THE NOTHERLAND JOURNEYS, BOOK I: The Nordlings
Chapter 4: Jackpine
HOW THEY MANAGED to outrun the NoSeeUms, Peggy wasn’t sure. All she knew was that, having run almost to the limit of her endurance, she stopped and realized, with enormous relief, that the swarms of bugs were no longer following them. Instead of the low drone of their incessant buzzing, there was silence.
At least I managed to keep Mi from getting eaten alive, Peggy thought as she sat scratching at the bites.
“Another few moments and I would have been nothing but a pile of bones and gristle!” Gavi declared with high drama, rolling around on his back in a vain attempt to relieve the nagging itch. After Molly had scooped Mi out from under his wing and scurried away with her, Gavi had managed to get away from the NoSeeUms by diving into the middle of the stream, where the water was just deep enough to cover his body.
Peggy looked over at Molly, who was sitting comfortably a few feet away. Not a bite on her! Peggy thought enviously. Being a doll had its advantages.
“If only,” Gavi went on, moaning, “you had thought to try imagining them away!”
“I did,” she replied sourly.
“I tried imagining them away.”
“Some Creator, eh?”
Gavi thought a moment.
“Perhaps, like everything here, your powers have undergone changes and are of a different order than when you were younger. It might take some time before you rediscover how to use them.”
Molly called over to them. She was pointing to something in the distance.
“Look. Is that a tree?”
“It couldn’t be,” said Peggy. “Not here.”
“Then what is it?”
“Let’s go see,” Peggy replied. Anything to get her mind off the insane itching!
As they got closer, it became clear that it was, indeed, a tree.
“A jack pine,” Gavi said. “To be precise.”
“But what would a jack pine be doing so far above the Tree Line?” Peggy asked, walking up to it and fingering one of its branches.
“Well,” Gavi speculated, “the jack pine is a very hardy species. A seed, perhaps even a whole pine cone, could have gotten blown this far by the wind …”
“What was that?”
“Molly,” Gavi sighed, “must you always interrupt people when they are speaking?”
“But I heard something. It sounded like a voice.”
“But we’re the only ones here,” Peggy pointed out. She turned back to Gavi. “Even if a seed could have travelled this far, how could it have grown? It’s so barren here.” She absentmindedly touched the branch again.
“I know it seems unlikely, but it is the only explanation I can …” Gavi was distracted by Mi tugging at one of his wings.
“I hear something, too,” she said in her sweet, high voice.
“I heard it again! When you touched the branch!” Molly blurted out.
Peggy looked at Gavi. “Did you hear anything?”
“I might have heard something, but …”
“Touch the tree again!” Molly commanded.
“Just see what happens!”
Peggy reached over and touched the needles of one branch.
She looked around. This time she had distinctly heard something, too.
“A talking tree? Of course. Why should I be surprised?”
“I’m not a tree!”
They all gasped. It was unmistakable this time. It was a voice, and it was coming from the jack pine.
“Don’t pull away!” the voice said urgently. “Touch me again.”
They all looked at one another.
“Please. It’s my only chance!”
Peggy hesitantly reached over and touched the branch once more.
“Hold on this time. Please! Don’t let go!”
Almost involuntarily, she tightened her grip. As she held on, they all stood, gaping in amazement, and watched the tree become transparent, its branches fading into pale wisps, as the outline of a solid form appeared to emerge from it. After a few moments, Peggy realized with a shock that it was not a branch she was holding onto but a human hand.
The jack pine had disappeared completely. In its place stood a young man.
For the longest time, Peggy couldn’t take her eyes off him. Who was he? Where did he come from? How did he come to be here in Notherland? And most unnerving of all, why did he look vaguely familiar? She had the nagging sense that she’d seen him somewhere before.
At first he stood stock-still, his feet rooted to the ground, his legs straight like a tree trunk, his arms stretched outward, like pine branches. His eyes were the first to move, shifting back and forth warily. He turned his head side to side, slowly lifted one foot off the ground, then the other. Realizing that his arms were no longer encased in branches, he began to move them, wiggling his fingers in front of his face with a look of utter amazement. Then he began touching his face again and again, as if to assure himself that he was really there. At first his movements were stiff, like Molly’s, but gradually they became easier, more fluid.
Finally he jumped into the air and let out a whoop. “WHOOEE!”
The others were startled, but Mi laughed with a sweet, bubbling lilt. The young man looked around, agitated.
“What was that?”
“It’s just Mi,” Molly said, pointing to the little creature peering out from inside the knapsack.
“That voice … it’s just like the others …”
Gavi sprang towards him. “Others? What others?”
“Never mind,” the young man said.
“Have you heard others like her?” the loon persisted. “Where? You must tell us.”
“I don’t want to talk about it!” the young man said angrily. He turned away.
Gavi and Peggy looked at one another, uncertain whether to press him further. Gavi spoke softly.
“Perhaps I should explain why we want to know. You see, we are on our way to the Hole at the Pole because we think that the Nobodaddy might have …”
“The Nobodaddy?” The young man turned on Gavi with a dark look. He suddenly grabbed the loon by the neck.
“What about the Nobodaddy? Did he send you after me? Is that why you’re here? To do his dirty work?”
Gavi let loose with a high, fearful tremolo. Molly pounded the young man angrily on the back and Peggy grabbed his arm. “Leave him alone! What’s the matter with you?”
“If you’re with the Nobodaddy, I swear I’ll kill you right now!”
“He’s not with the Nobodaddy! None of us are! We’re on our way to the Pole to stop him!”
The young man let go and looked at them long and hard, breathing heavily. Peggy could see how much effort it took for him to contain his rage.
“Sorry,” he finally said. “Just hearing that name after all this time …”
“Maybe you’d better begin at the beginning,” Peggy said. “Just who are you?”
The young man looked her right in the eye.
“I have no idea,” he replied.
The young man’s story was so fragmented, and he became so agitated while telling it, that it was a while before they could make much sense of it. But the source of his fierce hatred for the Nobodaddy quickly became clear. According to the young man, the Nobodaddy had robbed him of his most precious possession.
“I look like I’m standing right here before you, don’t I? But I’m not. Part of me, the part that knows who I am, that has a name and a life and a memory – that part of me is off in another world somewhere.”
“Then what are you doing here?” Peggy asked.
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you!” he shot back impatiently. “I’m a Soul.”
“The Nobodaddy stole me. That’s what he does. He steals Souls!”
“You mean there are more like you?” Gavi asked.
“Are you kidding?” the young man said with a bitter laugh. “The Hole at the Pole is filled with more Souls than you can count!”
“But what about her?” Gavi pointed to Mi. “You said there were other beings like her at the Pole, too.”
The young man nodded gravely.
“The little ones who sing? Oh, they’re there all right. And they sure must have something special, because the Nobodaddy keeps them way down in the deepest part of the Hole. The rest of us could hear them from time to time. I swear, hearing those little voices was all that kept me going sometimes.”
“But how does he keep them all as prisoners down there?”
“That’s the mysterious thing. The Hole exerts some kind of powerful inward pull that traps you and keeps pulling you down, no matter how hard you fight it.”
“Then how did you get out?” Peggy asked.
“He let me go. I was always stirring up the other Souls. 1’d try to convince them we should stand up to him. There were so many of us, and only one of him. I thought if we all pulled together we could find a way to get free. But the people in the Hole are so frustrating! Once they’ve been down there a while it’s like they just give up. They don’t believe they can ever be free, so they stop trying.
“Then, one time I was on the ledge of the Hole, right near the outer rim, and just for a moment I could feel the inward pull of the Hole easing up. I quickly slipped out over the edge and yelled to the others around me to come, too. But they wouldn’t. They were just too afraid. I couldn’t believe it! They could’ve made a break for it, and they all just froze!
“Then the Hole started to pull in again. They all began shouting at me. ‘Go! Get away! We can’t get free, but at least you can!’
“So I made a mad dash for the open water that surrounds the Hole and jumped in. I swam for I don’t know how long. The water was on the edge of freezing and I didn’t know how long I could last. Somehow I kept going, till I got to the big ice field on the other side and started running again. When I got to the tundra I suddenly just stopped. I realized I had no idea who I was or where I was going or how to find my way back to the life I had before. I was free, but …”
“I played right into his hands!” he spat out bitterly. “The Nobodaddy had deliberately let me go. I was a troublemaker and he wanted to get rid of me. He knew 1’d get completely lost or die trying to escape. So it didn’t matter that I was free, because either way, he’d won. I was so angry, I grabbed what I thought was a rock and started pounding the tundra with it. But it wasn’t a rock, it was a pine cone. The ground was so hard the cone exploded and a shower of seeds came shooting out. They seemed to surround me like a mist, which grew thicker and thicker, until finally I realized it was wood. A tree, a full-grown jack pine, had instantly taken root right on this spot, and I was trapped inside it.
“I have no idea how long I was in there – days, months, years? I was in this slowed-down kind of half-awake state. It wasn’t until you came along that I started to come out of it. The instant you touched me,” he turned to Peggy, “it was like I was jolted awake. My voice came back, I could feel my body again. But then you pulled your hand away and I could feel myself falling back into a stupor. That’s why I had to make you hold on,” he said, grabbing her hand, “to give me time to fight my way out of the tree.” He dropped her hand again, suddenly embarrassed.
“My worst fear has come true!” Gavi burst out.
They all looked at him.
“What’s wrong?” Peggy asked.
“Just as Notherland has taken on a life of its own, so has the Nobodaddy. Just as Notherland has gone beyond its boundaries, so has he.”
“Stop talking in riddles!” Molly said impatiently.
Gavi burst out with a long wail.
“How could I have made such a terrible mistake? How could I have done this to my Creator?” He turned to Peggy. “We should never have brought you here! The Nobodaddy is not just abducting Nordlings. He is stalking the world on the other side of Painted Rock, stealing Souls from there! We thought you were the one who could save us, but now I see that we have put you in grave danger!”
The young man broke in.
“He’s right. They haven’t got souls,” he said, pointing to Gavi and Molly, “but you do. You’re a sitting duck for the Nobodaddy. If you’re smart, you’ll get out of here as fast as you can.”
Gavi agreed. “You must go straight back to Painted Rock! Immediately!”
“We don’t want him to get you, too!” Mi cried.
“But I can’t leave now!” Peggy objected. “I don’t even know if I can figure out how to get back.”
“You must try. At least you will have a chance of saving yourself.”
“I thought saving Notherland depended on me. That’s why you brought me here!”
“We were wrong to do so. I did not realize the danger we were putting you into,” Gavi replied.
“What about going up to the Pole?”
“We will go.”
“By yourselves? No!” Peggy said. “I can’t let you do that!”
“There is no other choice,” Gavi insisted. “You must go back to Painted Rock for your own safety.”
The young man stepped forward.
“Don’t worry about them,” he said firmly. “I’ll go with them.”
They all looked at him, astonished.
“You? Back to the Pole?”
“How can you think of it?”
“So I can get back at him for what he did to me,” the young man said fiercely. “Nothing would give me greater satisfaction than to kick the Nobodaddy so far down that Hole he’ll never find his way out again.”
“Wait a minute,” Peggy said firmly. “If you try to go back there, you’ll be in even more danger than I am. What do you think the Nobodaddy’s going to do with you once he finds out you’re still alive? You should come back to Painted Rock with me. I’ll try to figure out how to get us both back.”
The young man shook his head. “Forget it. Why should I go back there? I don’t know if I’m ever going to find out who I am again. Anyway, I won’t be able to live with myself unless I do what I can to free the others in there.”
“So let’s do it!” shouted Molly, who had been growing more and more restless during the whole exchange. “Let’s get going!”
Peggy stood listening as they began to make plans, all talking excitedly at once. It had been bad enough when she thought her worst problem was not being able to get back home. Now it was starting to sink in that there might be real danger for her here. Clearly, there were things going on in Notherland that none of them, even Gavi, fully understood.
This young man didn’t belong in “her” Notherland, but here he was. And his warning … What if her soul was stolen? What if she got trapped down in the Hole like the others?
Gavi was right, of course. The sensible thing to do was to go to Painted Rock. Maybe she just needed to keep at it. Maybe if she’d kept trying long enough her powers would have driven back the NoSeeUms. There was certainly no point sticking around here. She’d done all she could to help. Notherland would go on without her. It was time to go back to her own life …
Molly was speaking.
“You can carry Mi for us!”
“Sure, no problem,” the young man replied.
“He can use Peggy’s knapsack!” the doll exclaimed. “It’s perfect.”
They‘re talking about me like I’m already gone! Peggy thought.
Gavi, as if sensing her dismay, looked at Peggy. “Will you be all right?” he asked. “Can you find your way back on your own?”
“Sure, I’ll be okay,” Peggy replied.
She slid the pack off her back but stood holding it for a moment.
“Hold on a sec. Why should I go back now? You said the Nobodaddy doesn’t know about Mi. He doesn’t know I’m here either.”
“You cannot take the risk!” Gavi objected.
“How’s he going to find out?” Peggy insisted. “I’ve come this far. I don’t want to go back. I created this place, and if anybody’s going to save it … “she said, taking a slow, deep breath, “it’s going to be me!”
As they prepared to set off, Peggy scooped up the knapsack with Mi in it.
“Let me take that,” the young man offered.
“It’s okay …” Peggy protested, but he hoisted the pack onto his back anyway and began walking.
Peggy caught up to him.
“Why don’t we take turns?”
“What’s your name?” Mi asked the young man brightly as they walked along.
He shook his head. “Don’t have one.”
“No name!” she exclaimed. “Everyone’s got a name!”
“I must’ve had one before. I just don’t remember it.”
“Tell you what!” said Mi. “I’ll think of a name for you until you remember your real one!”
“It’s a deal.”
She considered a moment. Since he was not a Nordling, she decided it should be a name with two sounds. Suddenly her head snapped up.
“I know! How about ‘Jackpine’?”
They looked at the young man to see his reaction. He squinted thoughtfully for a moment.
“In a way, I owe my life to that tree. It kept me hidden all that time,” he said. “Sure, why not? Jackpine it is.”
“Jackpine! Jackpine!” Heartily pleased with herself, Mi kept chirping the name.
Peggy wasn’t sure how she felt about having this stranger along. His presence added a new, unstable element to the journey. Still, as she watched him walking, bouncing Mi in the knapsack, she had to admit that it was refreshing to have another person around, someone her own age, someone with a recognizably human face and body …
Her thoughts were interrupted by a familiar loon call.
“Look!” Gavi cried.
Up ahead of them was a vast, smooth, seemingly endless sheet of unbroken ice.
“Now I know why they call it Everlasting. It goes on forever and ever!” Molly said peevishly.
“Actually,” Gavi pointed out, “the word ‘everlasting’ refers not to the distance but to the fact that the ice never melts.”
Peggy smiled to herself. Neither of them knew that “Everlasting Ice” was a term the Arctic explorers had used for the polar ice cap. She’d found it in Our Wondrous North and borrowed it for Notherland because she loved the sound of it. And instead of the craggy white terrain the explorers had found, she’d imagined the Everlasting Ice as a great glassy skating rink. Now, here she was, laying eyes on it for the first time.
As they gazed out over the huge ice field, another uncomfortable fact was becoming evident: it was getting colder. They were fine in the daylight, while the sun still warmed the air. But if they started their crossing now, what would they do come nightfall? Neither Gavi, with his feathers, nor the plastic Molly would be bothered by the cold, and Mi, of course, would spend the night in the RoryBory. But Jackpine and Peggy would have to find some way to shelter themselves while they slept.
Jackpine’s proposal was to get across the ice as quickly as possible, to reach the open sea surrounding the Pole.
Molly thought this was ridiculous.
“How can there be open water up there?” she challenged him.
“There is. I swam across it.”
“But it’s even colder than here!”
“No, it’s warmer. I swear it is!”
“That makes no sense!” Molly said firmly, turning to Gavi for confirmation. “Does it?”
“No,” he replied. “But then again, we are encountering many things that do not make sense.”
“Maybe it’s like you said – the Nobodaddy is the opposite of everything that’s true in Notherland. So as we get nearer the Pole, more opposite things are going to happen,” Peggy offered.
“That could be,” Gavi agreed. “But then we will have a whole new problem on our hands: how to get across the open water. It will be no problem for me, of course. And if Jackpine was able to swim across it before …”
“But I can’t swim!” Molly burst out. “What do I do?”
Gavi assured her they would come up with a solution, but there wasn’t a lot of conviction in his voice.
Jackpine was getting impatient.
“Let’s figure it out when we get there! I don’t know about the rest of you, but I don’t want to turn into an icicle while I sleep.”
He strode purposefully out onto the Everlasting Ice and began to propel himself across it, alternately running and sliding. The others followed him, moving more gingerly. The ice was very slick, and at first they just skidded around, pitching sideways and backwards, sometimes tumbling down. Their progress was frustratingly slow, and soon Jackpine was well ahead of them, with Mi in the knapsack.
“How does he do that?” Molly asked.
“He’s had a chance to get used to it,” Peggy replied, watching his taut, wiry body as he glided across the icy surface. “He almost looks like he’s skating. That’s what we have to do!”
“Pretend we’re on skates!” she said with conviction.
“What are skates?” Molly asked.
Gavi began to launch into one of his elaborate explanations of a human invention. “It is a pair of metal blades, worn on the bottom of the feet in order to …”
“Just watch me,” Peggy broke in. “Both of you. Watch the way I move.”
She began to shift from foot to foot, pushing herself forward with a smooth gliding motion.
Molly tried. At first it felt awkward. For a doll, this kind of fluid movement didn’t come easily. But gradually she began to get the hang of it. She limbered up and zipped away as fast as she could, bolting far ahead of the others. The sound of her laughter rang through the crisp, cold air.
Gavi decided that he would prefer to fly, which surprised them. He wasn’t very good at it, so he flew only rarely.
They realized he’d need help taking off, since loons normally need to skitter over a long expanse of water in order to work up enough speed. They decided to race ahead of him, pulling him along the ice atop Peggy’s jacket while he flapped his wings enough to get airborne.
“This is fun!” Molly shouted as they whizzed along. Peggy pulled one sleeve of the jacket, Jackpine the other. They watched the loon hover, his wings whirring rapidly.
Then he began skimming along the surface of the ice.
“Yippee!” Mi cried as Gavi finally soared into the air above them.
Now they all felt as though they were flying. Peggy suggested they form a chain and play crack-the-whip. As her fmgers curved around Jackpine’s, she felt a buzz of excitement, almost like an electric current, run through her body.
Suddenly they heard a tremolo call above their heads.
“Gavi? Is something wrong?”
“I don’t know,” he called down. “I see something on the ice up ahead of us.”
“What is it?” Jackpine asked.
“I’m not sure,” Gavi replied hesitantly. “It looks like some kind of … ship.”
Molly whirled around and looked up at him.
“Ship?” she yelled. “Did you say ship?” And she took off in a mad dash across the Everlasting Ice.
Chapter 5: Lord and Lady
SIR JOHN SURVEYED THE VAST EXPANSE of ice with his spyglass, as he was accustomed to doing several times a day.
“My dear!” his wife, Lady Jane, called to him. “Your tea is getting cold.”
At the mention of tea, Sir John collapsed the spyglass and crossed the deck to join her. She handed him a small plate, slightly cracked with a faded blue flower design, bearing a crumpet with Devon cream. He took it from her eagerly.
“Ah, yes,” he said. “I will certainly have one of these.” He dipped it in the cream and took a bite. “Mmm. Delicious. However do you do it, my dear?”
“As I always say, Sir John, a true lady knows how to make the best of her circumstances. You have been gazing out on the ice more than usual today, my dear. Are you feeling all right? Is your gout acting up again?”
“No, no. I feel in the best of health. It’s just that …”
“The past while, I swear I could hear … sounds in the distance.”
“The usual cracks and shifts, no doubt. You know how the ice seems more restless some days than others.”
“No, my dear. This is different. Almost like … voices. Oh, but I know that’s preposterous, though sometimes I …” Sir John’s voice trailed off.
“Sometimes I wonder if I am going mad out here.”
“You mustn’t talk that way, Sir John. Everyone faces difficulties in life. But we must have faith that things will turn out for the best.”
Lady Jane picked up her embroidery hoop as Sir John sipped his tea and fell silent. He did not want to distress his beloved Jane with this cockeyed talk of voices out on the ice. Indeed, he believed he would undoubtedly have gone mad long ago were it not for the calming influence of his beloved Jane. Jane, who had steadfastly believed in him through so many years of this Arctic imprisonment. Jane, who had commissioned search party after search party, refusing to believe what the rest of England maintained: that all hope was lost, that her husband and the gallant crews of both his ships, the Erebus and the Terror, were all dead. Jane, who had one day suddenly, miraculously, appeared here on the vast Arctic ice, ending his long, lonely vigil. At first he’d been unable to believe his own eyes and thought that he, too, had finally followed his crewmen into Eternity. But no, here he was, still on the Terror, with his wife, as ever a vision of comely womanliness, her smile radiating warmth and love.
And so they had settled into life together on the ship, keeping to a routine of daily walks on the ice and afternoon tea – mysteriously, the ship’s stores had not been exhausted. Sir John, out of delicacy, did not inquire how Lady Jane had managed to make her way, apparently alone, to this remote part of the Arctic, which no search party had ever succeeded in reaching. Nor did he ask about her strange, periodic absences. After the first time she disappeared, which caused him unutterable anguish, Lady Jane apologized profusely, saying she did not realize she had been gone long enough for Sir John to notice.
“Never fear, my darling,” she had comforted him, touching his tear-stained face. “I shall not leave you. If I go, I shall always return, I promise you.”
And she had kept her promise all these years – Sir John had long ago lost count of how many. What did it matter? He had his darling Jane’s company and they were happy together. They wanted for nothing. Why should he worry about …?
“There!” Sir John leapt to his feet, spilling his tea in the process. “Did you hear it?”
Lady Jane looked up from her embroidery.
“Hear what, my dear?”
“Voices! I swear that’s what it is!”
He grabbed his spyglass and ran to the edge of the deck. Lady Jane looked after him with concern.
“My dear, you know it’s not good for you to get overexcited.”
He looked out across the ice. Suddenly his knees began to buckle. He felt faint.
“Jane! Come quickly!”
She rushed to his side and grabbed his arm. He clutched the side of the ship to steady himself and handed her the spyglass.
“Look! See for yourself! They have come! The rescue party. Our exile in this godforsaken land is over, my darling. We are saved!”
Lady Jane lifted the spyglass to her eye. Possibly Sir John was seeing a mirage, one of the visual tricks the Everlasting Ice was prone to play on clear, bright days like this. But no. There indeed seemed to be several tiny figures far out on the ice, moving unmistakably towards the ship.
“Can you make out anyone yet?” Sir John quizzed her. “Could it be Richardson, do you suppose? Or McClure?”
“I don’t think so, my dear,” Lady Jane said. “I must say they are moving in a most peculiar fashion. Not quite running, more like sliding along. And one of them appears to be …”
“A female? That’s impossible!”
“Another is … I can’t tell if it is male or female, but it appears quite short. Not much bigger than a child.”
“Let me see that!” Sir John seized the spyglass. “What in blazes has gotten into the admiralty? Sending out a search party in such a state! Why, not one of them is even in uniform! It’s a disgrace! And … oh goodness! No. It can’t be!”
“What is it, my dear?” Lady Jane grew alarmed at his tone.
He handed her back the spyglass. “Either I have gone completely mad, or they are being accompanied by a … a bird!”
Lady Jane surveyed the party, now looming larger in the spyglass.
“You have not gone mad, Sir John. A bird it is. A loon, I believe.”
Molly arrived at the vessel well before the rest of them.
“It is a ship!” she cried. “The most wondrous ship I’ve ever seen! Now I can fulfil my destiny! This ship belongs to me, Pirate Molly!”
“Pirates! Great Caesar’s ghost!”
At the sound of the deep male voice Molly whirled around. She thought it might be Jackpine, playing a trick on her. But the others were still some distance away.
“You! Knave! Don’t move!”
Molly froze. The voice was coming from the deck of the ship!
“Turn around slowly with your hands above your head,” ordered the voice. “Or I’ll fire!”
Molly lifted her arms and slowly turned around to find the stout, grey barrel of a musket pointed right at her head. Staring at her from the ship’s deck was a stocky, white-haired man who, despite his military dress and gruff tone of voice, appeared to be quaking with fear. At his side was a woman, only slightly younger, with large, warm brown eyes, dressed in an old-fashioned high-waisted gown. Molly watched as the woman calmly put her hand on the barrel of the musket.
“No need for alarm, my dear.”
“You heard them! They are pirates!” the old man said insistently.
Molly feared that in his skittishness he might accidentally fire. But the woman gently nudged the gun aside.
“You can see she is only a young girl.”
Peggy’s voice came out of the distance, startling the old man, who swiftly turned and pointed the musket at the oncoming party.
“Stop or I’ll shoot!”
“No, Sir John!” the woman cried out.
“We’re not pirates!” Molly finally had the presence of mind to call out. “I swear! I was only pretending!”
The white-haired man slowly lowered the gun. Peggy, Gavi and J ackpine, still carrying Mi on his back, hesitantly approached the ship.
It was impossible to say which group was more dumbfounded at the sight of the other. Peggy and her companions could only wonder what on earth these two old people, dressed in quaint costumes, were doing on this ship sitting in the vast landscape of the Everlasting Ice.
For their part, the old couple were aghast at the motley crew before them: a young man and woman, a rather strange-looking, stiff-limbed young girl, accompanied by a lumbering avian creature with black and white feathers. Then, to their utter amazement, a tiny head poked out from inside a sort of sling on the young man’s back. It was a child – a little girl so fragile and delicate she seemed to have no more substance than a wisp of hair.
Molly finally broke the silence.
“You see? We’re not pirates. We mean you no harm.”
Sir John managed to collect himself.
“Yes, of course. Please forgive me. How could I have been so wrong? Welcome, welcome. We are so glad to see you!”
He briskly made his way down to the ice on the makeshift rope ladder that hung off the side of the deck. “You, sir … “he said, striding over to Jackpine and saluting him, “I take to be the officer in charge. I see that you have had to discard your uniforms in the face of this land’s hardships. Understandable, perfectly understandable. And you, sir …” he turned to Gavi and saluted him, too, “you have no doubt donned this feathered suit as protection against the unforgiving cold. Ingenious solution, that! Difficult to maintain proper military decorum in such a get-up, but ingenious nonetheless! And you, madam …” he gestured towards Peggy, “You must be exhausted from your long journey, and bringing along your children, no less! Highly unusual, sending women and children along on a search party! But the Royal Navy has its reasons, I suppose. Now,” he said, rubbing his hands together, “you must come aboard and have some tea. My dear Jane, can we find some more cups for tea?”
“Yes, I’m sure we can,” the woman replied. She turned to the group of them. “Please excuse me while I go below a moment.”
“You’ll have to forgive us, my friends,” the old man went on. “It is so long since we have had visitors. But now sit down.” He gestured to them eagerly as they made their way up the ladder. “Sit down and tell us all the news.”
They were still too flabbergasted to speak, and they were still trying to make sense of the man’s ramblings. Navy? Search party? Finally Peggy found the presence of mind to speak.
“News? What news?”
“Why, news of England, of course! We are starved for news of home!”
Molly piped up. “Oh, I see. You think we’re from England. But actually we’re from right here, in Notherland.”
“Actually, from a bit south of here,” Gavi added with his customary precision. “Below the Tree Line.”
As the two of them spoke, a shadow seemed to cross the old man’s face. For a few moments he was silent. Then he began to speak haltingly.
“I don’t quite … I’m afraid I … You mean …?”
Suddenly, without warning, he leaped towards Jackpine and grabbed him by the collar.
“You have come from England!” he screamed into Jackpine’s face. “You are a rescue party sent by Her Majesty the Queen! Some calamity must have befallen you which has made you lose your wits. Now speak up! Who are you? What is your rank?”
The more the old man shook him, the more rattled Jackpine became. Finally the woman, who had just returned from below with more cups, stepped forward and lightly touched the old man’s back.
“Please, my dear. Let the poor man go. You must not overexert yourself.”
The old man slowly loosened his grip on Jackpine. The woman continued to speak in her calm, measured tones.
“You must consider the possibility that they are telling the truth, dearest.” She turned to the others. “Please forgive us. Living in this land has been a terrible strain, and that, combined with Lord Franklin’s bitter disappointment that you are not the rescuers for whom we have been waiting so long …”
“Did you say Franklin?” Peggy suddenly burst out. “Franklin, the Arctic explorer?”
“There, you see?” Sir John gestured triumphantly to his wife. “She knows who I am! They are from England! They must be the ones!” He turned to Peggy. “My apologies, madam. I realize now that you must be the one in charge. When I left England, you see, women were not even permitted into the military. Times have changed, I daresay!”
Peggy cleared her throat nervously. “Actually Lord, I mean, Sir, we’re not from England.”
“But if you’re not from England, how do you know who I am?”
“Oh, well … everyone knows about Lord Franklin.”
“You mean my reputation extends beyond England?”
“Oh, definitely,” said Peggy. “Your fame has spread throughout the world.”
“Really?” said Sir John eagerly. “You don’t say! Did you hear that, my dear? Why, that makes our long exile here almost worth it, doesn’t it? I say, let’s have that tea now. They may not be our rescue party, but we must still be hospitable!”
Lady Franklin began pouring the tea.
“Yes, Sir John, we must make the best of things, as we always have. Now, please,” she said, turning to the others, “tell us about yourselves. What brings you to this lonely land?”
Molly and Gavi began to tell the Franklins about their journey to the Hole at the Pole, but Peggy’s mind buzzed with questions. She knew she was the only one who fully realized the strangeness of what they’d encountered here. Sir John Franklin was a real-life, historical figure. His exploits – the voyages to the Arctic, his disappearance – had all taken place over a hundred and fifty years ago. How did he come to be here in Notherland? As for Lady Jane Franklin, Peggy clearly recalled that, according to Our Wondrous North, she had never come to the Arctic, indeed had never seen her husband alive again. So what was she doing here?
Gavi had said Notherland was changing, evolving more and more into an independent entity. Peggy couldn’t wait to see what kind of explanation he would come up with for this latest wrinkle.
Molly was lifting Mi’s face to show her to the Franklins.
“See? She’s the last of the Nordlings – the only one not stolen by the Nobodaddy. We have to get to the Hole at the Pole and rescue the others before … before it’s too late!”
Sir John had listened to Molly’s breathless tale with a certain skepticism.
“Well, I certainly have never heard of there being any sort of hole up at the Pole.”
“There is!” Jackpine assured him. “I’ve been there!”
“As for this Noba … this monster you speak of,” Sir John went on, “that is news to me as well. Though it sounds a bit like that dreadful creature the Natives warned us about when we started up the Coppermine River years ago.” He turned to his wife. “You remember my telling you that story, don’t you, my dear? What was it called again?”
“Yes, that was it, a Wendigo.”
Jackpine suddenly snapped to attention. “That word sounds familiar to me. What’s a Wendigo?”
“Well, according to the old legends, it is a monster with a heart of pure ice,” began Sir John.
“Just like the Nobodaddy!” Jackpine exclaimed. “He has a heart of ice! What else do you know about this creature?”
Sir John hesitated. “It has a taste for … well, it is something that really shouldn’t be spoken of in polite company.”
“A taste for what?”
Lady Franklin suddenly spoke up in a more definite tone of voice.
“Flesh. They have a ravenous craving for human flesh. But eating flesh, terrible though it is, is not the worst thing a Wendigo does. Some are tormented by an emptiness that can never be filled, but which they try to relieve, temporarily at least, by consuming the spirit, the living light of a human being. Stealing a soul, leaving a person a hollowed-out shell of his or her former self: that is the greatest evil. If your Nobodaddy is such a creature, he is a fearsome one indeed.”
“But, my dear, those are just stories,” scoffed Sir John. “You know perfectly well there is no such creature.”
“There is,” Jackpine said quietly. “I know.”
Peggy could feel the simmering rage underneath his words.
Jackpine turned to Lady Jane. “You almost sound as though you’ve met the Nobodaddy yourself.”
“Yes, my dear. I had no idea you were so familiar with Northern lore,” said Sir John, looking curiously at his wife.
Lady Jane said nothing but stood up and briskly began to collect the dishes.
“You must all be exhausted,” she said. “We insist that you accept our hospitality and spend the night here on the ship, before you continue on your journey.”
“Yes,” added Sir John. “You will need to be rested. Tomorrow you’ll have to set your minds to figuring out a way to get across the Great Polar Sea.”
They all gaped at him.
“You mean,” Gavi cried, “there really is a Great Polar Sea?”
“See? You didn’t believe me!” Jackpine said curtly.
“Mind you,” Sir John said. “I have never laid eyes on it myself. Naturally, we have never ventured far from the ship, in case a rescue party should arrive. But all the great Arctic explorers, among whom I count myself, have proceeded on the assumption that beyond the Everlasting Ice lies a sea of open water, where the air is milder and the skies are free of icy blasts. By sailing across this Great Polar Sea, one might reach the Pole.”
To Peggy, this was sheer wishful thinking, and she fully expected Gavi to dismiss it as such. But to her surprise, the loon’s red eyes blazed with excitement.
“That means we can go to the Pole and not worry about freezing. Marvellous! Now all I have to do is figure out a way to navigate this Great Polar Sea. An enormous challenge, but I will rise to it!”
“Too bad we can’t use your ship, Sir John,” said Jackpine. “She’s a beauty.”
“Yes, that she is -” Sir John began, but he was interrupted by Molly. .
The others ignored her, but Mi piped up. “What, Molly?”
“Why not sail the Terror to the Hole at the Pole?”
Gavi shook his head. “Molly, do not be ridiculous.”
“What’s ridiculous about it?” Molly demanded.
“How would we get it there?” Gavi asked impatiently.
“We’ll pull it!”
Gavi rolled his eyes. “Oh, Molly, there you go again …”
“We could!” Molly insisted. “This ice is so slick, all we’d have to do is give the ship a good push and get it to glide along, like a sled!”
Sir John spoke up with a note of enthusiasm in his voice.
“It’s not totally farfetched, you know.”
“The young lady’s idea. When we got trapped here in the ice, we tried to make our way out with enormous sledges piled up with rowboats, food, whatever would fit. We managed to pull them quite a ways. I’ll wager one or two of those sledges were nearly as heavy as the Terror. Of course, there were more of us then. Many, many more of us. Then, one by one …” His voice began to break.
Seeing his distress, Lady Jane rushed to his side.
“It’s true there aren’t many of us, my dear. But it’s worth a try.”
Sir John made an effort to collect himself.
“Before, there were only the two of us,” Lady Jane went on. “We could not contemplate such a thing. But with their help,” she gestured towards the others, “it just might be possible to move the Terror. And if we succeed, you might finally achieve your life’s dream of reaching the Pole.”
As Lady Jane spoke, Sir John’s spirits gradually rose, until at last his eyes lit up with excitement.
“Yes!” he cried. “Yes! We’ll try it first thing in the morning.”
Molly was exultant. “Hurray! I can’t wait!”
Even Gavi was warming to the idea.
“Who knows?” he said to Sir John. “Maybe, if we can get the Terror to the Great Polar Sea, from there you can find your way back to …” he had to pause a moment to think of the name, “England!”
Peggy couldn’t contain herself any longer.
“What’s the matter with all of you? The whole idea is crazy. Look at this ship. Look at us. We’re not going to be able to move it an inch!”
“Ah, yes!” Sir John retorted, bristling with indignation. “That’s just what all those nay-sayers tried to tell me when I left England: ‘There is no such thing as your Northwest Passage, Franklin! You’ll never reach the Pole in that ship! The whole undertaking is impossible.’ Well, I didn’t listen to it then, and I won’t listen to it now.”
Right, and look where it got you, Peggy almost said, but she kept quiet.
Molly stepped forward and gave the old man a snappy salute.
“We’ll do it, sir. We’ll give it our best shot!”
“That’s the spirit,” Sir John said firmly. “That’s the kind of attitude I like to see in a sailor. Now, what say we all turn in, so we’ll look sharp first thing in the morning!”
Gavi turned to Sir John as he prepared to go below.
“What has become of Lady Franklin? Has she retired for the night?” he asked.
Sir John looked around and suddenly seemed flustered, for indeed Lady Jane was gone, though no one had noticed her leave.
“Yes, she ah … I expect she has.”
“Then please wish her goodnight for us.”
“I will do so. Please, all of you, make yourselves comfortable.”
And with that he disappeared down the narrow stairway.
Sir John had offered them their choice of the officers’ sleeping quarters below. But they wanted to keep an eye on Mi, and so they watched until she’d ascended safely into the
pitch-dark sky. As they all sat huddled in blankets on the foredeck of the Terror, Peggy filled them in on what she knew of Lord Franklin’s explorations. Molly was enthralled by the adventure of the story. But one thing mystified her.
“If he left England with two ships and a whole crew, what happened to all those men?”
Peggy looked at Gavi, who, of course, had already figured out the answer.
“The history books don’t say,” she said quietly to Molly. “They all must have starved or frozen to death. Or a combination. Nobody knows for sure.”
“And where’s the other ship? Why isn’t it here, too?”
“There is much about this place, said Gavi, returning Peggy’s look, “that is difficult to explain.”
Jackpine had been sitting by himself, brooding. What Lady Franklin had said about the Nobodaddy had clearly stirred up memories of his time in the Hole, which he had thus far managed to keep at bay. Now, Peggy’s account of the tragic outcome of the Franklin expedition seemed to make his mood even darker.
After a while he fell asleep, and Molly also snuggled up in her blanket, saying she’d had enough talking for one day.
Gavi and Peggy were left alone.
“What do you make of it all?” Peggy asked him.
“I must admit I am somewhat mystified,” the loon replied. “All I can say with certainty is that the relationship between Notherland and your world – past, present, perhaps even future – is even more complex than I thought.”
“What about Lady Franklin? Do you think she’s some kind of spectre, conjured up by Sir John’s mind to fill the loneliness?”
Gavi shook his head. “I think she is too much her own person to be a mere spectre. But I certainly agree that her presence here is mysterious.”
“Did you notice how she seemed to vanish all of a sudden? And how she knew all about the Nobodaddy, even though Sir John had never heard of him?”
“I do not believe,” Gavi said wearily, “that we will be able to solve all these mysteries tonight. I, for one, have done all the figuring-out I can do for one day.”
The loon closed his eyes. As Peggy watched his head nod slightly forward, she brooded about the latest turn of events. What had started out as an adventure had become a much darker, more forbidding journey. The atmosphere on the ship seemed fraught with the suffering its former inhabitants had endured. No matter how feisty Sir John appeared, Peggy knew he had witnessed and lived through terrible things. Whether the Nobodaddy existed or not, real-life tragedy had invaded her world.
She felt a keen loneliness. She was the Creator, the one they believed had the power to save Notherland. But the longer she was in it, the more mysterious the workings of this world became, and the less able she felt to affect what happened to it.
She looked over at Jackpine, at his chest rising and falling softly with each breath as he slept. His arms were stretched out over the top of his blanket. As she drifted off, she had a fleeting moment of wondering how it would feel to be enfolded in a pair of human arms.
Chapter 6: The Good Ship Terror
WHEN PEGGY WOKE the next day, the sun was already high in the sky, and the others were up, bustling about the ship. Jackpine was attaching lengths of heavy rope to the ship’s bow. Under Sir John’s tutelage, Molly was tying the ends of the rope into a series of sturdy nautical knots, making huge loops into which the crew members – as they now fancied themselves – could insert their bodies. With luck, they would pull the ship forward until it built up enough momentum to skid across the ice. Even Mi was eager to help out, holding an end of rope that almost looked heavier than she was.
To Peggy it all seemed like so much wasted effort. The prospect of actually moving the enormous ship seemed even more ridiculous now, in the clear light of day. But she could see the others were oblivious to the folly of their plan. Somehow Molly’s enthusiasm, combined with Sir John’s wishful thinking, had swept them all along into believing it was possible – even Gavi, who should have known better.
Jackpine called over to Peggy.
“Morning! Sleep well?”
She just shrugged.
He looked at her quizzically. “Anything wrong?”
“Nothing, just … This is crazy,” she said grimly.
“You know it can’t work. That ship’s never going to budge.”
“Sir John said they did it before.”
“There were a lot more of them! Look at us. What a crew! This whole thing’s just a huge waste of time.”
“You remind me of the people in the Hole,” Jackpine told her. “You don’t believe things can ever get better, so they don’t. Well, give up if you want. I’d rather do something than sit around complaining.”
As he stomped off, Molly let out a whoop of joy.
“Look! I did it!”
She pointed to a large knot that joined the two ends of the hauling ropes. Sir John came over and examined it with keen interest, joined by Gavi and Mi.
“Hmm, that’s a pretty fair reef knot you’ve got there.”
Molly beamed with pride.
“Next we’ll move on to the bowline, one of the most important of all nautical knots.”
“Yes, sir!” Molly gave him an eager salute. “I want to learn everything I need to know to make this vessel seaworthy! I can’t believe it. For so long I’ve dreamed of being a pirate, and here I am, on a real ship!”
“You’re becoming something far better than a lowly pirate,” Sir John retorted. “Keep up the good work and you shall be a sailor in Her Majesty’s Royal Navy!”
Peggy watched Molly stir with excitement at Sir John’s words. She wondered why she was the only one lacking enthusiasm. Whatever the outcome, the others at least had a mission, a shared sense of purpose. She wished she could just forget all her doubts and join the hubbub of activity. The crushing sense of loneliness she’d felt last night swept over her again. She longed to be relieved of the burden of responsibility, to just go back to her old life and forget all this.
“Jackpine is right.”
Peggy was startled to hear a voice behind her. She turned to see Lady Jane.
“Were you talking to me?”
“It is far better to act than to complain.”
Peggy was taken aback. Lady Jane’s voice was sharp and brisk, much in contrast to the gentle, almost murmuring tones she used in speaking to her husband.
“I don’t know what you mean,” she replied.
“Why do you just sit here like a bump on a log?” Lady Jane moved closer and her tone became even more combative. “Go out there and help them!”
“Why should I bother?” Peggy retorted. “You know as well as I do it’s hopeless.”
“I admit the prospect looks awfully daunting. But this is a strange land. Unusual things happen.”
“Even if by some miracle we can move the ship, how far is this Great Polar Sea?” Peggy pressed her. “How do we know it even exists?”
“The unknown is always a frightening prospect,” Lady Jane replied. “But we must step into it if we want to move forward.” Her tone softened a bit. “I know you are feeling downhearted at the moment …”
She reached her hand out to Peggy, who abruptly turned away.
“How do you know what I’m feeling? Who are you, anyway?”
“Who do you think I am?”
“You’re sure not Lady Jane Franklin.”
“You know what I’m talking about,” Peggy continued. “You know perfectly well this ship’s been stuck here for more than a century. What, is the old man some kind of ghost, hanging around the ship, refusing to admit he’s dead? And how do you fit into the picture? Lady Franklin never came to the Arctic. She never laid eyes on her husband after he disappeared. So what gives? Who are you?”
Lady Jane opened her mouth, but before she could speak they were both distracted by shouts from the others.
“We’re ready to go!”
“Peggy! Come on over!” Jackpine called to her.
From the ship’s great bow several loops fell, one for each of them except Mi, who was too small and light to be of help. Sir John’s plan was that they would actually insert their bodies, one within each loop, which he believed would give them the most traction and power as they pulled forward on the ice.
Molly, Gavi, Sir John and Jackpine had each positioned themselves in one of the big loops. Only one remained unclaimed. Jackpine pointed to it and called to Peggy again.
“Come on! That one’s yours!”
Peggy stayed where she was. Lady Jane spoke again.
“You must go and help. They cannot do it without you.”
“All hands on the ropes,” Sir John upbraided her mildly. “We need everybody we have.”
Peggy shook her head sullenly.
Now Lady Franklin’s tone was as cold as the surrounding ice.
“Stop acting like a spoiled child! Get out there and do your part!”
“Fine!” Peggy snapped. “I’ll show you just how ridiculous this is.”
She vaulted down the rope ladder and out onto the ice, where she took up the last remaining loop and stepped inside it.
“When I give the signal,” Sir John shouted at them, “pull with all your might! Ready, now? Heave, ho!”
For a few moments they all groaned and strained and pulled. But the ship didn’t budge.
“Now let’s not get discouraged,” Sir John began.
Molly piped up. “Who’s discouraged? Not me!”
“Let’s try again. Everybody ready? Now! Heave, ho!”
“I thought I felt her give a bit that time,” Jackpine said with forced optimism.
They all pulled with tremendous effort, once, twice, several times more. But nothing. The Terror was absolutely immovable.
Mi, sensing everyone’s growing disillusionment, began to whimper quietly. Molly snapped at her.
“Stop carrying on! We have work to do!”
It was growing more and more obvious that the task was impossible. The ship was simply too huge, too heavy for the small group of them to move. Peggy turned and looked over her shoulder, ready to scream at Lady Franklin in frustration. But Sir John’s wife was nowhere to be seen.
They made one or two more half-hearted tries. Finally Sir John let out a despairing sigh.
“I’m afraid that we …” he began, but was interrupted by an outburst from Peggy.
“Whooooa! What was that?”
They all turned and looked at her.
“What was what?” Gavi asked.
“I felt the strangest sensation under my feet just now.”
“I don’t know, like …” A surge of resolve shot through her, and she began to shout at them all. “Everybody pull! One more time! Pull!”
They looked at her, too mystified at first to move. Then they galvanized themselves and Sir John began his familiar refrain.
“Heave, ho! Heave, ho!”
Suddenly a tiny break appeared in the ice underneath Peggy. It felt to her as though a blast of warm air was shooting up through it.
The crack grew wider, and now the rest of them began to feel strange movements in the ice underneath their feet. Cracks were beginning to appear all over, accompanied by the same blasts of warm air.
“The ice!” Jackpine yelled. “It’s breaking up!”
“Everyone on deck!” Sir John ordered.
They abandoned the ropes and began to scramble up the side of the Terror.
Peggy raced towards the ship, then suddenly remembered Mi. But Jackpine had already scooped the little sprite up and was carrying her onto the ship’s deck.
Water started to gush up through the widening cracks, flooding the surface of the ice with great pools.
“We did it!” Molly shouted jubilantly. “We’ll sail this channel all the way to the Great Polar Sea!”