Northwind © Christoffer Petersen 2022 (Now available for pre-order from Amazon)
It might have been the weight of the snow pressing down on her body, or the fresh air, a chill snap of wind in a hollow on the mountain, but Luui slept. Qaqqaq, the ever-growing mountain, continued to rise – rocks rumbling in its belly, scree falling on the exposed slopes, snow avalanching on the sheer ones. The mountain grew, ever reaching, summit soaring, and the shaman’s daughter slept in the cradle of granite halfway up a climbing slope.
Her dreams bothered Naalanngitsoq as Luui started and jerked in her sleep. The little wind kept the snow from covering Luui’s face with a gentle brush, or an insistent caress when Qaqqaq rumbled, but still, even with the deep breathing, occasional snoring, Naalanngitsoq was worried.
Formless, the wind could still shape and influence the lighter elements on the mountain, but it could not interpret or suppose what Luui might be dreaming. The little wind could not even frown – though, had it a visible form, one might read all manner of emotions upon its vectored brows, and turbulent cheeks. But, alas, Naalanngitsoq struggled even with the concept of worry, knowing only that something was wrong, that the young Greenlander shouldn’t perhaps sleep as long as she did, and that she must wake.
Naalanngitsoq flurried snow through Luui’s hair.
She slapped a handful against her cheek.
But nothing she could do could wake the shaman’s daughter. Something or someone more corporeal was required to get its hands on Luui, to shake and wake. Although as concerned as the wind might be, Assagissat’s pincers around Luui’s throat were not what Naalanngitsoq had in mind even if the effect was the same.
“I am hungry, young female thing,” Assagissat said as Luui spluttered for breath. “You promised me Tupilaat. And yet… nothing.”
Luui blinked through the snow covering her eyes. Naalanngitsoq obliged with a helpful rush of air freeing Luui’s lashes. And then, as she focused on Assagissat’s head, pressed her fingers around her pincers in an effort to peel them back just a little from her throat, Luui woke.
“Assagissat,” she said, and again, louder when she recovered her voice. “You left me inside the worm.”
“You have been out of the worm a day now, daughter of the shaman.”
“A whole day?”
“Aap. A day wasted. Another day of hunger. I am hungry. And now,” Assagissat said, releasing Luui to let her slump into the snow, “I am trapped on the mountain. Can’t leave.” She clacked her pincers in the air, pointing at the crooked summit far, far above their heads. “Stuck on this moving, growing thing.”
“And I’m sorry,” Luui said.
“Sorry? You called me.” Assagissat clacked the larger of her two pincers within a breath of Luui’s nose. “You brought me here.”
“And I’m pleased you’re here. I’m grateful.” Luui dug into her slingpack, hiding her initial amazement that it was still on her back, and dug out a fistful of dried whale meat. “I have this,” she said, offering it to the spirit.
“Pah. No good,” Assagissat said. “No magic. no power. No…” She searched for the word, then smiled as it came to her. “Sustenance.”
Luui smiled back. “A good word.”
Assagissat shrugged, but Luui caught the hint of a smile on the spirit’s lips, and she teased at it, working her magic, although she knew if her father were around, he would likely roll his eyes and call it what it really was – charm.
But charm, in Luui’s mind, was a kind of magic. And it cost nothing, and usually made people – and, hopefully, spirits – feel good.
“You’re smarter than the other spirits I know,” she said.
Assagissat turned her head. “Smarter?”
“That too,” Luui said.
“How? In what way?”
“That’s easy,” Luui said. She bit off a chunk of whale meat, offering the other half of the strip to Assagissat, just in case, then tucked the rest back in her slingpack when the spirit shook her head. “You use your head.” Luui gestured into the distance, as if pointing at where they had been. “Inside the worm,” she said. “You knew what to do.”
“I did,” Assagissat said.
“And it worked. We turned the worm. We climbed the mountain.”
“Some of it.”
“And we can climb the rest.”
“But I must eat, young female thing. I must have…” Assagissat paused, as if revelling in the word she was about to use. “Sustenance.”
“Aap.” Luui licked the last fleck of whale meat from her lips and stood up. She brushed snow from her trousers, nodded when Naalanngitsoq brushed the more stubborn patches out of the creases around her pockets, and then opened her slingpack to search for something with which to make a Tupilaq.
Luui found a path of sealskin in the bottom of the pack, and she pulled it out. She laid it on the snow, then added a strip of whale meat, a length of sealskin cord, and, after a quick search of an exposed stretch of granite, a bundle of thick, hardy roots. She found a tuft of fur from an Arctic hare, and, with some satisfaction, a lemming skull turned yellow with the crack of a beak – probably – through the top. Lastly, she reached across to Assagissat and prised a small barnacle from her pincer.
Luui made the body first, binding the cord around the roots to make a crude figure with arms and legs and a long neck. She wrapped the figured with the pliable strip of meat, giving it flesh. Then, with a brief sigh, Luui pricked her finger with the very tip of the ice axe and splashed drops of blood onto the meat. She used more cord to wrap the sealskin around the figure, sealing the flesh and blood around the frame of hardy roots, and then pressed the lemming skull onto the protruding length of root that served as the neck. She pushed it all the way down until the root poked out of the hole in the top of the lemming’s skull, and then capped it with the fur from the hare, and another splash of blood to contrast the brilliant white. She licked the back of Assagissat’s barnacle and stuck it on the Tupilaq’s forehead. Luui gathered the Tupilaq into her hands to warm it as she breathed upon it. Luui’s breath caught in the fur of the hair, and the fibres of the sealskin clothes she had given the figure.
Assagissat watched. She licked her lips but made no sound.
Naalanngitsoq flurried snow in a tiny tornado around Luui’s boots, lending her own touch of drama to the scene as Luui brought the figure to life with her blood and her breath. She had given it bones, coated the bones in flesh. Clothed it. Breathed air into it. And, as she placed it on the snow, she pressed her thumbs gently against the Tupilaq’s bony cheeks to command it.
Tourists bought the carved Tupilaq they found in the shops and markets to the south. But the Tupilaq in Luui’s hands embodied the spirit, magic, and a little of the shaman’s soul.
“Just as it used to be,” Luui whispered as she thought of her father.
Luui let her hands fall to her sides and the Tupilaq jerked into life.
“Wait!” Luui said, as Assagissat reached out to grasp the Tupilaq in her pincers.
“But I’m hungry,” she said.
“And you shall eat, but not before he has served his purpose. You can eat him when he is finished.”
“Finished?” Assagissat hissed and clacked her pincers. “Finished means no magic. No magic means no sustenance. You are tricking me, young female thing…”Assagissat lunged at the Tupilaq, pincers open, only to stop a heartbeat from snapping it in two when the Tupilaq turned its eye upon her.
“You must wait,” Luui said. “The Tupilaq is part of you.” She pointed at the barnacle stuck to the Tupilaq’s skull. “It is new. It is strong. It is made from bits of root and meat. But it has my blood, my breath, and your barnacle.” Luui looked at Assagissat and explained. “It is made of us. We cannot hurt it until its power is diminished. When it is weak, you can eat it. But not before, Assagissat. If you try, it will hurt you. It will send you back to the spirit world, and there you will remain, forever sulten.”
Luui used the Danish word for hungry, as it sounded good alongside sustenance.
“Tricked,” Assagissat said.
“It will be worth it,” Luui said. “This will be a Tupilaq like no other. It will taste like no other. I promise you that.”
Assagissat scuttled back to pout, but her eyes never left the figure in the snow at Luui’s feet.
“What must it do?”
“I’m sending it on ahead of us,” Luui said.
“Why? What must it find?”
“Sermilissuaq,” Luui said as she looked up the side of the ever-growing mountain. “Northwind said the bear made of ice is on Qaqqaq. I think we will find it at the summit.”
“Why the summit?”
“Because that is where we must go.” Luui knelt in front of the Tupilaq, smiled as it tilted its head, and again when the barnacle blinked. “Go now,” she said, with a nod to the summit. “Go and find the bear and come back when you do.”
“Sermilissuaq will eat it,” Assagissat said.
“I don’t think so,” Luui said. She pointed at the Tupilaq and Assagissat turned to watch the tiny figure bound up the side of the mountain, leaping from one boulder to the next, and, between the longer, deeper stretches of exposed rock it flew with a little help from a cheeky little wind.
“Qujanaq, Naalanngitsoq,” Luui whispered as the wind followed the Tupilaq up the mountain.
To be continued on December 17
Northwind © Christoffer Petersen 2022
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