Charmian took in a breath.

She wasn't quite what Charmian had expected.  When Stick-In-The-Dirt had mentioned her being a "medicine woman," she had to admit she'd imagined a stooped old woman, hair the color of snow, lines creasing her face, leaning on a staff almost as ancient as she was.  Not...this person that came to greet them.

The woman who stood before them was tall--easily five-foot-nine or ten--and dressed in a milky-pale doeskin dress that looked as soft as velvet.  The main part of her sleek black hair was tied back in a braid which fell down the length of her back, but two parts of it were allowed to fall free over her shoulders, where feathers had been randomly braided between the strands, making it look as if she were part bird.  The leather band around her forehead bore an eagle emblem.  As for her age, she appeared to be nowhere near old; Charmian guessed her to be in her late twenties or early thirties.  But her eyes--as soon as Charmian looked into them, she seemed to be much, much older.

Charmian gasped.  That wasn't the only thing about her eyes.  Instead of being dark brown, as she'd expected them to be, the woman's eyes  A strange luminous green, like flawless emeralds.

Charmian and Drake stared, mouths open.

Black Elk Horn didn't appear to appreciate their attention.  He frowned again and scuffed his foot against the ground.  Charmian snapped out of her daze and shook her head abruptly, jabbing Drake in the arm.

The woman--Silver Eagle Feather--smiled at them kindly.  It only reinforced the wise "motherly" feeling Charmian had gotten from her.  "Welcome," she said, and her voice was as pleasant and as calming as her looks.  "You say you were sent here for an important purpose.  You both appear quite young to have been sent here alone."

Charmian bit the inside of her mouth and cleared her throat.  "I'm sorry...but he--the person who sent us--said that we were the only ones who could do what we need to do.  Age didn't really seem to have anything to do with it, if you don't mind me saying so."

The woman's smile grew wider.  Charmian felt her anxiousness melting away.  "True, then.  You'll forgive me for questioning your purpose here?"

"Oh--of course, ma'am."

"My name is Silver Eagle Feather.  Your names?"

"Charmian.  And this is Drake."

"Hi, ma'am--er--I mean, Silver Eagle Feather."

"Greetings to you both.  If you wish to speak with me, I'm here now.  You needn't be afraid or hesitate to ask me any questions, as I'll answer any and all that you have."

"Um..."  Charmian cast a glance at the other natives gathered around them, murmuring with curiosity.  "If you don't mind, could we maybe...go someplace a little more private?  I mean, this is rather important, and I'm not sure if it was meant that just everybody hear about it...I mean, it could cause some concern, and all."

The curious looks quickly turned to looks of anxiety and suspicion.  Black Elk Horn's expression was among the latter.  Charmian felt her guts twist.  Bad move.  Silver Eagle Feather simply nodded once and stepped aside, gesturing toward the other side of the camp.

"Not too far away there is a small spring where I often go to sort my thoughts.  We will have some peace there.  Would you follow?"

Charmian's insides untwisted with relief when she saw the other natives weren't about to argue; Stick-In-The-Dirt must have been telling the truth, this woman seemed to have a lot of authority in the camp.  She nodded instead of saying anything, and followed Silver Eagle Feather through the crowd, Drake close behind.  The natives closed in behind them but stayed in the clearing, silently watching them leave.

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