Dorik and Keru allowed a few hours’ sleep for Tun and Rol, then woke them to serve hot tea. This revived them a bit, and they reaffirmed their gratitude and good fortune at the caring friends coming to their aid. The four got underway riding Dorik’s sledge, towing the loaded sleds behind them, and the animal community of the camp following along. The sun, blocked by the blanketing storm, sank below the horizon as the entourage arrived back at the main caravan. As darkness fell, the winds subsided further, the air eventually becoming nearly still.
The pack of thirty dogs in Tun’s group, which included Sasha and the team, joined the assemblage of refugees, and now the total number of dogs in the camp rose over one hundred fifty. All the dogs that had been rescued were treated to warm water and hot chow. They had all been desperately hungry, and some ate ravenously, occasionally over-indulging, resulting in vomiting. They would return for more when their stomachs settled, which took no time at all. Many of the unnamed and unknown tagalongs were thrilled to find their packmates or human friends in the great camp. Joyous greetings, laughter, and cries of surprise bore witness to such happy reunions.
Sasha was eager to look for her mother and her human family from the homestead. Also, she had not seen Kotka for two days now, and this worry simmered in the back of her mind. She was exhausted from all the events hitherto, and sought comfort with her brother, her packmates, and their loyal human friends. She could eat little before her stomach ached, and needed to rest before she could take up the task of searching the massive camp for those she longed to see. She curled at the door of the yaranga in which Tun and Rol now resided, continuing their own recoveries.
An excited chatter of voices came from nearby. Larik and Anchu and a fairly large crowd of new-found friends. It was melodious and animated conversation, punctuated with the Oo!s and Ah!s of the enthralled listeners. A wave of laughter would erupt, and rise like a swell, giggles drifting off like dry leaves on the wind. It was a comforting sound, and a welcome lullaby to Sasha, and she closed her eyes.
Her sleeping thoughts were a rapidly-changing mix of dreams, glorious visions and chilling nightmares. Mother first trotted into her mind, pulling a sled with her first team; Spring and Nib, Lema their pack mother, Yura and Vasa. Aboard was her entire family from her home in the moraine; Bek, Nina and Jiak. They waved cheerily, and Sasha ran to them. Each would reach out and pet her head, but before the sled came to a stop the vision faded.
Dancing through her sleep came a fearful scene, a long string of dogs with Dak at the lead, cresting a blind hill and falling from a precipice into a bottomless blackness. Sasha was third in line, and was pulled by the falling dogs ahead. As each fell, its weight added to the acceleration of the remaining dogs and a sled, driven by Tun. From an omniscient perspective, she watched the team, herself, the sled and Tun disappear into the pit of darkness below, the terrorized screams of man and dog fading away to silence.
From the blackness, faint stars began to emerge, and as they became brighter, the great luminous sweeping fingers of the Spirit Lights joined them in the crystal clear winter sky. Slowly then quickly they move and shift. Red and green then red again then green again. Not far off in the deep night, a pack of wolves sang forth their wailing cries to the waning moon. First one, then two. Then too many to count. The sun began to rise, and as it did, it lit the wolves, and they could be seen to be feeding on carcasses. Beside them were two sleds and a hastily-fabricated skin shelter. Before any more horrific details could reveal themselves, this scene, too, faded.
Sasha found herself sitting on the porch of the Dogs’ House, at the home she’d just left, Tun’s mountaintop Lodge. Next to her was her oldest and dearest friend, her mentor and confidante, Kotka.
“’Kotka The Brave’ we should call you.” She said, staring admiringly at his thick coat and full mane.
“Brave?” he responded with surprise.
“Sure! Bouncing back from all those years with the bad man, before you came to Bek’s. Left alone when the strangers raided the homestead. And still here you are, sticking with the pack under such hardship, still seeking out…”
A clanging reindeer bell shattered this dream, and now Sasha was huddled in the dog pile during the worst of the debilitating gale. She was shivering and her feet hurt. The bell kept ringing, but nothing was happening. No movement. No change. Just freezing to death and the bell ringing over and over.
In a flash, the scene changed again. Now Larik was dancing before a crowd of cheering onlookers. He stood upright and held a polar bear cape over himself like a robe.
“Got this one last year up in the mountains!”
Anchu approached carrying another skin, like a performer’s assistant, and he handed it to Larik, taking the robe from him.
Out of nowhere, the wind suddenly swept past as if a great window had been opened in the face of a hurricane. Larik and the bearskin, Anchu and the robe, the onlookers and everything around them began to blow across the ice, followed by the tumbling sleds, then Tun and Rol, Dorik and Keru. Sasha viewed again from high above, and watched the wind gather up everything in its path like a broom. Yarangas and families, dog teams and reindeer teams, sleds and sledges. Whole herds were tossed like so much dried grass, leaving the bare ice spotless and gleaming. After a moment of unsettling silence, clicking and clacking of dog claws on ice could be heard approaching. In fact, super dogs, as now a pack of wolves, a dozen or more, raced after the rolling pile of the camp’s contents.
A wolf’s howl woke her, and Sasha found herself where she had coiled peacefully in the great camp, her pack and Tun within reach. Except for the ubiquitous noises of the reindeer herd shuffling and chuffing, the night was calm and quiet. She listened, and determined the wolf cry was only in her dream. Silence and stillness enshrouded the dark night, and it seemed she was the only one awake, reindeer notwithstanding.
Her memory took her back to a night long ago. She was camped on a riverbank with her old team and Jiak, when a small pack of wolves appeared on an opposite hill. They sat and sang to the moon, lingered briefly for a second act, and disappeared silently over the horizon, leaving the night as peaceful and undisturbed as it was this moment.
Sasha closed her eyes and fought to return to sleep. She remembered some parts of the disturbing visions her slumber had brought her, and this left her with an underlying uneasiness. She tried to take herself back to the place where she was greeting Mother and Jiak, but no concentrations on the subject were willing to engage the spirit of the imagination.
She wondered what the night visions had meant, if anything. She could find no corollary to the present.
Leastwise, not so within the few minutes allowed, before sleep reclaimed her weary mind.