Charmian returns to the Island, and seeks a favor from Tal Natha...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Return To Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 29: The Secret Of The Wolves"
Back Through The Fairy Arch
NISKIGWUN ESCORTED CHARMIAN along the blue branch that led back to the cell she and Manabozho had occupied. She fiddled her fingers the entire time. What Geezhigo-Quae had told her about seeking out the enemy--by looking in her dreams--had bothered her, though she didn't tell the manitou woman so. Instead, she allowed herself to be excused, and now Niskigwun was taking her back to Manabozho.
"So you guys have been watching over me the entire time I've been here...?" she ventured after a while.
Niskigwun nodded. "Geezhigo-Quae has. We may no longer depend upon the Island, yet we were its first people, and so it will always hold a place close to us."
"So all that stuff you said earlier about not caring about it wasn't true, was it?"
Niskigwun didn't answer this, though the look on his face changed slightly, so she didn't press it.
"Your friend," he said instead, after a moment, and she looked up at him. "Manabozho. When last I checked, he was still in his room. Why has he not left here?"
Charmian frowned. "What do you mean? He's trapped in there, isn't he?"
The Michinimakinong gave her an odd look. "No...Geezhigo-Quae could easily have told the Tree to keep hold of him, but she did not. I saw what he did earlier when he followed you; he changed himself into a rabbit. He could just as easily have changed his shape and left the Tree if he wished."
"But he said his medicine doesn't work here," Charmian argued.
Niskigwun's brow furrowed. "I do not see why he would tell you such a thing. Of course his elemental powers would be limited, as things here have manitous of their own and you and he do not know how to ask of them; but he is a manitou himself, and his own powers should work. You yourself saw him change form, did you not?"
Charmian glanced down at the branch they walked along. "I suppose so..." She trailed off and chewed on her thumbnail. She hadn't even thought of the rabbit when Manabozho had tested his powers in the cell. Why would he tell her something like that...?
They arrived at the section of the trunk she'd been in earlier, and Niskigwun held up his hand, making a door appear. Charmian stepped inside and peered around, adjusting her eyes to the dimness; Manabozho still sat much as she'd left him, against the wall with his knees drawn up and his arms wrapped around them, yet when he saw her he lifted his head and blinked.
"Come on," Charmian said, waving. Niskigwun stood behind her, also looking in. "Let's go."
He frowned now, but stood and came to the door. He stared at her as he stepped out, then glanced at Niskigwun, then back at Charmian.
"What's going on?" he asked suspiciously.
"We're going home," Charmian replied. She looked back at Niskigwun. "Could you find us a way down from the Tree...?"
The Turtle Fairy nodded. "We will take you down ourselves and show you back to the gateway."
"Thanks," Charmian said. Manabozho seemed even more confused than ever but said nothing. They made their way back to the furthest branches fit for walking before Niskigwun and another of a group of Michinimakinong waiting there took hold of their arms and lowered them from the Tree. Charmian tried not to chatter all the way down, the sight of the ground so far below still unnerving her. Their feet finally touched the grass and they were let go, Charmian wobbling a little bit before regaining her balance; she had to look back up into the shifting leaves, and shivered. One jump from the Tree and surely she'd be dead by now.
The rest of the group fluttered down behind them, also landing. Manabozho walked around the Tree a little bit, staring up at it and scratching his head. Niskigwun gestured and took a step forward, but Charmian turned to him.
"I was hoping we could find the way back on our own," she said. He frowned again and she continued, "We'll go back through, I promise. I just wanted to talk with Manabozho before we return. You can follow at a little distance if you don't believe me."
The Turtle Fairy stared at her with a look that clearly said he was debating what to do, but after a moment his resolute look returned and he held his spear up at his side.
"I will trust you to go through the Arch on your own."
Charmian felt a tiny bit of relief that he trusted her at least a little bit, for now. "We can break it after us..." she started, but he shook his head.
"Geezhigo-Quae expects you to report to her once you have succeeded...or failed." He gave her a pointed look. "I will be guarding the gateway as I have before." He said it as if it were a warning, but she smiled anyway.
"I didn't expect any less." Her response appeared to surprise him, and she turned away before he might grow embarrassed, gesturing at Manabozho who now stood off to the side with a pensive expression. "Come on, we've got stuff to do."
Manabozho looked skeptical but obeyed. Charmian glanced back over her shoulder just long enough to call out, "Thank you," to Niskigwun, but as she walked away it was the Michinimakinong who had the last word.
"Good luck, Islander."
* * * * *
"Islander...?" Only once they were out of earshot did Charmian echo Niskigwun's words, her face screwing up. "Did he make some kind of mistake? I'm a mainlander..."
"What was that all about?" Manabozho finally demanded.
"What was all of what about?"
"You know what I'm talking about! THAT!" He waved his hands at the shrinking image of the Tree. "What did you say to them back there? To make them let you go so easily? Did you threaten them with something--?"
"I didn't have to threaten anyone with anything," Charmian retorted. "All I did was say please and thank you. A few words you'd do well to learn, yourself."
"You did a LOT more than say please and thank you! Tell me what it was!"
"You were there! I asked to speak with the person in charge, and that's exactly what I did. He took me right to her."
"Yes. Geezhigo-Quae. She's the owner of the Tree."
He gaped at her so long that she walked right past him. She slowed down with some irritation to wait for him to catch up, only he didn't. She looked back and he still stood where she'd left him, gaping at her with an open mouth.
"Geezhigo-Quae?" he echoed.
Charmian nodded. "She's the one in charge here." Her mouth twitched. "Why are you looking at me like that...?"
Manabozho waved his arms a few times even before his mouth started working again. "Geezhigo-Quae--? She's--the Sky Mother! I thought the Tree looked like it should be familiar, yet I didn't know she lived here..."
"You've heard of her?"
He shot her a venomous look. "EVERYONE has heard of Geezhigo-Quae! There are some who say she's second only to Gitchi Manitou himself!" Charmian fell silent at this comment as he started hopping around her, still frantically waving his arms. "If it were not for her, the Island itself would not exist!"
"Wait a minute!" Charmian interrupted. "I thought Gitchi Manitou created the Island! Now you're saying she did--?"
"Gitchi Manitou did create the Island. But Geezhigo-Quae is the one who re-created it after it had been destroyed--in a flood. She is the one who remade the Island just as it had been, with only a handful of soil!"
Charmian's brow furrowed in confusion. "The Island was destroyed...? You mean this Manitou Island is the second Manitou Island?"
"Yes. And it would not even exist if not for Geezhigo-Quae. You spoke with her...?"
"Yes, I spoke with her! Get over it!" Charmian started walking again, forcing him to follow. "She told me about the Shadow Wolves--it turns out I was right, they're not the ones we should be fighting. They're only manitous keeping watch over the Island. The Turtle Fairies left them behind before they went through the Arch, and now something's made their spirits dark."
"Manitous...?" Manabozho's step slowed again. "I did not even sense this from them..."
"Maybe that's because you're only part manitou?" He gave her a dirty look and she waved it off. "Okay, I'm sorry. It was just a guess. But that's why Mani and the others don't want to kill them. When I was with Thomas that's exactly what happened--they attacked us, and the manitous would toss them off, but not go after them. I didn't know why until now." She chewed on her thumb again, which earned her an odd look. "She said I would have to find the guy controlling the Wolves if I wanted to get anywhere..."
"Did you ask her about the strange fellow in the mask? The one who keeps following you around?"
"How did you know about him--?" Charmian cut herself off, then sighed. "I didn't think to ask her that...but based on what she told me, I think her answer would've been the same. I really don't think she would know about him. I get the feeling the same guy behind the Wolves is behind him, but I don't know why or how. Geezhigo didn't say anything about a manitou in the shape of a man being left behind, though I guess it would be possible..."
"Then again maybe not," Manabozho countered. "Perhaps he really is somebody trying to kill you."
"Well, he hasn't killed me yet, and that's what counts." She sighed again. "Anyway, seeing as the only time I've ever even gotten close to whoever this guy is was when I was dreaming, she said that's where I should start looking for him...in a dream." She rubbed at her eyes. "And I have no clue how to do that..."
"Um, hello?" She lifted her head and Manabozho gave her an "Are you totally stupid?" look. "Your close friend just happens to be the Dreamspinner," he said. "Hello?"
"But he's not the one who SENT me that dream!" Charmian retorted.
Manabozho let out a gusty sigh. "Does that even MATTER? A dream is a dream--just ask him to give you one, and go looking for this person! Why do you make everything so difficult...?"
"Speaking of difficult," Charmian said as the stone gateway finally came into view, "Niskigwun told me something rather interesting." When he looked at her she said, "The Michinimakinong I was talking with. He said that your powers do work in this place. And he's right, because you changed into a rabbit. Maybe you couldn't control the Tree, but I know you could've called up some wind or turned into a bird or something." She shot him a sharp look. "So how come you didn't? And why did you tell me you couldn't? You sat in that little room that whole time without even trying to break out?"
Manabozho looked away, back toward the gateway, and fell oddly silent. Charmian stared at him for several moments but he didn't reply, and her eyes slowly widened.
"You stayed there on purpose," she finally said. "You didn't want to leave me behind here, did you?" They reached the gateway and she grinned at him, which just made him scowl. "You didn't WANT to bail out on me this time! What do you know, you really do have a decent side."
"Shut up and go through the hole," Manabozho snapped. "Before I change my mind and leave you here anyway!"
Charmian only continued grinning as she climbed up toward the entrance. "You're a NICE guy, Manabozho," she said, then scurried up and through the hole.
"That's the only reason I didn't bail out, you know!" he barked as she vanished through the gateway. "So I wouldn't have to put up with all your WHINING afterwards. Your compliments are even WORSE!"
But Charmian had already vanished through the gateway, and with an irritated sigh Manabozho had to follow.
* * * * *
Mani's ear flicked and he lifted his head with a snort. Thomas lifted his own head from his hands and peered at the manitou, then at the Arch beside him. He jumped up when a hand appeared seemingly from nowhere, its fingers reaching out as if to grasp something. Almost without thinking he grabbed it and pulled, stepping away from the Arch. The hole under the rock flashed and Charmian came tumbling through, yelping as she knocked him to the ground and landed on top of him. The glow disappeared and the two of them stared at each other in surprise for just a moment before she pushed herself off, leaping back and dusting at her clothes, her face going red. Cloud snorted and Mani stood, whistling.
Charmian continued dusting herself off, just to give her hands something to do. "How long have you been here?" she asked; it was a stupid question, but the only thing that came to mind.
"Since you passed through," Thomas said, which made her flush again, for some reason. "I just missed you and thought you might be in trouble. You said you'd be heading here, a while back; so did you find anything?"
"Kind of." When he looked curious she simply said, "You might want to wait about going through yourself...they're a little...hostile over there."
He frowned in puzzlement, then looked down. "That rabbit seems to like you."
"Huh?" Charmian glanced down as well to see the little brown rabbit hop past her feet, shooting her a dirty look as it did so. It did the same to Thomas, who furrowed his brow and watched it disappear into the woods. He turned back to Charmian, gesturing after it with his thumb.
"Did you see what it just did...?"
"Oh...that thing." Charmian waved at the air. "I think it's...rabid or something. Somebody should probably SHOOT it!" she said loudly in the direction Manabozho had just taken. She wiped her hands and stepped past Thomas, toward the trail. "Well, that's all done; I thought I might head back to Fort Holmes now..."
"Charmian?" She paused and looked back at him and saw the pensive look on his face. He gestured at the Arch.
"Who was that who went through with you?"
She blinked. "What do you mean, went through with me?"
"Right before I reached here I just caught a glimpse of somebody else passing through after you. I didn't recognize him. He didn't come back out...who was that?"
Charmian bit the inside of her mouth and tried to think, but no rational explanations came to mind. "You're sure you didn't just see the rabbit?" she finally said, having to keep herself from cringing at the pathetic fib.
Thomas frowned again.
"You just said he seems to like me," Charmian added. "And I can hardly get him to stop following me around...well, except right now, but maybe he's still kind of woozy from being in there...rabbits aren't very good at interdimensional travel, you know..."
She just knew from the look on Thomas's face that he suspected she was lying, but he said nothing of it, just sighed and shrugged and offered a slight smile. "I suppose I could have seen that instead," he admitted; "I didn't really get a good look," and she let out her breath.
"Yeah, like I said I'll probably have to get Francois to shoot him or something, maybe make him into a stew," she said, and smiled back. "Oh. That's right. I was on my way to Fort Holmes to speak with Tal Natha...I have to ask him something. I think maybe I'm getting closer to the deal with the Shadow Wolves and everything. Do you want to come along?"
To her surprise, he shook his head. "I should be getting back home, at least for a bit," he said. "You'll probably laugh...but my mother is likely getting worried by now. I should stop in and let her know I'm still alive."
Charmian's smile grew. "I won't laugh; though you're probably the only guy I know who'd admit to something like that. My family would probably freak out too if I were gone for too long..." She trailed off and her smile dimmed when she thought of home; it seemed so far away now, as if she had never even left the Island since her last stay. That yearlong stay had lasted only a day in real life; how long would this one last? The Island's time worked so oddly, she had no clue...
"I won't keep you, then," Thomas's voice broke through her thoughts, and she shook her head abruptly. He was already taking Cloud's reins and pulling himself up, waving at her as he turned the horse about. "You will call on me again, though, and catch me up on everything I've missed...won't you?"
Charmian nodded quickly. "Sure!" Although she wouldn't ever admit it, she felt a bit of relief that he had decided to turn her down; she wasn't certain if she was ready to let him in on everything she knew so far. This realization puzzled her, but she brushed it off. She waved in return as the horse started back up the trail, tail flicking. "Bye!"
She stood and watched until the two of them were out of sight, then sighed. She felt something velvety press against her hand and rubbed Mani's muzzle when he whistled.
Go to cave of Dream Bringing One?
Charmian nodded. "Yeah...I have to have a talk with him. I wonder how open he is to granting any favors." She grabbed hold of the manitou's antler and pulled herself atop his back as he turned in the direction the others had gone, first trotting and then picking up his pace. "I have a feeling this is going to be one pretty big favor. I just hope he's in a good mood."
* * * * *
What? Tal Natha's head whirled around to stare at Charmian in disbelief. He turned around and stalked toward her with the fur on his hackles raised until they met face to face, and then wrinkled his muzzle. Never! I will not grant such a thing!
"But, Tal Natha..." Charmian found herself talking to his back when he paced away again, and sighed. Red Bird stood at the other side of the room, and she gave Charmian a sympathetic look. The demon had been in a tolerable enough, if somewhat preoccupied, mood until Charmian had outlined her plan to seek out their adversary in her dreams. Then his whole demeanor had changed, resulting in this. She had to follow him around the small cave as he continued pacing, gesturing with her arms as if that would somehow convince him otherwise.
"Tal Natha, it's the only way I can find him. Even Geezhigo-Quae said so. That's the only place I've met him so far, so it's the only lead I have to go on. And you're the only one I know who can help me get there. You have to help me."
Tal Natha bared his teeth. I do not care what Geezhigo-Quae may have said! There is a reason she left the Island, and now I am the one keeping watch. And there is no way that I will let you endanger yourself so. You do not yet understand dreams well enough to pull off such a foolish plan.
Charmian threw up her arms in exasperation. "I've done well enough before!"
Remember your dream in the dark with Dakh Natha! You were ready to burst into tears then, Charmian. You are more experienced in such things than most I know, but you still do not know enough to do something like this. If this creature has the power to bring dreams, then he may do other more ominous things. You yourself spoke of how he attempted to read your thoughts. This is no piddling spirit you deal with. Even I have no idea how powerful he may be.
"And so how can you hold me back like this?" Charmian continued stepping aside to stay in front of him, as he continued turning away. "I know it's dangerous, Tal Natha, but I wouldn't be asking for your help if I knew another way. Can you say for sure that somebody else with more experience will find him? I'm the only one there is right now who knows where to look. And you're the only one who can help me." She reached out and grasped the fur at the sides of his face, making him look at her. He glared back with his flashing green eyes and his tail flicked back and forth, but he said nothing. "Tal Natha, you believed in me the last time I was here," she said softly, and he averted his eyes. "You were the one who brought me here and told me all the things I could do if I just believed in myself. Believe in me now. You have to, for the Island."
A rustling sound came, and Charmian looked up as Red Bird moved to stand beside her. She let go of Tal Natha's head and he pulled back, his ears flattening and his eyes turning away. Red Bird touched his hand.
"Tal Natha, I know you only worry about her...but you know that she's right. You said the same things of me once, and I did not believe you then. Remember? If you and she had not believed in me, then the Island might not even be here today." She craned her neck to look up at him. "If you want to help her, then you have to let her go. She doesn't need your protection anymore, she needs your help."
Charmian blinked, feeling her ears grow hot and her eyes grow wet. She blinked again to get rid of the feeling, in time to hear the demon sigh. She looked up at him and saw the grudging yet resigned look on his face, and felt her heart lift just a little.
Very well...but I do not do this willingly. He met Charmian's eyes. You realize that once you are in your dream, I may not be able to help you anymore.
Charmian nodded. "I thought that over. And it's all right. I don't plan on doing anything to him, just yet. I just want to see if I can find him and maybe try to talk to him a little."
I do not believe he is open to talking, Tal Natha warned, but he sighed again and gestured toward a pile of furs lying near the far wall. Charmian glanced at it. Do you wish to sleep here, or somewhere more suited to you?
Charmian opened her mouth, then closed it. She blinked, and then turned back to him, her face going bright red.
"Um...you're not going to believe this," she said meekly, "but...I'm not even sleepy!"
"Part 31: Sleeping Aids"
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