“Great,” Larik growled sarcastically, “some fool has burnt down the village. I hope there’s still food left.”
“But where is everyone?” Sasha queried, “Tun, and the other teams? All the teams. All the people and all the reindeer?”
The smell of the burnt buildings and yarangas hung heavily in the air. An overpowering, sickening smell. Not only wood, but fur, leather and fabrics, food, even metals, had burned and scorched in the conflagration.
“Easy. Easy. Slow now, slow.” Rol urged the team, cautiously approaching the village. He watched in every direction for signs of his people, signs of the invaders, signs of anything that could be of a threat, or of salvation. As he and the team drove toward the fur-clad heap in the center of the destroyed settlement, the sound of singing met their ears.
Guide us, Iluk-ener, take us home.
Remain steadfast, unmovable, however far we roam.
Watch over us, Oh Spirit Lights, with those of us who passed before,
And welcome us into the sky when we breathe the air no more.
Oh, Great Spirit, we have wept, our tears the great wide sea would fill,
When one is called aloft to you. Though they are free, we mourn them still.
We are Lygoravetlyan. From tundra wide to Enmitahin.
Iluk-ener, Spirit Lights, guide me home, and all my kin.
The dogs of the village spotted Sasha and the team, and immediately barked their “Intruder!” warning as they sped to meet the new arrivals. The moment they recognized the group as one of their own, they all began simultaneously to tell of the events in Tunkan, and to pepper them with questions.
“Woolgreen people ransacked the village!”
“They took everything with them!”
“Do you have any food?”
“Where have you come from?”
“Did you see the woolgreen men?”
“They set fire to everything.”
“They took all the food.”
Larik barked out brusquely “We don’t have any food!”.
“Well, maybe there is some left.” Stone stated encouragingly, throwing a displeased sideways glance at Larik. “We’ve come from the tundra, skyward. The soldiers, that is, the woolgreen men, were there already, and we had just left Tunkan two days ago, so they’re moving seaward.”
The team continued into the center of the settlement with Rol, the village dogs trotting alongside and barking excitedly. He stopped the sled beside the bulge and stepped from the runners. Walking around the pile of fur blankets, he found an opening. Within, aged eyes as blue as ice caught Rol’s gaze. It was Chimlik, Donat of Tunkan.
“Grandfather!” Rol addressed Chimlik with the customary title for any elder man, conveying reverence and respect. “Are you alright? What has happened here?”
“Yes.” Chimlik answered calmly, as if it were just an ordinary day. “I am well. The village has been raided by a war party. Everyone has gone.” He spoke as if telling a story of the hunt.
“A war party?” Rol’s eyes widened. “Who was it? Where did everyone go? Are they coming back?” Tears welled in his eyes, and his throat tightened around the words. Spoken aloud, even in his own voice, they reeked with terror. “Do you know where my family has gone?”
The old man waited patiently for the rattled boy to finish his string of questions.
“Who are you?” he asked with a relaxed air, as if pouring tea for a guest.
“I am Rol, son of Evgenii of the Chavchu.” His father’s name, and that of his clan, brought another lump to his throat, but Rol held up his chin with pride as the tears streaked down his face.
“Evgenii has gone with the rest.” Chimlik stated, as if there were no special significance to the fact.
“Did the war party take him?”
“No, child. Your father and a number of others fled just before the soldiers arrived. There was a girl, a Kamchadal, who came ahead of them with a warning.”
“Soldiers?” Rol was barely familiar with the term, and had never seen a soldier. He recalled stories of decades ago, how soldiers broke up the villages, tried to drive off the incongruous and inconvenient society at the far-flung reaches of a dawning empire.
“Yes. Army men from the west, in uniforms, riding horses.”
“Army soldiers? Horses?”
“Many people were still here when they came. The soldiers said they had to go with them.”
“Go to where, grandfather?” Rol tried desperately to appear manly before the revered leader, but could not help the tears running down his cheeks, his voice cracking. He tried to sound calm and oriented, brave and persistent, grownup and fearless. “Where have they taken my…”
The boy again burst out sobbing. “What will happen to them?” he squeaked out between gasping breaths.
“I wish I could answer your questions, boy, but I don’t know the answers. They are probably taken to be slave laborers.” Chimlik once again stated this quite matter-of-factly. As if they were not sitting amid the devastation of the burnt-out village. As if they were not speaking of people they know, loved ones and family. As if they were discussing things happening far away to unknown people.
“Slaves?” Rol sobbed, wiping his nose on his sleeve.
“But your father went with Tun and Ilja, and Nachic.” He paused, trying to recall the others that fled before the invasion. “There were a number of them. Dorik and Tulaen. And Evgy. They went east, and took the children with them.”
“Went where? Where did they go?”
“I wish I knew, child. I wish I could tell you.” Chimlik was without pretense or stoicism, and tears flowed down his round cheeks. The many streaks in the dirt on his face gave evidence they were not the first. He placed his hand on Rol’s shoulder and held it there. He made several futile attempts to return to the song of his life. The song he had learned before he was old enough to remember the occasion. Its verses sung with his parents, his brothers and sister, friends, aunts and uncles, cousins. On the trail, moving the herds, in the warm yaranga, or on a hilltop, alone with the universe.
As fixed as the North Star, Polaris- Iluk-ener- the unmoveable star, Chimlik and his people were as much a part of the Chukchi peninsula as the glacier and the trees, the volcano and the snow, the wolves and the reindeer. The one and only original man- Lygoravetlyan- and Chimlik was confident his life and fate had been created, directed and known to the Spirit Lights of his ancestors always. One will never know the circumstance of one’s death beforehand. This is a great secret to the Spirits, and that in itself is a gift to mankind. That one may move through one’s days with the understanding that you will arise each day until the day comes when you rise no more, and therefore, live with no worry of it.
Several attempts to start the song met with resistance in Chimlik’s throat. A lump choking him, causing him to breathe in rattling gasps. He was surprised, and compelled to tears of joy, at the accuracy of his recollection of his mother’s voice.
“Guide us Iluk-ener. Show us the way.
Show us the way…” he trailed off, looking to the top of the volcano.
Show us the way, Rol thought. His mind had gone blank, unable to see past the shock and loss, the devastation and horror, the black pall of grief. Chimlik sang between sobs.
“From tundra wide to Enmitahin.”
Immediately, Rol felt this was his answer to his unspoken prayer to the Spirit Lights for guidance. This was the way!
“Enmitahin!” Rol shouted out, startling Chimlik enough to halt his singing. “That’s where they’ve gone!” He felt an impulse to begin running without hesitation to find his family. Again, his father’s lessons came to the forefront of his mind: “First, we don’t panic.” He repeated the sentence over and over in his head but the words seemed to have no meaning. Try as he might, the thought could not take hold. “They have gone to The End of The Cliff. I will take you there.” Rol suddenly had a task for his reeling mind to focus on.
“No, boy. I stay here.”
“But grandfather, you’ll die if I leave you here alone.” Rol said, “What will you eat?”
“I am on my Spirit Journey already. It began when the soldiers burned the village. I am Donat of Tunkan. Without Tunkan, I am nothing.”
“I will leave you the food I have.” Rol pulled out a small sack containing the rest of the jerky Tun had packed for him. “It’s not much.”.
“No.” Chimlik spoke resolutely and raised the palm of his hand. “No thank you. I have all I need.”
In Chukchi culture, when a man reaches an age where he can no longer leave the yaranga and go out to contribute to the constant work of living in this extreme environment, his time is spent. One fortunate enough to have a son would call for the ritual of death: a knife plunged quickly into the heart. Rol would do nothing to interfere with Chimlik’s Spirit Journey, one’s last journey, into the heavens to join his ancestors among the stars.
“Good journey.” was all Rol could think of to say, as he shook the ice-cold hand of the old man.
“So, there’s no food I guess.” Larik observed, disappointed but not surprised.
Sasha was more concerned with all the inhabitants of the village than her stomach. She added these to the list including Bek’s family and all the dogs of the old homestead, including her own Mother.
Rol felt lost. He wasn’t really sure how to get where he was going, and realized he was completely unprepared for an extended trek. This was shadowed by an overpowering sense that he must leave here, escape this place, and search for his family.
“Up!Up! Let’s go!” Rol leaned against the back bow to push.
“Is this kid crazy?” Larik snarled, “I’m tired. And I’m hungry. I’m not going.” He laid in his traces, refusing to stand.
“Come on! Let’s go! Mush!” Rol cajoled and coaxed the team.
“We’re all tired.” Dak said with some compassion. “Let’s do the best we can.”
“I already have. I’m not going.” Larik laid his head on his forepaws.
Rol walked over and unceremoniously unhitched Larik’s tug line and neck line, leaving the wheel position empty, and returned to the back bow.
“Come on you guys,” Rol pleaded with the team, “I need to find my family. Up! Mush!”
“Let’s go.” Stone stated in a tone that sounded saddened and frustrated, but resigned to the task before them.
“Without Larik?” Alexei was beside himself with astonishment.
Dak began to move, and with him the harness that bound them as a team.
“Can’t we rest here?” Umka offered, “With Chimlik?” The sled was already moving, and Rol stepped onto the runners.
“But Larik!” Alexei was panicked now. Resisted the tug line, whipped his head around to all the team and back to where Larik lay, his chin on his forepaws, only his eyes moving as he watched the group recede. Alexei let out several loud whimpers.
“He’ll be alright.” Sasha tried to console Alexei, “He’s with all those other dogs.”
The words seemed to fly over Alexei’s head as he continued looking over his shoulder, repeating his cries.
“Leave him to his heartache.” Stone said, meeting Sasha’s eye, “Larik is his brother.”
“Yes. I know what it’s like to leave your pack behind.” she replied soberly.
“No. I mean birth brother. They have never been apart.” Stone looked down as he spoke, “Until today.”
“Wait!” Chimlik shouted at the sight of the ornate racing sled, previously hidden from view. “How do you come to be driving that sled?”
“Whoa! Whoa!” Rol stopped the team and looked back. “It’s Tun’s. He had me take it to Bek’s”
“You are the boy whose coming was foretold. I am to tell you they went to the castle of the giant until freeze-up. Then they will go to the Mountain In The Sea.”
“I don’t understand.” Rol had Chimlik repeat the directions.
“I only remembered when I saw the sled.” the old man stated. He could be of no more help, he said. That was what he was told to say to the boy returning from the tundra with the racing sled.
Rol added this to the jumble of thoughts and emotions racing through his mind, in which he was already on his journey, picking the trails he would take to reach Enmitahin while avoiding the soldiers.
Without rest or food, the team was again underway, plying the trail eastward. Each in turn would take just one look over their shoulder, save Alexei, who could not take his eyes from his brother. The bright sun beamed down on them, and sparkling snowflakes began to dance earthward, as Rol, Sasha and what remained of the team left Tunkan for the last time.