"North" by Joseph Fick

Chapter 44 The Dead p501~506

The service was small and nothing elaborate. The
shrouded bodies of Higgins, Walker and Jones deserved
better MacDonald knew but he had a lot on his mind and
thought it would be better for all concerned to get this
sad duty over as quickly as possible. In the future, they
might not even have this simple luxury for those who
might pass on. While six armed men stood guard three
others quickly covered the bodies with snow. It was
difficult not to think of the same situation eighteen years
before aboard the SPIDER.
With the burial mounds completed and with the rough
wooden crosses planted at the head of each grave,
MacDonald spoke. “Lord we ask that you accept the souls
of Daniel Higgins, Richard Walker and Sidney Jones into
your heavenly kingdom.” He paused for a moment. “They
were good men and for whatever reason you had, you
chose them to return from whence they came, in
innocence and goodness. Watch over them and bless
them. Amen.”
“Amen,” came the quiet voices around the graves.
“Alright, we’re done out here. Everybody back to the
ship,” said MacDonald in what sounded like a heartless
command by a man lacking any compassion for fallen
shipmates but that was not so with the acting captain of
the SHY LADY. It was his concern for the crew and Inuit
who were still alive that made him sound the way he did.
He had no desire to lose any more people.
Walking aboard the ship, he could see those aboard
looking at him, wondering what was going to happen
next and how the captain was going to handle it. The
faces showed fear and uncertainty. MacDonald needed to
be strong and decisive. He called for Denhard to meet
him in the captain’s cabin which he quickly entered and
closed the door. Pulling out a bottle of whiskey Mason
had in the cupboard, he poured himself a stiff one and
downed it quickly. There was a knock on the door.
“Enter,” said MacDonald.
The door opened and Denhard entered. “You wanted to
see me, Mr. MacDonald?”
The first mate nodded his head and gestured toward a
chair, “Have a seat, Denhard.”
The boat steerer sat down and MacDonald poured him
a drink. “Higgins is dead,” he said without any preamble.
“I want you to take the position of third mate.”
Denhard took a sip of his drink and nodded, “Same
conditions as what Higgins had, right?”
MacDonald shook his head. The ship’s officers had been
paid half up front. The crew had received an advance
before they left and everyone would be paid the balance
owed on return.
“You’ll get half of Higgins’ share when we get back to
New Bedford,” said the black man. “That’s the deal, take
it or leave it.”
Denhard nodded, it was a fair piece of change the mate
was offering, even at half. He’d be a fool to turn it down.
“Alright, I’ll take it. Beats anything I’ll make as a boat
steerer on this trip.”
“Yeah, that’s true,” said MacDonald. “Just you
remember, we don’t get back, you don’t get paid.”
“I hear ya,” said the new third.
“Good. Now about the people that attacked us. It
looked to me like they were pretty well organized. I
doubt they will stop where they did. We’ll continue with
the armed watches on deck. This cabin is good sized and
safe. We’ll bring the medical supplies in here and if
people are injured or wounded, we’ll treat ‘em here.”
“Alright, sir.”
“Any questions?” asked MacDonald.
“Only one, sir,” said Denhard. “If we’ve been attacked
by thirty men so far, what about Captain Mason and the
others?”
“I don’t know,” said MacDonald, who had been
wondering the same thing, “I wish I knew.”
Ahnah sat forward near the heavy iron try pots. She
had posted herself there earlier to watch the brief
ceremony that had been held on the ice. She was sorry
that Higgins was gone, she liked the young mate and
was sad that his woman would never see him again. She
blamed herself in a way, thinking that she could have
prevented what had happened had she seen it but that
was the problem, she hadn’t. She had had uneasy
feelings of her brother, Dunn and Keelut but before the
attack, nothing of the SHY LADY and her crew. Now of
course it was different, it was hard to concentrate on
anything but another attack and she like many others,
was frightened. For so long she had wished her gift gone,
now she was afraid to be without it. Sedna found her
daughter forward and quietly sat down near her.
“You are troubled,” said the older woman stating a
simple fact.
Ahnah turned toward her mother. “I did not see the
misfortune that fell upon this ship and its people.”
Her mother nodded, “You have been concerned about
your brother and the one called Dunn. It is only natural
that you could not see the most recent events that have
fallen upon this vessel.”
Ahnah nodded, “I still feel responsible. I wish I could
tell Aesop who they were.”
Sedna cocked her head to the side. “I think I might
know.”
Ahnah sighed. “I as well mother. There were stories,
but…well, I did not think he was still alive.”
Sedna laughed. “Lak dead?” she shook her head, “I
hardly think so. My brother was always a hard man to
kill.”
“And he’s the only one who could gather this many
men,” said Ahnah. “What if he knew you or I were here?
Maybe he would stop, after all we are family.”
Sedna shook her head. “No, Lak’s bitterness is deep.
Family means little to him now. Besides, if Keelut is with
him, he knows of our presence here.”
“Was he always such?”
Her mother shook his head. “No, not always. At one
time he had a family and was a happy man but then he
and his family disappeared. I saw him once after that, he
never spoke of his wife and child, something changed in
him. If he is responsible for what has happened, I fear
the worst.”
“We should tell Aesop, he should know,” said her
daughter.
Sedna shrugged her shoulders, “Maybe but I don’t see
what difference it would make.”
“Still, we tell Aesop, it might help.”
An hour later they were sitting in the SHY LADY’s
main dining area telling MacDonald, who sat quietly
drinking a cup of Ed’s coffee, who they thought their
attacker might be.
“So, this Lak, might be the one responsible for the
assault.”
“Maybe Aesop, we don’t know for sure.”
“You said you thought he might have died before, why
do you think he’s here now?”
Sedna spoke to her daughter, after a few minutes
Ahnah translated. “For many years nothing was heard of
Lak. No family or friends, everything he was involved in
just stopped. The word at the trading post was that he
was dead, wife and child too. No one heard anything for a
long, long time. Then maybe three seasons past, word
was out about a large raiding band attacking and
stealing from others. People say it was Lak. He beat
death, he takes all.”
“Why is he attacking this ship?” asked MacDonald.
Ahnah sighed. “I don’t know Aesop. The ship is valuable,
maybe to capture it would show his power, his
importance.”
“To who for Godsakes?”
“The other bands, maybe. This would show others he
could defeat the outsiders. Others would live in fear and
would give or do whatever they were ordered to do.”
“Maybe,” said MacDonald. “If it is this Lak, how long
will he continue?”
Ahnah referred the question to her mother, whose
answer was short and not the one MacDonald wanted to
hear.
“Until he gets what he wants,” said the old woman.

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