Chapter 1 – Sled ride
The Medical Journals
Care for others
Does much to care for yourself
Ashima, or Shish, as her family and friends affectionately preferred to call her, estimated the journey to Southern Point would allow her to do what she needed to do and have hours to spare before the sun went down.
The request had been urgent, an expectant mother giving her utmost to bring a new baby into the world. The mother was experiencing complications, now into her second day of continuing labor, the situation escalating beyond the prospects of a normal birth.
Shish admitted to some relieve at having to answer the emergency; except for her concern that the poor expectant mother remained in serious pain; and most likely was experiencing a heap of fear and anxiety. That part resonated in Shish’s resolve to get there quickly. No one should endure such hardship for wanting to bring a new life into the world.
This trip allowed Shish something else to focus on; something other than those visions—and they now carried with them a greater urgency and foreboding than before.
This morning’s emergency forced her to focus on the journey ahead: any special elixirs, supplies, together with the possible skills needed to best alleviate the situation. Assisting the woman was well within the range of her abilities; she had helped deliver many babies, a few with complications requiring special knowledge; such knowledge she received from helping her mother perform similar services.
The visions presented a whole other concern; beyond matters she could react to or even understand.
Every day since her parents had gone to the Main Lands, it was a custom for her mom to check in. This morning Shish contacted her before that usual call so as not to cause worry should, later on, she not be able to do so. Her parents were busy with the makings of the Doctrine of Understanding; the last thing she wanted was to add any concern for her to their extensive agenda.
Shish talked for some time with her mom, discussing what herbs and elixirs to bring; more to provide comfort for her mom than having to do with her need to consult. In fact, the supplies she deemed necessary were already packed. Her dad came on to wish her a safe journey. They ended the conversation with her mom expressing her love and bidding her to stay safe.
Though barely eighteen, Shish took many journeys with her dog team. She was comfortable and capable in this snowy wilderness. Gray Rocks Island gave home to snow from early fall to late spring, and often early summer. Some main roads allowed the solar transports to move about in winter; but for the most part dog teams or snow sleds provided a better means to get about.
She preferred her dogs. The dogs enjoyed it even more than she did, if their exuberance at the start of a run provided any indication.
One last check on her dogs, the sled, and her provisions; she gave the signal for them to move out. The road through the cove was beaten down and well-traveled. They soon crested the back hills, on pass the huge lake that provided the cove’s water supply, then south and west unto paths less traveled.
A powered snow sled might be faster she now pondered as her team and sled moved unto one of the many small frozen ponds that dotted the area. They moved along at a brisk pace, her two hands on the back of the komatik, one foot on the runner while the other gave a push or a nudge as required.
Had she made a mistake in taking the more primitive method of travel? The answer appeared obvious; yet it called to her that she and her team came least intrusive to the environment. What she gave up in time she would gain back from being in closer communion with the natural surroundings; the movement of her team and sled the least disruptive to all that thrived here.
What about the poor woman who waited?
She concluded that a snow sled in this rugged terrain would have difficulty maneuvering the hills, marshes, dips, and massive boulders, often hidden by the snows. Speed here would kill you as fast as a molten fire at the edge of a volcano would burn you.
No, her dog team represented the correct choice.
What am I doing?
She chided herself; nothing like her to worry about a decision already made.
Visions again. So much blood. Cages. Those visions are playing with my ability to think straight. She pushed the invading connections from her mind, and concentrated on the way forward; up hills, around bends; snow buried paths allowed for many possibilities, requiring quick decisions to fork left or right, a continued vigilance and a string of verbal signals to her lead dog.
The essence of her soul resounded with the exhilaration of the ride, the urgent need to reach her destination, the connection to her team, the movements of the sled, the palpable richness of being part of the journey and the environment.
Of course the circumstances dictated she allow the progress of the passage take precedence over her enjoyment of the outing. Still, the quietness and the majesty of the pristine landscape did not escape her notice. A deep forest of fir trees, covered in snow, stood out against the stands of naked birch. Craggy hills, chiseled and fractured by eons of nature’s tending, hid covered in a silky white smoothness—nature’s tablecloth to a formal feast of deep winter. Mountains far off to her left reminded her of giant guards protecting anyone from entering; even the sun needed to climb high before being allowed to view their western majestic rise into the smattering of clouds brushing against the peaks. A gentle wind rode along with her and stayed at her back as she traveled.
Claire had offered that taking a boat from North Face Cove might be a better choice. Shish considered that advice; as cutting across the bay would save considerable time; but next having to go out around the expansive point, and back south again, would give up the time gain, and add some—precious hours she could not afford to spend on travel. Another concern this time of year was the pack ice drifting down from the north. All boats in the cove were now pulled to the shore to avoid being crushed should such an event occur. When Shish expressed her concerns about Claire’s recommendation, Claire nodded in agreement. Claire probably offered the idea so others might accompany her on the journey. Shish understood that Maeve expected Claire to put what leash she could on Shish while Maeve and Conor were away.
Shish’s komatik was designed specifically for her, smaller than most. She preferred less weight to size. It came fashioned from the old time Inuit sleds; but hers was of modern components, ultralight materials with metal slides on the runners.
She traveled on the back runners as did the original people who used this mode of transportation. That reasoning has much to do with maneuverability and control of the sled and team; an added benefit being it kept her working along with her dogs, and demanded she be part of the excursion rather than an idle passenger.
Her lead dog, Sasha, turned four a few months back. She had deep black fur, and piercing blue eyes as keen to spot movement as they were beautiful to look into. Sasha liked to be in the lead and by herself. Shish had to rearrange the hook-ups to allow her that special place at the front and center of her small pack; the other dogs remained in groups of two, taking their cue from Sasha.
All of her dogs wore boots on trips of this duration. They were hardy animals but their paws were sensitive to the snow and ice when the ride lasted for a considerable length of time.
She accepted that these animals evolved from the ancient ancestors of free and wild spirits who could run for a distance. This did not mean that pulling a load for a long time should be a normal part of their routine. Her dogs pulled a sled, and in exchange she gave them a great deal of care. Shish learned from her mother that she as the pack leader should use knowledge and attentiveness to ensure the other members of the team remained unstressed from the run. Therefore, the journey to Southern Point involved planned stops where she examined each of her dogs before continuing.
The pack was still fresh if a little winded as the worried husband came to greet them when they arrived.
It took some critical hours before the baby allowed itself to be delivered—both mother and baby resting from the ordeal. Too late to return, Shish stayed on, and checked in to tell Claire of her decision, there being no base unit here where she might contact her parents directly.
As luck would have it, her decision to stay proved a wise one. The baby cried in the early morning and then stopped abruptly; its eyes closed and blueness invaded the small form. Shish was summoned where she freed the airway; in precious minutes the little baby girl began breathing again.
Shish stayed for another day to monitor the progress of little baby Ashima, the name her mother and father had decided to call her.
The day and evening passes with no further incidents.
The next morning Shish made one more examination of mother and baby. She exchanged hugs with the new mother and father, added a parting kiss to the small infant’s brow before departing.
A breakfast for her team, a warm tea for herself as she watched them eat; and she readied them for the trek home. While positioning their harnesses she inspected the ocean off to her left, noting the wind direction and wave action. The shoreline lay covered in snow; the spray from the waves rolling in had all but covered the rock outcroppings in solid mantles of ice. A light snow commenced falling a few minutes before, and now gave her a limited view of the rolling surf. She still could see the breakers crash gently against the frozen rocks, and the loose intermittent sheets of pack ice bobbing up and down on the light swells, further out; the bits of pack ice perhaps fragments of a bigger icepack somewhere further out to sea.
She thought about her father and mother, and hoped they were safe. She knew they traveled in a more dangerous place than she did. The Gaters would not be roaming this time of year, nor would they venture this far north even in summer months.
The world of old was once connected with paved roads allowing quick travel from community to community. That all ended with the great Collapse, those surviving but a small fraction of the many who had once populated the world. Her world now split into two diverse groups with a smattering of exceptions in between.
Shish’s community was founded by her grandmother, Micca; someone Shish knew lots about from the stories her mother told; but someone she had never met. Her people were the polar opposite of the Gaters; though the early-on skirmishes between the two philosophies had died down, on Gray Rocks Island at least. That was not the case on the Main Lands where her parents scurried to fend off what they thought might be an impending action by the large Gater force of Island City to begin an invasion of the surrounding communities.
Her last conversation with Claire informed her that her parents were fine and had sent their well wishes for her safe return home.
Shish kept the early pace to a walk, to allow her dogs to digest their food and warm to the long journey ahead. There was no hurry to get home even if she enjoyed heading home; she loved the cove she lived in and the people. She was also content to be out in the wilderness with her dogs. Something I might have picked up from my father. The dogs are definitely a thing of my mother.
She stopped after an hour of travel, gave her team water and checked their boots. The conditions now pointed to a storm in the making. Nothing too serious, she hoped.
A few more hours along the trail found them less than half way home, their progress being hampered by the increasing wind and the accumulating amount of snowfall. She registered a little more concern for their predicament; plus, she did not want her mom to be worried about her.
Noontime came and went; all progress turned to a struggle. Traveling at night would be a challenge. What started as a light fall was now a major snow event. One factor in their favor, the snow was dry; however, the amount of snow was accumulating. There would come a time, if the storm continued, when her dogs and sled would find it impossible to move forward with any consistency.
The dogs knew how to travel in deep snow; but it came with a limit on how much, and a duration to how long they could endure. They fast approached both limits.
“Mush.” Her signal was more to let them know she struggled along with them, than any request for speed. They moved ahead as best they could. The sled bogged down many times. She would halt her team and dislodge the sled; fifty yards further and with considerable effort, she repeated the process. The gentle wind that had followed them in was now a monster sending snow in stinging pellets against her face. The path was impossible to identify. Her compass and what she knew of the landscape, and could identify through the blizzard, remained her only guides. She registered every straining effort from her dogs as they leaped over drifts and dealt with the increased drag from the sled.
Concerned as she was for the toll the storm was having on her team, she was incapable of shaking off the deep sadness attempting to invade her consciousness—nothing having to do with her present situation. Those visions, or whatever they should be called, had become more frequent, an urgency to escape or identify some sinister force, some baleful happening. And the ominous warnings did not stem from recent events or people who made up her normal life. She attempted to set aside the episodes as a contrivance of her imagination; still the visions persisted. And now, in addition to the usual visions, she reeled from some impending sense of dread—a connection with her brother, Nath; and the other man—a young man, her age perhaps. Someone she did not know, yet she connected to him…
That strange woman. Different somehow. She’s in my head.
She labored on, no longer riding the runners of the sled. Her boots were in the snow, struggling along behind, giving the sled a shove when she felt it increase the drag on her team. She pulled the hood of her coat low over her eyes. The thick shroud of the storm barely allowed her to made out the backs of the nearest dogs. She rarely used a safety rope as her dogs would stop should anything happen to her or the sled. But this situation was calling for a greater vigilance and an increased measure of precaution. The lack of visibility would be a major factor should they be separated by even the smallest of distances.
Another stop, another inspection of her team; this time she attached a safety rope around her waist and to the frame of her komatik.
She attempted a call Claire on her com but to no avail. There had been no facility to recharge her com; and it was now inactive.
I’m okay Mom. Please don’t worry. Sasha knows the way home, no matter what. I hope.
The dogs were good at their job but this much snow could mess with their sense of orientation, and hers as well. The wind was blowing higher and the flakes of snow where thick as if millions of tiny white clouds covered her entire world; each gust caused an instant whiteout condition, and the snow slashed into her face. Had she anticipated the intensity of this storm she would have waited for it to abate. She now realized going back was no longer an option.
She had two choices, press on or fine a safe place to wait out the storm. She chose the former. The folks in her community together with her father and mother would be concerned she did not answer her com. They would contact the family she had helped, and the alert to her situation would be activated and concern would rise the later she became. So, she must continue. She resolved she would care for her dogs first; one step at a time until there made it home.
Mile after mile the snow piled higher. By the time they reached White Head Bay the storm piled up a mass of snow where dogs and sled were all but buried with every step the team took. Mercifully, the wind had died down and the rate of snowfall lessened. The damage was done. Her dogs were tired.
She recognized her location more by the terrain than any view of the bay itself. With the poor visibility and height of the snow, we might make it home in three hours. I don’t have that much time before exhausting my dogs? Another plan loomed necessary and immediate.
All her instincts told her to make a shelter and wait until morning; something she could do. Her mother and father would be crazy with worry.
She continued traveling with the aide of her solar light, a short distance, a break for the dogs and then a short distance more. She worried about her dogs. They would go until they dropped; not something she would allow. She judged their movements and monitored their progress in minutes, with a resolve that her dogs would not be pushed to their limit, no matter what the cost. The powered sled seemed like a welcome possibility now. Still, the snow sled was no master of this situation either.
The path they struggled along, if it could be called that anymore, pushed down to the shore; visibility continued to improve, a sign the storm was moving away. She halted her team and walked down to the beach; low tide. At the edge of the water, she shone her light in all directions; all she saw was ice. A large pack of ice had drifted in from the north ocean. The ice extended out for as far as she could see. White Head Bay lay covered with ice, not an unusual occurrence this time of year.
The ice was hard packed which indicated a large flow. Pack ice was just that, a pack of ice that remained homogeneous but could break into sections. The movement of the tides and the wind keep it together as a cohesive unit—one or the other might also tear it apart. It was not the ice that one found on a frozen fresh water pond. This came slushy at the surface in many places, but hard and dry where pans of ice tilted up and squeezed together.
North Face Cove was less than a half hour east across the ice. She could make out the hills on the other side when the snow stopped falling, a shorter route than two or three hours south, east, and then north along the coast line. It was a good gamble. If the ice did not make it all the way across, she would find out soon and have plenty of time to return and dig in for the night.
Shish knew that traveling on any ice pack came with perils. Should the tide be moving out, the ice pack would drift off shore and be on its way to the open ocean; a high wind might serve up the same disaster. However, this was low tide, and the wind had died down some. The returning tide should keep the icepack locked inside the bay.
I hope. My dogs. Mom, Dad.
She felt confidant she could make the crossing in a half hour or less. This would save her valuable time and save her dogs the struggle of having to go around White Head Bay, besides not having her mother and father beg the entire community of North Face Cove to be out looking for her. She returned to her pack and gave them all another inspection. Each took water and a small snack—a few treats remained of their food. As they finished she enjoyed a warm cup of tea—the last of the thermos. The storm was over she hoped, with light snow falling intermittently. She still feared the amount of snow that fell would be too much for her dogs to handle after the exhaustive nature of their journey.
Shish made the decision to cross on the ice. Mom and Dad will kill me. She took Sasha by the collar and together they moved onto the ice flow, the rest of the team and the sled in tow. This was unfamiliar territory for her dogs so she would have to instruct them as they moved along.
The snow that had fallen as Shish traveled also accumulated on the ice pack, such that conditions were similar from the dogs’ perspective. This choice was all about reducing distance.
She took hold of the sled. “Mush!”
They moved out from the shore. “Easy!” Rushing on an ice pack was not a good idea, and besides, twenty minutes and they would be home. She saw movement to the left, maybe an unstable part of the ice flow. “Gee!” Sasha moved to the right.
They moved out across the bay. She registered the ice rise and fall ever so slightly under her as they moved.
Just a light swell. The snow stopped falling and she could better make out indentations in the snow that might signal a hole which would mean open water; something she did not want her dogs falling into. “Haw!” Shish spotted another indentation on her right. “Easy!”
The dogs probably smelled home. The big winds had abated; a slight breeze now stirred the air, blowing offshore from the direction where they were heading. The nose of dogs being forty times bigger than that of a human gave them a handle on smell that humans might only imagine; and their hearing ability at four times any human allowed them to sense home long before a human might have the notion.
Shish kept a constant scan on what was in front of her. Half way across, she could make out a few of the lights from the back hills of North Face Cove that looked out over the breakwater. She allowed herself a slight moment of satisfaction for the decision she made.
She felt the increased effort of her dogs. They were adding speed in anticipation of reaching home. She gave a half-hearted command for them to slow down; yet, she too was caught-up in the euphoria of being so close. Minutes later the komatik bounced to one side, and she flew off. “Whoa!”
The sled had grabbed hold of something; strained, tipped and flipped forward; the dogs came to a halt. Piper gave a “yelp” and went down on her side, blood oozing from where the runner caught her.
Shish ran to Piper and cradled her into a clam zone, examining the leg and applying pressure to decrease the blood flow from the gaping wound. No broken bones, but a serious wound that needed attention. She applied a tourniquet just above the wound.
After tipping the sled back on its runners, Shish removed the knapsack which held her medicinal arsenal. The large quilt now made a safe place to examine Piper and sooth whatever pain had been inflicted. The tourniquet stopped the flow of blood to the wound, which allowed the wound to be cleaned and packed with a healing poultice. She let a burst of warm energy flow from her hands to Piper. She then wrapped the wound in a bandage and released the tourniquet. The blood gushed from the bandage; her efforts to make a quick fix had not worked.
She replaced the tourniquet and removed the bandage. Piper would not stay in place while she applied the needed stitches to the wound. Piper needed to be sedated. She found a water dish, added the sleeping herb and presented it to Piper. It would take a while, perhaps ten to fifteen minutes for it to take effect.
She gave water and the last of the treats to the other dogs as she waited for the elixir to have its effect. The treats would help calm their impatience to head for home.
Piper whimpered softly a few times and drifted off to sleep. Shish placed her hands on Piper’s face and back. She rubbed each leg and felt the warmth enter Piper as the Magic flowed from her hands. Even asleep there was a tenseness. It slowly gave way to the flow of energy from her hands. She persisted until she felt Piper release the tension. Piper gave in to peace and relaxation—a deep sound sleep.
Shish sewed up the wound and once again applied the healing potion and the bandage. This time when she released the tourniquet there was no seepage as the blood flow returned to the leg.
How much time has passed? An hour maybe. More.
The offshore wind had picked up slightly and the snow began falling again. Any time the snow stopped, she could see flickers of a full moon sailing in and out of the clouds—giving light she prayed would soon become permanent.
She rearranged the dogs, two and two, with Piper on the sled enjoying a well-deserved snooze. She examined the komatik and found all in order.
They had given up valuable time. What she judged to be a twenty-minute trip now approached two hours, and they were not home yet. The other dogs had gotten a good rest—the one plus.
“Mush!” They started again towards the shore. She felt the ice pack move with a greater exuberance, not a good sign. The weather was changing, but the tide still rested. They had started on low tide, and her estimations told her that the move towards high tide should keep the ice packed towards the shore. That move to high tide was yet to happen. This offshore wind was bothering her. She made a mistake thinking they were in slack water when they started out. She needed that move to high tide now.
The massive pack of ice was on the move—the wind its master. The few lights high on the back hills of North Face Cove moved to the right—though she was the only one on the move. She held her dogs in place as she watched the far shore move away from them and open water further separate them from the shore.
Even in the cold ocean, she knew herself capable to swim the distance and survive. And so could her dogs; but, what about Piper? Piper was not ready to even be awake let alone walk or swim. This wind blew them north. She was not sure which would win, the incoming tide or the offshore wind that had taken the momentum.
A decision was needed, and quickly. More time slipped away as she found what she needed and attached what she hoped would remain so: a waterproof package around Sasha’s neck. Shish took off her gloves and put her hands on Sasha’s face. Sasha quivered with the surge. Shish was careful not to overcompensate by providing too much energy. She then took Sasha as close to the edge of the ice as she deemed safe, and gave the order.
“Swim. Home girl!”
She didn’t know if Sasha knew the term swim, but she was sure she understood the command “home.”
Sasha gave her a look from the edge. She jumped in and paddled. Shish’s light and the intermittent glow of the moon allowed Shish to watch Sasha’s progress for a time.
The snow started up again as Shish and the rest of her pack drifted to the north, even as the tide commenced its battle with the wind as to how the icepack should move. Shish barely make out Sasha as she scrambled up onto the ice that still brushed the shoreline. The main pack of ice now drifted free, but a small section had broken off and grounded against the shore on the low tide.
Sasha shook herself off. A stop, a quick shake, and on again. She took no time to smell or linger; she was on command.
Sasha jumped from the last ice pan, back into the shallow water. A few leaps had her up on the breakwater. She repeated her steps of stop, shake and race. All along the breakwater, she leaped from stone to stone, clumps of snow and ice attempting to block her way. She kicked with her hind paws and flew over all obstacles. Shish kept the light on Sasha’s progress and witnessed the successful leap to the shore. She lost sight of Sasha as she crested the breakwater and scrambled down the other side. There was nothing else Shish could do but care for the rest of her dogs.
She speculated that once on the inner shore, Sasha’s trek would become easier. Sasha would go to the front door.
First a whine, then a whimper, then a bark. Claire opened the door on the second bark, and Sasha looked her in the eye. Claire saw the collar and read the note, beckoning Sasha inside to get warm by the kitchen stove.
She ran for the bell and rang it three times, and then a few more for good measure. Within minutes, the Guards arrived, and she filled them in on what had transpired.
The Guards had a long history of service to the cove, and had accompanied Maeve so many years ago when they went to solve the mystery of the lost salt, and the other quest undertaken by Conor. Six of the Guards died in those excursions.
Aiden’s hair was mostly grey now, long and curly against his grey beard. He read the note and took charge of what needed to be done. Lanterns were already lit, the sky giving off nothing more than a slight drizzle of snow now and again. “Let’s launch some boats, and head out.”
One of the other Guards stopped him before he made three steps. “The entrance to the cove is blocked with ice. The main pack broke off some time ago. There is no way out through there.”
“Claire, have you contacted Maeve and Conor?” Aiden turned around and rejoined the group.
“Well, will you do it now, please? And tell them, we are on it.”
Aiden knew what the response would be from Conor and Maeve. Unless he assured them Shish was home and safe, they would be on their way back. No way for him to prevent that. He turned to Len, another longstanding member of the Guards. “Get hold of Saco bay. Find out if they have a channel open. If so, have them launch at least five boats. Have them wait until day light, and then one man them here.”
“Meanwhile, I have an idea. However, if everything else fails we will walk out to the ice and board the Saco boats in the morning. There’s a few things we can do before then,” Aiden added.
Len nodded and headed off.
Aiden took a quick glance at the night sky and turned to his men. “Where’s that damn moon when we need it? We’re on the other side of low tide, and no longer in slack water, for the most part. We’ll wait one more hour, and then see if we can blast some of the ice free. As the tide flows in it might give us the opening we need to get the boats out.” Aiden headed towards the shore as he spoke. “Let’s round up help and launch at least five boats. I also want bonfires all along the breakwater so we can see what we’re doing. Let’s get to it.”
Claire came up behind Aiden as he finished speaking. He turned to her. “So who is it I have to talk to, Conor or Maeve?”
Aiden followed Claire back to the house. He had mobilized his men and women. They would spend the next hour getting the plan into place. There was not much else he could do during that time. And so he sat thinking for a moment how he should best present the situation to Maeve and Conor.
First Maeve and now Shish. Long ago. How old was Maeve then, fourteen, fifteen? Her father came to him in the middle of the night. Maeve had gone missing. Maeve would always be found glued to her mother’s shadow; but when she reached fifteen she also found boys. Unfortunately, the young man who captured her attention soon moved far south when his parents needed to relocate. Maeve’s yearning for her lost love soon changed to her plan to join him; and she stole away into the night.
The events that followed still churned inside Aiden. A child missing presented a horrible event to withstand. What he and her father found was a most unfortunate event with Maeve being captured by the Gaters. What ensued entailed her young boy friend leading a surprising and ill-fated one-man attack on the Gaters. Aiden and her father did their best to free Maeve and save the young man; the result was both her father and the young man giving up their lives and Aiden barely escaping with Maeve.
It took years for Maeve to even smile again, it seemed to Aiden. She never talked about what happened to her. He never mentioned the events to anyone other than when he brought the sad news to the young man’s parents and then to Micca.
Aiden picked up the headset and pushed the send button on the base unit.