Northwind © Christoffer Petersen 2022 (Now available for pre-order from Amazon)
Luui fell for more than a day. Naalanngitsoq saved her from the worst blows, cushioning her under a pillow of chill air, gusting her over a ridge, between a crevice, but still the descent of Qaqqaq took its toll, and Luui struggled to breathe, struggled to think, struggled to believe she would survive.
I want to live, she thought, when sliding down a long snowfield. I will live.
But as she bumped and tumbled down the steeper sections of the ever-growing mountain, she wondered if even if she lived, she would be doomed to spend eternity falling, ever falling, just as the mountain continued to grow.
It was the stuff of legends.
She, Luui Angakkuarneq, the shaman’s daughter, now shaman in her own right, would write herself into the myths and legends of Greenland in the tale of The Shaman who Never Stopped Falling.
It was a good title. A worthy story to be told around summer campfires, or in winter, on the couch, to small children wrapped in blankets as they leaned in close to the mothers, fathers, uncles, and grandmothers to hear the story of when Luui fell down the mountain. And what happened when she finally slid to a stop.
How did she stop, Anaana? The children would ask.
Well, their mother would say. Stopping is just the beginning of the story. Luui had to stop before she could start.
The children would frown. Boys would fidget. Girls might fart. Mother’s might make a cup of cocoa. Father’s might offer grandma a glass of wine. Or, perhaps, when sitting around the campfire, as the wind blew sand through the camp, a craggy-faced hunter might pause to light a cigarette – a hand-rolled one he had tucked behind his ear, for just such an occasion.
How strange that the tip of the cigarette glowed blue.
And Luui blinked.
She shook snow from her face with a little gust of the cheeky, now tired, wind Naalanngitsoq. She blinked again, reached for the shaft of the ice axe tumbling alongside her at the end of the sealskin cord looped around Luui’s wrist. She grabbed it, pulled it to her chest, slid one cold, stiff hand over the fat adze, her other around the shaft, and then kicked off the snow to roll onto her chest. Luui dug the pick into the snow and held on. She gritted her teeth until the pick finally, miraculously, caught hold, snagging something under the snow, jolting Luui to as stop. She breathed, blinked, and then turned her head to see what was wrong with her feet. Why did they feel like they were floating?
“Oh,” Luui said, as she saw her legs – from her knees to her toes – dangling over an icy precipice. “That’s why.”
Luui squirmed a little higher up the slope and then dug the fingers of her left hand through the crusty surface of the snow and pulled herself another inch further up the slope. She did it again. And again, tentatively pulling the pick out of the snow to dig it in higher, and further from the drop of the mountain.
Well done, Luui.
And suddenly it made sense.
“You came back.”
“Aap,” he said, as Tuukula’s form shimmered into view, the tip of his cigarette lending a blue glow to his body as he settled, cross-legged, by the side of Luui. “I came back. And,” he said, with a nod to the precipice, “just at the right time.”
“I was ready to fall,” Luui said. She sat up. “I was ready for it to end.”
“Qaqqaq does not end, Luui,” Tuukula said. “It is ever-growing.”
“But it must start somewhere.”
Tuukula shrugged and said, “It starts wherever it chooses.”
“That’s hardly fair.”
“It’s not. But it is interesting.”
“If you’re not falling,” Luui said. She smiled a Naalanngitsoq brushed snow out of her lap with a gentle gust.
“She is a good friend,” Tuukula said. “Not like Assagissat.”
“Assagissat was hungry.” Luui shook snow from her slingpack and then reached inside to see if she had any whale meat left. She found a piece, bent it into a roll and popped it in her mouth. “I’m hungry,” she said. “And tired.”
“You can return to the cabin.”
“Naamik.” Luui shook her head, and then looked up the mountain, squinting into the black sky as she searched for the summit. “I must finish what I started.”
“Aap,” Tuukula said.
“I need to bring Aunix home.”
“She will come…”
“But only if I get what Northwind wants from the mountain.”
“Northwind doesn’t know what she wants.” Tuukula’s cigarette glowed brightly as he took another spectral drag. “And neither do you, daughter.”
Luui frowned, and said, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You are confused.”
“Not confused. I know what I have to do to get Aunix home.”
“I’m talking about you, Luui. You are confused.”
“Well, now I am.” Luui sighed. “What are you talking about, Ataata? And don’t say me. Don’t make me any more confused than you already think I am.”
“Sad is another word.”
“Instead of confused?” Luui’s breath pearled on her sweater as it froze. “I suppose this is what I get when riddle-swapping with shamans on the side of an ever-growing mountain. This is what they will tell the kids when the tell the story of The Shaman Who…”
“…Never Stopped Falling.” Tuukula smiled. “A favourite of mine, I must admit.”
“And do you know how it ends?”
“Are you going to tell me?”
“I can tell you one version of it, and you can decide if that’s the ending you want to hear, or if you would prefer another.”
“I have a choice?”
“Always,” Tuukula said. “Although it’s not always good to choose. Better to accept.”
Tuukula finished his cigarette. His body faded for a moment, almost invisible before the lit a second cigarette.
“You must accept that I am dead.”
“Must accept it. Must say it. And then, daughter, you can continue up the mountain to complete your quest and bring your friend home safely for Christmas.”
“I have to say you are gone?”
“Not just gone,” Tuukula said. “When you say gone, you think I am coming back.”
“You’re here now,” Luui said. “You were gone. You came back.” She raised her hands, spreading her palms to suggest her father’s theory was flawed. “Tell me why I should think any different.”
“Because you’re not thinking, Luui. You are feeling.” Tuukula reached out to press his hand upon Luui’s heart. “This is what they say in the story. This is the moment when ana tells her grandchildren to press their hands upon their hearts. The hunter does the same around the campfire, and the children watching him copy him, pressing tiny hands to tiny hearts. They feel the act of feeling. Just like you.”
Tuukula let his hand fall. Luui reached for it, but it disintegrated into atoms, drifting out of her grasp.
“Let me go, Daughter,” he said. “And climb the mountain with a lighter heart, and a clear head.” Tuukula flattened his lips into a grim smile, adding, “You will need both if you are to outsmart Sermilissuaq.”
“The bear covered in ice.”
“It’s the next part of the story,” Tuukula said. “The Tale of the Shaman and the Bear Covered in Ice.”
“Do I defeat it?”
Tuukula shrugged. “Only you can choose the ending, Luui. It is your story after all.”
“I never wanted you to die,” she said.
“You were a child. I was an old man.”
“An old shaman.”
“Aap,” he said. “Which made things easier… And worse.”
“I kept you around, didn’t I?”
“It was me who stopped you moving on.”
“You and your magic, Luui,” Tuukula said. Tuukula’s eyes twinkled with a smile as he took a last drag on his cigarette. “You have always been strong. Stronger than me. I used to joke that when you were too much, I would ask the spirits for help. Only to find…”
“I had made them a better offer.” Luui laughed. “I remember you saying that.”
“Many times,” Tuukula said.
Luui looked at Tuukula’s cigarette – a tiny stub pinched between the tips of his finger and thumb, almost finished.
“This is it, isn’t it?” she said.
Tuukula nodded. “Aap.”
“And I won’t see you again?”
“You won’t,” he said. “But I will rest these very old bones. And I will be at peace, Daughter. Remember that.”
“I wish I was at peace.”
Tuukula smiled and then, with one last look at his daughter, and a brief dip of Luui’s head, he flicked the butt into the snow, and was gone.
To be continued on December 21
Northwind © Christoffer Petersen 2022
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