Charmian's plans to meet the mysterious Mishosha are rudely interrupted...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Escape From Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 72: Fairytales"
Let's Make A Deal
CHARMIAN STARED AT Bouchard with wide eyes, then the blood rushed back to her face, turning it crimson, and she gave his bandolier bag another yank which made him grit his teeth, and bared her own. "Tell me everything you know!"
Everyone was coming from the woods now, gathering closer to the river; even the voyageurs themselves were creeping back, hands going toward their guns, but they slowed their step as soon as Francois put a hand on his own and gave them a look. Bouchard blinked and stammered a few times, hemming and hawing, but managed to find his voice just nicely as soon as Charmian raised her hand and flames started flickering at her fingers again.
"All--all right!! Just settle down, I was going to tell it anyway!" he cried. Charmian felt something squeeze the wrist of her hand holding onto his bag, and glanced down to see that Thomas had stepped up behind her; she let go as soon as she realized just how hard she was holding onto it, blushing a little. She had nothing against intimidating reluctant people a little, but she didn't like terrifying them...and judging by the looks on their faces, she had the voyageurs pretty terrified.
"Well? Get to it then!" she snapped just in case, as he seemed to be delaying; he nodded hastily, then gestured back at the trees.
"Ahm...you wouldn't mind if we just head back that way a little, would you--?" he asked nervously. He peered at the river, then whispered to her, "He has eyes everywhere where there's water!"
Charmian's brow furrowed, but she shook her head and stepped aside. Bouchard started back up the slight slope toward the woods and everyone else, save Mishupishu and Stick-In-The-Dirt, followed. Bouchard rubbed at the back of his neck as they went, glancing occasionally at her from the corner of his eye.
"You're sure you're not a wabano?" he asked in a meek voice as they reached the sanctuary of the trees. "I mean, tossing fire and such--there's only two sorts of people who do that. Jugglers, and wabanos. And I've never once seen a juggler perform like that!"
Charmian shook her head. "I said I'm not, didn't I? I learned elemental medicine on the Island, and then there was a...person...a really powerful person who helped me out with fire. But I'm not a wabano. Wabanos don't ask for their medicine. I used to have to ask."
She could tell from the look on his face that he wasn't quite following, but he had the sense of mind to nod as if he were. "Ah...I see. Well...your friend there..." he nodded surreptitiously toward Moon Wolf, who himself was staring at them from the corner of his eye "...he won't be telling old Mishosha that I've been talking, will he...?"
"Of course not," Charmian insisted. "That's just Moon Wolf! He doesn't go...wabaning...very much anymore." She rubbed at her head as if it hurt. "Just tell us about this Mishosha and everything else you know! I'd rather find out now before we get there!"
"You said this name earlier," Thomas said, frowning. "When we were with the Weavers, you mentioned it. Who is this fellow and what's he have to do with anything...?"
Charmian sighed; they located their abandoned seats under the pines and sat down again, settling in. "It's kind of hard to explain," she said, but decided to try anyway. "Basically...I'm in touch with Chakenapok and the Red Swan at the moment, and..."
"You keep mentioning that name, too," Moon Wolf said. "This 'Red Swan.' Perhaps you'd best start explaining a little bit earlier, to all of us this time."
Charmian blushed. "I don't know much more than you guys! I met her in a dream. She's a Dreamspinner, like Tal Natha, but she's also a manitou. The thing is...she also looks like she might be a Michinimakinong. She has wings," she said, when Niskigwun frowned at her. "But she's never heard of the Michinimakinong, so..." A shrug. "All I can say is, she started showing up in my dreams, and then we found out that she can keep me in touch with the Island, but we needed Chakenapok to help out. So at the moment, both of them are keeping me in touch with Tal Natha, but..." She trailed off just short of saying how the two of them seemed to distrust each other, and pressed on in another direction. "The Red Swan says she's being held captive somewhere, on an island in the middle of the lake. Then the Mizauwabeekum told me about a powerful wabano named Mishosha who came down from the north and started terrorizing everybody...he has mitchi manitous who work for him, and apparently the Mishupishus do too, so he must be connected to Megissogwun and everything that's going on. I thought maybe you would've heard of him," she said, to Manabozho.
Manabozho's own look of confusion grew, and he shook his head slowly. "No...I've never heard this name! And I've wandered all over around that lake! You're sure those stonelings were telling you the truth...?"
"They hardly had any reason to lie, especially considering that they ended up being killed for it," Charmian sighed, lowering her head a little. "That's what the Weaver filled me in on...she said that it was this wabano who was behind that, that he sent his mitchi manitous and another wabano after us...from the sound of it...this Mishosha's got his fingers in a lot of pies!" She lifted her head now to glare at Bouchard. "Now spill it! What do you know about this Mishosha?"
Bouchard shrugged. "I find it rather hard to believe that you've never heard of the fellow before now, ma chère! Everyone in the lake country knows him."
"I'm from a little south of here, so you'd better start explaining!"
"Well...pretty much what I've heard sounds a lot like what you've said," the voyageur replied. "There are all sorts of tales about this old medicine man living on this great island out in the lake...a great powerful old man! Supposedly he's not too far from the Pictured Rocks..." Charmian's mind started drifting over the images she'd seen when the Red Swan had first presented herself, of strange looming warped formations rising out of the fog "...on an island which travels in the fog...just like this Manitou Island that everybody speaks of."
"Hold on," Charmian interrupted with a scowl. "How is it that you find Manitou Island so hard to believe in but you believe in this Mishosha fellow so much--?"
"Well, ma chère," Bouchard replied, "perhaps because we've seen those strange things out in his lake! Things a lot like that beast you have beached by the river back there, only a LOT bigger! And in droves! They tell tales that these beasts used to roam the lake from shore to shore, until the Thunderbirds came and drove them under, and then they would toss tobacco on the water all the time they went over, just to keep them happy. But for some reason these things are coming back up...and this is a good reason to keep away from the lake on certain days, or at least to keep away from that island of his!"
"What is this island?" Charmian asked. "Does it have a name?"
"The only island in that particular area is Grand Island, ma chère, but this is not the island he dwells on. I already told you it wanders in the fog. Near Grand Island is just where it usually is. People've spotted it all over that lake. They say it floats all the way out to the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula and back!" He got an uncomfortable look and scratched under his cap. "Come to think of it...there's a bitty island there, too...and its name is Manitou Island..."
Charmian's eyes slowly grew. "Another Manitou Island? In Lake Superior...?"
"You have to realize that Spirit Island is hardly a rare name, ma chère!" Bouchard interjected. "There must be Manitou Islands all over the place! Perhaps this is another reason why everyone laughs at your story, because who knows what island it was that you're talking about? Anyway," he said, when she nodded at him to go on, "they tell stories of people heading out to the island in their canoes and never coming back. It's not like that Island of yours, ma chère. At least with YOUR Island, people usually come back to tell the tale, however unbelievable! With his island...people are lucky if they're ever seen again!"
"Why is that?" Charmian asked, getting impatient.
"Well...because he's a bad old medicine man, ma chère, and surely you see why we worry. Nobody quite knows why he makes people disappear. Only that on certain nights, when it's foggiest, it's best to just steer clear of that whole area. There are some people who would rather go way out into the middle of the lake and brave the waves and Lynxes out there! Because at least you can fight off or throw tobacco at a Lynx. With Old Man Mishosha, there's not a thing you can do. It's best to just keep away."
"But what I don't understand is what the heck this guy has to do with our Island," Charmian insisted, frustrated. "Does ANYBODY have any idea--?"
Another shrug from Bouchard. "Your guess is as good as mine, ma chère! I never even THOUGHT your Island was real until now! From what little I know, Mishosha keeps to himself--but you say there's some other fellow now--? This Meg-something?"
"Megissogwun," Charmian said. "And yes, he's the one behind everything--at least, I thought he was! But now all anybody talks about is MISHOSHA!"
"Well, I don't know this Megissogwun from Adam, but Mishosha's the one in control around the lake. From what I hear he commands an entire army of mitchi manitous, and a fleet of Lynxes, and all sorts of other beasts! He steers that island through the fog as if it's a canoe, and calls the fog in himself--some say he is the fog--and he calls up tempests and gales which could sink a hundred canoes in one swipe..."
And he's a thousand feet tall and tastes like wine! Charmian thought wearily, letting out a sigh. By now she found it hard to tell fantasy from reality, and felt a little bit sick for home, where at least islands stayed put and beavers didn't get as big as moose. "Can anybody say just how many of these stories are true as opposed to...Baptiste-type material?" she asked, promptly earning an evil glare from the voyageur in question.
Francois was the one to answer. "These tales just get taller over time, ma chère...I got back from the Island once to discover that I'd acquired a canoe a mile long, and that I'd married a manitou princess. For all we know this Mishosha doesn't even exist."
"Ho!" Bouchard interjected. "He's very much real, I assure you! How else to explain all the people who go missing--?"
"I heard the lake gets really stormy," Charmian said. "They even sing songs about it where I come from."
"And here as well, ma chère, but surely you know that we can care for ourselves better than that--?" Bouchard argued.
"Well, whatever the case is, we still have to get out there, and this Mishosha seems just like who we're looking for," Charmian said. She ignored how Bouchard's face went white. "Don't tell me you'll be scared off by one old medicine man! It's important, anyway. He's holding somebody prisoner and we have to get her back."
"This 'Red Swan' you keep mentioning--?" Thomas asked. "You know for sure that Mishosha has her?"
"She's being kept beneath an island, in the lake, so it rather sounds like he's involved! She's been helpful so far, and I think maybe somebody like that could help us get back Turtle--Manabozho's daughter," she explained, when Bouchard cocked his head. His eyes grew a little.
"Manabozho...?" When Charmian pointed him out, all the voyageurs looked at him. "You mean he's real, too...?" Bouchard said skeptically, and Manabozho began steaming.
"Doesn't quite look like what I expected," Baptiste added, just as doubtful.
"I suppose you were expecting a ten-foot-tall rabbit," Charmian said, then waved it off when they both looked at her. "If we don't stop Mishosha, and then Megissogwun, the Island we came from will be destroyed! Just like it was a long time ago...what?" she snapped, when they all commenced staring at her.
"Huh--? Oh..." Bouchard frowned a little. "Nothing, ma chère...just...well, the Indians from the other island tell stories like that...you know, Michilimackinac...they have this old story that a long time ago the island was flooded. We thought it was just stories." His frown grew. "That story was about your Island...?"
Charmian nodded. "And if we don't get going, it'll happen again! If you believe in Mishosha's island then surely Manitou Island isn't too much of a stretch...? Right now, you guys are the only hope we have of reaching him."
"Is it this Megissogwun who has your Turtle?" Bouchard asked; when Charmian nodded he protested, "Why not just face off against him?"
"Because he doesn't have the Red Swan, and I think she's really tied in to all this. And we have to speak with Kabebonikka."
Blank stares. "The old Wintermaker?" Bouchard said after a moment.
Charmian frowned. "I don't know...Kabebonikka. The North Wind." When that resulted in nothing her frown shifted into a scowl. "I've already talked with the SOUTH Wind and the EAST Wind, if you doubt me--!" She lifted her hand and the flames came back.
Bouchard waved at her frantically. "Very well!! How about a bargain? You need to get to the lake so bad, and we were headed there ourselves, but there's no way, surely, that you expect us to face that old man! But we can take you partway there, yes? Follow this river to the shore, and there you'll find the lake. We can paddle you there and to the Pictured Rocks--they're just west of there. That's safe enough land! But Mishosha's island...you're on your own!"
"We don't have lake canoes!" Charmian protested.
"We'll help you out with that, too, if you want it, ma chère--but please don't ask us to go any further than that!"
Charmian fumed a little, then let out a gusty sigh. "Fine! You're a bunch of babies, though."
"I would rather be a live baby, ma chère, than a dead man!" Bouchard replied with a smart nod; the other voyageurs nodded as well. He pointed at the river. "It's not even that far. We have to portage around a couple of falls, but it's a minor inconvenience, and there'll be time to help you build a few nice canoes for yourselves...and by the way...that big Lynx-thing you have waiting for you? You think he'll be in any shape for swimming soon?" he inquired earnestly.
Charmian furrowed her brow. "I don't know, Stick's still tending to him. Why?"
"Well..." Another rub under his cap. "Just some advice, ma chère--I know it's a tiny hope, but against this old man, maybe a Lynx or two can help you!"
If he's in any SHAPE to, Charmian thought with a sigh; Mishupishu hadn't looked particularly seaworthy, and she still couldn't shake the sight of him attempting to fight off a pack--swarm--school?--of Underwater Lynxes more powerful and much bigger than himself. She wished that Justin had come along with them, and sighed as soon as she thought of this oversight. As much as she appreciated his efforts, Stick-In-The-Dirt's odd sucking techniques didn't seem to be doing much.
"Perhaps we would do well to turn in for the night," Francois suggested at last. "If we intend to head up the river tomorrow. We could probably make it to the lake in a day or two, at the most, if we start early."
"Sounds good," Charmian sighed. She started clambering to her feet. "I'll just go see how Stick and Mishu are doing...you guys aren't going anywhere?"
Bouchard shook his head, and then, when she gave him a skeptical look, placed his pipe against his heart. "On my honor I swear it! You think I lie?"
"Not necessarily lie, but I do think a few of you've been smoking something," Charmian muttered, turning away from them. She cast a quick glance at the others before heading toward the river. It had grown even darker by now, and even the stars were no longer visible; she caught the faint glow of Mishupishu's spines, and could make out Stick-In-The-Dirt now pressing poultices against the worst of his wounds. The medicine man cast her a look as she approached.
"I do wish you'd brought along Monsieur Justin," he murmured.
She knelt down by the Lynx--he seemed to be dozing--and patted his muzzle. "I think you're doing okay. He seems to be resting, at least. We're going to turn in for the night and then head for the lake in the morning."
"I think it would probably be best if I stayed here for now," Stick-In-The-Dirt said, somewhat reluctantly. He fiddled with the bird-bone tubes and chewed on his lip. "It's not that I want to...but he is my patient..." He glanced at the Lynx, then back at her. "I left some of my things back in the camp," he said, as if just remembering.
"I can keep an eye on him while you get them," Charmian offered. "It's not too much."
He let out a sigh and got to his feet. "I'll be right back, then," he promised, and jogged off into the trees.
Charmian watched him go, then squatted down next to Mishupishu's side and ran her hand over his whiskers; they were as long and as thick as whips, but as stiff as saplings. "Sorry you had to go through all that," she murmured. "The worst thing is, I don't even know if it's over yet."
"It's...not...too bad," Mishupishu managed, his voice sleepy. "I'll be all right..."
"Still, I don't like the thought of dragging you to the lake." She bit her lip. "Maybe you could lie low, here in the river? I realize it's not too big, but you might be safer..."
"They...already know I'm...here," Mishupishu murmured, his eyes green slits. "Once they regather themselves..."
"They'll come back for you--?" Her brow furrowed. "Why? I thought you weren't that important to them."
"Not me," Mishupishu said. "You." He managed to raise one of his spines a little bit to point toward the woods, and she glanced that way. "Her," he said.
Charmian's brow furrowed even further. "Winter Born? But...why...?"
She gasped and nearly fell over backwards. Mishupishu raised his head abruptly, spines rising just as a hissing noise arose in his throat, and his eyes opened and started glowing. He stared back down the river, and Charmian clambered to her feet, her face pale and her eyes wide. She pressed her hand against his side.
"What--what is it?" she whispered.
"I think they're coming back," Mishupishu said, his voice cracking a little.
Crap! Charmian hurried around him and held up her hand. Her flames illuminated at least one pair of glowing eyes approaching along the river. "Mishu! Can you hide--? Anywhere?"
"What would you do?" Mishupishu asked in an aggrieved voice.
"I'll be fine if I can just hold him off until I get back to the woods! It's you I'm worried about!"
"It's just one Lynx--!" Charmian started to say, when the other Mishupishu reared out of the water with an awful hiss and came zooming right at them. Charmian shoved Mishupishu's side. "GO ON!" She felt him slip away from her, and then heard a splash which promptly soaked her and nearly put out her fire; she chanced one glance back to see him swimming away northwestward. He peeped at her over his shoulder, his eyes reluctant.
"Ssssssstupid little girl," an awful voice hissed, and Charmian nearly felt her hair stand on end. She dragged her stare up to meet the other Lynx's eyes, and was surprised to see that it loomed over her, spines flaring but an almost amused look on its face. Its lips curled back to show all its teeth, some of them longer than her arm.
"Wh...what did you just say?" Charmian asked, wishing she could feel as brave as she tried to sound.
The Lynx just grinned. "As if he's the one we're interested in...?" it hissed at her, its voice sounding like sandpaper. "We could have killed him easily...if we wished to."
"I'm hardly going to make it easy myself if that's what you wanted," Charmian said, steadying her voice.
The Lynx let out a breathy laugh. "Fortunately for you, you are to remain alive...for now." Its head reared up high into the air, as tall as a tree. "Although I expect to take full credit for finding you for him...and we were told we could MUSS you just a little--!"
Charmian braced herself. The Mishupishu brought its head down at her, mouth gaping, an awful stench of fish and rotten flesh whooshing between its teeth. She waited until the last minute to duck, curl herself into a ball, and roll away, just as its head struck the rock with a crash. It lifted it and shook itself, blinking dazedly; Charmian clambered over the rocks and ducked down on the other side. She heard the Lynx hissing and snarling and wished that she had a better plan than just trying to avoid it and keep it away from the others.
"Ssssssstupid!" it hissed again. "As if a little girl can hide for long!"
"I'm hardly a little girl!" Charmian snapped, popping up. "And I'm hardly HIDING! You have something to say to me? Then say it to my face! Or is that too much for you to do without spitting all over everything--?"
The Lynx blinked, then its great yellow-green eyes narrowed and it growled. "Ssssmart mouth for a little girl!" it said; "No wonder he does not mind if you are mussed!" And it came lurching at her again.
"WHO doesn't mind--?" Charmian managed to yell, again dodging it and jumping sideways toward the rocks. She forgot to take into account how wet they were from Mishupishu's descent, however, and her foot slipped in one of the puddles he'd left behind, sending her tumbling down into the water. She plunged down into it for a brief moment, then bobbed back up, gasping and spitting. She blinked the water from her eyes and glanced around herself in confusion before the Lynx's shadow fell over her, blacker than black, and her eyes goggled when she saw it grinning at her from ear to ear, its eyes glinting.
"What's wrong, girl?" it asked. "Out of your element?" She hurriedly raised her hand and tried to fling fire at it, only to result in nothing; she looked at her wet fingers, wondering why it wouldn't work, and barely even heard the Lynx laughing at her. She gasped and threw her arms up over her head when it came at her a third time, and she shut her eyes tight, gritting her teeth as the stench of its breath came ever closer.
Please please manitous!! she thought frantically. If there's ever been a time when I need you guys, it's NOW! Water, earth, wind, fire, ANYTHING! ANYTHING to take him down--!!
The Mishupishu opened its jaws, an awful rasping sound escaping it as it came swooping down, teeth practically enveloping her. And then--a horrific CRACK--and one of the giant teeth just barely grazed her arm as the Lynx's muscles went stiff, then loosened, its body rolling sideways and plunging into the river with a gigantic splash.
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