Chapter 7: The Great Polar Sea
FROM THE DECK of the Terror, Mi looked out in all directions. The Great Polar Sea was so vast, its waters seemed to go on forever and ever. Mi was used to Lake Notherland. It had always seemed big to her, but at least you could see across it to the far shore. The Great Polar Sea was of another order altogether. Mi couldn’t imagine that it had an end. And even if it did, she found it difficult to believe that they would ever reach it.
It had been more than a day since the remarkable phenomenon Gavi had christened the Warm Line. Mi recalled how she’d stood with the others on the deck, watching in amazement as the long gash opened up before them, releasing what felt like pulsing waves of warm air from underneath the ice. The entire crew had cheered with each loud crack! as the solid sheet of ice split in two and the ship slowly inched its way through the opening.
Gavi assumed that it was the power of Peggy’s mind that brought the miracle about, that she had imagined a current of warm air under the ice. “That, combined with the ship’s weight, could very well have made the ice give way underneath us,” he said.
Peggy shook her head. “It just happened. I didn’t have anything to do with it.”
“But it is possible that your powers could be working without you being aware of it. What is that phrase? ‘Your imagination is working overtime’? That could explain it,”
Gavi said, proudly parading his knowledge of the minutiae of everyday human speech.
“Perhaps it’s a miracle, like the parting of the Red Sea,” Sir John suggested.
None of them except Peggy knew what he was talking about. Sir John briefly told them the story, which he said was a miracle from a book called the Bible. Mi wondered how a sea could be red. As far as she knew, water was always blue. But she was too shy to ask Sir John about it.
Gavi would know. She reminded herself to ask him about it, and about her lucky bone, as well.
She took out a small cloth pouch and surveyed what was left of her “treasure.” In the mad scramble onto the Terror, she had lost track of most of the stones. But a few of the prettiest ones remained, along with the smooth and slender tube that Peggy had said was a piece of animal bone. Gavi had told her once about how humans sometimes carried animal bones or teeth for good luck, and Mi decided that this would be her “lucky” bone. Why did it have holes? she wondered. Were they from the teeth of a bigger animal who’d tried to eat this one? She’d have to remember to ask Gavi how the holes got there.
Now they had finally left the vast plate of Everlasting Ice behind them and reached open water. So Jackpine had been right all along about the Great Polar Sea. Mi wondered how they could possibly tell which way the ship was going. Surely they would get lost! She was relieved to learn that experienced seamen like Sir John could steer a ship and chart a course using something called navigation.
In fact, Sir John was spending most of his time instructing Molly, on whom he had bestowed the rank of ensign, in the principles of navigation. He regretted having no uniform of the proper size for her, but he did bestow on her his very own, rather large, cutlass. Molly was thrilled, and promptly threw away the stick she’d been using as an imitation sword for so long.
Molly tried her best to follow Sir John’s instructions, but she was finding the knots difficult for her stiff fingers. Then there were instruments like the compass and sextant, which were utterly baffling to her. And the ship’s rigging looked like a chaotic mass of ropes and chains, no matter how carefully Sir John explained their organization and function. She tried to tell him that Gavi would be a much better navigator. But Sir John insisted that, much as he had become fond of Gavi and had come to respect his mental abilities, a loon was simply not fit to serve as an officer in the Royal Navy.
Sir John was also teaching Molly about the various signal flags that could be used to communicate with other ships. Molly found this a monumental waste of time, since everyone knew their chances of encountering another ship in the Great Polar Sea were virtually nil. But Sir John told her firmly that knowing about signal flags was an important part of being a well-rounded sailor. Worst of all for Molly were the drills, which he had her carry out several times a day. She had to march up and down the ship, deliver a proper salute, swab the deck and await Sir John’s careful inspection. None of the others had to do any of these things, and Molly was beginning to resent it. Her initial excitement about learning to sail a real ship was slowly ebbing away as Sir John persisted in his attempts to mould her into a “model of military discipline,” as he put it.
Mi watched Molly’s growing disenchantment and frustration. The Nordling was so tiny and quiet, they often forgot she was there, but she noticed everything that was going on around her. The captain’s efforts to bend Molly to his will reminded Mi of the way Molly herself had sometimes treated the Nordlings. Mi could understand Molly’s resentment; it was how she felt when Molly tried to make her do something she didn’t want to do. Though she saw some justice in Molly having to swallow a dose of her own medicine, the little Nordling still felt sympathy for the doll.
There was another relationship on board that intrigued and puzzled Mi. Did anyone else, she wondered, notice how Peggy and Jackpine always seemed to be watching one another? How they would stare at each another, then look away as soon as they’d notice the other watching? How they sometimes seemed to make excuses to be near one another? How they would speak to one another with a certain nervous excitement in their voices?
Mi sought out Gavi to ask him about it.
“Now that you mention it,” he said, “their behavior does remind me a little of mating rituals.”
“What does that mean?” Mi asked him.
“It is something creatures do when there is a special bond between them, when they wish to spend time together and their feelings for one another are stronger than their feelings for others.”
“Are Sir John and Lady Jane mates?”
Gavi smiled. “Yes, though they would not put it like that. Humans are not comfortable using the same terms for themselves as they do for animals – even though they are animals. The Franklins are husband and wife. Those are the human terms for mates.”
“Yes,” Mi said thoughtfully. “I can see that Sir John and Lady Jane have special feelings for each other.”
“They are devoted to one another,” Gavi agreed. “Lady Jane takes such good care of her husband. And when she is gone, he seems lost without her.”
Mi was suddenly reminded of another question that had been weighing on her mind.
“Where does she go?”
“Who?” Gavi asked.
“Lady Franklin. Sometimes she just seems to disappear for awhile. Then she comes back again. Where does she go?”
“I do not know,” Gavi replied. “I have wondered about that myself. But I suppose there is a simple explanation. Perhaps she goes below deck and carries out her wifely duties – cooking, mending, that sort of thing.”
It occurred to Mi to ask Gavi why cooking and mending were considered a wife’s duties and not a husband’s, but her curiosity about such things was outweighed by the mystery of Lady Jane’s absences.
“I wander about the whole ship,” she told Gavi, “and I never see her below deck doing any of those things. I think she must go somewhere else.”
Gavi shook his head. “That is impossible. How could she leave the ship? Where is there for her to go? Anyway, Sir John does not act as though there is anything unusual about her absences, and he is her husband. So we need not concern ourselves with it either,” he said with finality.
It wasn’t like Gavi to shrug off a mystery, to not probe more deeply until he found the solution to a puzzle. But Mi knew it was hard for him to admit when he didn’t know the answer to something, so she changed the subject.
“Lord Franklin is trying very hard to make Molly into a good sailor.”
“Yes,” Gavi agreed. “But he does not seem to be having that much success. And frankly, I am amazed that she has gone along with it as far as she has. I have never been able to get Molly to do anything she did not want to do. She is the most stubborn creature I know.”
“If she doesn’t want to do those drills, why does he keep making her do them?”
“That is the problem,” Gavi sighed. “Sir John has only one thing on his mind, making Molly into a good sailor, and he thinks she must try harder. He does not see that it is making her unhappy.”
“If she’s so unhappy, then why doesn’t she just refuse to do it?”
Gavi smiled again. “Humans can be very hard to figure out sometimes.”
“But Molly’s not human.”
“No,” Gavi admitted. “But she would like to be. It adds up to the same thing.”
They both stood silent for a few moments, staring out at the vast ocean.
“Gavi?” Mi said finally. “What will happen when we get to the Hole at the Pole? How will we set the Nordlings free?”
“Do not ask so many questions,” Gavi replied brusquely.
Mi gazed at the water lapping at the side of the ship. It seemed to calm her mind, and she hoped it might be doing the same for Gavi.
She noticed something odd in the distance.
“Look!” she shouted.
Way off the starboard side of the Terror, something very large was rising slowly out of the water.
Peggy’s moods had been shifting wildly back and forth. She was constantly restless and found she had little appetite for the wonderful meals that magically appeared from the ship’s galley. Sometimes she felt exuberant, elated. At other times the smallest thing would cause her to plummet into despair. At first she didn’t want to admit to herself that Jackpine was the focus of her moodiness. The longing to be near him. The constant thoughts of him when he wasn’t around. The tingles of excitement she felt whenever she heard his voice or caught sight of his dark eyes and wiry, muscular body.
Okay, so she liked him. What good was that? He couldn’t possibly feel the same way about her. Could he?
She watched him now, across the deck. He had that dark, faraway look in his eyes again. Was he brooding about the Hole? she wondered. Did she dare approach him in this mood? Would he open up to her?
He caught her gaze and nodded. Emboldened, she went over to him.
“Hi, what’s up?”
He shook his head. “Nothing. Just thinking.”
“We’re really on our way, aren’t we?” she offered, trying to make conversation.
“Yeah,” he said pensively. “But I wonder if things are getting a little too easy.”
Peggy let out a quizzical laugh. “What makes you say that?”
“You don’t know the Nobodaddy,” he replied. “You don’t know what he’s capable of. All I know is, we have to be ready for anything.”
She opened her mouth to say something but was interrupted by shouts from the other end of the ship.
It was Mi’s voice, followed by Gavi’s.
“Peggy! Come quickly! There is something out in the water!”
Peggy raced towards the foredeck of the ship, followed by Molly, Sir John and Jackpine. They all looked in the direction Mi and Gavi were pointing. Sure enough, there was something very tall and slender sticking up out of the waves.
They all stood with their mouths open.
“What is that?”
“I cannot tell yet,” Gavi said.
“It could be a fallen tree that somehow got washed out to sea,” Jackpine speculated.
“Impossible,” Gavi replied. “How could a tree stick up so high in this deep water, and what would it be doing so far beyond the Tree Line?”
“I’ll wager it’s an old mast,” said Sir John briskly. “Perhaps from a ship that sank after an unsuccessful attempt to reach the Pole.”
“It doesn’t look smooth enough to be a mast, Sir John,” Peggy pointed out. “It’s hard to make out at this distance, but I can see some kind of ripples or bumps on the far side of it.”
“Well,” said Sir John, “we shall be able to tell better what it is when we get up closer. Ensign Molly!” he barked. “To the helm!”
“Not now. I want to watch from here,” Molly objected.
“To the helm with you, on the double!”
“No!” said Molly defiantly.
Sir John’s face was flushed with anger.
“This is rank insubordination!” he sputtered. “Do you have any idea of the penalty for …?”
But screams from the others interrupted Sir John’s tirade.
The thing bent over, then reared up even higher out of the water. Far from being an inanimate stump of wood, it appeared to be a living creature with a tremendously long neck, like some gigantic serpent. As it rose higher out of the water, great gushing whirlpools formed on either side of it. The protrusions Peggy had noticed looked to be scaly points, almost like sharp fins, which became progressively larger as they jutted out along the creature’s neck and back. Before they had a chance to get a better look, it took a sudden dive and disappeared under the water, creating huge waves that crashed against the sides of the ship.
“What is it?”
“Some kind of sea monster!”
“Monster?” Mi whimpered, clutching Gavi’s wing and burrowing nervously down into his feathers.
Jackpine turned to Sir John. “What kind of weapons have you got on this ship?”
Before Sir John could answer, Peggy broke in.
“Weapons? Why are we talking about weapons? We don’t have any reason to think it wants to harm us.”
“Whatever that thing is,” Jackpine said grimly, “we’d better be ready if it shows up again.”
“And if it attacks, we fight back!” said Molly excitedly, brandishing her cutlass. “I’m ready!”
“Oh Molly!” said Gavi, shaking his head. “What good would that sword be against a creature so large?”
Peggy interrupted them all.
“Shhh! Did you hear something?”
The others strained to listen. It sounded like a deep rumbling from the surrounding depths. They all stood frozen on the spot. It seemed to grow louder and louder. They could feel a vibration under their feet, and as the rumbling grew more intense the ship began to list sharply from side to side.
“Lord help us,” Sir John prayed under his breath.
Suddenly a great wave spilled over the deck as the creature’s head and long neck burst out of the water.
The creature suddenly reared back, then snapped its head forward, its mouth sending out huge sparks the size of lightning bolts. Amid screams of fright, they all dove onto the deck to avoid the hot fiery sparks, which luckily seemed to dissipate in the air just above the ship.
“It’s going to kill us!” Jackpine yelled as the ship continued to list perilously and the air around them crackled with flames.
“The musket!” Sir John shouted. He had been thrown back from the prow by the tossing and rocking of the ship, but now he grasped a cleat on deck and yelled to Peggy.
“There! Right beside you! The musket! Get it!”
Peggy looked around. There was a thick-barrelled rifle mounted just underneath the gunnel. She pried it loose, then held it out towards Sir John.
“No. You must do it! Raise it to your shoulder,” he ordered her.
Peggy did so, awkwardly.
She pointed it upward towards the creature’s head.
“Ready …” Sir John called out, “… aim …”
Before she could fire, Peggy lunged back onto the deck to avoid another volley of flames. The creature was now directly over her. She could practically see into its huge, snarling mouth. She scrambled onto her knees and lifted the gun back up to her shoulder. Aiming the barrel straight at the creature, she cocked the trigger.
“Hold it steady as you can while you release the trigger. Ready … aim … fire!”
She heard Sir John’s voice, but her finger remained frozen on the trigger.
“Fire! Now!” Sir John bellowed. “What’s the matter?”
Peggy took a deep breath.
Come on, pull the trigger.
But she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She heard Molly calling to her.
“Go on, Peggy!” she shouted fiercely. “Blow its head off!”
She looked at the creature’s head and imagined its flesh ripping apart at the shell’s impact. The image sent a surge of adrenaline through her and she tightened her grip on the musket.
I can do this, she told herself. I can do it!
But something in her still held back.
Suddenly a loud blast sounded. Peggy watched as a shell went careening towards the monster’s head. But her finger was still planted on the trigger of the musket. What happened? She hadn’t fired!
She looked up, expecting to see the creature’s flesh torn apart by the impact of the shell. But as soon as it was hit, the monster seemed to dissipate, like a puff of smoke into the air. After a moment there was nothing left of it, except for a strange band of light looming over the spot where it had been thrashing around seconds earlier.
Peggy heard a commotion on deck and turned to see Sir John and Molly rushing over to Jackpine, wide grins on their faces. What was going on? Then she noticed that another musket was cradled in Jackpine’s elbow. He lifted it over his head jubilantly.
“Did you see that? One shot!” he shouted. “I nailed it my very first shot!”
So it was Jackpine who’d fired at the monster, not her.
She looked out over the sea. The strange ring of light now seemed to be moving along the surface of the water towards the ship. It hovered over the deck not far from where Peggy stood, and she watched in amazement as it lengthened to form a kind of column.
She tried to alert the others to the strange phenomenon, but they were busy congratulating Jackpine. When she turned back towards the shaft of light, she saw what appeared to be a solid form taking shape within it.
Then, abruptly, the light vanished altogether. There, on the exact same spot, stood Lady Jane Franklin.
Chapter 8: Gone
PEGGY WAS SHOCKED, not just by the eerie way in which Lady Jane had materialized on the deck, but also by the way she looked – weak, pale, almost ghostlike. She rushed over to her but was greeted with a dismissive wave.
“Go! Leave me alone! I am fine!”
Stung, Peggy started to back away, then looked straight at Lady Franklin.
“Sir John may pretend not to notice,” she said, “but it’s obvious to the rest of us that something pretty strange is going on here.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Lady Franklin answered.
“The way you come and go so suddenly. How do you do it? Where do you go?”
The older woman shrugged. “Where is there to go? About the ship, below deck …”
“No! It’s like you disappear into thin air. Where were you when we were fighting that sea monster? You had something to do with it, didn’t you?”
“I?” Lady Franklin’s laugh had a sarcastic edge. “Do I look like a sea monster to you?”
“I should have known better than to try and get a straight answer out of you,” Peggy said testily. As she turned to go, Lady Franklin’s voice brought her up short.
“You couldn’t do it, could you!”
Peggy turned to face her. “Excuse me?”
“You didn’t have it in you!”
“What are you talking about?” Peggy demanded.
“You should have fired the gun!” Lady Franklin said icily. “You should have destroyed the monster! Why didn’t you do it?”
“What does it matter?” Peggy shot back. “The monster’s gone, isn’t it?”
“How can you prepare yourself for what lies ahead if you fail a simple test like this?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about!”
“You will find out soon enough,” Lady Jane said curtly.
Peggy was about to demand an explanation. But she saw a look of such overwhelming fatigue on Lady Franklin’s face, that she thought the older woman might faint. Then she seemed to gather her forces, and marched over to her husband with a determinedly cheerful smile.
They were all still clustered around Jackpine. Though they found the monster’s abrupt disappearance curious, it was clear to Peggy that she was the only one who had witnessed Lady Franklin’s sudden, bizarre reappearance.
“I still can’t believe that thing went down so easily!”
Molly was saying, as she slapped Jackpine heartily on the back. “I was sure you’d have to shoot a bunch of those shells.”
“Yes, the whole thing was a bit strange,” Gavi allowed. “Do you have any idea what that thing was, Sir John?”
“There is a creature the Eskimos call Sedna,” said Sir John. “A sea goddess. They call her the guardian of all the creatures of the sea, and say she is more powerful than our
God. Which I dismissed as more mythical nonsense, of course. But I am no longer so certain of things as I was once. The important thing is,” he said, patting his wife’s arm reassuringly, “we are safe now.”
Watching them all, Peggy felt a sudden surge of anger.
Hey, what about me? she wanted to shout. I would have shot it if I’d had the chance! Of course, she was being ridiculous, she told herself. She’d had her chance. She had frozen up, and Jackpine had moved into the breach. After all, somebody had to do something.
Lady Franklin’s words burned in Peggy’s brain: You failed the test. You should have fired the gun. Why didn’t you?
Why didn ‘t I?
“Gavi, do you know how these holes got into my lucky bone?”
Gavi was so obsessed with understanding the mysterious creature and how it fit into the cosmology of Notherland that he barely took note of Mi’s question, and lumbered off muttering to himself: “A monster? A sea goddess? How could I have not known about it?”
Mi started to run after him, but Molly held her back. “Better leave him alone for now. You know what he’s like when he gets in one of his thinking moods.”
Reluctantly, Mi admitted that Molly was right. Gavi was in no mood for questions.
“I’m going below deck to find Sir John,” Molly told her. “I think you’d better come with me. Somebody should keep an eye on you all the time.”
But Mi didn’t want to go below deck. It was dark down there. There wasn’t any place to play.
“I want to stay up here,” she told Molly.
The doll hesitated on the stairway. “All right,” she said finally. “I’ll only be gone a few minutes. Be careful. Keep out of sight. And whatever you do – no singing! Not a peep! Understand?”
Mi nodded solemnly and watched Molly go below. She began skipping along the deck towards the stern. As she sprang past the main mast, she stopped suddenly. Up ahead were Peggy and Jackpine.
They seemed to be having an animated discussion, perhaps even an argument, Mi couldn’t be sure. But she was struck by how the air around them seemed to crackle with currents of excitement. They seemed completely caught up in one another and oblivious to everything else.
Fine, she thought. Everybody’s busy with their own things. She’d just play by herself. She was tired of them hovering around, constantly watching her. And she was sick of having to be so careful all the time. Right now, she was free to do just what she wanted.
Her eyes ran up the tall mast. It would be fun to climb up to the crow’s-nest and look around. Maybe she, could see all the way to the Hole at the Pole!
She began climbing up the shrouds, the way she’d seen Molly do under Sir John’s tutelage. There was a bit of a wind up, but she’d be very careful not to get blown away. She’d hold on tight.
Molly wondered why Sir John was taking so long below. She noticed that the door to his quarters was slightly ajar. Gingerly she approached it, and when she looked inside she could see Sir John from the back, slumped over his desk. The ship’s log was open in front of him, and at first she thought he must be recording an entry. But then she saw a great shudder run through him, accompanied by a low moan, like weeping.
She wondered what to do. Did he wish to be left alone? Did she dare say anything, or even let on that she had seen him in this state?
She decided to tiptoe away quietly, but as she turned she brushed the door handle lightly, making the door knock gently against the jamb. Sir John raised his head and turned towards her. His eyes were swollen and red, and tears streamed down his cheeks.
Molly was overcome with embarrassment and immediately stiffened herself into a salute.
“Excuse me, Captain, sir. I didn’t mean to disturb you.”
She turned, intending to rush away, but Sir John called after her.
She immediately noted that he hadn’t prefaced it with “Ensign,” as he usually did.
“Don’t go,” he pleaded, in a tone very different from the one Molly was used to hearing. “I cannot bear to be alone right now. Please … stay.”
“Sir?” Molly stood stiffly at attention at the end of the desk. “Would you like me to go fetch Lady Franklin?”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible. Lady Franklin is … gone!”
Molly watched transfixed as the great Franklin was overcome by racking sobs. He seemed to be in the grip of a terrible grief.
“Gone, sir? But I saw her only a short time ago …”
He looked up, composed himself and pushed the log across the desk towards her. Molly looked at the latest entry, and, putting to use all of Gavi’s painstaking instruction in reading, she managed to decipher the words.
I must be away for some time. But I shall do everything in my power to return to you. Our time together has been a great unexpected gift for both of us. Now the final phase of your great quest beckons. Do not lose heart! Know that I love you now and in eternity.
“She is all I have, Molly. Now I am losing her. She is being wrenched away from me. Our life together is at an end.”
“But Sir John, how could she leave the ship? Where would she go?”
Lord Franklin looked down and shook his head mournfully, as if he hadn’t heard her.
“I knew it would come to this, one day. I knew it could not last forever. I am no fool. I knew she could not really be my Jane. She knew that I knew, but we never spoke of it. And I truly felt that a part of Jane’s spirit somehow lived within her.”
Finally he looked up and saw the look of bewilderment on Molly’s face. He took a deep breath and began again in a calmer, more measured tone.
“You see,” he went on, “I am perfectly well aware of the strangeness of my situation here. I know that my Jane passed on to her eternal rest many years ago, as did Crozier and Gore and the rest of my crew. I watched as they grew more hollowed-out and wasted with each passing day, their fingers and noses blackened by the freezing cold. I have seen such unimaginable horrors, Molly …” He paused a moment, unable to continue.
“Dead. All of them. One after another. Because of my pig-headedness!”
“You? What do you mean, sir?” Molly asked.
“How many times I’ve castigated myself! If only I had not ordered the ships to turn south near Beechey Island, where we became trapped in the great ice stream that flows down from the Beaufort Sea! The Eskimos warned us against it, but stubbornly I clung to my planned route.
“I could not understand why I was being spared, why I had not passed on with all the others. I decided that was to be my punishment – doomed to stay alive, to live with the guilt of having caused so many to die. As the days and months passed, I grew more and more desperately lonely. To ease my loneliness I would speak with Jane, as if she were here with me. Gradually, I became aware of an uncanny feeling that I was no longer alone, that some other presence was nearby.
“Then one day, I woke up to find my beloved Jane sitting on the deck, calmly pouring morning tea. I thought she must be some kind of hallucination, that my thoughts of her had become so powerful that they had somehow conjured up her image. But as we spent time in each other’s company, I could tell she was no mere figment of my imagination. She had a reality separate from mine. So I decided to accept her presence, without question, and to accept my fate, which is, apparently, for me to remain in this realm until I am called to meet my Maker. As long as I had someone so dear to pass the time with, it was all so much easier.
“I truly do not know whether I am living or dead, whether I am human or pure spirit. I only know that something is keeping me here, some force beyond my control or understanding. But now that I am faced with the prospect of losing my Jane for a second time …”
Here Sir John’s voice began to break, but he summoned his resources and went on.
“I no longer wish to remain here. I long to pass over into Eternity, so I can be with my Jane and find my final resting place. I cannot bear the thought of life without her!”
Molly listened, mesmerized, to every word of Sir John’s tale. She feared that he would break down sobbing once again, but he simply sat with a look of unutterable sadness as a single tear made its way slowly down his cheek. Molly was overcome with pity. She had had no inkling of the trials Sir John had been through, or of the deep well of feeling that lay beneath his stem military demeanor. What could she possibly say that would begin to offer him any comfort?
“But Sir John …” Molly began, haltingly. “What about your great mission? The Pole … we are .so close!”
“I no longer care about reaching the Pole. Without the love of my life, nothing matters.”
“If it would be of any help, sir,” she added softly, “I will stay with you.”
As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Molly felt like kicking herself. What an idiotic thing to say at a time like this! As if her companionship could in any way begin to make up for the loss of the most important person in Sir John’s life!
Yet it made her realize that, however much they clashed with one another, she had become very attached to this man. Finally she had found someone in her life who took her seriously, who did not treat her like a mere plaything but demanded things from her, things that would help her live out her dreams! She wanted to plead with him not to pass over into Eternity, wherever that was, but to stay and keep serving as her Captain, her mentor, her teacher.
To her surprise, Sir John did not dismiss what she said. Indeed, he seemed to consider it quite seriously.
“It’s true that you seem to have come here at an opportune time,” he said. “Your presence here has given me a renewed sense of purpose, and one cannot live without a sense of purpose, any more than one can live without love and companionship. The Terror has once again set sail, and she has a new crew. All this is good. Still …”
He lingered on the last word, and Molly saw the pain flow back into his eyes.
“Lady Jane did plead with you not to lose heart. And she promised to return – if she could.”
Lord Franklin got to his feet, and for the first time since their conversation began, Molly saw a spark of the old, familiar Captain.
“You’re right, of course. Here I am, moping about, when I should be making the best of things, as my Jane always counselled me to do. Thank you, Molly, for bringing me back to myself. You’re a wise young girl.”
Mi looked out over the vastness of the Great Polar Sea from her perch on the mast. The wind whipped her around as if she were a piece of cloth, but she held on tight. To be up so high, to be part of something so unfathomably huge – Mi found it all exhilarating! Even being part of the RoryBory on a clear night was nothing like this. Now she was wide awake, and she was free! No RoryBory to fit into, no Gavi or Molly to tell her what to do. She felt like singing out her joy, but she reminded herself of Molly’s warning.
She took out her lucky bone and waved it in the breeze. She was seized by an impulse to blow into it to see if it would make a noise. When she did, she was startled to hear how hauntingly familiar it sounded. This was not noise. It was music!
She blew into the bone again. Yes, it was unmistakably music. Not only that, it was her music, her note. It truly was her lucky bone! She couldn’t wait to tell Gavi about this fascinating discovery.
A sudden chill coursed through her small body. She decided to scurry back down to the deck, before any of them realized where she’d gone and scolded her. As she began making her way down the shrouds, the wind grew stronger, and she had a sensation of some kind of force pulling on her, as if trying to wrench her away from the mast. Then she felt the dreadful chill again, and she thought she heard a sound like harsh laughter off in the distance.
She held on for dear life.
Chapter 9: The Bone Flute
JACKPINE WAS STILL EXHILARATED from shooting down the sea monster.
“Now I’m really going to take on the Nobodaddy. I can’t wait to get back down in that Hole. I’m going to finish him off once and for all!”
“Listen to you,” Peggy teased him. “The way you talk, you’d think you were going down there on your own.”
“That’s exactly what I plan to do.”
“What are you talking about? I thought we were in this together.”
“You don’t think I’m going to let you go down there, do you?”
“Let?” Peggy sputtered. “Excuse me? Who are you to ‘let’ me do anything?”
“I’ve been down there. I know what to expect. You won’t be able to handle it. He’ll just eat you alive.”
“Well, thanks for your concern,” said Peggy sarcastically, “but I’ll make up my own mind.”
“Come on. You couldn’t pull the trigger on that musket.”
“I was about to!”
“Look, you don’t know what you’re dealing with here. It’s like he gets right inside you and messes up your head. You can’t tell his thoughts from your own. You’ve got to be tough with a creature like that. When the time is right, you have to go after him. You can’t hesitate. Not for a second! I honestly don’t think you’ve got what it takes.”
“Why? Because I’m not all eaten up with hatred inside like you are?”
He looked into her eyes with a cold, hard stare.
“Maybe hatred is something you could use a bit more of.”
They were interrupted by the sound of a prolonged tremolo wail.
Peggy felt a shiver run down her spine: the tremolo was the call Gavi used only in dire emergencies. They spied the loon at the base of the main mast and raced over to him.
“Gavi! What is it?”
But the loon continued to wail, utterly despondent.
Finally Peggy reached over and touched his wing.
“Gavi, stop! You’ve got to use words and tell us what’s wrong.”
“She is gonnne!”
Before Peggy could say anything more, they heard Lord Franklin’s voice behind them.
“Yes, we know!”
They turned to see the old captain and Molly emerging from the top of the stairs.
“Yes, she is gone, dear boy,” Sir John continued. “But we must keep a stiff upper lip and make the best of it.”
As though he hadn’t heard a word Sir John said, Gavi commenced wailing again.
“Who’s gone?” Peggy demanded.
The old man looked as though he were fighting back tears as he handed her the ship’s log with Lady Franklin’s note.
“I’m afraid it’s true. My dearest Jane has left us.”
“Left?” Peggy and Jackpine both looked bewildered. “How?”
“She is gonnnnnne!”
They were all becoming exasperated trying to make themselves heard over Gavi’s persistent wailing. Then a terrible thought gripped Peggy.
“Gavi! Where’s Mi?”
Now the loon lapsed back into his incoherent tremolo.
“Gavi! Speak words!” Peggy insisted. “Where’s Mi?”
Gavi lifted one wing and seemed to be pointing to something near the bottom of the mast.
“I was with her just a few minutes ago!” Molly cried. “Maybe the Nobodaddy took her!”
“No way,” Peggy said firmly. “She wouldn’t have been stupid enough to sing, and that’s the only way the Nobodaddy could have found her. She must be hiding somewhere.”
Gavi gestured again towards the bottom of the mast, more insistently this time. Finally Peggy looked where he was pointing, and saw something lying there. She went and picked it up.
“It’s one of those treasures she carried around – the one she calls her lucky bone.”
Finally Gavi’s speaking voice came back to him.
“Blow into it.”
“Huh?” Peggy thought she couldn’t have heard him right.
“Blow into the bone. You will see.”
Peggy lifted the bone and placed it between her lips. Automatically, her fingers moved to cover the holes and suddenly, it was clear to her what Gavi was talking about.
She lowered the bone and looked at him.
“It’s not, is it?”
“Yes,” the loon replied quietly. “It is.”
“What are you two talking about?” Molly cried impatiently.
Peggy raised the bone to her lips again, pressed her fingers over the holes and blew through it.
As air flowed through the bone, it released a distinctly musical tone.
She moved her fingers, leaving one of the holes uncovered this time, and blew again.
Then she blew a third time, leaving both holes uncovered.
“So that’s how the Nobodaddy discovered her!”
“The bone is a kind of flute. I was trying so hard to figure everything out,” Gavi cried bitterly, “but I was not paying attention to the most important thing of all! Mi tried to show me, but I kept ignoring her. And now she has been snatched away. The last of the Nordlings is gone! We are all doomed. Notherland is dooooommed.”
“It’s my fault!” Molly burst out. “I shouldn’t have left her alone on the deck!”
And Gavi wailed as if his heart would break: “Gonnnnne! Dooooommed!”
For the next few hours they all worked furiously, trying to sail the rest of the distance across the Great Polar Sea as quickly as possible. Molly took the helm, and Peggy and Jackpine trimmed the sails, while Sir John scoured the hold of the ship for fuel, hoping to get the Terror’s old coal-fired engine going again. But it was no use. The entire store had been used up long ago.
Gavi racked his brain, going over every conceivable possibility, trying to corne up with a plan. Maybe if he thought hard enough, if they could sail the Terror fast enough, they’d somehow find a way to reach the Pole before nightfall. As long as there was daylight, there was still hope.
But as darkness descended, though the Great Skyway sloped out of the sky as it always did, there was not a single Nordling to make the journey upward.
On the deck of the Terror, the gloom was almost palpable. Gavi began to berate himself.
“How stupid I am! I thought I knew so much, but I know nothing!”
To complicate matters, Sir John was still overcome with grief at the loss of his wife. Molly ran back and forth between Sir John and Gavi, trying to comfort and reassure them both. But Peggy could see that underneath the doll’s frantic efforts to raise their spirits, she was waging a fierce battle to keep from crying herself.
The spectre of almost certain failure only made Jackpine more furiously determined to make the ship go faster. But as he worked, he had a hollow look in his eyes, one that reminded Peggy of the odd feeling of familiarity she’d had when she first met him.
Peggy felt the gloom seeping through the pores of her own skin. She looked around. The Terror was now drifting aimlessly in the open sea. They had given up. It was all over. Notherland was doomed to extinction.
She was the Creator, but never had she felt so utterly powerless. The darkness deepened around her. It was as if the Hole had already swallowed them up.
She took out Mi’s bone. It felt strange to hold a flute in her hands again, even one as simple as this. Her fingers spontaneously cradled around the holes in the bone, as if they felt completely at home there. She lifted it to her lips and blew a sustained, unadorned note, sending out her sorrow in a deep, mournful cry over the vast ocean.
Then she tucked the little flute into her pocket and fell into an exhausted sleep.
It wasn’t lost after all!
She was standing in front of a store, holding her flute case. There was a sign in the window: Used Musical Instruments Bought and Sold. She went inside. It wasn’t a brightly lit store like Around Again, but a small, dingy pawnshop. She walked over to the counter and laid her flute case on it. But when she opened the case, the man behind the counter laughed out loud.
“Honey, this is just an old bone!”
She looked and saw with a shock that it wasn’t her silver flute, but a plain bone flute with jagged ends.
She looked around. The pawnshop was filled with other customers, and they were all laughing heartily and pointing to the bone flute. Humiliated, she rushed to the door, leaving the case sitting on the counter.
Someone was coming in the door of the pawnshop. It was Lady Jane! No one in the shop seemed surprised by the strange way she was dressed. In fact, no one seemed to notice her at all.
“You must go back and get your flute, “ Lady Jane said.
“Why? It’s just a worthless hunk of junk!” Peggy said bitterly.
To her surprise, Lady Jane put her arms around her and began to murmur comfortingly.
“You must not be discouraged, child. It’s a long day. A very, very long day.”
When she jerked awake, Peggy felt a momentary sense of comfort from the dream. Maybe it was a sign that things really would turn out all right. But then she could hear the man’s mocking laughter in her ears. And what did Lady Jane mean by that odd phrase “It’s a long day,” instead of “It’s been a long day”?
She realized that she’d only drifted off for a short time, since night hadn’t yet come. As she watched the sun drop lower and lower on the horizon, she felt sure that the dream was nothing but wishful thinking, an attempt to give herself one last thread of hope. One thing was certain: that thin crescent of sun was about to disappear. Strangely, her terror of night had receded. Now she was only aware of a feeling of detached curiosity.
What would happen at the moment the sun was swallowed up completely? Would Notherland itself instantly disappear? Would it grow smaller and smaller, or slowly fade away, like a scene in a movie? What would happen to Peggy herself? Would she be annihilated, or abruptly thrown back into her other life in the “real” world? How strange – just as Notherland sat poised on the edge of total extinction, it seemed far more real to her than that other life.
The tiny crescent hung there, as if in suspension. Any moment now …
Peggy blinked her eyes, and it seemed in that fraction of a second that the crescent had grown slightly larger. Were her eyes playing tricks on her?
As she watched, the sliver-sized sun did seem to be growing larger, even moving back above the horizon. But how? It couldn’t be …
“It’s a long day.”
A long day.
”A very, very long day …”
The loon lumbered across the deck towards her.
“What is it?”
“Gavi!” Peggy was so excited she could hardly speak. “Do you realize what day this is?”
Gavi stared at her, uncomprehending.
“Look!” she said, pointing to the horizon. “The sun didn’t set! I swear it didn’t! It’s rising again!”
Roused by the commotion, the others came running, too.
“The Solstice!” Gavi cried. “The endless day! The one day of the year when the sun does not set in Notherland! What a dummy I am for not thinking of it!”
He let loose with a wild, ringing loon-laugh. Sir John, Molly and Peggy looked at one another, then suddenly began to jump up and down, screaming and hugging.
“We’re saved!” Molly cried.
“Saaaaaved!” Gavi chimed in.
“Not quite,” Sir John pointed out. “But at least now we’ve got a fighting chance.”
“Not much of one,” Peggy added. “The days start getting shorter now. Without the RoryBory, as soon as that sun drops below the horizon, even for half a second, Notherland is history. That means we’ve got less than twenty-four hours to get to the Pole and figure out a way to free the Nordlings.” She called over to Sir John. “What’s our position?”
“Thunderation if I can tell!” the old captain said with exasperation. “The farther north we go, the worse havoc that blasted Pole plays with my instruments!”
“Can you figure out how soon we’ll arrive at the Pole?”
Sir John shook his head. “Not precisely. But it can’t be far.”
“True north, full speed ahead!” Molly called out heartily.
“That’s what I like to hear!” replied Sir John.
Peggy looked around. “Wait a minute! Where’s Jackpine?”
They looked at one another. In all the excitement, they hadn’t even noticed his absence.
“Jackpine?” Peggy called out. “Jackpine?”
“Look!” Molly gasped as she pointed up ahead.
The Terror’s lifeboat, which had been lashed to the side of the foredeck, was missing. On the same spot there was a single sheet of paper, tacked down with a nail. Molly retrieved the paper and handed it to Peggy. She read it quickly, then silently handed it to Sir John, who read it out loud.
Dear Peggy and crew of the Terror –
I’ve gone on by myself. I can get there faster in the small boat. This way there’s a chance I can still get to the Pole in time to get the Souls out of there, and the Nordlings, too. At least this time I don’t have to swim! Turn back while you still can. Don’t worry about me. Whatever happens, it was worth it to be free for a while, and to know you. Farewell.
Your good friend, Jackpine.
As he read, Peggy fought to control the confused jumble of emotions washing over her. Giddy excitement, that he’d addressed her by name and not the others. Anger, that he was shutting her out, trying to do it all himself. Anguish, that he’d left so abruptly, without saying goodbye, even though she might never see him again.
When Sir John finished, Molly was the first to speak. “He wants us to turn back!”
Gavi shook his head sadly. “Jackpine is very brave, but very foolish. He was defeated by the Nobodaddy once before. Alone, he may not survive a second attempt.”
“Yeah, he needs our help!” Molly declared. “I want to keep going! Don’t you, Peggy?”
Before Peggy could answer, Sir John’s booming voice broke through.
They all looked in the direction he was pointing. Off in the distance was a huge, white, irregularly shaped object.
“What is it?” Molly cried excitedly. “Land? Are we at the Pole?”
The object was tearing towards the ship at great speed. As it grew closer, Peggy could make out sharp, jagged points of ice jutting out at its base, like the blades of an enormous jigsaw.
“Iceberg!” she yelled. “Dead ahead!”
Now it was headed straight for the Terror.
It was only Molly’s quick thinking and skillful work at the helm that prevented the iceberg from taking a deep gash out of the ship. She swerved the Terror sharply to port just as the iceberg was bearing down on it, causing the ship to list badly.
It happened so quickly that the others barely had time to react. They all watched, with gaping mouths, as the huge hunk of ice barrelled towards them, and they grabbed on to whatever they could as the ship leaned perilously to one side. As soon as Sir John saw that the iceberg had bypassed the ship and they were out of danger, he called out to Molly.
“Hell of a steering job, Ensign Molly!”
But it quickly became clear that their relief was premature.
“Look!” Peggy pointed off in the distance.
There were more icebergs, perhaps dozens more.
“They must be breaking off from the ice around the Pole!” Gavi said.
“Good heavens! How are we going to steer around all of them?” Sir John cried.
He had barely finished his sentence when his voice was drowned out by a cacophony of smashing, scraping and grinding noises up ahead of them.
“They’re crashing into each other!” Peggy shouted, barely making herself heard. “Here they come! Look out!”
Two icebergs were coming at the Terror, one on either side. It seemed certain that the ship would be crushed between them. Sir John grabbed the helm as Molly dove for the mainsheet, pulling at it and catching a strong gust of wind that propelled the ship forward with such force it almost lifted it out of the water. They all looked behind and saw the two icebergs collide, creating an explosion that sent shards of ice spewing into the air around them.
As more of the huge ice-forms swarmed around the ship, sometimes looming right above their heads, Molly took the helm and steered like an experienced sailor. Her reflexes seemed almost supernaturally sharp. With Sir John at her side, guiding her every maneuver, even her blind eye caused her no problem.
Just when Molly’s concentration was beginning to give out, the sea around them grew calmer and quieter, and the icebergs began to recede behind them.
The great rim of the Hole, with billowing puffs of smoky vapor rising out of it, appeared before them.
“It looks as though Hell has frozen over,” Gavi said.
“Is that what I think it is?” Molly cried, pointing ahead.
Peggy’s heart leapt when she saw the Terror’s lifeboat, along with a pair of oars, lying beside the rim of the Hole.