Not everyone looks their part. Some don't even look for their part; it just comes for them.
"Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?
I ask that of all my prey. "
— Joker, "Batman"
Thursday evening, January 10, 2008,
The Nations Encampment, Whateley Academy
"How did I let myself get roped into this?" Mads 'Metro' Møller-Jensen asked himself as he trudged through snow in the early darkness of the New England winter.
Oh, right. Having the head of the Whateley Academy Mystic Arts department just happen to be where she could overhear his discussion with Ben Donner the other night left few excuses to be a no-show. Considering that it was her class that he'd have to be excused from to attend, an acute case of death might even be insufficient. It wasn't a matter of Mads having anything against the school's Native American cultural club; far from it. Maybe it was last night's replay of the loss of Vinland that kept him spooked? He hadn't had that set of nightmares for a couple of years now.
The longhouse fit in with the wooded setting, but the hide-covered tipis had been meant for a nomadic Plains way of life. Mads winced at the wiigiwaam covered in hides instead of wiigwaas and lake grass. Or was this meant to be a mide-wiigiwaam, but the builders ran out of birch bark? No. It was easier to come by here than, for example, in Manitoba. Nevertheless, the outer door flap was open, the fires were going inside, and having run out of every delay and distraction he could think of, he entered the longhouse.
Once he was inside, Mads recognized Charlie Lodgeman from last term's dance class. The strongly-built man seated next to him would have to be Billy Two Knives. Eloise Donner, sitting next to her daughter, Paige, represented the Medawihla, on whose reservation lands the school had been built. Some of the club's officers he knew by sight or reputation, or from having looked them all up before the meeting. He nodded his greetings to Paige and Stella, from a distance, as neither of his fellow Thornies liked spending too much time near him.
"Welcome. It's good to see new faces." Kayda 'Pejuta' Franks said. So much for blending in with the crowd. "I don't think we'll have many new members arriving in the middle of the year, so let's go ahead and start with introductions. If you would, please tell us what tribe you're from and if you're registered or not. If you're just here for cultural interest, that's okay, too."
"Okay is good." Mads shuffled his weight to a different foot. "I'm Mads Møller-Jensen, though some of you," he nodded toward Storm Wolf and Stone Bear, "know me by the code name Metro. My clan's totem is Waabizheshi, that's the Anishinaabe name for Marten. Not registered. It gets tricky when you're not a citizen of the occupying nation."
"Run that by us one more time?" said Eloise Donner. She didn't look to be the only person thrown by the 'citizen' comment - or by the 'occupying nation' comment.
"Have you ever tried to explain to a seat-warming Ottawa bureaucrat that you're Ojibwe by adoption, when your passports state with some confidence that you're a Danish and British National, and the tribal rep is collapsing in hysterics on the other line? Somehow dear Nigel got sent a PR photo that included me, my brother, Mama, and several cousins. I didn't know some of the words he used were still part of the English language."
"That makes my head hurt."
"So, I think we can safely leave it at a vested cultural interest."
One of the members Metro didn't recognize said, "You say you've been adopted, but how would we know if that that's true?"
"Doesn't Pejuta mean midewikwe, er, medicine woman?" Mads dug into a pocket, pulling out something wrapped in a brightly-colored piece of fabric. He walked over to Kayda set it down before her. "In your own time, would you go and ask the Spirit People for my name and clan, just to reassure those who are here?"
Kayda shook her head and pushed the packet away. "I do not need payment for something like that. If it would ease folks' minds, I would be glad to do so after the meeting. That is, unless it becomes a habit, then we will have to talk."
Mads smiled. < This kinnikinnik is for you as a token of respect for my teachers. >
From her Hallow, Wakan Tanka translated what the boy had said, from Ojibwe to Lakota. Kayda hadn't expected it to be put that way.
"In that case, let's take that back up after the meeting concludes. Ben, would you read the minutes from our last meeting? ..."
After the club meeting,
The Nations Lodge
Some time after the meeting had ended and almost everyone had left, Kayda took out a suitable bowl and cups from storage, retrieved a medicinal blend of herbs from its pouch, and began to brew a mind-clearing tea for her and her guest. The firepits in the longhouse were artificial, for safety reasons, but they did a good job of heating stones placed close to them. This in turn allowed her to keep something of her people's traditions when brewing the tea. Something about this Metro person (other than his gender, which would have made sense after the past year's events) bothered her. Until she figured it out, just anything that steadied her nerves would be welcome. When she offered the finished tea to the boy, he accepted it from her but frowned when he looked into the cup.
"Is there something wrong? I can assure you that this is neither addictive, illegal, or fattening."
"Er... What's in it?" Metro looked over his shoulder to the entrance for the second or third time since they started. Kayda hoped that this was simply a case of nerves and not of deeper problems with the freshman.
"Herbs to calm the mind and make it easier for you to accompany me into my dream-space." ... not to mention make it easier for me to work with one of the creepiest white boys I've met to date.
"Okay, you don't have to tell me... But if I go into anaphylactic shock and die I'm going to come back and haunt you!"
Wakan Tanka laughed in Kayda's head: "To this day, people wonder why the Ojibwe have long been very cautious regarding spirits of the dead!"
"I haven't had any customer complaints to date."
"Ever try filling in a complaint form when you're dead? It's not easy."
Once both cups were empty, and Metro seemed more relaxed, Kayda reached out to touch his forehead. He flinched. She said to him, "This isn't a spell, but it will establish a link that will enable me to bring you into my dream-space."
Dream-space of the Ptesanwi
Kayda took a good look at how her guest chose to mentally present himself. Mads himself took stock of his surroundings, including possible ambush positions.
Unfortunately, the boy was dressed in the same German uniform he'd worn to the school's ill-starred Halloween party. A blue-gray wool cap was incongruously held in place by a small rack of antlers. He scowled when he noticed where her attention was directed and looked down at what he was wearing. The mass-produced wool uniform was soon replaced by a long-sleeved flannel shirt, trousers, and a leather jacket. The antlers were now smaller, but his skin remained preternaturally pale, and he still wore gloves.
Kayda herself was dressed in a buffalo robe over her buckskin dress and leggings. "This is the point when I normally tell visitors that how they appear here reflects their authentic heritage or self-image. I guess that's not the case for you, but I am glad you ditched the Nazi memorabilia."
"Wehrmacht. It was the uniform I would have been buried in, last time, had there been enough pieces left to bother. I suppose the seagulls ate well that day."
"I'm sorry. I didn't know that."
"Don't be. It was the best outcome available."
He still didn't turn his back to her or allow himself to be cut off from escape routes as Kayda led him to the fire circle. The jumpiness she'd noticed in their shared Team Tactics class, as well as earlier in the longhouse, wasn't just enthusiasm or an act.
When they arrived at the center of the encampment, Wakan Tanka was already outside her tent and tending to the fire. "Wihakayda, you will need to draw more water to make tea."
Kayda was tempted to roll her eyes at the obvious distraction, but went along with it. She retrieved a couple of water skins from her tent and went down to a nearby river that flowed near the encampment.
"Miniwakan Tashunka, be seated." Wakan Tanka gestured to a woven mat. "Her errand may take time."
"I suppose how much water is needed would depend on who she plans to call upon?"
"Or not. How can she grow into her role as a medicine woman if she does not get the chance to make mistakes and learn from them?"
"There is that. Does that principle carry into balancing traditional and Western styles of magic? We're in the same Team Tactics class, so I've heard some of the instructors' complaints."
"What can she learn from European magicians that she would find useful in helping the People? Her warriors have proven effective in their class exercises without her resorting to such spells."
"Nonlethal spells to incapacitate an opponent or misdirect several, that take only seconds to cast, are pretty much my stock in trade. Even then, I must admit there have been times when an assault rifle was the right weapon for the prey."
"A medicine person should have no need of such things. A bow and arrows should be sufficient."
"Heh. I personally have seen a nine-year-old, using a compound bow, put a customized arrowhead through the rear window AND the engine block of a Crown Vic that was accelerating away from the scene. I do not doubt the lethality of a bow in the correct hands." Mads smiled the cold, toothy smile of a born arms dealer. "However, depending on the ammunition used, a long rifle surpasses bows and pistols in terms of range, accuracy, and potential knockdown. Better yet, with a good optical scope I can cast a line-of-sight spell at that same range and accuracy. Sometimes life's only as good as the hunting."
"Satisfy an old woman's curiosity: did your elders call on Waabizheshi during the adoption ceremony, or did they have to bribe him to wait until the food was set out?"
"I didn't think to ask. Food was plentiful, dancing was fun, the meat and fish were excellent, what was there not to like?" Mads eyes darted around. "How far away did Kayda have to go to find water?"
"Not far. This encampment, the river, and all else you see here are parts of her dream-space. She is safe."
The Horned Man
Kayda wasn't exactly thrilled to be sent on an errand in her own dream-space, but she knew that Wakan Tanka must have some lesson in mind. She kept her senses open to the world as she went about the errand. Not long after she started filling the water skins, she heard approaching footsteps behind her, close to the riverbank. They stopped outside her weapons' reach.
"Peace, White Buffalo Woman! I intend you no harm, only to speak with you."
Kayda turned to look at the intruder. On his head he bore a stag's horns that grew out from tousled dark hair, dimly back-lit by a pale scythe of the crescent moon. She called on Hinhan, the Owl, to lend her her vision and wisdom. Now she could see the man clearly. His dark green leather vest revealed a golden torc around his neck and ornate snakelike bracelets upon each bronzed upper arm. Trousers provided some modesty, covering legs that ended with hooves instead of human feet or boots.
He reached out to Kayda, saying "I could carry one or two of the skins, if you wish. That should make it easier to climb back up the bank here." And bring me closer to him in the dark, she thought. "Fitting that you should call on Owl. Ugla is no stranger to me or my students." Kayda decided to take a chance on the stranger - surely Tatanka would have intervened if this one meant to harm her - so she passed one of the two filled waterskins to the strange man. He waited for her to reach the top of the river bank herself, stepping away to give her plenty of room to gain a secure footing.
Offering some help with her task was something, but not a substitute for explanation. "Might I ask what you have to say that is important enough to invade the dream-space of the Ptesanwi?"
"You called for me. Were you not wondering who among the spirit-kind might be a guide for my student?"
This, at least, was familiar ground. "What do you teach him?"
"That there are still mysteries worth chasing, some by the light of the moon, some in the change of the seasons, some by the turn of a card, some on the edge of a knife."
"That sounds pretty dangerous for a freshman."
"Raven deals in secrets, Coyote in tricks. Remind me again which among our kind is safe, O Ptesanwi?"
"Even so, playing with fire is a good way to get burned."
The strange man laughed, "You have no idea!" At the edge of the encampment he stopped and turned to her. "Here is your waterskin. Don't worry: I'll be seeing Mads soon enough." The spirit faded into the darkness once she took it, leaving only the faint sound of retreating hoofbeats.
Kayda felt as if more than a few minutes' time had passed, but when she returned to the fire circle Wakan Tanka was still tending the fire and speaking with their guest. The scene looked as if nothing much had changed. "Do you feel better, Wihakayda?"
Mads' "No" competed with Kayda's "Yes" for the woman's attention. She looked back at Kayda for a long moment and nodded. Which teen had she just agreed with?
"Have you decided which spirit you will call on?"
"Considering he turns into a wolf, an ugly one from what I've heard, but... Sugmanitu Hota."
"I'm not Sioux."
"I'm not used to being insulted by people I'm trying to help!"
< Wihakayda. > Wakan Tanka's voice held only mild reproof; there were so many things the chid had yet to learn. < Wolf has adopted those Ojibwe who have been born to Dakota fathers. The boy is not Dakota, nor is he that kind of wolf. Do you remember how you helped your friends find their spirit guides? It should be no more difficult to ask the help of his clan's totem spirit. >
This wasn't really the same situation as that, but she understood the old woman's meaning. In this place, she should only need to will something for it to happen. She closed her eyes to concentrate on what she hoped to achieve in spite of not knowing as much about the boy's adopted Nation as she probably should. Her peace was interrupted.
"Oi! Leggo! That's jerky; you'll break your teeth trying to eat it that way!"
Mads was holding something, and attached to that something was a weasel with designs on whatever that something was.
"How d'you know?" *thump* The weasel opened his mouth to speak and fell to the ground. "That wasn't fair." But he finished his complaint shaped as a thin young man with short brown hair and over-sized ears, dressed in a beaded leather shirt left open over an orange undershirt, and jeans.
"Human teeth work, but it helps to drink some tea with it. Easier to chew and some of the flavor goes into the liquid. Here." Mads handed the newcomer the jerky and his own cup, freeing his hands to dig out some more.
"This from the caribou you went to hunt?"
"Hm? Yeah. Huge bull, starting to have joint problems, but he must have had a good life in his day."
"Like you'd know a good life. You spend all your time indoors."
"Says the guy who lives next to a Moose Lodge!"
"Ha. Ha. That was almost funny. Got more?" Kayda could picture the spirit, even at a man's size, diving nose-first into the small haversack after the possibility of meat.
"Don't mind if I do. Wait." The man sniffed at the maybe-edible hockey puck held out to him. "This isn't that stuff they make you eat at that school, is it?"
"Nope. Aren't you supposed to ask that before putting it in your mouth?"
"Aren't you supposed to ask how you're getting paid before taking a job?"
Kayda cautiously handed Mads a cup of tea to replace the one that he'd shared, taking care to be sure she got all her fingers back. "What does he," "Waabizheshi." "What does Waabizheshi teach?"
"Hm. Good question. According to our allied brothers, he was the first animal person to gave himself up as food, for his adopted brother Glooskap. There are many lessons in just that one story. He's also one of the most determined hunters you will see. He knows useful magics, including the medicine for seeking out secrets. Bimaawidaasi families in turn are well-known for their scouts, hunters, and providers." The boy shrugged as if these things were obvious. "What am I missing?"
"The Marten Clan also provides brave, canny, and very good-looking warriors who make for excellent marital prospects!"
"I think you're over-selling your case a wee bit there."
"Who's the Wee One here, Kemosabe?"
"What if someone is born to one of those families but is better suited to negotiations or healing?"
"Traditionally they go learn from those who know these things. It was never meant to be a social straitjacket. Not that I have anything against straightjackets in principle..."
The spirit swallowed his pemmican and said to Kayda, "Here's your sign."
"What does that even mean?" "Ask your friends." "You're going to get me in trouble!" "Moose's mother always said I was a bad influence; what's your excuse?"
If those two started wrestling, both were going to be kicked out on their own bad influences! "One more question, if I may ask before everyone gets distracted. What is this one's name?"
Through his connection to Mads' mind, Thunderbird's Song suggested "Mudd."
Mads scoffed at that. "As if."
"Bitey Little Bugger."
The pine marten spirit smirked, as if he could hear the boys' inner conversation (A hunter does need sharp hearing!) "Whiskey Horse? Or are you asking about the Thunderer that's got his ear?"
"I... see. Thank you for your assistance. Hunt well."
"You as well, until next we meet." The spirit returned the borrowed cup, and turning away or around or out, disappeared.
Wakan Tanka again spoke to Kayda in Lakota, < Wihakayda, you will learn in time not only the differences in how Europeans and The Nations view their spirit guides, but between Nations and tribes as well. Who would you ask next? Or are you satisfied with the answers you have? >
< I wanted to avoid the possibility of asking a spirit that he's persuaded to speak on his behalf, possibly out of lingering enmity for the Dakota. Mishibijiw may not be well-disposed to me, but the underwater lynx shouldn't owe this one anything either. >
The mention of Mishibijiw got the air spirit's attention. His people did not always get along with either the underwater panthers or the snake peoples. "This should be interesting," he said to Mads.
"Now you think it's interesting? Whose side are you on?"
"There are days that I don't even know."
A strange beast padded its way to the encampment. Antlers sprouted from its lynx-like head, behind pointed and fur-tufted ears. Down its back, black and gray spotted fur gave way to shiny black scales, which encircled its long snakelike tail. Fierce copper spikes at the end of that tail glinted in the fire-light.
"Greetings, Mishibijiw. I thank you for coming."
"Greetings, Slayer of Our Brother. For what purpose do you wake me from the long sleep? Need you another tail to craft into trinkets?"
Kayda felt the Ptesanwi spirit move within her. They said, "As we told your brother when he attacked us, we have no quarrel with you."
"What else then?"
"This one," she pointed at Mads, "has claimed to be Ojibwe. We have been asked to verify the truth of this."
The lake monster stalked over to the boy. It sniffed the air around him, then stared into his eyes for a handful of breaths.
"This one has no ancestors among the Anishinaabeg though they share a past and, perhaps, a future. However, it is well-known that Makwa has always had a tender heart and reckless Waabizheshi will do as he will do. Is the Ptesanwi surprised by the adoption of a fatherless child?"
"Of course not. Thank you for your counsel. I hope to meet you again under better terms."
"We shall see." The underwater lynx turned to address Mads, < Do not seek out the water-borne in these lands, cousin. The Halfway People of the coastal waters are not easily stirred to violence, but they will make an exception for one of the Thunderer's people. Either Thunderer. Also, it is forbidden to you to eat of their meat. >
< Understood. >
< Good. See to it you remember. >
Seeming satisfied, the Mishibijiw disappeared into the darkness.
The Nations Lodge
Kayda and Mads came out of trance not much the worse for the wear, just a few minor aches from sitting in one position. The dream-walk had explained for Kayda some of Metro's compulsive scanning of the environment around him. Also, it hadn't been likely that anyone would lie to get into a club in which they couldn't vote or hold office, but it was good that they'd gotten that cleared up. That didn't mean everything was crystal clear.
Mads hung back for Kayda to check that everything that needed to be turned off or put away had been taken care of. All that was just part of being the club president. As they left the lodge behind for the cold New England evening air, Kayda asked "I was wondering. Will you be spending any of the upcoming summer with your mother's people?"
Mads' shoulders sagged. "No. Lillebror is old enough for his first real hunt, so it's my job as big brother to back off and let him succeed on his own. Mama said it was going to be hard for her too, because she does worry. That doesn't mean I'll be sitting around Aarhus being bored; Minister Malakiassen thinks I should spending the summer in Grønland to learn Kalaallit culture. Headed back to Poe?"
It felt strange to hear of a minister wanting a teenager to learn from a Native people instead of converting them, but it was late enough in a long day to let things like that slide. "I do need to get some studying in. Twain's the other direction, so you don't have to put yourself out."
"Hm? No. As long as you're walling to walk topside it's no trouble. I've got to stop at Poe to get notes off of Thomas before they go locking the gates on us inmates for the night."
Stop at Poe? On the way where? Isn't he too GSD for Melville? Kayda asked, "Where do you live on-campus?"
"Hawthorne, but I spend a good chunk of time in Doyle. Mileage varies."
"Worried about being seen with a freshman?"
Kayda laughed at that, though there was a grain of truth to it. "Not really... Something that's confusing me is how a kid as obviously Anglo as you look got placed for adoption by a Native American. Many states still bend over backwards to do the opposite."
"Ah. Well. She's the only person my, um, legal guardians trusted."
It was odd how he phrased that, but for now she was willing to leave it at that. There was no shortage of kids at Whateley whose parents had disowned them once their mutation manifested, leaving them to manage as best they could. Aside from a bratty kid brother, and a new sister due in a few weeks, Kayda was grateful for the family she had.
If she, perhaps in her imagination, perhaps not, noticed the soft sounds of hooved feet trekking through the fallen snow around them, she kept that mystery to herself.