Ice

Diana Silver
Translated by Ashley Cowles

Lees de Nederlandse tekst hier.

 

 

It was on the Ice and in the Storm that I crossed paths with Edmund Hawkings. Had I known how much he’d give up for my sake, I wouldn’t have tried to kill him.

 

 

Snow blew into drifts across the ice fields. The howling wind made the ropes sing and tents shudder. A young man in a thick fur coat plowed through the drifts, face hidden deep in his hood. Edmund. He loosened a tent flap and ducked into Stevens’ tent.

The expedition leader sat warming himself by the camp stove. He looked more at home now than when he was back in one of the Royal Geographical Society’s leather armchairs, more suited to the infinite ice fields than London homes with mounted trophies and the clink of china tea cups.

“Don’t bother with your coat, lad. I won’t keep you. I just wanted you to know first.”

Edmund stopped fumbling with the clasps of his mitts and looked up.

“When the storm lets up, we’re heading back to the ship.”

“We’re giving up? We can’t. Not now.”

“I know what this means to you, Edmund. And your father was my good friend, but the storms will only be increasing now, and the ice shift lost us miles of progress overnight. I won’t let this mission suffer the same fate as your father’s.”

“Sir, please, we have to find him!”

Stevens stood and looked down at the young man. “Not in this life, lad. Now get back to your tent before the worst of it hits.”

 

 

All I had ever known was the law of the Storm… It raged where it wished, unstoppable, and I rode with it, whipping the wind across fields and against glaciers, their edges straining and splintering under the power of it. I reveled in snow falling so thickly it whited out the world.

From across the stretches of ice, my first impression of Edmund was that here was a wounded animal, howling its last. Those who give up belong to the Ice. Riding the wind I slammed into him but he stayed upright. The boy wasn’t giving in. He raged on — against the Ice that had taken his father, against the Storm that had torn them apart. Something about him made me pause. He howled at the Storm? I would send it back into his face. I gathered the currents and circled round. I dove down, battering down on him.

Then my world shifted. The wind escaped my grasp. I was pulled into darkness, I was weighted down, confined. I saw the world through tear-filled eyes. The wind lashed at exposed skin, there was cold as solid as a wall of ice. I hurled myself about the darkness of my prison, roaring through his mind, while the Storm raged on without me.

“Stop. Stop!” Edmund sank to his knees in the snow, clutching his temples. I shrank back — he had ripped me from the Storm. If he could do that, what else could he do?

He pushed himself to his feet. I could feel muscles straining, finding balance. His thoughts tumbled over me, an avalanche of alien words and images and meanings.

He tried to head for a tent. Toward shelter and heat, anathema to me. Panicking, I fought, pushed him away from camp. He swayed and fell. Through his coat the cold sucked the warmth out of him. Cold was danger, freezing, death. Good, let it help me escape. I fought his attempts to rise. I kept him pinned in the drifts. Soon I could feel the cold creeping up through his fingers and toes, first piercing him like knives, then numbing him. His body was failing.

But Edmund would not surrender. He clung to life, raging and confused, convinced the law of the Ice wouldn’t apply to him. So I held him fast and gradually his coat froze stiff. Crystals of ice formed on his lips and eyelashes. I could feel the life seeping out of him and I wondered how someone like this could have pulled me from the Storm.

And why had the Storm abandoned me to him? Traitor! I circled through the dying boy’s mind. No, I decided, this time the Storm would not get her due. I wrapped still air around him. I wrung out warmth from the wind’s power and shielded him with it while the Storm raged, until the last flakes fell and the last gust of wind whipped the clouds from the pale sun. I was left behind, clinging to Edmund and the barely visible haze of his breath.

 

 

Men probed the snow, their search line as solemn as a funeral procession. But this one didn’t end as they usually do.

I could hear their shouts as they found him. I could feel his numb limbs move as they lifted him. They carried him and laid him down in a warm place, covered him with furs. I was with him while he slept, felt his fingers tingle with returning warmth. Outside was the creak of ice under men’s boots, and muffled voices. Canvas rustled, and for a moment, the sounds became clearer. We weren’t alone. Someone nearby was breathing deeply. The visitor stood beside the bed for a long time. Then he touched the boy on the shoulder.

Edmund opened his eyes. “Sir…” he croaked.

“Welcome back, lad.”

“What happened?”

“We found you outside the tent ring,” Stevens said. His eyes bored into Edmund’s. Distress and relief were put aside. “What were you doing outside the camp?”

“The wind… the storm…” Edmund shook his head.

Stevens sat beside the bed. “The men are saying it’s a miracle you survived. He sat silent for a moment. “I’ve seen many strange things in this country. You should be dead, yet you barely have frostbite…” His tone shifted. “It would have meant more delay, and being two hands short the rest of the expedition. When I give an order, obey it absolutely. We’re not in London. This is the Pole, and we must trust each other with our lives. If we can’t count on you, you’re not cut out to be a polar explorer.”

I could feel the immense respect Edmund had for Stevens. But those final words struck an angry undercurrent in him.

“As if you could count on my father.”

Stevens rubbed his hands together. “Your father was… different. Strange things happened when he was out there. With the Ice.” He got up. “We’re breaking camp. I gave the men an hour’s rest. That’s all we can afford. We need to be well underway before the next storm hits.”

Then he left. Edmund stared blankly at the tent wall.

“Who are you?” he said.

I had no name. I’d been one with the wind.

“You came from the storm,” he said. His mind conjured up darkness, bitter cold, destruction.

No. I showed him soaring over peaks and through drifts of powdered snow, gliding across the ice fields and howling through ravines, making the water tremble. Freedom, power.

“The Pole,” Edmund said. “You know the entire North Pole!”

The Ice. It seemed the most suitable of the words his mind contained.

“Then you know where my father is!”

What?

“My father. We’re looking for his last camp.”

His thoughts were of separate places, single viewpoints. The Storm lives in all the wind and snow, in the vastness of the sky, rising, falling, compressing through narrow crevasses and widening out across the ice fields, always moving.

Edmund threw off the covers. “I’ll show you.”

Stiffly, he wrapped himself in his coat, pulled the hood up and stuffed his hands into his mitts. He ducked through the tent flaps. The men readying to break camp gave him measuring looks as he walked past the tent ring.

Edmund plowed up a slope, the snow dry as sand. The snowdrifts didn’t swirl with us. They worked against us at every step. The freezing air stung his eyes and further stiffened his limbs. He lived within the frail world of a single body. And I was trapped within it.

The top of the slope was a peak thrust up by colliding ice sheets. He looked down. “Our camp.” Little thin tents, sledges, dog teams.

He turned to face the ice field and flung his arms wide. “My father’s camp is out there.”

What lay before us was an endless expanse of white stretching out to the Pole. The Ice as I’d known it had been filled with dancing wind, but now I looked out over the plains as humans saw it – pure, stark, pitiless. An empty land, frozen and unrelenting. Only the sight of the clouds racing high above seemed familiar. They laughed as they tumbled in the wind, unburdened by thoughts. Would I be free of thoughts again? My memories were already being reshaped, impressions from Edmund’s senses tumbling over me in waves.

“Ice! My father’s camp. Where is it?”

Ice? I am not ‘Ice’. I swirled through the darkness of his mind, looking for a way out.

Edmund held his head. “Stop!” Dizzy, he stumbled over a fault. The ice beneath us groaned and creaked and gave way. Edmund yelped. We slid for a long moment, then slammed to a stop, wedged into ice, surrounded by smooth walls. He looked up but there was nothing to give him a handhold. His shouts were dampened by the walls of ice.

He stared up at the tiny patch of sky, his breath becoming ragged.

Can’t you see there’s no way up?

“Get out of my head if you won’t help!”

If only I could get out.

“They’ll never find me. Maybe they won’t even look.”

I felt too bleak to bite back at him.

Time passed. He began shivering.

“Ice?”

     …I’m not ‘Ice’. But I’m here. Can you not feel the air? It flows down.

Edmund looked down. Near his feet was a slit, barely high enough for him to fit through lying down.

“Enter that? That ice coffin?”

Feel the wind. It’s being pulled through to a large open space. Why was I helping him?

With an empty laugh Edmund searched desperately above him again. And still found nothing. His breath hissed out.

“Alright.” He gritted his teeth. He slowly wedged himself through the slit and began to slide down.

The gap narrowed and he almost stopped moving. Edmund breathed in ragged gasps. I only understood his fear now. The gap had to narrow but the slightest and he’d be helplessly stuck.

The draft strengthened. The gap widened and we slid down into a cavern, hollowed out and polished by endless wind. High above us, the icy roof glittered in shifting light, lit from above in a multitude of greens and blues flickering across it. Bright patches alternating with recesses in intense darkness. It was a beautiful sight. But it did nothing to make up for what I’d lost.

The beauty of our surroundings had a similar effect on Edmund. He was practically snarling as he looked around the breathtaking cave. He stood atop a shallow ice mound in the center of the cave.

“He was always gone. Always here. He left us again and again. Mother would cry, but he wasn’t there to see it. And I… I needed him!” His hands had curled into fists. “When I finally was old enough for expeditions, he stopped me. ‘Too dangerous,’ he said, ‘Never set foot on the Ice.’ Why did he get to leave? Why did he get to risk his life?” His voice was cold and hard. “And now he’s dead.”

Then what are you doing here?

“I told you, I’m looking for him.”

So once you find his camp?

He shrugged.

Then why are you here?

He was silent a long while. His shivering came back. “Whenever he was planning to leave, he’d get this look. As if he were seeing right through us, to something else. His eyes seemed lighter then, the color of ice. I want to know what he was seeing, what he left us for all those times.” His eyes swept over the sparkling ice all round us. “But this…” he said bitterly. “This couldn’t be it.”

The light changed. The bright colors of the cave turned to black and gray in an instant. Edmund thought the sun had set then remembered it wouldn’t be dark for weeks yet. The air changed too. A strong wind pulled through cracks and openings in the wall, and my spirit leaped. It was the Storm.

“No!” Edmund stumbled his way past scattered chunks of ice to a way out, but quickly drew back from the roaring wind. He stared at the ice fields becoming obscured under a thick fall of snow. It got steadily colder. He thought darkly of Stevens’ intention to break camp before the Storm returned. The fear of being left behind, alone, sapped his willpower.

“Ice. You saved me from the Storm last time.”

I don’t know if I can do that again.

Edmund’s despair was palpable, but he turned to face the outside and set out, as grim at the prospect of being in the Storm as I was excited.

But now that I was trapped inside Edmund, the Storm was a different creature. It whipped by us with immense power. It lashed out mercilessly at Edmund. His clothing froze stiff. The bitter cold and dry snow chafed his skin raw. He searched for a way through the peaks and chunks of ice as big as houses. He climbed ice and pushed through snowdrifts, making it over the peak. But the cold began to win out, even as he reached the foot of a familiar slope. He stumbled across something. He reached into the snow and pulled up a broken tent pole. A little further on lay shallow indentations in the fresh snow where the tents had been. Edmund stopped and stared. They had broken camp. His legs gave way.

Get up. Go after them.

He slowly shook his head. “Catch up with the sledges? I can hardly move.” His whole body shook, battered by the blistering cold. “Besides,” his voice cracked. “When I die, you’ll be free.”

Edmund…

“The Storm is here. Go with it.”

We’d only fought each other, but now we looked up at the Storm together, his resignation and my sorrow mingling. If I rejoined the Storm would I be as I had been, part of the winds, a drifting swirl and little else? I only had thoughts after hearing his. How astonishing to think! I only discovered desires after feeling his. I was not just of the Storm now, I was also of Edmund.

I moved, reaching with his arms and stretching with his fingers. I’d only been a spectator, vaguely aware of his physical sensations, but now I looked for myself, made myself feel. I recoiled instantly. Pain was no minor inconvenience. The biting bitter cold was agony, the exhaustion overwhelming, the stiffness of his limbs frightening. I shook — what courage it took to face the Ice in a body this fragile and defenseless! There was a grandeur in how he resisted death, in the rebellious way he clung to life.

Edmund’s thoughts were almost incoherent. I felt openings for me to slip away. But this wasn’t how I wanted to leave him. Not while I could act. I’d see him safe first. The Storm howled at us, while I rebuffed the wind and chased the snow until it swirled around us, leaving us untouched. But that wouldn’t be enough.

Edmund. You need to get up.

He blinked.

The Storm won’t hurt you, I promise.

He couldn’t speak. Ice… He wanted to tell me he couldn’t go on, but stopped. Okay.

I helped him struggle to a stand.

I was as aware of the Storm as I’d been before, but now I could lead it. I stretched out his hands. I took his arm and swept it around. The wind understood us, changing direction. I turned it further and it was at our back. It cleared a path through the drifts for us.

Edmund looked around in wonder. It was his turn to see through my eyes. This is the Storm? he asked. It’s beautiful.

He could feel it gliding around us, sense the vast expanse of never-ending Ice — in the glaciers, beneath our feet, beneath the struggling dog paws pulling the sledges scraping through the snow further down the ice fields, tracks covered as soon as they were made.

“The expedition!”

Edmund had a sense of direction unfamiliar to the Storm. He pointed, and the Storm turned. Edmund strode forward, pushed along by the wind.

He was panting and shaking, but exhilarated.

Dying here would mean becoming one with the Ice? His breath steamed out as he laughed. I don’t think I’d want to die anywhere else.

We shared a smile.

 

 

We had a long way to go. But our spirits soared. When the Storm raged off past us we glimpsed a line of black dots against the white expanse of Ice. Someone must have spotted us, as they halted. We drew closer and a figure broke away from the group: Stevens, coming back to meet us.

“Edmund Hawkings,” he said as we stood face-to-face. “Welcome back.”

Edmund expected to be admonished. This time even Stevens had to be astonished by this miraculous escape from death. But Stevens was quiet for a long time. He searched Edmund’s eyes.

Edmund wanted to look away.

No! We moved the Storm. We needn’t cast our eyes down for any man.

“Your father had the same look in his eyes,” Stevens said finally. Then he lent Edmund support and they headed for the expedition.

Edmund was dimly aware of the other men watching and waiting. For the first time, he understood his father.

He looked back over his shoulder.

Ice, we will always come back here. This is home.

A gust of wind blew across our face. A silent ‘Until next time’ from the Storm.

The Ice stretched across the horizon. The sight stays clear in our memory, even for the short times we’re away in those strange places built by humans, where softer winds reign.

“Ice” ©  Diana Silver
Author: Diana Silver lives in an old Dutch town where old ghosts never stop whispering their stories. Her historical fantasy has been previously published in the Netherlands.  Find her on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/diane.silver.96

Translator: Ashley Cowles (Utrecht, the Netherlands) is a Dutch-American translator and copywriter specializing in creative communications. An avid reader of sci-fi and fantasy, she can most often be found carrying around at least one book wherever she goes. Favorite authors include Brandon Sanderson and Cherie Priest. Find out more at www.ashleycowles.nl.

 

Illustration: photomanipulation Fran Eisemann, stock from Pixabay, Creative Commons. Dreamstime

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