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Nokome and the Ice King


Now, while Glooscap was engaged in his struggle with Winter, his People were having a sad and bewildering time.

In the summer that Glooscap left them, the Wabanaki were happy. The running brooks were brimful of fish, and the meadows sweet with berries. Game of all kind abounded in the forest, and as long as the birds sang in the thickets-- as long as the streams laughed and glistened and the soft air was fragrant with flowers- -the Indians' days were merry and long.

But when the days grew shorter and the red leaves of the maples became brittle and dropped from their branches, the Wabanaki began to be afraid. What was happening to their lovely land? The air had grown chill. The bark walls of their wigwams let in great drafts, and their handsome clothing of scraped and decorated doeskin no longer kept them warm.

The ground grew hard and a white mist began to fall. It sifted through the open places in their lodges and made all damp and dismal. The Indians had never seen snow before, and it frightened them. Who had made it? Where had it come from? Some thought it a spell thrown upon the land by an evil giant, and of course they were right. At that very moment, though they did not know it, their Great Chief was setting out to challenge the Ice King, Winter.

Greater still was the Wabanaki's dismay when ice stilled the brooks and rivers, and the fish were lost to them under the ice. The earth became sick and famished with cold, as deeper and deeper fell the snow, and thicker and thicker froze the river. The Wabanaki hunters crept out of their half-uried homes each morning to hunt for food, but in the white silence they found little or no game, and the least effort exhausted them. Weak from hunger and numbed by cold, many fell and lay silent in the snow. And all this bitter time Glooscap, under Winter's magic spell, lay sleeping and could not help them.

But at last the Great Chief awoke and summoned Coolpujot, who made the sun to shine again and the snow to melt. Alas, however, by now only a few of the Indian families were still alive. In one of these was a youth named Nokome, stronger and more resourceful than the rest. Late in the months of cold he had thought to fasten branches on his feet so he could walk on top of the snow, and in this way, wearing the first snowshoes, he had been able to snare sufficient game to keep himself and his neighbours from starving.

Warmed and heartened by the sun, Nokome watched gladly as the snow melted from the hills and the ice from the river, and all floated down with a gush of laughing water--all except one huge ice cake near the shore. This lodged in a crook of the river and refused to melt, making the air cold all around it. Nokome decided to be rid of it.

Arming himself with a heavy pole, he boldly attacked the monster ice cake. As he pounded away, he sang merrily, "Come on, villain, do your worst. Freeze me if you can!"

At every blow, the enemy gave way a little, until finally it tumbled over on its back and was borne away by the current. As it slid downstream, Nokome heard a loud harsh cry.

"Who dares defy the Ice King? Woe to him who tries Winter's strength!"

Nokome was startled at first, but called back stoutly, "Away with you, Winter, and never come back!"

"I shall come back, never fear!" the voice roared. "Coolpujot's charm will not last long, and then we will discover who is Master! "

As the ice cake slipped out of sight, Nokome laughed, and soon forgot the Ice King's warning, thinking the fine warm days would last forever. But he was wrong. In time, as Coolpujot's charm lost its power, the earth grew cold again. Once more the snow fell and the Indians shivered and grew hungry. Nokome and the other hunters had all they could do to keep alive, and even so a few of them perished before Glooscap found Summer and the warm days came again.

Nokome saw that something must be done. Each time the Ice King came, more people died. In time, if this continued, all the Wabanaki would perish. Nokome would have braved anything to keep Winter away for good, but what could an ordinary mortal do against a giant?

Then, suddenly, it came to him what he must do. Had not Glooscap, their Great Chief, told them that whenever his people sought him diligently in time of trouble, he would help them? Why had he not thought of this before? He, Nokome, would seek out Glooscap and ask him to destroy Winter!

Now this was a very brave thing for Nokome to decide, for no Indian had seen Glooscap since the early days of summer, or knew exactly where he lived. However, the Indians in their fishing expeditions had travelled as far as the mainland and were acquainted with the lobster-shaped peninsula we now call Nova Scotia. Glooscap's canoe had been seen once in Minas Basin, on the far side of that peninsula, and it was rumoured that the Master lived somewhere near the green and red mountain of Blomidon.

So, one day, as the red leaves fluttered from the trees, Nokome set out alone in his canoe, crossing the strip of sea which separated Uktamkoo from the mainland, and entered the mouth of a river. He followed this river to its source, a lake in the South Mountain. After crossing this lake, he lifted his canoe from the water and carried it on his back to a second lake which he also crossed--and so on, from lake to lake in this way, until he came to a stream which led directly down into Minas Basin. Now, far across the Bay, he saw Blomidon, purple in the mist of distance.

It was a long voyage across the Bay, but at last Nokome ran his canoe ashore on Blomidon's beach and gazed up at the red sandstone cliff studded with evergreens and purple stones. He felt suddenly very sure that Glooscap was somewhere near at hand. He would climb the mountain and from its summit be able to see all the territory for miles around. Thus he would discover where Glooscap had his lodge.

Nokome began climbing. The red stone was slippery and he slid back time and again. Ground juniper scratched his face and scraped his hands, but he struggled on. Up and up, until at last he reached the top. Tired and dirty, and gasping for breath, he fell face down upon the grass.

"Kwah-ee!"

The Indian word of greeting echoed in the still air, and Nokome felt a giant hand help him to his feet. There before him stood the immense figure of Glooscap, with beyond him a great wigwam set in the midst of birch trees and guarded by two huge dogs, one black and one white. Nokome had found Glooscap's lodge.

"O Great Chief," cried Nokome, "kill the giant, Winter, or he will destroy us all!" But Glooscap shook his head.

"I have promised Winter he may rule for six months," he said. "Be thankful you have Summer the rest of the year."

"But, Master," Nokome stammered sadly, "even in six months the Ice King can kill many people."

"True," said the lord of men and beasts. "But if you do as I say, you will find you have the power yourself to defeat Winter."

Nokome begged eagerly to be told what to do, but even as Glooscap spoke, his heart sank. He had expected to receive a magician's power, but instead the Great Chief spoke of gathering sunflowers and cutting wood. When at last he ceased speaking, Nokome thanked Glooscap, hiding his disappointment as well as he could, and departed. He paddled wearily back across the lonely miles, convinced his journey had been in vain. Glooscap had put him off with empty words.

Arriving home at last, he saw with alarm that already the dry leaves lay thick on the ground, and he had noticed that whenever the leaves fell, Winter came soon afterwards. He must try the remedy Glooscap had suggested, for he could think of nothing else. Springing ashore, he called the people and told them what to do.

Listening to his words and following his example, the Indians covered their bark wigwams with skins of fur, then laid heavy spruce boughs at the cracks and edges. They cut down all the driest trees, split them into slender sticks, and stored the wood in their lodges. Then they made themselves new clothes, not scraping the fur from the hide as they had always done before. The clothes were ugly and bulky, but warm.

Then the children were set to picking fruits and berries, and the women to cutting up meat, and while the meat smoked over the fire, Nokome taught the women how to make snowshoes of ash splints fastened together with thongs of rawhide. Then the dried meat and fruits were stored in the lodges with the wood. Last of all, Nokome squeezed oil from sunflower seeds and stored the oil in a basket lined with hardened clay.

Now at last, if Glooscap spoke the truth, they were ready for the Ice King, and only just in time. For all through the forest the giant's breath could be felt, stiffening the water in the brooks and coating the ground with frost. The cold air stung the Indians' throats and hurt their chests, and the earth felt like iron under their moccasins. Then the snow came, drifting over the hunting trails, and at last--the Ice King himself!

Nokome, in his wigwam, saw the giant at his door. The Ice King's hair was like a snowdrift. Icicles hung from his beard, and in his cold blue hand he held a glittering spear.

Bending his head with an icy clatter, he entered the wigwam, and when he spoke, his cold breath made Nokome shake from head to foot.

"Kwah-ee, Nokome!" The familiar Indian greeting sounded like ice shattering as it fell.

"Come up to the highest place," stuttered Nokome through chattering teeth, for it is a matter of pride with the Indian to treat any stranger in his home, friend or enemy, with politeness.

The Ice King took the honoured place by the fire and seated himself with calm dignity, knowing he had only to remain there a short time and Nokome would be dead of cold and exposure. Indeed, the youth's body already felt so stiff and chilled, he wondered if he could ever move again. Yet he must! Somehow he managed to stir his dull limbs and creep to the fire. He laid a few bits of wood on the dying flame and blew upon it feebly.

The Ice King smiled scornfully at his weak labours.

With enormous effort, Nokome managed to lift heavier boughs on the blaze, and now the flames began to crackle. Warmed a little, and moving more quickly now, Nokome added heavier and heavier logs, and the fire shot up higher.

The Ice King scowled and moved back a little.

Now Nokome, feeling life surge through him once more, heaped more and more wood upon the fire. The flames roared higher still, and the lodge grew hotter and hotter. The Ice King began to gasp, and great drops of sweat ran from his brow. Then at last Nokome took his precious store of sunflower oil and dashed it upon the fire. Up the flames shot with a roar, to the very peak of the wigwam!

The Ice King could bear it no longer. With a cry of rage and agony, he shrank back against the wall of the wigwam. Water streamed from his crown and his spear was melting quickly.

"Mercy!" gasped the giant. "Enough! You have won the victory. Now let me go!"

Nokome rose and raked away the fire.

"Go then," he cried triumphantly, "and know that, when you return hereafter, we will always be ready for you."

"You have conquered me fairly," groaned the giant. "Twice! Now you are my master forever." And he fled from Nokome's lodge and away from the village.

Then amongst the Wabanaki there was great rejoicing. The people praised their Great Chief Glooscap for his wisdom, and made Nokome their village chief for his wit and courage. Never again would the Wabanaki fear the Ice King's power, for they had learned to turn Winter into Summer with their own hands.

And so, kespeadooksit--the story ends.




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