I was going to wait until White Wolf’s re-release party to give this to you–but–hey–it’s my birthday! I’m getting presents (yippeee!) so why not you, too? (And, yes!! You’re invited to the party. Click on it if you’d like to go!)
I had a difficult time finding a chapter in Letters that didn’t have spoilers in them. I don’t want to give away toooooooo much–there are many reading White Wolf yet. I crossed off the chapters I definitely couldn’t share and chose one of my favorites that was somewhat free of them (Caution: there are two!!). Seriously, allll of the chapters are my favorites–because of how Jonathan has shaped them–but chapter six has a super neat scene in it that I think you’ll like, too. It exposes who Jonathan is just enough and it’s a chance for me to introduce to you a few new characters–one in which is like a splinter under Jonathan’s nail. Keep in mind while reading this excerpt that Letters From the Dragons Son is spoken in a different voice. It’s Jonathan’s story and it takes place eight months after White Wolf and the Ash Princess.
There are seventeen chapters written in Letters so far (wahhhooooo!) and it’s all mapped out in my head and ready for my laptop. Now–if life, time and my aging eyes would only cooperate! So…..Happy Birthday to me!!!!……and I hope you enjoy your birthday present!
“Miss Izzy says if you do it, it won’t hurt.”
“What’s that?” I ask. I was aiming for a single bean before he came. Now I have to grab up the entire cluster instead. The branched stem they were attached to gets stuffed in the basket with them.
He tries to answer but his words are replaced with the sound of metals smashing against wood. The pounding has started back up again on the small cabin being built on the edge of our woods. It’s been two weeks of this—energetic chatter, tapping tools and dark-skinned, shirtless men with shiny, untarnished backs darting around like industrious ants.
Odedeyan wants the printing press in a house of its own. He says the press has no place in a newly married couple’s home—too many people in and out—no privacy—it’s intrusive—those are the things he said. The guns will be coming soon, too. He said this will gain me the workspace that I need. Those are all good and valid, but I think at the core of the excuses, the finding of the gun can be found smack dab in the middle. He probably thinks I have more and I’ll hide more—but I can’t hide what I don’t have. Lost trust is just part of the process. It is what it is. I get it.
“My tooth.” William shouts his answer for the second time just as the hammering stops. He shines an apologetic smile and shows me how loose it is by pushing his tongue up behind it. When it twists onto his top lip he snickers. “Miss Izzy thinks it’s disgusting, and she won’t touch it.”
It’s hot for late September. I wipe my forehead with my sleeve. I’m getting good at timing my tremors. My forearm landed on the intended spot on my face. Izzy’s comment to William makes me add my own snicker. She’s told me stories of her time on the trail and she’s seen worse things than a dangling tooth. My wife has an agenda.
“It’s practically out on its own. You can do it.” I eyeball another cluster of beans and wait between spams to reach for it.
“Your hands are doing better.” He pinches the tiny tooth between two fingers and winces.
He’s just being nice. They aren’t.
“I can’t, White Wolf. It hurts. Daga?” He’s using the eyes Izzy used to use. Are all children gifted with this talent?
“Are you sure you want me to?” I sit back on my heels and shove my hands under my arms to hide them. It’s a pointless gesture. The boy knows about them. Everybody does.
He nods. “Eya’.”
“Alright.” I keep a hand tucked and use the other to push myself up. It almost didn’t work. The exhale wasn’t for the teeter that almost sent me back down, it’s for the pointless hard work I insist on doing every day to keep my hands disguised. I brush clean the hand I plan on using and tuck it from view.
“Close ‘em up,” I nod.
When his eyes are squeezed beneath wrinkle, I shake out my hands. I have yet to pinch a single bean. Somehow, I have to get these uncooperative fingers around a pebble of a tooth.
I can feel the heat rising into my cheeks when his head shakes in rhythm with the hand I use to steady it. He’s a polite kid. He doesn’t react. He closes his mouth long enough to swallow and pops it back open. The inability to use his lips doesn’t stop him from talking.
“Did you get it?” He says over his tongue.
“Give me a minute. I just got here,” I sneer. The boy needs patience. He knows how crazy my hands are.
The tremor works to my benefit. When I finally manage to clamp two fingers over the tooth, my jarring yanks it free. The tip of his tongue goes straight to the fleshy, open spot.
“You got it!”
I hand him his tooth and hum a congratulation. I attempt to go back to wrestling with the beans, but his eyes stop me. He’s doing it again.
“Miss Izzy says you took care of her lost teeth the Native way when she was little. You buried them under a tree. Will you do mine like you did hers?”
Last time I checked, the girl was picking corn. She’s not there. I hear a sneeze. I find her sitting on her knees in waist-high basil. We catch eyes, and she grins before burying her nose in her arm to sneeze again.
“We’ll see. Finish up for Miss Izzy and I’ll think about it.”
The answer is enough for him, and he bounds over to her like an energetic puppy. He takes her place and on her way to me, Izzy holds her finger up with a wince before bending over for a final sneeze.
“Girl, why do you insist on planting that when it just stuffs you up?”
She shrugs. “Miss Margaret says every garden needs it. Our garden needs it,” she grins. She tugs my hands from their spot and swings them. “So? Are you going to bury his tooth when he’s done?”
“We’ll see? What does that mean? You didn’t think twice about it for me.”
I did think twice about it. I didn’t like the memories that came with each tooth I pulled for her. I did it because she’s—well—she’s Izzy. I don’t need to coddle the boy the way I did her. He’s a boy, for crying out loud.
Izzy didn’t appreciate the way I repeated my answer. She’s scowling. I should have done it softer with less bite, but my senses all feel pricked and on edge.
The pounding is starting back up again. The perfect, bronzed men are now on the cabin’s roof. Izzy doesn’t notice, but I do. I feel exposed with my droopy, sweat-drenched shirt.
“Well, if you don’t, I will.” Her eyes have their copper spark, but not enough of it to make her let go of my hands.
“You’re getting too attached to the boy, Izzy. I told you, I’m talking with Odedeyan. I’m getting better. I don’t need his help.” We both know that isn’t true. I’m not getting better. I just don’t want the boy around. Unfortunately, I know I may not have a choice. I’m sure I’ll still be stuck with him even after I talk to Odedeyan. The boy is, after all, part of my punishment. “I’m talking to him about the rotation, too. We’re supposed to be in mourning. Mikonan and Binidee are supposed to be in mourning. All of us are supposed to be in mourning.”
Why Odedeyan included all of us in the rotation is beyond me. It’s just going to add more stress to our—my— already stressed-out life. According to William’s daily morning report, his countdown has reached the single digits. He and his sister are to come for their month-long stay in a week.
“Supposed to be.” Izzy had repeated my words under her breath.
I squint at her. “What does that mean?”
“Mourning when it’s convenient.” Izzy’s eyes are filling. She drops her head to hide from me and her toes are lost when she curls them into the garden’s dirt. I get my hands back so she can hold herself until the emotion passes. “I’m sorry. If you don’t want to be a part of the rotation, you don’t want to be a part of it. I understand.” She looks up after the apology and adds a weak smile. Her blotched complexion and glassy eyes adds weight to the pressure I feel building in my chest. She adds a cleansing breath. “I will accept your decision. Don’t worry about William’s tooth. I’ll handle it. It was selfish for me not to take it in consideration that it’d bother you.”
I’d feel her forehead for fever, but my stupid hands would probably just knock her over. The fiery flecks are gone from her eyes, but I know Izzy. This isn’t her. Something’s up.
“Girl, don’t make me feel guilty. Taking on the children—it’s more than we can—wait—take it in consideration that it’d bother me? Why would a child’s tooth bother me?”
I’ve never told anyone about the teeth. No one. Miss Margaret, Alexander, Odedeyan, Mikonan—no one. The only one who knows about them is Edward. The monster who made me collect them for him. A jar of them is with me—in the wardrobe.
“The wardrobe,” I say. “You’ve been in it.”
Her gaped look answers that I’m correct. It’s been two months since I’ve reached for her. It horrifies me that the first time I finally touch my wife it’s with a rough squeeze to her raised wrists.
William is here. The look on his face is one I wore at his age—when father grabbed mother the same way. Realization at what I’m doing to my wife burns my insides. It’s a consuming pain much worse than the flames that ravaged my outside. I’m hurting the last person on earth I thought I would. The transformation is starting, just like I always knew it would. Everyone is right. People can change. I’m proof of that.
~ ~ ~
“I have a key,” Izzy explains. “It’s alright, Jonathan. I’ve seen it all. None of it scares me.”
“You have a key? How?” I still have her wrists. William is tugging at my shirt. He says the men on the roof are starting to stare. “You’ve been in it? You’ve seen it?—and it doesn’t scare you? How can it not scare you? You’re lying. Lying!”
My ears are filled with the last word, and it’s my voice that I hear. All I can do is repeat it. Lying, lying, lying—and the squeezing. I can’t let go of her wrists. William’s pleas are growing in intensity because now the men are coming. I sound insane. They’ll think Waabishkaa Ma’iingan has gone completely mad. Perhaps I have. I can’t stop.
Mikonan pulls William back from me and directs his body in which way to go. He tells him to go find Binidee and to bring her back with Valerian Root. Finally—my root. There’s the immediate positive side to having a head-full of English language reduced to a single word. Mikonan is trying to pry my hands free from Izzy’s wrists and as he does he’s telling the gawking circle of men to get back to work. They leave, but they take their sweet time doing it.
“Well, he has gotten his strength back. You have done well there, sister.”
A drop of sweat slips off the tip of his nose and plops onto my forearm. I wish I could tease him about it and defuse the situation, but I’d only succeed in calling him a liar. He’s got nice teeth. I’ve never noticed them before. They’re grinding together in his growled struggle to pull my fingers from Izzy.
“This is not Nimaamaa’s way, but this is all I can think of to do. Look away, Biis Nigig.”
Izzy knows what’s coming. I know what’s coming. She pleads for him not to. She says I’m hurting enough, and that she’ll talk me down if he’d just give her a chance. It’s too late. His arm is already drawn back. My grip unintentionally tightens on Izzy when I brace myself for my brother-in-law’s blow. I’ve felt his punch before. It has brain jarring power. Good. Maybe it’ll rattle me back. My anaconda grip drops her to her knees with a wounded howl and my arms are yanked down with her.
Mikonan takes a step back and drives his fist into the side of my jaw. The world spins and my legs give out. The ground isn’t where it should be. It’s feels tilted when I land alone. Mikonan catches his sister before she joins me in the bean row.
“Has he had water today?” Mikonan blocks out the sun overhead when he leans over me. He’s opening my eyes with his fingers and feeling the sides of my neck. For what? The switch to turn my normal back on? “Could be the heat. The man is dressed for winter. Did he hurt you?”
“My wrists are a little red—that’s all. It didn’t hurt a bit. You know me, I stub my toe and cause a fuss.” Izzy nudges her brother aside and takes both sides of my face. “I’m sorry. This is my fault—all mine. You didn’t do anything wrong, Jonathan. I should have told you when I first opened that beastly wardrobe. I didn’t know how to tell you.” I can hear fear in her voice. Fear over what—me? The wardrobe? Keeping the secret? “Williams tooth, Mikonan. It was supposed to be something fun for them to do together. I was just trying to get Jonathan to warm up to him.”
“William’s tooth got him upset?” I hear my brother ask.
“I can’t explain it. Not until he says it’s ok to. Look—look at me, Jonathan.” She has my cheeks smooshed between her hands and she’s shaking my head. I wish she’d stop. My brain feels loose already and it’s further scrambling it. I was looking past her to the sky. There’s a cloud that’s floating past her shoulder that looks like the dragon from the library rug at home. I was trying not to blink. You can see the shape shift if you don’t. “I see you, Jonathan. I know who you are. You’re not him, you hear me? I see you. You’re not him.”
She found the book.
I was William’s age when father brought home the book that now rests in the wardrobe. I remember I was disappointed. He said he found treasure where he went. I had hoped the surprise was a pocketful of gems. Miss Margaret’s birthday was coming and I was making her the owl necklace that Izzy now wears around her neck. Father laughed and said the land that he had just returned from didn’t have that kind of treasure. It didn’t have shops, towns, houses, or roads. It just had trees as far as the eye could see with red-skinned people hidden in their leaves. Gems weren’t the treasure, he said, the savages were. He told me the land was bursting with human fruit, and the waiting harvest promised great reward. In his excitement, my father forgot my gift. I didn’t know the book bought in haste from the shop in town was a foreshadowing of the monster that we would become together. My boyhood was to last just one more year. By eleven, I was harvesting my father’s treasure with him. Brinsop, the two headed dragon from the story in the gifted book, became a real beast. I, Righteous, the unwilling horned head. My father, Malevolent, the barbed, spiked one with a hunger for treasure.
My wife is mistaken. I am Brinsop, the Righteous head. I’ve seen things a boy shouldn’t, and was forced to do things no man should. I tried as best as I could to fight Malevolent, but he was a powerful head. Does his tainted blood now flow in my veins? Are the two separate beasts, whole? The dragon, Brinsop, must now be of one mind. I grabbed Izzy.
A bean tickles into the top of my ear. It feels like a creeping, hard-skinned caterpillar, but I don’t brush it away. I go for her wrists instead and attempt to massage away any pain I caused. The tremoring makes the gesture look disgustingly pitiful. Surely the girl will leave me. Divorce is highly frowned upon among the Ojibwe, but she has grounds to do it now. No one will argue against it. We had plenty of witnesses that saw what I did. If the wardrobe wasn’t enough to persuade her to leave me, hurting her is. She’ll go. I’ll have to deal with my disobedient hands, my evil wardrobe, and long nights drenched in nightmare all alone. I groan at the long, torturous life ahead without my girl.
“Ninaabem, I’m fine. See? Look—it’s just a teensy bit red. You know better than anybody that it doesn’t take much to do that.” She called me husband. She’s trying her best to reassure me. “I’m sorry, Ninaabem. I’m sorry I kept it from you. I was wrong to. Gi zah gin.” Izzy repeats the ‘I love you’ in English and back to Ojibwe, but it doesn’t soothe the noise coming from me. The only word in my vocabulary is encouraging the moans to continue. She can’t possibly still love me after what she’s seen—after what I’ve done.
Binidee is coming. I can hear the baby’s wailing, and the spine-snapping noise grows in its intensity the closer she gets. The tea is ready at my lips the moment her knees touch the ground. Odd. It shouldn’t be. For full potency the Valerian Root needs to be consumed fresh. It takes time to make it. My guess is that no one here is shocked that I snapped. It was made today. Most of the bitter brew ends up on the front of my already soaked shirt. It doesn’t get absorbed, but slips through the wet and rolls down my chest. I get enough in. My body is feeling deliciously heavy, and the wounded moose-like noise coming from me is easing.
“He got in the perfect amount, Binidee. We do not want him asleep; he may not wake. We need to cool him. His skin is hot and he has stopped sweating. The lake—”
“We can’t take him to the lake. Everyone will see him.” Izzy is mortified enough for the both of us.
“Would you rather his pride be wounded and still have him, or protect it and have him die?” Mikonan is already tugging my shirt off.
Mikonan is the only one who has seen my scars. My own wife hasn’t even seen them yet. I’ve kept myself hidden since I was fifteen. The root won’t let me protest. It would have been a waste anyway—my shirt’s off. Izzy does her best to muffle her sobs at the sight of me, but she can’t keep them back.
“He wouldn’t want them to see.”
“He needs to let them see. This is the perfect time to remind our people who Waabishkaa Ma’iingan is and what he sacrificed for you—for them—and for all in the Council. Kshiwe’ is on his way, and he is bringing much more than weapons. He brings with him a storm. Our people will soon be forced to choose a side.”
Mikonan has me up. My legs won’t work and he’s struggling with my dead weight on his own. Izzy is trying her best on her side of me, but she’s little and she doesn’t have the strength her brother does. My knee is partnering with my feet to pull up half the garden.
“Wiiji’—niswi!” Mikonan shouts for three men when we get to the cabin speckled with tanned un-working workers. The decided ones hop down and each take up a limb. The glossy men look different close up. They aren’t as perfect as I thought they were. Their chests are marked with my father’s dragon.
I’m on my back, and I can see my cloud again. It’s still in its dragon shape. Mikonan says a storm is coming. Funny, I could have told him that.