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"Ice Age Mystery" (Stanley: Fire & Ice)

June 8, 2017

     Ice-cup, Ice-cup, you be strong.  Ten-thousand-millennia in the past, frozen northlands ruled over all creatures large and small.

 

     Across the Alaskan tundra, one of five sons of a great chieftain travels with his family.  It’s wintertime and the son moves on cold ground.  Twenty, brave, souls journey to new lands where they might meet new people and find new resources.  Five sons separated months, ago.  Each, has taken charge of those with him.  Each, takes a risk traveling to new territory, as their father before them had done.

 

     Aleut, one of five chief’s sons, guides those with him.  His young boy, Ice-cup, is growing.

 

     Snow, ice, and cold greet Aleut Inupiat and his wife, Umiak.  Aleut is first born son of Yupik, father chieftain who came across the great land bridge, and Utna, mother of five pioneering sons.  Now, young Kayaka, a boy called Ice-cup, is half the height of his father, Aleut.  Yet, Kayaka has already killed walrus, seal, stripped the whale of blubber, and been on bear hunts.  He travels with his mother and father.  Snow, ice, and storms blow, and belt hard-working souls in wintertime.

 

     Polar bears greet travelers, too.  White, gigantic, furry bear fear none.  As skilled hunters with sharp claws for ripping seal hides and fish, Aleut has seen the monstrous bears.  But he’s seen them at a distance.

 

     Now, the tribe travels among ice flows.  Dangerous territory in winter, here, men find fishing good and necessary.  They voyage with three favorite dogs.  Attu, Kiska, and Maktak, are loyal, powerful, sled-pulling animals.

 

     Where they walk, a strong current and a good wind keep the ice cracking at banks of a tributary that has provided food.  Across the other side of the inlet-river, the tribe fishes; and, at times, large chunks of ice break away from a main body.

 

     “Pateatak.  Aa neakqqautak srakap nook quek.  I do not like us being so close to the water’s edge,” Umiak tells her chief and husband.  Aleut puts yet another great fish in one of three, large baskets they carry.  “The ice has been breaking.  Hammaq.  See?”  She shakes and she points.

 

     Seeming concerned for where they are, she stares to compact, shimmering, frosted, ice.  Aleut had led his people to a resting-place where they might spend the next several months, safe, during winter extremes.  Now, Umiak looks to Aleut.  Umiak’s dark-brown eyes gaze to her husband’s, her words telling him she wants to return to their igloo a, half-days, trek from the water’s edge. 

 

     “Nak nookna-te iqaluk.  It is the right time to fish, Umiak.”  Aleut’s hand, slides to the back of her animal skin, a hood sewn tight to her garment made of fur.  He helps pull it up and over her head.  “Stay warm.  The sleds are nearly full.  The seas have blessed us for winter.  Here, stay safe with the women and children.  One more trip to cast our nets and we spear the slippery ones, close-by.”

 

     Not far away are salmon, sturgeon, and rainbow trout.  As well, king crab and seal are loaded into sleds.  The catch will soon be carried to voyager’s frozen homes.  Snow dogs evolved to bear the brunt of brutal cold, to pull, to carry weight, to help.

 

     “Auk mikjiqtuk.  But…Kayaka, Aleut,” she starts.  “I wonder if our young son shouldn’t stay with me on safer ice.”

 

     “Donquattaq-sika.  Ice, he will stay with me.  He needs to learn.  It will be all right,” says Aleut.

 

     Small, snow crystals blow in cool wind.

 

     He turns.  “Kayaka!” Aleut calls for the boy. 

 

     “Aa!  Aapaga!  Coming father!”  The young boy, Ice-cup, yells; and he runs to join other men of the tribe.

 

     “Aroop!  Aroop!”

 

     Maktak and Kiska bark.  Legs churn.  Each, grinds ready to run and pull as they have been born to do.  Muscle and determination make hardy dogs successful, and the dogs are tied to sleds.  Each, might use its might and drag the winter’s food supply to igloos some distance, east. 

 

     Free to roam the land, Attu’s curled tail flits back and forth.  He runs with Kayaka.  “Auryip!  Auryip!”  Playfully, the dog, bounds.

 

     The seas, the inlets have been good to them.  The tributary is full of food for winter.  Aleut has been a strong chieftain, a leader for his tribe.  He follows his father’s training. 

 

     Now, the last remaining fish of the catch are thrown to ice.  Bloodied fishes and seal from frigid water cast their scent downwind.  Downwind is dangerous.  Beyond, an ice jam juts near the inlet, to the south.  Only a short distance from them, the sky-high peak conceals a large polar bear making way to where it raises its broad nose and sniffs. 

 

     Danger lurks.

 

     “Crack!”  Like thunder shaking, another, large ice-chunk makes noise.  Ice snaps and breaks away from the water’s edge, not far from men, women, and children.

 

     “Aleut!”  One of the tribesmen cautions his chief. 

 

     “Yes.  I see.  Yes.  It is time.  Gather the last of our catch to the sleds,” Kayaka’s father tells his men.  Women and children wait within view.

 

     From a distance, “Good, they are coming, Satka,” Umiak tells her sister.  “I fear the ice.”

 

     “Crack!”  Another section of ice fractures.  It slices away, north, some short meters from them and upstream.  The current is strong and the ice, thin where they fish.  Cold, cold, snow-white, ice-flows drift in dark-blue, rushing water.

 

     Then in snowdrifts, having been hidden, lurking, the giant polar bear’s nose wrinkles, he tosses his bulky head, and he charges.

 

     “Gaarrooaarrrr!”  Large paws pound the frozen surface, as the last animals of a kill are picked up and hunters turn toward sleds.

 

     “Grr!”  Attu turns and snarls. 

 

     Apart from the men, close to where a great, white bear runs, Kayaka holds two, fish.  Immediately, courageous Attu spurts toward the brute.  The white, hulking beast slows for an instant.  The dog lunges at the animal and dodges large, swift claws of the dangerous predator.  Then, regaining momentum, the bear charges again.

 

     “Arktikos—it is the great, white one!”  Eyatt, a hunting warrior with Aleut, yells.

 

     Like a giant snowstorm ready to land, shocked women gaze to the bear.

 

     “Ooouuuuu!  Ahhrr!  Ahhrr!  Awoorf!  Awoorf!”  Kiska and Maklak howl.  Growling, barking, each, strains.  With leather reins binding the animals to their sled, strong stout muscles of the dogs, rip.  Instincts might overcome reason.  Maklak and Kiska jerk; and Maklak breaks free and powers on.  Leather straps, pull sled, fish, and provisions.  The dog races toward frigid water.

 

     Kiska twists to get free, Maklak charges, and Attu defends.

 

     “Ahhrr!  Awoorf!  Awoorf!”  Attu runs behind.  Leaping, he bites the white bear’s, tail. The huge animal once more distracted, the snow-bear spins. 

 

     Men shriek and run.

 

     “Father!”  Kayaka calls.  The behemoth turns to charge again.  Nearly upon the boy, it backs Kayaka to the water’s perilous edge.

 

     “Awoorf!  Auurggnnn!”  Attu barks and snarls.  The dog turns and seems to look for a point of attack.

 

     The bear swipes, once more.  Brave, faithful, Attu bites the rump of the bear.  Quick, again, the dog deftly dodges a sweeping paw.  The predator wheels to the boy as Makluk charges and closes in.

 

     “Aiyrruppp!”  Maklak yelps.  The dog slightly grazed by the razor-claw of the large bear, Maklak falls.  

 

     The malamute’s leather ties to the sled, snap free; and the sled tumbles with fish and contents toward Kayaka.  Young Ice-cup is at the water’s edge and surrounded with fish and the bear upon him.  Now, towering over the boy, the bear drops to four feet.  It lunges and leaps as dogs, bark and Maklak injured.  Women shout and race ahead, and…

 

     “Whoosh!”   A long, spear, with a keenly-honed edge and an ever-sharp, stone-point, flies.  The weapon zips with deadly accuracy.

 

     “Aagghhhrrr!”  The great bear screams.  Temporarily wounded, the maddened beast growls. The head of a spear stuck in its stout body, the bear bleeds.  Whirling, “Wham!” the carnivore of the north crashes to ice and at the same time…

 

     “Crack!”  Ice fractures where Ice-cup stands.  A portion of the frozen surface breaks away with the current. 

 

     The bear writhes in pain, half-slumped in deathly-cold water and half on ice.  Then the demon rises, again.  Bleeding, once more, the vicious brute bolts to Kayaka.  It jumps.

 

     “Whoosh!”  Another spear, accurately placed, pierces the throat of the beast.

 

     “Aagghhhrrr!”  The demon roars.  The bear falls to cold water, short of where Kayaka has broken free of ice.  An ice flow separates Kayaka from his father and tribesmen.

 

    “Kayaka!”  The valiant father’s eyes squint; and his cheeks rise, as if his gut was struck a heavy blow.  His arms explode up.  “Kayaka!”

 

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