“Hadyn?” she whispered as she crouched down. Her heart raced when Hadyn’s head moved in response to her voice. She ran her hands quickly along Hadyn’s body. “Nothing seems broken. Can you hear me?” Tinhara asked.
“Tinhara?” she asked weakly.
“Yes, it’s me.”
Hadyn reached out and slapped her hard across the face. Tinhara was so startled she stumbled back slightly. “You fiend! You let them capture me!” Hadyn screamed as she slammed her hands against Tinhara’s shoulders, pushing her down into the snow. Tinhara scrambled to her feet and retreated from the slowly advancing woman in front of her. “You got drunk and they got me! You didn’t protect me!” she screamed. Her face turned red and spit flew from her mouth.
“I just saved you!” Tinhara screamed back, gesturing toward the dead bodies.
Hadyn paused for a moment and looked around. Her head snapped around and she yelled “If you had protected me in the first place this never would have happened!”
“I… No! That’s not true! There were too many of them. I wouldn’t have been able to do anything for you even if I’d never touched a drop of grog in my whole life,” she protested. Her feet began to tingle and she tapped her toes to bring the normal feeling back.
“You’re supposed to protect me! You’re supposed to take me back to my family. You said you’d save me and instead you let them get me again. How could you do that to me?”
Tapping her toes wasn’t working. Tinhara looked down at her feet, and back to Hadyn, but couldn’t hear the shouts. All she could hear was a strange buzzing noise. She held up her hands and shook her head. “Quiet,” she said softly.
“Quiet? Quiet! How dare you tell me to be quiet? If it wasn’t for you…”
Tinhara’s temper got the better of her. “If it wasn’t for me the King would have you on your hands and knees! And his Guards would have you, and his advisors and his cursed dogs would have you! I didn’t steal you from your home. I killed a man for you. I’ve killed more men for you!” she screamed as she loped toward the body of the Guard she had stabbed to death. Her feet crunched through the red snow as she approached the corpse. She kicked it fiercely, sending a small spray of blood into the air. “Look what I did to protect you!”
“Protect me? You set me up!” Hadyn shouted.
Tinhara turned toward Hadyn. She pointed at herself. “I didn’t kidnap you. I didn’t steal you from your land. I didn’t set you up. I’m saving you!” She didn’t feel any better. “And just where was Lefe when they came? Didn’t he help you?” she asked.
“Guard dead,” Lefe said.
“Shut up!” Tinhara snapped at him. “I have killed three men just now! Two of them were Karech magicians! I did more for you than he did, but you aren’t yelling at him. You aren’t angry with him!” she shrieked. Her blood was boiling and she wanted to punch someone. Hard.
“He’s a giant! He’s strong enough to kill a bear with only a knife. But it seems to be okay for him to do half the work I did for you. Or does he mean more to you?” She hated herself immediately after saying it but she couldn’t be silent.
Hadyn turned away and began to cry. She fell to her knees and curled forward into herself, her body shaking as she sobbed. Tinhara’s stomach knotted up and her shoulders sagged. She limped over to Hadyn, putting her hand on her companion’s shoulder and not allowing it to be shaken off. She crouched down. “I’m sorry,” Tinhara said. “Stop crying or you will have blood tears.”
“Who cares? My looks have caused me such grief, and nothing good has ever come out of having beauty. What do you care?” she wailed.
Tinhara bent down and started to dry the tears that streamed down Hadyn’s face. “I care because I love you.” She almost choked on the last three words; they were the most difficult she had ever had to say.
Hadyn looked up surprised. She raised her eyebrows, to ask if what she heard was true. Tinhara nodded and smiled a little. “Stop crying. Look, one has already frozen. Wait, wuhhhh, just a moment. There, it was small enough that I could melt it with my hand. No blood, no scar.” She stroked Hadyn’s face again.
“I’ll forget it ever happened,” Hadyn said through the sobs. “You’re right. You rescued me and fed me and you’re taking me back to my own country,” she sniffed as she daubed her eyes with her sleeve. “You’ve been good and brave and I forgot. You owe me nothing but I owe you everything. I owe you my life. Maybe you’ve been through something like this before, but I’ve never been a target before. I’ve never been hunted.” Tinhara ran her hand over Hadyn’s head, trying to comfort her as best she could. It was true that she was more familiar with the nature of the chase, the adrenaline of the fight and the victory of the kill. But she was also familiar with the nauseating heat given off by a mortal wound, the sickly sweet smell of blood and the desperate pleas of a coward. Lefe came over silently and knelt beside Hadyn, protecting her face from the cold winds that would freeze her still flowing tears. Tinhara left her in his care.
Standing now, looking at the chaos that was spread across the snowfield, she thought again of this new found power, this new weapon. She had never seen that before, never beheld such a sight as a man being ripped apart from the inside. Tinhara stood there, considering the events, until she saw Huel. A streak of dark blood came into view, rearward of his high shoulders. He waited, almost childlike, for Tinhara to tend to his wound.
Quickly she limped over to her bear, and slowly put her hand on his head. She never forgot that he was a wild animal, that she should never completely trust him. She gently touched the white fur around the bloody wound. Gingerly, she tried to pull back the matted fur, away from the wound, but he grunted and snapped, and almost had her hand. She had been waiting for that, and pulled back quickly until he settled himself. He shook, snarled once, and then sat down in the snow, waiting.
She grabbed a handful of snow and with a foot or so between them, she leaned over, dug her feet in to get good placement in case she had to leap away, and tossed the snow onto his blood covered shoulder. He didn’t move, so she repeated this process over and over again. By the fifth handful, she was a bit closer, and instead of tossing it, she pressed the snow into the wound. Huel growled, causing Tinhara to withdraw her hand quickly, but he did not turn to attack her. She grabbed another handful, and pressed it into his shoulder again, this time making a light circular motion. Eventually, she had washed the area clean of blood, and was better able to see the wound itself. She smiled: he was not badly injured. She washed it one more time, and then retreated toward Hadyn. Huel remained seated, resting.
“It looks like a bite. No big deal, it’s not too deep,” she explained. “Actually, he’s better than I am,” she said.
“Oh! You’re badly hurt! I didn’t realize,” Hadyn said. Tinhara waved a hand to dismiss Hadyn’s concern.
“Nothing to worry about. I’ve been hurt worse,” she said, but she didn’t even manage to convince herself with her tone. “A little pressure, a fur compress, and we’ll both be fine,” she reported as she shuffled to one of the dead dogs. She slowly bent down and slipped a few tattered pieces of fur into her hand. She grabbed one dog’s corpse by the leg and hauled it closer. “Can you get me the xix knife from my sled?” she asked of anyone. Lefe ran to the sled and returned with the xix, and Tinhara proceeded to skin the dog. When the lump of flesh had no more fur or skin on it, Tinhara eased back to Huel, and hovered over his wound, deciding the best course to follow. Finally, she carefully laid some fur and a piece of skin on his wound, tucking the ends cautiously under his skin to hold them in place. It wouldn’t last long, but even a few hours would help him cleanse the wound.
“He can’t lick the wound if it’s covered like that,” Hadyn said.
“Licking wounds doesn’t do any good.”
“Sure it does, animals do it all the time.”
Tinhara smiled faintly. The pain was seeping back into her body. “Will you lick my wound?” she asked. Hadyn shrank back in disgust and Tinhara laughed. She knew it would probably be the last laugh for a while: her knee was swelling and her hip began to ache with the loss of blood. “Help me over to the sled,” she said as she raised an arm for Hadyn to take. Lefe stepped in and carried her to the sled. “Right here, yes. No, no, I don’t want to go into the caqun, not yet,” Tinhara said. “Hadyn, you have to be my feet and hands right now. I can’t move very well. My leg hurts, my fingers are numb, and my muscles are stiffening. Can you do something for me? For us?”
Hadyn nodded confidently. “I know I can,” she replied. Her outburst had subsided and she listened intently.
“Good. First thing, search the Guard over there and find any weapons,” she said. Hadyn didn’t move. “We need the weapons, especially if he had anything metal. It will make your job go faster,” Tinhara said. “Lefe, help her, she has to do this. You can’t hide from this. It’s a natural part of the fight. Search the Guard for anything. Whatever you find, let Lefe know what it is and he’ll tell you if we need it.”
The throbbing in her leg was getting worse. “Skip it for now. Do it when I’m asleep. How are you feeling?” Tinhara asked.
Hadyn nodded, her hands planted firmly on her hips as she looked around. “Good.” Tinhara knew she was lying.
“Good. I need you and Lefe to pull the sleds around here. Take one of the knives and cut the dogs loose. Pull those sleds over here to ours. Make a triangle. We’ll sleep in the middle, to protect us a bit from the wind.” Hadyn nodded, grabbed a knife and headed toward the other sleds, Lefe bounding ahead of her. Tinhara searched and found a grogskin, and took a long drink. It felt good, reassuring.
“You should pour some of that on your wound,” Hadyn shouted from across the way.
“What?” Tinhara asked. “Pour grog on my leg?”
“Yes. We do that in our country. Not grog, but we use trickle. Usually you drink it but it’s good for wounds, too. Except it hurts an awful lot when you put it on,” she said.
Tinhara pursed her lips, thinking. “I think the grog would freeze to my leg and cause too much damage to the skin,” she said.
“Oh yeah. I guess so,” Hadyn replied. She turned her attention back to the sled, letting Tinhara continue her plan.
“Lefe? Come over here,” she asked.
“Come now,” he shouted as he ran to her.
“Pick me up, carry me over to the magicians.” He wrapped one huge arm around her back and slipped the other under her legs and lifted her off the ground. It was agonizing, but she had to get a close a look at the devastation she’d wrought. One magician was nothing but pieces of frozen gore, but the other was still there, sort of. She stared, trying to mentally put the two halves of his body together to make out his face. She found herself measuring each side, and decided that his right half was slightly bigger than his left half. There wasn’t much that was salvageable from either magician, except perhaps pieces of their robes.
“The sleds are covered in blood,” she heard Hadyn call out. Tinhara struggled to look over Lefe’s shoulder, finally asking him to turn around. Maybe she’d spend some time in Arpine; Hadyn said once that they have day and night all year long, month after month, year after year. Maybe a chance to escape the dark days that lie ahead was exactly what she needed.
“What do I do?”
Tinhara inhaled quickly and blinked. “Use some snow to clean them a bit. Turn them on their sides if there’s a lot of blood, let it pour out,” she shouted back. She watched as Hadyn struggled to push a sled up onto its side Tinhara looked at Huel, who did nothing but look back at her. “Leave it for now, Lefe will help.”
“Help,” he repeated with a nod. With a head gesture, Tinhara directed Lefe to take her back to the makeshift camp. It was, she thought, far enough away that the coppery stink of the bloody bodies wouldn’t carry over to them unless the winds blew in their direction. She sat on the sled and looked at her wound. It had bled through the fur and skin bandage she’d wrapped around her thigh.
“This is not good,” she mumbled.
“What?” Hadyn asked.
Tinhara was startled; she’d been unaware that Hadyn was so close. “I said that looks good,” she said, pointing to the sled with her chin. Finally Hadyn and Lefe tugged over the other sled, but Tinhara asked them not to position it yet. “Can you get me a handful of saluma?”
“Um, it’s a kind of snow. Find some really fine snow, the kind that falls apart when you pick it up,” Tinhara clarified. Hadyn rolled her eyes a bit and wandered away, head down, looking at snow. She came back a few minutes later with a handful of snow.
“Is this the ‘sal-whatever’ kind of snow?” she asked. Tinhara looked at it packed in her palm. It was not.
“Yes, exactly,” she said as she took the snow. She ground it between her fingers and let it fall to the ground. One or two granules had floated to the west. “The wind will come from the east tonight,” she said. It was a poor guess, but she didn’t want to hurt Hadyn’s feelings: it just seemed important to let her think she had done the right thing. “Lefe, pull the last sled around this way. That should protect us from the wind.”
Tinhara knew she was badly injured. “Hadyn, one last thing?” she asked. Hadyn nodded, still quiet, but attentive. “I think I’m going to get a fever. It’s dangerous, because I can freeze to death. My brain might wander, and I need to warn you about something.” She sat up on the sled and began to slowly make her way into the caqun. “It’s alright,” she said holding up her hand, “I can do it alone. But I need to tell you about something you didn’t see. I don’t think you saw it. When you were frozen, did you see what happened?”
“Yes, they froze you and Lefe and Huel. Do you remember?” she asked. Hadyn shook her head and Lefe simply shrugged. “Okay, what’s the last thing you remember before the fight was over?”
“Oh, uh, the last thing was Lefe. Yes, Lefe was laying there, over there, near the guard,” she said as she pointed.
“You call,” Lefe added.
“Yes, do you remember anything after I called you?”
Hadyn puzzled for a while and simply responded, “the fight was over. The magicians were… What happened?” Hadyn asked.
Tinhara coughed and shook her head. She was now inside the caqun up to her stomach. She put her gauntlets on. “The Karech magicians froze you. It’s a magic I have never seen before. Do you remember that light trick I showed you? Do you?” she asked as she held out her hands. Hadyn frowned and nodded. “It happened again, but this time, it was different. It came from my mouth and I couldn’t control it.”
“The light came out while I was fighting them, while they were attacking me. The light of the ancestors did that to them. Don’t look at me like that. I heard their voices telling me where to jump away from the heatballs. And then… then I saw the body of a great elder and she called my name. So I stood and she passed into my feet. I could feel her coming up my legs and into my chest and my mouth. And then bam! Bam! I don’t know how it happened, but everything got tingly and blue, and next thing I know, the light comes spitting out of my lips.” She paused, almost breathless now as she relived the story she was telling. She was having a hard time catching her breath, and the ache from her wound was dull and encompassing.
“And you did that?” Hadyn asked as she looked toward the magicians.
“No. Not me, but through me. The ancestor moved through the rock, through me, through the air and through them. I guess she really hates the Karech magicians,” she said. Her eyelids were becoming heavy and she wanted to sleep. “Hadyn, I’m badly injured. I have to sleep. You know where the qamux is, you know how to grind up snow in the grogskin to make water. Let Huel eat the dogs. He will be fine. Lefe will look after you, won’t you Lefe?” The giant nodded his shaggy head. “Did you know Huel almost broke my nose trying to wake me up? What a character he is. He’s got quite a sense of humour, did I ever tell you that? Almost broke my cursed nose. Like the one time, he almost broke my leg when he jumped on me from behind. I’m sitting there, drinking, praying to Hecath for some food and he comes up from behind and… Um, what was I talking about?” she asked. Her mind was cloudy. “Oh right, food, the dogs. Skin them and eat them if you need to. Maybe fresh meat isn’t a bad idea. If you aren’t going to eat them, cover them with snow to freeze them. I may need them on my way back from Arpine. Lefe can hunt and take care of you. Maybe build a shelter. Lefe, you make sure she gets home. Lefe? Yes?” Tinhara paused for a moment and her head titled forward. She snapped it upright but then it lolled slightly to the left. She was sleepy. Tinhara moved her mouth, but there was no sound, no light. Nothing came out. She slipped into shadow.
Tinhara awoke in bits of pieces, fragments of sound and movement slowly congealing together and breaking apart. The first time she woke up, she could hear the wind blowing, but all of her other senses were dead. The next time she awoke, she could only smell the warm musky insides of the caqun. Then, she heard a soft sound, lulling and gentle. She opened her eyes and saw darkness pierced with small shafts of light. She blinked and listened again. Sounds as soft as the fur of a newborn tawnluk touched her ears. The voice became human. It caressed her, ran its fingers down her face, it tickled her throat and she began to feel her body again. The song made her head turn from side to side, straining to catch the voice. It covered her skin like a blanket, and her heart began to beat faster. She could feel the melody coax her into consciousness.
She could feel herself being pulled up, and suddenly it was daylight, the sun shining brilliantly on the pure, white snow. She blinked a few times, and the dull grey reality settled in. She cleared the phlegm build-up from her throat and tried to spit, but it only ran down her chin. A tender hand wiped it away. She looked up expecting to see her mother, but instead saw a stranger. She inhaled through her mouth and choked a bit on more phlegm.
“Don’t try to talk,” the voice said. Tinhara remembered it all. “Drink this if you can, just let it sit in your mouth,” Hadyn said as she trickled ice cold water into her mouth. Her wound ached and her muscles were stiff. When she moved her head, she could hear the bones in her neck crack.
“How long?” she whispered. Hadyn held her finger to her lips.
“Wuhhhh. Don’t speak. You’re weak. More water?” Hadyn trickled a bit more water into her mouth but it seemed to do nothing for her parched, raw throat. Tinhara licked her lips and opened her mouth for more, but Hadyn did not respond. “Just little bits at a time. If you drink too quickly, you’ll die,” she said. Just like grog, Tinhara thought as she laughed on the inside. Outwardly, it looked like a small spasm. “Go back to sleep,” Hadyn said as she laid her fingertips on Tinhara’s eyelids. Tinhara slept.
When Tinhara was finally fit enough to sit up in the caqun, her back supported by a pile of skins and pouches, she was told that she’d been asleep for days. “I smell like my own dirt,” Tinhara said.
“Dirt,” Lefe boomed out. Tinhara winced at the volume of his voice and grinned when he rubbed her head like a dog.
“Hmm. You smell like something, although we don’t call it dirt where I come from,” Hadyn said with a smile. Inside her large hood, she beamed at Tinhara. With Lefe’s help, Tinhara got out of the caqun and left the shelter of the hollow that had been built.
“You kept my leg. Blessed be. Thank you,” Tinhara said as she hopped on one foot. Lefe steadied her while Hadyn helped her take off her soiled clothing. She looked at the wound and was astounded. “It’s healed!” she shouted.
“Hardly,” Hadyn said.
“No really, it isn’t bleeding. Look at that. No yellow poison oozing out. And it looks… it looks…” She bent down to inspect her leg. “It looks like it’s been sewn together like an otuk?” Tinhara mumbled.
Hadyn bent and inspected the wound, touching all around it with her fingers, looking for signs of tenderness. “Hurts there, does it? You are not bad off.” She helped Tinhara into a different pair of pants.
“It was a bad wound, bad enough to lose my leg. Did you sew me up? Are those really stitches?” Tinhara said as she eased into the pants. They were far too big for her. “Whose are these?” she asked.
“From the Guard you killed,” Hadyn said matter-of-factly as she turned Tinhara’s pants inside out. “He was bigger than you, so they don’t fit very well. But Lefe showed me how to clean and dry them. Let me tie them up for you,” she said as she reached for a few strips of leather on the nearby sled. Tinhara let the toe of her bad leg touch the ground lightly and she looked around. She couldn’t see the site of the fight; there were no traces of any activity in the area, not even their own sled tracks. There was no trace at all. “I poured grog on your wound, and sewed you up, that helped the healing,” Hadyn said as she bent close to Tinhara’s waist. Tinhara’s body tingled and she reached for Hadyn’s bowed head. A strong wind almost blew her over, but Lefe kept her steady.
Hadyn sighed. “The day you got the fever, Lefe began to scavenge the sleds, the bodies, everything.”
“Find things,” Lefe said as he tapped his chest.
“He piled everything onto the sleds, yours and his.” Hadyn slipped the leather straps through some holes in the waistband and tied knots in the ends. She explained how Lefe had hooked both sleds to the dogs, one after the other, and helped the dogs pull. They travelled the rest of the day and all that first night, stopping only when the dogs, not Lefe, were exhausted. Lefe had fashioned a hollow and carried Tinhara, caqun and all, into the shelter to get away from the strong winds. Huel had shown up yesterday, his wound healing and his stomach growling.
“I had to cut up one of the dogs that Lefe had piled onto the sled. It was disgusting. I never had to do anything like this when I was at home. My brothers and my father tended to all of that. I have learned how to do a lot. Lefe has shown me lots of things, and I have learned some on my own,” she said as she slung the straps over Tinhara’s shoulders and then slipped them through holes in the back of the pants. “Like this. I didn’t know how to make it work, but I had seen this kind of thing in town. It just took some time, and I have had lots of time,” she said as she pulled her hood back up after it had fallen back. “There,” she said as she tightened the straps on Tinhara’s pants and tied them off. “Keeps them away from your feet,” she said proudly. Hadyn smiled and said “When I realized the Guard’s pants would slide off you, I thought I’d tie them on. I think it’s a good idea.” She was proud of what she’d done, and it showed.
“Amazing,” Tinhara said as she turned her attention away from Hadyn. Huel was sniffing at her new pants so she scratched his head.
“And all of your grog is gone.”
Tinhara was surprised at the finality of the statement. She did not believe that Hadyn knew her sled well enough to find all of the grog.
“Lefe helped me find it,” Hadyn said. Tinhara tightened her lips: Lefe probably found it all. “We used it for your leg, as I told you. We used it all, and it worked well. It stopped the leg from turning bad. Lefe, help her over to that sled,” Hadyn said as she pointed to his metal sled. She began to undo the caqun. “I’m glad you’re back with us, Lefe’s a nice fellow, but not so good with conversation,” she said as she paused and bent down slightly toward her companion. “But he kept me entertained with his snow birds, and he did most of the carving of the dogs.” Hadyn smiled and continued, “So here I am, talking away and not letting you get a word in.”
“I don’t have much to say, I’ve been asleep,” Tinhara replied. “You’ve been on the lookout for anyone to follow you?”
“Them no,” Lefe said.
“Once in a while, when we were travelling, he’d go into a trance or a fit or something, and he’d direct us this way or that,” Hadyn said.
“He’s talking with the Gods.”
“It worked. I haven’t seen or heard from anyone, anything, since we left.” Hadyn recounted the rest of her story, explaining how she had sewn the wound like she had learned back home, after first experimenting on a dead dog.
“You were wise to leave the area,” Tinhara added. She knew they were in the Land of the Gods, and could see the mountain to the south.
“I don’t think he likes it here,” whispered Hadyn. “I don’t think I’ve heard him laugh the whole time. We keep moving from spot to spot, sometimes just a few minutes from where we had been. I don’t understand, but I don’t question it, either.”
“You’ve saved my life. Now we’re even,” she said.
“I hope not,” Hadyn said. “I still need to get home, I still need your help.” Hadyn turned her attention to cleaning Tinhara’s caqun by taking it off the sled and scrubbing it inside out in the snow.
Tinhara nodded. “Of course, I just meant… never mind. I don’t think I’ll be able to go anywhere for a while yet,” Tinhara said.
“Stay?” Lefe asked
“Yes, I agree,” Hadyn said. “We have plenty of food, and I think we should stay here until you’re better. Lefe has three dogs left.” They agreed to set up a more permanent camp and Lefe immediately set about building an icehouse. Hadyn took her instructions from her companion, waiting patiently and busying herself during the times when Tinhara rested.
Tinhara’s pants and caqun were still drying outside, and she knew that would take a while. Her leg would take longer to heal before she could put her weight on it, and it might even be a few weeks before she could walk any distance without agony.
Many days later Tinhara thought she might be well enough to continue the journey. The short months of Qan were passing quickly: Itlukaviq passed into Angivik, which passed into Apvik, and it was Tivik now, the month of frozen breath. Lefe had done a good job at stripping the meat from the remains of the dogs, but it hadn’t been enough and they ate stores of qamux from the sled.
“How much longer until I get home?” Hadyn asked one day.
“Maybe another three days or more to the mountain. How far away from the mountain is your home?” Tinhara asked.
“I do not know, I cannot see the mountains from home. There will be lots of people on the way, people who can help us and feed us and shelter us. It’s not like here,” Hadyn said.
“Nothing is like here. Nothing lives in the Land of the Gods, except the Gods.”
They packed up their belongings two days later and headed toward the mountain range. Tinhara was able to stand on the back runners and, with reins in hand, aimed Huel south.
The first night was a hard one for Tinhara. She had not had a drink for a long number of days, but she still wished there was some grog left in a pouch somewhere. She was irritated until she remembered that if she hadn’t been so drunk, she might have been able to fight off the magicians when they first arrived. She might have avoided being wounded, avoided losing all her grog to her wound. The obstacles right now seemed small but constant, annoyingly popping up whenever the path seemed clear. Tinhara looked up at the sky for a moment. There were no Naqtuk clouds to guide her, no signs that the Gods wanted her to come to their homes and wake them.