Chramn tracks sorceress all spring and into summer.
Hard going because Chramn has to live off tundra, but Chramn finds people wherever Chramn finds food.
Chramn talks to people to learn of sorceress.
Chramn asks his people, the Unconquered, nicely. Gives gifts of fish, hare, fresh seabird eggs, or even just useful stories. Chramn asks Bend-the-knees and Warriors who stomp the land less nicely. Chramn gives gifts of bodyslam, rock slap, shin shatter. Even just stories of what will happen later.
Chramn asks about sorceress, learns her migration, her lore.
Sorceress helps Chramn, maybe.
Sorceress helps Chramn drive Warriors out, take back the tundra.
Chramn knows Chramn talks bad, no need to point it out.
But everyone points it out. Warriors, Unconquered, Bend-the-knees, everyone.
Chramn’s bad talk is biggest laugh on tundra, ha ha ha.
Chramn thinks even tundra critters laugh and snicker.
But not funny!
Chramn talks bad because Chramn’s family slaughtered in Summer Cave before Chramn talks much at all. Chramn grows up all alone on Wizard’s Pingo. Not much talking on pingo, except to birds. Pingo is earthen hill with core of ice, but Wizard’s Pingo also burial mound. Long story. Point is, not Chramn’s fault Chramn speaks strange. Chramn gets nervous meeting people. But Chramn knows Chramn has to learn to speak, so that Chramn can speak to sorceress. Sorceress foreign like Warriors, but different foreign.
One day, Chramn crests hill, sees strange sight on other side.
Warriors’ landsleigh attacked by lizard.
Giant lizard. Bigger than bear, bigger than muskox, big as boulder Chramn hides catch under. Smaller than landsleigh, but not much.
Chramn settles in to watch.
Best fun Chramn has since peat fire spreads to Warriors’ yurts, and Chramn not even have to start this one!
Giant lizard slaughters all of landsleigh’s caribou, then settles in downwind to slurp blood and gnaw entrails of caribou corpse. Landsleigh can’t sail around. Standoff.
Chramn wants to howl, but better not get noticed by four-legged lizard beast.
Then Chramn startles.
People looking out from landsleigh aren’t Warriors.
How? Chramn wonders.
Unconquered don’t use landsleigh.
But Chramn sneaks onto landsleigh once, maybe Unconquered band together to steal one?
No time to think. Unconquered need Chramn’s help!
Chramn grabs beautiful, deadly morning star taken from Wizard’s Pingo, hollers battle cry, then charges downhill to attack lizard.
Realizes this might be bad idea.
Lizard looms large over Chramn!
Horrible blood stench, fierce eyes glare death!
Lizard hisses and swipes with claws!
Snaps with terrible jaw!
Shouts from landsleigh tell Chramn to lure beast back to their vessel, they have weapon ready they can’t use before.
Chramn happy to run!
Harpoon penetrates lizard’s scales as it approaches landsleigh. First one, then two. Harpoon has rope to tether lizard to landsleigh.
Hands help Chramn climb onboard.
Maybe tethered lizard bad idea.
Tail lashes out, landsleigh shakes and trembles.
But Chramn is up high now, runs along landsleigh and throws himself at lizard.
Chramn’s morning star bashes skull of terrible lizard.
Lizard dead like Chramn’s family.
Back on landsleigh, Chramn greets Unconquered.
Childeric and Basina are together and Basina is with child. Clovis and Lanthechild are children. Wiomad is dwarf from far away.
Unconquered get Chramn to help move unspoiled caribou corpses onboard, then offer Chramn a ride.
Chramn finds surprise in landsleigh’s belly: two Warriors, wounded but alive.
Chramn readies morning star to bash their skulls in, but Basina says no.
Warriors are friends of Unconquered.
Not all Warriors. Only these two, Aquilant and Griffon.
Chramn has brothers die in Summer Cave, why should Warrior brothers live?
Childeric explains: Warriors teach Unconquered to sail landsleigh, Unconquered treat wounds and take brothers away from Orrilo. Orrilo is Warrior giant who sends lizard, wants to eat wounded brothers and maybe Unconquered now too.
Landsleigh sails over tundra.
Chramn and Unconquered learn to sail.
Chramn practices speaking, learns new words.
Words like: crocodile, ptarmigan, saxifrage, birth pangs, umbilical cord, celebration.
Learns many new things. Like: some Warriors stomp tundra because other Warriors stomp their land in turn. Chramn doesn’t like. Why not show spine and stomp back? Wiomad says, some Unconquered banding together to stomp back. Right here on tundra.
Takes time. Breathe deep, but don’t hold breath.
Chramn interested, shares story of sorceress: Sorceress shapestrong, maybe shapes them so they stomp Warriors.
Unconquered and Warrior brothers intrigued.
Little Lanthechild wants to be fox, wants to be all alone on tundra, not need people.
Chramn laughs. No need to change shape. Promises to teach her.
Aquilant and Griffon want to be birds of prey so they can fly.
Chramn nods, swift landsleigh feels like flying.
What shape does Chramn want?
Something fierce. Maybe bear, so he can stomp Warriors.
Chramn stomps us when sorceress shapes him into bear? Aquilant asks, worried.
Can’t say for sure, but Chramn promises to put in good word with bear.
Wiomad wants to be big narwhal so no one looms over him anymore, and to visit kin in underwater kingdom.
Clovis says, why not be wolves and prowl tundra, strong together?
Howl at moon, awooouuu!
Everyone likes this, except Lanthechild, who sulks.
Chramn assures her, some wolves go off alone, away from brother.
Newborn doesn’t talk, but Basina assures Chramn it will learn.
Childeric doesn’t really believe sorceress is shapestrong.
Childeric and Basina say: forget sorceress. Follow inland seasonal migration. Trap new caribou and harvest peat for winter.
One day, Chramn uses bee brooch from dead mother to find honey.
Honey is rare on tundra. Trees rare, and animals stomp each other for good nest site.
Childeric thinks maybe taiga nearby, but brooch tells Chramn about old landsleigh wreck where hive grows. All around meadow, fox caches sprout flowers for bees. Good find.
The others salvage the wreck while Chramn collects honey, remembers to leave some behind. Then Chramn picks flowers and weaves wreaths for landsleigh, remembers to leave some flowers behind for beehive. Beehive needs pollen.
Pollen. Good word!
Chramn speaks more and more now, grateful for the words his friends teach him.
Grateful for friends.
Aquilant and Griffon use wreckage to repair landsleigh.
Summer is hard going for landsleigh, less snow is harder glide.
Childeric and Basina prepare boiled caribou with meadow herbs and honey. Wiomad helps mend sail with hide. Chramn watches Clovis chase Lanthechild around meadow, then Lanthechild chase Clovis.
Chramn has choice now.
No caribou means landsleigh goes only where wind sails it.
Means landsleigh goes west. Goes deep inland.
Maybe finds more caribou. Maybe doesn’t.
Sorceress is other way. South, down past tree line in taiga.
Chramn goes overland on foot, maybe. But Chramn goes alone. Hard journey for dwarf, maybe. Chramn doesn’t know. But Chramn knows on foot is hard journey for children, baby, new mother. Hard journey for wounded brothers, too.
Maybe sorceress helps Chramn drive Warriors out, unstomp the land. Then Chramn comes back and finds friends.
Chramn thinks of how swift landsleigh is, and how vast inland seasonal migration is. Hard for Chramn to track down later.
Chramn thinks of dangers friends face: storms, warriors, bend-the-knees, xenarthrans, permafrost clathrates, goblin fever.
Not easy going.
Could use protector with beautiful, deadly morning star taken from Wizard’s Pingo.
Then next spring, with caribou, go wherever they want.
Chramn speaks to himself inside, but also to sorceress: Chramn has friends now who need his help. But if sorceress still stalks the land come spring, Chramn will come find her.
Together we will unstomp the land.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adam McPhee is a Canadian writer from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, who currently lives in Alberta. His interests include Pleistocene rewilding, the chansons de geste and the dirtbag left. Adam has had short fiction published in Great Ape Journal and Schlock! Webzine. He can be found on twitter at @ChalicothereX.