Sample Chapter: Raven Woman
Chapter 1 ~
The girl saw no familiar trees, no tall peaks of
snow-covered mountains, only flat whiteness surrounding
them. Someone shrieked and the sound carried back to her.
She turned to watch in stunned fascination as the last boat
gave a mighty lurch against a pounding wave and rolled in
slow grace so that only the bottom bobbed on the surface.
The second boat did the same, causing a neck-snapping jolt
transmitting to the two remaining vessels. They tipped
sideways for a long, terrifying moment before they bounced
back into place.
Fear had not touched her yet. Her father, the leader of the
group, would make it all right. He always had.
Ragged chunks of ice struck the sides of the wide skin boats
and the wind howled and danced over the water.
Women and children huddled together, their mouths open in
unspoken cries of fright.
The men stoutly braced themselves
against the movement of the heaving sea. Tawny skin
stretched over their facial bones in expressions of grim
The men knew Ugruk’s power.
The four boats lashed by ropes of rolled hides leaped into
the mist. The leader was a landsman, nuunamiut. He had no
way of knowing that tying them together only increased the
danger, making the boats harder to maneuver.
Children with round black eyes filled with terror clung
close to their mother’s fur clad leggings. They made no
sound. A child of the Arctic learned early in life to be
still in the presence of danger. The babies, tucked away
snugly inside the hoods of their mother’s jackets, stayed
dry and warm.
Winter wind suddenly whipped in from another direction,
skimming over the ice-choked water in short, vigorous gusts.
The pale sun had long since disappeared causing the sky and
the water at the horizon to blend into a murky gray color.
The water that sprayed over the boats turned to ice,
plastered onto exposed eyebrows and eyelashes, ringing the
long hairs of their wolf skin hoods.
The leader muttered words to placate Ugruk, the one who lay
at the bottom of the sea. It was possible the creature would
feast well upon their flesh today. The thought made the
leader’s body twist with a shudder of revulsion. For a
nuunamiut to perish at sea was the ultimate tragedy. His
bones would haunt his kinsmen forever in their desire to be
covered with earth in the shadows of the huge forest trees.
She sucked in her breath, not minding the frigid air that
rattled inside her chest. Her uncles, cousins, aunts—a third
of their village—had ridden in the four boats.
The remaining nuunamiut gazed at the black water in
disbelief. Only lances and pieces of hunting equipment
danced on the water as if taking on a life of their own. As
they watched, black heads popped to the surface, staying
only briefly before sinking from sight.
Huddled in the boat, the girl sat too far away to see the
faces of her drowning kinsmen, but she sensed their agony.
Her father signaled to someone in the second boat and a man
bent to cut the connecting rope. The two overturned boats
had been discarded like so much driftwood in an attempt to
save the two remaining. Her mother bumped against her
shoulder, to get her attention. The round shape of baby
brother showed plain beneath the soft pliancy of her
mother’s fur hood. The girl closed her eyes, wishing she too
could be safe next to the remembered moist warmth of her
The mother yanked off the girl’s mitten and pressed an
object into her palm, closing her fingers over it tightly
until she winced with the pain. It was the family’s
treasured ikiiak, a feather from the Raven who had watched
over their people since the beginning of time. Her mother
never removed the charm from the little leather pouch which
hung around her neck. The girl opened her mouth to question
just as a swell of water mixed with chunks of ice leaped up
at them like some terrible living thing.
Was it Ugruk? In her terror she imagined him coming for
them. The girl felt strong hands pushing her to the bottom
of the boat. Her mouth and nose filled with dirty slush
water. She struggled against panic. She could not find any
place to put her breath. It would surely leave and she would
die in the bottom of the boat.
Then there was nothing but merciful darkness.
Strange voices penetrated her stupor when the girl slowly
became conscious of her surroundings. She lay spread on her
back in the bottom of the boat. Where were her mother and
father, her brother and sisters? She leaped to her feet,
expecting to see the fearsome waves and feel the sharp cut
of the wind. The boat beneath her remained steady, the air
still and cold. Her sudden movement brought babbles and
moans from many voices. She turned in the direction of the
sound to see a tightly packed group of fur-clad people step
back in alarm.
Strangers from the other side! She was a wiivaksaat, a dead
person! Terror gripped her insides and twisted cruelly.
The crowd gradually edged toward her again. Was her mother
and father among them? Were they teasing her, hiding as in a
game children played? It might not be so terrible to be dead
if they were all together. She rubbed her mittens into her
eyes to see across the blinding sharp whiteness of the snow.
The sun sprayed a pale warmth over the scene. She struggled
to stand on wobbly legs.
A man ventured close enough to reach a finger out to touch
her. The girl trembled but did not retreat. When the people
saw the man still standing and unharmed, they rushed
forward, each touching the child with probing, questioning
fingers. With sudden insight, the girl knew they too had
thought her a spirit. She was alive!
She crawled out of the boat, tottering on the snowy ground
as if taking her first baby steps. She felt weak; her
stomach growled in hunger. A ring of faces surrounded her.
Their dark-eyed expressions and tawny skins were much like
that of her own people, but she was taller than even the
tallest man standing before her.
“Where are my kinsmen?” the girl asked, trying not
to cry. It would have shamed her father to see his daughter
show the weakness of tears in front of strangers.
The crowd began to talk, the sound came to her as a low,
muttering hum. Her distress subsided momentarily as
curiosity took hold of her emotions. These might be the tareumiut, people who lived by the sea. Hunters from her
village brought back stories about these strange people who
were able to slay giant fish. Sometimes the hunters traded
caribou meat for skins filled with fat from the water
A few of the men wore round white objects in the bottom of
their lips, much like the men in her clan put sharp little
bones from the white goose through the tip of an ear.
“Umiak?” One of the men pointed to the boat.
She did not recognize the word, yet she slowly began to
realize that much of their conversation sounded familiar. In
spite of her resolve, tears overflowed her eyes and ran down
her cheeks when she tried to speak. She used hand gestures
to tell them of her people coming in boats from a long
distance, searching for caribou that were scarce this
season. She made motions to indicate the tossing sea, the
bobbing boats and rolled her hands around each other to show
how they all turned over. It was then she remembered the
charm her mother pressed into her hand and pulled off her
There in her palm, almost as if it had become a part of her
skin, lay the black, crumpled feather from the powerful tulugaak, the Raven. The crowd gave a concerted gasp and
stepped back. She did not care about the strange reaction of
the people. Instead, her thoughts turned to the mother who
had placed this charm in her palm. Her head lowered until
chin touched chest and a muffled sob escaped her tightly
Where are her people? Why have they not come to be with her?
She turned to face the water, hoping to see them magically
walk up from the shore.
She had no time to worry for suddenly an excited murmuring
started from the back of the group. The crowd separated in
the wake of an apparition striding toward her. She leaned
against the boat for support. Her throat dried so that she
gulped at the air, striving for calm.
It was the angakuk. The shaman.
In her village everyone feared the shaman and yet trusted
their lives to his magic powers. He picked up the amulet
lying against his chest, waving it at her. With one hand he
swung the dried leg of a loon to ward off any dangerous
spirits she might have brought with her.
He was taller than the others, and when he stood before her,
their eyes were nearly of the same level. He raised his
voice in a high pitched chant, causing fear to sour on her
tongue. She swallowed convulsively.
Circling her again and again with a maniacal frenzy, he bit
the insides of his mouth, producing foamy spittle mixed with
blood at the corners of his lips. The center of his lower
lip held the largest ornament of any of the men, carved in
the shape of a seal.
“This one may not be a human being as we are.” His
high, sharp voice carried above the constant murmuring of
the crowd. Many of his words sounded strange, some she
recognized. It was plain he told them she was not of their
“She is in the guise of a helpless girl. It is a
deception practiced on the gullible. She must be a dangerous
ilitkosiq, a trouble maker from the other side!” He
looked out over the sea and waved the loon leg. A movement
rippled across the calm surface of the water. Wavelets began
at the shoreline, gathering force as they leaped and lunged
over one another as if in haste to get to shore. A huge wave
crashed down on the beach, coming from nowhere. The
gathering of people leapt back, huddling closer to one
another for comfort. Some moaned in fear.
The girl felt her knees weaken and tried to hold herself
straight. She could not be a visitor from the dead. Her
talisman, the Raven feather, would not have followed to the
other side. Totems were only for human protection. She
momentarily tucked her fear behind her curiosity to watch
Even though he wore baggy sealskin trousers, making him look
to be as round as the others, the girl could tell he was
thin as the birds that ran along the shore finding insects.
His bony chin was picked clean of hairs, as was every man’s,
but his eyebrows were allowed to sprout in every direction.
Some of the longer hairs drooped down into his eyes, mixing
with his lashes. He wore only a birdskin vest on his chest
to signify his power over the cold. Countless greasy meals
and the dried blood of animals stained the vest.
She had heard tales of other villages in which shaman seldom
permitted water to touch their body or their
clothing-thinking water diminished their powers.
His eyes stunned the girl, piercing through her like a
lance, pinning her to one place. She felt certain those
black eyes knew her every thought. Bloodshot veins almost
filled the white area and reminded the girl of caribou
brains spilled onto the snow. His long, thin nose hooked
down toward his coarse, full lips which were spread in a
horrible grimace. Snags of chipped, rotted teeth showed just
above the gumline.
Her voice shattered the silence. “I am not of the wiivaksaat!”
“Who are you? What are you called?” A woman stood
a little closer than the others. The girl turned away from
the shaman to look at her. She was by far the fattest person
in the village. Her eyes were swallowed by her round cheeks,
but the malicious glare from the slits of her eyes was more
frightening than the look of the shaman. Her low forehead
creased with a sullen scowl which sat comfortably upon her
face as if it belonged there.
“Sarquaaq!” The shaman pointed at the woman.
“This is not your place to question first. It is too
The girl felt surprise at the placating whine in the
shaman’s voice. She wished to tell them her name as a sign
of friendliness and that her clan was called the tornit. She
dared not. Once a name was spoken she would be in their
power. Among her people, a person’s soul was wrapped inside
his name. One did not surrender it to strangers.
She remembered how often the sick changed their names so the
bad spirits would not know them and might leave them alone.
The girl shook her head, her eyes sad, but her mouth settled
into a stubborn line in front of clenched teeth.
“Leave her here!” The shaman’s voice screeched out
over the murmur of the crowd. “This is a dangerous
place! I feel many ilitkosiq, dead souls, all around us, in
the water, creeping toward shore! Soon they will crawl out
upon the land, searching for this one.”
The girl understood that he spoke of her people by the way
he shook his rattle toward the dark water and then at the
skin boat lying on the beach. The thought came that it might
be better if they left her here alone to wait for her
father. He was out there, he would surely come for her. She
knew some of her people had perished, she had seen their
heads bobbing in the icy water. She shivered in fright to
think of climbing back into the boat and entering the water
with souls of her departed family swimming beneath her.
An ancient crone moved up to stand by the one called
Sarquaaq. She was small enough to be a spirit. “An old
person feels shame that her daughter stupidly asks a
stranger to surrender her name.” Her shadow was no
larger than one of her daughter’s mammoth legs yet she
seemed not the least intimidated.
“You call yourselves Inuit—the men. Yet you are afraid
of a child? This one is not from the land beyond. We have
seen people of her clan in our journeys. She is of the
tornit, those with the strength of a bear and tall as the napaktuk, trees.”
The group stirred restlessly, not knowing who to believe.
When the old one’s husband was alive, she went with him on
many journeys, for he had been a wanderer. Few of them had
ever seen a tree, but all had heard of these wonders.
She leaned fearlessly toward the girl, touched her cheek and
then touched the boat. “She has a name now. The girl
comes from the sea in an umiak. Her name will be
Umiak.” She turned to speak to her as if they were the
only two in the village. “Ooo-mee-ack. It is a pleasant
word, you will like it for a name.” She moved to stand
in front of the people, ignoring the shaman. “She is
young, her soul not yet formed. She offers no harm.”
The shaman glared, his eyes suspicious. “A child? She
is big for a child. I say she is a mother who has lost
children to ‘Sednah in the water’. Her kinsmen will rise
from the water and find her. I may not have enough magic to
protect you against the danger!”
The people muttered with fear at the mention of Sednah. Some
moved away with their families, but most stayed, eyes bright
The old woman wiped her furred sleeve under her runny nose
which was turning red from the cold. The sky had changed to
an ugly brown. A storm was coming.
“An old woman is not afraid, even if some men
are.” A shocked expression came over the watcher’s
faces with this outright disregard of the shaman’s commands.
For a long moment the girl’s life hung by the silence
between the old woman and the shaman.
“What of the lances, harpoons and other treasures that
our people have gathered from the water? These belong to the
girl,” someone in the crowd spoke. The shaman knew
curiosity had overpowered their fear and he had lost.
The shaman glared at Umiak and the old woman, his bony chin
tilted with arrogant pride. His voice calm, more frightening
than his screams and shouts.
She had made a powerful enemy.
“I must examine the weapons. They may contain spirits
to bring mischief makers and thus poor hunting. The girl
will come with me. If she has born children we must return
her to this place and leave her to join her dead
family,” the shaman warned.
Hands began to strip off Umiak’s soggy jacket. Someone
handed her a dry fur. She slipped her arms into the icy cold
sleeves, shivering until her body heat warmed the inside. It
felt so good not to be wet, although her boots were still
The old woman spoke to her, her ancient voice cracked in
places as would a piece of folded hide in the cold.
“Umiak.” The grandmother pointed a finger into her
chest and said it again.
“Ooo-mee-ack,” the girl repeated politely. So, it
appeared she would not be left for Ugruk. They called the
water creature Sednah. Could Ugruk and Sednah be the same
creatures? Now they had given her a name. She knew it had to
do with the skin boat. She let the word linger on her
tongue, pursing her lips to whisper it.
“Ooo-mee-ack.” It sounded soothing, yet strong and
pleasing. She looked back at the water, expecting to see her
father and mother coming for her. The shaman had spoken of
them as being spirits. Could it be true? Could all have
perished? She followed behind the old woman as the
procession returned to the village.