Utter humiliation is the perfect way to pass a canoe trip!...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Escape From Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 40: Dream Within A Dream"
CHARMIAN SAT bolt upright, the word flying out of her mouth and her eyes opening wide. Her own voice echoed sharply off of the tree branches overhead--she blinked when she saw no giant Lynxes, no great lake, no stone canoe or woman in red. All that she saw was leaves and sky still studded with stars. She lowered her head and furrowed her brow in confusion, looking around.
The clearing was almost full with the others, all of them sleeping now. Winter Born was still curled up against X'aaru, Marten curled up in the crook of her arm with barely more than his fluffy tail showing; Mani's head rested against the ground next to her, the two loons whistling softly in their sleep. She was surprised to notice that Thomas had moved and was now lying not far from her, on the ground itself; she would have said that he looked cold, had she not remembered that he was half Wendigo, and shouldn't feel cold. She peered around the clearing, dazed, yet everything seemed to be just as it should be.
The lady in the stone canoe, she thought, then blinked in surprise again. She had to think this over for a moment before realizing that she was in fact surprised to remember her dream at all. Why should that surprise her? Her last time on the Island, Chakenapok had kept stealing her dreams, leaving her blank minded whenever she awoke, and that had been remarkably frustrating, to not remember her own dreams. Yet the dream on the lake with the woman in red was still just as clear in her head as if she had really been there but a moment ago...although when she looked upward again, she could tell that dawn was approaching.
She let out her breath and rubbed her arms, feeling the bite in the air; she carefully picked herself up and brushed the stray grass from her clothes before picking her way across the clearing, making sure not to step on anyone's hand or foot. She glanced at them once more before stepping further into the woods.
Francois, Walks-On-The-Shore, and Stick-In-The-Dirt were here, surrounding something on the ground. Charmian approached them with a stifled yawn, rubbing at her eyes. They appeared to be working on something set in a frame; a few more blinks showed her that it was a small canoe made of wood and birchbark. She tilted her head, spotting several others, and wasn't quite able to believe that they'd made them all overnight. They looked up at her as she approached, unable to keep herself from yawning now.
"Good morning, ma chère," Francois greeted. "Sleep well?"
"Sort of," Charmian admitted. She glanced again at the canoes. "This is them? You made all these just last night?"
"They are not made to last a terribly long time," Francois replied. "It would take longer to make such a canoe, and much more material. These should work well enough for the moment. And more are easily made if needed."
"They should carry all of us properly, though the demon and the manitou will have to follow on their own," Stick-In-The-Dirt said a bit meekly.
"I'm sure they'll be okay with that," Charmian said. She bent down near the canoe still in its frame and tapped its side skeptically. "You're sure this thing's strong enough...?" She'd never been one to put faith in boats made out of tree bark.
Francois nodded. "They'll do, until we can make something better. We usually use larger canoes on the lakes." He glanced in the direction of the water as if it were within sight, and Charmian chewed her lip. He gave her a reassuring look. "But these ones will do fine enough, until we reach land again."
"Barring storms," Walks-On-The-Shore said matter-of-factly. Francois actually gave him a disapproving look while the medicine man's face went gray. Walks-On-The-Shore tapped his index fingers together and looked skyward thoughtfully. "In fact...I once rode in such a canoe...the lake was as smooth as glass, but as soon as we reached the very middle, it was like trying to steer a leaf in the middle of the flood itself--"
Charmian swallowed hard, feeling her own face going paler. Francois put his hand over the Huron's mouth. "Serviceable enough," he repeated himself. "Go and fetch the others, and we'll carry them down to the bay. We can set off as soon as everyone's ready."
Charmian obeyed and turned back to the clearing. It wasn't long before everyone was gathering at the bay, still yawning and rubbing their eyes; Moon Wolf, Stick-In-The-Dirt, and Winter Born returned with their arms full of roots and nuts, which they placed in the canoes before clambering in themselves. Charmian had no clue how they had provided themselves with paddles, yet they had; she could only guess that they'd carved them during the night as well. When the canoes were readied they turned their attention to Kenu and Mishupishu...both of whom were fast asleep. The Thunderbird slept on the shore in a great feathery heap, while the Lynx dozed just offshore, his horns and eyes peeping out of the water and bubbles escaping his nose. Winter Born looked up at Charmian.
"I feel bad waking them up," she said.
Charmian's mouth twitched. "Well...I think they probably slept better than the rest of us. Maybe we'll run into more Animiki on the way; that'll make Kenu's day."
"I'll wake them up! I'm good at waking people up!" Marten exclaimed, and hopped atop Kenu's head and was promptly thrown into the lake. The Thunderbird reared up and let out a shriek that made their ears ring and the ground quake; fortunately, he halted as soon as he saw everyone in the canoes, and just blinked stupidly. A moment later Mishupishu swam further into the bay, a dripping Marten perched between his horns.
"NOT funny," Marten grumbled, with quite possibly the most irritated look Charmian had ever seen him with.
"We're ready to head east now," Charmian said to them. "But you two are going to have to make it on your own...and you two, also." She glanced at X'aaru and Mani. "Hope you don't mind."
Will be fine in the water, Mani reassured her.
X'aaru stretched one wing, gave it a critical look, then folded it again. "I think I'll be all right...if I don't get too wet..."
"So the basic plan is, we just go east and east and east until...whenever?" Thomas asked with a frown. "That's the plan?"
"I can't think of much else," Charmian admitted with a sigh. "All we can do is hope we run into somebody who does know where to find Wabun." She shifted her pack. "I'm ready, at least. I guess."
She got into the canoe herself and Francois pushed it off from shore. It settled so low in the water that Charmian's heart squeezed in her chest. Francois settled himself in the front, Thomas in the back, and Charmian found herself seated with Winter Born and Marten; the two other canoes that they brought contained Niskigwun, Remy, Peepaukawiss, and Moon Wolf, and Walks-On-The-Shore, Manabozho, Pakwa, Stick-In-The-Dirt, and the two loons, who were still drowsy. Charmian did a head count and frowned. She twisted her head around and nearly fell in the water when she saw Augwak perching just behind Thomas, right on the edge of the canoe, a dark scowl on his face.
"Why don't you get in the canoe with Niskigwun and Moon Wolf?" she nearly yelled, her voice going shrill. "They actually have room there!!"
He bared his teeth. "Back off, brat! I can perch wherever I damn well like!"
Charmian gave Thomas such a look that made it obvious she wanted him to swing his paddle and knock the GeeBee into the bay. All that he did was give her a sympathetic shrug and put the paddle in the water. She turned around again with a scowl and hunched down in her vest, trying not to chatter. Winter Born, right in front of her, gave her a curious look.
"Are you afraid of canoes, Charmian...?" she asked.
Charmian's nose wrinkled. "No, I'm not afraid of canoes! I'm just afraid of drowning! Horrible, agonizing drowning! I have a severe dislike of plunging underwater and trying to breathe and having my lungs fill up with water!!"
The word water echoed off of the trees fading away behind them, and she found everyone staring at her. Her ears burned and she scrunched down as far into the little canoe as she could, shutting her eyes and wishing that they were on a Shepler's ferry. At least the ferries weren't made of tree bark.
"Ma chère, if the water upsets you, perhaps you can rest until we strike land," Francois suggested. "The trip is likely to take a while."
Charmian sighed. "I hate sounding like such a wuss...but I had a bad dunk in Croghan Water once, and I still can't get that thought out of my head..."
"Charmian?" Winter Born said, and Charmian looked down at her. "Mother told me all sorts of things about you, and Stick too, but they can't have told me everything," she said, her eyes big. "Could you tell me some stories about what you did when you were on the Island before...?"
Charmian's own eyes grew, and she started blinking, her face going brilliant red. "Yeah! Start telling!" Marten exclaimed, hopping up and down in her lap.
"You know you want to," Thomas said, switching the paddle to the other side.
Charmian dug her fingers into her knees. "I do not!!"
"If you don't start talking then WE will!" Marten retorted; then, when she said nothing, he turned himself around to meet Winter Born's eyes. "Her last time on the Island she threw a crying fit in front of Glooskap just to get him to help her! And it worked, too! Glooskap can't STAND crying!"
"Your father hit her in the face the last time," Thomas said, Winter Born turning to look back at him, "but she stole his knife, and then told him to shut up. And he actually did, too."
Winter Born's mouth fell open in disbelief. "She went drinking in the town and lost her clothes," Walks-On-The-Shore added, and Charmian squinched her eyes shut again and flung her arms over her head in humiliation. "Though I did help her find them."
"Oohhhhhh! I pulled the most WONDERFUL prank on her!!" Puka cried, clapping his hands together with glee. "Her face was all black! So funny! But then we had to talk to Big Brother Mudji, and he practically threatened to murder her, but she faced him down even when he threw a giant KNIFE at her...she had him so steaming mad! So much better than anything I could've done!" He started giggling wildly.
"She asked Niskigwun to marry her," Thomas said, and this time Niskigwun's face went red and he ducked his head abruptly, paddling furiously at the water.
"And then she had the gall to go off and fight that Chakenpok by herself!" Niskigwun retorted. "I missed EVERYTHING because I was forced to take refreshments with that old manitou woman!!"
Winter Born's eyes lit up more and more with each comment and she had to keep turning around to look at each of them as they spoke.
"She kicked me in the jaw," Moon Wolf said, "though I don't even remember it."
"She took away my power!" Augwak hissed, turning around on the stern of the canoe and shaking his fist. "AND THEN KICKED ME! When I was already down! KICKED ME!!"
"Gave me lots of sweets," Pakwa said blandly.
"She PICKED ME UP BY MY EARS," Manabozho groused, shooting her an evil look. "Who does that to a rabbit? Who in their right mind picks up a rabbit by its ears--? Especially the Great Rabbit--?"
Fought off Wind Moving One, Mani said, referring to Ocryana. Probably saved Mani's life.
"Oh! She went through a rainbow with me!" X'aaru exclaimed, startling them since he was flying overhead. He flapped in a circle. "She was actually pretty good at it! And she gave me my name, too!"
"I hear she met with a group of rather large spiders deep in a cave, though I could not verify this myself," Francois added. "But she spoke back to Crooked Creek, and that was something."
"Didn't give me nearly enough sweets," Pakwa said.
"And really didn't have to shove my head in her armpit," Manabozho grumbled.
"Guys!!" Charmian wailed, still hiding her head.
"Wow," Winter Born breathed. "You did all of that--?"
"And a LOT more," Thomas said, switching the paddle again.
Winter Born looked to Charmian as if hoping to hear more, but by now Charmian was too humiliated to speak. She sighed and sat back. "I hope I can do even half of those things someday," she murmured.
"And she fell in a puddle of water," Marten said.
"And tripped and fell on her face," added Thomas.
"And fell off of Arch Rock," Manabozho finished.
"GUYS!!" Charmian shrieked, and her voice came out so loud that Kwemoo and Maang instantly lifted into the air and started flapping around, blinking and surprised. Mishupishu ducked his head into the water and Kenu looked ready to bolt for cover.
"And lost her clothes," said Walks-On-The-Shore, and thankfully that was it.
Mishupishu swam in lazy circles around the canoes as they crossed the water, the distant shore never seeming, at least to Charmian, to get much closer. At least the lake was calm, and the sun arose to warm them as they traveled; when at last the shore came into view, she shielded her eyes to see a glittering trail winding further inland, and could make out the small river ahead. A questioning glance from Francois made her nod and they continued into the river, having to paddle against the current, though it wasn't a strong one. Trees closed in on the riverbanks, forming a tunnel over their heads, but the water grew wider along the way, until Charmian would have had difficulty swimming to the opposite bank, and she and the others stared at the unfamiliar scenery passing by. She wondered how far this river went, and wished that she knew the geography of the area better. She didn't even know if they were still in Michigan or not.
We could be anywhere for all I know, she thought, and bit her lip.
At least she was too anxious about the length of the trip to be hungry, and everyone else, aside from Pakwa, seemed to be distracted as well. They kept silent for a very long time but for the slicing of the paddles through the water and the river lapping at the canoes' sides; Charmian could feel it sliding by beneath them, and shivered, remembering just how flimsy these things were. Every now and then the cry of some strange bird made her jump, but nobody else seemed to notice. She had to keep looking to the side and behind them to make sure that Mishupishu still followed, he was so quiet; even Kenu seemed subdued, flapping his wings alongside X'aaru and the two loons far overhead. Sometimes she saw Mani, more often not; he must have been shifting into his water form at times. Puka dozed and even Manabozho's head nodded now and then, though he fought against sleep; Augwak sat grumbling on the stern, most of the others paddling, and Charmian sighed to herself. As noon passed and the afternoon wore on, the sky grew overcast, and a fine mist of rain pelted against them, promptly souring her mood; Puka, Manabozho, and Augwak didn't look much happier themselves. Evening began to fall, and Charmian expected them to pull to the shore; which was why she was surprised when Francois started singing instead, making her head pop up out of a drowse. She frowned when she realized that he was singing in French, and she had no clue what he was saying. She'd never had any trouble understanding him on the Island...
The Island...that's right! It translates everybody's speech...but we're not on the Island anymore...so how come I could understand everything else until now...?
She chewed her lip a bit but couldn't explain it. Maybe it worked differently here, and didn't translate songs. She slipped out her little face necklace and put it around her neck to see what it would do; it wasn't long before she could hear Francois's voice in English again, but she didn't listen to him long, before taking the necklace off and shoving it back in her pocket.
Thomas pulled out his paddle to tap her with it and leaned toward her. "What's it all about?" he whispered. "The singing?"
"You don't get it either?" When he shook his head she chewed on her lip again. "Well...from the sound of what I heard...I think it's something about a man drowning, then his bride drowning, then his dog drowning..."
Thomas arched his eyebrows, then sat back and began paddling again. "Ah...never mind. I've never cared much for Canadian music, I guess..."
"It sounds so cheerful, too," Marten said in a perplexed voice, then shrugged and sat back in Winter Born's lap. "Oh well! I'll just imagine it's about beetles!" He started humming along with Francois's singing, every so often murmuring to himself. "Beetles, beetles...big and black and skeetles..."
"When do--um--canoe trips usually stop?" Charmian called ahead to Francois.
He halted his singing long enough to call back, "After nightfall, ma chère, unless you should like to stop sooner...?"
Charmian was tempted, but bit her tongue. She made herself sit back again, and Francois resumed his singing, Marten his humming. She stared at the glassy water as it glided by, every so often catching a vague glimpse of Mani or Mishupishu, though it was hard for her to not imagine other things being down there...they were in a strange land, after all, and were heading for an even stranger one...who was to say what sort of things they might run into way out here? Even the manitous might be different...
What if they don't have manitous where we're going...?
This thought alone was enough to make her huddle into her vest and rub her arms anxiously. Without manitous...she would have no powers. And how would she fight then...?
Fortunately, drowsiness at last overtook her, and her fingers even trailed in the water as she slept, though she barely noticed.
* * * * *
There was no sign in the camp. There was no sign in the caves. There was no sign at the trapper's cabin, none at the Sugar Loaf Rock, none at the Arch or anywhere else he could think of, not without heading down into the town for the first time. And heading into the town was something he certainly didn't want to do. There were too many of them down there.
Black Elk Horn crouched in the woods, tapping his fingers against his teeth and racking his brain. He hated not knowing what was going on, but that was the state he was in. He'd scoured almost the entire Island from east to west, north to south, aside from the town and a few of the caves that were of ill repute, though he had ventured near them, close enough to find out that neither the red-haired girl nor the man in the red jacket was there. He knew enough of this Island to know that their presence would have stirred up talk wherever they would go, and that hadn't happened. They couldn't have simply disappeared. They were either still here, hiding, or they had found some means of escape that he'd never heard of before. And he hated that there might be something here that he'd never heard of.
He ground his teeth together. As much as he despised her, the girl had never been violent toward his people. She'd come after him a few times, but only in defense of others. She had never attacked anyone in the tribe, that he was aware of. And even with as much as he couldn't stand having her around, to the best of his knowledge, all she'd ever been interested in was trying to help the Island...even if the Island would probably have been better off without her help.
Which was why he couldn't understand why she would shield the red-jacketed man from him, as she'd obviously done. He'd seen the look on her face, right before she'd turned and darted away, dragging the other mainlander after her. She'd been surprised. She hadn't expected what had happened in the camp. She hadn't been in on it.
His eyes darkened. Whatever her plans were, she is in on it now. She protects that long knife? Then she is just the same as he is! As soon as I find out where they went...
He let this thought trail off and lifted his head, frustrated and scowling. He would never find them sitting in the woods like this...
He started to stand up, ready to at last head toward the town--the worst that could happen was that someone might take a shot at him, and by now, he hardly cared--when the faintest rustling noise made him freeze. He slowly crouched back down, creeping back until he edged down into a small hollow, and peered over the rim of it. For a few moments he saw nothing, but he stayed where he was and waited...after a while of silence, the rustling came again, and he spotted movement, back among the undergrowth. He had to squint to make out a shape even darker than the cedar boughs, almost silently weaving its way through the woods, and as soon as he realized what it was, through the brief flash of red that he caught, his heart nearly caught in his throat.
The demon...the Dreamspinner...?
He had only ever seen the Dreamspinner from afar, never up close; and certainly never creeping around in the woods like this. Everyone knew that the demon lived atop the Island, at its highest point, and rarely ventured out among the people. And whenever he did, it was certainly not to skulk about in the woods like this. And so what could he be doing...?
First that GeeBee. Then that red-jacket. Now this...do not even tell me they're not all connected!
Frowning, he watched the demon until he was out of sight, and then made up his mind to follow. The demon was very quiet, yet Black Elk Horn, being so much smaller, was even quieter, slipping silently along after him. He was still surprised that such a large creature left no trace of its passage, yet he could easily follow him by sight and sound.
He began to recognize the direction they were headed in, and his frown grew. Surely the demon wasn't heading where he seemed to be...? Yet when he entered the clearing ahead, and kept walking, Black Elk Horn was positive now, and had to slow his step and peer out from behind a tree, confused. The demon had never gone to one of the homes of the long knives or Wemitigoji. And so what could he be doing here, of all places...?
The demon paced across the grassy lawn and right up the front steps of the Dupries house, halting before the door. His reserve seemed to falter a bit, and he even peeked over his shoulder as if hoping that no one were around; Black Elk Horn held his breath. He then turned back to the door and held up one hand, gently running his claws along the wood and making a soft scratching noise. He did this a few times before stopping and waiting, then repeated the gesture, the tip of his tail twitching.
A very faint, muffled voice came from within. "Sky! I told you to take that dog back to the town! If I catch him clawing the door one more time..."
The door opened and Little Dove stuck her head out, mouth open and ready to yell--she might have looked and acted sweet and well behaved most of the time, but Black Elk Horn knew her well enough to know that she could yell just as loudly as anyone if angered enough--when she looked down and spotted Tal Natha, practically crouching on the porch, as his size was so much greater than hers. Her eyes went wide and she took an abrupt step back, mouth snapping shut with a gasp; she blinked at him a few times, then turned and hurried back inside. The demon stood waiting on the porch until more noises came; then the Wemitigoji appeared, looking out at him with an even more confused expression on his face. He didn't say anything, merely stepped up to the threshold and stared at the demon; the demon stared back, and they stood that way for a few moments, silent, though to Black Elk Horn it felt like much longer. He was ready to start fidgeting in irritation when the Wemitigoji seemed to relax a little, letting out his breath. The look on his face grew no better, however, as the demon turned and headed back toward the woods. Black Elk Horn kept his head low until he was past, then glanced back toward the house.
"What was that all about?" Little Dove asked.
Justin rolled his eyes. "Who else?" He turned away from the porch and paused in the doorway, leaning against the casing. "Apparently there's been some trouble on the bluff...someone was shot...and she went running off with the one responsible..." His voice grew quieter and Black Elk Horn craned his neck, wishing that he could hear better. "...Sounds like the typical great deal of difficulty from her...says she headed into one of the caves, like that Fairy Arch, that take you places...went through with the others...and took the red-jacketed man with her..."
There were more words before the door closed, but Black Elk Horn didn't hear them. What he'd already heard kept echoing in his head--took the red-jacketed man with her--took the red-jacketed man with her--and suddenly, his muscles tensed, and he turned and got up, jogging swiftly and silently back eastward. His eyes burned as much as his heart felt like it did.
I do not care where she went. I do not care if she went atop the Arch, below the lake, or up into the sky itself! Wherever she went I'll find her--and that red man--and that will be the END of it!
This thought alone sustained Black Elk Horn as he jogged back toward the East Bluff, the flame of vengeance searing in his breast and hatred making his feet move faster.
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