Historical Fiction Adventure

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May 1909, New York City

We visited Peary’s surviving Eskimo in the basement of the Museum of Natural History, where they are locked up. It is warm, well-lit, and they live in a plaster diorama that mimics the mean hovels from which they were rescued. They are Kanusha’s next of kin, but they cannot be made to understand the laws or the need for a death certificate, so, Superintendent Wallace, acting for them, is desirous that Kanusha’s skeleton be preserved and displayed, but he is opposed by the Commissioner, who wants the corpse removed for anatomical purposes. Professor Gustafsson, expert in all things Arctic, is here to mediate. The Professor sides with Wallace and the matter is closed; Kanusha’s skeleton will go on display in a glass cabinet.

It is glibly arranged. and I am thankful that my opinion was not sought out by the principals. I attend to the paperwork and stay busy in my own way.

June 1909, Solem Village, Minnesota

Train, coach and now a cart, my backside is breaking, but the Professor is relentless. His blue eyes flash from beneath the brows of a craggy face that is like granite.

The farmer, a Swedish immigrant, is taciturn and peculiarly reluctant to show us the rune stone, but Gustafsson will not be denied. It is smooth gray slab on which digraphs and letters are roughly carved. Gustafsson nods his head approvingly. He has no doubt of the cipher’s provenance. The farmer is relieved and hurries us along as if we have overstayed our allotted time.

Aboard the stagecoach again, Gustafsson dictates his thoughts to me. It is incontrovertibly true: the Norsemen traveled south to Minnesota in the year 1361, survived, and returned to Vinland, in the North. I write the piece in his breathless prose.

August 4th, 1909, San Francisco.

We are beset by grifters and libertines at the waterfront, and I live each day in fear of a quake.

Gustafsson’s essay is published in the National Geographic. Proof that the Lost White Tribe Survived and May Yet Thrive. It is an amalgam of Icelandic Saga, unconfirmed sightings of the Blonde Eskimo, and ethnological musings, and he blames me for its rambling style and absence of scientific method. The essay is pilloried by his peers, including Amundsen whose letter to the Times labels him the Barnum of Anthropology, and the Bailey of Exploration. We have lost the patina of academic respectability, but the expedition is fully funded, and almost ready for departure. Gustafsson seems untroubled. I believe he may be a zealot. I should return to Iowa and resume my studies in the Fall, move on from Gustafsson.

August 15th, 1909, San Francisco

The brigantine Grace Mallory, formerly a whaler, waits for Gustafsson at the wharf. Captain Pritchard has the vessel well-provisioned, and the hold is jammed with surveying equipment, guns and traps. There are three cabins at the stern, one for the captain, one for Gustafsson and his aide, another for the Canadian Surveyors, and forwards there is the galley, bunks for the crew, and a kennel for the huskies.

The crew are hard men with Alaskan experience. The cook is an Eskimo woman. She wears a hide tunic, and a sheathed knife is tucked into her belt. She sleeps beneath a cupboard in the galley.

The research assistant, is not yet arrived from Boston, but what do I care? I have a Union Pacific ticket that will take me to Cedar Rapids.

August 20th, 1909, San Francisco

The research assistant has bailed on the expedition. Gustafsson presses me to stay in his employ another year or two at a higher salary, but I am not bought into this Blonde Eskimo idea, and I have already had my fill of adventure. I imagine myself in the University library, indexing, cross-referencing, or in quiet repose on the banks of the Iowa river.

I riffle through the latest edition of National Geographic. An Eskimo girl is pictured in the sky, thrown aloft by the village men, she is flying. There is snow on the distant mountain peaks, and in the foreground, fish dry on racks, bear pelts and seal skins lean in piles against a wooden shack.

It is absurd. I will give him my answer in the morning, and it will be NO.

August 21st, 1909, San Francisco

She appeared from nowhere and saved me from a beating down near Cannery Row. One cut-throat is fallen on the dock and is nursing what looks to be a broken wing. His henchman is kneeling, clutching a torn ear. There is blood on his hands, there is blood on her knife.

She is Ada Blackjack, ship cook, seamstress, translator and tracker. She speaks in sing-song sentences in the accent of the Alaskan Indian. Her black hair falls heavy and straight about her face, from which emotion and intent seem exiled.

I am bruised, faint from the blow. She escorts me to my lodging house, and she narrates Alaska as seen by a bird on the wing, and soon enough I believe that Ada Blackjack can fly.

It is a moment of madness that cannot be undone. I am signed on for the expedition. I pack my belongings and write a letter to my mother. I embark the Grace Mallory ahead of the dogs; a snapping barking pack, that pull every which way at their harnesses.

September 1909, Off the Coast of Oregon

Can a man be sea-sick every day? We toss as flotsam in the violent shake of a tub. The heavens are blue and gray, the ocean too, and at times it is hard to say which way is up. I am useless as crew and scribe; I am Jonah upon the good ship Grace.

Ada Blackjack spoons hot bone broth into me.

Winter, 1909, Victoria Harbor, Vancouver Island

We are quartered in Victoria; the Captain, the Professor and I winter in the home of a widower. The Surveyors and crew we see about town, frequenting the waterfront establishments, but where they are lodged, I cannot say.

Ada Blackjack is gone from the town, we know not where or for how long. Perhaps she flew away.

Gustafsson declares that among the common Eskimo there is no hope, no thought worth registering, no ideals and no purpose. They merely exist. He is convinced, however, that the Blond Eskimo will reveal European infiltration, and that we will discover civilization in Vinland. Pritchard will not be drawn into speculation, and I hold my tongue.

Spring 1910, the Beaufort Sea, Eastbound.

We are in the icy bosom of the polar current, skirting the naked headlands and small barren islands that are the outermost reach of the habitable world. Waves hammer the shore or charge furiously across uncharted reefs. Sheet-ice growls and groans, and monster bergs roar and crash by. It is miserable and inhuman here where elementary forces are intent on extinguishing life.

The dogs howl at night. I am sewn into sealskin by Ada Blackjack.

April 1910, Herschel Island.

At the Hudson Bay trading post, Pritchard trades cotton and needles for caribou meat and bear pelts. Our dogs feast and run free for the first time in months.

The trader, a man named Timmins, lives with an Inuit girl who wears a skirt in the European manner, and she is of considerable interest to the younger crew members.

The Eastern Eskimo live in low-crouching snow homes or caves in the ground. They hang cotton nets across the rivers, slaughtering fish in excess of their needs. The rivers will run barren, but they cannot understand. It is a mean existence.

Gustafsson and Pritchard confer with the village elders, assisted by Ada Blackjack. There are Copper Eskimo further East, in the direction of Coronation Bay. To the North, there is nothing, we are told. Of Vinland and the Blonde Eskimo, they are ignorant. They anger at the notion of a North Pole.

Gustafsson speaks of Skraelings, of cranberry, strand wheat and canoe birch, of rune stones, of Vikings and treasures. He is a mad man, and our fate is bound to his insanity. There is no life to the North.

May 10th, 1910, Herschel Island.

Timmins’ woman is dead, her skirt is torn. Otto Binder, a crew member, is dead, knifed by Timmins who has fled the outpost. One of the elders strangles Timmins’ infant child and throws it onto a heap of rotting whale flesh down by the river estuary.

Ada Blackjack retrieves the little body and digs a grave for the child but is confronted by Inuit boys. I run toward the melee, but by the time I get there, she has chased the youth away.

The dogs are gathered, we pack and leave in haste, our guns at the ready. The Canadians will no longer eat with us in the galley but stay locked in their cabin.

Gustafsson insists that we go directly North in the direction of Vinland. Captain Pritchard grimly sets the sails for a close haul into the dark.

June 1910, Dolphin and Union Straits.

Ada Blackjack teaches me how to use a hunting rifle, which Pritchard condemns as a waste of time and ammunition. Ada kills a white bear which she skins and disembowels with her knife, feeding entrails to the dogs.

The Canadian Surveyors will only tell us where we are, but not what to do. It is a summer sun, uninterrupted daylight. There are no signs of life on the land or in the air.

Ada joins me in the cabin when the Professor is above deck. I resolve to teach her reading and writing, but she is already proficient at both and well-versed in Catholic catechisms, much to my astonishment.

November 14th, Uncharted Ocean

We are near a land of flat rocks, but we are plowing forward into thick sea-ice and soon cannot proceed forward aboard the Grace, which croaks and groans even though protected by ironwood cladding.

The Surveyors claim the land for Canada. They name it Edward’s Island. Gustafsson is furious. He claims the place for Iceland, as Vinland. This is a worthless, barren place and he seems delusional.

Pritchard grants us seven days to explore the island but insists that he will leave at daybreak on November 22nd, with or without us. I sketch out the days in this journal.

The sleds are pulled from the hold, the dogs are released onto the ice. The Surveyors race ahead. Gustafsson and I are accompanied by Ada, who is forced upon us by Pritchard since the Professor can neither navigate nor manage the dogs. This arrangement strikes me as odd and awkward because I cannot remember a single word of dialog between the Ada and the Professor, though we have been together in close quarters for months.

A snow blizzard separates us from the Surveyors.

November, Near Edwards Island/Vinland

There is rock tundra beyond the fringe of ice, snow and ice-encrusted dirt. We progress by foot, navigating by compass, the stars and by landmarks, most notably a cleaved mountain shaped as a spire. We abandon the dogs in a hollow that yields protection against the elements. We will return and collect them.

Two dark days on end, bleak, white-out, my fingers are numbed. At night I huddle with Ada beneath a bearskin. We hold our hands and feet against the other’s flesh. Gustafsson buries himself beneath the snow. Jerky and oats sustain us, but hunger is constant, and the cold is debilitating.

Approaching The Spire.

It is the point of no return, we are three days in and exhausted, when we are suddenly struck dumb. The spire is not a mountain.

We approach a symmetrical edifice that aspires heavenward in the manner of a church steeple but without style and ornamentation, neither stave-built, buttressed or gabled, the edifice appears more like an onion, all-white, as if sugar-coated.

Gustafsson wills us to proceed, exhorts us onward. He is convinced that we have found the lost white tribe, but Ada lags, and I am torn between obedience to a reinvigorated cause and tender feelings towards the woman.

There is a roar. They come at us, bellowing like animals, white-clad but with red-eyed bloodlust, wielding axes, swords and spears. Gustafsson yields instantly, pleading in English then in Icelandic, but he is summarily ignored. They knock him to his knees; he is their captive. I fumble with the rifle as I watch Ada Blackjack leap toward the attackers, taunt the encroaching circle of men with her blade. I fire and miss, which stops them for a moment. They are about to rush me, when Ada shouts at them in the Inuit language.

The men stop and stare at her.

Beneath the Spire.

Beneath the spire it is warm and quiet space. The walls are smooth, hung with tapestries. Oil lamps illuminate with a gentle golden light and emit a thin sweet smoke. There are thirty of more Eskimos here, men, women and children. Gustafsson is kneeling at the center of this gathering. I am held by two Eskimo men to one side.

There are no rune stones, there are no Christian artifacts, there is no saga here. I suspect this pains Gustafsson more than the physical humiliation.

Gustafsson demands that they listen to him, but it is just animal noise to our captors. Ada moves freely among them, though under watchful eye. She signals to the Professor that he should be silent, and proceeds to plead a case on his behalf, but the audience is unmoved. They slice the clothing from Gustafsson with an ivory blade, they prod and probe his body as if he were a zoological specimen. I am shamed by the memory of the hapless Eskimos in the basement of the American Museum.

Ada walks to me, extends a hand and places her palm against my chest, and she says something that draws a murmur from my gaolers. I believe she is claiming me as her possession, and the Eskimos release me, acknowledging her right to do so.

November 21st, 1910, Near Edwards Island/Vinland.

The Surveyors are already aboard. Ada and I arrive near sunset. Captain Pritchard, who observed our approach via the telescope, is already prepared to set sail. Crew members hack at the ice with picks and sledgehammers, which breaks Grace free. A favorable wind pushes the brig from its trap into frigid polar water.

December 1910, The Beaufort Sea, Westbound

The Surveyors scaled a peak and derived a rough understanding of Edward’s Island, which they determined a barren useless place, though it adds mass to the Canadian empire. They are already planning their next expedition.

I am questioned at length by Pritchard, but my memory is vague owing to the extreme cold and the hunger that overtook my senses. We were weak and starving. The Professor disappeared in a snowstorm. We searched for him. It may have been an act of self-sacrifice. It was night.

I keep my journal under lock and key.

Ada keeps her own counsel. She cooks, sews and - when nobody is looking - she borrows books and periodicals from the Professor’s collection.

Captain Pritchard thinks me a coward or a fool and will not speak to me except on matters of business. I do nothing to dissuade him from this prejudice because I believe he is right.

February 4th, 1911. Anchorage, Alaska.

Ada receives payment for her services from Pritchard. She is presented with a skiff to row ashore near the small fishing village of Anchorage. Hereabouts, she say, the wildlife is abundant, the rivers overflow with fish, there are acorns and squash in the fall, berries and roots in winter, beans, wheat and corn in the summer. She will trade pelts for flour. Her boy is cared for by women in a nearby village, neither smothered nor strangled, and she yearns for reunification with the child.

When Ada gets to the shore, she pulls the small craft high up onto the sandy beach. She extends her hand and places the palm against my breast.

I have no possessions, only the sealskin I am sewn into, and this Journal.

April 25, 2024 15:10

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Luca King Greek
00:50 May 13, 2024

Just want the reader to know that the word "Eskimo", an exonym was used intentionally and is an accurate representation of the way in which First Nations people were referred to at the place and time in which the story is set.


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Rebecca Coster
01:18 May 09, 2024

One of your best ones yet. Amazing to see writing evolve throughout the Luca King Greek epic.


Luca King Greek
02:17 May 09, 2024

Thanks Becks. Luca


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Kate Bickmore
14:19 Apr 28, 2024

another fantastic story. the writing keeps getting better and better!! this one felt particularly cinematic — kept me on my toes. ada blackjack is also an iconic character. love her!


Luca King Greek
14:55 Apr 28, 2024

Thank you!


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Nathan Davis
18:59 Apr 27, 2024

This is one of your best yet! This is an elegant sentence: "Two dark days on end, bleak, white-out, my fingers are numbed." It starts with words of only one syllable, is infiltrated by commas, attains two syllables, then abandons the commas and ends with one-syllable words again. "Numbed" is the perfect word to end it - better than "numb", since the plosive at the end of "numbed" links it to the plosives of "two dark days".


Luca King Greek
19:01 Apr 27, 2024

I think the sentence appealed to the musician and poet in you.


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Yuliya Borodina
11:03 Apr 26, 2024

This felt like one of the Jules Verne adventures! I think you got the feel of the travel notes just right -- it was detailed, clear, very shrewd and without unnecessary flourishes. It's a very unique story. I loved it! Thank you!


Luca King Greek
11:44 Apr 26, 2024

Yuliya. Thank you for the kind feedback. I do seem to be stumbling toward the style of Jules Verne, a boyhood favorite! Helpful. Much of the story is based on fact, btw. Lucas


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Mary Bendickson
06:17 Apr 26, 2024



Luca King Greek
11:50 Apr 26, 2024

Mary. Thrall is Norse word, so well-chosen! Thank you. I am glad you enjoyed this story. Lucas


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Alexis Araneta
16:37 Apr 25, 2024

Luca, you wove us yet another story rich in imagery. So detail-packed ! The flow was great too. Phenomenal work !


Luca King Greek
17:00 Apr 25, 2024

Stella. Sadly, the details are based on fact. For instance, Eskimo were exhibited in the basement of the American Museum of Natural History, and Blonde Eskimo were thought to be descendants of Erik the Red. Thank you so much for your feedback, it motivates me. Luca


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