Charmian receives an odd item, and learns an even odder secret...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Return To Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 38: The Old Dog's New Trick"
WITHOUT THINKING--JUST as Manabozho had taught her--Charmian went into a defensive stance and raised one hand, ready to call down everything the trees could offer her, short of death. She wished she'd had more of a chance to think of what to do the next time Moon Wolf--or whoever looked like him--showed up, but it looked as if that chance wouldn't come.
That was when she noticed that...this figure wasn't Moon Wolf. At least, it didn't wear the wolf skull mask that he had been wearing, nor did it carry his bow and arrows. This figure wasn't even as tall as he was. Instead, it wore a long robe of some sort, and its mask seemed to be the stylized face of a lynx or bobcat. It stood in the trail and stared at her through large empty-socketed eyes.
Charmian gritted her teeth. She lowered her hand, but kept her fist clenched and ready to call up some fire should she need to.
"So I suppose you're a friend of Chakenapok's, huh?" she snapped. "Maybe he didn't get it through his head the last time, but it'll take more than a guy in a mask to scare me off. Halloween's still months away, moron!"
She wanted to add a witty quip about trick or treat, but decided that would just fly over its head anyway. Instead she raised her hand again--"Fire!"--and a ball of flame appeared above her fingers, ready to fly should she toss it. To her surprise the masked figure took a step back and lowered its head slightly as if afraid or uncertain. Charmian blinked, confused. Aside from Snow Bear's attack on the Shadow Wolf, so far none of Chakenapok's minions had shown any fear of fire, especially not a piddling little fireball like hers.
Charmian shook her head to clear it--what if this person could read her thoughts?--and readied herself to toss the fireball, though she still hesitated. The masked figure, seeing her hesitation, took a step forward again, then stopped when she tensed.
"Go ahead and try," Charmian scowled. "I may not have much but it's better than nothing. Show me what you've got!"
In response, the masked figure reached into its robe and pulled something out. Charmian's arm jerked back an inch before she saw it was merely a...piece of bark? She blinked again, her confusion growing, when the masked figure slowly came forward, holding it out toward her. It was a birchbark roll, tied with a piece of string, and the figure's hand even shook a little as it held it out.
Charmian lowered the fireball to her side. She stared at the scroll, then poked it with one finger, but nothing happened. At last she let the fire fade away and took the offered piece of bark, looking it over in puzzlement. It didn't appear to be a weapon. At least, if it was, it was a pretty lousy one.
She looked back up at the figure's hollow eyes. "What is this?"
Instead of answering, the masked figure turned and stepped away into the woods again, so quietly that the grass barely rustled. Charmian was left holding the scroll and staring at the trees.
If that was Chakenapok's latest attack, then maybe I don't have as much to worry about as I thought.
She looked down at the little scroll of bark and turned it over in her hand, then untied the string. Carefully unrolling it, she saw nothing but a few little symbols scratched onto the inner surface. They looked like pictograms, but none of the books she'd read at the library had offered any information on written language. She wasn't even certain that was what this was supposed to be. With a sigh she rolled the scroll up again and tucked it into her pocket along with Nokomis's pinecone.
"Well, it stands to reason their writing wouldn't be easy to figure out, either..."
She turned back to the trail and started walking again when a loud POP made her jump and let out a little shriek. Pakwa appeared out of thin air and landed on all fours with a thud. He blinked a few times, glanced to the side, then started licking his fingers and cleaning his ear.
Charmian clenched her fists. "You WOULD appear NOW!" she yelled, and stomped past him. He didn't pay her any attention as she stalked away, leaving him alone on the path.
* * * * *
A group of people were milling about at the mouth of the trail leading into the camp, chattering excitedly. Charmian had time to glance up at them before most of them scattered like a flock of birds. White Deer remained, and Charmian was surprised to see Thomas and Mani standing alongside her. White Deer came running to greet her as she approached them, grabbing Charmian by the arm, eyes wide.
"You're safe! You wouldn't believe what stories they've been telling!"
"Stories--?" Charmian echoed, brow furrowing.
White Deer nodded wildly. "Morning Star came back alone and of course everyone noticed...she mentioned a GeeBee...she said that it attacked you, then you pushed it, and then you went running after it, up the bluff! On your own! And then..."
"Are you all right?" Thomas cut in, stepping in front of her and taking her other arm. He stared at her chest as if expecting to see something there and Charmian's face went red. "Are you hurt at all--?"
"No--I'm fine. The GeeBee was just Pakwa," she said to White Deer, then to Thomas, "How did you know something happened--?"
Thomas averted his eyes and said, "Well...someone told me." She peered past him to see Mani standing there, and the manitou whistled. Charmian sucked in a breath and stepped toward him.
"Mani...I forgot." She put her hand to his breast and his spirit stone appeared, flaring the same color as her own. It wavered just as hers had and she bit her lip, lowering her hand.
"I'm sorry," she murmured. "If I'd remembered..."
Mani whistled again. Do not be sorry, Red Land One. Then he said in her head alone, Would rather feel a hundred spirit stone stings with Red Land One, than nothing without!
Charmian felt her ears grow warm again. Had he just said what she thought he'd said...? Thomas touched her arm again and she had to shake her head to clear it.
"He said someone tried that on you before...are you certain you're all right?"
Charmian nodded. "He didn't get away with anything. It's just like a bruise, is all. And I have this...stuff...to help it out." She pulled the little gourd from her pocket and looked at it, then held it toward Mani. "Would you like to try this--?"
"So the GeeBee attacked you?" White Deer broke in now, grasping her arm as she had before. "Even if it was only Pakwa, she said he knocked you down, and then you went running after him...!"
"Only because he ransacked my bag!" Charmian tried halfheartedly to pull her arm free. "He owes me a candy bar and a thermos of soup, by the way..."
"What's this?" White Deer had noticed the little scroll sticking from her pocket, and reached down to pluck it loose. For some reason Charmian felt the urge to grab it back, but refrained. White Deer unrolled it and looked at it with great curiosity.
"Oh, that. Some guy came out of the woods and gave it to me. He couldn't even be bothered to..."
White Deer gasped and her eyes grew. Charmian cut herself off and she and the other two stared at White Deer in puzzlement. The young woman whirled to Charmian, shaking the scroll so hard that Charmian was sure it would burst into flames.
"Do you know what this is?" she cried.
Charmian shook her head. "I can't read...whatever language it is you guys use."
"This is an invitation!" White Deer pulled the scroll back and eyed it even more closely as if in wonder.
Charmian frowned. "An invitation...? You mean, like to a party or something--?"
"Not a party! You've been invited..." She trailed off, her eyes still poring over the symbols etched on the bark. "...To the Mide Lodge," she finally murmured, and Charmian's frown grew.
"Mide Lodge...?" She paused. "I read about that..." She mentally sifted through everything she'd read before coming back to the Island, struggling to remember the name. "Isn't that the Grand Medicine Society?" she said, uncertain if she was getting it right.
White Deer nodded excitedly.
Charmian was still trying to figure this out. "Don't you have to be a medicine man to be invited to that?" she asked, confused.
"Usually. They invite only the most skilled people to attend the meetings." White Deer looked at the scroll a bit longer, then met Charmian's eyes. She looked at her as if Charmian had just been asked out by the hottest guy in school. "And they've invited YOU!"
"But--why would they invite me? I don't know anything about medicine."
"They must have seen what you did with the fire earlier today!"
Charmian's face screwed up. "But that wasn't medicine!"
"To them it is. How many do you suppose can call a manitou to do their bidding? If you would ask me, you are the most powerful out of anyone in the tribe! Except maybe for Silver Eagle Feather," she added, then said, "And even then I'm not sure!"
Charmian looked down at the little scroll and chewed her lip. She guessed it was true that most of the natives didn't appear to be able to call manitous like she did, yet it still didn't feel as if she knew more than they did about medicine...
"So...now what am I supposed to do?" she asked instead. "Do I have to show up somewhere, wear something formal, bring a casserole...?"
"You arrive at the lodge meeting when they inform you to arrive." White Deer looked at the scroll again. "Which is two days from now, at nightfall." She gasped and clutched her hands together, nearly crushing the scroll. "They're going to ask you in! I just know it! You'll be the youngest Mide ever--and what's more, you're not even an Islander!"
Charmian felt a little sting at this comment before shaking it off--it was only the truth, after all. "What if I don't want to join?" she blurted out.
White Deer's jaw nearly hit the ground. "You...you don't turn down something like this!" she gasped, as if Charmian had just tossed pig's blood on her dress. "You would have to be mad to do that!"
I'd have to be mad to join something I know practically nothing about! Charmian's mind railed. For all I know they'll take a paddle to me once I set foot in there...!
She didn't dare say this out loud, seeing White Deer's mortified reaction. "Okay...fine." She pulled the scroll from her hand before it could get ruined and looked at it, though the symbols still made as little sense as ever. "I'll try to keep my calendar clear...though I still have no idea what I'm getting into."
"You could speak with Father," White Deer suggested. She bit her own lip, then said, "He's not a fourth-level Mide...but he is a member. I'm sure he could help you out!"
Charmian sighed and tucked the scroll away with the little gourd. "I guess I could do that..." She started walking into the camp, Thomas and Mani following. They continued ahead of her when she turned back to peer over her shoulder. White Deer was looking toward the far side of the camp, where Charmian had noticed the large lodge before.
White Deer blinked and looked at her. Charmian's fingers fiddled with the button on her vest pocket.
"You hope to join the Mide someday...don't you?"
White Deer's face turned slightly red. She looked down at the ground and scuffed it with her moccasin.
"I'm not nearly good enough to be invited in..."
Charmian stared at her a moment, then said, "I think you work hard enough for it to count for something." She managed to catch the surprised look White Deer gave her, the other woman's face flushing again, but with obvious pleasure this time. She turned away and continued walking into the camp. Thomas waited ahead, Mani standing not too far away with several children gathering around him. Thomas spoke in a low voice when she reached him.
"I think you've just made her day," he said, gesturing at White Deer with his eyes as she hurried off across the camp.
Charmian flushed. "She's worked a whole lot harder than I ever have." She lifted her head and glanced around the camp before he could protest. "I was hoping maybe I could catch Stick-In-The-Dirt before I go, but I'm not sure if he's even here. I was supposed to drop by the Dupries place too. I have too much stuff to do."
"White Deer was talking about him before you arrived," Thomas said. "She mentioned something about Arch Rock, and a vigil. Does that make sense to you?"
"Oh." Charmian thought a moment, then nodded. "I think it does." She looked up at him. "You must really be starting to hate me for dragging you away from home all the time for all the stupidest reasons."
Thomas smiled broadly. "Actually, I rather enjoy getting away from the house for all the stupidest reasons. Ever since you came it's been quite interesting."
If my face gets any redder my head is going to pop! Charmian had to swallow before she could speak. "Sometimes I think it would be better if it were boring!" She rubbed at her neck. "Do you mind if I head out to find Stick? I'm hoping I can find him before it gets dark." Her face lit up. "If you don't mind, you could find Justin for me and let him know I need to see him. I don't even know if he's at home, either, and you've got a horse."
"Which I left at home. Besides, you have a manitou." Thomas's grin grew wider when she gaped at him. "I'm only joking! Of course I'll look for him. And I'll send him right your way. But you have to admit, your manitou is faster than my horse."
"He's not my manitou," Charmian murmured, though she didn't think he'd heard her as he'd already turned away. She glanced at Mani and he detached himself from the curious children and came her way, whistling.
The Arched Rock to find Stick One?
Charmian nodded. "If it's not too much trouble for you..."
Not trouble. Come.
The two of them left the camp before she climbed atop his back and he started trotting eastward. When the land began to form into hills and bluffs he leapt easily from one to another; and although Charmian had done this plenty of times before, her stomach lurched more than usual this time and she put a hand to her mouth.
If I ever meet myself in the past here I'll give myself a good smack for giving Augwak that spirit stone.
The land rose upward now, and Mani navigated it with ease, though she had to wonder how his own spirit was holding up; it was easy to forget that every little bit of pain she felt, he now felt as well. She leaned over his shoulders as he climbed the slope, then trotted across the leveling earth.
"Mani, what you said. You mean that the whole time I was gone, you didn't feel me? Not once?"
The manitou whistled a negative. Pairing to be separated when separated from Island.
She puzzled that over. "Do you mean, when I go back to my own time, we aren't connected anymore? So you can't feel me, and I can't feel you?"
An affirmative whistle.
"Huh." Charmian sat back. "All this time I just thought you were really cautious, or else really lucky." She paused. "Well, at least this means I can stop feeling bad about the time that basketball hit me in the head in gym class."
The shape of Arch Rock at last appeared ahead. Charmian pressed her foot against Mani's flank and he slowed, allowing her to slide down from his back. She peered as far over the bluff as she dared, yet the medicine man wasn't visible from here, if he was even present. "Are you going to be nearby?"
Mani whistled and stomped a hoof. Not far. Be careful.
"I will. I'll try not to take too long."
With this she knelt down on the edge of the bluff and took off her backpack, setting it a safe distance away from the edge. She started climbing down toward the underside of the rock where she'd met Stick-In-The-Dirt before. It was even harder going from this direction, with how different all the angles were, yet after a moment or two the scene resolved itself and she scrambled over the rockface where it pretzeled in on itself. Sure enough, the little animal drawings on the stone had been refreshed, and she could see Stick-In-The-Dirt sitting as he had been before. Instead of closed, however, his eyes were open, and he even peered up at her as she made her way down toward him. He was turned to the side, to look out over the water. Charmian slid the rest of the way into the little hollow and dusted herself off.
"Mind if I join you?"
Stick-In-The-Dirt shook his head. She sat down beside him and craned her neck to see his view of Lake Huron. He stared at it again as well, looking troubled. The two of them sat in silence for a moment before he spoke.
"Three days," he finally said. "I did not stay four days. I do not know if he made it or not."
Charmian bit her lip. As far as she could remember, she'd been the reason he'd left his vigil in the first place. "Well...three days is better than nothing," she said, uncertain if she was right or not. "Yellow Turtle is pretty smart, I bet he made it the rest of the way fine on his own."
Stick-In-The-Dirt's troubled look deepened. "As if I could have done much had he not...but still, one should always keep watch. After accepting me into his tribe, it was the least I could have done."
Charmian wanted to say something to console him, but his look grew absolutely miserable now, so she didn't dare try to think of something positive. Instead she stared at Lake Huron with him for a moment or two before reaching into her pocket to carefully pull out the little bit of bark she'd been handed, and looked it over. When she started to unroll it Stick-In-The-Dirt finally took notice and peered down at it. She held it out to him.
"I got this," she said.
Stick-In-The-Dirt's face lit up now, and he took the scroll and read it--or at least, she assumed he did. The little figures still made no sense to her. He actually looked almost ready to smile by the time he was done with it, and he lifted it up in the air as if trying to see through it.
"The Midewiwin!" he said in an awed voice. Then, in a voice that was a bit more exultant than awed, "It took them long enough to send this!"
Charmian's brow arched. "Why do I have the feeling you had something to do with this?"
Stick-In-The-Dirt gestured at the piece of bark. "It would have been foolish of them not to recognize your potential. What you did with the wind was just one small sample of what you can do, and they do not even know that yet."
Charmian flushed. "I'm not powerful. I'm not even a medicine person. Don't you have to be a medicine person to get into the Mide Lodge?"
"This is often true, but not always. Some who join are merely ill and wish for a cure. Some can speak with the manitous, as you do." He waved at her when she opened her mouth. "Do not claim this is not a power. Some try their whole lives for just a tiny bit of such a medicine! And you learn it all in a year!"
And what if I don't qualify? Charmian felt like asking, yet didn't say it aloud. The medicine man seemed so cheerful now that she would have hated fouling his mood again. Instead she took the piece of bark back and said warily, "What am I supposed to do, then? I've heard of the Mide, but I don't know much about them."
"You are to present yourself at the lodge at the appointed time," Stick-In-The-Dirt said, pointing at a symbol on the scroll, "and if you are considered worthy, you will undergo initiation."
"What's that involve, exactly?" Charmian asked, not much caring for the sound of it.
"You must wait until and if you are accepted. But I feel you are already partly there." He looked at her vest. "The shell Yellow Turtle gave you. What have you done with it...?"
"You mean that little seashell?" Charmian dug in her pocket and pulled out the pouch, then retrieved the cowrie shell pendant. When Stick-In-The-Dirt gestured at his neck she frowned but put it on over her head. It dangled around her neck and she looked down at it.
"When I saw he had given you this shell," Stick-In-The-Dirt said, "then I knew that he considered you worthy."
"Worthy--?" Charmian glanced up at him. "You mean--Yellow Turtle? He was a Mide too?"
Stick-In-The-Dirt nodded. "And Silver Eagle Feather, and some of the most prominent men and women of our tribe. He did not practice medicine, as he was called to be our ogimah, yet he had been initiated." He pointed at her cowrie. "This was his once. He should have been buried with it...yet he decided to give it to you. This is not customary. Normally, you would get one of your own, at the initiation."
He was supposed to be BURIED with it? Charmian looked at the little shell on its string again, feeling uneasy. It felt strange to be wearing the necklace of a dead man. If he wanted me to have it so much that he broke custom, then it must mean something...
She took the shell between thumb and forefinger and rolled it around. "I don't think I'm qualified," she murmured.
"This is for the lodge to decide," Stick-In-The-Dirt replied. "Before you go before them, you should seek a vision. This is not mandatory, yet it might help you when you stand before them."
"A vision?" Charmian gawked. "But I don't know anything about that! Remember the LAST time you tried to get me to find a vision?"
Stick-In-The-Dirt bit his lip. "I wouldn't say it was entirely unsuccessful..."
"Manabozho showed up and ruined the whole thing! How was that successful? I sat there and sat there and then he shows up and practically hands me my spirit animal on a platter--and it's a BAT!" She threw up her hands. "How do you think I can do any better than that? I don't know a thing about visions--if I need one of those to help me, then I'm never going to get into the Mide Lodge. There's no way I'll ever qualify."
The expression on Stick-In-The-Dirt's face immediately changed, and she held her breath; it looked as if she'd hurt his feelings somehow. He turned away before she could ask him what she'd said wrong, and merely stared out at the lake again as if they hadn't even conversed. She looked at him for a long time, trying to figure out what had just happened, then went over what she'd said in her head a few times. For all she knew she'd insulted him without even knowing it, though he hadn't seemed quite that sensitive before.
Then for some reason her eyes were drawn to the little animals sketched on the rock all around them, and she stared at those for a moment or two. The more she looked, the more of them she saw. Bears, birds, deer, fish, turtles, foxes, beavers, bobcats, all sorts of them adorned the sides of Arch Rock, but especially turtles, which seemed to proliferate closer to where he sat. There was almost a chaos to them, as if they'd all been painted up there randomly yet with great urgency. Some were faded and old, and had apparently been here a long time; much longer than the time that had elapsed since Yellow Turtle's death, at least.
He's been painting them here for years, she thought, and while that in itself didn't seem so strange, the odd chaotic jumble of every animal imaginable did. There seemed to be almost too many of them.
She turned her head to look at the medicine man, who still stared at the lake, and suddenly a feeling of sadness pressed itself upon her.
"Stick," she said softly. "You never had a vision, did you?"
Stick-In-The-Dirt's shoulders hunched in a sort of flinch. She immediately felt bad and wished she hadn't asked the question, when he started speaking.
"Every young man, when he comes of age, goes out to find a vision," he murmured. "The girls, not as often, but boys are expected to do it. When I was the right age my father sent me into the woods. I was to remain there alone--no food, no water, no sleep--as long as it took until I received my vision. I wandered and found a place to sit. I stayed there for three full days." He paused. "I did not see a thing. And so on the morning of the fourth day I went back home."
"What did your dad do?" Charmian asked.
"He told me that perhaps I had simply not concentrated hard enough, or stayed long enough. And so a few days later, he sent me out to try again. This time, I stayed for five days, and I did my best not to doze off once. I concentrated as hard as I could, even though my head was swirling and my body was weak. By the sixth morning I had not seen anything. This time my mother came out and brought me back, as I was too weak to walk on my own. My father still insisted I had not tried hard enough, though I did not know what else I could do." He paused again and rubbed one of the amulets hanging from his neck. "And so, perhaps a week or so later, out he sent me again, and said to me that I could continue doing this until a vision presented itself. I sat in the woods for eight days. I prayed to Gitchi Manitou as hard as I could for a vision, any vision." His hand slipped away from the necklace and he stared out at the lake. "I did not see anything."
He fell silent, and Charmian waited a while for him to continue. When he didn't, she prompted, "So what did you do then?"
Stick-In-The-Dirt shrugged slightly. "The only thing I could think of to do. When my father came to get me, I made up a lie. I made it as grandiose as I could. I told him I had seen all sorts of wondrous things, trees and animals and lights in the sky. When he asked me what animals I had seen I named as many as I could think of--wolves and foxes and coyotes, and bears and elk and moose, and deer and porcupines and hawks and beavers. But when he asked me which animal had presented itself the most I had run out of grandiose things to say, so I merely blurted out the last one that came to mind." He looked down at the pendant he'd been touching and held it out in his hand, and Charmian saw its distinctive shape.
"A turtle?" she asked.
Stick-In-The-Dirt nodded. "Father was pleased, and said that immediately I would begin training for the profession my animal had chosen for me...I did not know at the time that the turtle is the totem of the medicine men." He sighed. "I found that out soon enough."
"You didn't even want to be a medicine man?" Charmian asked in disbelief.
He shrugged again. "I did not know yet what I wanted to be. I was not nearly strong enough to be a warrior, nor skilled enough to be a hunter or a trapper. I did not feel I was meant to be a medicine man either, yet I could hardly take back what I'd said, and there was nothing else left for me anyway. This is the only path I've ever followed." He looked at the turtle pendant again with what seemed to be a mixture of resignation and regret. "I am not nearly so skilled as most medicine men are, and I know many of them are laughing at me behind my back. But at least it is something."
Charmian pushed herself to her feet so abruptly that he glanced up at her with a puzzled look. She started dusting herself off and turned back to the bluff.
"Where are you going?" he asked.
"Just to take care of a few things," Charmian said. "Then I'm going to have to get myself ready to show up at the lodge."
Stick-In-The-Dirt blinked, then stood up himself, careful not to hit his head on the rock. "You are going to the Mide--?" he asked in surprise, leaning on the rock and peering up at her as she started climbing.
"Of course." Charmian glanced back over her shoulder at him, grasping onto a clump of weeds. "Somebody's gonna have to have a vision sometime, aren't they?" And with this she continued climbing up the bluff, leaving the medicine man behind with a bewildered look on his face.
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