River 2 - The mission

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River - Chapter 2

by Dawn Natelle

You folks have been so kind and encouraging with the response to the first chapter of my little story that I have been inspired and have a second chapter finished. Thanks to Eric for editing this in a hurry, so you all could see it sooner. I did not mention this last chapter, but I am offering this under a Creative Commons license, with attribution for non-commercial use. This means you have to identify me as the author, and not use the work in any way that earns you money. You also have to carry this license over in any new use. This license statement applies to Chapter 1 as well.


CHAPTER 2

So far: Ricky, now known to everyone outside of his family as River, has made a connection with the large river that flows through a First Nations campground towards Lake Superior. Now, the elders of the reserve have arrived at a ceremony intended to admit River into their tribe. But somehow it all changes, and the elders all bow down and ask to join River's tribe.

"What? Wait. Yes. No," Ricky quailed at the site of three dozen older men and women bowing in front of him. "I mean, I am so honored, but I am too young to be a leader. I would join your tribe, but it is not my tribe. Is it?"

"It is," the woman on her knees directly in front of him said. "You speak to the river. That makes you the leader of the tribe."

"But I am so young. You should be the leader."

"I was, for many years," the woman recounted. "The river spoke to me at one time. I was a young girl like you. Then I betrayed the river, and it no longer speaks to me. But I was leader until the time came when another would speak with the river. That time has come."

"But I am not even a girl," Ricky protested. "I'm a boy!"

"Not for very much longer," she answered softly. "The river will cure you."

Ricky was stunned. He looked to his parents, standing behind all the kneeling people. His mother looked worried; his father looked a little angered. He looked back at all the people. Even Wayne at the back was kneeling. "Oh get up, please," he said, offering a hand to the old woman. "I will do what I can for you ... for us. But I need help. Will you teach me? Can we share the leadership?"

The woman rose, slightly stunned by this. She opened her arms and wrapped them around the young blonde standing in front of her. "The river has spoken. Yes, I will teach you. I will share your duties until you are ready to carry them alone. Such has never been done before, but I sense the wisdom of the river in your offer. Now we feast."

With that, everyone stood up, and started moving around purposefully. All the animals that had been surrounding the campsite fled at the end of River's song. Birds went up into the trees, and sang a morning song, even though the sun was high. Picnic tables were moved in from other empty campsites, to make one great long table for 40. Two more tables were set up around the original one the Waters family had been using, and piles of food were arranged.

The three remaining trout were split into fillets and laid between two damp green willow woven skillets, and arranged over the fire to cook First Nations style. A spit was set up, and a great haunch of some animal, a deer perhaps, or a small moose, was set on it, with a male elder standing nearby to turn the spit from time to time.

A big drum had started playing as soon as the people rose, with two braves to either side beating it. Two other braves had smaller drums, the ones used in the cleansing ceremony, and they beat in time with the large ones. Another group, younger males and females about the age of Ricky's parents, started to dance around the fire. In all, it was a joyous celebration and Ricky felt moved by the display. He walked over to his stunned parents.

"What the hell just happened," his father said.

"I ... I really don't know," Ricky said.

"That woman said you are turning into a girl," his mother, Alison, added.

"I know."

"Do you want to be a girl," his dad said.

"I ... I want to be with the river," Ricky said. "That is the most important thing to me. If I have to be a girl, well, I will be. It doesn't really matter. I wasn't much of a man anyway."

"You would be, in a few years," his mom said. "Look, we can round up the boys and just get into the van and head out of here. Leave the camp gear. Maybe if we get away ..."

"NO!" Ricky said forcefully. "I can't leave the river. And I promised these people I would ... I don't know what I promised to do for them, but I can't just run away. I have to stay."

"For eight weeks," his Dad said. "Then what? You will be a girl, they say. I can see it happening already. How is that going to go over when you go to high school? Your classmates from last year will wonder how you changed from boy to girl in two months."

"I can't go back to Toronto, Dad. Maybe someday, but for now I have to stay near the river."

"Well, your mother and I have to go back to Toronto. You are barely 14. How do you think you will live up here until you are an adult? There are laws, you know. We can't just let you roam free."

"I know, and I don't know how it will all happen. But I trust the river, and the river will arrange things. We just need to flow with the currents for a few weeks and all will be clear."

Just then the old woman came over with the man who had done the cleansing ceremony with the sweetgrass. Her name was Edith Freedove, and he was Harold Redbear.

"Is there a problem here?" Edith asked. "We'd like to take River to the main table. The food will be finished soon. The venison was precooked early this morning, and will be hot now."

"No problem," Dale said. "Just trying to work out some logistics. Go with them, son ... er, Ricky. I mean River."

The elderly pair walked over to the table, while another lady led his family to four places near the spot where River was seated. Harold and Edith sat on either side of him. A prayer was said, and then Ricky sang his song for less than a minute, not wanting to attract the animals back with anything longer. Plates of food, with a small portion of the fish, a larger piece of venison, a cob of corn and a heap of wild rice filled the plate, with a native flatbread on top.

Before they started to eat, Wayne appeared with a fork holding something.

"It is traditional that the leader of the elders gets the liver of the deer," he said, offering River the meat.

For a second River was confused, but then looked down and saw a large hunting knife beside his plate. He picked it up and sliced the liver in two. "We have two leaders now," he said, offering half to Edith. She smiled and ate it, with a contented look on her face. Looking up, he saw that his gesture was well received by the others, who nodded and smiled. Then he looked down at his piece of liver, hoping that it was cooked. He put it into his mouth, and was surprised at how good it tasted.

That seemed to signal the start of the meal. For many minutes there were no words spoken and each and all filled themselves. By the end, there was happy chatter up and down the table, mostly in English, but occasionally in Ojibwe, which River was amazed that he now understood. Edith taught River some of the history of the people, going back to the day when the creator had begun the tribe on the great Turtle Island, up to more recent events, like the Three Fires Confederacy which only happened a few hundred years ago. Sad times of deprivation, and wars, mostly on the American side of the border, were mentioned, as well as happy times of feasting and good harvests.

Eventually the servers picked up the plates and cutlery, but left the great hunting knife in front of River, who picked it up and admired the amazing intricate carving on the bone handle. The drummers and dancers started up again.

"It's beautiful," River said.

"Yes," Harold said pointing to an older man on the drums. "John Lonewolf made it. He doesn't speak much, but he does wonderful carving. It is a gift for you."

"I couldn't ..." Ricky looked at the man, who was staring at him as he beat the drums, clearly hoping River would like and accept his gift. How could he not? "I will treasure it always," he finally said, mouthing ‘Thank You' to the drummer, whose face instantly lit up in a wide grin.

That was the start of a multitude of gifts, usually presented by the person who made them, for they were all handmade. Moccasins, blankets, a papoose (what was he to do with that, he wondered). Even so, it had a beautifully carved frame and embroidered cloths. Then one of the women dancing left the other dancers and went to one of the pickup trucks, and came back with a pile of material.

"My daughter was just a little larger than you," Eve Sunflower said to River. "I hope you can wear it once you learn our dances. I will teach you, if you cannot find anyone better."

River unfolded the material to discover that it was a beautiful native maiden's dance outfit, elaborately embroidered with clear signs of many hours of loving and skilled sewing in its construction. And it was definitely for a girl, with a wide, full circle skirt. Even though it was female attire, River loved it, and even wanted to try it on (what?).

"But doesn't your daughter need it? Or shall she give it to her daughter?" he asked.

The woman's face fell. "Lily is no more. She died 10 years ago." The woman still showed pain in her face as she remembered her daughter.

"She committed suicide," Edith whispered softly. She had been listening in. "Many of our young people go that way."

River was shocked. She looked at Eve, and then opened her arms to enfold the older woman. "I am so sorry. I swear I will do something to stop that type of thing. And I accept your offer to teach me to dance. My first mother cannot, so you shall be my second mother."

They sobbed together for a few minutes, and then broke apart. River could see that the tears now were a mixture of happiness and sadness. Eve now had a new purpose in life, and seemed rejuvenated by the idea of again teaching a young girl to dance. She went back and joined the dancers, smiling to them, and getting smiles back: smiles that also were directed at River by all the dancers. She had made one of them happy again, and that made all of them happy.

The party went on for a few more hours, and in early evening the elders packed up and left. Soon, Wayne Beartalker was the only one left. He came up to River.

"I named you wrong yesterday," he admitted. "Your name will not be River Beartalker, but River Alltalker, since you can talk to all the animals, and to the river. And I guess you will not be my brother, if you are going to become a girl."

"How can I turn into a girl?" River protested. "That can't happen."

"The river has powerful magic," Wayne said. "That is why our people have lived on its shores for over 250 years. It chooses who it wants, and it has chosen you: the first leader who was not originally one of the people."

"It seems so odd," River said. "But I feel a real connection with the river ... I think I felt it the first time I crossed over it, on that little covered bridge. Then, when it called me ..."

"Yes. And now your change will cause us some problems at the Junior Ranger camp. Right now you are a boy, but I am not certain how long that will be. I can't put you into Darrel's old tent with Jonathon. After you change you can move in with the girls. You get along with Gina and Gail, and there is room for three in their tent. But until then ..."

"Can he ... she ... whatever," his mother stammered, "take the tent from here?"

"That would work well," Wayne said, leaving soon afterwards.

That evening, River listened to a discussion that several times nearly turned to argument coming from his parents' tent. He fell asleep fitfully, wondering if he would be woken at any moment and forced to flee from his beloved river. But he rose at his normal time, before the sun rose, and went out into the park.

There were clouds in the sky this night, so the moon and stars did not provide any light at all. For a few minutes River just stood in the dark, wondering if he should just crawl back into bed. But then he noticed the outline of the single remaining picnic table to his left, and then his parents' tent to the right, and then the boys' tent. As he started walking, he found he could see the path, and then the road to the river. By the time he got to the river, he could see clearly, even though he knew it was pitch black out.

"Not naked," the river said, as he reached down to take off his shoes.

"Okaaaay," River said as he walked out into the river, fully clothed. This time there was no initial chill, and River walked out until his neck was covered. Then, he suddenly dropped, and sat at the bottom of the river. He held his breath, of course.

"Breathe," the river said.

Underwater?, River thought.

"Breathe," the river repeated. River trusted the river, so he opened his mouth and took in a gulp of ... air. The river must have concentrated air around his mouth the same way it concentrated heat around his body. In any respect he could breathe underwater.

River sat on the stream bed for over an hour, puzzling over the suicide problem that faces so many First Nations. But these are his people now, and he had vowed a solution. The river finally came up with a solution and relayed it to River.

Satisfied, River stood up, looking around. It was early dawn, with no sun but enough light to see normally. The animals came to the river to drink, and it seemed to River that they recognized him. Some even seemed to nod in approval at him. River started walking out of the river while the bears were drinking. They didn't flinch, and little Wawansoh even came over for a bit of playing. Hamsora merely looked on contently. Then Raven realized that he was not singing to the animals, and they were still friendly.

Then he got another shock, when he realized that he had walked out of the river completely dry. Somehow the river had not let the water into his clothes. He no longer had to get naked to wade in it. And that was a good thing, because he noticed two little nubs on his chest that hadn't been there before. And the hair that had been underwater for over an hour was bone dry, and four inches longer than when he went in.

River walked back to the camp. It was still quiet at the campsite, so he continued down to the JR campsite. All of the tents were empty, with the junior rangers home for the weekend, and the cabin seemed quiet too. River sat down with his back to a tree. It seemed the tree shifted a bit behind him, making the bark more comfortable to his back. "Thank you," River said politely, and he sat and waited, listening to the birds sing and watching the squirrels and chipmunks play around him.

About an hour later he saw a sleepy Wayne come out of the cabin yawning, wearing only jeans. River gasped at the sight of his muscular, hairless chest. Wayne turned at the sound and soon saw River sitting against the tree, then slowly standing up.

"Well that's a pretty sight," he said. "Are you completely changed?"

"No. Still a boy ... although not in so many places anymore."

"Wow, you already look pretty," he said, and she felt her face redden.

"Thanks, uh. I guess. Look, I think I know what to do about the teen suicide problem. What are the chances that you could have everyone at the river tomorrow at 4 a.m.?"

"Everybody?"

"The entire tribe. It is most important for the children to be there, and I mean all, right down to the little babies."

"Wow, that's a lot. I think there are 850 in the tribe. But I think I could get everyone there. The elders have been talking, and most people want to meet you."

"Okay. Oh, uh, tell them no gifts please."

"Sure. Well, my lazy Sunday off has just disappeared. I'll have to get right on it."

"Thanks, Wayne," River said as the ranger turned back into his cabin to finish dressing. "You're a sweetie."

‘Why did I say that?' River thought as he walked back to the family camp site. And what the heck was that feeling he had felt when he first saw Wayne's chest?

His parents were awake and making breakfast when River walked back. His mom looked up at him, wide eyed as she saw the little nubs poking through his t-shirt. "Oh Ricky," she whined. "It's starting already. Your hair is so long. And I need to take you to get a training bra." She enveloped him in a hug. "I'm losing my son, aren't I."

"Yeah, well you've got a spare anyway," River joked, nodding towards Mark's tent. "And think of it as gaining a daughter."

"That would be nice," she said softly with a little sob. "I mean, a house with three men ... I sometimes feel a bit left out." She paused, and ran her hand across River's back. "You're wearing a bra!"

"I am?" River questioned. He reached up and felt it under his t-shirt. "You're right. The river must have done that. I was in it for some time this morning, trying to come up with a way to help the people."

"You mean the Indians," she said as she reached under River's shirt from the back and pulled on the bra a bit, looking for the label.

"They don't like that term. They aren't from India," River explained. "What are you doing?"

"Checking for a size. I'm going to have to get you more of these, unless your river has a lingerie section we can shop at. You are a 32AA. And your shirt is ..." she looked at the back collar "... a small. Your jeans look like a girl cut. Hop into your tent and switch to a different pair."

River did so, but spoke out from within: "Don't get any clothes yet. The river hasn't finished ‘curing' me yet. Yep, still a boy, but wow, are they ever small. Less than half as big as they were."

"Your boy parts?" she asked as Ricky came out of tent, holding his jeans up with one hand.

"Yeah, and if I let go of these jeans, you'd probably be able to see for yourself. These are huge on me."

"I thought you were shorter," his mom said as she noticed that the pants were dragging in the camp dirt. "About two inches, I think." She grabbed his waist band, and pulled it taut. "And you have lost at least four inches around your waist."

Just then Dale and the two boys could be seen coming back from the washrooms. River dove back into his tent, and put on the river-shrunk jeans again. He then popped his head out of the tent, and crawled out.

"Oh man, your brother is a girl now," Paul said with a giggle. Mark just stared. As did his father.

Dale spoke first: "How are you taking this, Ricky?"

"Please call me River now. It hasn't finished yet. I'm still a boy technically, but just barely. I don't mind. In fact I'm started to just want it to be over, so I can see what I'm going to look like."

"You look pretty," Mark said. "I mean really, really pretty. Girl pretty. Argh. This is too weird for me." He dove back into his tent, and Paul followed right behind.

"You do look pretty," Alison said. She went off for a second, and then came back a few minutes later with a small mirror from her tent. "Look."

River looked into the mirror and was astounded at how much he had changed. His longer hair, now hanging down his back, or front depending on how it fell, was messy and out of place. But it was his face that had the biggest difference. His acne was gone ... of course the river would heal that. But his complexion was flawless, and slightly paler than it had been. Wouldn't the river have made him darker, more like a member of the people? It would have had to darken his hair then: no First Nations people have blonde hair, he mused.

His face was pretty. Not beautiful ("Not yet" he heard the river say) but definitely prettier than half the girls in his grade eight class this past year. His nose was much smaller, and his eyes seemed bigger, with longer lashes, as though he was wearing makeup. His chin was smaller, and more pointed.

"Come. Sit," his mother ordered as she got out a comb. "No child of mine, particularly a female child, will run around with hair like that." With that River was made to sit in front of her on the picnic table as she combed her new hair.

At first it was like torture. His hair had grown out eight inches in a matter of three days, completely and totally wild, and the tangles and knots took Alison a bit of work to clear up, with each knot and tangle resulting in a strong yank that nearly had River crying. But eventually the rough spots were gone, and Alison's comb was flowing smoothly through the hair. She switched to a brush, and this actually felt nice to River, with his mother's brush and hand flowing through his straight blonde hair.

"Why didn't you use that first?" River asked Alison. "It hurts a lot less."

"It couldn't do anything," Alison said. "You needed the combing first to smooth things out. At least now you won't let your hair go for three days. You need a good brushing every day, at least. I will have to get you a grooming kit when we go into town next. And a handbag. And makeup." She finally stopped brushing and turned River around to look at him ... her.

"No makeup," River said firmly. "And I think I have a bag." He dove into his tent and went to the pile of gifts she had been given the day before by the elders. "Will this do?"

"Oh honey, it is gorgeous," Alison said. "I didn't see it yesterday, but it will be a perfect bag for you." It was a large side bag with a long, beaded strap. The entire surface of the bag was beaded as well, and suddenly River recognized the pattern. It was a nearly perfect map of the river, with small animals in beads around it. It wasn't a handbag ... more a full, large purse. Perfect for a girl of the people to carry around, toting not only her feminine items, but practical ones as well, such as the lovely knife he had received the day before.

"I love it," River said. "See, it has the river on it," he mapped out the serpentine curves on that side of the bag for her mother.

"It is priceless," Alison said.

"How do you know that is the shape of the river? You haven't walked more than a mile of it," Dale asked. He had taken over the kitchen duties from Alison while she got used to her new duties. He put a plate in front of each of them, and called the boys out to breakfast.

"I know the river from the source at a small spring up in the hills to the bay where it exits into Lake Superior," River said. "It is knowledge the river has taught me."

"What else is it teaching you?" Dale asked curiously.

"Lots," River said. "All about the animals and plants around the river. I can name every tree, and every plant in this park. And I know which ones are healthy, and which need to be harvested. I hope the rangers will accept my advice on this. Some trees are very sick, and some need to be saved."

"Wow. What kind of tree is that," Dale said, pointing.

"That is aninaatig," River said, then stopped, eyes wide. "I only know all that lore in the language of the Ojibwe. Interesting. I have to translate to English. It is a maple."

As the family ate, Mark kept staring at his new sister. "Will I get turned into a girl if I wade in the river?"

"No sport, I don't think so," River said. "It was just special for me, I think."

"You gonna eat that?" Mark pointed to the three pieces of bacon on River's plate, that he hadn't touched yet.

"No, go ahead." The tween's hand had reached out and snatched the meat before River had finished speaking. He handed one to Paul and ran off with the other two, giggling, his friend close behind.

"Boys," River laughed. "Anyway, Mom, I really don't need so much to eat. The river sustains me. I only need an hour or two to sleep, and not much food at all."

"I don't want you to get anorexic or anything," Alison said.

"I can't, Mom," River explained. "The river will keep me healthy. I don't think I can get fat either."

"Well, not unless you get pregnant," Alison said.

"No. Never!" the river said forcefully.

River laughed. "The river just said that I shouldn't get pregnant. I'm all in favour of that ... I mean ... boys ... doing that." River shuddered.

"I like the way your river thinks," Alison laughed as she and River started washing up the breakfast dishes. "What do you have planned today? A quiet day with your family, I hope?"

"No, I think I need to go down to the river again," he said. "There will be a lot of people coming by tomorrow, very early in the day. I need to get ready for them."

A few minutes later River was on the river bank again, nearer the road. The river was a mess here. People had used it as a tipping off point, dropping their rubbish into the river. The area where River usually waded was several hundred yards off the road. But this is the area where most of the people will come tomorrow, and River needed to clean it up.

She started with the big things. Ovens and iceboxes had been tossed into the water. At first River felt that she had no chance of moving them: some were half embedded into the sand. But the river said "Try," so she did. And surprisingly she found strength flowing into her from the water until the items could be moved. Rocking them back and forth helped displace the sand silted within, and soon she was able to heft the items up and carry them awkwardly to a pile at the edge of the road.

Once the big items were moved, River started on the small stuff. Beer bottles and other glass items had been thrown into the river here by uncaring campers, and many had broken and would cut the feet of the people who tried to enter the river here. She found a bushel fruit basket half buried in the silt, and rinsed it out. It was one of the old round wooden baskets made of thin slats of wood. It would float empty now, being made of wood, but wouldn't keep out water as it was filled. She pressed down on the sides to see how much water it would hold before being submerged, and was astonished to see that no water flowed in. A bit more pushing, and she realized that the river was not allowing any of its water in. She could actually see the water on the other side of an inch wide gap in the slats, but none came in.

So River spent the next few hours digging in the river bottom, often submerged long enough that she needed to take a breath underwater. The river identified what she needed to work on She brought up both broken glass and rusty and jagged bits of metal that could tear into a child's foot. For it was children she wanted in the river tomorrow morning.

After she had filled the first basket, the river told her where to find more, two others further down the river, and three more on the other side. Rather than walking across the bridge to the other side, she swam across, even though she had never swum before. She continued through most of the day, picking the area clean and filling five of the baskets, and part of the sixth lining them up at the roadside near the bigger objects.

It was sunset when River finally walked back to the camp site. Her brother and friend were already in bed, and her parents were starting to worry about her. They relaxed as they watched the pretty blonde, with hair now down to her mid back, and definite feminine curves.

"River honey," Alison said as she hugged the smaller woman. "You have changed more."

"Yes," River said. "I'm bigger up top, and more hair I guess. Almost done down there. Two of the three are gone completely, and the other guy is lonely and as small as a baby's, I think." She was now starting to think of herself as a girl, and no longer as a boy.

Alison again reached up and found that now there was no training bra, but an actual bra there. "32A now," she announced. "Anyway, all that new hair has to be combed, and I think I will show you how to braid it. Long hair is less work if you braid before bed."

The next half hour was spent with comb and brush, and a lot less painful yanking for River this time. Alison braided her hair into a long single braid, and left to go to bed with Dale. River's tent had been moved down to the JR campsite by Dale and the boys during the afternoon, so she wondered down the road. Halfway there, she realized that she wasn't sleepy, and decided to just sit up against a tree until morning.

Again the tree seemed to conform its bark to fit into her more sensitive back, and she relaxed completely, thinking about what would happen tomorrow.



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