Charmian learns an awful secret about an old friend...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Return To Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 56: Hogging All The Glory"
MANABOZHO SAT ATOP one of the numerous craggy outcroppings of rock lying below the space where he was certain he and the group had fallen from the Sky Tree to tumble to the bottom of the slope far below. That same slope--if he'd remembered correctly--now spread up before him, brilliant green and littered with the same rough white and gray rocks which were tumbled around where he now sat. The only trees within sight were pines and birches, but out here the land was pretty much open. He found that that bothered him. He was used to having trees everywhere he went. It was too easy to be seen here.
He looked up at the slope, but nothing stood atop it besides more rocks. He let out an irritated sigh. So much for going on ahead.
The wind gusted over the rock he sat upon and he drew in on himself, only half-consciously lifting a pendant from around his neck and holding it in his hands, looking it over. It was a piece of shell carved in the shape of a rabbit. He rubbed his thumb over the smooth brownish surface, over the tiny black dot of its eye. Then he turned the pendant over.
The opposite side was pearly white, yet it also bore an eye, bright red. The rabbit was stretched out, as if leaping. Manabozho stared at the white rabbit for a long time, his eyes distant.
Rustling noises came from the other slope heading downward behind him. He quickly let the pendant drop back to his chest and glanced over his shoulder, expecting to see Charmian and the others making their way through the grass, but nothing was there aside from a pair of deer passing through. Manabozho's tensed muscles relaxed and he sighed, giving them a cross look. Then he turned to stare up at the empty slope once more, as if trying to will the Sky Tree into appearance.
* * * * *
"I think...I would've preferred...the two rocks."
Charmian had to suck in a great breath between every few words, as Marten's shortcut was proving to be not very short at all. She and the others in her group had been reduced to trekking up an increasingly steep trail, and the air was beginning to grow thin. Charmian rode Mani only partway before feeling too guilty to continue, as even the manitou was starting to tire. Thomas, Cloud, and Moon Wolf didn't seem much better; the only exception was Pakwa, who drifted overhead, occasionally disappearing and then reappearing again, licking his fingers. Charmian cast him a dark look.
Marten appeared on the trail ahead of them and she remembered that he too was an exception. "Come ON!" he yelled, waving his hands. "What's taking you so long, anyway? I told you it's right up to the top of this cliff!"
Charmian put her hand on her knee to push herself up. "Did you...ever stop to think...that GETTING to the top of the cliff...might take longer than the rest of your shortcut?!"
Marten frowned and rubbed his ear. "I don't know...Glooskap hasn't taught me that kind of math yet." He started hopping around. "But it never takes me this long! It's always way shorter than that old forest!"
Thomas gave him the same dirty look Charmian had. "I might be wrong but didn't you just turn into a bird and fly up here...?"
Marten's face went red and he turned and hopped back up the trail and out of sight.
Charmian sighed and wiped her brow. "Maybe I should've kept that cap of his! Then we could've taken turns using it to get up here!"
"Are we expected to just jump off the other side or something?" Thomas asked. The others all looked at him and he stared back. "What...?"
Charmian suddenly stumbled and fell onto one knee with a grimace. The others stopped and moved around her as she tried to push herself up.
"I'm okay...just a bruise. I wish this stupid trail wasn't so steep!"
Thomas took Cloud's reins. "I'll go ahead a bit and see if it gets any easier. If it doesn't, then I'll catch that little beast and have him find some other path out of here. This is just getting ridiculous."
Mani whistled. Can look up over the cliff for other pathways.
Thomas turned to look at Charmian. "Moon Wolf can keep an eye on me," she said. He nodded and gestured at Mani.
"You go up that way...and I'll see if I can find Marten before he gets too far."
Mani took a step back, wiggled his hindquarters, and then leapt up at an outcropping overhead, just barely managing to scale it; the clattering of his hooves echoed for a moment or two until he vanished from sight. Thomas and Cloud disappeared further up the trail. Pakwa, apparently bored with the whole deal, drifted down to the outcropping Mani had just vacated and appeared to fall asleep.
"There's a ledge over there," Moon Wolf suggested, pointing ahead. "We can rest there until they return."
Charmian suppressed a sigh and tried not to limp too much as they made their way over to the ledge and sat down. Her knee didn't hurt very badly, as even Mani hadn't been much hindered by it, but the thought of resting for a while was too much to pass up. She stretched her sore leg out before her and they both looked out over the dark expanse of treetops far below. Charmian picked up the cowrie shell hanging around her neck and rolled it around in her fingers.
Moon Wolf turned his head slightly to look at her. Charmian looked down at the shell.
"Did you ever try to join the Midewiwin?"
In response he reached for his own necklaces and pulled one up for her to see. She sat forward and recognized the same sort of cowrie shell that Stick-In-The-Dirt and everyone else at the lodge meeting had had.
"You were one of them, then?" she asked in surprise.
Moon Wolf replaced the pendant. "Once," he said.
"You're not one of them anymore?"
"One is not normally a Mide and a wabano at the same time. This is frowned upon by the lodge."
"So, you left the Mide to become a wabano?" Her brow furrowed a little bit and she sat back. "I thought maybe you tried to join them but they wouldn't take you, so that was why you became one." She chewed on her lip. "You never did answer me very much about why you became one...it sounds like everybody knows there's a big price involved. So why did you give up the Mide to do that?"
Moon Wolf stared at the trees a moment more, then lifted his head slightly as if looking at something higher, although all that was left was sky. "I was foolish," he finally said; Charmian thought that was all he was going to say, and so was surprised when he continued. "The way of the Mide is long and difficult, and there is never any immediate gain. The Mide path is also a path of respect and humility, of asking the spirits for what we need, when they will not always grant it. When one is young, they think all about power. Being a wabano is about gaining power. Without having to ask for it or earn it. But everything eventually carries a price. I did not realize this until afterwards."
"So that was why you quit the Mide, and then stopped being a wabano." Charmian paused, then sat forward again. "So if power's what you really wanted, then why quit? The way people talk about you on the Island, you must've had some kind of power, which means you already paid for it. So why did you never make use of it?"
There was an even longer wait this time. Moon Wolf moved his hand and looked down into it. Charmian followed his stare and saw that he was holding his old silver wolf-and-moon pendant, the one that had been pierced through by Ocryana's horn. She frowned a little on seeing it again, wondering what he could be thinking about.
"The price seemed like little at the time," he murmured. "Only afterwards did I realize how steep it was."
That's what he keeps saying. How come he won't just tell me what he means? Charmian got up and moved to sit beside him. He continued staring at the pendant, and she stared at it as well.
"I'm sorry I never got to keep my promise about that..."
Moon Wolf's hand closed over the pendant. "It does not matter," he said, looking out at the trees again as if the necklace had simply vanished.
Charmian couldn't tell if he really meant this, or if he were peeved that she hadn't followed through with her end of the bargain. She sighed and drew her uninjured leg underneath her, wrapping her arms around her knee.
"So...where did you get your powers?"
Moon Wolf's grip on the pendant grew tighter. A moment passed, then he stood and turned from the ledge, walking back toward the trail. Charmian's brow furrowed in confusion and she pushed herself up to follow him. Luckily for her he went only a few paces, to where the trail curved sharply, overlooking the forest below, and here he sat again. She had to pick her way around him as the precipitous drop made her anxious. She leaned against the cliff wall to keep her balance.
"I already know wabanos don't ask for their power," she said. "Stick already told me about you. I know you didn't use that power, either, so it's okay." He didn't answer so she bent down, even though a small pain shot through her knee. "What is it, already?" she asked in frustration. "You taught me everything you know, but you never even told me about yourself. I had to learn from Stick. I'm not mad that you were ever a wabano, I just want to know why you went to such trouble for such power, and then gave it all up. Was it from some bad manitou? Or something like Chakenapok? Is that why you can't talk about it?" When he still didn't respond, not even to look at her, she couldn't help but clench her fists, feeling a brief surge of irritation with him. "It's me, Charmian! You can tell me anything! What's so bad about where you got your powers from that you can't just tell me--?"
Her voice cut off. The look on Moon Wolf's face had changed, though she couldn't say how. Her gaze drifted down to the silver pendant he held in his hand and he was clutching it so tightly that his knuckles had gone white. His thumb pressed against the hole punctured in it, and in the back of Charmian's head, some vague memory surfaced.
"...Atone," she murmured, after a long pause. Moon Wolf at last turned his head to look at her, but she was the one who didn't meet his eyes this time. Her brow furrowed slightly as she replayed the memory in her mind.
"You said you were going to atone for everything," she said softly. "When you were fighting with Ocryana. You said you would atone for everything that led up to that moment." She paused. "People only atone when they've done something wrong." She lifted her head, and met his eyes.
"You got your powers from Ocryana."
Moon Wolf said nothing, though the look in his eyes told her it was true. The different pieces of her memories of her last time here--some of them missing, or not making sense--started tumbling into place. "That's why she knew you," she went on. "She greeted you. The two of you talked like you knew each other. That's why. You made a bargain with her. She's the one who gave you your powers." A pause. "Ocryxes don't give something for nothing." She pushed herself to her feet again and he promptly followed suit so they both stood facing each other.
"What did you pay her?" Charmian asked, not certain if she wished to know.
Moon Wolf's mouth opened slightly, but he said nothing. He seemed stricken, somehow. Charmian clenched her fists again.
"You said the payment was too much. That it was a part of yourself. Whatever it was, it was so much that you gave up the powers you got in return for it!" She had to fight to keep her voice from shrilling as she felt all sorts of indescribable emotions--confusion, disbelief, anger, and a million more less pleasant--rise up in her chest, tangling and fighting with each other. Part of her mind screamed at her to just stop asking, and to keep on not knowing, yet her mouth disobeyed and she yelled, "What did you pay her?"
The stricken look didn't leave Moon Wolf's eyes--if anything, it looked even closer to panic now. This made no sense to her--why would he panic? What could possibly be so awful that he couldn't tell her about it? It seemed like it couldn't get any worse than it already was, but something in his face told her it could. She clenched her fists, ready to shout again, when a muffled clunk caught her attention. She looked down to see that the silver wolf-and-moon pendant had slipped from Moon Wolf's hand and fallen to the ground. It landed in the dust and stayed there, gleaming dully, and when she looked back up at his hand she saw that his fingers were bleeding from pressing against the jagged hole in the metal. Her eyes rose to meet his once more, and the last piece of the puzzle which she hadn't been able to figure out fell into place. She opened her mouth, but no sound came out. She felt her eyes start to sting, and if she had cared, she would have sworn it looked as if Moon Wolf's eyes had grown shinier as well.
"That's why," she said in a small, quavery voice. She took a step back. "That's why you made me promise."
He took a step toward her, but she stepped backwards again as well, keeping the gap between them. Her eyes welled up and her shoulders started shaking but she didn't care if she cried in front of him or not.
"Shadow Water," she said. "She was the payment. She's your daughter--isn't she?"
Moon Wolf's shoulders slumped slightly and his eyes parted from hers. Charmian's vision blurred just then, so she didn't get to see if he had any other reaction. "How could you do that?" she whispered. "How could you just give her up like that...?" She blinked the tears from her eyes and clenched her fists again, her voice rising. "How could you just GIVE her to Ocryana like that? Do you have any idea what Ocryana DID to her all that time--?"
"I did not know until after she had been born!" Moon Wolf shouted in return. "There was nothing I could do!"
Charmian flung her arms toward the ground. "YOU COULD'VE USED YOUR STUPID POWERS, FOR ONE THING!" she screamed. "Since THEY'RE what was so important in the first place! Even if you didn't know at first, she was with Ocryana for YEARS! And you didn't ONCE try to help her? You didn't ONCE try to get her back?"
The stricken look returned to Moon Wolf's face. "I did not know," he said, his voice barely a whisper. "It was too late."
Charmian pounded her foot against the ground. "It's NEVER too late! I can't believe you would do that to anyone! And then never do anything to fix it! If you got your powers from Ocryana, I could live with that. Everybody makes a mistake. And you never used them. But this? That whole time you were teaching me how to save the Island--you couldn't even go save one person! YOU were the one who put her there--you were even ready to kill her if you had to! You're just as bad as Ocryana!"
Moon Wolf opened his mouth, his eyes grief stricken, but Charmian whirled away before he could speak. She started back up the path in the direction Marten and Thomas had gone before spinning back around, giving Moon Wolf the most hateful look she could muster.
"If that's how little you think of somebody who's part of you," she shouted, "then I hate to think of what you think of me!"
She whirled away again, her strides up the path so long and fast that she nearly stumbled again; she raked one hand across her eyes to angrily wipe away the tears that were already streaming down. She rounded a small turn in the path and nearly collided with Thomas, who was returning with Cloud behind him. He jumped and pressed himself to the wall with a startled look as she swept past.
Charmian went on without giving him a second look. Thomas frowned and glanced back at Moon Wolf, who still stood where she'd left him, looking as if he'd been lost. Thomas stared at his forlorn figure for a moment before turning to look in the direction Charmian had gone, but by then she was already out of sight.
* * * * *
Marten sat atop the high cliff, bouncing a pebble from hand to hand, tail flicking idly from side to side. He hopped to his feet when Charmian appeared over the rise, gasping and huffing with obvious strain yet not slowing her step one bit. He tilted his head in puzzlement to see the tearstains on her face but didn't question.
"Wow! You made it here before everybody else!"
Charmian stalked right to the edge of the cliff and looked over it. "So what does one do?" she said in a sharp voice. "Jump off?"
Marten tilted his head again. "Well, yes, though..."
He found himself talking to empty air. Charmian had already leapt off the cliff and gone plummeting away. Marten stared over the edge with wide eyes and then rubbed at one ear, impressed.
"Wow. She's brave!"
* * * * *
Rustling noises emerged from the grassy glade again. Manabozho turned to look over his shoulder almost boredly, then saw that the shape making its way through the tall grass wasn't a deer at all. He stood up and shielded his eyes to see Charmian slashing at the grass stalks, trudging like a giant smashing a series of houses with its feet. He watched her progress from the opposite side of the glade, down to the bottom, and up the near side, past rock outcroppings and loose boulders. By the time she reached him she was gasping for breath, her hair damp, and he could have sworn she'd been crying. The look on her face was such that he took a step to the side, not wanting to get in her way.
"Where's everybody else?" he asked as she stormed past him.
"They're coming!" Charmian snapped loud enough to make him wince, and she continued up to the very top of the slope without him.
"But..." Manabozho managed to lift his hand and get out one word before thinking better of it and watching her go. He looked into the empty glade and at the dark forest, then back up at Charmian, and frowned, but thought better of asking any questions, and instead resumed his seat and decided to wait until later.
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