Mythical Rolling Fire

The ogre baby born to the great village of the plain, who devoured his mother’s breasts and forced his people to abandon their greatest stronghold in nature, could be heard howling among caribou herds every mating season thereafter. The people of the Raven Clan’s fear of his fierce call drove them into more disparate, remote villages than man had ever inhabited. But these were also not free of hardship, either with nature or man.

The herds of caribou that wintered near these valleys replenished after the great village of the plain disbanded, but the distant rolling hills of Alaskax remained as sparse as before. Man was forced to travel great distances to hunt, to brave the ice-laden inlet, and haul packs stuffed with meat over ankle-rolling tundra, impossibly thick brush, hypothermia-inducing marshes, and the hunting grounds of wolves. Many died. Many children were orphaned and grew up as their elder Layakar had.

Layakar decreed that all the disparate villages over which he ruled should raise their orphans with the utmost care and attention; he warned that ignoring these children was dangerous not only for each individual village, but all the villages over which he ruled, and the entire Raven Clan. Raven, he said, never abandons his young – even the selfish trickster ensures that his ideals are carried on by the next generation – and thus orphans should be considered the Children of Raven.

But in some villages, the Children of Raven were simply too numerous to raise along with the villagers’ own. Often they raised themselves, either in packs like isolated wolf pups, or alone like a lost bear cub. In nature, the orphans of these two animals develop much differently: the pack of wolves grows more devious than those tempered by elders and youths, because they encourage the animal impulses of adolescence among themselves and no one keeps them in check for the greater good; and the lone bear becomes more sagacious than those raised until they break from their mothers, because he never learns to hunt or fight, but remains content, unthreatened, and satisfied with berries, unless he is antagonized by a young pack of wolves. The same is true of human orphans.

Iluperaq was a Child of Raven who raised himself. He grew up in the most remote village in all of Layakar’s domain, where few men lived to see the birth of their first child because they died – caught far from camp in the first storm of winter – trying to trap enough game for their pregnant wives, and women rarely survived child birth because their frames grew too weak without enough food to withstand the abuse of labor.

This rough life was lived along a wide river clogged with ice more than half the year. In summer, when the glacial river cracked and floes were swept to sea, Iluperaq watched the shifting maze unfold all day; he loved to witness the enormous ice caps slowly melt in the warmer ocean until the summer sun illuminated them like small plots of fire floating on the sea – his heart leapt at this contrast – and then they were rolled under crashing waves and he relaxed, waiting anxiously for the next one to burn.

By watching the shifting channels so closely, Iluperaq predicted the route by which spawning salmon swam upriver. He followed these channels downriver so he could catch the fish before they turned down the tributaries by his village, where they bred, already half-rotten from hard work and self-enforced starvation. When he netted these glittering adults and brought their fresh meat back to his village, word of his cunning quickly spread among the Raven Clan. Layakar declared that Iluperaq would take care of the qargi in this remote village about which he often worried; the boy would act as the elder’s eyes and ears on daily events and even as his mouth at important gatherings.

Iluperaq took his work so seriously that he built himself a bedroom in the high ceilings of the qargi. Living there, he would never miss an important meeting, even in the middle of the night, and he could swing onto the roof during the day to watch over the village. His perch also afforded him the best view of the river in the whole valley, so he tracked the channels of salmon even more closely; and during this daily task, as one notices the working of the gods when they masterfully execute mundane toils, he often caught sublime glimpses of Raven.

The blackest bird loved to play on the floes: he twisted and turned in the sky as the flowed downriver, tricked other birds and bears out of their catch if they fished nearby him, and perched on the floes like the lord of all creation, even as they vanished into the sea.

When the sun started to crest the glacier behind Iluperaq on the first day of the salmon runs, he had already watched one wakeful Raven ride a floe to the mouth of the river. The hunk of crystal blue broke apart and its outlying sections vanished in the darker sea, but Raven, without moving, sat on the heart of the iceberg – with untold bulk beneath the surface – as the sun rose and ignited the ice. The island burned dark red as it shrunk, and Raven sat calmly even as a wave rolled the mass and extinguished the fire. At the moment when the tip of the wave reached over the floe and reconnected with the sea – when the plight of the island and its inhabitant seemed most hopeless, Raven emerged on his broad black wings and soared back upriver, not a drop of water on his feathers, but something small and shimmering clasped in his talons.

Iluperaq could not tell if the object was simply the last chunk of ice from the massive floe, which Raven now returned to the glacier in appreciation for the ride it had given him, or some precious secret that had been hidden in the ice for thousands of years, which Raven had waited patiently for the glacier to release, so that he could grasp it once again. Probably both, he thought, as Raven flew above the glacier and dropped the shinning orb into a deep crevice. There are great cycles in the earth that are maintained by Raven playing his eternal games. He is not only the great force of change and progress, but the great force of consistency, for the only constant is change. He bends history back on itself like the waves that devour fiery floes of ice.

Iluperaq rose after Raven disappeared behind the glacier and hopped down from his perch to the floor of the qargi, where a girl he had never met crept around the edge of the meeting room, peering around the tall chairs and under the table.

“Are you looking for me?” Iluperaq said.

The girl popped up, startled. “No,” she said, backing away. “I am looking for Iluperaq.” She eyed her path to the entranceway as if she may run.

Iluperaq cocked his head, confused. “I am Iluperaq,” he said. “You have no reason to fear me.”

The girl stopped and looked twice as perplexed as the boy. Wonderment flooded her facade. “But you are no older than me,” she remarked.

Iluperaq nodded.

“And you are known for being a great caretaker of orphans – someone who will find them families and homes and teach them,” she exclaimed.

“Why does that surprise you?” he asked.

“Well,” she said, looking down as if she were trying to remember. Then she looked up at him – a hint of fear back on her brow – and said, “No orphan boy my age has ever been nice to me.”

Iluperaq nodded gravely. “I understand,” he said, then looked at her with earnest eyes. “But I promise you I will do my best to take care of you if you live in this village. Have you come here on your own?”

“No,” she said. “I am lucky. My grandmother lives, but she is growing old and when the boys in our village started to come for me she was afraid she would not be able to protect me, so we came here, to you.”

She looked hopeful again, but Iluperaq’s eyes now drifted to the ground, a crease of concern streaked his brow. “Yes, yes,” he said, nodding rapidly, then poured through the credo of his village like a child repeating the lesson of A Broken Taboo. “We strive to protect all Children of Raven, as Layakar has decreed. We feed, house, and protect them while they grow strong, teach them the skills to provide for themselves when they grow older, and encourage them to form families with other orphans to house, protect and raise the next generation.” Here, Iluperaq paused. He raised his head and looked at the girl with a grave, terrified look, his eyes deep and stern. “And most of all we teach those who have raised themselves to respect one another, to never come after you as the boys in your last village did, but protect you from others who wish to do you harm.”

The girl clapped her mittened hands before her and held them clasped. “That’s wonderful,” she said, beaming at the boy, trying to shake him from the odd fog into which he had fallen. “My grandmother and I will stay.” She strode around the table and stood in front of him, forcing him to look up at her.

In the light that poured from the opening above them, he realized she was less girlish than she had appeared at a distance. She was his age, her black hair hung passed her waist, her thoughtful eyes searched his own, and her figure was tight as a child’s but full as a woman’s. Iluperaq shot his gaze to the floor more sharply than before.

“We will do everything we can to help others,” she said, reaching out and touching his shoulder. “And I am eager to pair with another to raise children of our own.”

Iluperaq jumped back and let her arm fall to the floor. “That is wonderful, wonderful,” he stammered. “But you must go now. Others are coming and they cannot meet you, not yet.” He walked away from her, shaking his head again, lost in thought. “Take your pick of the empty homes at the edge of the village, nearest the river.”

“Okay,” she said meekly. The pain in her voice shook him from his fog as her presence could not.

Iluperaq turned back to her, his own emotions welling to his face. “I’m sorry I’m being short,” he said. “I cannot wait to talk to you more, but not now, there are things I must do.”

“Don’t you even want to know my name?”

He paused. “Yes,” he said tenderly.

“Igniq,” she said, then turned and left.

Iluperaq spun away from the entranceway and paced across the qargi, furious with himself. She was now skeptical of him – thought he was cold and distant – but it was not his fault; he had rushed her out for her own good. He wished she could have stayed, wished he could have introduced her to the Children of Raven coming to visit him now, but these children were not yet ready to meet her. He did not want to jeopardize their progress – throw them into a situation where they could not control themselves. Magaruq, Amabuq, and Goochuq were like wolves. They needed to be kept in check so that they did not hurt anyone. They did not yet see that if they harmed the people of this village, they harmed their own pack. He would visit Igniq afterward and explain himself – to care for her was just as important as teaching these boys.

At this thought, Iluperaq stopped pacing. He imagined teaching Magaruq and his brothers a quick lesson, then visiting Igniq and her grandmother – sitting in the igloo he had crafted for them, eating and talking with them about the lessons of their life. Then Goochuq rolled through the entranceway and crashed into one of the chairs.

Iluperaq snapped around as Magaruq and Amabuq leapt into the qargi and pounced on their brother. The three scuffled their way under the table, then overturned it as Magaruq rose to his feet, holding the other two on the ground.

“Stop, stop!” Iluperaq yelled and dashed over to right the table. He shoved Magaruq off his brother and kicked all three of them to the wall in one deft movement, then turned his back to them and hoisted the table back onto its legs.

As he ran his hand across the long, smooth planks of cedar, he relaxed; but when his anxiety over the state of the qargi subsided, it was replaced with a fear of the boys behind him. Were they regrouping to wreak their revenge? He spun on his heels defensively, but found the boys rising to their feet slowly, dusting off their clothes.

When they had gathered themselves, they did not speak a word of reproach, but cast their eyes at Iluperaq’s moccasins.

“Why were you fighting?” he boomed.

The boys shifted their feet but said nothing.

Iluperaq gave up. “Come. Sit,” he said, walking around the table and pulling out a chair for himself.

They boys smirked at each other, still chuckling about what they had been fighting over, pleased they had not been forced to tell Iluperaq.

Iluperaq ignored them; he knew he would only engage their group antics if he prodded them. “Do you know the story of Raven and the Clam?” he asked.

The boys were shocked at the swift change of topic. “No,” Magaruq said.

“Before Raven, Man was bound inside a single clam,” said Iluperaq. “The ground and the heavens were two shells held tightly closed by a single, slimy muscle, just like the clams we know now – a creature of pure reflex and response.”

Iluperaq glanced at his audience. They looked confused, as if they were waiting for this lesson to deliver a moral that would condemn their fighting in the qargi. “This muscle was also the only source of food for Man. Every day he ate the muscle, and every day it grew anew, feeding itself by devouring a few of them. Those who groped the walls, running their hands against the smooth darkness until they found the barely perceptible seams, were swished down a river that led to the underworld of the muscle, where they were devoured, turned into food for their brethren, and used to seal the crevice they sought to find.”

Magaruq smiled and turned to his brothers, who smiled back. They leaned over the table as if they hungered for this story the way they hungered for trouble. “One day Raven stumbled upon the clam that held these men. He listened to the routine that renewed with every breath and cackled at the clammed-up men.

“When the men heard this murderous laugh, they cowered and clung to the muscle. But there was nothing they could do to stop what happened next.

“Raven threw his broad, black beak into the sunlight like a fiery sword, then brought it squarely down onto the clam. The shell cracked in half and the muscle died. Thousands of men died, too, and others clung to the walls and the decaying corpse, holding their eyes shut and hiding from the light.”

Magaruq, Amabuq, and Goochuq stirred in their chairs and glanced at one another wildly, excited by the imaginary carnage. “But some men opened their eyes and found their vision quickly adjusted. The warmth of the outside air soothed their clammy skin, so they jumped out.

“Only these men survived, because Raven promptly slurped down the muscle and sucked clean the shells. Finished, he stretched his wings and took off in search of his next meal.

“The survivors marveled at the new world. They devoured the fruits of the land and grew tall. Eventually, they grew to the size we are now, and they found that there were many clams, just like the one they had lived in. Remembering what Raven had done, they tore these clams from the muddy banks of the inlet, raised beak-shaped rocks high into the air, and brought them down squarely upon the shell, then slurped down the muscles and sucked clean the shells. They relished the briny tang of the flesh that had once bound them.”

Uneven legs rattled against the ground like a boiling pot of water or a bore tide flooding an inlet. The boys sat on the edge of their seats, poised to spring up and overturn the table.

Iluperaq tried to capture their energy with a question. “Why is Raven a god to our people?”

“Because he broke the clam!” shouted Magaruq.

“Because he broke the rules,” sneered Amabuq.

“Because he showed us how to break the clams,” said Goochuq, as if having a revelation.

The three brothers rose together, Magaruq with excitement, Amabuq with deviousness, and Goochuq with curiosity.

Iluperaq jumped up quicker than then, slammed his hands on the table and cocked his head, as if he’d caught them in a trap. “But why would we idolize a bird that breaks the rules? The Raven Clan is not a force of chaos, but an organized society.”

The boys fell silent. Both elder brothers turned to Goochuq. He glanced from finger to finger as if counting his own nails and spoke under his breath. “Because this was good chaos?”

“Exactly!” Iluperaq shouted, focusing on Goochuq, dropping and twisting his head to catch the boy’s downcast eyes. “Why was it good chaos?” he asked encouragingly.

Goochuq sunk his head further. He had nothing else to say. “Because it taught us how to eat the clams?” he repeated.

“Yes!” Iluperaq said. His excitement with his lessons carried him around the table. He began pacing across the qargi, no longer focused on the boys and their energy, but on his own story and its energy. “You see, there was an order inside the clam. Men ate the clam meat, the clam ate men to create more meat, and so on. But we had a greater potential than to live inside that clam, and Raven knew it, so he set us free. He broke open the clam. This seemed chaotic at first. There was carnage and chaos. But ultimately, there was a greater order. Man emerged from the clam, learned the grand order of the world, and set his civilization in the midst of the cycles of heaven and earth. In this world, man continued to eat the clam, and when he died and his nutrients washed into the sea, the clam continued to eat him, as well. Before Raven smashed the clam shell, a simple order existed, but it excluded much of the world from man. Raven expanded man’s order to include much more of the world, but the core of the order – order itself – remained. Order will always exist in the world of Raven, the god of destruction and creation, because he can harness chaos. Raven did not hop down the beach, cracking open every clam and flooding the world with new beings. Likewise, we must not flood the world with chaos, but harness our destructive impulses to destroy constricting structures, and create structures of greater order in their places!”

Iluperaq reached the end of his lesson as he reached a long stroll across the qargi. After taking his last step, he spun back to the boys and threw his hands up in excitement. Magaruq and Amabuq looked like children lost in a snowstorm who did not recognize their surroundings when the dust settled. Their pupils were too wide to be focused on Iluperaq, who could see his lesson had not reached them. But he could also see that by wrapping them up in a tumultuous story and ending it calmly, he had diffused their anxiety. Only Goochuq appeared to recognize a path home in the new landscape. He was not looking at Iluperaq either, but his eyes were so sharp and focused that Iluperaq was curious as to what the boy was thinking. Goochuq looked past him.

“Is that what you meant, Goochuq?”

Magaruq and Amabuk turned to their brother once more. On him, their eyes fixed. They would have been able to hear Iluperaq’s moral if Goochuq repeated it. Even if their brother only affirmed the conclusion that hung over their minds, barely imperceptible, Iluperaq’s point would sink in.

Goochuq broke his gaze and turned to his brothers. Their expressions were unclear to him. Though he could guide them in matters such as these, he relied on their faint looks of approval or disapproval to steer his course. He held a conclusion firmly in his mind – it was not what Iluperaq or his brothers wanted to hear – but in the face of their blank expressions, he knew not what to say.

He shrugged. “Sort of.”

The enthusiasm escaped Iluperaq’s chest like the last breath of a pup trampled under hoof. He exhaled and nearly hunched over, defeated. He could translate his people’s myths only so far for these boys. Goochuq had to take them the rest of the way, and he still refused. The lesson failed.

“Go,” Iluperaq said, waving them away with the back of his hand and turning to his loft. He climbed the rope to his bed, pulled it up behind him, and mumbled, “Come back tomorrow.”

Magaruq and Amabuq looked at each other and shrugged, but Goochuq sharpened his gaze across the qargi. “Let’s go hunting,” he said.

His brothers smiled then scrambled with one another, chasing Goochuq who had already dashed out of the entranceway.

* * *

In these early throws of spring, darkness still descended across Alaskax before the sun reached its climax and warmed the shady side of the grass. The tundra thawed enough during the day to allow a heavy foot to sink into the mud, and froze again at night, killing any exposed branch. In this state of flux, the borealis burned.

Iluperaq sat upon his perch and watched the sky shift colors like a thought searching for its form, while his own thoughts also shifted mindlessly. A rolling fire appeared to burn across the sky and the image of Igniq peering under the table rose to his mind. The fire surged across the horizon as she stood up in front of him, and he remembered he had forgotten to visit her. But that was fine. First he must decide what he is going to do with her, anyway.

The edges of the sky turned iridescent green and blue, framing the fire with deep glacial ice, or a hotter flame. Iluperaq understood his urge to separate Igniq and the boys only so far as he understood his own urges toward Igniq. He burned for her, but he could restrain himself, unlike Magaruq, Amabuq, and Goochuq. If they broke their sacred bond with her – the sacred bond between orphans – it would undoubtedly bring down punishment from the heavens, like that wreaked on the Great Village of he Plain.

The bright greens and blues shifted above and below the red and the three rolled together like a magical wave. Iluperaq felt ashamed. He suddenly believed he was being untrue to the Raven Clan and Raven himself by keeping Igniq and the boys apart. Despite being an orphan, he believed in the Raven Clan’s system of disparate villages. The Great Village of the Plain was disbanded so that people would live closer to nature. Layakar swore that remote villages would keep people true to nature, yet Iluperaq was unnaturally restricting orphan from orphan, dividing the Children of Raven. He was like the clam that kept its prisoners from fully experiencing the world.

Together, the colors in the sky resolved into a pale blue, like moonlit smoke, then faded away, as if the borealis had not been a fire at all, but a passing cloud. Iluperaq rose to his feet, now staring at the brightest star in the sky, and decided he would introduce the boys to Igniq tomorrow. First, he must prepare her.

He swung down from the roof, across the ceiling of the qargi, and onto his loft, then descended the ladder to the floor and marched into the night to find Igniq.

* * *

When Iluperaq reached the edge of his small village, he realized he had no idea which igloo Igniq had chosen. He stood in front of the nondescript mounds and searched for a sign of life. Not a single light flickered. No smoke billowed from an entranceway. He had failed at the simplest task of caring for her – knowing where she was. She could have left, fled because she did not trust him to protect her, feared him because of his callous treatment of her. The cold crept into his clothes and clinched him. Motionless, he felt lost and unprotected.

He scrambled through the snow to the brightest igloo, trying to shake off the cold. But the igloo he rushed toward was only the brightest because the angle of the entranceway reflected more starlight. He was destined to fail at every igloo he attempted, to find nothing but barren space and windswept snow piled high against sod walls until he fell to the ground and let the cold overcome him, like so many shepherds of the Children of Raven had done. But Igniq heard his panicked footsteps and emerged from the darkest, quietest igloo, shoving aside the thick blankets she had hung over the entranceway to keep in the warmth.

Iluperaq froze, startled like Igniq had been when she first saw him: struck by her youth, unsure if this was the person for whom he searched.

She stepped aside, drew back the blankets, and waved for him to enter, as prepared to accept and care for him as he had been for her.

He entered out of the cold. A small fire burned in the center of the room, so hot it was nearly smokeless. The form of a thin woman stirred behind the flames, which caught Iluperaq’s eye. He could barely decipher the movement of one from the other.

“Did your meeting go well?” Igniq asked as he slipped under the blankets, into the warmth.

“Yes!” he said, reminded of his purpose. He turned from the intricate dance in the center of the igloo and starred at Igniq’s face, just inches from his own. “That’s why I came here to talk to you.”

“Wonderful,” she said, and smiled at him encouragingly, but with a calm that caused him to pause. Noting her effect, she took him by the shoulder and led him farther into the igloo. “My grandmother is preparing dinner. We can talk while we eat.”

He followed her lead and they sat around the fire. He could now distinguish the woman behind the flames. Igniq’s grandmother rolled a strange meat under her knuckles, stretching the tough fibers until she could tear it into section, then she stuck her hand into the flames and carefully laid the strips onto a hot, flat stone. They sizzled and popped like burning oil.

“What is that?” he asked.

“Muktuk,” she said without looking up, pinching each strip of meat off the stone and flipping it, as if the flames could not burn her. “We come from a village farther north, where our hunters spear the whales of the inlet. If you eat it, it will keep you warmer than wearing the pelt of a sea otter.” She pulled the strips from the flame – steam rising from her hands – and handed Igniq and Iluperaq their servings. “We have brought much of it to your village.”

Iluperaq wanted to pay respect to his elder, but he was also anxious to propose his own idea. “Thank you, you will be safe here,” he said, bowing to her as she pounded another section of muktuk, still not looking up at him. Iluperaq ignored her indifference and turned to Igniq. “To make sure of that I would like you to meet some of the other orphans in the village, before you stumble upon each other, unacquainted.”

“Are these orphans like yourself?” Igniq asked sternly.

“No.” Iluperaq cast his head down and fingered his muktuk. “They are brothers,” he said reluctantly, but he knew he must be honest, “they are slightly wild.” At these words he doubted his own plans, but he thought back to the revelation he had as the boarders to the night sky fell around fire, and nodded his head vigorously. “But that is exactly why they must meet you.” He shot his head up and looked at Igniq encouragingly, as if his fears were actually hers. “In this small village, the two of you can have wholesome relationships.”

“I will meet them,” she said boldly. “I did not come here to hide. But if their motives are not pure, can you still protect me?”

“Yes, of course,” he said nodding.

“How?” the grandmother snapped.

When he turned to her, he found her staring straight at him. Her eyes were the pale blue of moonlit smoke, like he had seen that night in the heavens, in contrast to her glowing red hands. He stammered, “If I cannot trust the boys, I will send them away.”

Igniq’s turned back to the fire and shook her head. “Fire was once held in a mountain not far from here,” she said and tore the tenderized muktuk into strips. “The people of a nearby village could hear it rumbling, like the beating of a drum, so they sent their warriors to search for the source of the noise, but they found nothing.” She flipped the strips onto the stone. “The beating grew louder, so the warriors were sent again. This time they found an empty dining hall at the base of the mountain, but when they returned they did not tell their villagers.” The muktuk hissed in the flames. “They returned to the dining hall the following night and found it full of revelers, all dancing around a single flame, naked. They did not tell their villagers about this, but returned every night to watch the naked dancers.”

She stuck her hand into the flames and flipped the strips. “But the fire did not remain contained in the dancing hall at the base of the mountain, it exploded out of the top in liquid form and flooded the valleys below. Whole villages were drowned in the flames. The warriors returned to the source and tried to extinguish it, but when they touched the revelers, all of them died except one. This warrior had bathed in his own urine.”

She pulled the strips as she had done before, and handed each child their share. “This warrior grasped the fire and brought it back to his villagers. When he told them what he had seen, he died too. But his fellow villagers lived because they could now grasp the fire.”

She ate the whale fat and closed her eyes.

“I’ve never heard of these fires from the earth,” Iluperaq said, excited by her ancient tale. “Is that how sin was born?”

“No,” she said, lying down. “That is how it will be conquered.”

* * *

When Magaruk, Amabuk, and Goochuq arrived for their lesson, Iluperaq and Igniq were seated at the long table. The boys paused and looked at each other, perplexed – were they early? Goochuq turned to the entranceway to flee but Magaruk snagged him with the hook of his arm, staring at Igniq.

Iluperaq rose to his feet. “Come in boys. This is one of your sisters,” he said, pointing an open palm at Igniq.

Goochuq turned around and the three faced her. Their intense stare intimidated Igniq, but she did not recoil; she sat up proudly and smiled.

“What do you mean,” Magaruq barked, still staring at the girl.

Iluperaq, too, ignored their intensity and strolled across the room to the boys, then put his arm around the eldest brother, and guided them to the table, still gesturing at Igniq with his open palm while they walked. “She is also a child of Raven, thus you are her brothers,” he said, turning to look at them all, his eyes wide with excitement. Then more solemnly: “So you must protect her like your sister.”

Iluperaq pulled out a chair and thrust Magaruk into it, then his brothers fell into line beside him, Goochuq rattling the chair legs with his nervous hand and avoiding eye contact with Igniq.

Iluperaq sat and planted his elbows on the table, then said, “She will be joining our lessons now.” He motioned to her with both hands and gazed at her. At first, the boys were too uncomfortable to follow his gaze, but he held it so long that they became more uncomfortable not following it. They timidly turned their heads and found her staring back at them, smiling. “I’m Igniq,” she said.

“Magaruk,” “Amabuq,” “Goochuq.”

Iluperaq was thrilled. The mere presence of Igniq tamed the boys. “Yesterday we were talking about the ways disorder can create order,” he said. “Can any of you think of examples of that besides the destruction of one order for a greater order?”

“Creation,” said Goochuq.

His brothers turned to him, as always, anxious to see if he was tricking Iluperaq or if they would have to chastise him for engaging in these silly games.

Igniq looked at him earnestly and asked, “How does disorder lead to creation?”

This was going better than Iluperaq had imagined. Goochuq turned away from his brother and looked at Igniq, confident now. “Like when man discovered that bathing in urine would aid them in the hunt.”

Igniq leaned closer to Goochuq and squinted at him. “What do you mean?”

Goochuq shrugged his shoulders as if his meaning was obvious and glanced at Iluperaq for reassurance. Iluperaq nodded at him to go one. “Some hunter probably just pissed on himself – missed the rock and hit his leg!” Goochuq said flippantly.

Magaruq and Amabuq burst out laughing, but Iluperaq pressed Goochuq to go on despite them. “Then what?” he asked over the chaos.

“Then he noticed the caribou couldn’t smell him as he approached, and men were better hunters from then on.”

Magaruq and Amabuq doubled over onto the table in hysterics and slapped it with their open palms, but Iluperaq was not willing to lose this moment. Goochuq was ignoring his older brothers, prodded to express himself by Igniq’s interest. “But the man pissing on himself does not lead directly to all men catching more caribou,” he said. “What is the link there, how did this hunter turn the disorder of his accident into a greater order?”

Goochuq shrugged his shoulders and clammed up, sinking his chin into his neck, but he still did not seem to notice his brothers’ antics. Iluperaq wondered what was holding him back. If Goochuq could make up that entire story based on his own simple lesson, he surely knew the answer to this. Perhaps he had no more motivation, now that he had won Igniq’s attention.

“Imagination,” Iluperaq said in a hushed voice, trying to lend as much austerity as he could to the word he believed was more important than any other in their ancient language. This ploy had its desired effect – Igniq turned to him. He continued: “The hunter who discovered the secret power of urine had to imagine what could have prevented the caribou from smelling him. He knew something about his was different, because every other caribou he had tracked had detected his presence, but a myriad variables differ between every hunt. He may have eaten different food that morning, wiped his ass with a different leaf, walked through a different stream to crest a different hill and discover a different herd of caribou. But he believed the urine had made the difference, without inherited knowledge or through trial and error, and he was right. He created a different order because of the power of his imagination.”

Iluperaq was clearly enraptured with his own lesson again. Magaruk and Amabuk glazed over while Igniq stared at him, captivated – wise lessons like these were why she had sought out this village – but Goochuq did neither. He sunk back into his chair and stared at the hole in the ceiling.

“Active, accurate imagination give us the ability to expand our order,” he said, rising to his feet and beginning to pace across the qargi. “Imagination gives us the power to live in villages, to treat strangers as our own brothers, to take care of children orphaned by other, to respect all women as our sisters, because we can imagine the way they feel, even if we have not experiences their precise plights.”

“No,” Goochuq said plainly.

Iluperaq stopped mid-step, then slowly lowered his foot and turned to Goochuq, but did not prompt the boy to speak.

“There is more to the story – something more important, that you are missing,” he said, still staring at the blue sky.

“And what is that?” Goochuq demanded.

“The hunter had to be comfortable with piss on his leg.”

As his brothers howled with laughter and Igniq recoiled in repulsion, Goochuq lowered his eyes from the ceiling and met Goochuq’s piercing gaze with a wry smile. “People probably used to be squeamish about piss on their legs, but to create a greater order, we must accept the things people don’t think are pleasant.”

Iluperaq nodded gravely. This was a conclusion he had omitted from his explication of Raven and the Clam, and it must have been the same one Goochuq refrained from mentioning after the lesson. He had not stopped himself because he worried his brothers would judge him, but because he had no reason to express the thought that neither his brothers nor his teacher wanted to hear. But now there was a reason: Igniq stared at him once again. “Do you think there are still things we reject that we must learn to accept?” she asked.

He slowly turned to her and smiled. “Always.”

“Your right!” said Iluperaq, trying to regain control of his lesson. He was glad Goochuq was engaged, but uneasy with this last line of logic. “That’s exactly right,” he repeated, “But we must be very careful what we chose to accept, because only an accurate imagination can create greater order. If the hunter had guessed that something else had caused the caribou not to smell him, man would not have progressed at all, and maybe even moved backward.”

Satisfied with this conclusion, he stormed back to the table and ushered the children out of their chairs. “That will be the topic of our next conversation,” he said. “We will discuss how to refine our imaginations. Now up, up! I will see you tomorrow.”

Magaruk and Amabuk rolled out of their seats and shot through the door, but Goochuq did not follow. He and Igniq still stared at one another. They rose slowly together. “Can I walk you home?” he asked.

“Sure.”

A flurry of noise exploded inside Iluperaq’s head. He was terrified of them going home together. He wanted to object, but he stopped himself. This was what he wanted. Goochuq had let his brothers go and was being gentle with Igniq – he wanted to be different because of her. Besides, her grandmother was home, so Goochuq would not go inside, and Iluperaq could swing to his perch and watch them walk home.

As soon as the two strolled out the entranceway, Iluperaq climbed to his loft and leapt to the hole in the ceiling – a feat only he could perform – then perched on the roof. Magaruq and Amabuq argued over which direction they would go hunting that night, both pointing in opposite direction. Magaruq slapped Amabuq’s arm to his side and Amabuq was about to lunge at his brother when Goochuq and Igniq emerged. The brothers stopped fighting and looked at the couple. Goochuq acknowledged them for only a moment, then turned with Igniq toward her igloo.

“Where are you going?” Magaruq barked.

Goochuq looked over his shoulder and said, “I’m walking Igniq home.”

His brothers looked shocked. Their faces showed less comprehension than when Iluperaq tried to instruct them. “But we’re going hunting,” Amabuq whined, as if Goochuq must have forgot.

“Go,” Goochuq said. “I’ll catch up with you.”

Iluperaq smiled as his student ignored his brothers and walked with Igniq contentedly. They strolled through the small village impractically slow, their breath forming a single cloud between them in the cold air as they chatted. By the time Goochuq said goodbye and Igniq ducked under the curtain to her home, Magaruq and Amabuq had wandered deep into the woods. But Goochuq did not rush after them. He strolled back through the village just as slowly as he had walked out.

* * *

“Play,” Iluperaq said without wasting time, “is how we refine our imaginations.”

Magaruk and Amabuq zoned out immediately, and Goochuq leaned back, making himself comfortable. He could tell this was going to be a didactic lesson: Iluperaq was not beginning it with questions, like normal, but starting with the tone he normally saved for his summaries. Only Igniq leaned over the table anxious, still excited by these structured discussions.

“Fathers smile to see their children play,” he said in the tone he used to start myths, “because it foresees the adults they will become. Wrestling with our brothers is often considered pointless activity compared to the hard work of hunting caribou for your family. But without one there is not the other. Playing as a child strengthens the muscles and sharpens the instincts necessary to hunt. And more importantly, it develops the imagination, so that one learns to anticipate how others will respond to their actions, and how quickly and forcefully they will be able to act in a given situation.”

Iluperaq through his head back and looked at the curved ceiling of the qargi as if he were gazing at the clouds. “Raven,” he blurted out, “tests the speed of wolves in his youth. He lands on the tails of wolves and jerks until they spin around to see how long he can linger without being caught in their gnashing teeth.” He looked down and focused on Goochuq. “The Raven with a weak imagination loses his life – nature corrects this error in judgement – and the mind of the Raven grows strong, so that he can feed at fresh kills without fear.”

He panned across all his students as he concluded, their expressions unchanged since he began. “Man, too, has been corrected by nature for his uninspired visions, leading us to these remote villages where we can live in peace.”

Goochuq leaned forward. “What now?”

Iluperaq met the boy’s intense stare. His question sounded earnest, but his facade was clearly challenging. He leaned over the table and bored into Iluperaq’s face with fiery eyes. Iluperaq leaned back, surprised the boy suddenly showed an interest in this lesson. But his question was important. The orphans of these villages needed to know how to focus their energy. “We must improve our relationships with one another – create families, even though we were raised on our own.”

“There is nothing to improve,” Goochuq said sternly. “None of our fathers smiled to see us play – they never saw us. There is no improving this system, there is only mastering it, for ourselves, taking what we can and leaving others to deal with the rest, as our father’s did.”

Iluperaq furrowed his brow with surprise and disgust. Was he serious? The boy had two older brothers help raise him, and he already seemed to care for Igniq. Iluperaq knew he downplayed the hardships of growing up without a father, but that did not mean the Children of Raven could not learn compassion and self-restraint. “Our fathers died hunting for our mothers and us,” he said.

Goochuq shook his head with disgust. “And they provided for neither,” he said. “Now something has changed, like when Raven shattered the clam, and we must learn to provide for ourselves.”

“That does not mean we cannot care for others.”

“But it does mean our priority must be our own satisfaction, like Raven when he sucked clean the shell.”

“Nature still provides you with bounty, and others still give your life meaning,” Iluperaq leaned over the table to meet Goochuq’s stare, and glanced to the the boy’s left and right, at his brothers and at Igniq.

Goochuq did not baulk, but leaned in closer still, closing the gap between them to a finger’s length, and then whispered angrily, “Only so far as you use them.” Iluperaq recoiled in horror, but Goochuq merely raised his eyebrows mockingly and continued his assault. “Just like you use us, to try and give yourself hope, for all the orphans who have no wise, older orphan to guide them.”

Iluperaq shook his head ominously. He had never anticipated this from Goochuq – a display of purely destructive imagination, an attack on all his beliefs and reason. Iluperaq knew Goochuq was right, in part – that they had to provide for themselves more than any other generation – but he still believed compassion would emerge. Leaving them together, to their own devices, was the best way to prove this, as he had thought. Goochuq’s time with Igniq appeared to teach him more than any lesson. Goochuq may say these things now, but if Iluperaq dismissed them, he would walk Igniq home as he did yesterday – respectfully.

“Go,” he said suddenly. All four students were shocked. Magaruk and Amabuk felt like this lesson had dragged on far less than others, Goochuq could not believe Iluperaq would let him get away with his last comment, and Igniq was surprised Iluperaq did not try to counter Goochuq’s whispered words. She pushed herself away from the table and glanced back and forth between the two, slightly appalled. Were they working together to trick her? How could Iluperaq let them leave with Goochuq’s last utterance? His selfish words seemed contrary to the protection Iluperaq had promised her.

Goochuq turned to her again and asked if he could walk her home. She turned to Iluperaq, who nodded in consent, then back to Goochuq, whose soft, sparkling eyes displayed none of the anger from his argument with his elder. “Yes,” she said.

Their walk went much like the day before, with Iluperaq watching from above as Goochuq shrugged off his brothers’ objections and strolled across the village slowly, chatting and laughing with Igniq. But this time, when they reached the entranceway of Igniq’s igloo, Goochuq leaned over and whispered something in her ear. She leaned back and smiled coyly, put one hand on his chest, then nodded and ducked under the covering.

As Goochuq strolled back across the village and into the woods to meet his brothers, Iluperaq was reminded of the Raven who saved the dazzling core of ice from the floe and returned it to the glacier. Now he thought the great trickster maintained an order despite himself, and he thought the trickster Goochuq would do good for the order of the Raven Clan despite himself. He would love and care of Igniq, and keep him and his brothers from going down the path of the brothers of The Broken Taboo.

* * *

The boys did not give up their daily hunt after Igniq arrived. Goochuq met his brothers in the woods after his slow strolls, as promised, and today they stalked a small pack of wolves. Like three young Ravens, they perched on a precipice overlooking a long, sweeping valley. They watched as the gray beasts crept up the ridge to the west. The wolves hoped to spook a herd of caribou and pick of the slower young, and the boys who could see the valley was empty, hoped the wolves would proceed to play and one would be stuck in the snow for them to scavenge. But then an even more prosperous, daring task emerged from the east: a cow and calf moose crested the ridge.

“We should scare them off so the wolves will play,” Amabuk whispered.

“No,” Goochuq demanded. The wolves laid their chins on the snow behind a bank.. “They are going to kill the moose.”

“Never,” Magaruk said in disbelief. “Five wolves would never take a cow moose, they know at least one would be trampled.”

“These will,” Goochuq said confidently, watching their rear legs march in place, anxious to spring forward and tear across the plain. “They are young.”

Amabuk turned to Goochuq, smiling excitedly. “Then we can scare off the pack and take the meat, right?”

Goochuq simply smiled.

“Yes,” said Magaruq, and the three watched intently.

As the moose plodded into the valley, their long narrow legs sinking deep into the soft snow, the wolves balked in turn, shooting forward half a step before drawing back and crouching ever lower. Then one adolescent, fooled by the fake charge of another, shot over the ridge and down the valley.

The mother moose turned calmly, and her calf followed her back up the hill. The cow was sure the wolves were bluffing, and would not actually attack them at the risk of losing their own lives. But the wolves soared across the valley without breaking the surface, spread wide like a flock of birds. Only when they neared moose and their paths converged did their pace become awkward. They crashed into and rolled over the top of one another, snarling and snapping all the while.

The spirit of the competition drove the winner to sink its teeth into the back of its prize, severing the calf’s spinal cord and killing it instantly. The rest of the wolves each grabbed a leg and pulled in different directions, tearing the body into four sections and attempting to choke them down, bone and all, ignoring the shocked, enraged cow.

She turned on the beasts that were feasting on her child, threw both front legs into the air, and brought them down with all the force of her heavy body, one on the head of one wolf, one on the body of another. Both hooves sunk through the animals as if their hide, muscle and bone were nothing more than snow, leaving one gasping for air and the other without a thought.

The three survivors quickly dropped their meals and circled the mother. She turned in tight circles, unsure which wolf to charge. Every time she stopped, the wolf behind her bit, then turned to run in case she gave chase. In this manner, she was slowly devoured. With her last burst of energy she lunged threw herself backward and landed on the wolf biting her hindquarter, crushing him with her weight.

The two survivors hesitated no longer than they did when faced with the ragging mother. They sunk their teeth into the corpse to feast, ignoring their buried brother.

“Let’s go,” Amabuq said, turning from the kill to his younger brother.

“No,” Goochuq said sternly.

Magaruq turned to Goochuq, as well, perplexed. “But it happened just as you said it would. The wolves have killed the moose, now we can scare them off and take the meat.”

Goochuq did not look at his brothers but stared and the two surviving wolves as they tore back the mother’s hide and gorged on her warm, bloody flesh. He envied their victorious brutality.

“We can do better than wolves,” he said, then looked at his brothers in turn. “Let’s go back to the village. Igniq is waiting for me.”

* * *

Goochuq was indeed compelled to care for Igniq, as Iluperaq believed. But he wished to conquer that impulse, knowing it was central to the order of the Raven Clan. And by harnessing the purely destructive side of his imagination, he had discovered how.

As the Northern Lights began to burn red in the night sky, he stood before Igniq’s igloo and called out to her. She quickly slipped under the curtain over her entranceway and paused, starring across the crimson ice at her young love. They were both afraid and excited: she to give up her fear of male orphans, and he to do what he believed he must. As she stood before him, trembling but hopeful, he knew he could not simply walk up to her and harm her – hit her, gag her, drag her away and rape her. But then his brothers emerged from either side of the igloo and grabbed her for him. Magaruq pulled a thick cloth through her mouth and tied it behind her head while Amabuq hoisted her feat into the air, and the two of them hauled her to the river bank, Goochuq following, keeping guard.

When they reached the riverbank, they threw her to the cold ice and rapped her. Goochuq cringed at first, to see her clothes torn from her body and her soft skin scraped and cut. But he focused not on her agony, but his brothers’ enjoyment. He knew this is what he needed to do if he was going to survive in this world, so after his brothers had finished and she lay beaten and bleeding on the cold ground, he turned her over, pressed her sad eyes into the snow, and sodomized her.

Goochuq rose and Igniq lay lifeless. As the frigid morning sun began to rise, he looked down at her with disgust instead of love. She was a thing to be abused. “Grab that plank of driftwood,” he demanded, glancing upriver. Amabuq snagged the long, thick trunk as it was wedged between the bank and a floe, then hoisted it into the air. “Now onto the floe.”

As Goochuq dragged Igniq through the water and onto the loose ice, Iluperaq spotted them from the roof of the qargi. Amabuq planted the wood into the floe and they strung her up, naked and bloody. They had raped her and were now going to push her out to sea to die. Iluperaq swung down through his loft and raced across the village to save her. But when he reached the riverbank, her floe had floated to the center of the river and the boys were gone. He thought that if he swam he might be able to steer the floe to shore before he died of cold, but when he lunged forward he was ceased by Magaruk and Amabuk. They spun him around and Goochuq struck him square in the head.

When he woke, Igniq was halfway to the ocean and he too was bound to a piece of driftwood, stuck on the banks, forced to watch her drown. She woke shortly after him, regaining consciousness for the first time since her assault, and all she saw was Iluperaq, apparently watching her float away.

“Get my grandmother!” she screamed impulsively, but Iluperaq could not move. He shook his head with sadness, but to her it looked as if he refused to save her, as if he were letting this happen. For a moment she thought this was because he felt powerless, so she screamed again, “Get my grandmother! She will be able to save me!”

Iluperaq understood her cry. He also felt like they needed their elders to stop this. He tugged against his restraints, but had no slack to jerk against.

To Igniq, Iluperaq appeared unwilling. Her face burned red with rage. She hated him more than Goochuq. She and her grandmother would have cared for him. He was supposed to care for her and he had failed and now he refused to repent.

Iluperaq saw her anger with him as her floe hit the headwaters. He pulled against the ropes with all his might, screaming in agony, to no avail. Guilt racked him. He could have prevented all of this, but he misread everything, every step of the way. He shouldn’t have tried to teach the boys, shouldn’t have introduced them to Igniq, should not have let Goochuq give voice to his ideas in the qargi – he should have chased them away from his village as soon as he met them, damn the advice of the Raven Clan.

Iluperaq own thoughts wrenched his chest like a hot spearhead. Severing these ideas from his mind were as painful as severing his hand from his wrist. He felt like he would die if he gave them up, but that he must give them up in the face of this horror. But at the moment before Igniq floated into the sea and he ripped compassion from his mind, he was distracted: Raven soared over his head, straight for the headwaters. Iluperaq dropped his line of thought and put all his hope in the black bird.

Iluperaq imagined Raven had arrived to save Igniq and redeem this story, and he appeared to be right as Raven shot straight to Igniq’s flow and landed atop her stake. Iluperaq could see the bird lean down and severe the ropes that bound her with a single strike from his beak, but that is not what happened. Raven sat back and preened himself as the floe floated to see and melted rapidly. Even as large chunks began to dislodge from the main berg, he sat motionless.

Iluperaq cursed Raven and fought against his restraints with newfound strength. He created slack in the rope by struggling, and the, with one, stern lunge, broke free and fell to the ground. He could not longer reach the sea-bound floe, so the ran to the qargi, still hoping to see Raven save Igniq.

As he tore through the village, he could hear the boys laughing from inside the qargi. He knew they would kill him – the only witness to their crime – but he didn’t care. He ran in, straight past them, sprung to his loft, and swung to the roof, desperate to catch one, last glimpse of Igniq.

The boys leapt repeatedly, and even hurled one another into the air attempting to reach the loft, but they could not. Goochuq ran outside and began scaling the wall. When he scrambled over the steepest part of the curve and saw Iluperaq, he thought the teacher was stricken with horror by his cunning, but Iluperaq looked straight past him.

On the sea, Raven sat perfectly still even as only the heart of the floe remained – barely enough to hold Igniq’s stake aloft – and began to burn bright red in the sun. When the ice turned its most fiery color, a wave curled over the top of floe and girl and bird. Only then did Raven move, but not to save Igniq or even himself. He struck the top of the stake as if it were a clamshell and the entire encapsulated image set fire.

Iluperaq thought Raven had merely given Igniq’s death dramatic flare, and the fire would be extinguished as soon as the wave crashed over it, but instead the fire burned the water. The wave erupted in flames then rolled over the ocean as if it were potent fuel, straight for the qargi. The fire would burn up the river, destroying their village, and then melt the entire glacier, flooding the lands of the disparate villages and eradicating Raven’s ancient system of order, all because of the sins of Goochuq and his brothers.

“Look what you’ve done!” Iluperaq screamed as Goochuq charged toward him across the flat roof of the qargi. But Iluperaq did not look back. He would die rushing toward more destruction, oblivious of the fate he set in motion for generations to come.

Iluperaq refused to die at his hands. He swung back into the qargi and collapsed on his loft. The boys struggled to grab him from above or below, but they could not kill him directly, even though their actions would lead to the death of them all. But as the fire consumed the qargi, killing the evil brothers, Iluperaq did not feel vindicated, for he too was consumed by the flames.

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