Just what will it take to appease Kenu's wrath...?
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Escape From Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 120: Gimme That Manitou!"
PART ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-ONE:
Covering The Dead
CHARMIAN BLINKED, HER skin and hair starting to prickle in the electricity which suddenly filled the air--when Kenu's eyes flashed brilliant yellow and an awful CRACK reverberated throughout the lodge, making everybody gasp and hit the floor as if a war had just started. The only ones who remained standing were Little Wind, Charmian, and Kenu, though the former two were cringing and just about ready to drop. They all stared at Kenu. The little Animiki was glowing, his eyes nothing more than two brilliant yellow lights and his teeth gnashing, his fingers crooking like talons.
"YOU ARE THE ONE WHO KILLED GRANDFATHER?" he boomed, his voice as loud and awful as it had ever been.
Little Wind put his arms over his head, whimpering in terror. "You mean--you mean--THAT'S his grandson--?!" he squealed, shaking like an aspen tree.
Charmian threw her own arms up. "What do you THINK?" she yelled back, and dropped to the floor when Manabozho pulled on her arm. She felt the static charge rebuilding and covered her head; CRACK split through the air again, and this time a series of fearful yells arose from outside as well as inside, Peepaukawiss and X'aaru losing their composure and cowering tightly against the wall. Charmian lifted her head enough to see that Winter Born and Thomas were lying near her, staring at Kenu with wide eyes; she looked toward him again as well. He looked like he should have been an extra in The Exorcist or something; she wondered that his head didn't start spinning around like a top.
Kenu clenched his fists and gnashed his teeth hard enough to shoot sparks. "YOU ARE THE ONE WHO DESTROYED MY TRIBE!!" he bellowed. "THUS YOU ARE THE TINY HUMAN I SHALL AVENGE MYSELF UPON! PREPARE YOURSELF FOR THE MIGHT THAT IS THE WAR-BIRD KENU!!"
Little Wind just gawked at him. He let out a yelp when Charmian jumped up and grabbed his arm, hauling him to his feet. He gave her a bewildered look; she ignored it, as she was too busy waving frantically at everyone else.
"Outside!! Outside!!" she cried. "Now!!"
"Is he going to explode--?" Marten exclaimed as they all made a dash for the entryway.
"I don't know!" Charmian replied. "But it's starting to FEEL like it!!"
She nearly tripped over her own foot when Little Wind suddenly dug his heels into the ground, stopping her. He tugged as if trying to break free. "I didn't--"
"Come on!!" Charmian yelled, yanking on his arm. Lieutenant Barrington lowered his gun as he ran at them and slammed it lengthwise across Little Wind's stomach, propelling him forward and out the entryway, where he promptly tripped and fell. Charmian and Thomas stooped to drag him upright and away from the wigwam. Outside, everyone else in the camp was yelling in fear and hastening to and from their own homes, glancing at the angry sky and seeking shelter. Charmian gestured wildly at the open space between the camp and the mountains, where there was a slight dip in the ground, and they all piled into this, gasping for breath.
Augwak pointed westward. "Maybe we should take shelter under that big conspicuous tree--!"
"Don't think so!!" Charmian exclaimed, and stared at the abandoned lodge at the further side of the camp, eyes wide. Winter Born turned to look at her.
"Do you think maybe he's settled down a--"
A bright flash came from the lodge. "I KNOW YOU ARE STILL ABOUT, TINY INSIGNIFICANT PEST!!" Kenu's voice kaboomed. "REST ASSURED THAT EVEN IF I HAVE TO TEAR THIS ENTIRE CAMP APART, I WILL KILL YOU!!"
Immediately after this, the very air itself seemed to tear apart when an awful series of BOOMs sounded, and everyone covered their ears and grimaced; it was like being plunged into the middle of a war zone. Charmian managed to open her eyes a crack in time to see the lodge tear to pieces, and a gigantic shape appeared to take its place, the emerging Thunderbird growing and expanding until he'd reached his full mini-airplane size, his great wings flaring and his gangly neck rising so he let out a hideous shriek which sounded as a CRACK of thunder. As soon as he did this, a brilliant lightning flash lit the sky, then another, and another, and within moments lightning was arcing all over the camp, seeming to dance around as if it were a living thing, occasionally zapping the ground or singeing the side of one of the wigwams. The people still in the camp cried out and went running in every direction; in the bay, Charmian just barely saw Mishupishu peek up long enough to quail and then vanish from sight. She ducked her own head, shoving Winter Born's down as well.
"Are you happy now?" she cried at Little Wind, who cowered off to her side, a bit further back in the hollow. He peered at her with wide eyes. Charmian jerked a thumb viciously toward the remains of the lodge. "Are you HAPPY that you made me kill HIS grandfather?! Do you have ANY IDEA what Thunderbirds do when they're PISSED OFF--?!"
"I didn't mean for them to get killed!!" Little Wind cried. "I thought at the most just a few would be hurt! I didn't think you'd be stupid enough to keep USING that spell--!!"
Charmian's mouth fell open. She was ready to launch herself at him and start beating his head in when Thomas grabbed her arm and held her in place. "Just lie low until he's fizzled himself out!" he whispered loudly, Kenu stomping and booming around in the camp. "And THEN you can tear off his head!"
"Don't ENCOURAGE me!" Charmian snarled, her own fingers curling into talons. Little Wind lowered his head and whimpered; she turned her attention back to the rampaging Animiki, and gnawed on her lip.
"How do we get him to stop--?" she asked desperately. "If he keeps this up he'll destroy the whole camp! And I don't think we can afford to make MORE enemies here!!" She glanced at Niskigwun. "Don't you have any more of that medicine--?"
The Michinimakinong blanched. "Yes--but not nearly enough to take down something like HIM!"
"Maybe I can knock him out," Manabozho said, frowning and holding up his hand.
"No!" Charmian snapped, and slapped his hand back down. "ATTACKING him is hardly going to help this any!"
"Maybe we should pay him back then," Winter Born suggested.
That earned her a few stupid blinks. "Pay him back--?" Charmian echoed, confused.
Winter Born nodded, then furrowed her brow. "You were just talking about paying back," she said. "That is what you meant, right--?"
Charmian was ready to start pulling on her hair in frustration, she had no idea what any of this had to do with anything. "If you want to pay him back, then you cover the dead!" a voice snapped, and she flinched and peered back at Black Elk Horn, surprised that he'd spoken at all. He was giving her a very unpleasant look, still gripping his gun; when he saw that he had her attention his look just grew even uglier. "You keep talking about payback?" he barked. "Then show that you MEAN it for once!"
Charmian's face screwed up. "Cover the dead?" she echoed. "I don't know what the hell that means! We left Nigankwam all the way back at Lake Superior--!"
"It's a custom, ma chère," Francois spoke up now, keeping his own head ducked low and his gun aimed in the general direction of the screaming booming Kenu. She looked to him and he made a gesture with his free hand. "Gift-giving as a means of atoning for a loss," he explained. "Such as when someone is wrongly killed, the guilty party gives gifts to his family until the situation is set right. This is how they deal with such things."
"I think what he means," Thomas said over the noise, "is that if you want him to stop doing all that, either you're going to have to give him Little Wind, or you're going to have to give him a REALLY nice gift--!"
Charmian's mouth opened and shut uselessly. "But--but--I don't HAVE a really nice gift--!!" she wailed, and grabbed at her hair in panic. She looked at everyone with her. "What am I supposed to give him--?!"
"Whatever it is, it'd better be really nice," Winter Born warned.
Charmian tugged on her hair, tears springing to her eyes. "I don't have ANY IDEA!!"
She felt movement, and turned to see Winter Born pushing herself up and out of the hollow to go racing off toward the camp. Charmian's jaw just about hit the ground. She saw Black Elk Horn's jaw do the same, and started scrambling up to go after her, only for Thomas and Manabozho to pull her back down so she landed with a thud and started struggling against them.
"She's CRAZY!!" she yelled.
"Yes, I get that feeling too!" Thomas replied. "But I also rather get the feeling that she wouldn't DO something so stupid unless she knows WHAT she's doing!"
Charmian wanted to yell at him that there was no possible way he could know that, when Winter Born reached the camp and halted before the rampaging Kenu. She stared up at him for a moment or two, glanced back at Charmian while gnawing on her lip, then turned back to the Thunderbird as he stomped back and forth and swung his head around. She cupped her hands to her mouth.
The Thunderbird slowed down and finally noticed her, narrowing one eye as if she were difficult to see. He lifted his head and flared his wings wide.
"A TINY HUMAN APPROACHES ME? GET BACK, TINY GIRL, IT'S THE WABANO I WANT!"
"What if we give you PRESENTS?" Winter Born yelled up at him. When his eyes narrowed again she pulled one braid up to her mouth and started chewing on the end of it; Charmian felt like making a mad dash and dragging her back, but knew that Thomas would never go for it. Winter Born shifted nervously from foot to foot.
"How about this?" she shouted up at him. "If we don't find your tribe, YOU CAN LIVE ON MANITOU ISLAND!"
"What?" Niskigwun, Stick-In-The-Dirt, and Thomas all yelled at once.
X'aaru nudged at Charmian anxiously. "Charmian! Is there even room on the Island for something like him--?"
Kenu appeared to be thinking over this offer, his beak clicking as if he wanted to chew on his lips. "THIS IS A GENEROUS OFFER!" he bellowed. "BUT IT STILL DOES NOT ADDRESS THE GRIEVOUS WRONG THAT HAS BEEN COMMITTED AGAINST ME! I MUST HAVE THE BLOOD OF THE WABANO! NOTHING ELSE WILL DO TO SATE ME!!" He took several threatening steps toward the hollow. "WHERE IS HE? IS HE IN THERE WITH THE REST OF YOU--?"
Winter Born started jogging along after him, yelling into the air the entire way. "You can live right on top of the Island!" she shouted. "And eat all the fish and snakes you want! And boom around whenever you feel like it!"
Kenu opened his beak and let out an awful hiss which made everyone's hair stand on end, literally. Niskigwun and Peepaukawiss grimaced and tried desperately to smooth down their feathers.
"And--and--" Winter Born seemed to at last run out of ideas, and halted, giving Charmian a helpless shrug. Charmian tensed, then glared at Thomas until he blinked and let go of her. Without a word she grabbed Little Wind by the arm and dragged him up with her, yelping and protesting, and they stumbled out of the hollow together.
"Oh," Thomas shouted after her, "that's SO much better!"
"What--what are you doing--?" Little Wind cried, trying futilely to escape Charmian's grip. She halted several paces away from the hollow and looked upward. Kenu spotted them and hissed again, stomping their way. Winter Born hastened to get out from underfoot before she could get squished, casting Charmian a wide-eyed look.
"KENU!" Charmian yelled, and the Animiki halted, glowering down at them.
"AT LAST!" he bellowed. "YOU BRING ME THE TINY INSIGNIFICANT FOOL WHO THOUGHT TO DESTROY MY TRIBE! BUT HE MADE HIS FATAL MISTAKE IN LETTING ME LIVE! BACK AWAY FROM HIM, TINY GIRL, AND I WILL FINISH HIM OFF RIGHT THIS INSTANT!!" He lifted his head and opened his beak so that lightning cracked across the sky, and everyone within sight of the camp cowered and covered their heads.
Charmian held up her hand. "HOLD ON!" When he blinked she took a breath. "We try to find your tribe!" she called up at him. "What's left of it! If there are any left, HE helps us find them! If there aren't any left..." She trailed off for a moment, then finished, "THEN you can kill him!"
"WHAT?!" Little Wind wailed, yanking on his hand.
Kenu's face screwed up. "MY VENGEANCE CAN HARDLY BE PUT ON HOLD! WHAT AM I TO DO UNTIL THEN--?"
"Um--" Charmian faltered now, having no good answer for that. "Er--well--you can--you can come down and kick him in the leg!!" she cried, and turned to shake her head and shrug at the others before they could roll their eyes too much. "As hard as you can! Kick him in both legs, even!"
"This is the stupidest gift-giving ever," Walks-On-The-Shore said in a sour voice.
"THIS HARDLY FEELS LIKE A PUNISHMENT BEFITTING THE GRIEF I HAVE BEEN CAUSED!!" Kenu bellowed.
Winter Born waved her arms. "You can keep his manitou!" she yelled, and Little Wind's mouth went wide enough to swallow a badger whole.
"YOU CAN'T DO THAT!!" he wailed.
Charmian held out her hand and the little fireball reappeared, floating into the air. They all watched as it quivered a little before drifting toward Kenu. Little Wind's eyes teared up and he started whimpering, holding out one hand as if to call it back. Kenu stared at the tiny fireball as it approached and hovered between his eyes, which had to cross just to look at it.
"I keep it--?" he asked, his voice much smaller.
Charmian and Winter Born both nodded. "If it wants you to!" Charmian made sure to add. "Until this thing is settled or until you decide what you want to happen. But if we kill him right now we risk bringing Mishosha back after us. If you're still pissed off when this is over, THEN you can kill him, how's that--?"
Little Wind started crying aloud. Kenu's yellow eyes grew hard, then he started to glow. The giant shape of the Thunderbird grew smaller and smaller until the glow faded and little-boy Kenu was left standing there. He was rubbing at both eyes with his little pudgy hands and sniffling already. Charmian furrowed her brow when he came half-jogging, half-stumbling forward, pathetic snuffling noises escaping him. He halted at Little Wind's feet and lowered his hands to look up at him, his eyes streaming and red. His lip quivered.
"You're a BAD MAN!" And he kicked Little Wind in one shin, then in the other, and hurriedly turned and jogged away. Little Wind screamed and collapsed; Charmian's face screwed up now and she wondered how quickly he'd break in boot camp. She stepped away from him and back toward Kenu, who was now clinging to Winter Born's leg and scrubbing at his eyes. Winter Born gave Charmian a plaintive look.
"Do...do you really mean that I can stay on the Island if we don't find m-my tribe...?" Kenu sniffled, his voice muffled.
Charmian bit her lip, then sighed. "Yeah, we really mean it," she said. "We'll fix up Fort Holmes and everything so you can live right on top of the Island if you want."
Kenu rubbed his nose against his sleeve. "And can I really keep his manitou if it wants me to...?"
Charmian nodded. "I hardly think you could do a worse job with it," she added, glaring at Little Wind. The look of pure misery on his face made her feel a little sorry for him, but it was the same kind of pity she felt for Augwak, and she knew better than to feel too sorry.
Kenu bit his own lip, lifting his head and giving her a meek tentative look. He peered at Little Wind, lip starting to stick out a bit and his eyes glowing just a tad...then they dimmed and overflowed with tears and his mouth trembled.
"I just want Grandfather back," he said, and started sobbing.
Charmian winced. I really thought he was doing so much better--! she thought, standing up and rubbing her neck. She noticed that Winter Born looked just about ready to cry too, and turned away, marching back toward Little Wind. Stick-In-The-Dirt had worked his way out of the hollow and was looking him over as if expecting to find something drastic, though Charmian knew that it was more a matter of cowardice than anything. She waved at the medicine man and he moved away a little. Little Wind looked up at her with teary eyes as she leaned over him, her own eyes hard. She put her hands on her hips.
"You're the one who's going to pay him back," she snapped. When his eyes started to grow and his mouth opened, she didn't give him a chance to protest. "YOU'RE the one who gave me the scroll and insisted it would help the Animiki and not hurt them. Therefore this is on YOUR head. YOU'RE the only one who can repay it. Either you help us find his tribe, and get him back with his people, or it's YOUR head stuck on HIS beak!" When his face went pale she jabbed a finger at him. "You said you didn't mean for Nigankwam to die. So prove it! And maybe then you get your manitou back. If not, I can't think of ANY manitou that would want to have you! But good luck seeking ANOTHER one anyway. Well...?" She crossed her arms. "Is that the deal or is that NOT the deal?"
Little Wind stared at her for a moment before attempting to push himself up a little, shaking and wincing. "But...but...I d-don't know wh-where to find Animiki..." he protested weakly.
"YOUR problem, not mine!" Charmian retorted. "You should've thought of all this BEFORE you decided it would be so easy to kill somebody's grandfather and leave him on his OWN."
Little Wind blinked, then his eyes shifted toward Kenu. Winter Born was patting him on the head now, uncertain of what else to do; the little noises he let out were enough to make Charmian's throat hurt. She saw Little Wind cringe and shrink in on himself and felt a twinge of satisfaction before grabbing his arm and pulling him back up. She waved at everybody still hiding behind the trees and they began gingerly stepping out, looking quite unsettled.
"Your camp's safe for now," she called out. "He won't hurt it." She looked at the hollow as the others began coming out. "Meanwhile," she said, "we have to get heading west. Before Mishosha comes showing up. I get the feeling that now that he's found out what Kabebonikka's done, he's not going to take it lying down."
"So...what precisely do we do then?" Thomas asked. "Head back through that tunnel...?"
"I think that's best saved for when we come back," Charmian said, and made a face. "Jeez, I hate the thought of coming back here...but after we find Kabeyun, we'll probably have to. We just have to find a way to keep track of where it is. These mountains are supposed to travel."
"As long as we don't head into any tunnels along the way, I think we should be safe on that," Niskigwun said, then frowned. "At least, if things work the same as they do elsewhere! I have to admit this land is quite strange..."
"No, I think I agree," Charmian sighed. "But we can never be too sure when we might NEED a tunnel or something!"
"I think perhaps we might just have to trust in luck, ma chère," Francois said with a shrug. "It seems to get us by so far."
"I suppose," Charmian said doubtfully. "But we have to try to make it the least confusing that we can. All right then...as few shortcuts now as possible."
"Aww," Marten said, right on cue.
The people of the camp stood watching them silently as they gathered up what few things they had with them. Mudroot stepped forward as Charmian was checking her pack, and gave her a dark look. Charmian almost asked her what was wrong before remembering that she always looked that way.
"Got enough to even get you that far--?" she said, bluntly.
Charmian blushed a little. "Well...I take it we won't be canoeing, so, I guess! You guys need your food, and we've got the wolves around in case we need any of our own..."
"Take this, then." Mudroot thrust out a little jar at her and Charmian recognized the foul dark substance that she'd rubbed on Little Wind's back. "I take it you lot are always getting banged up," she said, "so at the very least, you should have SOME sort of medicine that works! And when I say works I don't mean the way he does." She waved contemptuously at Stick-In-The-Dirt's bird-bone necklaces, and he flushed before daring to scowl a little.
"Well...thank you, I guess," Charmian said, taking the jar and biting her lip. "But what do we give in payment...?"
"You already killed off that Whittiko," Mudroot grumbled. "Least we could give in return." She waved again as if in dismissal. "Now go on! We hardly need more mouths to keep feeding and we hardly need that tot throwing ANOTHER fit!"
Kenu's mouth fell open. "I'm not a TOT--!" he started to yell, but Winter Born put her hand over his mouth and nudged him back behind her.
"All right then," Charmian said, still a bit hesitantly, but she put the jar away anyway and turned to the others. "Let's go," she said, simply, wishing that she had something of more import to say, then deciding that it hardly mattered. Manabozho whistled and flicked his hand and the wolves which had been lying around among the trees got up and came trotting after them, tongues lolling and tails wagging. Charmian pulled the jar out again as she reached Mani and dabbed some of the dark stuff on the side of his head, taking note of the way that he flared his nostrils when she did so.
"I guess it can't hurt to try," she said. "Francois, have you ever been west--? Very far at all--?"
"Never too much beyond Lake Superior, ma chère," Francois admitted. "But as I said, luck seems to follow us wherever we go."
Charmian winced. "One could rather make an argument in the opposite direction," Barrington muttered under his breath as he walked past, and she found herself mentally agreeing with him, even though she didn't like to. She looked at the others and saw that they appeared to be ready, though somewhat disheveled; she ran her hand through her hair, wondering if she looked the same. When nothing happened she started walking, and that finally got the rest of them started. She felt her ears burning when she realized how they were following her.
Thomas caught up at her side. "One rather gets the feeling you don't much care for all this," he commented.
Charmian winced. "Right now...I just wish I were back on the East Bluff...or in the Dupries house...soaking my feet in some nice water! That's all I wanted to do, you know, when I got to the Island--"
"What, soak your feet in water?" Thomas raised an eyebrow. "Don't you have pans at home you can do that in--?"
She hit his arm. "No, stupid! Relax! Talk to you, and Stick, and Tal Natha--cripes, I haven't even spoken to Red Bird yet--and visit Sugar Loaf, and have a picnic in Fort Holmes, and tour the town, and read Francois's journals...there are so many NORMAL things I never get to do on that Island because some stupid manitou or demon or spirit or something always has to--act so STUPID!"
Thomas's mouth twitched. "You could always give me that other gift," he suggested.
She gave him a dirty look. "No, I can't. You have to WAIT for that one!" She crossed her arms. "Twice as long now!"
Thomas rolled his eyes and let out a sigh. "No wonder you want a break so much," he said. "You surely need it!"
"Finally you AGREE with me," Charmian said, not really feeling like arguing. She picked up her pace. "Okay. One and a half times as long."
"You drive a hard bargain," Thomas said, and picked up his pace as well, the others following suit as they walked westward out of the little camp.
* * * * *
Mudroot stood at the edge of the camp watching them all go, Little Wind accompanying them now, having to be nudged or propelled along a bit every so often by Niskigwun or Singing Cedars, who seemed to be the only ones willing to put up with him. She stared after them as they grew to the size of dots moving off across the flow of the glacier, and noticed how the chill in the air seemed to grow, though she didn't bother pulling her robes around herself more tightly.
The ground crunched as one of the tribespeople came up and halted beside her. "Do you really think they'll make it to the plains...?" he asked with a small skeptical frown.
"Who knows," Mudroot muttered. "At least they have half a chance." Her own frown grew. "Though I don't like the look of that fellow she obviously has a fancy for."
"Who, the pale one with the strange clothing...?"
Mudroot nodded. "He thought we wouldn't notice if he concealed it," she said, "but he's Whittiko. Part Whittiko, at least." The person beside her took in a breath and took a step back, shivering; those within earshot did the same, glancing uneasily after the departing party. "And he seems to have it all under control now," Mudroot added, "but where they're going, and with who they're dealing with, I honestly have to wonder if it was such a smart idea for her to bring that fellow along."
"They seem to be good friends," somebody else ventured. "You think he would actually want to do anything...?"
"It's not a matter of wanting," Mudroot said, and her eyes narrowed. "It's a matter of not wanting. And he'd better not want to hurt her, pretty badly."
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