Northwind © Christoffer Petersen 2022
The Qamallarlutik spent the seventh day of December in the corner of Luui’s cabin, heads hidden inside their fur heads, while their big brown eyes followed Luui as she moved around the room – packing this, discarding that, eating when she remembered to eat, making tea when she discovered she was thirsty. Kalaagi might have coughed once or twice when he thought Luui was about to forget something important, and Naaluk might have snapped a spark from her fingers to light a little something or other she felt was indispensable.
“What?” she said, when Kalaagi muttered something under his breath. “Luui is a woman. That kind of thing is indispensable.”
Kalaagi reluctantly agreed that he knew nothing of such things, and the Qamallarlutik returned to their observation of Luui as she prepared to climb the endless mountain known simply as Qaqqaq, the Greenlandic word for mountain.
“It deserves a proper name,” Naaluk said.
“And one day it will have one,” Kalaagi said. “But until it stops growing, it hasn’t earned a name. It is undoubtedly a mountain, but it must settle to give it character.”
“Its character is unsettled,” Naaluk said. She slapped her brother’s arm when she felt he was too slow to respond.
“You’re always hitting me,” he said.
“And you’ll always be my brother. And that’s settled.”
But Luui, like the ever-growing mountain, was not settled.
They had left a lot of equipment at Aurora Station, the tower of converted shipping containers Luui had once called home. Aunix flew as much as she could to Luui’s cabin, but the little plane could only carry so much weight, and they agreed that two trips would have to suffice. And so, wishing she had two ice axes and not one, or lamenting the fact she had but a small slingpack and not a larger backpack gave Luui pause in between, and in each pause the Qamallarlutik held their breath.
“She’s undecided,” Naaluk said.
“Naamik,” Kalaagi replied, ever Luui’s champion. “She’s deciding. She knows what she needs, and she pack it for the journey.”
“Climb, not journey.” Naaluk clasped the edges of her brother’s hood to turn his head. “It’s not a journey, brother. Luui must climb Qaqqaq – all the way to the top.”
“To get the pujoralak.”
“I know,” Naaluk said. “I was there when Northwind said it.”
“But do you know what it is?”
Naaluk let go of Kalaagi’s hood and shrugged. “I might know. I might choose not to know. I’m not sure it’s important.”
“It is important,” Luui said as she turned around. She picked up a three-legged stool and set in front of the Qamallarlutik. “Pujoralak is like dust,” she said. “But lighter.” She sucked her teeth as she wondered how to explain it.”
“Like the skin on something,” Kalaagi said with a helpful smile.
“The skin on dust,” Naaluk said.
“Dust doesn’t have skin.” Kalaagi said, only to pause when Luui nodded at his sister.
“She’s not wrong, from what I know – or what I’ve heard,” Luui said. “Pujoralak gives the dust lift, I think.” She sucked her teeth once more, releasing her tongue with a popping sound that made Naaluk giggle. “It’s like Aunix’ plane.” Luui held one hand flat and then moved her other hand up and over it, as if it was air washing over the wing of Aunix’ plane. “Without the Pujoralak the dust can be blown any which way.” Luui made a fist and demonstrated. “But with an invisible layer, like a skin, the wind is repelled by the pujoralak, and the dust stays in place.”
“It can’t,” Naaluk said, shaking her head. “Dust is too light. It can’t defy the wind.”
“And yet,” Luui said, pointing at a dusty corner of the cabin. Naaluk shrugged and Luui reached out to the wall, drawing the tip of her finger along an uneven plank of wood. She turned her finger to the Qamallarlutik, then blew the dust from it, only to turn it back again to show that not all the dust was gone.
“It’s trapped in the whorls of your skin,” Kalaagi said.
“The whorls of what?” Naaluk said. She raised her hand as if to swipe her brother’s arm, but Luui caught it, holding her arm gently as she transferred some dust onto Naaluk’s tiny fingertips.
“Kalaagi is right, the grooves in my skin trap the dust. But you would think if I blew and blew…” Naaluk giggled again as Luui’s breath tickled her fingers. “You’d think it would all come off, but it doesn’t.”
Naaluk showed her finger to Kalaagi, and the Qamallarlutik siblings nodded, hoods dipping in unison.
“So,” Luui said, leaning back on her stool. She set her hands in her lap and thought for a moment. The Qamallarlutik waited, holding their breath until Luui spoke. “Northwind must be bothered by the pujoralak. Maybe there’s some dust she has been trying to clear, but it is too stubborn…”
“Too strong,” said Naaluk. “Makes her look weak.”
“And she doesn’t like to be weak,” Kalaagi said, agreeing with his sister.
“And Northwind is stubborn, too. She hasn’t given up – she won’t give up. But neither can she get at it. Maybe she thinks the source of the pujoralak is on Qaqqaq’s peak.”
“And she wants you to get it,” Naaluk said, wriggling as she understood.
Luui laughed as Naaluk toppled under so much wriggling. She stopped laughing when she caught the look Kalaagi gave his sister, as if she shouldn’t be wriggling or giggling, as if there was something unsaid, and only Naaluk knew what it was.
“Don’t look at me like that, brother,” Naaluk said as she picked herself up. “Luui is strong. She is brave. She can easily climb to the top of Qaqqaq, no matter how tall it grows.” Naaluk stood up, tucked her hands onto her hips, and gave her brother the raised eyebrow treatment. “Honestly, it could have been much, much worse.”
“It’s worse than you think.” Kalaagi turned to Luui and said, “You know who lives on the ever-growing mountain, don’t you, Luui?”
Luui took a long breath and nodded.
“Aap,” she said. “Sermilissuaq. The bear covered in ice.”
Naaluk clapped a tiny hand over her tiny mouth. Her eyes grew wide, drawing in the orange light flickering through the thick glass in the door of the pot-bellied stove.
“Sermilissuaq?” she said, whispering through splayed fingers.
“Aap,” Kalaagi said. He gave his sister a long, hard look. “And now you understand.”
“She can’t go.” Naaluk scuttled across the dusty blackwood floor to clutch Luui’s heels as she stood up. “It’s too dangerous. You’re brave, Luui, shaman’s daughter, but not brave enough.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Luui said as she gently tugged her heels free of Naaluk’s grip. “But it’s too late. I’ve already agreed.” She looked down at Naaluk, and said, “I might not be brave enough.” Luui shrugged. “I’ll just have to be braver.”
“See what you’ve done,” Kalaagi whispered as Luui continued to sort her gear for the climb.
“Think?” Kalaagi said, as Naaluk slumped onto her bottom. “You rarely do.”
“But Luui needed this…”
“Imaqa,” Kalaagi said. “But it’s not just the ever-growing mountain and Sermilissuaq she has to overcome now, little sister.”
“Naamik,” he said. “Sermilissuaq might live on the mountain. But where Sermilissuaq lives, so do others.” Kalaagi looked at Luui as she wrapped the adze of her ice axe in a canvas cap, tightening it with strips of sealskin. “There are other things just as bad.”
“Other things? As bad as Sermilissuaq?”
Kalaagi nodded. He lowered his voice. “Some might say they are even worse.”
Naaluk swallowed. She pushed herself to her feet and took a step towards Luui.
“It’s too late, Naaluk,” Kalaagi said. He gripped the back of Naaluk’s fur. “You can’t stop her now.”
“Then we’ll go with her,” Naaluk said.
“Naamik,” Luui said as she turned to look at the Qamallarlutik. “I must go alone.”
To be continued on December 8
Northwind © Christoffer Petersen 2022
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