Charmian gets an unexpected helping hand with her vision...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Escape From Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 58: Reunion On The River"
THE MAKESHIFT CAMP on the edge of the river would have made an odd sight for anyone who might have passed; Islander, Seneca, long knife, and Wemitigoji alike sat under the trees, preparing food and tending to their belongings as the sun started to grow low in the sky. Despite the oddness of the situation, and the obvious alignment of the parties present, there was virtually no tension in the air, and everyone chattered as they did their routine things. The loudest noises were still coming from Tooth, who lay in a bed of grass moaning at the air while Stick-In-The-Dirt sat beside him, pressing a hollowed-out bird bone to his wound and sucking at it. Every once in a while he turned his head to spit on the ground, then repeated the gesture, the Seneca groaning all the while.
"Oooohhhhh!" he cried. "I'm dying!!"
"You're not dying," Stick-In-The-Dirt said as if he'd said it a hundred times, which he very well might have, by now. He spat on the ground and put his mouth back to the bone.
Tooth lifted his head just enough to glower at him. "How would you know?!" He dropped it again. "Oooohhhh...uh?" He looked up when a shadow passed over him, and Francois leaned down to offer him a pipe; Tooth's eyes lit up and he took it and started sucking on it as assiduously as Stick-In-The-Dirt was sucking on the bird bone. "Aaaahhhh!" He collapsed and didn't bother whining anymore.
"Stupid fleshling-whelp-girl-child-brat-thing," Augwak muttered, crouching atop a rock with a scowl permanently etched on his face; one of the Seneca returning from fetching an item in the canoes was careful to sidestep him, his eyes wide. "Wandering off like that when my medicine is so obviously in great danger! How can she neglect me so when she promised me...?" The Seneca let out a shriek and ran back to the river when X'aaru paced by, and the demon yelped and ducked into the woods, his hackles prickling in fright. "Bet the dumb little brat's already forgotten I even exist..."
"How long will she be out there?" Marten asked; a pair of the Seneca had discovered that he was good at playing a shell game, and so the three of them were busily playing away. "Seems like it's been a real long time..."
"She said she had to have a vision so she can keep herself in a dream," Winter Born said, and frowned. "It sounds kind of funny to me..."
"From the sound of it, she's seeking a waking vision," Stick-In-The-Dirt said, spitting on the ground. The others looked at him; Tooth puffed away, as oblivious as anything. "I know little of these myself," the medicine man murmured, leaning back over the bone. "Supposedly only the most powerful medicine men can sustain them for long."
Winter Born's frown grew. "But she said she would have to keep this way until we reach Gitchi-Gami! Is that a long time...?"
Stick-In-The-Dirt sat up with a worried look on his face, fiddled with the bone a little, then carefully tucked it away and started dressing Tooth's wound. He didn't say anything else, so Winter Born could only sigh.
"She has Moon Wolf helping her," Thomas said, and the girl looked at him. He sat under a nearby tree, arms crossed. "He has the strongest medicine out of anyone here other than him, I think." He nodded toward Manabozho, who was sitting on the riverbank and staring at the water, hunched over much like Augwak was. "So if anyone can help her, it's him."
Winter Born lowered her head. "I hope so..."
"She said she has her own medicine now," X'aaru said, peeping out of the woods. "Maybe that'll help too...?"
Winter Born's face lit up. "That's right! That medicine Wabun gave her!" She perked up immediately, although the others, besides X'aaru, still looked guarded. "I bet that'll be everything she needs! After all--" she skipped over to the rock that Augwak sat upon and plopped herself down on it, making the GeeBee scowl even harder "--she DID save the Island, twice!" She fell over on her back and Augwak was forced to give up his perch, clambering down the rock and storming toward the woods and muttering all the way. Winter Born just smiled. "Having a vision should be no problem after all that!"
Thomas opened his mouth, then shut it. He happened to glance toward Stick-In-The-Dirt to see him do the exact same thing; the medicine man blushed as soon as he saw that he'd been noticed, and Thomas felt his own ears grow warm; they both ducked their heads and turned away. "I'm certain she'll do well," Stick-In-The-Dirt murmured, packing up his kit and tucking it away in his bag. He went to see to Pakwa, who was standing nearby with one foot in the air, a thorn sticking out of it, and said nothing else, so Thomas said nothing else, either. Instead he sat back against the tree, staring up into its branches, and hoped that Charmian would manage to somehow pull through, as always. She had a habit of pulling through. The only problem was...it sometimes took a while.
And he wasn't sure that they had a while to spare.
* * * * *
Charmian sat in the pipestone quarry, her chin resting against her chest and her arms folded in her lap. It wasn't quite what she'd expected. The quarry was located right in the middle of the woods, and so it was surrounded by pine trees on all sides, yet an open patch of sky shone overhead; it had grown overcast, and was growing darker, both as the sun descended and due to the clouds moving in. This part of the ground was mostly long torn up, barren rock exposed to the air; it was an odd pinkish color, striped in places, with many gouges and holes cut out of it, and she sat atop one small ledge which jutted over one of the holes. None were particularly deep, yet it was difficult to move around, what with all the levels and all the ways that one could snap an ankle just trying to find some space. Moon Wolf half-sat on another nearby ledge, one leg dangling, and stared at her as she sat with her eyes closed; yet after a while she lifted her head, and her eyes were glimmering. Moon Wolf frowned.
"Nothing," Charmian said, and lowered her head miserably. "I can't feel anything. She's completely gone."
"How is it that you found her in the first place...?" Moon Wolf asked quietly.
Charmian shook her head. "I just went looking for her, and found her, just like that! I think maybe it's because I didn't know that she should've been hard to find that I found her so easily! But now..." She let out a breath and her lip quivered. "Now I can't feel her anywhere. I promised I'd keep connected to her, and free her. But if I can't even feel her...how can I do that? She's the only connection I had to that island...without her I wouldn't even have seen it." She huddled in on herself. "I can't believe I was so stupid and broke the connection!"
"You realize that a waking vision is not an ordinary thing," Moon Wolf said. "Even many of the most powerful wabanos and Mide aren't capable of this." He drew his leg up, and lowered his own head a little. "Perhaps if I had not given up Michinimakinak," he murmured, "then I could help you...but somehow my medicine won't work for this..."
Charmian lifted a hand to wipe it across her eyes. "It's not your fault...I'm the one who promised something I might not be able to do." She sniffled and let out another breath, then lifted her head, her eyes red. "I'll try to do it the old-fashioned way," she stated, and reached to touch her fingers to some loose soil off to her side; she rubbed it across her face, and dug in her tobacco pouch for good measure. "That worked before...maybe it will this time. I just don't know how long it'll take..."
Moon Wolf carefully got to his feet. "I'll go and tell the others not to disturb you," he said. "And I'll come see to you in the morning."
She nodded; he turned away and started to navigate his way back out of the quarry, only for her voice to stop him. "Moon Wolf...?"
He paused and looked at her over his shoulder. She sniffled again.
"Will you tell Manabozho I'm sorry?"
Moon Wolf frowned. "Why?" he asked.
"For taking so long." She lowered her head. "I can't stop thinking of Turtle...and all I can do is sit here and wait and wait." She shut her eyes. "He must be almost out of his head about her..."
Moon Wolf stared at her for a moment or two, then his eyes softened. "I'm certain he knows that you're doing all you can, as always," he said.
She wiped an eye. "Still, could you tell him for me?"
He paused once more before nodding. He turned and climbed over the rocky ledges, leaving the quarry behind.
Charmian sat for a moment or two rubbing at her eyes. "Stupid vision," she grumbled, even while knowing that it was a silly comment; of course none of this could be the vision's fault. She made certain that she was comfortable, took in a breath to steady herself, then let it out and tried not to focus on anything too much, to just let whatever come as it may. She sat thus for a very long time, and could sense the sun setting and the sky beginning to grow darker, dimness settling in around her. She continued non-focusing into the early night, with no change. After a couple of hours, her eyes stung behind her closed lids, and she bit the inside of her mouth; she tried not to shiver with cold, not that it mattered much. The Red Swan and Chakenapok were nowhere to be found.
How could I do something so stupid...? the little voice in her head at last intruded. I can't believe I forgot so easily...she must be so pissed off at me now...what if she doesn't even want me to connect to her again?
What if she's the one who could help us find Kabeyun? And Kabebonikka? Manabozho might say everything's okay, but he's the one I let down the most...
Out of all the promises to break...
She sniffled a little and reached up to rub at her nose. She felt both hot and cold yet again, and shivered a little, before trying to force her muscles to be still; she bit the inside of her mouth before telling herself not to, but it seemed that no matter what she did or didn't do, she was hopelessly distracted, and couldn't focus her thoughts anymore. What's more was that she was still tired, and hungry now, and beyond being able to relax, she was so angry with herself. Against her better judgement, she drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, sniffling again and wishing that she could just take a vacation without some stupid monster wanting to ruin it all.
Something touched her face, and she didn't think to open her eyes at first. Then it pressed against her forehead and she abruptly blinked her eyes open. They'd been shut for so long that she couldn't even be sure what she was looking at, but something was crouching before her.
"Your face is burning," a soft voice said, sounding almost reproachful; she blinked a few more times, confused.
"Cedars...?" she said, unable to figure out why she would be hearing his voice. Yet after a few more moments her vision cleared enough so that she could see him, balancing on the rim of the hole and staring at her as if rebuking her for something. Her brow furrowed as he started digging in his pouch. "What...what are you doing here?"
"You think I'm leaving you on your own out here?" he muttered, still digging.
"But..." She rubbed at one eye, still not quite sure if he was real or not. "I thought you were going back home...how did you find me?"
He pulled something out of the pouch and looked at it, then shook something into his hand. "The trees told me," he said, simply, and she had to admit, if she hadn't been confused before, now she was. He held up his hand. "Stick out your tongue."
She did so, and tasted something bitter being placed on it; she swallowed without even thinking, and made a face. "Trees?" She looked around herself--nope, still the quarry--then back at him. "I thought you were heading back home! What about Snowy--"
"I thought about what you said," Singing Cedars interrupted her, making a point of digging around in his pouch again so he wouldn't have to look at her. "About spirits being all around us, and how you aren't afraid of them, because they're always there, if you look hard enough. I thought maybe..." He trailed off, bit his lip, then he fiddled with the fringe on the pouch. "On my way back...I stopped for a bit...and I couldn't stop thinking about you going off and getting in trouble again." He paused. "I shut my eyes just for a minute and then..." He trailed off even longer this time, seeming uneasy; she waited for him to speak, and when he at last did, he peered up at her uncertainly. "Well...I heard them."
"Them?" Charmian asked.
He nodded, and looked upward. She followed suit. All that she saw was the pines surrounding the little quarry, but this was enough; she looked down at him again, her head tilting slightly to the side.
He turned his head now to look behind himself, toward the edge of the quarry; she craned her neck to the side to look as well. Her eyes grew when two shadowy forms appeared from the trees; the deerlike shapes stopped just outside the patch of stone, ears flicking and soft whistles escaping them. Singing Cedars gnawed on his lip and peered at her again as if she would think he was nuts.
"Okis," Charmian said. She frowned, trying to sense them better, and her eyes slowly lit up as she did. "Tree okis." She turned to meet his eyes. "They came to you--? In the woods?" She pushed herself up a little. "The trees were singing?"
He ducked his head and flushed a little. "I...I never stopped hearing them...not really," he admitted. "I just...told myself they weren't really there...and after a while, you stop hearing them. They're there, but it doesn't mean anything anymore. Like if you live in the middle of nowhere, the smallest noise will keep you awake, but if you live in the middle of a huge camp, a longhouse could collapse and you wouldn't even notice...you know?"
Charmian nodded. "I think I do."
"Well..." He fiddled with the pouch. "I thought about what you said...and how all of these lousy things seem to keep following you around wherever you go, on that Island and away from that Island, but you still keep hearing them...the ones who call you..." He bit his lip. "And when I thought that, I heard them again. Really heard them...no matter how much I said they weren't there...they were right beside me the whole time." He glanced up at the two okis. "I'm not sure what to do with them..."
Charmian's mouth twitched. "I think you figure that out as you go along! But...why did you come after me?" Her smile faded. "Snowy Pine's probably worried by now..."
"She knows when to worry about me and when not to. I was about to ask what you're doing out here." He frowned and put a hand to her forehead again. "Your face is burning! And you look like you're freezing! Why are you sitting out in the middle of nowhere like this--? And what's all over your face--?"
"I was trying to have a vision," Charmian murmured, lowering her head. "But it's not working."
"You had a vision before," Singing Cedars said, seeming puzzled.
She sniffed and wiped at one eye. "This is different...I have to have a waking vision. Basically, I have to keep myself in a dream state, while staying awake," she said, as soon as he looked perplexed. "I was in one, kind of on accident, but I broke the connection and now I don't know how to get it back. I was hoping I could use my medicine to get back in touch, but it's not strong enough." She held up her hand and looked at her fingers. Her eyes blurred. "And Moon Wolf can't help me, and neither can any of the others. I guess you need more medicine, or the right kind of medicine, or something...I don't even know what to do. I promised her I'd keep in touch with her..."
He seemed puzzled again at her mention of "her," yet didn't ask. She lowered her head and sniffled, her hair hanging in her face and the sound of crickets starting to arise deep in the woods. The silence, aside from that, started to draw out, and she wasn't even aware if she was beginning to drowse or not, when he spoke up again, making her ears prick.
"Do you still have...?"
She lifted her head, looked at him, then pulled on the cord around her neck and showed him the cedar sprig. "This...?" He took it in his hand and stared at it for a moment, then looked up at her and bit his lip again.
"What I told you earlier, about what I saw," he said, hesitantly; "did you tell anyone...?"
She shook her head. "No. Of course not."
He let out a breath as if relieved, and let the sprig go. "I shared that with you once," he said. "You remember what I said?"
Charmian nodded. "Visions bring power, and he who shares his vision shares his power."
Singing Cedars carefully got to his feet and glanced back at the waiting okis. "Maybe I could help you again," he said.
Her brow furrowed. "How--? I already used your vision..."
"You used it after I gave it up," he said, and met her eyes. He gestured vaguely at the okis, as if afraid of drawing their attention. "I have it back now...so maybe it's stronger? Maybe it's what you need."
"But Moon Wolf's medicine can't help me, so..."
"What was his vision?" he asked; when she opened her mouth he shook his head. "You don't tell it. But maybe he didn't see the right thing."
He gave his up too, Charmian thought, the furrow in her brow growing. He said if he hadn't given up Michinimakinak, he could help me...Michinimakinak watches over medicine men and those who seek visions...is that what he's saying...?
"You think your mani--your okis could help me...?" she ventured uncertainly. In response Singing Cedars turned and clambered over the holes and outcroppings, squatting and waving the okis forward. He clambered back up toward her and perched at her side.
"You want a waking vision," he said, speaking faster than he had before; the two okis picked their way up through the quarry. "This is exactly what I had! Not a very big one...nothing like what you're looking for..." he blushed a little "...but still...I wasn't even seeking a vision when that happened!" He gave her an earnest look. "Maybe...it can at least give you the start you need? And your own medicine can take over from there--?" He lowered his head a little. "The worst it can do is not work...right?"
Charmian blinked. "You want to try something you're not sure of?" she asked, somewhat surprised.
He flushed. "It's not like I plan to make a habit of it!" He jumped a little when the two okis appeared on both sides of him; he glanced at each, then back at her, his face going red. "So--do you want to try, at least--?"
Charmian looked up at the oki on the left, then the one on the right; they both looked alike, and they stared down at her with faintly glowing blue eyes. Her face slowly lit up, and she turned to Singing Cedars with a nod. "I'll try it!"
He let out a breath, seemingly of relief, and nodded at the okis. They both moved a little so that their forelegs slightly touched him, and he reached out a hand to touch his fingers to her forehead. "I'm...not quite sure how to do this," he admitted, looking a little foolish. "I suppose I just figure it out as I go along..."
"That's pretty much the best way to go," Charmian agreed, and settled herself a bit, closing her eyes. "I'm trying to reach a woman named the Red Swan," she said. "She lives on an island in the great lake in the north...she's the one I have to keep connected to."
One of the okis whistled and she cracked open an eye. Singing Cedars's face went mildly red again. "She says that--" both he and Charmian said at once, and when he ducked his head she waved at him. "Go ahead."
Singing Cedars fiddled his free fingers. "She...says that what you do is whatever you do when you seek a vision, where you come from, and they--I'll--we'll strengthen your medicine, so you can do it more easily. They have some power over dreams and visions...so they think it might help. But the rest of it is up to you."
Charmian nodded and closed her eye again. "Got it...give me a little bit and I'll be ready."
She could sense him nodding; she was going to ask him how he would be able to tell when she was ready, when he touched his fingers to her forehead again, and she decided the better of it. He's had visions before, she thought; If anybody knows, then he does. She let herself relax, and tried unfocusing again; somehow, his presence, and that of the two okis, seemed to calm her somewhat, so that her thoughts at last grew hazy, and the little nagging voice in her head at last faded away. I don't have to do everything alone, she allowed herself to think, before giving up thoughts entirely, and the noises of the crickets faded into ripples in her head, which slowly formed into ripples moving across the surface of a lake. The shadows grew around her, forming strange rock formations, arches and spires, and then something which loomed out of the darkness, blacker than black, a huge stand of pines springing seemingly from the water itself. There was the smallest flash of red, and she focused on it.
Charmian...! the Red Swan's voice came, faintly. Charmian didn't see her, but she heard her, and tilted her head back, in her dream, scanning about blindly.
You've found me! I thought I lost you!
I am here, Mainlander...
Both voices were terribly far away, and she couldn't see either of them, nor the cave, nor the canoe or the island, distinctly, itself...but it was better than nothing, and at least she had them again. I'm going to wake up now, she said, but I should be able to stay in touch with you...I'll have to relax to speak with you, so you won't hear me all the time, and I won't hear you all the time...but when it's important, or necessary, I'll be able to reach you and you can reach me...all right?
She felt two nods. I'm so glad you came back, the Red Swan said, and Charmian mentally touched her, before slowly starting to pull away from the water. As her mind started to focus again, she heard Chakenapok, his own voice fading into a whisper as the sight of the water gradually faded away before her eyes.
Be careful, Mainlander...
Charmian's eyes very slowly opened, just a slit, and the noise of the crickets at last faded back into her senses. "Well...?" Singing Cedars's voice asked; she shut her eyes again, felt her muscles tensing, and then again opened them. "Did it work?" Singing Cedars asked, a bit anxiously.
"Yeah...I think it did," Charmian murmured, lifting her head. "Thanks."
Relief washed over Singing Cedars's face and he let out a breath. "I'm glad it worked...so...is anything different?"
She peered to the side a little and frowned sleepily at the trees and rock. "Everything's...brighter," she said, a bit puzzled.
"Brighter?" Singing Cedars echoed.
She nodded, then looked up at him at last. Then she blinked and her eyes went wide.
"You're glowing," she said, and he blinked in surprise.
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