Charmian learns a little more about the mysterious "Red Swan"...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Escape From Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 56: Tooth & Nail"
Dreamspinning For Beginners
"I'M DYYYYINNNNNGGG..." THE voice moaned over the sound of the paddles dipping into the water, and Charmian sighed to herself.
Despite paddling against the current, they were making good progress. The "riverbranch," Tooth had failed to inform her, was in fact located across a good swath of land--"What, did you think we could sail into it--?" the Seneca asked--and she had to admit, now that she thought of it, that sailing into a riverbranch against the current did not make much sense. As it was, they'd had to portage the canoes, and now they were sailing southwest again. Another moan came from the canoe just behind hers and she peered over her shoulder. Tooth might have been a good fighter, but when it came to being injured, he was pretty much a whiner.
"Ooohhhhh," Tooth moaned. "That oki's killed me! I swear when I die I'll come back to haunt him!!"
"You're not dying," Walks-On-The-Shore, sitting in the stern of Charmian's canoe, said, rolling his eyes heavenward as he paddled.
In response Tooth just groaned again. "I swear when I come back to haunt him I'll KILL him! Then in the afterlife, I'll haunt him!" He put his hand to his bleeding chest and let out a particularly loud pained noise.
"I think I liked him better when he was just bitchy," Charmian whispered to no one in particular.
Walks-On-The-Shore nudged her with his foot and she glanced back at him. A Seneca paddled in the front; she was rather glad that she sat between them, and rather nervous, as well. "And so," he said. "I rather missed out on whatever it was that went on near the end back there."
She frowned. "That's only because you bailed out on me! You're just lucky I'm not French or I'd have your head in a...in a...something!" She unfolded a piece of paper she'd been scribbling on. "The way I best figure it, we're here right now...over there is the river, and Niagara Falls...and now we should be headed this way...and the quarry should be ahead, and the tunnel is back there somewhere."
"A reason why you favor this quarry over this tunnel?" Walks-On-The-Shore inquired. "I rather got the feeling you liked this East Wind!"
Charmian sighed and folded the map up. "I just hate the thought of missing the others. I know they'd come looking for us. And Tooth is right--Francois is smart. If he's coming here, then he'll take the safest route. He's in a position to know not to risk the others if he can help it. If they pass me, and we miss them, then we'll never make it to Kabebonikka! We have to go way north to find him!" She tucked the map in her pocket and stifled a yawn. "And I'm not exactly relishing the thought of going across that lake alone..."
"I'm dying," Tooth wailed. He ground his teeth. "Little Fawn's going to kill me...the last time she had to sew me shut, she hit me in the head with a pot! I'm dyyyyyyinnnnnggg..."
Charmian's mouth twitched. "Little Fawn makes me think of somebody." She yawned again, unable to hide it this time. "Crap! I'm so tired."
"You're not making any use of yourself," Walks-On-The-Shore said. "Why not sleep?"
She glared at him. "Thanks a lot! No wonder everybody hates traveling with you!"
He gave her a winning smile. "Actually, I believe it is because of my glorious personality and the fact that I eat raw clams!"
Charmian turned away from him. "Never mind." She patted at her pack, settled in the canoe just behind her, and tried to make herself comfortable against it. "Wake me up if anything happens," she said. "And NO bailing out on me this time, jackass!"
He let out a sigh. "This is what I get for procuring a weapon with which to defend you in a hostile land."
She gave him an odd look. "Where the heck would you procure an ax around here...?"
He switched the paddle to the other side. "From someone's belt," he said, and Tooth immediately sat up in his canoe, patting at his waist. His head jerked up and he gave Walks-On-The-Shore the most venomous glare he could muster.
"THIEF!" he yelled, then fell back with a thud. "Oooohhhhh I'm DYING..."
"I think he will be dying if he doesn't shut up..." Charmian grumbled, but lay back against her pack just the same, shutting her eyes and sighing. Her pack was lumpy, and her clothes were still rather damp, and by now the sun was high in the sky and she felt both hot and cold at once; yet after all of the running around she'd been doing, she was exhausted, and the bobbing motion of the canoe lulled her. She tucked her elbow under her head as a pillow and nestled against it; it wasn't the most comfortable bed in the world, but right now she would take what she could get.
That lady in red. She left me hanging the last time! I haven't seen her since. I don't even know who else might bring dreams in this place. I wonder if I can reach her again. She said I had to get out of there or "he" would get me...who is this "he"...? Is he Megissogwun? But what sort of power would he have over dreams...?
She waited until her mind started drifting, then tried to seek out the woman, but couldn't feel anything. Even the motion of the canoe didn't quite mimic that of the invisible canoe she'd been in in the great lake, and she began to worry that she would never reach her again--how would she know what was going on on the Island, then?--when an idea struck her.
She said to look for her on the island, out in the middle of the lake...
Wabun said it was a floating island...
I know I saw it...that's got to be where we'll find her. The floating island in the lake...
That has to be where she is...
She frowned and tried to focus her attention on what little she had seen of the strange island, hidden in mists and fog...she thought she caught a glimpse of pine trees, a great massive stand of them, but that was about all that the fog would let her see. It took her a moment to realize that she must be out over the lake, now that she could see such a thing; then the sight of the island faded, and the trees and water and fog faded with it, growing darker, drier.
"I told you you shouldn't be here..."
Charmian blinked, then turned her head. She found the woman in red standing not far behind her, her hands tucked into her sleeves and her fingers fiddling; she peered up at Charmian, biting her lip. Charmian turned and slowly approached, as if she were some wild animal about to bolt.
"You threw me out the last time," she said with a frown. "And it kind of hurt!"
"I'm sorry for that," the woman in red said, and averted her eyes. "But you still shouldn't be here. Do you realize what sort of danger you put yourself in just coming this far?"
Charmian threw up her hands. "You're the one who SAID to come here! I can't exactly reach you if I'm not sure where you are. And I think you owe me an explanation for just tossing me out like that!" She dropped her hands and looked around them, perplexed. "And where the heck are we--? What happened to the lake?"
"This is where I am," the woman said. "Which is why you shouldn't be here!"
"You said you were on an island." Charmian looked upwards, and slowly began to realize that they seemed to be inside a giant cave. Her eyes grew. "Wait a minute...Winter Born mentioned a cave..." She lowered her head. "Is that where this place is--? A cave under the island?"
The woman's eyes widened a little, then she peered over her shoulder as if expecting someone to be there. "Look," Charmian said, "this is just a dream, and whoever he is, he's not a Dreamspinner, so he can't possibly catch us here."
"You saw the Mishupishus!" the woman retorted. "He cannot come in here himself but he can influence things! He's the one who trapped me here, after all!"
"You're trapped--?" Charmian blurted it out without thinking, and saw how the woman flinched and ducked her head, her face going as red as her feathers, and furrowed her brow in confusion. "Who trapped you here? Is it Megissogwun?"
"I do not know his name," she murmured. "Only that he is powerful, much more powerful than he should be, and you should be afraid of him."
"Why should I?"
"Because he's a powerful medicine man, and if he can trap a manitou like me, then surely he can trap a girl like you."
Charmian stared at her in silence for a very long time. "A medicine man who lives on this island?" she said; when the woman lowered her head a bit more she added, "A wabano?"
Now the woman's head popped up, her eyes wide. "How--how did you know--?" she blurted out.
Charmian's eyes grew dark. "He's being rather obvious! First these weird manitous attacked us before I got lost, then this weird moose came after me, then there was a bear and a couple of fireballs! Then that weird moose again! I know that wabanos change their shape, and they use fireballs. Who is this wabano?" she demanded. "And why's he got it in for me?"
The woman shook her head. "I do not know his name," she said again. "Perhaps he's this Megissogwun you speak of! Whatever the case, his medicine is greater even than mine, and I'm a manitou! If he found you even in that strange land, doesn't that tell you something?"
"It tells me that Megissogwun's living up to his word of keeping an eye on us," Charmian said, "but I'm still alive, so he can't want me that dead!" She took a breath to calm herself a bit. "I came here to find out about you, and to find out about Kabebonikka, since he can't be too far from where you are. We're going to be heading to this island of yours and I need to know which way to go to get to the North Wind fastest. I've heard there's a tunnel right on this island."
The woman in red's eyes slowly grew again. "You...surely you don't mean taking THIS tunnel--!"
Charmian rolled her eyes. "Well, duh, yes I do. You did say you wanted me to come and get you, didn't you--?"
"I change my mind," the woman said.
Charmian's jaw dropped. "You--change your MIND?!" She clenched her fists, not caring how the woman flinched and took a step back. "LIKE HELL YOU DO! Not after you yanked me out of my dream like that! Don't you know how dangerous THAT can be--?" When the woman only blinked her brow furrowed again. "You don't?"
"I..." The woman fiddled her fingers. "I don't know much about Dreamspinning!"
Charmian stared at her again, then let out a great sigh. "Great...a rookie Dreamspinner," she grumbled, ignoring the way that the woman nibbled on her lip. She rubbed her forehead. "Fine then," she said. "But I'm still coming this way, because I have to get to Kabebonikka! So I may as well stop by here anyway. Perhaps if you tell me how and why you were trapped in the first place, it'll help me figure out what to do. But I hope it isn't some story that goes on forever..."
The woman in red looked like she wanted to sink into the floor. "I...I don't remember," she murmured tentatively.
Charmian blinked. "You--don't remember--?" she echoed, confused. "You don't remember how you got down here? Or..."
The woman shook her head. "The first thing I remember is...coming to in this place. And I've always been here as far as I know."
The woman nodded.
"But...well...you do know he TRAPPED you, so that means that you must've been somewhere else BEFORE this! Right--?"
A shrug. "I assume so...but it's only because he told me he'd trapped me...and because I can't seem to get away, so I had to guess I've been trapped...I mean, I've seen others, in their dreams, and they move about just fine, but if I try to move, there's simply nothing there."
Charmian was ready to ask what that meant, but the look on the woman's face told her that she had no clue, either. "You don't know of your family or anything...?" she tried, but again got little more than a shrug.
"For all I know I have none," the woman said. "I'm alone here. You are the first, besides him, who has ever visited me."
Charmian rubbed at her neck. "Do you at least have a name?" she asked, unable to think of anything else.
The woman lowered her eyes a bit. "All I know is that he keeps calling me the Red Swan," she murmured in a small voice.
"Red Swan...?" Charmian mulled over the name, and realized how appropriate it was, given the woman's strange attire. "If he knows your name, and trapped you here," she said, "then I think he knows about you. When I get here, I'll try to find it all out. You couldn't have come from nowhere; I'll try to figure it out."
The Red Swan's eyes widened a little. "You mean...you'll do that, for me?" she asked. Charmian nodded. "Truly?"
Charmian nodded again. "I'm kind of going to have to know about you before I can find you!" She took a few steps toward her. "And I'm starting to think that maybe you have something to do with this whole issue, because you're on the same island I have to visit, and I don't really believe in coinci..."
Her voice trailed off when the Red Swan clasped her hands together, her face alight, and something moved behind her back. Charmian halted and blinked at the sight of the two wings that now fluttered there, and her mouth fell open. As soon as the Red Swan saw her reaction she shrank in on herself a bit, starting to fold them, but Charmian hurried toward her and grasped one, pulling it out to its full length.
"Wings!" she exclaimed. "Michinimakinong wings!" She met the Red Swan's eyes. "Are you a Michinimakinong--?"
The Red Swan blushed a little. "I...I'm not even certain what that is!"
Charmian's enthusiasm faded a bit. "Oh...I just...well...your wings." She held it out as if the Red Swan couldn't see it. "They look just like Michinimakinong wings. I met somebody once, named Chepi, and she had the same wings..." She sighed and let it go, taking a step back once she realized how rude she was being. "Sorry...it's just, I thought maybe it would help. But I can't think of why a Michinimakinong would be way out here." She frowned. "Now that I think about it it doesn't make much sense..."
"Oh." The Red Swan folded her wings and once more started fiddling her fingers. "I suppose I won't ever be sure what I am, then..."
Charmian opened her mouth to say that this wouldn't necessarily be so, but a strange voice spoke instead.
Both of them jumped, though the Red Swan also let out a little shriek and whirled in a circle. "It's--it's HIM!" she cried, and turned to Charmian, waving her hands at her frantically. "You HAVE to go--!"
Dreamspinner, if you take her away from me yet again, I should tear the wings right from your back!
The Red Swan's mouth fell open, but Charmian just got a very odd look on her face. "Chakenapok--?" she asked, perplexed.
She heard him take a breath. I apologize, Mainlander, but this Dreamspinner is starting to cause me no end of a headache! She could "hear" him direct his next comments at the Red Swan, who started to shrink more and more with every word. Have you any idea how much you endangered her when you pulled that last stunt of yours--? A dream is not meant to be severed so! Any Dreamspinner should know such a thing!
The Red Swan clenched her fists, her eyes watering up. "I already told her I don't know much about Dreamspinning!!"
Charmian waved her hands at the air, not sure if it could be seen. "Hold on! Wait a minute!" They both fell silent and she glanced up at the ceiling, as she couldn't look Chakenapok in the eyes. "Chakenapok," she said. "You can feel me--?"
Only when you are connected to a Dreamspinner, Chakenapok replied. I found your last dream, when it was broken. The Dreamspinner--Tal Natha--relayed your information to the other Islanders as you asked him to do.
Charmian let out a breath of great relief. "Thank goodness...I wasn't sure if he'd gotten my message! So he knows I'm okay--?"
He knows you are alive, though he worries for you, as do the others. He asked that I keep an eye upon you, if at all possible.
Charmian blinked. "Tal Natha asked you to keep an eye on me--?" she echoed in disbelief, then abruptly shook her head as if to clear it. "Chakenapok! If you're in touch with me now, then can you find me again? I hate being so disconnected from the Island..."
Only through a dream can I keep an eye on you, Chakenapok said. You're too far away for it to be otherwise. Even Tal Natha can no longer sense you. As soon as I felt this dream I came here as quickly as I could. His voice darkened. Before THIS silly creature could break it again!
The Red Swan's lip quivered and she looked ready to cry. "I think she's just worried," Charmian said. "Things've been a little...hectic...around here, to say the least." She looked up again. "Chakenapok, could you keep an eye on me like you promised--? Maybe you could keep me in touch with what's going on on the Island--?"
The moment this Dreamspinner breaks the connection I have to you, Mainlander, then I can no longer watch over you until she establishes it again, Chakenapok replied. Would you trust her to do such a thing?
Charmian looked at the Red Swan. Her fingers began fiddling rapidly. "I...I cannot say if I could or not," she whispered. "He could find me...it takes a great deal of medicine to spin a new dream. This was a great risk even attempting this one..."
"Isn't there any way to keep in touch with me constantly?" Charmian asked, growing anxious.
"Well..." The Red Swan huddled her wings. "I don't know. I couldn't even find you myself."
Charmian gawked at her. "Huh--?"
"You're far away now," the Red Swan insisted. "In a different land! Where there is surely a different Dreamspinner--? All I know is that I did try to reach you, once, but you are too far away from me. Take a look at my cave." Charmian glanced up and stared at the walls. "Look harder," the Red Swan said, and she did so; after a moment she frowned when she saw how they wavered and faded a little, then became solid again. "You see?" the Red Swan asked. "This dream, it's from my medicine, but you are the one who initiated the connection. If it's broken...I do not know if I could reconnect to you on my own."
"I did this...?" Charmian asked, confused.
Mainlander, Chakenapok said again. Your decision...?
Charmian paused for a moment, then tightened her fists. "I want you to keep connected to me," she said to the Red Swan. "I don't like the thought of severing it, seeing as you're so far away and I don't even remember how I got here!"
The Red Swan shook her head. "But--to stay connected, you need to stay in a dreaming state!"
Charmian's hopes deflated. "A dreaming state--?" she blurted out. "You mean I have to stay ASLEEP--?"
Mainlander, this is not necessarily so, Chakenapok said.
She glanced up in the general direction of his voice. "It isn't--?" She dared to let her spirits rise a bit. "What do I have to do then--?"
There are three ways for you to stay in a dreaming state, Chakenapok said. You can keep sleeping, you can come to the brink of death, or you can have a vision.
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