishupishu now and the Lynx quickly ducked into the lake, only his eyes and horns showing. "I...I thought it was the mainland...!" he said in a tiny voice.
Marten started hopping up and down. "WOW! You mean we left an Island, and ended up on ANOTHER one--?"
"But it's so big," Winter Born said, as if disappointed. "I thought for sure it was the mainland too..."
"O-ho!" Maang--or Kwemoo--exclaimed, flapping his wings. "We did fly the whole circumference of this place and determined it to be exactly as we claim!"
"The land is enclosed on all sides by the lake. The only ways east are to swim or to paddle! O-ho!" Kwemoo--or Maang--added.
Charmian felt like sinking into the ground in defeat--then did just that, landing on her knees. Everybody looked at her when she ran her hands down her face. "It's like everything's just playing ONE HUGE JOKE on us!" she wailed. "First we don't know how far east to go--now--we don't know HOW to go far east!!" She hit her fist against the ground with an awful grimace. "ISN'T THERE ANYTHING YOU CAN MAKE EASY ON US?!"
"Well," Thomas said, pursing his lips and rubbing the back of his neck, "we can just call those Nebanaubae again..."
"But they'll ask for payment again," Charmian moaned. "I already gave up my Megis shell! No," she said, when both Stick-In-The-Dirt and Moon Wolf opened their mouths at once. "I'm NOT going to go trading anyone ELSE'S Megis shells, either! Everything we have on us at the moment is non-negotiable. We need some way to go that doesn't involve paying somebody else off!"
"I could take a few of you at a time," Mishupishu offered, "though you'd probably have to crawl in my mouth to keep dry..."
Charmian saw how Stick-In-The-Dirt's face went white, and shook her head. "No thanks, Mishu..."
"I could always FLY you there," Kenu offered, raising his head as if to start yelling.
She shook her head again, rather abruptly. "You're big, but not nearly big enough to carry all of us! I don't like the thought of us getting all separated. We don't know where the rest of the Mishupishus are, and the manitous here aren't the friendliest right now. I'd like us to stick together as long as possible. And your wings are still a little wet at the moment." Kenu glanced down at his sopping wings and sighed, causing a gust to pass over them. "I don't think we could swim that far..." she murmured, and hung her head, unable to think of much else.
There was a brief silence. "Well," Francois said after a few moments, "I suppose we could just go and do it the hard way." When she lifted her head and looked at him, he gestured at the water. "Messieurs Kwemoo and Maang already suggested it."
"Swim--?" Charmian said; when he shook his head she frowned in puzzlement. "Paddle...?" He nodded and she blinked. "But...we don't have any boats or anything."
"A canoe is easily made," Francois replied. "Several, a bit longer, but not quite so much time as swimming."
Charmian frowned. "But who here knows how to make a canoe...?" Everybody but Thomas raised their hand or else gestured in the affirmative, and she quickly shut her eyes. "Okay--so they never taught that in junior high. But what do you need to make one?"
"Birches," Stick-In-The-Dirt said, and turned and pointed behind them. Only now did she take more notice of the stand of trees they had passed through, and saw the distinctive bark with its black gouges. Her frown grew.
"You guys seriously have all you need here already...?" she said skeptically.
Francois nodded. "It would probably take into the night, with several of us working at once...but I assume you would prefer this to traveling over the water at night anyway." Charmian nodded reluctantly. "Then you just find a good spot to set up camp for the night, and we'll settle everything. We should be ready to go by morning."
Charmian sighed--she hated the thought of spending another night here--but decided it was best, seeing as there were no other options available. "Okay," she murmured. "But I want us to get up really early. As soon as they're ready." Francois nodded and gestured at a few of the others, and they started walking for the woods again. Mani stepped past Charmian and whistled.
Will ask the tree manitous to offer their skins. Do not worry, Red Land One. Be in east before you know it.
Charmian nodded, not quite believing him but not wanting to hurt his feelings. Most of the others vanished among the trees as a few of them stayed behind to start looking for a place to pass the night; Thomas approached, Winter Born in tow, and shrugged.
"They never taught canoe-making where I came from, either," he admitted, a bit meekly.
"I already know how to make a canoe," Winter Born said proudly. "What I want to do is stay here and help set up camp!"
"It won't be remarkably interesting," Charmian warned, but could see that the argument was lost already. "Okay...I think a bit away from the water would be best. Just in case."
"I'll just...stay right here," Mishupishu offered, and settled back in the water. "And keep my eyes open. I'm not tired."
"I can keep watch just as well," Kenu said, in a rather challenging voice, and stomped to the other side of the little bay, turning his back toward the Lynx. Mishupishu bit his lip a little but sank down into the water, again showing only his eyes and horns. He must have sighed, for bubbles broke the surface of the water and popped.
"O-ho!" Kwemoo and Maang exclaimed, waddling in circles at the edge of the nearest stand of trees. "This looks like a most excellent spot to pass the night in relative safety and comfort, o-ho!"
"At least they can do something useful," Thomas said under his breath, and they all went over to the small space surrounded on three sides by trees. Charmian toed the ground a bit and nodded.
"We'll need firewood," she said. "And I hope the fire manitous here are in a better mood than the cave ones."
"I'll get it!" Marten exclaimed, and bounced off into the woods. He returned promptly a moment or so later, and dumped a small armload of sticks on the ground; Charmian was ready to tell him that it wasn't nearly enough, when he bounced off again, returned with another armful, then bounced off a third time. He couldn't carry much firewood, but at least he didn't seem to fatigue very easily.
"Okay, I'll leave that to you then," she said, and started arranging the sticks. "Meanwhile I'll start the fire and try to get it nice and big."
"Can I help?" Winter Born asked; she nodded, and the girl began arranging the wood as well. When Charmian lifted her hand and asked for fire, a tiny flame emerged over her finger, and Winter Born's eyes lit up.
"Can you teach me to do that?" she asked. Charmian hesitated, not quite knowing what to say; Winter Born's look grew pleading. "Please? Mother says I should learn someday, to be a good medicine woman! She can control wind sometimes. I can't control much of anything. I mean, well, once I got a snail to change its direction, but that was all..."
"Maybe some other time," Charmian murmured, but she was too absorbed in trying to light the kindling that she didn't notice the disappointed look on Winter Born's face. "Okay Marten, I think we've got about enough," she added when the Mikumwesu returned with his ninth armful, now panting and puffing slightly; as soon as she said it he let out a wheeze and fell over, and she realized that he must have been feigning energy the entire time. Her mouth twitched. "As soon as this is going you'll get the first S'more," she promised, nudging the sticks and watching the tiny bit of fire start to catch. She let out her breath, then took it in and silently chided herself when the flame wavered.
"S'more--?" Marten echoed, sitting upright with wide eyes. "Oooo! Glooskap makes those all the time! Only he doesn't have the right stuff to make them, so we eat imaginary ones. He calls them S'nones!"
The fire began to crackle and catch a bit more, and Charmian fanned it a little. "S'mores...?" Winter Born said as well, somewhat uncertainly; when Charmian sat down and pulled off her pack, starting to rifle through it, she joined her, Thomas sitting down on her opposite side.
"My pack got dunked in the lake," Charmian admitted, "so they might be a little soggy...crackers seem okay, at least..." She shook the box of graham crackers and sighed. "The marshmallows are okay too...the chocolate might taste like fish though..." She pulled out the bag of marshmallows and the chocolate and started assembling the S'mores. "I need a good stick."
Winter Born picked up one that hadn't been consumed by the fire yet. "Is this one okay...?" When Charmian shook her head and indicated a longer length she shot to her feet and dashed toward the trees. "Be right back!"
Thomas rested his head on his hands. "You do know she's rather idolizing you, don't you...?"
Charmian grimaced. "I wish she wouldn't! I didn't even think it was a good idea to bring her along, but Geezhigo-Quae asked. It's just like Shawondassee said--who turns her down." She sighed. "And I hate the thought of what Black Elk Horn might be up to by now..."
"What've you got against the poor girl?" Thomas asked. "She just wants to be like you, that's all. Is that a bad thing--?"
Charmian's head shot up and she glared at him. "Isn't one of me enough--?"
He nodded. "MORE than enough." He jerked his foot away when she looked ready to slam her fist down onto it. "You seem to consider her a burden," he added.
She blushed. "That's--that's not it! Not at all! It's just--well--what sort of journey is this for a little kid--?" Thomas's mouth twitched and she began to scowl. "What? NOW what are you thinking...?"
Thomas shrugged. "Oh...nothing. Just wondering how you would react to Moon Wolf or Manabozho calling you a 'little kid.'"
Charmian clenched her fist so tight that she smooshed the marshmallows. "I'd KILL them before they could!!"
Thomas smirked. "Well, that rather answers the question, doesn't it...?"
"That's different," Charmian insisted lamely. "I'm practically an adult and she's STILL just a little kid! What?" she snapped when he started chuckling. "What's so damn funny NOW?"
"Nothing," he said again. "I've just never heard you refer to yourself as an 'adult' before! You're, what, my age?--fifteen--?"
"Turn blue!" Charmian yelled, startling Winter Born so much when she returned that she dropped the branches she was holding, blushed, and picked them up again, walking more carefully toward the fire. She settled them down and fiddled her fingers a bit before Charmian nodded at her to sit back down, after which she did. Charmian started sticking the marshmallows on one of the sticks while Marten crawled into Winter Born's lap and collapsed, promptly starting to snore.
"Fleshling!" a grating voice exclaimed, and she glanced up to see Augwak pacing their way, scowling. Pakwa followed behind him with an oddly exasperated look; he looked to have appointed himself Augwak's babysitter, although not too willingly. "All I keep hearing is this talk of Wind this, Wind that," Augwak snapped, keeping a respectful distance from the fire yet glaring at her hatefully. "Not a once do I hear you mentioning how you plan to get my medicine back! You're NOT forgetting, are you--?"
"Me? Forget you?" Charmian said, rolling her eyes; his scowl grew and his claws dug into the earth. "Relax, Augwak. I've got it covered. But you have to admit it's not highest on the list of important things to do."
The GeeBee's jaw fell and his eyes goggled. "Not--not IMPORTANT?!" he screeched, and she knew to plug her ears when he started waving his hands. "IT'S DAMNED IMPORTANT!! You do realize what happens if I return to that place WITHOUT it, don't you--? They'll eat me alive! The pissy ingrates! All I've done for them and all they can think of to do is EAT ME ALIVE?!"
"What would you do if Pakwa here had no powers and the two of you were alone?" Charmian asked.
Augwak ceased flailing, and blinked at her. "Well--what do you think I'd do?" he cried. He waved at Pakwa. "Just letting him lie to rot would be such an awful WASTE!"
"Glad you appreciate me," Pakwa said.
"But that's DIFFERENT!" Augwak added. "He's not the OGIMAH!"
"You really give a whole new meaning to 'hypocrite,'" Charmian said, carefully pulling the marshmallows off of the stick and pressing them between the chocolate and crackers. She glanced at the snoring Mikumwesu. "Well...I was going to give him the first one, but since he's comatose...here you go." She held it out toward the GeeBees, and Pakwa's eyes lit up and he immediately made a beeline for it.
Augwak shoved him aside so that he nearly fell and Pakwa actually gave him an offended look. "What is that?" Augwak exclaimed, crowding forward and sniffing at the S'more.
"Food," Charmian said, and waved it a bit. "Want some?"
He blinked, then his eyes darted up to meet hers; she frowned a little when she thought she saw his face go slightly red. Then he bared his teeth in an awful grimace, wrinkling his nose, and jerked his head away in disgust.
"ECCH!" he snapped. "As if I'd befoul myself with such FILTH? What do I look like, a fleshling? I only eat raw and bloody MEAT!"
Charmian shrugged. "Suit yourself...but I'm not the one who was whining about being so hungry, and we're not going to be eating raw and bloody meat any time soon." She handed it to Pakwa, who took it gratefully and swallowed it with barely one bite. Thomas and Winter Born were already busy roasting more marshmallows as she picked up some more and put them on the stick. "Don't come crying to me when your stomach won't stop rumbling!"
"AS IF I'D EVER CRY TO A BRAT LIKE YOU!!" Augwak screamed over his shoulder, making Stick-In-The-Dirt, who was walking back toward the makeshift camp, jump and dodge out of his way. The medicine man turned his head to watch the GeeBee plop himself down grumbling at the base of a tree which was still within sight yet just beyond the ring of firelight, his back to them; he paused before turning back and joining them at the fire, biting his lip gingerly.
"You are certain it's a good idea to have him along...?" he murmured, casting the GeeBee another look. "He is a Wendigo, after all..."
"He's a kitten right now," Charmian said. "Megissogwun actually did us one small favor." She frowned a bit, then lifted her head to look from one to the other of them. "Speaking of, did any of you notice him do anything back there, when Kenu was acting up...?"
Blank looks. "Anything like what?" Thomas asked. She blushed a little and shook her head, attending to her marshmallows.
"Nothing...must've just been me." She picked at the marshmallows and managed to pull them off with minimal oozing; she handed the next S'more to Stick-In-The-Dirt, who looked it over curiously before biting into it. "So east," she sighed. "I don't know much about the Winds at all. Stick, what have you heard about the East Wind? Shawondassee told me a little what to expect, but she wasn't exactly what I was told to expect, herself..."
He gave her an odd look when she said she, but brushed it off. "He is the keeper of the Morning Star," he said. "He supposedly watches over the wabanos, though he does not command them. He is the source of much strange medicine. He lives quite far from us, though, so we know so little of him. In fact...we know very little of any of the Winds." He rubbed his neck a bit awkwardly. "I never realized just how sheltered we were on the Island, until now..."
"Don't worry about it," Charmian said. "According to Shawondassee he's not that bad, so he shouldn't be too much trouble to deal with."
"I hardly think it's a Wind you should be worried about," a new voice said, and they looked up to see Walks-On-The-Shore joining them, stretching his arms and yawning in an exaggerated manner. As he came into the clearing he made a point of taking hold of one foot in one hand and hopping to his place near the fire, though they only peered at each other from the corner of their eyes before resuming what they'd been doing. He sat down with a thump and proceeded taking the marshmallows from Winter Born's stick as she watched in silence.
"What do you mean by that?" Charmian asked with a frown.
"Perhaps you should speak with your medicine man, one who knows what I speak of," Walks-On-The-Shore said, turning his head to look at her; she turned to him and opened her mouth to reply, saw that his eyes were apparently made of marshmallows, then turned back to Stick-In-The-Dirt instead. The medicine man blinked as if caught offguard.
"Know what?" he asked, startled.
"The nature of the Morning Star," Walks-On-The-Shore said, still staring at them with marshmallow eyes.
Charmian frowned in puzzlement. Stick-In-The-Dirt appeared to think for a moment, then blinked in surprise. "What?" Charmian asked, feeling rather left out of something.
"Morning Star," Stick-In-The-Dirt blurted out.
Charmian's frown grew. "Yeah, Morning Star! What about it--?"
Stick-In-The-Dirt immediately blushed and lowered his head meekly. "Ah--not 'it.' Her."
"Her--?" Charmian had to puzzle over this as Thomas and Winter Born started eating their S'mores. After a moment her eyes grew a bit. "Your wife?" she asked, and he nodded. "What about her?"
He fiddled his fingers a bit as if uneasy. "Well...she is Iroquois...you do know this?"
Charmian nodded. "Yeah, I know...why? What's that have to..." Her eyes grew even more and then her face slowly paled. "Oh...crap."
"What is it?" Winter Born asked, her voice muffled by S'mores.
Charmian's fingers started fiddling now and she turned to look at the others. "Iroquois," she said in a small voice, and chewed her lip. When Thomas and Winter Born merely frowned a little her fiddling and chewing increased. "They're the enemies of the Islanders. And...they live in the east. Far east!"
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