Charmian gets to know Singing Cedars a little more than she wanted...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Escape From Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 46: Friend Among Strangers"
"THOSE WERE NOT the paths that Singing Cedars was meant to take," Snowy Pine said, nodding at the little cedar sprig necklace and tending to Walks-On-The-Shore's wound. "His path was to become a medicine man."
Charmian stared at her with wide eyes, disbelieving. She looked down at the little necklace.
"Medicine man...?" she whispered.
Snowy Pine nodded, standing up from Walks-On-The-Shore's bed and turning back to face her. She wiped her hands. "I'm afraid I cannot tell you the details of his vision," she said, "as these are meant only to be told by him alone; but this was the path the okis chose for him. He decided he did not want to follow it. This is his own decision. If he gives up his vision then he has no need of that little necklace."
Charmian vaguely thought of the substance Singing Cedars had given her to put on her shoulder, how he had blushed when his grandmother had told how it was to be properly prescribed. Evidently he wasn't entirely ignorant of medicine, then. "But...why would he give it up...?" she asked, confused.
The old woman shrugged slightly. "I've never asked him, and he's never seen fit to tell me. I believe that he feels safer with you though; perhaps he'll tell you himself."
Charmian blinked, then blushed and clamped her hands around the sprig as if to hide it. "Safer with me--? I barely know him! We only ever met once before--"
"Still, he spoke very highly of you when he returned, and judging by how much he had to say, I take it he knows you better than you think," Snowy Pine said. She glanced at the entryway of the longhouse and then back at Charmian. "You said that you had friends who were with you...friends you were separated from?"
Charmian nodded. "I was kind of hoping they'd head east after us...at least, if they know where we went, which I'm not too sure."
"Why don't you stay here for the night, at least?" Snowy Pine offered. "Seeing as it's so late, and the two of you must be exhausted by now. I'm certain Cedars would enjoy it very much. Surely he would like catching up with you."
Catching up with WHAT? Charmian thought, but nodded again just the same. "We don't really have anywhere else to go," she admitted reluctantly. "And no offense...but I'm not too big on wandering around here alone just yet..."
"This is probably the wisest choice," Snowy Pine said. "Cedars will make certain to keep an eye on you, and your friend here is safe as long as he remains in our company."
"Thanks," Charmian said. "I really appreciate it." She put her hand against the wall and tentatively pushed herself to her feet, wincing at the way that her head throbbed a little before settling. "Do you know where they left my pack? I'm not sure where he went..."
She was interrupted when footfalls came down the central aisle again, and Singing Cedars appeared around the partition. "Should you be up?" he asked as soon as he saw her, and made a face. "I told you I'd get it! You should still be sitting down--you were being attacked by bears, remember."
Charmian rolled her eyes. "Nag, nag, nag! I just wondered if I could get a look around this place. I've never been here before. Since I'm going to be staying for a bit I thought I should get to know where I am."
Singing Cedars blinked, then blushed a little. "You want me to show you around--?" he asked; she nodded, and he set her pack down, looking a little flustered. "Well...you should have said so! It's getting dark, you know, and it's still raining."
"I don't care about dark and rain," Charmian said.
He looked ready to snort as he turned away. "That's right...now I remember who I'm dealing with."
Charmian cast a glance back at Snowy Pine and let out an exaggerated sigh. The old woman smiled as Charmian turned to follow Singing Cedars toward the entry of the longhouse. She glanced off to her sides, now seeing the other partitioned sections; most were empty, but in one or two she spotted a few people, all of them women, who glanced up at her as they passed. They seemed quite curious and stared right back; she blushed a bit and hurried to catch up with Singing Cedars.
"You should probably keep close," he murmured without looking back at her. "You shouldn't be hurt here, but there was a reason why we decided to go after your Island."
"It's not my Island," Charmian protested, but didn't speak further as he exited the longhouse and she followed.
She nearly stumbled to a halt. Despite the lateness of the hour, the camp was still quite busy, and she couldn't help but stare at the numerous people who paced back and forth, doing various things just like the people on the Island. The only difference was...there were a lot more of them than there were in Stick-In-The-Dirt's camp...and instead of the low rounded wigwams with their bark and rush-mat coverings, there were numerous long, wooden houses, standing around the clearing almost cabinlike; she couldn't get over how modern they looked, compared to the Island's residences. She glanced around the camp and tried to figure out what time period they were in, unsuccessfully. The reaction out here was much the same as it had been in Snowy Pine's longhouse; numerous eyes settled on her immediately, and she anxiously crept closer to Singing Cedars, so that she walked nearly in his shadow. The women stared at her with wide eyes; a few of the men turned and whispered something to each other and then snickered. Charmian felt her face grow hot.
"Are those guys flirting with me--?" she exclaimed under her breath.
"Do you recognize them?" Singing Cedars whispered back. "They are several of the ones who went along to the Island. They don't even remember what happened. None of them believed me when I told them the story." He looked at them from the corner of his eye and Charmian saw his eyes narrow. "I wonder what they think now that you're here."
Charmian looked up at him, then back at the men. As they passed by she put her thumb to her nose and stuck out her tongue, making a hideous face. The men jumped a little and a group of women standing nearby started laughing hysterically. She turned back and resumed walking next to Singing Cedars.
"Sorry I can't hurl a fireball at them," she said.
The look on his face didn't change, but she could tell that her actions had amused him. "Don't worry, I think they believe in you well enough now." He slowed his step and pointed at a longhouse near the center of the camp. "This is where the chief meets with the head men and women of the tribe and speaks with them. I don't go there much." He rubbed at his neck as if suddenly self-conscious. "Perhaps it would be a good idea if he knew you're here...otherwise your presence won't make much sense. He must have surely been informed by someone else, by now." He made a face.
"Is he a sensible guy?" Charmian asked; when he looked at her questioningly, she bit her lip. "Not like Black Elk Horn?" she finally said.
Singing Cedars rolled his eyes. "NOTHING like Black Elk Horn! If he's the same person who hit you like that!"
Charmian suppressed a laugh. "Don't worry...that was nothing compared to all the junk that happened afterward." She looked up at the longhouse. "Do you think he wants me to..."
The covering over the entrance to the longhouse was pushed aside and someone stepped out just as they neared, making them both halt immediately. Charmian's brow furrowed; the man she was staring at wasn't what she'd expected as a chief. He was shorter than Singing Cedars--probably shorter even than Stick-In-The-Dirt--and perhaps as old as Snowy Pine, his hair dirty white and hanging loose. Upon his head he wore an odd headdress with numerous short feathers and a pair of little horns. He gave Charmian a critical frown and crossed his arms, then gave Singing Cedars the same look; Singing Cedars dropped his head and resumed walking, Charmian following suit.
"The headman...?" she whispered.
He nodded, as if he wanted to be anywhere else but there. "The others told him what little they remembered of going to the Island," he whispered back, "which basically was, that I was a coward, and just wanted to get out of there." His fists clenched. "Would that somebody would remember something USEFUL for a change...!"
Charmian could only sympathize mentally, as they reached the longhouse at that moment and Singing Cedars nodded his head, the old man nodding curtly in return and staring at Charmian. "This girl you found in the valley," he said without preliminaries, making Charmian blink. "She is who I have been told of--?"
Singing Cedars nodded again. "Yes, Grandfather..."
"The one from the Island?" the old man prompted.
"Yes, Grandfather." Singing Cedars paused. "Her name is Charmian."
"I assume she can speak for herself." Charmian saw Singing Cedars bite his tongue, and did the same herself, hating to see the way that he flushed and averted his eyes. The chief cleared his throat and she turned her attention back to him immediately. He looked her up and down without moving his head.
"You are the one he says speaks with okis and commands fire?" he inquired, sounding skeptical.
Charmian opened her mouth to retort, then felt a prickle on the back of her neck. She peered to the side and suddenly realized that many of the tribe had gathered around them and were now listening in with great curiosity. Her ears burned. "Um..."
"Speak up," the chief said in a sharp voice.
Charmian stiffened. "I--yes," she said at last, and the little murmurs that had been arising around them cut off abruptly. "I'm the one who talks to the--okis--and controls fire--and water--and all that other stuff." She nodded. "That's me."
"Cedars here told all sorts of far-fetched tales about you," the old man said.
Charmian couldn't help it. "And they were all true, too." When that resulted in an even more skeptical look her temper flared. "If you don't mind me saying it...Grandfather...whoever..." She coughed. "Singing Cedars actually helped me quite a lot in saving that Island, and he did other things besides. He gave his vision so he could help me. I really don't think the Island and everyone on it would've made it, without his help." She noticed Singing Cedars start squirming and tugging on the back of her sleeve but pressed on. "And honestly, I think it's rude how people here don't believe him, when he went to such trouble--your guys probably wouldn't be alive either if it weren't for him. And all they can do is stand around and laugh about it. I think that's inexcusable." She jerked her head toward the group of men somewhere behind them and everyone started peering at each other like she'd just been caught doing something naughty in class.
The old man raised an eyebrow. "And this is all...?"
She shook her head. "No, not by a long shot." Singing Cedars tugged on her sleeve so hard now that her shirt threatened to slip over her shoulder; she reached up to pull it back into place and glared at the old man. "Now that it's pretty clear that he WASN'T lying, I think apologies are owed, especially by those LOUTS with the bad memories who went along with him! Or are their memories just selective--?" she called over her shoulder, and the women started tittering again while the men scowled and shuffled their feet. "Like, they can remember all the stuff THEY did, but heaven forbid they remember any of the things Cedars did. He's the bravest one out of all of them." Singing Cedars now even made a desperate noise in addition to his tugging but she still ignored him. May as well build my own funeral pyre while I'm at it, she thought. "Where I come from, people are praised for doing brave things, not made fun of. I kind of hoped it was the same here."
"Now are you quite done?" the old man asked.
Charmian opened her mouth, then shut it, a bit flustered. "Yeah," she said. "I think so."
The old man just continued staring at her disapprovingly, then said merely, "Mm." He looked at Singing Cedars--who was trying very hard not to grimace--then back at Charmian. It had seemed like a good idea to speak up at the time, but now he stared at her for so long that she struggled just as hard as Singing Cedars not to fidget. She started digging her toes into her sandals.
The old man's eyes narrowed a bit, then he pursed his lips. "You have a smart tongue for a girl," he said; "you seem to have trouble holding it," and now she tried not to scowl at him, even as she quailed inside. She expected him to lay into Singing Cedars next, and almost opened her mouth to speak up again when he turned his attention back to her companion.
"Would that some others would learn to speak up when it's due," he said, and both Charmian and Singing Cedars blinked at once. The old man glanced now at the men standing behind them and jerked his head at them. "I was wondering just how long you would take all that lying down. Maybe this girl can teach you something." He gave her one more look, seeming completely dissatisfied, yet when she dared to meet his eyes she could tell what he was really thinking. He turned and went back into the longhouse, waving his hand at one of the other elders who was standing within. They peered out at her before the entry closed, and Singing Cedars let out a shaky breath. He then let out a cry when Charmian hit him in the arm, and rubbed at it with an astonished look.
"What was that for?!"
"You heard what he said!" Charmian hissed under her breath, the others turning and dispersing. "The next time those ASSES call you a liar, knock their heads in!! That's what I would do!"
He opened his mouth as if to retort, thought again, and shut it, unable to completely suppress a scowl. "Come on then! You said you wanted to see this place, and it's not like we have all night!"
"Now that's what I was talking about," Charmian said, as they turned and started making their way down the main path of the camp. "You're mouthy enough with me. God knows why you can't lip off to anyone else!"
The light grew dimmer as they drew further away from the longhouses and closer to the stands of tall pines which rose around the camp. Charmian peered up into them; it looked like they could have been in the Northwest, for all that she knew.
"Not quite how I pictured New York," she murmured.
Singing Cedars glanced over his shoulder at her with a frown. "New what?"
She shook her head and rubbed at her arms. "Nothing...that's just what they call this place where I come from. At least, I think."
Singing Cedars appeared to mull over this for a moment, then turned back to the trail. "If it's new, then where is the old york?" Charmian snarted sniggering and he glared at her. "Now what?"
"Nothing," Charmian said again. "It's just that that actually makes sense. Hey!" She hurried to walk beside him and peered into the woods. "So what all is there around here? Are there lots of okis at all?"
Singing Cedars let out a huffing noise. "How would I know! We have trees, and waterfalls, and rocks...the same as I'm guessing your people do..."
"They're not my people," Charmian said, and rolled her eyes. "Where do you even get that!"
"That skittish man with the four feathers said that you were," he said in response, and she fell silent, remembering what Stick-In-The-Dirt had said about her, after she'd rescued Singing Cedars. She is of this tribe. She is one of us...I accept her into my home. This is all that matters....
DOES that make me one of them...? she thought, and frowned, biting the inside of her lip. I just thought he was being nice and getting me out of trouble! It doesn't mean anything other than that, does it?
But what was it that Snow Bear said...that I remind him of his daughters...?
"I'm not even certain what you wanted to see," Singing Cedars said at last, giving her a look. He slowed his step and gestured at the trees. "This is pretty much it. If you meant the camp, we could head back, but much of it is the same as our longhouse; and everyone is getting ready for bed, so they might not take well..."
"I just like looking around the woods and stuff, that's all," Charmian said. She started walking ahead of him. "Don't you ever just walk around and look?"
"Of course I do," Singing Cedars retorted.
"Well..." She shrugged. "I was starting to think you hated the outdoors!" She stopped to peer at one of the tall trees. "Do you know of any okis around here?"
He let out a huge sigh. "WHY are you so interested in the okis!"
"I wanted to see if I could talk to them," Charmian said.
He gave her a dirty look. "There are no okis here, all right?"
Her brow furrowed. "But Shore said..."
"He is a Wyandotte, and not from our tribe, and they are superstitious people," Singing Cedars said. "All these stories about okis are just stories. The trees are just trees and the rocks are just rocks, and that's it. It's nothing special, just woods and rocks."
Charmian turned around to face him now, growing confused. "But..." She looked at the trees. "I was told that there are spirits everywhere. And--you saw how it was on the Island! Didn't you--?"
"That was that Island," Singing Cedars insisted, rolling his eyes. "That Island is NOTHING like here! I don't know why it is that okis and giant Wolves and such roam about on your Island, but it isn't so here. This is why I prefer THIS place! It's a lot safer, for one thing!" He nudged his way past her and touched one of the pines. "This is a tree--and this is a tree. See? No okis. Happy?"
Charmian's frown grew. "I find it somehow hard to believe that there are manitous on the Island yet none anywhere else! That's not what I was taught. In fact I thought I saw something weird when we first came through here." She pushed her way ahead of him now and tossed him a dark look over her shoulder. "I just don't think you're looking hard enough!"
Singing Cedars practically bared his teeth at her. She remembered now how much he had annoyed her the last time they'd met, and had to fight to keep from growling. "You're not going to FIND anything," he grumbled, following.
"You're not looking," Charmian replied.
"Because there's nothing to LOOK for!"
"Because you're not LOOKING hard enough!"
He threw up his hands. "BECAUSE THERE'S NOTHING TO LOOK FOR!!"
Charmian halted and whirled around to face him. "I know you had a vision," she said, and he nearly stumbled over his own feet halting. "Aren't visions sent by friendly mani--friendly okis? Isn't it the okis who give you your visions? If you had a vision, there must be okis." She turned to look at the woods, crossing her arms in a gesture of finality. "You're just not looking hard enough."
Singing Cedars gawked, then his lip curled back. "What business is it of yours about my vision? And did you ever stop to think that maybe a vision is just that--a vision? A dream or something? It doesn't necessarily mean anything!"
"If it didn't mean anything, then you wouldn't have given me your charm to help me," Charmian said, and that effectively silenced him. He flushed and started opening and shutting his mouth; she decided not to pursue it, and peered into the woods. "I want to see if there are okis. I'm stuck here for now, and I don't have any powers, so it would really help if I could learn to talk to them."
Singing Cedars huffed a bit before throwing up his hands again. "Go ahead and waste your time! The only things here are trees." When she started looking around he scowled and jammed his arms against his chest. "You're not going to find anything!"
"You're pretty damn insistent," Charmian said, clambering over a fallen tree. "Have you ever looked?"
"Of course I looked," Singing Cedars snapped, and she peered back at him. He glared at her. "All the time. When I was little! You look for shadows long enough and you eventually catch on. The only shadows out there are the ones we cast."
Charmian furrowed her brow a little bit, then turned back to the woods. "You'd probably make a good philosopher where I come from," she murmured, and started running her hand along the trunk. The wood was wet and mossy. "I just never thought I'd come across an atheist native! You know, I used to think the same way you do--? When I was first told there were spirits and stuff inside of trees and rocks and junk, I thought everybody was nuts." She dropped over the tree and peeked at its underside. "Until I started seeing those things in rocks and trees and junk...and even in my own lake back at home...I think it's just a matter of getting accustomed to a place, and then they'll show themselves. You, you strike me as kind of edgy and tense. No offense."
"None taken," Singing Cedars grumbled.
"And it's my experience that manitous don't like coming to people when they're all upset about something." She stood, and stepped toward a standing tree, looking up into the branches. "You have to open up to them before they'll show themselves. They sense things like that...maybe these okis are the same way. Maybe you never saw any because you never wanted to see any."
She touched her hand to the bark. Several moments passed and she got no response; puzzled, she turned her head to look back at him. He had a very odd look on his face, but she saw it for only a second; then he scowled again and turned away, stalking toward a tree stump nearby. Her brow furrowed again and she slowly turned, then climbed over the log and started walking toward him.
"What, no snappy comeback...?" she asked; he said nothing as he sat down on the stump, looking like he planned on ignoring her. Her frown grew and she stopped several feet behind him.
"Cedars...?" She tilted her head. "Did you stop believing in okis because you never saw any?" She paused, then asked in a smaller voice, "Your vision...was it not really one at all...?"
Singing Cedars shot to his feet and whirled around. "It's EXACTLY as I said!" he snapped. "I did not lie about that!"
Charmian held up her hands. "I didn't say you did! It's just..." She moved her mouth soundlessly for a moment. "Why did you give it up, then?" she asked. "Why give it to me? You must believe in okis if you believe you had a vision! So why did you stop looking? If you didn't want your vision then why didn't you look for another one?"
He blinked a few times as if surprised. "You were speaking with Grandmother--?" he blurted out in a betrayed voice.
"She didn't tell me anything specific," Charmian retorted. "She said that was up to you. But I don't want you to tell me your vision. I just want to know why you--"
"You don't want me to tell you?" he shot back; she gasped and took a few startled steps back when he stormed straight toward her, fists clenched at his sides. "Fine then! I WILL tell you! If it'll get you off my back!" He opened his mouth and started prattling before she could even protest. "I went into the woods and waited for six days! I was so tired and hungry that I couldn't even move! I opened my eyes and looked up and guess what I saw--?" He jerked his hand upwards as if gesturing at someone to raise a curtain; Charmian flinched, then realized that he was pointing, and followed the direction he pointed in. She found herself staring into the treetops, and her brow furrowed a little.
"Trees...?" she said in a small voice; then she frowned a bit, when she recognized exactly what they were surrounded by. "Cedars," she corrected herself, perplexed. She lowered her head. "You had a vision about cedars--?"
He gave her a foul look. "How ELSE do you think I got this name? Do you want to know what else I saw in my vision--?"
Charmian shook her head wildly. "You shouldn't even be telling me! It's supposed to be secret--!"
He just waved at the trees again. "I looked up, and the trees were waving their branches," he said. "And the wind was blowing and I heard voices all around me. All over! And it was a medicine song. And then I woke up, and had to drag myself home. Do you think I'm lying now?"
"The trees were singing...?" Charmian said, and peered up at them again. "But--why would you give up that vision? It seems like a nice vision to me!"
Singing Cedars let out a snort that made her jump. "TAKE A LOOK! Do you see any singing trees? It was just a stupid dream, and there was nothing more to it. I know for a fact. If that had been a vision and those had been okis like everyone says exist around here then it would have had some point to it. It didn't, so I give it up. I don't see the point in wasting time on useless things. It's better to just hunt, and fish, and take care of the longhouse, than wait for silly little dreams that don't mean anything. So are you done trying to talk to the trees now?"
"How could you know your vision was useless if you gave it up--?" Charmian exclaimed, then shut her mouth abruptly. She blinked, then her shoulders sank slightly. Singing Cedars must have seen the change on her face, for his own grew slightly tense, then his scowl returned and he quickly turned away and started walking back toward the rough path to the camp.
"You did try it out before giving it up," Charmian said to his back. "Your father was killed when you were little--Snowy Pine told me. You tried to help him--?" He halted. "And nothing happened...?"
Singing Cedars clenched his fists again. "Don't you ever learn to shut up?" he growled without looking back at her.
Charmian let out her breath. "You were just a little kid," she said. "Even if your vision told you to be a medicine man--it takes years to be a good medicine man! You can't blame your vision for not working when you'd only just had it! You gave it up because you think it failed you--?"
Singing Cedars turned now and gave her a very ugly look. "Maybe that stupid chief had the right idea! It's a good thing we don't act the same way around here, otherwise your mouth would definitely get you in trouble!"
Charmian held up her hands. "Cedars, you can't blame your vision for not working like that. Even medicine men can't save everybody!"
"So you'd prefer if I blame myself--?"
She shook her head. "Of course not! That's not what I meant!" She put her hand against one of the trees to push herself forward a bit, as her foot had been sinking in the soft earth around the cedars' roots. "You shouldn't blame either of you. Just because something doesn't work the first time doesn't make it useless. I figured you'd know that! Medicine men have to work for years at what they do--isn't it the same here?"
"I already told you I prefer not wasting my time on useless things!" Singing Cedars returned. "If a vision doesn't help when it's needed, then what is the point of it? It's just as I said--they're nothing more than silly little dreams that our heads make up, and there are no okis or whatever you call them behind any of it!"
Charmian clenched her own fists. "I refuse to believe you think that! Not after you gave me your charm so I could have a vision!" She held it up and waved it. "You NEVER would've given it to me if you hadn't thought it would help! Which means you believe your vision had some sort of significance! Otherwise you wouldn't have--"
Singing Cedars had been starting to glower at her, looking ready to snap something in response--but right now his eyes grew wider, and the color drained from his face. Without a word he turned around and dashed from the clearing as fast as his feet could carry him.
Charmian blinked and her jaw fell. "HEY! Now you're going to LEAVE me out here--? I don't even know my way around!!"
The crackling noise of a twig being broken came from behind her and she immediately hunched in on herself, feeling her skin prickle. She managed to peer over her shoulder just enough to see two glowing eyes shining back at her, and sucked in a breath of panic.
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