Charmian unknowingly passes a test, and runs into something odd...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Return To Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 36: Deep In The Woods"
THE LARGE LODGE was dim and smoky, the small central fire the only thing keeping it lit. The doorflap had been tied shut and the fire was encircled by a group of men and a few women, most of them with graying hair, all of them with varying expressions of pensiveness or mild irritation. The only one standing was Stick-In-The-Dirt, and he walked around the circle waving his hands so his shadow danced all over the walls. He'd been talking for about a half hour now, and still the situation had changed little.
"I'm assuring you, there would be no mistake in inviting her," he said, sounding exasperated by now. "I would not be here even recommending this if I had any doubts. I have never bothered any of you by recommending anyone before, so why do you question me now?"
"What sets her apart from anyone else aspiring to enter this lodge?" one of the old men inquired. "Just because someone offers a showy display does not qualify them. So what if she can juggle fire and bring down trees as if they are sticks? Any second-rate wabano can do this, and you know that wabanos are only bad luck."
Stick-In-The-Dirt clenched his fists and fought to keep his voice level. "If I led you to believe she only juggles fire and topples trees, then either I mistakenly misled you or you weren't listening closely enough. She is the same one who defeated the demoness, so many years ago. You have forgotten this so soon? The Island was close to dying, and she managed to save it from that fate."
"As I can recall, she did not do this alone," the old man stated.
"No, she did not. She called upon all the manitous and elements that she could to assist. This is no small medicine either! Gifted though you are, Grandfathers, I ask if any of you have ever spoken with the manitous of the woods as if they are your friends?"
A few of the men frowned at him for his insolence but none objected. "You seem to keep forgetting one very important thing," the one at the head of the lodge said, and everybody turned to look at him. "She is but a girl," he continued. "Not even considered a woman by her own people. In case you have forgotten, it is not right for such young girls to practice medicine, nor to join our lodge."
Stick-In-The-Dirt frowned in return. "There is always an exception," he said, and turned his head to stare directly at one of the others gathered around the fire. Silver Eagle Feather stared back at him. The few other women also there, all of them much older than she was, started murmuring to each other, and a few of the men gave her disapproving looks. Most of the others simply averted their eyes as if ashamed or afraid to look at her.
The old man at the head of the lodge didn't look too pleased either. "There were special circumstances in this case," he said.
"As there are in this."
"The initiation itself is daunting. Do you truly think such a young girl could go through with that?"
"Trust me, Grandfather, she has faced much worse before. In fact the initiation would only be redundant. She has already returned from the land of the dead!" The murmuring started anew, some of it awed, more of it skeptical. "I know this for a fact," Stick-In-The-Dirt continued. "Manabozho, the Great Rabbit himself, brought her back from the edge of death! If this is not a sign that she was meant to be with us, then I do not know what is." He raised his hands again, this time pleading. "Please, Brothers, Grandfathers, Grandmothers. I know I'm not the most talented among you but you know I would never take the lodge so lightly. Please simply consider my request. I feel that if anyone would miss out on something if this is not considered, it would be us. She has already saved us once. She is here to help us again. She asks for nothing in return, and loves the Island so greatly that the Island itself has accepted her as one of its own. You could not seek a better candidate if you were to paddle across the big water itself and look for one. Please, at least think over what I have said, and consider this. I do not think you would be disappointed in her."
The rest of those gathered looked at each other, then leaned toward each other and murmured a little more. Silver Eagle Feather, for her part, sat in silence. Stick-In-The-Dirt stood and fiddled his fingers until they leaned back and the old man at the head of the fire tilted his head at him.
"We will consider this request," he said.
Stick-In-The-Dirt let out his breath. It hadn't been the unanimous agreement he'd hoped for, but at least it was something. He bowed his head to the gathering and untied and opened the doorflap, exiting the lodge as the rest of them started to rise to their feet, all of them talking about daily activities now. He had to shield his eyes from the sunlight; it wasn't often that they met so early in the day, but today had been an exception. He paused to wait for Silver Eagle Feather, who came out of the lodge after the old women, who went walking their own way. He made certain to meet her eyes.
"I apologize for singling you out like that," he murmured. "And I should not speak poorly of them, yet there are some times when it feels as if I am talking to trees. I have never been successful at talking to trees."
Her look told him she understood. "Give them some more time," she said. "I believe they'll eventually agree."
"I just do not understand how they can continue to overlook everything she's done for us. I understand what it is to be afraid of something, but she's not something to be afraid of. She can do nothing but help us. I think they are even less afraid of you than they are of her." Immediately after saying this he flushed, realizing what he'd said. Silver Eagle Feather spoke before he had a chance to.
"I do not take offense. It's true that they are afraid." She turned her head to look toward the far side of the camp. "Perhaps they merely need to see her for themselves before they can decide."
The medicine man looked up as well. A figure was emerging from the woods, pack over its shoulder. He recognized Charmian immediately. White Deer approached her and fell into step beside her, talking. Charmian looked distracted but nodded at what his daughter said.
"She doesn't like to draw attention to herself," he murmured.
He felt something touch his arm, and glanced back at Silver Eagle Feather. "I think I can do something," she said, and then walked away, toward the far side of the camp, nearer the woods. Stick-In-The-Dirt watched her with some puzzlement, and noticed that as she rounded one of the wigwams, out of his sight, she brushed her hand against its side, but that appeared to be all. He waited a moment for her to return but she didn't, and he assumed she must have continued down into the woods. He frowned, still not understanding what she'd been talking about. He looked at Charmian and White Deer again, but they continued walking on the same as before. Scratching his head, he turned to go to the middle of the camp to get himself a bowl of soup and think.
The few remaining men and women in the lodge finally filed out, murmuring. They spotted Charmian walking through the camp, and one or two of them glanced at Stick-In-The-Dirt as if expecting him to say something, yet didn't speak up. He sighed to himself and watched them go on their way, when a startled yell from the other side of the camp caught his attention.
He whirled back to look. Flames were leaping from the bottom of the wigwam Silver Eagle Feather had just walked past, and a few women stood off to the side, swatting at it with a blanket. Stick-In-The-Dirt squinted, startled. The blanket had no effect on the flame, though it was small enough that it should have snuffed out immediately. He couldn't believe, either, that Silver Eagle Feather would set a wigwam on fire just to prove a point!
Then he understood--although the fire looked to be burning the bottom of the hut, no smoke arose, and he could see when he looked closely enough that the flames weren't actually destroying anything. It was an illusion. He hadn't known Silver Eagle Feather had such a power, but it didn't surprise him to find out she did. He still couldn't figure out what this had to do with Charmian, however--
Right as if on cue, Charmian and White Deer spotted the women batting at the fire, and halted in their tracks, eyes wide. The mainlander hesitated only a second before extending her hands out in front of her and yelling. Stick-In-The-Dirt was one of the few who actually heard what she said, as he was looking right at her when she shouted--"Wind!"--and then the women and everyone else who had started gathering nearby gasped and jumped or ran back when the wigwam rose into the air, juddered, spun, and then landed again in the exact same spot, the imaginary flames gone and the door now facing the woods rather than the camp. A little puff of dust arose when it hit the ground, but that was all...then everybody stared at Charmian.
Charmian still stood with her hands out in front of her. She noticed everyone's eyes on her, and her face went bright red. "Sorry," she said in a small voice, then lowered her hands, clasping them to her as if to make herself as tiny as possible, and started walking again with her head hunched into her shoulders. White Deer trailed after her, though not chattering like before. Noise and action began to resume in the camp. Stick-In-The-Dirt rubbed at his head again, then jumped and gasped when something touched his arm. Silver Eagle Feather was back right beside him--he hadn't even heard her approach. Where had she gone--?
"I think that should do it," was all she said, and as if to prove her point she nodded over his shoulder. He peered toward the lodge to see a few of the old men still standing out in front of it. They were staring at Charmian as she walked by; the leader turned to Stick-In-The-Dirt with a frown, then nodded once. They dispersed, and Stick-In-The-Dirt finally let out his breath.
Whatever would happen now, would have to just happen.
* * * * *
Charmian tried to keep her head as low as she possibly could as she walked, not even sure where she was walking to. She was grateful for White Deer's company, even if the other woman seemed just as mystified by her actions as was everyone else in the camp.
"Father said you knew how to use elements," she finally said after a while, "though I didn't know he meant like that."
"I should've used water," Charmian said, and felt like clawing her own face. "If this were a home safety course I so would have failed it! You guys should really move near a stream or something. What if I'd just made it worse?" She clamped her hands over her head. "I can't believe I used wind!!"
White Deer looked even more confused. "You put out the fire...isn't that good enough?"
"Not if I almost burned down your CAMP!" Charmian rubbed her temples and made a face. "My head hurts...this day isn't going too well."
"Instead of running off so much, why don't you simply stay here for a while? You keep saying you're not getting much done, so running around isn't doing much good..."
"You wouldn't make a very good motivational speaker," Charmian retorted; when she saw that the comment had gone right over White Deer's head, she sighed. "Fine, sure...but just for tonight...because I really have to figure out what I'm supposed to be doing. Maybe your dad can give me a suggestion or two." She fell silent, now noticing the stares of most of the natives upon her. She felt like twitching. She murmured out of the corner of her mouth, "Um...why are they all staring at me like that?"
White Deer gave her a questioning look, then glanced around them. "Oh." She frowned, then looked back at the newly positioned wigwam and shrugged. "Perhaps what you did to the wigwam has something to do with it."
"I was just trying to put out a fire. Jeez, I wish they'd stop looking at me!!"
"You didn't just put out the fire," White Deer pointed out. "You made the wigwam dance."
"I wouldn't call that dancing, it was more like a...jump, and a spin, kind of..." She pulled at her hair. "Anyway what does that have to do with anything! It's not like I've never used wind before!"
"Well..." White Deer looked to be at a loss for words. "It would have been much the same if you had thrown a fireball," she finally said, and Charmian's brow furrowed.
"You mean, like a wabano--? They think I'm a wabano?" She glared at a small group of them staring at her, and they quickly dissipated.
"Not exactly, but only the more powerful medicine men can shake buildings the way you just did..."
Charmian felt like screaming. "For God's sake!" she exclaimed, then yelled so the camp could hear, "I'M NOT A WABANO! And I'm not a MEDICINE MAN, either!" Before White Deer or anyone else could respond, she dashed toward Stick-In-The-Dirt's wigwam and jumped inside, the doorflap falling shut behind her.
She found herself pressing her back against the wall and panting, staring in at Morning Star, who stared back with some puzzlement but said nothing. Charmian waited a moment or two before peering out of the flap, then slumped down to the floor with a sigh.
"I have a reputation," she said in response to Morning Star's stare.
Morning Star blinked, then her look softened as if she understood. "I was just about to head down to the water for some cleaning," she said. "Would you like to come with me?"
"You wouldn't mind?"
The other woman shook her head, so Charmian relaxed. "Okay," she said. Getting away from this camp did seem like a good idea, especially after all of...whatever that had been. She waited for Morning Star to gather the items she was going to wash, then followed her out of the wigwam and into the woods, trying hard to ignore the looks of the others.
"Does White Deer ever help you do this?" she asked as they went, merely for the sake of saying something.
Morning Star shook her head.
"Oh...she doesn't really like going with you, does she?"
"No, this is not it. They do not like going to the water very much."
"Stick-In-The-Dirt's people. They will use it for what they need, but other than that they seem to stay away from it as much as possible."
"Oh." Charmian paused to think about this and realized she was right; none of the natives seemed to like hanging out near the streams or springs very much, except for Silver Eagle Feather, and of course Silver Eagle Feather was always an exception. "Maybe they're afraid of nebanaubae," she said on a whim, remembering the faces she'd seen in the stream with Manabozho. The look Morning Star gave her told her she'd never heard the word before, but again she didn't ask anything. Charmian was somewhat grateful for that, as she wasn't certain she could have explained it anyway.
As she remembered from her last time here, a small stream flowed not too far from the tribe, but Morning Star continued on her way past it. Charmian frowned in puzzlement but kept silent. They ended up going all the way down to the lakeshore itself. By the time they reached the rocky beach she was hot and sweaty, but Morning Star appeared to be completely unaffected by the walk. Charmian followed her to the water, where she set down the basket she'd been carrying and started pulling out the different items to wash. Charmian stepped into the water several feet away and sighed, letting it flow over her feet. She leaned down to scoop some up and splash it in her face.
As her hands reached down for the water, she again caught sight of her own face, and noticed tears streaming from her eyes, which were wide with apparent fear.
Charmian gasped and jerked upright, splashing backwards. Morning Star stood as well and looked at her with concern.
"What is it?"
"Huh--?" Charmian glanced at her, then flushed and forced a smile. "Um--nothing. I didn't know the water was that cold...that's all." She shifted from foot to foot and rubbed her arms to prove her point. Morning Star frowned, but appeared to accept her excuse and went back to her washing. Charmian peered hesitantly over her arm and into the water below, but she looked normal now...except for her wide eyes, which was easy enough to explain.
My reflection's never right...is it trying to tell me something? The last time, it was Red Bird--and Nathalit explained that--but this time it's just me. But it's not me. What's that supposed to mean...?
She rubbed her arms again, feeling cold now for real. With a sigh she stepped backwards out of the water and shook off her sandals. She looked to the side, and noticed they were not far from where she'd seen the strange man in the canoe come ashore. She thought over that again. What had become of that man since then...?
Something flitted overhead, casting its shadow on the rock and water below. Charmian had just enough time to glance up, but by then it was gone. Then something slammed into her back, and she yelped and fell forward with a splash, water filling her nostrils.
Thankfully her face went under the water just for a second, before she was able to lift her head up with a sputter. The first thing she saw through her blurred eyes was Morning Star, gaping at her in astonishment--and then running toward her wielding the basket as if it were a weapon. Charmian gawked and pushed herself up, flinging out her hands to try to ward her off.
Has she gone NUTS--?
She let out another yelp when something now dragged her from behind, out of the water and up onto the beach again. She lifted her arms to try to struggle free, only to fall forward once more when her pack came loose. She scrambled to her feet, Morning Star coming to an abrupt halt with the basket still raised; Charmian whirled around to see exactly what had happened, and her eyes goggled.
Something had her pack--and its head and hands were buried within it as it commenced pulling out everything inside, flinging it every which way! Then it dropped the pack, its hands full of Charmian's belongings--and Charmian's jaw dropped in disbelief.
"Part 38: The Old Dog's New Trick"
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