Chakenapok shares some troubling news, and Charmian ends up in hostile territory...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Escape From Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 49: Squabbling Siblings"
THE TALL ROCK ledge overlooked the south side of the river. It would have served as an excellent lookout, and that's exactly how it was being used by its current occupant. Augwak paced back and forth, back and forth, staring eastward down the river, halting every so often to sniff at the air, then resuming his pacing. He ground his teeth together.
"Stupid little wench promised she'd get my medicine back," he grumbled. "PROMISED me! What is it she's always saying--? 'I don't break my promises'? Then what about my promise? Was I stupid to think she meant what she said?" He made a face. "Of course I was! Stupid fleshlings...can't ever trust a word they say..."
He plopped himself down on the ledge and glowered over the river, though his eyes didn't stop scanning everything around him. His ears pricked; he heard the wind whistle in the leaves, but there were no GeeBees, no Wendigoes. He felt a pang when he realized that the silence made his chest hurt; then he lifted his arm and looked at the bitemarks on it, scowled, and clacked his fingers against the stone, chipping a piece loose.
"I'm better off without those ingrates," he growled to himself. "Trying to eat me! EAT me! What sort of wretches do such a thing to their esteemed ogimah? All the things I've done for them and all they can do in return is try to EAT me!" He dropped down onto his belly and clamped his arms over his head with a grimace. "EVERY LAST ONE of the people on that Island can sink into the lake for all I care!"
Your memory is unusually short, GeeBee.
Augwak's eyes flew open and he stared off into space, startled. He lifted his head and glanced around but the others were still down near the river where he'd left them; all except for Pakwa, who was busy dozing in a tree, and the Animiki, who was splashing himself in the water near the Mishupishu, but they hardly counted. The more he looked around the more confused he grew and he bared his teeth.
"ALL RIGHT! Who's watching and talking to me like a coward?" he snarled.
I seem to recall that when that demon took your spirit stone from you, the mainlander was the only one willing to get it back. Never mind that you'd just tried to kill her right before then. This is the kind of ingrate she is. She has the bad habit of trying to help those who do nothing but try to hurt. Perhaps you should learn something from that. And stop ranting.
Augwak shot to all fours and hissed, glaring down at the little camp below. Nobody was looking up at him.
"There were only SIX of us at that fight!" he growled. "And one of them's missing, one of them's on the Island, and another is locked up beneath it!" He turned himself around and his nose wrinkled. "And I HARDLY think you're a manitou! So that leaves just ONE other person!" His eyes fixed on Moon Wolf, and he started fuming. "What's the matter, wabano, miss your little friend as much as I miss my damned medicine?"
Moon Wolf turned his head and finally met his eyes. Somehow I get the feeling that you miss something more than your medicine, he said, without saying a word.
Augwak's jaw fell. An instant later his eyes started burning nearly red; he ground his teeth together so hard that it hurt, and gouged at the stone, sending chips flying. He had a crystal-clear vision of himself zooming down from the ledge, swooping over the camp, grabbing the wabano up in his claws, and tearing him limb from limb so that his blood rained over the others and made them scream as he laughed in maniacal glee.
Moon Wolf just stared at him impassively. You don't deny it?
Augwak let his breath out in a whoosh, then ground his teeth again. "I'll hardly waste my energy on a putrid piece of meat like you!" he hissed under his breath. "You probably taste like skunk!" He turned abruptly away from the camp, and plopped himself again on the ledge, though his mildly irritated mood of before was now beyond frustrated and infuriated, and all that he could do about it was scrape his claws against the stone and wish that he could get away with bashing someone's head in.
When he was sure that the others weren't looking, however, he did lift his head, and sniff at the air a few more times, just to be sure, though he was of course disappointed each time.
* * * * *
A soft breeze ruffled the leaves on the treetops overlooking the trails, then a harder breeze buffeted them, as something began to descend. Tal Natha glanced from left to right, making certain that no one was around to watch him land; it wasn't that he was afraid of the Islanders, but most of them didn't take well to seeing demons, and so it was best to just keep clear of them as much as possible. Still...today was an exception...and when he at last landed and tucked his wings over his back, beginning to walk, he was already furrowing his brow and lost in thought.
Something pulled her away from me. Another Dreamspinner? She never did tell me how she reached me. I can tell she was not on the Island, not even in the Sky Mother's land. And so where was she? And how did she get through?
And what became of her? I cannot sense her dreams anywhere...
The fact that there was someone else out there who could spin dreams made him uneasy. He'd long known that there were other Dreamspinners...but their realms had never interfered with his own...not even when he'd contacted Charmian on the mainland, through her dream, had he sensed the presence of another. Nathalit was the closest that he'd come. It made no sense.
The sound of footfalls made him halt and lift his head. A shadowy form was coming along the path, glancing from side to side; it carried something long over its shoulder. Tal Natha considered fading into the woods, before he recognized its scent; he hesitated only a moment more before stepping toward it and flaring his wings a little as if to attract its attention.
Justin halted in his steps and blinked at him, obviously surprised. There was a long awkward pause before he lowered his head just a little and took a step to the side, as if to clear the path.
"Excuse me," he said.
Tal Natha stared at him for a moment before continuing, though he stopped again before passing. Justin frowned slightly, seeming confused; Tal Natha turned to him and met his eyes.
I came because of Charmian, he said. I do not recall if I clarified it with you when we spoke before, but she wished me to tell whoever would listen that the affair with the firestick was a mistake.
Justin blinked again, then lowered the gun from his shoulder. "She spoke with you--? But--I thought she was gone--!"
She is gone, Tal Natha clarified. She contacted me somehow through a dream and wished me to say this. I have the feeling however that the ogimah will not listen to reason.
"Of course he won't," Justin said, his frown growing. "Because he's not here."
Tal Natha blinked this time and his ears flicked. What do you mean, not here--?
"Take a listen. Can you sense him anywhere?"
The demon frowned, then tilted back his head. He felt over the entire Island...when no trace of the ogimah came to him, his confusion grew, and he met Justin's eyes again. He is gone, he said, rather stupidly.
Justin nodded with a dark look, hefting the gun. "And he took one of my guns with him."
Tal Natha's hackles prickled. What does he plan to do with it--? he asked in alarm.
Justin shrugged. "I can guess only the obvious! He broke into my house, destroyed one, and stole another. I was just on my way after him when I was informed that he's missing. Not only him, but Charmian, and that British fellow, and the medicine men, and the trapper and the GeeBee..."
She did say she had taken them all with her, Tal Natha thought, brow furrowing. But the ogimah was here after she left! Do you mean to say that he followed her--?
"I'm guessing the man in red followed her," Justin said. "And Black Elk Horn followed him." He lowered the gun. "What sort of business is this! Where in the hell are they all going in the first place? And what exactly is all of this about--?"
Something...I cannot say, Tal Natha said; when Justin frowned at him he added, Because I do not know. Things are not right. This red man and this ogimah only make things worse. He looked at Justin once more. The Islanders will listen more readily to one of their own. You will tell them for me that this death was a mistake--? And that the mainlander is doing all that she can to set things right--? He lowered his head a little. I realize our past is not the best...
Justin shook his head. "I'll tell them for her," he said. "Because this is the way she would want it." He shouldered his gun again and started to turn back the way he'd come, the demon letting out a small sigh. "Little Dove will likely be able to break it to the tribe better...though she wasn't too happy to hear that her father's gone too...perhaps it's best that Elk went after them, what with Winter Born missing as well...!"
Tal Natha halted in midstep. Winter Born--?
Now both of them froze. Justin turned back around to look at Tal Natha when the Ocryx's hackles prickled, his wings hunching over his back and his eyes growing wide. He started glancing around himself with a much affrighted look while Justin merely frowned.
"That wasn't you...?" he asked.
Tal Natha shook his head. No! It--I do not know WHAT it was! He glanced at Justin, hating how anxious he suddenly felt in front of his rival but unable to hide it. Whatever it is...I cannot even sense it!
Justin's frown grew. "Then what..."
Wemitigoji. Perhaps you hear me better?
Tal Natha stared at Justin when he got a very odd look, then turned his head slightly to peer off to the side. Tal Natha followed his stare; it was aimed northward. The demon started shifting from foot to foot nervously.
What is it? he asked.
"I think..." Justin trailed off, then spoke up again, not seeming convinced. "I think it's coming from the spring. Croghan Water. For some reason...this is the picture I get in my head."
Tal Natha's ears pricked. Croghan Water--? This is where--
Wemitigoji, the voice said again, and they both fell silent. I have something to tell both of you.
Justin stiffened, then brought his gun down, aiming it along the trail. "Chakenapok!" he exclaimed; Tal Natha bristled and bared his teeth, tail whipping across the leaves. They both stared northward, although there was nothing to see; Tal Natha began scenting the air, but of course smelled nothing. He blinked when Justin started walking north, then hurried after him.
Where are you going--?
"If that thing wants to talk to me," Justin said, "then he'll talk to me to my face."
Tal Natha's brow furrowed. You do realize that he is dead, don't you--?
Wemitigoji, I can speak to you just fine from here. Dreamspinner, you cannot sense me, but you can hear me. You must have heard this other one.
Justin slowed his step and peered skyward. Tal Natha followed suit.
"What are you speaking of...?" Justin asked after a moment.
The mainlander could not have spoken with you without the aid of a Dreamspinner, Chakenapok's voice said. Yet somehow her connection with you was broken against her will.
I noticed this, Tal Natha said with a frown. I had thought something was attacking her!
She was not being attacked. It was this other Dreamspinner itself which broke the connection. When both of them frowned now the voice continued. I am able to work my way into dreams and to influence them--you both know this by now. As soon as I sensed her again I listened in on what you two spoke of. I was able to briefly feel this other Dreamspinner, and to tell that it was the one behind the broken connection. It was afraid of something.
Justin's frown grew. "This other Dreamspinner had reason to fear Charmian...? Why then would it allow her through?"
It did not fear Charmian. It feared for her. Looks of confusion spread across their faces. I cannot tell you much but I feel that something even greater than what she led you to believe is going on. He paused. I haven't been able to sense her again. And so either she isn't dreaming...
He trailed off, not saying the next possibility. Tal Natha and Justin stared at the sky apprehensively. Flint, Tal Natha said after a moment, and Justin looked at him. You live between the lands of the living and the dead, and between the lands of waking and dreaming, the demon said. Out of all of us, you are best able to stay with her. Could you do this? Watch over her as best as you can?
Justin started to look as if Tal Natha had said something remarkably offensive. I will do what I can, Chakenapok replied. Though I'm afraid it isn't much.
Whatever you may do will do for me, Tal Natha said, and he waited a moment, but couldn't tell if he'd been heard or not; however, he saw Justin put a hand to his head, blink, then glance at him again.
"He's gone," he said. "Left."
Tal Natha let out his breath. I will then go and tell the manitous and Father of what has happened, he murmured, turning around.
"Wait a minute," Justin said, and the demon stopped and looked back at him. "What was all of that?" Justin demanded. "Asking that thing to keep watch over her--? You do remember what he tried to do to her, don't you? What he did do to her--? She nearly lost her spirit to that creature--"
That creature is long dead, Tal Natha said softly. This one is different.
Justin nearly scowled. "And how can you tell? You can't even sense him."
Tal Natha paused, not certain how to answer. It is not rational, he said at last, but it is simply a feeling I get. He turned away once more. You will tell the other long knives and Wemitigoji...? I will tell the manitous to spread the word. Perhaps if we keep level heads, we will see our way through all this.
He could feel Justin staring after him in disbelief, but didn't turn back. Instead he stared pensively at the trail as he paced away, the oddity of what Chakenapok had said still sticking with him.
Another Dreamspinner, he thought. After all this time, along comes another...it brings Charmian to me, yet then yanks her away...for her own safety? Drawing someone out of a dream that abruptly can be dangerous...and so why would it imperil her like that...?
What could have frightened it that much...?
Nothing answered him but the breeze in the leaves, which reminded him to pick up his pace; he flapped his wings and arose, heading off in the direction of the manitous' grove.
* * * * *
Charmian rubbed at her ear as she walked through knee-high grass, and wondered if someone was talking about her.
Singing Cedars walked in the lead, Walks-On-The-Shore taking up the rear; they had started out early along the riverbranch, and by now the river itself was slowly coming into view, surrounded by grassy lowland, trees and hills rising up in the distance. Charmian lifted her head to take in her surroundings more than once. It looked more like Glooskap's land than her own, but didn't exactly resemble either; the hills were more rolling, studded with rock here and there, and the grass seemed like it would never end. The hills blocked her view of what might lie to the west.
"You said you've walked around all this place," she said to Singing Cedars, just to break the silence.
He nodded without looking back. "My people, the Onondaga, live in the valley we came from," he said. "The others of us live throughout this land but hold onto our own territories. We've passed out of Onondaga land...but if we run across anyone, I should be able to explain what's going on. If I tell them you're my sister they should leave you alone." He glanced back at Walks-On-The-Shore and frowned. "He, however, may be a problem."
Walks-On-The-Shore scowled and then stuck out his tongue.
"What exactly is it between the two of you?" Charmian asked, furrowing her brow. "I mean, I didn't actually read much about the Iro--um--Ho...Hodeno...whatever," she said, attempting to correct herself when Singing Cedars gave her a disapproving look, "but I did read that your tribes were related. I just...I dunno...kind of figured you all would stick together."
"This we would do, if his people did not always swoop in and kill all of mine," Walks-On-The-Shore said.
Singing Cedars halted in midstep and whirled around. "This WE would do," he snapped back, "if YOUR people did not always swoop in and kill all of OURS!"
The Huron rolled his eyes. "Only because you kill all of ours."
Singing Cedars clenched his fists. "BECAUSE YOU KILL ALL OF OURS!!"
Charmian put her hands to her ears and squinched her eyes shut, almost expecting one of them to yell, "You sank my battleship!!" "OKAY ALREADY!!" When they both looked at her she let out a flustered breath. "Cripes, never mind! I had no idea it was such a chicken-and-egg issue with you guys!!" She stepped toward the river. "The wall of water we're looking for, is it very far away at all--?"
Singing Cedars cast Walks-On-The-Shore one more glare before turning to follow her. "It's probably longer than you are accustomed to...but I'll try to seek the easiest way. It may be several days."
Charmian sighed and rubbed at one suddenly weary eye. "Several days? I wish we had another tunnel to go through..." She bent forward and peered at the ground. "Hey! Maybe--? Do you guys have Mizauwabeekum here...?"
"If you seek a shortcut, then I could find a much more appropriate one," Walks-On-The-Shore said, starting to walk on his hands toward the river. "After all, my people lived in this land once, before being driven out..."
Singing Cedars rolled his eyes this time and let out a pointedly exaggerated sigh.
"But would it actually get us to the wall of water any faster?" Charmian asked doubtfully.
Walks-On-The-Shore hopped back to his feet. "Of course it would. After all, one has to travel rather quickly when everyone in the rear is being killed off..."
"Give it a rest," Singing Cedars grated between his teeth. He pushed past Walks-On-The-Shore and grasped Charmian's arm. "If we continue on our present course, we get there in about four days. This is as quickly as we can get there in any reasonable manner. After all, I doubt that you would appreciate fording the river and climbing over rapids..."
Walks-On-The-Shore took hold of her other arm and she gasped. "I doubt you'd like delaying your arrival back on the Island," he said, giving Singing Cedars a look, "and you're a tough sort, so fording rivers and climbing over rapids is unlikely to be too much of a challenge for you..."
Singing Cedars shot daggers at him with his eyes. "I'm the one who promised to find her the way to the water, fool! And she's my sister now, so you can kindly back off and continue walking on your fingers like an idiot for all I care!"
Walks-On-The-Shore shot daggers right back; Charmian winced when they both squeezed her wrists tighter. "I've known her longer, toad, AND I know this Island and this place she comes from, and what exactly they mean to her! So you can kindly go dunk your head in the river for all I care!"
They both started growling at each other. "Ow!!" Charmian suddenly yelled, and they both immediately stopped, blinking when she yanked her arms free and took several hurried steps away from them. She whirled around, rubbing at her wrists and glaring at them.
"Do you guys MIND?!" she yelled. "For cripes' sakes! I'm not the rope in a tug-of-war!!" She threw her hands up in the air and let out a flustered sigh. "How about a compromise if it's so important which way I go! Surely you two know the area well enough to come up with something like that--? I appreciate your concern for my safety, Cedars, but maybe Shore has a point and we can shave some time. I don't mind getting a little wet. And Shore, if it's all the same to you, I'd rather not crack my head open on the way!"
The two of them glared at each other again, then looked away from each other, fuming. "Fine," Singing Cedars huffed. "Though of course I only do it on your request."
"Likewise," Walks-On-The-Shore huffed in return, mimicking Singing Cedars's voice. When the Onondaga clenched his fists and looked ready to belt him Charmian glared at them both. Singing Cedars turned abruptly and pointed southward.
"That trail is the easiest and safest."
Walks-On-The-Shore pointed to the other bank of the river. "And that little patch over there gets you past the next rapids a lot more quickly."
"Fine," Charmian said. "We'll just split the two in half and use both trails." She started walking, the other two sullenly following. "Is there anything we should know about this area, Cedars...? I'm afraid I don't know New Yo--um--this place very well."
"We've already passed through most of the area of the Cayuga," Singing Cedars said. "Soon we should be entering the land of the Nundawaona--I believe your people call them the Seneca."
"Seneca," Charmian murmured. "No offense, but I can't tell any of your people apart. Are they much different from your tribe?"
"Not remarkably so," Singing Cedars said. He paused. "Though there is one little thing to be said of them."
"What's that?" Charmian asked absently, scanning the path ahead.
"Well..." Singing Cedars paused again. "They are the ones who hate the Wyandotte the most."
Charmian rolled her eyes. She turned her head to say something to him, only to see that he and Walks-On-The-Shore appeared to be hugging. She blinked, then Walks-On-The-Shore threw Singing Cedars to the ground, and the two of them commenced pummeling each other and pulling on each other's hair.
Charmian just sighed and rolled her eyes again, turning away. "Grow up," she said, as if to herself, and started walking again. "I'm starting to wonder who's really siblings here after all, because now I could swear I have two baby brothers."
It wasn't long before they separated and came dashing after her, panting and dusty; they continued shooting evil looks at each other, but at least they weren't pulling their knives just yet.
"Now that that's out in the open," Charmian said, "mind pointing out that way past the rapids? Because it's starting to look like we need to detour ahead." She frowned at the eminence of rocks jutting out of the ground and across the water.
Walks-On-The-Shore stepped up beside her and pointed, still trying to catch his breath. "Right there...in the middle...if you wade out into the water a ways, and watch your step, you can climb up between the rocks. It's much quicker than going around or trying to go over all these rocks over here. Once you get up them, the water is slower and you needn't worry about getting carried off. And then you can make your way back to land again. This is the quickest path."
"Hardly the most convenient," Singing Cedars muttered.
Charmian gave him a frown. "You'll get to lead again as soon as we're past," she said. "Till then, Shore's in charge." She waved at the rapids. "Mind leading the way until then? I'll trust you to find the best foothold--though God knows why I should do something so idiotic."
Walks-On-The-Shore gave a loud sigh. "Such is what I get for all my troubles!" He started hopping on one foot. "Walk this way!"
"Not likely," Charmian said under her breath, and they both followed. The river was shallow here, due to the rapids; it wasn't too difficult wading across to the smallest section of rock, but clambering over the rocks was another matter entirely. She had to grudgingly accept a lot of help from the Huron, who easily scaled the rocks and offered his hand; she nearly slipped and fell into the water several times, but at least drowning would have been an unlikely obstacle. Cracking her head open on one of the boulders seemed more likely.
Singing Cedars fared a little better, although not as well as Walks-On-The-Shore; they reached the top of the rapids and began wading back toward the bank, staggering out dripping and gasping for breath. Charmian wrung out her clothes as best as she could while Singing Cedars again took the lead, doing the same.
"Straight now," he muttered. "The way it should be."
"Until the next rapids," Walks-On-The-Shore said. He put a finger to his chin and looked intently at the water. "Well what do you know! I am walking on the shore. How interesting." He looked up at Singing Cedars. "What of you, do you see any singing--"
Charmian opened her mouth to cut him off before he could irritate Singing Cedars any further, when something smacked against the rocks just behind them, making her jump. The other two whirled around; Charmian did the same, and blinked at the sight of an arrow wedged between the rocks; immediately she started glancing around, feeling the skin on the back of her neck prickling.
"Who--who shot that--?"
Walks-On-The-Shore got a sour look and pointed across the river. "I rather think they did."
Charmian and Singing Cedars both looked. Charmian's eyes grew wide as soon as she saw the dozen or so natives on the opposite bank, each with a bowstring drawn and an arrow aimed right at their heads.
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