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Rated: 13+ · Serial · Fantasy · #420628
Manabozho taunts Charmian into an unwilling realization...
Main story folder & table of contents: "Manitou Island
Previous chapter: "Part 77: Dark Reflection



INTERIM


I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat, but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance
I hope you dance

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Living might mean taking chances, but they're worth taking
Loving might be a mistake, but it's worth making

Don't let some hellbent heart leave you bitter
When you come close to selling out, reconsider
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance
(Time is a wheel in constant motion always)
I hope you dance
(Rolling us along)
I hope you dance
(Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder)
I hope you dance
(Where those years have gone)

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

Dance
I hope you dance

I hope you dance
(Time is a wheel in constant motion always)
I hope you dance
(Rolling us along)
I hope you dance
(Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder)
I hope you dance
(Where those years have gone)
(Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder)
I hope you dance
(Where those years have gone)...


"I Hope You Dance"
Lee Ann Womack
©2000 MCA Music Publishing, A Division of Universal Studios, Inc./Soda Creek Songs/Choice Is Tragic Music/Ensign Music Corporation-ASCAP/BMI.
All rights reserved


* * * * *

PART SEVENTY-EIGHT:
Counting Coup


CHARMIAN WINCED AND rubbed the back of her neck. Out of all the parts of her body, it was probably in the best shape, considering. She couldn't begin to count the bruises on her arms. She hadn't done very well today at all.

"Is something the matter?" Manabozho called. He was perched atop a rock high on the side of Fort Hill, as Charmian had taken to calling it--simply because she could think of no other fitting name, and the guidebook, now very battered, hadn't given any. He made a face and then lay down on his side, earning a scowl from her. "You're quite off today. How many times have you been hit now?"

"I forget," Charmian snapped. "I told you last night I wasn't feeling well."

"All right." Manabozho rolled over so he was looking up at the sky, and stretched and yawned. "I can hear the conversation now. Ocryana--'Now I shall slay you until the Island runs red with your blood!' Charmian--'Please, would you hold off, I'm not feeling very well today, you can slay me tomorrow.' Ocryana--'Oh I see, well, I suppose I shall just have to return tomorrow then. Good day and feel better soon so THEN I may slay you until the Island runs red with your blood!'"

Charmian stuck out her tongue. Manabozho acted as if an arrow had struck him in the breast.

"Oh, I'm killed! Her tongue! It kills me!"

"Shut up already. You're hardly Ocryana."

"How many times, again, did I hit you today?"

"Care to explain then that mark over your eye? OH MY GOD! It looks like a bruise!!"

"I ran into that tree, I told you. Hickories aren't the friendliest sort and they can't quite duck when you're aimed at them."

"Well, that's funny. 'Cause I don't see any hickories around here, and I think I'd remember you slamming your head into a hickory."

"You weren't looking because you were practically unconscious."

"That's even funnier. I don't REMEMBER being unconscious. Oh yeah! You must've dreamed that up when YOU were unconscious! From that CONCUSSION ON YOUR HEAD!"

Now he stuck out his tongue, and rolled off the other side of the rock. Charmian smirked and made certain to block his attack when he leapt down out of the trees at her, landing in a pile of leaves. His foot slipped on a wet patch and he fell to the ground, chin slamming into the earth with an "Oof."

"And there's another one," Charmian said.

He winced and slowly pushed himself up from the ground, rubbing his head. "Hardly the way to treat a manitou..." he muttered under his breath, rising painfully and brushing off his clothes.

"Half manitou," Charmian corrected him.

"There's barely any difference at all."

Charmian rolled her eyes. "Are we done, yet? We've been out here for hours. I need to eat or puke."

"Well, I should think you'd prefer eating over puking, but since you mentioned it..." He ducked when she swung at him, and they started trudging up the hill.

Pakwa hung from a tree further up the slope, watching. X'aaru lay beneath it with his ears pricked high. When they passed he rose and followed, and Charmian reached out to scratch his ears.

"You did well, I think!" X'aaru exclaimed. "I know...he did hit you, a few times...but you were only warming up...and then you did pretty well!"

"Thanks, X." She yawned and rubbed at a bruise. "Speaking of warming up, is it always this warm this time of year? I'm practically sweating."

"Oh. Yes, usually--why? Is it different on the mainland?"

"Usually there the really warm stuff doesn't come until July! In May I'm used to there being frost on the ground when I wake up!"

X'aaru shuddered and she smiled. It was dusk, and though a chill had risen in the air, it was still much warmer than she remembered it. She'd first sensed spring coming, despite numerous thaws and refreezes, when she'd first heard the thousands of peeping sounds in the night. Peepers. She found she'd missed hearing them; but as soon as they returned she knew warm weather would soon be on the way.

Soon was an understatement. In a place where it was practically winter eight months of the year, a brief interim of wet and cold substituting for autumn and spring, being able to go about in light clothing in mid-May was unusual for her.

"How's Red Bird?" she asked, as she'd asked every night they'd gone walking back up the hill.

"She's tired, but fine," X'aaru said. "She eats a lot, too!"

Charmian tried not to laugh. "Well...she's eating for two, or whatever they say." Her smile faded almost immediately. "I really thought for sure she would have had it by now..."

"There's still plenty of time," Manabozho said. He continued jumping up the slope. "I've seen it take up to ten months, myself..."

"That's not normal." Charmian tried to keep the anxiety out of her voice, with little success. "What if something's wrong? How would we be able to tell? I don't even know how you guys go about delivering babies around here, since there's no hospitals or anything! How do you sterilize the instruments?"

"Instruments?" He peered back at her with an odd look. "Why would we need to play music while she's having her baby?"

Good GOD.

She sighed and tried not to think of any upcoming incompetence on his or anyone else's part, instead busying her mind with other worries. She'd expected the winter to be much harder than it had been, but the worst element of January and February had been the biting cold. Looking at the guidebook, she'd learned that the natives of Mackinac Island had left it every winter for better hunting grounds; apparently, this didn't hold for Manitou Island. She'd noticed some of the townspeople head back across the ice, and had hoped that they wouldn't fall through; why hadn't they simply gone before the cold had come? Just navigating the treacherous crags along the shore had looked hard enough; she'd watched from atop the bluff overlooking the town as they'd gone, carefully picking their way over the giant slabs of jagged ice. Seeing it herself, she'd wondered if maybe she shouldn't have doubted Shadow Water's earlier story about injuring herself. They returned safely a few months later, however, when most of the ice had broken up and melted away. Francois himself came and went frequently once the waters were clear again; she had no idea where he disappeared to, but he always came back.

The Windwalkers and the GeeBees had caused relatively little trouble. In fact she had no idea why the former were so feared, when they caused her no problems whatsoever, aside from occasionally frightening her when she walked along at night. Augwak was too preoccupied warding off Chepi to be much of a threat; she couldn't believe the little windling was vexing him so much. Several months, and she had yet to give up. Charmian had to hand it to her that at least she'd set her mind on something.

She hadn't seen Ocryx in a while now. Silver Eagle Feather had tended to his wounds for about a week, before he was strong enough to climb to his feet. He didn't stay long after that. She sensed his discomfort at being with them, and knew he'd returned to the lake. Which was a good thing, as Manabozho had reported that the lake manitous were growing restless without their leader.

This was where things began to bother her. Mitchi couldn't still be at the lake, with how he'd attacked Ocryx. So...where was he? Had Ocryana allowed him to hole up with her? Charmian found the idea a little hard to fathom, but she had no others that were reasonable. She figured Ocryana, Mitchi, Kawaduk, and the other Ocryx must have a cave somewhere where they always returned to. During the winter, there had been a few more minor attacks, none of them nearly as serious as any she'd been through so far; they always ended up retreating. If she hadn't known any better, she'd have thought they'd never meant to seek anyone out and kill them, expressly; it was almost as if they had been...stalling. For time, or what, she had no idea.

She couldn't think of another reason why such powerful elementals would always be so willing to back off after a few blows, unless they really weren't as powerful as everyone thought.

She refused to believe that, so they must have something planned.

This suspicion was only confirmed when she spotted Ocryana no more during the season. Only the other three, and not even them that much. Were they busy with something else? Something more important?

But...what was more important than taking over the Island...?

She tried not to think about it too much. If they were planning something, it would come out into the open sooner or later. Preferably later. Her main concern was Red Bird and Tal Natha. Tal Natha appeared to have regained most of his strength, which relieved her a bit. Red Bird was healthy also. And that was what mattered most. She made certain during all of her days of training to check on her whenever she could, and whenever Red Bird left the cave for whatever reason, Charmian would go along with her. So far she'd fought off a few stray GeeBees, a large shape that might have been Kawaduk or Mitchi, and had persuaded a few overly curious Windwalkers to go about on their way and leave them alone. Each time Red Bird gave her the same wide-eyed look of awe, which made her want to both blush and swell with pride at the same time. For once she felt she was finally doing what she'd been brought here to do.

She almost stopped walking when she thought of who she'd somehow forgotten in all of her reminiscing. Justin.

Something kicked her in the foot and she yelled, "Ow!" Manabozho--how had he gotten behind her?--hopped on ahead again.

"Tag, tag, counting coup," he sang. "One for me, none for you."

"Cheat!"

"Said the loser to the victor."

"I'll victor you if you don't knock it off."

He jumped atop another rock and pursed his lips at her. "A poor sport? Or a crybaby? Goo goo, goo goo, two for me and still none for--" he ducked a rock that Charmian threw at him "--you."

"You're almost as bad as Moon Wolf sometimes, you know that?" Charmian snapped. "The only real reason I agreed to train with you was because I thought at first that you might have slightly less attitude. LOOK WHO WAS WRONG!"

"Three for me, and none for--"

She threw two rocks at him this time and managed to hit him with one when he dodged the other, so she felt somewhat better.

"You're a very bad sport!" he groused, rubbing his head.

"Sorry, I tend to get that way when rabbit idiots are pissing me off." She tried to keep from grumbling as she tromped past him up the hill. It went on forever, it seemed. He watched her go for a while before following, making barely any sound as he jumped up the incline.

"Wooden nickel for your thoughts?" he inquired, floating into the air in a manner that made her totally envious.

"I was just thinking about how quiet it's been. Too quiet."

"As rabbits like to say, don't complain until the droppings hit the wind."

Charmian gave him an odd look before rolling her eyes. "Never mind. Remind me never to try having any conversations with you!"

"It's merely that I can tell something else has you all flustered," he replied, drifting so he could fold his arms behind his head. "What things keep young girls' minds occupied? Food? No, too thin...the cycle of life? No, wrong time of the moon...love? Gooey sappy thoughts! Like syrup from a tree!" He made a kissing sound and Charmian flushed bright crimson, reaching down to scoop up as many stones as she could find.

"You are going to be SO DEAD a minute from now!!"

"So I was right? Thoughts of love?" He hurried to scramble up into the treetops, hopefully beyond her reach, and began cooing like a dove. "Coo! Coo! Coo! Coo! Four for me and ONE for you! But who is he, I wonder? Unrequited love?" Charmian hadn't thought she could feel more humiliated, but that certainly did the trick, and it must have shown for he started to laugh. "I'm right yet again! I don't even have to read your thoughts! You make this far too easy!"

"SHUT UP!"

"So why is it unrequited? Is he unsuitable? Uninterested? Otherwise engaged--?"

Charmian dropped the rocks and clenched her fists. "I SAID shut up! In case you didn't understand me--"

"Ooohhhhhh," Manabozho said, nodding sagely. "I see now. There's another young lady in the picture, isn't there. Hmmmmm...what is the saying from your own people? Hell hath no fury like a what?"

She picked up a clod of earth and shook it at him. "I KNOW for sure that this would leave a really big mark!"

He laughed again but waved his hands. "Oh, all right. It's only fun as long as you're embarrassed, but if you're going to be getting all spiteful, I may as well let it go. You're certainly not amusing when you're hoisting heavy objects at my head."

Charmian ground her teeth but said nothing as he drifted off up the slope. X'aaru came up behind her with his ears folded back, and looked at her meekly, as if expecting to be hit.

"Is he bothering you, Charmian...?"

"No," Charmian sighed, and rubbed her eyes. "Just some harmless fun." For some reason she felt like looking at her watch, even though she'd never had one; she looked up at the stars instead and guessed it to be around eight o'clock. "X, you fly around a lot. Have you seen Justin anytime recently?"

X'aaru started to answer when Manabozho reappeared, frowning.

"Justin? Of the Dupries family?" he prodded. Charmian gritted her teeth again but didn't reply. He turned upright and landed on his feet in front of her, hands on his hips.

"So that was the young man you were thinking about? No wonder you got so touchy...I suppose I should have guessed..."

"What do you mean?" Charmian snapped. "Why should I be touchy?"

"Well, with the way that girl is always fawning over him, I should think you would be."

She blinked. Manabozho did the same.

"I'm hoping you know already what I'm talking about, else I should probably make haste before you push me down the hill."

"That's just Shadow Water." She moved past him without a second look. "They've been together since autumn. It's no big deal."

"Oh? Well that's a relief, then. I certainly didn't want to be involved in a lovers' triangle." She heard him fall into step behind her and seriously considered pushing him. She clenched and unclenched her fists instead. "Considering, you know, that they've only gotten closer to one another over the past few months, you're handling it pretty well for one who--"

"WHAT?" She whirled on him now, startling him and X'aaru so that they both jumped back. She hadn't meant her voice to come out so loud, yet it did, and she would have blushed again hadn't the comment startled her so much.

Manabozho blinked at her again. "Well," he blurted after a moment, "what do you expect from a man and a woman, anyway?"

"What are you TALKING about?"

"I'm talking about the two of them. Together. Ai, I had thought your elders would have taught you this stuff by now." He put a hand to his forehead and squinched his eyes shut. "How best do I put it...all right. You see, firstly you have a male rabbit, and then you have a female rabbit. You place the two of them together, and--"

Charmian clapped her hands to her ears in horror. "PLEASE tell me you're not saying what I think you're saying! Even if you are there's NO WAY you should know that!!"

His mouth twitched and he shrugged. "Sometimes people aren't as discreet as they should be. I can't help it if my poor eyes are sometimes exposed to what they shouldn't see."

Now Charmian covered her eyes and whirled away. "I DON'T WANT TO HEAR THIS!!"

"Why are you screeching like a loon with its foot cut off? It's just the course of things. And I thought you said it was no big deal! Does 'no big deal' in fact mean it's of great personal importance?"

Charmian started hurrying up the slope. Half of her felt like crying; the other half felt like ripping Manabozho's eyes out. "Sometimes it's better to just keep things to yourself!" she said, and was surprised to hear her voice crack. X'aaru's ears flicked and he tried to cock his head to see her face. She just covered it completely. Both his and Manabozho's surprise came through clear; she hastened to get ahead of them before her eyes could start welling up.

Justin and Shadow Water, she thought to herself. Of course I knew...I mean I suspected...I mean, I KNEW! But I kept hoping maybe...maybe one of them would just call it off...maybe he's wrong? Or trying to get me mad? It wouldn't be the first time!

But I've seen the way they looked at each other...and he gave her part of his spirit...that necklace! Sure, he doesn't know what it is...but he knows it's important...Lady Dupries even told him so...and he still let her have it. And he had barely a word to say to me! Is he actually right? There's more to it than I wanted to see? Why didn't I want to see it if it's not supposed to bother me so much?

Why does my chest feel like it's been stomped all over--?


As she went, tripping over a rock here and there and trying hard to keep her balance to find her way to the top despite her suddenly blurred vision, she heard Manabozho murmur behind her.

"Hm. Women are strange creatures."


Continue:

 Part 79: Missing In Action  (13+)
Charmian seeks Tal Natha, but he's not the only thing that's strangely missing...
#422184 by Tehuti, Lord Of The Eight



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This item is NOT looking for literary critique. I already understand spelling/grammar, and any style choices I make are my own. Likewise, I am NOT seeking publication, so suggestions on how to make this publishable are not being sought.

This item IS looking for people who are simply interested in reading, especially in long/multipart stories, and who like to comment frequently. My primary intent is to entertain others, so if you read this and find it entertaining, please let me know so and let me know why.

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