"North" by Joseph Fick

Chapter 51 Blood on the Ice p549~556

Another ridge. Another damn ridge. It wasn’t too high
or steep but it was enough to slow them down, even a
small delay could be dangerous at this point.
“Wonderful!” said Mason, kicking a small pile of snow.
“Just fucking great!”
Dunn climbed up on the uneven ice, looking for a pass.
The ridges were frustrating and the tempers of all were
getting shorter the longer they were out.
Hollister pulled back his fur hood. Four days since the
storm had passed. Four days they had been on the move
trying to make up for lost time. Hollister looked at Dunn
on the ridge and then to Mason, calmly smoking a cigar,
waiting for the second mate’s report. Peter, never in a
rush, chewing on some seal meat.
“Well,” called Mason, “What do ya see Isaac?” Dunn
held up his hand, signaling them to wait a moment and
walked further down the ridge. “If he’s up there any
longer, we should just pitch our tent here,” said Mason
irritably.
Hollister grinned, there was just something about the
way Mason said his last statement. “I thought two days
in the tent would have been enough for you Captain,” he
said.
Mason gave a short laugh, “Yeah, well ya got me there
Jack.”
“Captain, how far north are we exactly?”
Mason smiled. “From my calculations earlier and
confirmed by Dunn,” Mason took a moment to pause.
“Well, Jack, we are farther north than any man has ever
been… in the 19th century that is.”
Hollister smiled, “Well, I guess that’s something at
least.”
“Mason looked around, “I’m wondering if it’s even
worth it, Jack. There’s nothing out here.”
“You saw the map,” said Hollister, “and we haven’t
reached the pole yet sir.”
“True, but what we’ve seen or rather haven’t seen,
doesn’t fill me with much confidence.”
Hollister shook his head. “We’re not there yet Captain.”
Mason nodded his head and laughed, “You keep the
faith Jack, somebody has too.”
Dunn came back, slid down the ridge and pointed.
“Down that way to the right, about a hundred yards,” he
said. “There’s an opening we can pull the sleds through.
It’s a bit rough on the initial incline but I’m thinking
once we get that first sled over, it shouldn’t take much
time at all.”
Mason patted the second mate on the shoulder, “Good
job, Isaac.” He turned to Peter and pointed, “100 yards or
so, that way, Isaac says there’s an opening.”
Peter nodded and along with the others began to move
their sleds into position.
From a distance, Thah and Keelut watched the men
they were chasing. Keelut shook his head and smiled,
“We have them now.” Thah nodded, “I agree, now is the
time.” he signaled the others with them to take their
positions. There was no great strategy involved. Thah
would led five from the left and Keelut, five from the
right. What they didn’t know about was the opening
Dunn had found. From their vantage point they couldn’t
see it and thought that the outsiders were still looking
for an opening in the ridge. As far as the Inuit knew, the
men they were pursuing were trapped.
They approached in plain view, driving the sleds fast.
The sooner they finished this, the better. Then, as they
came closer, Thah saw what the outsiders were driving
their dogs to, a break in the ridge. “Hurry!” shouted
Thah. “They found an opening!”
Peter saw the sleds behind them and catching
Hollister’s attention, gestured with his head. Hollister
nodded and wiped his nose. “Captain, Isaac, we got
company!”
Dunn and Mason, pushing another sled from behind
jerked their heads in the direction the other two men
were pointing. “Well,” said Mason, “we’re finally gonna
see who our shadow is.” He pulled a rifle from the sled
and checked to make sure it was loaded. “Isaac, get up
there and help ‘em get those sleds through.”
Dunn ran forward. “Come on!” he shouted, “we gotta
get these sleds through!” The dogs barked excitedly and
panted as the men pushed the first sled through the
opening and turned it over. The gunfire of their pursuers
easily heard in the dry air. “Peter!” shouted Dunn. “Grab
your rifle and help the Captain. Jack and I will get the
second sled.”
Peter quickly nodded his head and taking his rifle in
hand, he ran to the third sled Mason had overturned and
had took cover behind. “Do you need help Captain?”
Mason grinned. “You might say that Peter.” He turned
to see how Dunn and Hollister were doing with the
loaded sled. They were obviously have more trouble with
the second sled. “Do you know who these guys are?”
Peter shook his head, “No Captain but I think they
killed Goodman, maybe Wacha as well.”
“Yeah, maybe,” said Mason. “I can’t really think of
anybody else at the moment.”
“I don’t think they are good hunters, their shots are
short.”
Mason nodded. “Wait till they get within range.”
“Of course, Captain,” said Peter.
Dunn and Hollister succeeded in pushing the second
sled through the ridge opening and placing it safely out
of harm’s way, took their weapons and joined Peter and
Mason.
“Any idea who these guys might be?” asked Dunn.
Mason shook his head. “No, so we shoot first and ask
questions later.”
“Captain,” said Hollister, “we don’t even know who they
are?”
“Yeah, I know Jack, we’re about to find out!” Mason
fired the first, it’s trajectory low, the bullet missed its
intended target, the driver and instead hit the lead dog
of the sled, slowing it down. Soon the other men were
firing reducing the numbers coming at them and forcing
the oncoming sleds to finally stop and be turned over so
the attackers could achieve some cover from the shots
delivered by the polar party.
“Great!” said Hollister. “Them over there and us over
here.”
“Anybody get a look at their numbers?” asked Mason.
In the dark, they were hard to make out.
Dunn counted the sleds. “I’m figuring anywhere from
ten to fifteen, Captain!”
Mason nodded. “Yeah, ok. Let’s go with the high
number. They have us flanked, is that the correct
expression Mr. Hollister?”
Hollister nodded, “It is Captain.”
“Ok,” said Mason. “Options at this point are a bit
limited. Isaac, you and Jack concentrate alternating fire
to the sleds on the left, Peter and I will do the same on
the right, unless some-body has a better idea.”
When no one spoke, he nodded his head. “Ok, let’s do
it!” Though they were outnumbered, Mason’s party had
better fire discipline. In a matter of twenty minutes,
three Eskimos on the right flank of overturned sleds had
been killed, Thah wounded badly and one on the left,
dead, three others seriously injured. Keelut shouted to
Lak’s appointed one. “We can take them!”
Thah looked at the failed Inuit with annoyance. He
was in extreme pain and bleeding badly he doubted that
he had much time left. “Don’t you see what is happening
around us?”
Keelut looked wildly about, “They are becoming more
weak, do you not see?!”
With effort Thah pulled his rifle up and pointed it at
Keelut. I see you dead if you challenge me. Now, we will
pull back to the sled further back. If you disagree with
me I’ll kill you.”
“They’ll be out of range!” protested Keelut.
“So will we!” said Thah, stating the obvious.
Mason and his group watched the surviving members
of the attacking party retreat. “How many?” asked
Mason, counting.
Dunn looked over the sled, “Looks to be about eight,
Captain.”
“Three look wounded,” added Hollister.
“Should we go after them?” asked Peter.
Mason shook his head, “No, let’s keep going. We can’t
afford any more delays.”
The men righted the sled while Peter kept watch for
any further acts of aggression. The three others pushed
the sled through the opening they had found. Once they
were through Mason ordered the other sleds righted.
“Alright, they’re hurt and we need to find the next depot.
Let’s put distance between us.” No one voiced any
disagreement and the four men and the sleds continued
their journey.
They were gone, Keelut could see that. Obviously they
had found a break in the ridge. “We should go after
them.”
Thah, looking pale, coughed and shook his head. “Not
now, later.”
Keelut shrugged his shoulders. He could kill Lak’s man
right now and be done with him but the others might not
look upon such action as a generosity. The son of a bitch
would be dead soon enough. Best to bide his time. Over
the next three hours Thah and another injured man died.
Keelut was tired of waiting. Two men were some distance
away, pissing in the snow, two others were closer. Pulling
out his rifle he walked to where one of the men was
sitting on an overturned sled away from the others to
cover the skinning of dead dogs for meat. Keelut shot
him. Another injured man tried to crawl away but Keelut
dispatched him just as quickly. Hearing the shots the
Inuit farthest away hurried back towards their weapons
only to find Keelut sitting on an overturned sled, the
others dead and he with all the weapons.
“You work for me now,” was all he said. The two men
nodded. They had little choice.

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