Charmian speaks before the council of elders...
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The Council Of Elders
CHARMIAN STARTED WRINGING her hands, something she hadn't done as a habit since she was...she couldn't remember. Had she ever done it as a habit? Why did she even care? Every eye in the place seemed to be upon her, and not a one looked friendly or welcoming. At least a dozen or so men stared at her and she had to clear her throat just to find her voice, and even then it came out incredibly tiny. "Um...sorry."
"You don't belong in here," the brave said again, the look on his face darkening. The others' expressions changed in like manner, and Charmian started to back toward the door only to notice the guard stood behind her, scowling. She stopped abruptly.
"Let her in."
Now all eyes turned away from her, back to one of their own number. Charmian let out her breath and saw Silver Eagle Feather lean forward. She hadn't noticed her earlier, sitting on the other side of Black Elk Horn, but now those strange green eyes were the most welcoming thing she'd ever seen.
The men started murmuring in protest. Charmian wondered now why she hadn't seen first of all the old man draped in an equally old blanket seated at the very head of the gathering, hand resting against a tall staff which leaned against the back wall. She supposed it was the way the shadows seemed to suck him in so he became a part of them. Now, his eyes glittered black, and he leaned forward as well.
"Who is this?"
"She comes from the mainland, Grandfather. She may help us." Silver Eagle Feather looked back at the guard. "Let her in."
The brave guarding the door hemmed and hawed a bit, stuttering, before the old man at the other end of the room nodded once.
"Do so. Let her in. Now the meeting is closed."
The guard bowed his head and hastily backed from the building. The door shut behind him and the room settled into gloom.
Silver Eagle Feather raised her hand. "Come, sit down over here, Charmian."
Charmian obeyed, trying not to meet anyone's eyes; she sensed they allowed her in only out of respect for Silver Eagle Feather and the old man. The one who'd first spoken--he wore two feathers, a strip of white fur attached to his pectoral--narrowed his eyes at her before turning away. She sighed as she sat down on a fur placed beside Silver Eagle Feather, and couldn't help but glance at the old man to her left.
"This is the chief of our tribe," Silver Eagle Feather said to her quietly. "Grandfather Yellow Turtle."
"Oh!" Charmian stuck out her hand, then drew it back, then started to salute, then flushed red and bobbed her head as if she were Japanese. "Um--honored to meet you--Grandpa--er!!--Grandfather."
The old man blinked at her a moment before his face cracked in a smile and he held out his hand, as she first had. "Likewise. Silver Eagle Feather has already spoken of you in the most flattering terms."
Charmian took his hand and was surprised by his grip, before drawing back and blinking at him in turn. "Oh--so you know about me already?"
"Somewhat. We had not discussed so much yet...perhaps you may introduce yourself, instead? What is your experience with our Island?"
"Oh. Um..." Charmian swallowed a few times before coughing into her fist and trying to speak. The other men fidgeted and murmured again and she felt she had to speak up before they lost their patience. "I...I was called to come here by--um--"
"He knows of the Ocryxes," Silver Eagle Feather said. "Please don't feel as if you must hold something back. We are friends here."
"Okay. Um...Tal Natha called me to come here. So...so I decided I'd come. My friend came along too. Drake. He's--well, he's standing outside right now."
They glanced toward the door as if to see him, and for the briefest moment Charmian thought she would see him too, waving at her goofily. When she saw just the bark walls she turned back to the gathering.
"Uh...anyway, we came here and Tal Natha said I'd have to look out for Red Bird, to protect her."
"He chose you as Red Bird's protector? He is worried about her?"
"Yeah; you see he feels she has power but she's too afraid to use it, so he said I could keep an eye on her until she's ready to protect herself. He's worried about her, you see, since she's going to have his--"
She cut herself off, feeling her ears burn hotter than ever. The others' eyes drilled through her and she felt they could read her thoughts. Even Silver Eagle Feather this time! Her voice retreated somewhere back in her throat and no matter how hard she tried she couldn't drag it back out. Why was she so damned nervous!
"My child?" she heard a voice say; then, more loudly, "Please continue...what is it that Red Bird will have?"
"...um..." Charmian managed to get out. She started tracing patterns in the soil with her finger. "...she...well, she said that in about six moons..."
She didn't need to say anything further; the expressions on their faces told her they understood plainly now. They began murmuring afresh, leaning toward one another--but not toward Silver Eagle Feather or Black Elk Horn. Charmian noted this odd oversight but only twisted the corner of her shirt, biting her lip and wishing she'd watched what she was saying.
"Another one?" one of the men muttered to another.
Added a second, "We hardly have use for another."
"The ones our Island has are enough trouble."
"First there is one, then two, then three--how many more do we need?"
"She should never have left that lake..."
"They should keep to their own sort and we would never have any of these problems, it's only because of them that this even started..."
"Hey..." Charmian started to protest, when she felt something squeezing her arm. Silver Eagle Feather's fingers wrapped around her wrist and she closed her mouth, biting her tongue now as they chattered on, oblivious to her anger.
"So now what should we do?" one of them queried. "This just increases our problems. Now, instead of those two spiteful ones and their whelp, we'll have another one."
"And there's been mention already of yet another, full grown, upon the Island."
"How many is this now?"
"Who knows. They can disguise themselves."
Charmian felt as if her tongue would start to bleed. She peered up at Silver Eagle Feather to see that the woman's expression was set, and hadn't changed from the last time she'd looked at it. She must be biting her own tongue pretty hard as well.
"They're like deer or rabbits in a fruitful season. They'll run us off the Island if we let them."
Now, she took notice of the darkening look on Black Elk Horn's face. Unlike his wife, he didn't do anything to hide it.
"Then we shouldn't let them. It's about time we took the matter into our own hands."
"How? They use deceit, every last one of them. Even that wolf-bitch upon the demon himself, so the girl says..."
"Then we turn them upon one another. It's the only way to be rid of them once and for all. A horn for a horn, and down they'll fall..."
Black Elk Horn stood up abruptly. The others immediately ceased talking and glanced up at him as if just remembering he was there. Their gazes shifted down to the woman seated beside him, and they seemed to grow uneasy. Charmian found it not difficult to believe they'd forgotten what she was, as engrossed as they'd been in their conversation.
"I refuse to take more part in this gathering," Black Elk Horn said, voice quiet and steady but underneath seething with rage. He turned to the chief and bowed. "Please excuse me, Grandfather."
The old man nodded once and the brave turned and pushed his way out the door. The others stared at it for a moment before turning back to look at one another, then one leaned toward his companion and murmured, "If only the other had been the one to leave, instead..."
"Enough," Yellow Turtle said, lifting and rapping the stick against the ground. "Enough of this. You squabble like children. As she said, we are friends. Not enemies. No matter who we are. I will not have anyone speaking of my own people as if we are a nuisance. To act in this manner is shameful to me and to you as well."
The men lowered their heads and did seem ashamed, though Charmian assumed it was embarrassment more than anything else. "Apologies, Grandfather," a few of them murmured.
The chief snorted slightly, but lowered the stick. One gnarled hand grasped his knee, wrapped up in the blanket. "Now...I believe we were discussing our situation. She-Who-Moves-Like-The-Wind grows restless. Already she has turned the mind of the chief of the cannibals to her purposes."
"It doesn't take much to sway the GeeBees," the first brave, who had spoken to Charmian, said.
"This is true...but Augwak is not stupid."
"Tal Natha said the same thing," Charmian blurted out, before shrinking in on herself. "Er...sorry."
"Please, do not apologize. We are here to discuss. Should you have something to say, then do not hesitate to say it."
"So you see...even the Ocryx agrees with this. And now we have another one, perhaps a pup of her own to deal with."
"We should send word to the other camps," someone chimed in. "To ask if they have caught sight of her. Someone must be the thing's father."
"I doubt anyone would be so willing to admit this..."
"It may not even be one of our own," another muttered. "It may be one of the mainlanders'."
Charmian chewed on her lip again. "Excuse me," she said, hoping she sounded courteous and not annoyed.
They all looked at her, but no one raised their voice to tell her to shut up.
"Um..." She stood up, feeling like she was in a courtroom. "I'm thinking...it doesn't really matter who anybody's parents are, right? If it did matter, if that was the case, then you could all be wondering forever. I think the only thing that matters is whose side everybody's on. Take a look at Tal Natha, who his parents are. Just because you know who they are doesn't mean you can use them to judge how he'll act."
She ducked her head and sat down again before any of them could protest. A few of them murmured quietly, and she heard one say, "She makes a good point."
"We finally agree, then," Yellow Turtle said. "Enough with who is the offspring of whom. This new Ocryx. She strikes you as hostile, yes?"
The question was apparently aimed at her. She swallowed and nodded.
"Y...yes, I think so. She attacked us. It could have been a mistake, but she really did seem mad about it."
"Do you believe she was the one who attacked the manitou, who killed that person in the woods?"
"Well, maybe she got the manitou...but I don't know about the person. Tal Natha acted like Ocryana had done it. I thought this was Ocryana until they--Silver Eagle Feather and Red Bird--told me it wasn't. So then I didn't know what to think."
"If she killed the first one, but not the second one, then the two of them are working together," the first brave said.
"Mm." Yellow Turtle rubbed his chin. "We aren't getting anything done here today." He looked at Charmian. "You say that the Dreamspinner chose you to look after Red Bird?"
"Yes...he said I had dreams of power or something...whatever that means."
"This means your dreams contain a reality apart from your real world, more than simply visions while you sleep." He pursed his lips and frowned. "He has his reasons, I suppose...still, you don't look much prepared to defend anyone from anything, much less from a mad demon."
Charmian went red. "I...uh...well, I tried to tell him that."
"I feel she could do this," Silver Eagle Feather said. "She merely needs the proper instruction."
Charmian looked up, nervous. "Instruction?"
"Perhaps she should travel to the Cave and speak with him, in person."
Another murmur, then silence. Charmian frowned now. "Speak with who?"
"With one of our own," Yellow Turtle said, waving his hand at her gently. "Don't let us make you nervous, you should be aware by now that we don't discuss anything lightly with you mainlanders. But we wouldn't send you out to face some monster on your own. He's harmless. To us, at least. But he seems to have strong medicine."
"You mean the Cave of the Woods?" the first brave spoke up, scowling. "We hardly know him. What if he's another Ocryx?"
"This I doubt."
"He bears the wolf sigil. He could be one of them."
"You worry too much, White Coyote. Believe me, I wouldn't send her to meet him if I distrusted him nearly as much as you seem to." He smiled at her. "I may as well simply tell you. There is a native, like ourselves, who lives in the Cave of the Woods. This is upon the other side of the Island, far from where I suspect you've been so far. The fact that he...lives in a cave...leads us to suspect he isn't quite the same as the rest of us. But he has lived there long and not bothered us, so I believe he means us no harm."
"Unless he plots things behind our backs," White Coyote muttered.
"Quiet, little boy. As I said...he lives there, not far from the Crack, and a few of us have been to see him on occasion. He offers advice. One of our number sought him out for training, to become faster and stronger, good with the bow and the hatchet. He returned to his camp, more skilled than the rest who had easily bested him before. Another wished to interpret dreams--this man taught him how. So perhaps he may train and teach you as well."
"Train me?" Charmian said, confused. "You mean, I should visit this guy and he'll...make me more fit to protect Red Bird?"
"This is what I mean. Forgive me for wishing to shuttle you off to yet another part of the Island, but I think it would be best for you. You would have to stay with him for a time. However, I won't send you along if you don't wish to go."
It was all she could think of to say. The others stared at her a moment before appearing to lose interest, talking quietly to each other. Silver Eagle Feather touched her hand.
"As he said, you don't have to go. You've already been through much in your short time here. I would train you myself, but I doubt I would know what's needed to protect you, much less Red Bird."
"Well...if you all trust this guy, maybe I'm the one being paranoid..."
"X'aaru could take you to him, to spare you the walk. Cave of the Woods is far from here and you must be tired. Perhaps you'd like to wait for morning to decide?"
"All right." She let out a small sigh. "I can't believe I slept the whole day away...but I'm tired again already."
"This is normal. Come, they hardly need me at this meeting anymore; I'll get you something to eat so you might rest again."
She stood, bowing her head to the chief who nodded back. This time the other men ignored her as she passed them, pushing open the door so the sunlight--such as it was by now--peeked back in. Drake sat on the ground outside, picking at a mossy rock, and stood up as they approached, the guard resuming his place. Charmian rubbed her elbows and looked upwards. She'd been wrong about sunlight...the sky had gone a dingy gray, growing low with cloudcover.
Well...she supposed it was about time they got some rain.
"Well?" Drake asked when he reached them. "Didja say what you needed to say?"
"Yeah. It looks like I'll have to go visit some guy in a cave." When he gave her an odd look she just shrugged and shook her head. "Never mind."
"You're gonna go this late and all?"
"Nah...tomorrow." She shrugged and offered a mental hint to Sikt Natha. "Maybe if somebody sends me some kind of dream to let me know what to decide."
He shrugged, and she assumed Dakh must be telling him to hold his tongue. With a sigh she went toward the small hut they and Red Bird had shared while Silver Eagle Feather headed off for one of the other buildings from which the meaty smell emanated.
When she pushed open the door and went back in, she noticed the place had been lit up now. A small oil lamp--which she figured Francois or Marcott or someone else had given them--sat in the corner, and Red Bird was busy sorting through the items in her basket. She glanced up at them as they entered and offered a small smile.
"I'm feeling better now," she said. "It only comes and goes."
"That's good." Charmian flopped down on the furs and stretched. "Well, it looks like I have to bug out of here yet again. The chief wants me to visit some guy who can train me to look after you."
"Yeah...I guess it's supposed to be, I dunno, martial arts or something." She pictured herself chopping and kicking--only briefly. That was as long as she'd allow herself to harbor the silly vision before shaking it off. "I have to confess right now that I did really lousy in the archery section of gym."
"Hey, I did good at that!" Drake piped up. "Bull's-eye each time!"
"Yeah, but I bet you did awfully in track."
"Hey, how did--"
"Did he say who he wants you to go to?" Red Bird asked. "Yellow Turtle's not the kind of person to send people off to see strangers--we have enough difficulty dealing with the dangers we know."
"Well, he said it was a guy in a cave."
"A cave? Which one?"
"It wasn't Skull Cave, I know that...um...something in the woods. Oh, that's it. Cave of the Woods." She shrugged. "I can't remember if I saw that on the map or not."
"Sure you did, Charm, it's not too far from Crack-in-the-Island," Drake said, pulling the guidebook out of her pack and flipping through it. "Right over...here. Where the airport is--ahm, I mean, will be."
"Oh." Red Bird appeared to relax. "All right. I've heard of him. I haven't met him, but Tal Natha said he did once. If Tal Natha trusts him, then he must be safe."
"What else can you tell me about him? What should I expect?"
"Well...I know little. Tal Natha only visited him in his dreams. He sensed him in the cave and wanted to find out who he was. The man wasn't very surprised to meet him, so he seems to know much. He'll probably know you're coming, if he knew Tal Natha would come. Aside from that, there's not much I can tell you."
"White Coyote said he bore the wolf sigil or something."
"Yes, Tal Natha said that too. It was one of the first things he noticed because he is part wolf himself. I assume he wears that because of his name."
"Name?" Charmian frowned. "Yellow Turtle didn't say his name. Come to think of it no one else did either. What's he called?"
"Oh," Red Bird replied nonchalantly, "he has a good name, a name of power. That might be one of the reasons Tal Natha decided to see him personally. His name is Moon Wolf."
"Part 36: Alone In The Dark"
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