Charmian plays host to an unusual reunion...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Return To Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 42: Reclamation"
Back In The Land Of The Living
CHARMIAN SUCKED IN a breath. Moon Wolf's eyes cleared, changing from yellow to dark and fixing on her own; and then, weakly, he spoke.
Charmian stared at him for what seemed to be forever, before the sight of him blurred. Tears welled up in her eyes and then she bent down and hugged him as best as she could, considering that he was still lying on the ground. She squeezed her eyes shut, the tears streaming down her face.
"I can't believe you're really back," she said, her voice cracking.
He didn't say anything in response, but she didn't much care. She had to finally detach herself from him, sitting up and wiping at her streaming eyes; Moon Wolf carefully pushed himself upright, wincing and holding a hand to his chest. He looked confused, and kept blinking as if the sunlight hurt his eyes.
"What are you doing here?" he asked.
Charmian managed a watery smile, still wiping at her eyes. "I've been wanting to ask you the same thing!"
Moon Wolf's reaction was to turn his head and look around himself. He saw the trees and woods surrounding them on all sides, the path stretching out ahead of and behind them, and his perplexed look grew.
"The Island...?" he said uncertainly.
Charmian nodded. "Manitou Island." Her smile faded. "You don't remember?" She paused, then said softly, "You died, Moon Wolf. A long time ago." She pulled out the silver breastplate and held it up for him to see the hole Ocryana's horn had punctured through it. "Remember...?"
Moon Wolf looked at the pendant, and it was as if something--some hint of recognition--flashed in his eyes; Charmian could very nearly see the image he must be reliving in her own mind, the medicine man facing off against the demon with nothing but a knife--her horn stabbing through the silver necklace and into his chest, the blood flowing from the wound as his eyes and his life faded away...
The look of confusion faded from his face a little, and his eyes seemed somewhat distant. "I remember..." he murmured. Then his eyes cleared and he frowned again. "But...if this is so...then what am I doing back here? How did I come back?"
Charmian frowned this time. "You mean you don't remember that, either?" She held out her arms for him to see. "You've been trying to kill me the past several days! It took everything I could stand just to get through to you again! There's this creepy guy named Chakenapok, and he's been controlling you...but...you should know all this already." She rubbed at her head. "I thought you could tell me how you came back." She paused, then her face lit up. "The Spirit Road! Do you remember that? Stick said it takes four days to walk it. Do you remember anything of that at all?"
Moon Wolf's brow furrowed and his hand clenched slightly at his knee as he appeared to ponder her question. "I remember being wounded," he said, "and everything growing dark...I remember wandering somewhere...perhaps it was the Road...but..." He trailed off, then said, "I do not remember anything after this. You said I was brought back? Somebody brought me here?"
Charmian nodded. "I think it was this Chakenapok...I don't know how, but it seems like he can do that sort of thing. He was killed himself, maybe that's why he's able." She waved when he gave her a strange look. "It's a really long story."
"I gave you those wounds?" He looked at her arms.
She nodded again, then pressed them to her middle. "It's okay...you didn't know you were doing it. He's been controlling you for a while now. You were a bigger pain in the neck then than you were back when you trained me!" She got to her feet and took hold of his arm. He managed to push himself to his feet without much difficulty, though he did make a face and rub at his jaw as soon as he stood, then looked down at himself, then at the clearing with its mutilated trees and earth. He glanced back at Charmian with an expression she couldn't have described even if she'd wanted to.
"Yeah, you did that too," she said. "Except for your jaw. I did that."
Moon Wolf blinked in open surprise. Charmian gestured and then turned around, making her way slowly back up the trail. "We can go back to Stick's tribe...I'll see if I can call Justin, to take care of these, then maybe Stick can help us figure out what's going on. There has to be some reason why Chakenapok chose you to bring back from the dead; we just have to find out why."
She sensed him pause, then heard him follow. He caught up with and walked beside her, looking her over; he seemed slightly embarrassed, so she didn't say anything. "I gave you all of those injuries?" he said, after a few failed attempts to speak; she nodded, then hid a grimace of her own when her left arm throbbed, as if on cue.
"You didn't know what you were doing. It's okay. I know Chakenapok was just making you do all that." She paused. "Still..." He looked down at her again. "It was kind of scary, fighting you off again. Especially knowing you could've killed me if Chakenapok had wanted you to." She remembered when he'd wielded the two spears directly above her, and shivered.
Moon Wolf looked back up the trail. "You are lucky you are not dead," he said; then, "Or you are much more skilled than even I thought."
Charmian blinked. Had he just complimented her?
A whistling noise came from ahead, and she gasped. "Mani!" She broke into a run--or at least an awkward lope--Moon Wolf still following. They reached the place where she'd left the manitou before; he'd managed to prop himself up against a tree, holding up his injured leg, and whistled again when she drew near. She stooped down beside him and gingerly touched the wound while Moon Wolf approached, staring at them both in turn. Mani looked at him, then lowered his head and gave a low whistle.
Mask one hurt Red Land One?
Charmian shook her head. "No, it's okay...he's better now. He won't hurt anybody else." She stood. "I'm going to get some help for my arm...I don't think you can make it back to the camp with your leg like that, but once mine is taken care of yours should be fine too. Do you think you'll be safe out here?"
Mani whistled and bobbed his head. Get arm taken care of. Will be safe; Red Land One not hurt anymore.
He's more concerned about my wound than about his own, Charmian thought, and her eyes stung. She smiled at the manitou and patted his furry shoulder, taking a step away. She hesitated when Moon Wolf stooped down beside Mani next and started wrapping moss and leaves around his leg. She saw that he'd taken the leather cords from a couple of his necklaces to hold the makeshift bandages in place. Mani stared as he did so, then flexed his leg a little when Moon Wolf stood and turned back to Charmian. He saw her arms again and she could have sworn she saw guilt flicker in his eyes.
"You should have them tended to," he said, "before you lose any more blood."
Charmian nodded. She felt that questioning him might embarrass him further, and so turned back to the trail, taking it away from that part of the woods. She waved at Mani one last time before he disappeared from sight, and then she and Moon Wolf walked the path alone.
They went in silence for a while before she carefully pulled out the silver pendant again, looking it over. She peered up at him and saw that he noticed it, and felt a little embarrassed herself.
"You told me to give it to Shadow Water," she said, then averted her eyes. "I forgot to do that the last time I was here...do you still want her to have it?"
"What?" The question came out abruptly, as if she'd caught him offguard; he blinked a few times, then seemed to gather himself again. "No," he said, and held out his hand so she gave it to him. "It's all right." He tucked it away and she wanted to ask him what that had been about, but decided not to. The silence between them was already awkward enough.
Can I really blame him? First he's getting gored by Ocryana, then the next thing he knows he's back here and he sees all of this...I'd be a little confused, myself.
She wanted to ask him why he thought Chakenapok would have brought him back to life--before remembering that he shouldn't have any memory of who Chakenapok even was. She sighed to herself. Go figure that the only one who might be able to shed a little light on the situation was the only one who had no memory of it. Had he never had a memory to begin with, or was that something else Chakenapok had done...?
Thinking about it too much at the moment was pointless. She reminded herself that his own thoughts were probably a lot more muddled than even hers were, and decided to hold off on any more questions until a better time. Like after their injuries were seen to.
She peered at him from the corner of her eye. He stared at the path as if neither of them were even there, and she could tell he was wondering over things himself. "Moon Wolf?" she said, and that snapped him out of his thoughts. He turned his head to look at her and she offered a slight smile.
"I'm really glad you're back."
He stared at her with the same look of surprise he'd had before. She turned away before she could embarrass him and they turned onto the trail to Stick-In-The-Dirt's camp.
* * * * *
Chakenapok watched the two walking through the woods in the hazy image that floated before him. He held his hand and rubbed his stinging fingers, an unpleasant look on his face.
So...she's a little more resourceful than I thought. I don't know where she got this power...
He pulled his hand away and shook it abruptly, as if shrugging off the last bits of the pain. He waved his other hand sharply and the image faded away. His yellow eyes narrowed.
"As if it matters much more anyway. One little trick doesn't win the game. And I have plenty of more impressive tricks at my own disposal." He looked again at the little dark crystal he'd fashioned earlier, then folded his fingers around it and allowed himself a twitch of a smile.
"When the time is right, of course." He looked at where the image of the two had been and his smile grew.
"You win back your playing piece, Mainlander. But I have plenty more to go before we're through."
* * * * *
Gasps and small shrieks started filling the camp as the women and children began darting to and fro, mothers grabbing up their young ones and rushing back to shut themselves in their wigwams, a few of the men retrieving their weapons and standing just out of reach at the far sides of the clearing, looking ready to fire their arrows or throw their tomahawks if need be. Charmian felt like sinking into the ground as she escorted Moon Wolf into the camp. She could only imagine how he must feel, being the object of such intense scrutiny. She cringed at every cry she could make out as they passed.
"The wabano! He's back! Back from the dead!"
"His spirit's come back to haunt us!"
"I knew that girl practiced bad medicine! She's brought him right back to torment us!"
"It's not like that!" Charmian cried in frustration. She waved her arms, but that only made the women shriek and hide their faces again. By now most of them had disappeared as it was, and she found mostly arrows and ax heads facing her instead. "He's not dead! I mean--he was, but--it's not what you think--"
She cut herself off and glanced wildly around the camp, hoping for a friendly face. She knew Silver Eagle Feather would have understood if she were there, but the medicine woman was nowhere to be found. At last she noticed that one of the women hadn't fled--it was Morning Star, and she was standing not too far from the campfire, holding a pot of water and giving them both a puzzled look. She glanced around the camp herself as Charmian dragged Moon Wolf toward her.
"What are they yelling about...?" Morning Star asked when they reached her. "One would think they had seen a monster or something..."
"It's a long story," Charmian said. "Is Stick here?"
"No, but he should be returning soon..."
"Can we stay at your place until then? He'll be able to sort this out...I don't like the thought of standing out here much longer!" She nervously eyed the men with their weapons, and sighed with relief when Morning Star turned back to the wigwam.
"Of course." She noticed Charmian's arms when she held the doorflap open for them to enter, and frowned, then met her eyes.
"Should I be asking...?"
Charmian flushed. "Um...it's nothing. Just ask Stick, and he'll tell you I show up like this all the time."
Morning Star's expression changed. "You should perhaps seek another path," she said, but then entered the wigwam herself. Charmian sighed again, relieved that that was the most of her questions, and gestured Moon Wolf inside before following and letting the flap swing shut.
* * * * *
Stick-In-The-Dirt, for his part, took Moon Wolf's reappearance about as well as the rest of the tribe. Charmian watched his hands as he bound her arms, replacing the bandages Morning Star had just removed, and sensed it was sheer luck that kept him from tying her up like a mummy, his hands shook so badly. He hardly even looked at what he was doing, he was so preoccupied with staring at the other medicine man seated in the shadows. A few times Charmian tugged slightly on her arm to draw his attention, but it kept wandering back to the corner. If this had been the mainland, she wondered if she would have sought a lawsuit against him for negligence.
"He really came back from the dead?" asked White Deer, who was seated near the fire alongside her and Morning Star. Every so often Morning Star would rise to do one thing or another, once in a while seeing to Moon Wolf, before returning to her seat; Charmian realized her calmness was due to her not ever having known Moon Wolf before. White Deer seemed more awed and curious than afraid.
"I'm guessing that's how it went," Charmian said, feeling a twinge of exasperation. How many times could she explain this? "Ocryana did kill him--at least, it looked like she did."
"He was dead," Stick-In-The-Dirt whispered shakily. "I tended to his burial myself! There was not a trace of life to him!" He leaned toward Charmian now, still holding her arm up suspended by bandages. "Did you actually see him return...? How did he retrieve his body? This is what I fail to understand!"
Charmian tugged on her arm and he automatically started wrapping it again. "I didn't see that part," she muttered. "He was already...back when I first saw him. I'm guessing Chakenapok had something to do with that. Remember what I thought about before? Chakenapok was killed himself when he was a baby; maybe that's how he has power over life and death. He must've gotten control of Moon Wolf's spirit somehow."
"But the body withers away without the spirit," Stick-In-The-Dirt insisted. "Chakenapok must have retrieved his body somehow, as well. How and why would he do this?"
"I was hoping you might know that one, since you're the medicine man and all."
Stick-In-The-Dirt flushed. "I do not know this type of medicine! And I do not want to!" He finished binding her arm and then turned his attention to the other one. "Have you asked him yet...?"
"He doesn't remember." Charmian peered over his shoulder when Morning Star got up and went to see to Moon Wolf again, handing him a bowl of something to drink; even as he tipped it to his mouth she saw him staring at them, and felt her ears go warm. She turned back to the fire. "We should stop talking about him like he's in another time zone! This happened to him, so he has every right to hear about it, too." She raised her voice and stopped whispering. "Like I said, maybe Chakenapok's own death gave him this kind of power. As for why he picked Moon Wolf, I get this distinct feeling he was trying to push my buttons--play a game with me," she clarified, seeing the phrase made no sense to her listeners. "Chakenapok thinks of everything in terms of a big game. He said I was one of his playing pieces. So it stands to reason that Moon Wolf is--was--one, too. He talks like he knows me; maybe he's been watching everybody for a long time." Or even right now, a voice in her head said, and she suppressed a shiver. "Either way, it looks like so far he's been using what things he knows will get to someone the most--the Shadow Wolves have gotten to the Michinimakinong and the manitous, as they're their brothers, and Moon Wolf got to me. He's looking for weak spots to take advantage of."
"So if Moon Wolf had beaten you, he'd have won the game?" White Deer asked.
Charmian paused, then shook her head. "I don't think so," she murmured. "He told me that he wasn't interested in me...I was just a game piece. It's someone else he's after."
"Perhaps he is like this demon you all speak of," Morning Star said from her side of the room. "The one who wished to destroy the Island."
Charmian shook her head again. "He said he wasn't interested in the Island, either...he's just interested in this game of his." She paused again. "And the whole point of the game is revenge."
Moon Wolf lifted his head and gave her a look. Stick-In-The-Dirt's and White Deer's looks were about the same. "I don't know all the details of it yet," Charmian admitted. "But as soon as I do, you can be sure I'll be all over it. I have a few suspicions already."
If it's not the Island, or Tal Natha, or me that he's after, then I have a pretty good guess...I think I would be a more than a little pissed off toward the one who killed ME!
She chewed on her lip when this thought simply led to another, and rubbed at her left arm when Stick-In-The-Dirt finished with the bandages. "Are you going to the Dupries house now?" he asked, merely to change the subject.
Charmian slowly shook her head. "I'll be fine...thanks for taking care of these." She carefully got to her feet, wincing a bit at the pain which still crept up and down her arm. White Deer and Moon Wolf rose as well.
"Where do you go to now?" White Deer asked.
"To sort a few more things out," Charmian said vaguely. She could tell her answer frustrated the young woman but she didn't clarify. "Maybe soon I'll be able to figure out what exactly this guy is trying to prove." She looked uncertainly at the doorflap. "Um...is it safe to go out there yet...?"
White Deer hurried forward and poked her head out. "There are still a few peering this way...but not nearly so many as when we arrived. I was certain they would have burned the wigwam down, if they hadn't known you could just put it out if you wished!"
Charmian put her hands to her face. "I don't want them all SCARED of me!" She sighed. "Well, we'd better get going before they get interested again...I don't much like the thought of walking around in the dark in this place anymore."
White Deer insisted on accompanying them as far as the mouth of the trail, walking on Moon Wolf's other side as if to shield him from the suspicious stares of the few people still watching them. Charmian hated the thought that she'd drawn even more negative attention Stick-In-The-Dirt's way, but she had bigger things to consider than that.
"Your manitou," Moon Wolf said as soon as they walked alone again, dusk beginning to gather around them. "You didn't seek out the healer, and your arms are still badly wounded."
"Truthfully?" Charmian said. "I get the feeling that if he could walk again so easily, he'd come right after me...and I don't think I want for him to do that just now. If he can't look after himself, his tribemates will come for him. If I get hurt any worse I want him to be where he can be tended to, not by me where he can just end up killed or something."
Moon Wolf's brow furrowed. He looked almost angry, but she could tell he'd merely seen through her evasiveness. "You thought of something back there. Why this 'Chakenapok' person would have chosen me to bring back. What did you not wish to tell them?"
"He definitely brought you back to get at me," Charmian said. "I've figured that much out already on my own. I think your death just happened to be good timing for him. If not you, then he would've just chosen somebody else close to me...but that's what I'm not quite getting."
"Why he would want to..." Charmian trailed off and slowed to a stop, lifting her head and looking up into the trees. Moon Wolf stopped and followed suit, frowning in puzzlement when nothing met their eyes but leaves and sky.
"What is it?" he asked.
Charmian continued scanning the branches until one patch of shadow looked more distinct than the rest, and her eyes fixed straight on those of someone else staring right back at her. Her hand twitched.
"We're being watched."
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