An Inuit story. A telling by Martin Shaw.
There was a woman who dreamt of the sea.
Back when there was a village called Tikeraq, there lived a man and a woman. But it’s not really their story I’m telling. It’s their daughter’s story I’m telling.
She was a huntress, famed for both her stamina and her strength. She was different from the others. The other hunters simply couldn’t keep up with her. Sometimes she’d play a little game and let the men go out hunting on their kayak. Only when they had disappeared would she set out, and soon she’d be way beyond them. That was just how it was.
Her father would accompany her: he was happy to steer while she rowed with her powerful arms, throwing the harpoon. One day they were at the end of a trip and were heading back to shore. Of a sudden a beast of the deep came upon them, snarling and gnashing. As the beast came right to the rim of the kayak the huntress hurled her harpoon at it. That very same moment her eyes rolled back in her head and she fell into a faint.
When she awoke she found herself kneeling upright on a thin stretch of beach between sea and land. Betwixt and between she was. Like she was praying.
Not knowing where on earth she’d found herself, she took a westerly direction and followed the curves of the coastline. For a long time, there was no sign of humans until she came across little chips of wood on her path. She knew she’d soon encounter somebody.
Kept walking. Pad pad pad.
Soon she came across a kayak. As she was admiring it she heard a voice from everywhere and nowhere say:
“My kayak has trapped someone. If it is a man I will slaughter him, if it is a woman she will live.”
The very second, the moment, she heard these words a man came running to her over the snow. A man of power. A shaman. He took her by the arm into his igloo and made her his wife.
Part of his magic was that he could make his kayak travel over both land and water, and most of the time he was out in the vast grey or the vast white whizzing about, working his charms.
The huntress did not hunt very often now. She stayed home, and attended to the tasks of the igloo.
Every day she was left alone, a small boy came to visit. One minute he was not there, the next he was. She never once saw him arrive. But such boys are always hungry and she would always feed him before he disappeared again.
One day the boy-that-comes-from-nowhere, lifted one pale finger and spoke, “Grandmother needs to speak to you.” Such is it with generosity.
They walked over snowy hill
They walked over snowy hill
They walked over snowy hill
And into the igloo of the old woman. Straight away the old one spoke, “You have fed one who is hungry. You have fed one who is dear to me. My very grandson. Because of this I have gratitude to you and want to help you. The man who you have married is a dark power and he grows sick of you. Soon he will be killing you. He has had many wives before, and when he grows weary of them he kills them. His ice house is full of them. When you make love with him, if you glance down to the floor beneath you, their faces will float up under the ice.”
The huntress felt the truth of it. He had been hostile and distant to her for a long time now. The old woman continued, “the other wives would not feed the boy so I would not help them, but you I will. There is only one magic I possess that will save you.
At this the old one fell into trance, and described a scene as if she was carving it out of the very air:
“Here you see your husband coming to end you.
Take this seal-skin pail I give you. It has something deep in the bottom of it.
He is at the igloo. He looks for you. He thinks you have escaped and is very angry. How dare you escape. He is in his magic kayak. He is coming he is coming he is coming.
He knows you are here. Take this pail in your hand!
When the bow of the kayak appears throw the pail on top of it. He is coming he is coming he is coming.”
That very moment the bow of the handsome kayak burst into the old woman’s igloo. The huntress threw her rounded pail over the sharp jut of the kayak and she fell into unconsciousness.
When she awoke she found herself kneeling on a thin stretch of beach between sea and land. Betwixt and between she was.
Like she was praying.
Like she was praying hard.
She started walking west, following the curve of the coast. Sometimes she saw things: she saw a huge animal, a huge wild animal the like of which she’d never seen before, lying by an igloo. She walked on to people who gave her food and let her curl up and fall asleep in the shelter of their igloo. The men asked her,
“Will you stay with us?”
She replied, “I am always heading west. I keep walking.”
“In the west there are beings that will kill people. They slaughtered our child. Take this little knife, it is the only weapon that will keep you alive.”
A man produced a little knife from his belt. The handle was so short it was hard to handle, but its size made it easy to conceal, and it was very deadly.
To curate its magic required spit. The blade was moistened with saliva and the man lodged it, handle first, into the igloo wall. Despite herself, the huntress was compelled to press her body swiftly onto the razor sharp copper blade. It was all she could think of. Having given his demonstration, the man gave it to her.
Easy to conceal. Hard to handle. Very deadly. Animated by spittle.
Now, all you storytellers, what does that remind you of?
She walked deeper into what the west is, and many ogres fell irresistibly onto her blade. Ghoul after ghoul.
Longer she walked she walked she walked towards the place that these terrors come from. Longer she walked and walked and walked and she realised the name of the place.
The place that breeds darkness is the place she came from.
When she entered her home village a terrible one set upon her. She was set upon by the chief of the ogres.
It was her father. The one who steered her kayak.
She wetted her tongue with spittle, and told him a story that cuts like a knife.
Of hunting with her father, of harpooning a monster, of marrying a sorcerer, of feeding a hungry boy, of a curved magic that defeats a straight magic, of always walking, of the gifting of a weapon that defeats even the death-energy of the west.
As she spoke, to ensure her power, she placed her blade in the wall of her father’s igloo. He would have hurled himself upon it had she not pulled it free at the climax of her story.
The father was scared, but the spell was broken. Knife or story, he couldn’t tell. Couldn’t recognize the difference. Is there a difference? He spoke.
“When you disappeared, all I had left of you was the darkness you harpooned. The darkness you left behind I began to eat. I took the bad beast to shore and we all ate it. Since then this hunger to eat humans has blazed through our settlement. No longer.”
In the early morning, before the people wake, father and daughter quietly push their kayak over the waves.