A warning to Black Elk Horn goes unheeded, but Francois proves helpful...
|Main story folder & table of contents: "Return To Manitou Island"
Previous chapter: "Part 80: The Road Less Taken"
CHARMIAN, MANI, THOMAS, Marten, and Manabozho and his siblings trekked their way carefully up the bluff, shielding their faces from the onslaught of snow. Charmian chattered even inside all of her winter clothing, and Manabozho and his brothers weren't doing much better. Mudjikawiss attempted to keep his face blank, but his jaw quivered, and he looked as if he wanted nothing more than to rub his arms to get warm. Manabozho and Peepaukawiss chattered openly, feathers quaking.
"I don't see why you don't just turn yourself into a furry little rabbit," Charmian said, her voice muffled by her clothing.
Manabozho made a face. "Be quiet and keep walking! I have b-better things to do than shapeshift for your v-viewing enjoyment!"
Thomas furrowed his brow and glanced over his shoulder. "That was him following you around as a little rabbit--?"
Charmian grimaced. "Remind me to explain later..."
Thomas just shook his head and turned back to face the bluff. "Never mind, I've heard stranger things by now."
Marten hopped up onto Manabozho's shoulder, puffing his tail and brushing it against his neck. "I can keep you warm!" he offered. "Just like a nice warm scarf!"
Manabozho responded by grabbing the Mikumwesu by the tail and hurling him into the snow. He landed with his feet sticking out, waving back and forth; Puka snatched him up and mashed him to his breast, giving his younger brother an evil look.
"Stop tossing him about like that! The poor little THING! Besides--" and he placed Marten around his own neck "--he looks MUCH better on ME!"
"Like that," Thomas said to no one in particular. "Strange things, like that."
Mani whistled and bumped against Charmian so she grabbed onto his antler. He helped pull her the rest of the way up to the top of the bluff, and the others scurried up after them. They stood here for a moment, shaking and shivering, looking around themselves. The blizzard had abated enough so that they could see vaguely through the trees, yet the heavy covering of snow, upon the ground and especially upon all of the leafy branches, obscured their sight in other ways.
"I hate to think of what these poor trees must be going through," Charmian murmured, looking around. "Are we near Stick's tribe...?"
Mani whistled and tilted his head to the left. Slightly more this way. Come.
He started walking and everyone followed. "They should at least be told what's going on," Charmian explained. "And maybe they know the exact way to this cave we need to find."
She thought over what Geezhigo-Quae had told her of the strange cave, before they had departed from the Fairy Realm, and rubbed her chilly hands together.
Are the Weavers dangerous at all?
For the most part, no. They would rather hide than fight. I have never known any of them to venture aboveground; you may be hard pressed to even see them.
So, we won't get attacked once we go in the cave...?
Not by the Weavers. However, I cannot guarantee that some other creatures have not taken up residence in the cave, in the meantime...
This comment had been enough to make Manabozho and Mudjikawiss scowl, but Charmian decided it was worth the risk. The worst thing that could be waiting there was Shadow Wolves, or Chakenapok himself; and she much doubted the latter, which left only the former.
Speaking of, where have they all been lately? I haven't been attacked by a Wolf in a good long time now. This thought made her uneasy, and she huddled in on herself as they tramped through snow almost up to their middles. Best to not even think about it...now that I thought about it, they'll probably be coming at me from all sides!
A flicker of light finally emerged from the trees ahead, and she craned her neck to get a better look. Mani whistled, and a bunch of small dark shapes began appearing in the snow. Charmian waved, relieved.
"There it is! It looks like everyone's okay!"
They neared the camp and set foot onto level land which had been mostly cleared of snow; a gaggle of small children dressed in heavy furs gathered around them, yelling and tugging on their arms. Charmian couldn't stop herself from being pulled along by them. "Okay--okay! We're all right!" she cried, casting a confused look back at the others; her brow furrowed when she noticed that Manabozho and his brothers, plus Marten, were no longer present, and all Thomas could do was shrug at her, the children pulling on his arms as well. Even Mani wasn't excused from the activity, looking around himself with wild eyes as even more children climbed upon his back and antlers and pulled at his legs. They were all yelling so loudly that she couldn't understand a word they were saying.
Cripes, I was never this popular BEFORE!
She glanced up when the women started emerging now, equally bundled up, and hurried toward them. Charmian didn't even recognize White Deer until the woman grasped hold of her arm; she looked so different with her face framed by a great fur hood. Charmian gasped and almost pulled her arm free, the gesture startled her so much.
"Charmian!" White Deer cried; Charmian could see the anxiety in her eyes. "You have to come quick!"
"It's okay," Charmian insisted, futilely resisting being pulled along. "Stick's at Sugar Loaf. The storm didn't get him."
White Deer shook her head. "It's not that! You have to talk them out of it! They'll listen to you!"
"Talk who--?" Charmian's voice vanished as she was dragged through the camp, the women and children tagging after them. She noticed that they were being led to the large meeting lodge at the other side of the camp and her brow furrowed in confusion. More women were gathered here, and some of the old men; they all looked at her as she came close. She recognized a few faces from the Medicine Lodge meeting and her ears went warm.
White Deer pulled her right up to the door and then let go. Charmian almost fell forward but a hand came from the crowd and caught her before she could. She grabbed onto the person's arm to regain her balance, and looked around her.
"Where have you been, ma chère? I thought perhaps the snow caught you."
Charmian jumped at the voice and looked up to see that the person who'd caught hold of her was Francois. She blinked; he too was dressed in heavy furs, and without seeing his face she'd just assumed he was one of the natives. She flushed and rubbed at her neck.
"I was at Fort Holmes when it hit...then Sugar Loaf, then the--the East Bluff. We just came back from there. The whole Island's been covered."
Francois nodded. "I could barely make it out here. Everyone is burrowing down in their homes. I stopped by the Dupries house thinking you might be there."
"Stick-In-The-Dirt's at Sugar Loaf; he's okay, just stuck. In case everybody was worried about him..."
"This isn't the reason for the meeting," another voice said, and Charmian turned to look behind her. As with Francois and White Deer, she hadn't even recognized Silver Eagle Feather dressed in her strange clothes; she had to squint to make sure it was her, before the woman pulled her hood back a bit and Charmian could see her green eyes.
"What do you mean?" she asked, frowning.
"They're all going to leave," White Deer exclaimed, and waved at the lodge. "All of them!"
"The men of the tribe are preparing to depart," Francois said. "They've received news of a strange canoe out on the lake."
"Canoe--?" The memory of the native she'd seen, pulling his canoe furtively up into the trees on the East Bluff, made Charmian pause uneasily.
"This is not the first time," Silver Eagle Feather said. "But it is the first time they've heard of someone setting foot on the Island. Whoever he was, he was sighted wandering in the woods, before he left again."
"I...I think I saw him, too," Charmian said, and the looks they gave her were so intense that she felt like shrinking down into her clothing. "Paddling up to the shore. He came from the east--I told Crooked Creek about him, and she really flipped out. She said he was an Iroquois."
"The Iroquois and the Chippewa are not friends," Francois said. "They've tried to come to the Island a few times in the past, but for the most part they've shown no interest. On the mainland, they are afraid of the Island, and do not even speak of it. They think it's a cursed place."
"I saw somebody," Charmian said, frowning. "I didn't recognize him, and he acted strange; he took his canoe with him, into the trees."
"Black Elk Horn's calling a war party, to set out and try to find him," White Deer cut in. Her voice was distressed. "He said they can't be allowed to come to the Island. They're all going to leave the tribe, and head down to the shore. They may take their own canoes out if he tells them to."
"All of them--?" Charmian echoed. "All the men--?" She glanced at the lodge. "But--they can't just head off, with this storm blowing! Do they even know what's behind it--? It's not just a storm--if they leave here the camp will be unprotected!"
"I came here to try to convince them of that," Francois said, "but they will not listen to a Wemitigoji."
Charmian didn't really have to guess what the word Wemitigoji must mean, in that context. She glanced at Silver Eagle Feather. "Silver--? You're his wife, can't you do anything?"
Silver tilted her head slightly. "I've tried to talk him out of it; but when his mind is set on something, even I cannot change it. He believes this is the best course for the tribe. Nothing will convince him otherwise. He believes this is a great threat to us."
Charmian flung up her arms. "It was just one guy--!"
White Deer tugged on her arm. "Charmian, you have to talk to him!"
Charmian furrowed her brow at her. "Why me--? If he won't listen to Francois, what makes you think I stand any chance--?"
"You're from the mainland," White Deer said. "You defeated Ocryana!" The others in the group, aside from Francois and Silver Eagle Feather, sucked in a collective breath and backed away a step at the mention of the name. "They know you have powers that they don't have, and that the manitous listen to you. If anybody can sway his mind, it's you! Please, please talk to them!"
Charmian opened her mouth to protest anew, when the doorflap to the lodge pushed open and the men started coming out. They all glanced at her as they passed, and again she felt like disappearing, because of the disapproving looks they gave her. They were armed with their bows and knives, and everyone else, the women and old men and children, stepped aside without a word to let them through. Charmian watched them, then turned to see Black Elk Horn exit the lodge. He looked at her as well and his expression was even more disapproving than the rest, though he didn't say anything. He glanced briefly at Silver Eagle Feather, as if expecting her to speak up, then followed the other men.
White Deer cast Charmian a stricken look. Charmian swallowed and stepped forward, then darted toward Black Elk Horn before he could leave the center of the camp. She almost ran into him when her foot slipped in the snow, and ended up coming to a clumsy halt right in front of him. He stopped abruptly and blinked at her in apparent disbelief. Charmian could practically feel everyone else's eyes glued to her.
"Um..." She swallowed again and rubbed her mitts together. "You're leading a war party down to the shore--?"
He frowned at her, then gave White Deer a withering glare; the other woman shrank in on herself and slowly faded back behind the others in the crowd. "Yes," he said, and Charmian almost jumped; she hadn't expected him to actually speak to her. Before she could think of a reply, he added, "This is none of your concern. Go back to your own people."
He started walking again, apparently ending the conversation. Charmian blinked, then hastened to keep up; he walked rather fast, and she stumbled as she went. Everyone crowded along behind but kept their distance. "You can't be meaning to leave the tribe unprotected right now, can you?" she asked. "With this storm blowing?"
"We have dealt with storms before. Everyone can take care of themselves."
"But it's not a normal storm!" Charmian raised her voice so everyone could hear. "It's AUGWAK! He's the one behind all of it!"
Black Elk Horn and the rest of the men stopped again. The rest of the people's eyes went wide, and they peered skyward. The wind whistled in the heavy branches of the trees and more than a few of them shuffled their feet uneasily.
Black Elk Horn scowled at Charmian. "You claim the GeeBee ogimah is behind all this--?" he snapped. "None of the GeeBees have this power! They are weak enough that they can even be defeated by you. Now you say they bring winter to the Island, in the middle of summer--?"
"It's true," Charmian insisted, frowning right back. "The one behind the Shadow Wolves--everything that's going wrong with the Island--HE'S the one who gave Augwak this power, and now Augwak is willing to destroy the Island. You know how the GeeBees are! They don't even think twice before doing something like that!"
"The only reason he would have to destroy the Island is because YOU are upon it!" Black Elk Horn shot back. Charmian flinched; Black Elk Horn flung out his hand as if to gesture at the storm. "The Island was fine before you and your people came! Now, everything has gone wrong! Strangers set foot on our shores, and build their camps, and take what has always been ours! And the only time you have any concern for us at all is when you are threatened, as well! If you care for this Island so much, then just leave it! And all of this trouble will go with you!"
Charmian's heart hurt. "You really believe that...?" she almost whispered; then a flare of anger surged up inside her and she clenched her fists. "You REALLY believe that?" she shouted; the rest of the men in the war party stared at them curiously, and she saw Black Elk Horn flush; she hated humiliating him, yet couldn't stop herself from retorting. "Remember Ocryana showed up WAY BEFORE I ever came here! If it weren't for me the Island would have been destroyed a LONG time ago! Ask ANYBODY!" She waved at the entire camp. "And you really think this Island and everything on it is yours? Somebody lived here LONG before any of you did--YOU guys are trespassers just as much as I am! It was YOUR people who ran off the Turtle Spirits! It was YOUR people who made the Island hide parts of itself, and it was YOUR people who sent the manitous and the Shadow Wolves into hiding in the FIRST place!!"
Her echo rang through the snow-coated treetops, and she suddenly clamped her mouth shut. One quick glance showed her that EVERYBODY in the entire camp was staring at her now, even Mani and Thomas; the wide eyes and open mouths which greeted her at every angle made the flush rise in her face as she realized what she'd just said. Even more than anything she'd ever said or done in her life, she wished she could take all of that back. She slowly shrank into her clothing, wanting to completely bury herself from sight.
I...I can't believe I actually SAID all that! I can't believe I blamed them for everything! I didn't mean that...did I...?
"If you wish to see the end of this day," Black Elk Horn said, and she turned back to face him; his eyes were dark and glittering, and even more dreadful than Ocryx's in the worst of his rages, "then you will leave here, and mind your own business. We do not need your help. We never did. You only make things worse." His face grew even darker, and his voice sounded like venom. "And you are not welcome among my tribe."
Charmian felt a lump rise in her throat. Black Elk Horn turned away and jerked his hand at the rest of the men, and paced away as if she no longer even existed. The women and old men watched them march off through the woods, toward the bluff, and the wind howled low overhead. She could still feel the camp staring at her, and rubbed at her arms as if cold; she discovered she was shaking, and her eyes were blurry. She reached up to wipe at them, biting her lip.
For some reason, this thought made her eyes well up even worse, and she sucked in a breath and scrubbed the tears away with the back of her mitt. Most of the people gathered finally began to disperse toward their wigwams, retreating from the storm; she heard footsteps crunching up behind her, and a moment later Thomas, Mani, Francois, and White Deer appeared. Charmian lifted her head to look for Silver Eagle Feather, but the medicine woman was nowhere to be seen.
"They're just going to stay here?" she murmured, then stood up straight. "With Augwak bearing down--? They're just going to stay here--?"
Her voice echoed again, and the few people remaining hurriedly vanished inside their wigwams, doorflaps shutting behind them; she cringed to realize that they were afraid of her. The others circled around her in a sort of huddle, casting glances up at the swirling sky.
"They're unprotected now," Charmian said miserably. "I can't stand thinking of them all just staying here, on their own. What if Augwak passes through? I saw him myself--they wouldn't be able to fight him off. He's nothing like the old Augwak."
"I thought they might listen to you," White Deer murmured, eyes downcast. "I guess old ways die hard."
"Would they be any safer down in the town--?" Thomas asked, peering at the sagging trees.
Francois shook his head. "The storm there is just as bad as it is here, perhaps worse, so near to the water. I think they would be best off simply keeping to their homes, and not venturing out. Perhaps they can wait it out until the others return."
Charmian's fingers clenched. "They can't wait it out. Augwak won't stop until he has me dead. He'll freeze over the whole Island just to find me!"
"Then I think we should get headed to that cave," Thomas said, and Mani whistled in agreement. "The sooner we pass through, the sooner we get to Chakenapok, and then to Augwak. He'll simply keep getting stronger if Chakenapok is allowed to continue; it's little use trying to defeat the pawn without defeating the master."
Charmian sighed and pulled off her backpack. She fumbled around in it until she pulled out her battered Mackinac Island guidebook, and flipped through it to the map. "She said the cave was way over here...somewhere near the bluff. So I guess we do a lot of walking, then a lot of digging, if the Fairy Arch was any indication."
"Cave?" Francois echoed, tilting his head curiously.
They looked at him. Charmian held up the map and pointed. "We have to find a cave on this part of the Island--up in the northeast--before we can get to the Spirit Land. Geezhigo-Quae said that's the entrance we need to take to pass through. But I've never seen a cave there before."
Francois glanced at the map. "There are two caves in that area," he said, "one upon the bluff, and one below. Eagle Point Cave, and Scott's Cave. Which one are you seeking?"
Charmian blinked in surprise, then held up her map and pointed at it again. "I--I'm not sure. It was right here, and right below the bluff."
"Then the cave you're looking for is Scott's Cave," Francois said. "It sits beneath a large rock, not too far from the shore, and is big enough to easily set foot in."
Charmian and Thomas stared at him. "You've seen it?" Charmian asked, stupidly; when he nodded, her spirits rose just slightly. "Then--you know the way out to it? You could show us--?"
Francois nodded again. "In this snow, it might be a little difficult to find; and I've seen it only a few times. No one ever ventures out near it. But it shouldn't be too much of a climb down. The inside should be mostly protected from the snow. Just dig out the entrance, and you should be able to go right in." He started walking toward the edge of the camp, waving over his shoulder. "Come. We can take the most level path, to avoid the drifts."
Charmian's face lit up. She gestured at Mani and Thomas to follow, and started after him. White Deer jogged alongside her for a few paces, taking her arm.
"You'll be careful, won't you?" she pleaded. "I don't think any of us have ever seen it, but I've heard stories about those caves. Bad stories!"
Charmian nodded. "I will. Don't worry about us." She glanced at the bluff and rubbed her arms. "But keep your eyes open for the tribe...will you? I hate Black Elk Horn leaving all of you alone like this..."
"Silver Eagle Feather is still here," White Deer said. "She can look after us until they return." She quickly hugged Charmian and then withdrew, waving. "Good luck! I hope you find what you're looking for!"
"Let Stick know where we are if he comes back!" Charmian yelled back over her shoulder as they exited the camp.
White Deer continued waving. "I will! Be careful!"
They set foot into the woods, and as soon as the light from the camp faded away, the East Bluff was plunged into an eerie silence, but for the moaning of the wind overhead; the snowfall was slow and gentle now, not blowing but still thick enough to obscure the woods as if in a haze. Their footsteps were muffled in the heavy snow, Thomas having to struggle somewhat to keep up, Charmian and Francois walking more easily because of their snowshoes and Mani because of his hooves. When Charmian noticed a flicker of movement from the corner of her eye she turned her head to see two small rabbits bounding through the snow, a brown one and a white one; squinting deeper into the woods she could just barely make out the large dark shape of a bear, keeping pace with them at some distance. Something jumped up and landed on her shoulder and she looked down to see a grasshopper frantically cleaning snow from its legs.
"I'm f-f-FREEZING!" it chirped in a high-pitched voice, antennae waving. "How come you all get nice fur coats and I DON'T?"
Charmian shrugged a little. "It's not my fault you were born a grasshopper." She picked up the insect and tucked it into her collar, where it snuggled down against her neck. A moment later, another small shape bounded out of the woods and leapt atop Francois's shoulder, tail twitching.
"I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU TALKED BACK TO HIM LIKE THAT!" Marten yelled. He stood up and waved his arms. "Bam! Pow! KABAM! You couldn't've done any better if you'd PUNCHED him!"
Charmian grimaced. "A lot of good it did us! He still didn't listen!"
"At least you TRIED!" Marten exclaimed. "And as Glooskap always says, THAT'S what counts!" He puffed his tail, then scurried back and forth over Francois's shoulders while the trapper looked at him in puzzlement. "I think I like it up HERE even better!" he stated with a nod, and climbed atop Francois's cap. "Nice and soft and WARM! Beats sitting on a chilly little grasshopper ANY day!"
Puka stuck his head out from Charmian's collar and waved his antennae. "Beats being SAT on by a fat little creature like YOU!"
Marten stuck out his tongue. "You can keep that ratty old grasshopper!" he groused at Charmian. "Because THIS is where I'm going to ride from now on!"
Charmian rolled her eyes. "I'd watch out if I were you, then."
Marten pursed his lips as he patted at Francois's cap and sat down. "Why?"
Charmian's mouth twitched. "Because where I come from, and where he comes from, martens make nice coats."
Marten blinked. He peered down at the fur of Francois's cap, then his already pale face blanched even more. A moment later he was settled between Mani's antlers, teeth chattering and eyes glued to Francois's back. The rest of the travelers fell silent and slowly continued on their way to Scott's Cave.
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