Northwind © Christoffer Petersen 2022 (Now available for pre-order from Amazon)
Qaqqaq, at its roots, Luui assumed, was a mountain like any other. All mountains grew. Everest, the tallest mountain in the world, had not stopped growing. Why should Qaqqaq be any different?
Luui said the last bit out loud, pausing in a cloud of her own breath as she took a break. Around her, stretching as far as she could see, were the ridges and peaks of the Svartenhuk Mountains. If she squinted, added a teaspoon of imagination, and a liberal dose of longing, she could see her cabin, picture herself sweeping the dust and snow from the floor, hanging homemade decorations, wrestling with pots and pans as she tried to cook – not her greatest skill – only to curse herself for not living just a little closer to Uummannaq, where she could sail to and see what they might have in the store. December in Uummannaq could be plagued by shortages as families bought what they thought they needed, then bought some more to barter and sell what they didn’t. Eggs and yeast could be a real earner in the month of May when families prepared cakes to celebrate the confirmation of sons and daughters, just before the arrival of the first supply ship of spring. Christmas was close enough to November, when the last ship might sneak through the ice…
Luui shook her head.
“That was then,” she said. “When I was small. Back when we had ice each winter.”
It might have bothered her that she was suddenly all mixed up, but a tickle of wind across her cheek reminded her to dig out another handful of whale meat – the last few strips – from her slingpack, to quench her thirst with another handful of snow, and to take five minutes longer than planned before cracking on and climbing the next stretch of the ever-growing mountain.
“All mountains grow,” she said, once her break was over, and Naalanngitsoq helped her up the mountain with a persistent press of air against her back. Luui tested her once, and leaned back to see if she could sit, only to fall on her rump and receive a gusty giggle of snow flurried into her face. “Right,” Luui said. “Focus.”
She concentrated on the climb, cutting steps where necessary, whispering her thanks to Naalanngitsoq when the wind steadied her along a particularly sharp ridge of exposed granite, and then onwards and upwards, ever upwards.
Luui took a breather.
“They grow,” she said, moving on. “But they grow over millions of years.”
She paused again, aware that she almost had it and that a gentle nod of encouragement from her father would be exactly what she needed to get it. But Tuukula was gone, and despite the hollow feeling in her stomach, she knew it was right, that he was finally at peace. “Resting on a sledge behind a big team as he took the longest sledge journey…”
Luui smiled at the thought.
But it wasn’t the thought she was supposed to be thinking.
“Mountains take their time…” Luui looked up. If she jammed her ice axe into the snow, she could lean to her left, tilt her head, and just see the crooked peak. “So, Qaqqaq,” she said. “What’s your hurry?”
And there, again, she felt the tingle of something that made sense, that could even help her if she shaped the thought further, to give it a more definitive form and purpose.
That word again.
What was Qaqqaq’s purpose?
And then she had it.
And, with an unexpected wave of empathy, the hollow in her stomach swelled. It grew heavy, dense like the granite upon which she stood, as she realised Qaqqaq grew fast because it had no purpose. It grew because there was nothing else to do.
“That’s not it,” Luui said.
She turned, looking for Naalanngitsoq, and then waved the wind over, whispering to her to clean a patch of snow from the granite so that she – Luui – might talk to the mountain.
Naalanngitsoq did as she asked, but kept the snow in a small tornado, ready to dump it again when Luui came to her senses and realised she could not talk to the mountain.
But Luui rarely thought about what she could or could not do. And, if she dug deep, just as she imagined a time of sea ice, back when she was a small girl, she would know that nothing was impossible, not even after one tried and failed.
“You just have to keep trying.”
Which, when she pressed her palm to the smooth patch of granite Naalanngitsoq had cleared, made sense as Qaqqaq had clearly not stopped trying something, even if Luui had no clue what that something might be.
She knelt in the snow with her palm flat on the granite and thought about the young girl she was, smiling as she glimpsed the five-year-old Luui, hands on hips, or fingers curled into the fur of a particularly sturdy and contrary sledge dog.
“Cargo,” Luui said, as she remembered the dog’s name.
Little Luui never backed down.
Big Luui wasn’t about to either.
Which is when Qaqqaq understood the young Greenlandic woman struggling up its slopes wanted to talk, wanted to see, and understand, and it responded.
The first rumble might have sent Luui running for cover to escape the path of a sudden rock fall, but the warmth that flooded through her palm, mixing into her blood like…. “Lava,” she said… encouraged her to stay where she was. Never mind Naalanngitsoq’s excited flurries, Luui stayed where she was as the mountain rumbled and shifted beneath her. The rumbling became a great cracking and splintering, as the ground upon which she knelt lifted to flow up the mountain upon a track of granite pebbles, rolling uphill, speeding up the mountain. Luui opened her eyes, felt the tickle of water streaming from them, freezing on her cheeks as the patch of granite flew like the flying carpets she had seen in books, up the mountain. It was never more than a few centimetres above the slope, never breaking contact, but it moved, and Luui moved with it.
Naalanngitsoq whistled around Luui as she drew energy from the mountain, rushing up to keep pace with Luui, in the same way as a katabatic wind might rush down a mountain valley. Together they flew up the slopes – Luui with one hand pressed to the granite, and the other gripping the shaft of her ice axe, ready to plunge it into the ice if Qaqqaq heaved her off the granite escalator, and Naalanngitsoq, the cheeky little wind, gusting in the gritty wake of the shaman’s daughter.
The summit loomed before them.
Luui saw the crooked peak, the unfathomable ball of something that she guessed was pujoralak, and then, lying in a great cirque of rock, filling the mountainous bowl, was the bear covered in ice.
“Sermilissuaq,” Luui said, nodding as she understood.
Qaqqaq slowed Luui’s ascent, bringing her close enough to Sermilissuaq to taste the bear’s cool, musty breath on her tongue as it gusted great icy snores at her face, but far enough to remain out of reach.
But only just.
Luui waited for the ground to settle, and then she stepped to one side, crouching in the snow to observer the bear as Naalanngitsoq settled beside her.
The wind flicked at Luui’s fringe, blowing it gently, rhythmically, as if breathing, but really just letting know Luui she was there, she was close, if the shaman’s daughter needed her.
Luui sniffed the bear’s breath, nodding once again as she understood.
“It’s clean,” she said. “Empty.”
Qaqqaq rumbled, and Luui, remembering her youth, pieced the puzzle together.
“Bears live on the ice.”
Qaqqaq rumbled once more.
“But the ice is gone. Sermilissuaq climbed into the mountains, looking for ice. But Svartenhuk is no place for a bear, and no bear the size of Sermilissuaq can settle on a tiny mountain.” Luui smiled at the spot she thought Naalanngitsoq had settled as she made the final assumption. “Sermilissuaq settled on the only mountain big enough to accommodate him. He called Qaqqaq, and the mountain came to him.”
Luui dug the pick of her axe into the ice as the mountain rumbled.
“But there’s nothing to eat here,” Luui said, as she took another look at Sermilissuaq. “And if it doesn’t eat, the great bear covered in ice will become just that…” Luui paused at the thought of it. “Ice. Just ice.”
Luui blew out her cheeks in a long sigh, and then slumped onto the ground. Naalanngitsoq brushed snow from Luui’s trousers, and then flurried gently around her, waiting, as Luui thought.
“I have to get the bear off the mountain,” Luui said. She glanced over her shoulder, then shook her head. “That’s a big bear.”
Qaqqaq agreed with a rumble.
“And Sermilissuaq called the mountain, and once called, it cannot rest.”
“So….” Luui took another long breath, followed by another equally long sigh. “The bear needs a reason to leave the mountain. It needs to eat. And…” Another sigh, followed by another glance at the bear. “The only thing to eat around here…” Luui laughed at the thought of it. “Is me.”
And Luui, the shaman’s daughter, stood up.
She looked up at the crooked peak and the pujoralak hanging like a Christmas bauble beneath it.
“Northwind will just have to wait,” she said, as she tightened the loop of cord connecting her to the ice axe. “First, I have to wake a sleeping bear, and see if it’s hungry.”
Naalanngitsoq shushed snow across Luui’s boots.
“Right,” Luui said. “What am I saying? Bears are always hungry.”
She took a step towards Sermilissuaq, wondering if her steps were numbered, and if this was the first, how many did she have left?
Luui gripped the ice axe in one hand and took another step.
To be continued on December 22
Northwind © Christoffer Petersen 2022
Don’t miss tomorrow’s episode!