After a few hours, they were safely away from Qagit; in fact, all towns and villages lay behind them now. Tinhara shouted for Lefe to stop and, upon pulling along side, told him of her plan. “We must go south and east, then south again. It is a treacherous route, but it was the surest way to avoid contact with the magicians.”
“The Land?” Lefe asked.
“What does that mean? The Land. What does he mean by that?” Hadyn asked
“Most people avoided the burial grounds and the Land of the Gods, but I have been through the areas before, and know we can make the trip. It’s the only way,” Tinhara explained. She sniffled and wiped her nose on her glove. Lefe grunted in agreement and they continued eastward for some time.
There came into sight a herd of tawnluk, their pale brown fur almost gleaming in the cool sun. The bitter air turned the herd’s exhalations into a beautiful cloud that hung just above their heads. She could clearly see the herd leader, standing watch, his massive antlers glinting in the pale light.
“Hoh!” Tinhara shouted as she pulled hard on the reins and stepped on the brake. Hadyn roused herself from her thoughts and looked around.
“Where are we?” she asked.
“Do you see the tawnluk? Over there?” Tinhara said as she pointed to the herd of animals.
“They’re beautiful,” Hadyn said as she nodded.
“How about some fresh meat for tonight?” Tinhara asked.
“That hunt?” Lefe asked as he looked at the tawnluk. Tinhara looked at them, and then looked at him and nodded.
“Yes, can you follow my lead?” she asked.
Lefe raised his hand to his eyes and held his fingers together, watching the tawnluk through the circle. He then squeezed his hand into a fist and shouted “Gah!” as he pretended to crush them. Tinhara laughed.
“We’ll settle here for the night. Hadyn, you unpack the snow saw and start cutting. We’re going to hunt,” she said as she smacked Lefe on the back.
“Me use the snow saw?” Hadyn asked. Her mouth hung open in disbelief. “I don’t know how the thing works. I…” She paused before raising her eyebrow and smiling. “Can’t we just sleep in the caqun?”
Tinhara’s heart skipped a beat and she could feel one leg give slightly. “Yes. The caqun is fine. Lefe, do you have somewhere to sleep?”
“Tawnluk,” he said with a grin. He raced over and pulled out a long metal spear from his sled. Tinhara whistled when she saw it.
“Nice weapon. Where did you get that?”
“Spear,” he said as he held the spear up with both hands over his head. His pride beamed through his smile.
“Okay, we’ll be gone for a while. Stay low, out of the wind. We’ll have to stake Huel and the dogs or they’ll run off after the tawnluk,” she said to Hadyn as she toed a nearby pile of snow, “I’ll set you up with a fire to keep you warm.”
“Fire?” Lefe asked.
“Yes. First, let’s stake the animals. Lefe, take care of your dogs.” Tinhara took a long pole out of the sled and began to drilling it deep into the ice, spinning it between her hands to work it down further and further. She shoved it in almost three feet before she was satisfied.
“This sled has everything,” Hadyn said. “I don’t think I ever noticed that pole.”
“It has to have everything,” Tinhara laughed. “I use this pole as a stake for Huel, as a spear handle when I’m hunting, as a rod when I’m fishing, as a snare when I’m going after small animals. I like to be well prepared.” She grabbed Huel’s harness and began to unstrap him from the sled. She left him muzzled and then tied the harness to the stake. He pulled at it a bit but settled down with a huff. “He likes you so he won’t be a bother,” she said to Hadyn. “If he starts to stare at you and drool, feed him some qamux. Cut it into little pieces to get it through the muzzle. Give him everything that Lefe left behind the other day. That whole piece should keep him happy.” Hadyn nodded and sniffed. “Cold?” Tinhara asked. Hadyn nodded and wiped her nose with her sleeve.
Tinhara walked a few paces away from the sled and grabbed a large armful of snow. She returned to the taksin and dumped the snow right in front of her. Lefe grunted and went to get more snow. “Only the right snow!” she yelled after him. She poked around the sled for two small rocks and smiled when she found them. She returned to Hadyn and crouched near her but nearly fell over. It happens every time, Tinhara thought as she felt her muscles convulse and her breath shorten. She cleared her throat and heard Hadyn laugh a little. She glanced sideways and saw her leaning back a bit, staring at her. Hadyn stretched out her long leg and tapped Tinhara with her foot.
“You make me laugh sometimes,” Hadyn said.
“I am not your fool,” Tinhara said.
Hadyn leaned forward and grinned. “Aren’t you?”
Lefe returned with a pile of snow and dumped it where Tinhara pointed. “It is the wrong kind Lefe. It is useless.”
“Lefe wrong?” he asked.
“Lefe wrong,” she confirmed.
“Lefe not wrong,” Hadyn said as she pulled her legs up and stood. She reached out to the giant and tapped his chest. “You did okay,” she said.
“He did not,” Tinhara murmured under her breath as she clacked the stones together. Their sharp noise echoed across the ice field. After a few tries, Tinhara sent a spark into the snow and it began to burn a soft orange.
“This should keep you warm,” she said as Lefe withdrew his hand from his gauntlet and held it over the fire. “For Hadyn,” she reminded Lefe.
“Warm,” he said before suddenly pulling his hand away and waving it in the air. He let loose a yelp and shoved it in the cooling snow. Hadyn laughed and rushed to his aid, taking his massive hand gingerly in hers and blowing on it to help cool the skin.
“You really are just a big child,” she said. Tinhara watched them silently from the other side of the fire.
“I really don’t understand. How does the flame burn?” Hadyn asked. Tinhara reached for a grogskin from the sled.
She pulled out the bone stopper and took a hard drink to calm her nerves. Hadyn made her body twitch and tremble every time she was near. “Ahhhh. Grog?” she offered.
“You didn’t answer me,” Hadyn said as she took the grogskin, sniffed, and sipped the grog. She coughed a bit, and handed the sealskin container back to Tinhara, who offered it to Lefe.
“Drink no,” he said as he shook his head. He held his hand up to his face so he could inspect the palm. It was not damaged.
“What’s to understand? It’s magic, but Qanian magic. Not that cursed Karech magic. The dark specks burn. This, here,” she said as she grabbed a small bit of snow. “This burns. This is real magic, not like those magicians and their…”
She stopped mid-sentence. Hadyn’s eyes burned deeply again, lighting the same fire within her that she felt the first time she saw the taksin. Her pulse raced and she felt her face flush, and she had to turn her gaze away. Tinhara sucked on her bottom lip, but decided to let the moment go.
“Drink some water while we’re gone. On the other side of the sled near the front, do you see a large yellow pouch? In there is a bone saucer. Put some clean snow in it and melt it over the flame. Do not drink the snow that burns, take only what is pure white. Lefe, let’s you and me go hunt some tawnluk,” Tinhara said as she pointed to the tracks left by the herd. She walked back to the sled and dug around, eventually pulling a white fur from within the caqun. This skin was her pride and joy.
“What a beautiful fur,” Hadyn exclaimed.
Tinhara ran her fingers through it, wondering if she should tell Hadyn the story behind the fur.
“Can I have it? It looks so warm.”
“No, it’s a hunting fur,” Tinhara answered.
“Where did you get it?”
Tinhara turned to look at Hadyn and suddenly felt compelled to tell her the truth. This truth would not be harmful, she reasoned, if it was the shortened version. “Years ago, I found a two-year-old bear cub starving in the snow next to its dead mother. I decided I would nurse it back to health, so I dragged it back to camp and pleaded with my mother to let me keep the animal. Mother was furious, and refused to allow such a filthy animal to stay with the family. That’s what she called it, a filthy animal. Father, however, was a soft touch. I begged him, swearing it was a sign from Hecath herself that I was destined to have a bear as a companion. Turns out I was right, just wrong about which bear. Father spent the rest of the night justifying his decision to mother. I fed the bear as best I could, and played with it for a while before falling asleep. All night I remember that I dreamt of names for the little cub, but when I woke up, the cub was dead. I know now that the animal was too close to death to have been saved, but somehow, I still blame…” She let the accusation trail off. Hadyn pursed her lips, but let the story end there.
“Lefe, hand me your spear,” she said as she changed the subject. She practised with a quick jabbing motion, stabbing the snow. She handed it back to him and they headed on foot toward the herd, leaving Hadyn huddled over the fire.
“Wait here while I make a circle around the herd,” she ordered as she began walking as quietly as possible so as not to startle them into a stampede. She laid down flat on her belly as she made her approach, the white fur thrown over her to hide her dark sealskin clothes. She positioned herself behind a chunk of ice. She extended her arms, pushed the block ahead of her, using her elbows and knees to squirm up to it again, and then pushed again. Time after time she inched forward, the ice block hiding her from the sight of her prey. She travelled around the edge of the herd, staying away from any area that she thought might crunch too loudly under her weight and betray her position. If she heard the snow crust break, she would shift her direction around the area.
She could tell by the frequency of tracks and dung how close she was to the tawnluk. She peeked her head around the ice block and saw a young tawnluk, born only a few years ago, standing at the edge of the herd. She’d have only one chance to startle the animal toward Lefe before they all backed up into a protective circle of antlers and rage. She waited for the animals to settle down after hearing the snow crunch under her body as she tucked her legs underneath her. She took a deep breath and sprang up and screamed, waving her arms and startling the herd. The target headed into the centre of the pack instead of along its edges and Tinhara cursed loudly.
Lefe let loose a long, loud howl and charged the herd before their circle had completely formed. The attack from the opposite direction worked, and the tawnluk scattered. He charged one of the larger animals. “No Lefe! The little one! The little one over here!” she shouted as she waved her arms to get the giant’s attention. He swerved, running fast and furious toward her. He raised his spear and charged headlong through the panicked animals. He turned slightly and arched his back. Snapping forward, he hurtled his spear with brute force and he let out a tremendous roar. The spear sank deeply into the small tawnluk, causing it to bleat and buck. The spear stuck fast and Lefe and Tinhara were on the animal in an instant. She grabbed the spear and pushed it further into the animal’s side, driving harder into the softer internal organs. Lefe grabbed the animal’s head, and with another great roar, twisted and broke its neck.
Breathing heavily, Lefe smiled and held both arms up in the air. He and Tinhara both danced around the dead tawnluk’s body and shouted to the Gods. “Praise be to Hecath!” she yelled as she tried to pull the spear out. It was stuck fast, and she had to put one foot on the carcass to get it out. “Lefe, you’re an excellent hunting partner,” she said.
“You good,” he complimented her. Tinhara bent down and put her mouth on the hot wound. She sucked in a mouthful of thick blood and stood up. Raising her arms up and out to the sides, she tilted her head back, took a deep breath in through her nose, and spit the blood into the sky. “Praise be, and thank you for the gift of food,” Tinhara intoned as the blood rained down onto the snow and dribbled down her chin.
“Can you carry it back?” she asked Lefe. She knew he could, and she didn’t want to get herself covered in blood. He nodded and lifted the body up onto his shoulders while Tinhara cleaned her face with snow. They walked back together, Tinhara occasionally jogging just to keep up with him.
“Tawnluk?” Tinhara asked as she arrived back at the camp.
“Food,” Lefe announced with a smile. Tinhara was glad he seemed so happy all the time; it meant he was more likely to stick with them, no matter what they faced. They spent a few hours cutting the tawnluk and cooking some for Hadyn, although Lefe preferred his raw and Tinhara would eat anything as long as she had grog. The dogs got innards and Huel got a large piece of the chest: bone, heart and all. Tinhara took the small antlers: they’d make a beautiful head-dress. She poked them into Lefe’s arm occasionally and laughed when he swatted her away like a fly. The greying blue haze of twilight stole over the land, darker and darker by the hour.
“Sing for me,” Tinhara asked. Hadyn looked at her with a smile, and she couldn’t help but smile back.
“Did you like my voice… back there?” Hadyn asked. Tinhara looked down at her gauntlets and nodded. Her eyes flicked left and right, but she refused to look up until Hadyn’s fingertips touched her chin and raised her head. She stared into Hadyn’s eyes. Hadyn took a deep breath and began to sing, releasing Tinhara. The words started off simple until she began to keep time by tapping on the tough leather of her boots. Tinhara’s head began to nod to the beat, listening to words she didn’t understand, her head lightened by the grog. Each note brought a soft veil of breath in front of Hadyn’s face, each word was both sweet and sorrowful at once, and she began to rock in time. Tinhara leaned forward, drawn into the rhythm of her voice and its echo. She’d have listened for hours, but Hadyn’s voice grew weary long before that.
“That’s beautiful. You have no idea,” Tinhara said. Hadyn took a long drink of water before replying.
“I know what my voice does. I’ve had the gift since I was a child. It was my voice that drew the sin traders to me. They forced me to sing on the journey to Galmaq, and told me that if I didn’t sing on the stage, they’d kill the others. They said they would return and take my sisters if I did not sing,” she said. “It’s a treacherous gift.”
Tinhara drew in a deep breath. “I didn’t know. I’m sorry if you didn’t want to sing for me, I didn’t…” She stopped mid-sentence when Hadyn held up her hand.
“I sing to you for the pleasure of it.” Their eyes met again and locked, neither wanting to look away this time. Tinhara looked at every eyelash, every curve in Hadyn’s face, her parted lips, her burning eyes. “I’m not as naïve as you seem to think,” Hadyn said. Tinhara drew her head back and swallowed.
“I think,” she said as she settled back into her own spot across the fire, “that you are much more than you first appeared to be.”
Hadyn smiled. “I appeared to be a seductress, didn’t I?” she said with wink. She motioned toward the caqun with her head.
“Lefe, do you need any skins?” Tinhara asked eagerly. She wanted Hadyn’s touch badly, but was afraid of the woman’s reaction to her own battered and scarred body.
Lefe shook his shaggy head and grinned. “Dogs sleep.”
Standing now, she scanned the horizon, but saw no one in pursuit. Hadyn laughed. “What’s so funny?” Tinhara asked.
Hadyn paused for a moment. “Are you avoiding me?” she asked. Tinhara rolled her eyes, unwilling to admit her hesitation. They crawled into the caqun, Tinhara first, followed by Hadyn. They each disrobed awkwardly, silently, and then lay facing each other in the dark.
Tinhara’s hand reached out, touching Hadyn’s jaw, running slowly down her chin and further then, down her throat. She parted her lips to better draw her breath. Her fingers moved on their own, around Hadyn’s shoulder and back again, criss-crossing the soft expanse of flesh. Tinhara’s arm was trapped as she lay on her side, and when her hand could reach no further, she extended the other hand and found the Hadyn’s hip. Hadyn sighed deeply and Tinhara let her hand roam this alluring body and let her own body, her soul, be conquered.
She moved slowly, wanting to know everything about the woman with whom she shared her caqun. Hadyn was not like the others, others who had been rough and worn and tough as leather. Her flesh was soft and smooth and yielding, its folds and curves drawing Tinhara into its complex network of sensuality. She licked her lips and arched her neck up toward Hadyn’s mouth, kissing her, hesitantly at first and then with passion. Her lips sought out the pleasure promised earlier by Hadyn’s voice, and her tongue flickered in and out, lapping up salty hot breath. She bit Hadyn’s lip gently, pulling on it, sucking her in and releasing her again.
Tinhara felt Hadyn’s large hands commanding attention everywhere they roamed. They were inquisitive, coaxing, and seductive. She moaned softly as Hadyn slid her leg between Tinhara’s, parting them, moving her body closer. Tinhara let her hands play at what she thought they’d long forgotten. She was not like Qaltroq, Tikmuk or anyone else. A new world opened up for Tinhara. She began to sweat, to burn up with desire. The fur of the caqun tickled her back as she moved around to take some pressure off her hip. She wanted nothing more than this woman, and would gladly give her life in return. Everything faded away except this moment. Her body began to shiver and tighten, rising up as Hadyn moved her fingers slowly in little circles. She groaned and let go of Hadyn’s lips, then hungrily snatched them up again. Tinhara gave in, unable to refuse the pleasure that was so rarely hers, a pleasure of surrender and deliverance from the mundane to the magical.
The smell of sweat and desire greeted Tinhara as she awoke. She lay there in Hadyn’s arms until the dogs began to bark and Lefe began to shout. “Time to get up, get going,” Hadyn said in a whisper. Tinhara shivered a little.
“Just a few more minutes?” she asked.
Hadyn shook her head. “And a few minutes after that, and a few minutes after that. We have to get up.”
Tinhara sighed, knowing Hadyn was right. She squirmed around until her feet reached the clothes she had shoved into the bottom of the caqun. Her hand brushed Hadyn’s skin, and she could feel her fingers tingle. Once Tinhara had her pants and sealskin shirt on, she reached up to untie the caqun’s opening. Hadyn began to hum softly, and Tinhara paused for a moment, experiencing the pleasure all over again.
“Out,” Hadyn said and Tinhara reluctantly crawled out of the dark, warm caqun into the stunning daylight.
They ate a leisurely meal of tawnluk blood soup. Sipping out of the same bowl, the women laughed and talked between themselves, devising a route to go home. They would travel south until the sun dipped toward the horizon, or until they reached the edge of the Land of the Gods, whichever came first.
Well fed and rested, the troop continued on the journey. Blazing through the snow, Tinhara’s mind began to put together the events of the last few days. Indeed, she marvelled that it had only been five days since she found Cyr dying in the snow, since she had been told her destiny and had promised to fulfil the new prophecy. She considered the importance of saving this red-haired woman from the sin trade, of returning her home, of a touched giant for a friend. She appreciated that they were fugitives, running from the Karech magicians and guards of Galmaq, heading toward a country she’d never seen. These thoughts took time, but time became fixed at an impossible scale. Tinhara looked out across the land that rolled away in a hundred thousand snowbanks, and she did not return her gaze to the more immediate land before her until these thoughts had passed from her mind. She ordered Huel to stop only because Lefe had called out that it was time to eat. She had spent the hours quietly thinking, and realized that Hadyn too had spent the entire day without saying a word to her.
She pursed her lips and let out a deep breath. “Still hungry?” Tinhara teased as Lefe finished off the last of the tawnluk.
“Raw meat is disgusting,” Hadyn complained.
“Get used to it,” Tinhara laughed as she bit off a piece of meat.
“Where I come from, we cook our meat. All meat.”
Tinhara shrugged. “If you can find something to cook with, then we cook. Otherwise, you eat it raw.” Hadyn stood up and looked around, digging here and there in the thick snow. “You won’t find any snow to burn, it’s the wrong type of snow here.” She returned sullenly to Tinhara’s side.
“Is it really that bad for you here? You’re away from the sin trade, with my company. And a behemoth of a guardian. In fact, I’d say you are blessed,” Tinhara said. She rummaged through the sled, looking for another grogskin. “I grew up on the land, I’ve been everywhere, and I’ve seen everything. Um, almost everything,” she said as she motioned toward Lefe with her head. He smiled and she smiled back as she watched him play in the snow with his dogs. “Ah, here we are,” she said as she pulled out an empty grogskin. She began to fill it with snow.
“How long have you been travelling like this?” Hadyn asked.
“My people have always been wanderers.” She plugged the grogskin, sat beside Hadyn again, and began to massage it, crushing the snow and slowly turning it into water.
“When the purge began, the magicians from Karech used powerful magic, and killed many people. Soldiers did the rest. The Karech brought a powerful magic with them, the magic of the Rings. People began to get wounds. They were small at first, little circles, but they grew and festered and would end up all over your body, and you would die. It might take a few days, sometimes a few weeks, but once you had one wound, you knew you would die. I still don’t understand their magic, their weapon. We had to create the Burial Grounds, just to the east of us. Before, people died one at a time. But with these magic attacks, people started dying all at once. We had to bury our dead far away from our homes because animals would come and eat them, and they would sometimes attack those still living.”
“We call those people the Skeletons. They are the living dead, so thin and pale,” said Hadyn. “They came to our land, too, but we drove them away. They attack us once in a while, but not with magic weapons. They used real ones, metal and stone. I’ve never heard of them having any magic powers. Maybe they’re a different group from the same country. They used to steal people right out of their beds. Children and young girls, mostly. Now it seems that they’ve hired you to steal us for them.”
Tinhara shook her head. “Not me. I rescued you, remember? Whoever they are, all I know is, we are best off if we don’t run into too many of them. The further away they are, the better.” She uncorked the grogskin and sipped a bit of ice cold water before handing over to Hadyn.
Tinhara grinned and looked around out of habit rather than need. She leaned forward, her face touching Hadyn’s long red hair. “Would you like to see magic?” she whispered. Hadyn leaned back slightly, incredulously, and nodded. Tinhara jumped up and wandered around a bit, kicking at the snow here and there. “Lefe? Want to see some magic?”
“Yes!” he shouted, startling the dogs enough that they began to howl and bark. With a growl and a glare from him, the dogs went quiet. Tinhara searched for almost 20 minutes before she found what she was looking for.
“Stay there,” she yelled to her companions. “It’s better from far away.” They watched as Tinhara stomped her feet into the snow.
“What are you doing?” Hadyn asked.
“Magic!” she shouted back. Tinhara removed her gauntlets and placed them carefully on the snow beside her. She held her hands out, palms down, hovering over the area, back and forth, until she found just the right spot.
“Blessed be.” She put her handprint into the snow, its missing fingers uniquely identifying her among all the others who might touch this sacred land. Crouched down, hovering over the handprint, she concentrated, focussing all of her attention on the print. She narrowed her eyes, put both hands near her mark, and began to breathe erratically: in, out, out. Out. Little blue lights flickered between her and the snow, trickling down her fingers, bouncing up into her palms. Her arms tingled, her heart skipped a few beats as a new pulse travelled through her body. Then there was nothing, until, again, her hands quivered and her trembling fingers ached.
“Please come to me,” she murmured. “Show yourselves and chase the darkness away.” Tinhara could here the dogs begin to whimper behind her. Huel, who had seen the display before, curled up and napped.
The energy from the ground pulsed and throbbed, making her fingers feel first swollen, then empty. Each time she shivered slightly, lost her breath, and then gasped, sucking cool air between her lips. Her arms felt heavy, the power oozing into her. Her biceps pulsed rhythmically, her heart beat and her shoulders throbbed. She felt blood rushing to her lips; they became engorged, and a blue haze clouded her vision.
The area began to glow. Tinhara formed a circled with her hands, the tips of her index fingers and thumbs meeting, and the light grew thicker. A small halo of light rose up. It ran thick and slow, like blood on the verge of freezing. It throbbed once – an abortive heartbeat – as it intensified, rising up between her hands. It overflowed and she separated her hands, keeping her fingers formed in half circles. The tube of light tripped over her fingers, caressed her arms, and skipped off her left shoulder. Tinhara moaned and the light, suddenly energized, shot out toward the sky. She turned and stood in one quick motion, watching the light expanding, pulsing, changing colours from white to yellow to blue to green. It reached out toward the sky, shimmering and bold against the darker sky. Almost fifty feet up, the top suddenly arched in all directions, and light sprayed out, escaping the fluted column she had created. “Blessed be!” she shouted.
They watched as it pulsated; the air became visible, a fluid motion of shimmering greens and blues, until finally the last of the light escaped the fountainhead and, flying quickly past her, shot up the funnel, and spread out like all that had gone before it. It dissipated, leaving her again with only the plain light of the paling sun that hung in the sky.
“Wow!” she heard Hadyn shout. Tinhara sighed and shook herself lazy, as if waking from a peaceful sleep.
“Light! Light!” Lefe screamed at the sky. He clapped and jumped in circles, laughing madly. His dogs went from whimpering to whining to howling as they became emboldened by his shouts.
“Yes,” she replied as she scratched her head and reached for her gauntlets. She kicked snow over her handprint, stomped it down, and walked back to the camp.
Hadyn jumped up and kissed her. “That was amazing! What was it? How’d you do that?”
“A fine piece of magic, hmm? It gets bigger over the years. I’ve been able to do this since I was a child,” she said. Hadyn held her at arm’s length and looked up. Tinhara followed her gaze up but decided Hadyn’s exposed throat was more interesting than the sky.
“No really. How’d you do that?”
She smiled and shrugged. “It’s magic.”
“No, no!” Hadyn said, shaking her slightly. Tinhara straightened her back and stood stiffly, glaring at Hadyn. Hadyn released Tinhara immediately.
“I said it’s magic. That’s all I know.”
“What exactly was that magic? Light? Power?” Hadyn asked.
Tinhara stepped around Hadyn and sat down on the edge of her sled. She coughed a bit and said “That is the light of the ancestors.” She grabbed the grogskin full of water. “The lights are the souls of all of my people who have died. I don’t think it’s heat. No snow is melted. I don’t think it does anything except that. I can hear my ancestors calling me, telling me that if I step here or put my hand there,” she said as she jabbed her toe into the snow. “I will find a place where one of them died, where their souls have remained until someone performs that ritual to free them.” She paused for a moment, suddenly uncomfortable. She’s a stranger . Tinhara was unsure of how much she should reveal. It was an important ritual, perhaps the most important, and sharing it, even with Hadyn, somehow seemed disrespectful.
“So they talk to you?” Hadyn said as she sat down beside Tinhara. Lefe rushed over and sat on the snow by Tinhara’s feet, legs crossed, hands folded in his lap. He was waiting for the story too.
“It’s nothing, really,” she said. Hadyn turned away and looked at the sky, then turned back. She inched herself closer and removed her glove. She took Tinhara’s hand, slowly removing the gauntlet, and held her hand. Tinhara looked at her misshapen, scarred hand and tried to pull it away, but Hadyn held fast.
“Can everyone do this?” Hadyn asked. Tinhara shook her head. In fact, according to the stories, only her mother had been able to, and her mother before her, and her mother. Every woman in her line had been able to, but Tinhara remained silent. “This gift of yours is something special. Maybe it’s both good and bad, like my voice, or maybe you just use it for fun, but it is a gift.” She turned Tinhara’s face toward hers. “It means something.”
“It doesn’t mean anything,” Tinhara rasped. She swallowed all the other things she wanted to say. Hadyn sighed and kissed her softly. Tinhara closed her eyes and her head swam with the gentleness of her lips. She held her breath as Hadyn pulled away.
“I can feel something, like a heartbeat, in the snow. Have you ever felt it?”
“I feel,” Lefe blurted out. Both Hadyn and Tinhara jumped at the outburst. “I feel,” he said as he beat on his chest.
“I mean the heartbeat of the snow. It takes over your own heart, and you can hear the sound of it beating in your ears. I can’t hear anything else, except wudub, wudub. First, I hear their voices and then I hear their hearts. My ancestors are out here. They lived and died out here. When we die, our souls need to join together. That’s what the light does, it gives them a path to the others.” Tinhara stopped, looking down at her hand. She slipped her gauntlet back on and cleared her throat.
“Watch magic,” Lefe said as he stood up. Both women watched as he stood back and bowed deeply. He raised his massive arms in the air and stood perfectly still. Grinning, he tipped backwards, landing in the snow with a great thud. He began to flap his arms, sending snow flying into the air. Lefe got up slowly, careful not to disturb his creation. “Bird!” he shouted as he pointed at the figure he’d left in the snow. Both women laughed.
“Fine magic, Lefe,” Tinhara laughed.
“I sing, you send out light and he… he creates snow birds.” Hadyn hugged Tinhara with one hand and gestured with Lefe to come to her with the other. He bounded over like a puppy and snuggled his massive head against her shoulder. “We’re invincible,” she whispered.
They talked for a while longer. Tinhara did not demand that Hadyn reveal herself, her secrets, for she was unwilling to reveal more of her own. Instead, Tinhara talked of the sun that would soon sink into months of darkness, of Naqtuk the sacred bear god, and of past tawnluk hunts.
“I think it’s time to sleep,” Tinhara said with a yawn. Lefe rumbled softly and crawled over to his dogs. “Do you see that pouch? Yes, there’s a brush in there, get it,” she said. Hadyn searched the pouch and withdrew a small brush made of stiff fur. Tinhara stood up, arms extended out, and said “Brush off the snow.” Hadyn started at Tinhara’s head, wiping away the frost that formed on her hood. From there, she worked her way around, brushing off her back and arms. She removed the snow from Tinhara’s legs. Tinhara shivered again, and lowered her arms. She looked down on Hadyn. “Leave the boots, we’ll do those last, right before getting in,” she said. She took the brush from Hadyn and cleaned off the snow and ice from her companion’s clothing.
“Okay, done,” she said as she sat on the sled. She pulled her feet up and brushed off her boots. After handing the brush to Hadyn, she crawled inside the caqun. Outside, she could hear Hadyn brushing the snow off, and while she waited, she poked at the seam that lay before her, stroked the fine guard hairs of the sealskin she was wrapped in, and remembered. When she heard the brush being put aside, she held her breath. The caqun opened, and Hadyn crawled in, feet first. One of her boots scraped Tinhara’s face.
“Sorry,” Hadyn said as she wiggled into the caqun. Tinhara curled herself around her companion, and fell asleep with her face resting gently against Hadyn’s fiery hair.