As the warmth left the tundra

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This piece is a condensed adaptation of Shakespeare's King Lear, that I have transposed into the Northern wastes of Scandinavia during the 14/15 Centuries, amidst the rise of Christianity that drew people fro the land and away from their traditions.

Submitted: October 02, 2012

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Submitted: October 02, 2012

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As the warmth left the Tundra

 

The wind bit like a rabid dog, enveloping Biera in an icy hug. Shards of snow battered relentlessly against his hardened face, sometimes finding solace in its deeply set wrinkles. He stood and faced it unyielding, with a wry dry smile and reminisced fondly of his life, while the icy white forced the pine trees to bend like decrepit old men. Such was he not. Countless harsh winters had instilled instinctive strength into the Sámi people; strength matched by pride, and pride matched by honour. Biera peered out across a frozen bay revelling in the meagre sunlight. He felt a warmth that had left him, along with the sun, early last September. Three days of travelling from the winter grazing pastures had left him weary, so he cleared a patch of snow with a sprig of fir, sat, and began to hum a yoik[1]. The soothing rhythm of his song, passed down through generations of Sámi, spoke of the beauty of the land, its fragility and the importance of its preservation. The month was April, the year 1580 and Biera noticed a chill in the air, quite unlike any other, that made him shiver to his core.

 

Slightly unnerved, he rose and hastily began packing his belongings into his sled and preparing his dogs. The tranquillity of his unforgiving terrain had heightened Biera’s senses to an acute level. He drew from a blanket of hide, his drum, and began to beat a rhythm. He sang to Bieggolman, God of the summer wind and prayed for his haste in returning him home safely. Upon finishing, he picked up a handful of snow, and cast it to the wind as an offering. As the last flake merged into the white horizon, becoming one with all that Biera could see, he climbed aboard his sled and set off on the arduous three day journey back to his sieda[2], to tell of summer’s arrival and the subsequent migration to the summer grazing pastures.

 

Biera’s unexpected arrival was made possible by the silence of his transport. The runs of his sled sliced the snow effortlessly, sounding like the continuous swoop of a bird’s wing with the panting of his dogs being the only other sound to break the ethereal silence. The plume of smoke rising from the smoke hole of Biera’s lavvu slowly materialised on the horizon like a beacon, enticing him home. He slapped the reins one last time and sat back to enjoy the last few minutes of his journey. As he neared the tepee- esque structure he called home, he noticed a flash of blue, red, green and yellow bounding towards him. His heart leapt as his beloved Mára poured herself into his arms. Six days in the arctic wastes without her soul mate had almost frozen her heart solid. She gazed into his eyes through her tears as poetry spilled from her mouth, “Oh my love, the night has been selfish. She has brought me no sunlight and no love. The reindeer grow restless and tired of lichen, as do I of this relentless darkness. Tell me summer is here. Tell me Biegkegaellies has shovelled the winter back into his cave so we can see the sea once more, and feed from its fruitful waves”.

Biera hesitated before he answered. The uncertain feeling of the future from the coast had settled and fermented in his mind like mead and he’d become drunk with worry. “Yes my elderflower, summer has indeed arrived once again. Beaivi has burned through the horizon’s cruel blockade and is again on her way, but all is not right. Gather our children in the lavvu, encircle the fire. There is much I must say.”

 

After unpacking his sled and feeding the dogs on the flesh of his herd, Biera climbed inside the lavvu and sat behind the fire, facing the door. He placed his ceremonial drum upon his lap and began to sing to the myriad of Gods that make up the pantheon of Sámi beliefs. He sang to Beaivi, God of the sun and light, Maadteraahka, god of fathers and sons and to Atja, God of thunder. As he sat and hummed his dreamy song, a goddess known to us as slumber, entered the lavvu and wrapped him in her embrace.

 

Biera’s dreams danced to and fro as the heavy cross country trek took its toll. Images wound round and round in his head, like the smoke in the lavvu, searching for an exit, sometimes focusing on one memory before darting off to another. One image however, remained focused in his mind, sharp and clear as the ice on which he slept. It was of Jukkha, his childhood friend. They had spent their youths on the icy waste, slowly learning the ancient traditions and ways of their people before age and responsibility had tightened their grip. Upon coming of age each of their fathers had given them a share of their reindeer herd and bowed down from responsibility. Biera’s herd of just over 1,000 animals was his livelihood and his future. They provided his clothes, his food and gave his people a reason for their constant hovering above the Arctic Circle. They symbolised not only what Biera owned but what the Sámi people, as a whole owned.

 

Biera was lucky. 4 years previously, Jukkha chose to move his herd south in the winter, as opposed to the traditional migration route inland. The stories tell of the strange people he met, that carried piles of white leaves bound with skin and covered in strange markings. The wide eyed people from the south questioned poor Jukkha’s beliefs and bombarded him in a language so harsh and coarse his ears begged him to accept their word. They spoke of a mythical being that could bring people back from the dead and crush his petty, pagan deities in an instant. Jukkha, afraid and in an unknown place, accepted their offers. The thought of Jukkha selling his herd and discarding his traditions sent a tear cascading down Biera’s sleeping cheek. He sat patiently, aboard the sled of his dream as it carried him to a strange building full of monochrome people. All the colour had been drained from the image but there at the back sat the familiar form of Jukkha, sobbing into hands made callous from a life of work. Jukkha stood, turned around, and left the building. Biera watched from a distance as he trudged through the snow accompanied by the sound of crunching ice and sobs until he disappeared and all that could be heard was deafening silence.

 

“Father? What has happened?” Áslat’s gentle hand on his shoulder stirred Biera and he awoke to the compassionate eyes of his youngest son. “You appear so peaceful in sleep yet you cry. What have you seen father?

“Sit, my child. Dark times are upon us. Where are your brothers?” As he said this, Mára clambered through the narrow door way and placed herself beside her husband.

“They should be tending the herd, father. Mother sent them out many snowfalls ago. They know of your return so expect them soon.”

“Aah, my sons.” Biera sighed, “embodiment of the bear’s strength and the fox’s stamina. Soon, Áslat, you will come of age too and you shall share our wealth.”

 

Minutes after, as predicted, Biera’s two eldest sons, Niiklas and Mikkel fell through the flapping entrance of the lavvu, deep in conversation. Upon laying eyes on their father however, they promptly stopped and out of respect, stepped forward to kiss his cheek. Biera did not return their affection. Years of toiling on the tundra had taught him how to spot liars. His sons appeared fresh faced. The ruddy red cheeks and blanched faces typical of arctic people was beginning to disappear from his son’s complexions. They stood out like trees on a frozen lake in Biera’s eyes. Something was amiss. He chose not to address it, bade them sit on either side of him, and began to speak in the ancient language of the elders.

 

“For thousands of winters and thousands of summers, our people have traversed this cold land, never wanting. Thousands before me have made the journey to the coast, to witness the melting of the sea, and returned with news of encroaching sun, light and warmth. Thousands before me have returned and taken their families and herd to the coast to fill their bellies with fish and their reindeer’s with lush green grass. They have cast off the shackles of winter but today my family, I find myself bound in shackles I cannot cast off. While I sat and hummed to our ancient gods, in thanks for my safe journey, the wind turned. The freshness of the air was tainted with a smell I have never known. The snow under my feet begged me to hurry home. Upon my return I have slept and dreamt of Jukkha. A story as known to everybody now, as the rabbit turns white come winter.” Niiklas and Mikkel eyed each other nervously while their younger brother and mother looked on, intently and visibly moved. Niiklas scratched the small rectangular bulge in his pocket.

 

“I believe our ways of life are at risk. Now, more than ever, we must sing to Beaivi for the sunlight to guide us through this dark wood. We must sing to Lieaibolammai, to give us strength in the hunt and I, personally, will sing to Juoksahkka , to protect my children and our unity.” He took Niiklas and Mikkel’s hands in his and spoke to Áslat.

 

“My youngest son. I look upon you with a fondness only a father can possess. You are loyal and true, like the runs on my sled but your age, for now, hinders you.” He then looked at Niiklas and then at Mikkel. “However, my eldest sons, you have now come of age and are ready. I am going to bestow upon you the great honour my father bestowed upon me, and his father upon him, and every father that has ever found himself in this cold desolate wasteland”. The words that left Biera’s mouth were uncertain and faltering. “I am sharing our wealth between you. I believe that you two, with your youth, strength and vitality have the power to stand up to these strange people from the south and carry our traditions and values into the future. Innumerable times have we emerged from the depths of winter and once again seen the sun. It is with this philosophy and an ancient proverb I give you both my herd, my wealth, your future.’ Áslat’s eyes peeled with jealousy and fright but respect held his tongue. He knew exactly where his brothers had been and had recently overheard them talking in the abrasive tongue of the south. 

 

Biera wiped the tears from his deep set, all knowing eyes and stumbled over the fire into the blizzard. Feeling older than he ever had he harnessed the two eldest dogs to his sled. He pulled from his pocket a knife with a handle of antler bone. It was crafted by Jukkha’s fair hand and given to him on the summer equinox many years before. He kissed it, slid it carefully back into its sheath and in silence, disappeared into the white.



[1] Traditional song, thought to invoke the spirits that inhabit the three sectors of Sámi beliefs: the realms of hell, the earthly world and the heavens above.

[2] Sieda- Family, but can also used to mean the lavvu i.e. the communal hut in which they live.

 


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