"North" by Joseph Fick

Chapter 55 A Dangerous Man p578~584

Traveling with two sleds and a lesser number of dogs,
they had departed a week earlier from the Pole. Tired
and spirits low, there wasn’t much in the way of
conversation between the men. All of their motions were
automatic and instinctive. They didn’t argue with each
other or try to place blame, they just didn’t have the
energy. They moved as if in a trance and stopped in a like
manner. If a man needed to pee, they stopped. If
something needed to be tightened on the sled, they
stopped. If someone was tired or needed to lace
something, they stopped. They moved forward, they
stopped. They moved forward, they stopped.
Dunn was walking before the Polar party on its weary
way home and was the first to see the solitary figure far
ahead of them, stopped and waiting. The second mate
didn’t know if this meant trouble or not. “Captain,” called
the ice master, “Up ahead there, sir…”
Mason called a halt and staggered to where Dunn was
standing. “Who in the Sam hell, do ya think that is?”
asked the Captain.
Keelut was alone, like he always was. The men whose
lives he had spared, had left him while he slept, not that
he cared. He didn’t need them, not for this final act. He
alone would have his vengeance against the man who
had taken his wife and his people, who had destroyed his
life. Allawah wasn’t much of a wife but it looked bad that
Peter had just taken her the way he did, though he
imagined most would see her as a cast off that Keelut
was better off without. Oh! And that sister of his, that
witch, Ahnah! When Keelut was finished with Peter, she
was next, one could be sure of that! That woman was
truly responsible for his problems, everybody knew it
was so. He knew the path the men would probably take
on their return, so he waited, sharpening his knife, the
embers of hate burning slowly within.
“What do you make of that?” asked Hollister coming up
behind Mason and Dunn.
Dunn shrugged his shoulders and Mason shook his
head. “Can’t be any of our people,” said the captain, “at
least I don’t think so, we’re not close enough yet.”
Dunn shook his head as well, “Aesop wouldn’t send just
one man to meet up with us.”
“Maybe it’s a hunter,” suggested Hollister.
“No,” said Peter joining the group, “Not this far out,
alone.”
The figure began to move toward them. “We’ll know
soon enough,” said Mason.
“I got a bad feeling about this,” said Dunn.
“Me too,” said Hollister.
They waited for the object of their interest to come to
them. Within forty minutes he was close enough to
communicate.
“PETER!” called an angry voice.
“Christ! I knew it! It’s that God damn Kelut!” said
Dunn grabbing a rifle. “I’ll shoot the son of a bitch now
and we’ll be done with him.”
“Hold on there Dunn,” said Mason. “He came out here
for a reason, let’s hear him out.”
“Well, you know it ain’t good Captain. I say we just
finish him off here.”
“I’m inclined to agree with Isaac on this one Captain,”
said Hollister.
“Peter!” shouted the voice again.
“Well, whatever he wants, he wants to discuss it with
Peter,” said Mason.
“I don’t think he wants to talk to me,” said Peter with a
sad smile. He rested his rifle on the sled and pulled out
his knife, “but I’ll go see what he wants.”
Mason shook his head “No wait. He came out here
alone, he’s gotta have a reason.” Mason cupped his hands
and shouted, “That’s far enough!” The Eskimo stopped.
“He does have a reason Captain Mason,” said Peter
simply. “He wants to kill me.”
“What do you want?” called Mason. “Where’s Wacha?”
Keelut gave a harsh laugh. “He’s dead. Been dead for
awhile, I killed him. I just want Peter, that’s all.”
Mason shook his head. He believed Wacha was dead,
he had no doubt about that. “You came all this way just
for him? That’s paying him a high compliment.”
“Just Peter! The rest of you can go,” the Eskimo
sounded desperate almost pathetic.
Mason shook his head. Keelut was outnumbered and
alone. “Allowing” them to go was a useless bargaining
chip. Peter touched Mason’s parka sleeve.
“I must go Captain.”
Mason looked at their guide and friend. “You don’t have
to go Peter. You don’t need to impress us and you owe
him nothing.”
Peter shook his head, “Not to impress you or any debt
to him. For myself.”
“Captain, don’t let him go,” said Dunn. “Peter, don’t do
it!”
“I have to go Isaac.”
Mason nodded his head, he understood. “Let ‘im go. It’s
something he has to do.”
Peter moved forward, his mukluks crunching the snow
as he walked. It was a steady sound and there was some
comfort in that. A steady reliable sound that calmed him
and allowed him to remember.
Keelut came forward as well, leaving his rifle at the
sled as Peter had done. There was only one true way to
settle this, they both knew that.
They both stopped when they could see each other’s
faces clearly. Peter hadn’t seen his rival in a long time.
The years of hard drinking showed clearly in Keelut’s
appearance, his face, lined and worn. Peter’s face could
not hide his surprise.
“It doesn’t look good does it?” he said pointing to his
face. “And it’s all your doing. You and that bitch half
breed sister you got!”
Peter just shook his head. “With you it is always the
same words. After so long, I wonder if you really believe
it, that all around you are responsible for your
problems.”
Keelut glared at the younger man. He would make him
suffer. Yes, he would do that, regardless of the three men
behind him, the Eskimo would suffer before he died.
“Your misfortunes are of your own making Keelut. You
have made others suffer because of your own selfishness.
The hurt and pain all start with you.”
Keelut growled and lunged forward with his knife in
his hand. Peter avoided the blade and because of his
heavy clothing, kicked his attacker with some difficulty
in the side. Keelut fell but was quickly back on his feet.
“Not bad Peter but you’ll have to do better than that,”
he laughed, “and I’m sure you can’t.”
Peter had his knife out and the two men circled each
other like wild animals, thrusting and parrying their
weapons. Sometimes one or the other would get lucky, a
slice to a limb, a nick to the face. Blood and sweat mixed
together and dripped into the snow. Finally in a fit of
rage, Keelut ran at Peter who responded by burying his
knife into the Inuit’s stomach. Peter held the surprised
Keelut and gently lowered him to the bloodstained snow.
Keelut coughed and smiled, blood running from his
mouth. “You’ll never make it back,” said the dying man.
“Your supplies are gone, I made sure of that. Your death
is as assured as mine is now.”
“It didn’t have to be this way Keelut, things could’ve
been different.”
Keelut looked at his old friend. “Maybe, but this is the
way it ended.” Keelut’s head fell to one side, he was dead.
Peter laid Keelut into the snow and stood up. Mason and
the others walked toward him. The ship’s captain looked
at the two bloody Eskimos, one standing, the other dead.
“Captain,” said Peter. “I have some bad news…” and
then he collapsed.

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