It took them most of the day to load the twenty‑foot fishing boat with their furs for trading and the equipment they would need on the trail. It was a mystery to Christina how Anders made the small boat go where he wanted. She had made few trips of any length in it. Her father believed that the dangers of the sea were for men and that only a son needed to be taught the skills of a sailor.
They carefully set the sled, skis and the bundles of furs in the middle of the boat. Christina would sleep at the bow and the men in the stern.
The first day out the wind was contrary and played games with the boat. Christina watched it fill the sails and send the boat leaping over the waves. Her father smiled. Abruptly the wind disappeared, the sails went slack and they began to drift aimlessly. Her father swore. The pattern was repeated. It took the better part of two days before they nosed into the inlet from which they would start across land. Anders told his children, "When I've made this trip before, it's taken me anywhere from three to six days. Now that we don't have to depend on the wind, I figure, if the weather holds good, we've got an easy three‑day ski trip to Russia."
As the boat approached the shore, Christina stared up at the sheer wall of the bluff facing them. "Pa, there's no way up."
Anders was annoyed; the fitful winds had not improved his patience. "Don't talk foolish. We wouldn't be here if there wasn't a way up."
Olaf waited until Anders was preoccupied with bringing the boat into the shore and whispered to Christina, “There a good path just out of sight. Look over to the left," he said, pointing. "See where there's a break in the cliff."
Christina squinted and stared at the rock wall. She could see parts of a thin dark line zigzagging up the cliff. "Over there by that tree?"
Olaf nodded. "The path's as crooked as fish guts and it's a hard climb, but you can make it."
They pulled the prow of their boat up on the rocks next to a small waterfall, took their supplies and trading goods out and stacked them close to the bottom of the trail. Once empty, the boat was pulled up to the supplies and turned over as protection from the frigid sea breeze. At bedtime Christina found a cozy spot between several bales of Olaf's furs which kept off the bitter cold descending with the night on the cove.
Christina was so excited she had trouble sleeping. Waking early she crawled out from under the boat, stretched and looked around for her brother and father. Olaf was kneeling, rewrapping a bundle of furs in a bale to carry on his back. "Where's Pa?" she asked.
Olaf laughed. "You know Pa. He left an hour ago up the trail by moonlight with the first load.” Christina dug out a dried herring and began to chew on it as she stretched her muscles to get the sleep out of them.
When she turned around, Olaf had his head down concentrating on sharpening his skinning knife. The steel made a light grating sound as he drew it across the stone hone. "You shouldn't be up already," Olaf said. "It's going to be a long day. Pa wanted you to get as much sleep as possible."
"I can't. I'm too excited." She readjusted her clothes, which were wrinkled from being slept in. "I want to see everything."
"Well, there's not much to see, lots of snow, maybe some Lapps, if we're lucky, and a rundown Russian village."
After tying the bundles on their backs they began trudging up the zigzag path to the top of the fjord. About an hour into her first trip Christina could feel her legs turning to jelly. "I can't go on,” she moaned to her brother. "This trail is never going to reach the top."
"Let's stop for breath," he said. They slipped their loads to the ground and sat on them breathing deeply. Olaf examined Christina's pack. "We loaded too much. I'll repack the load and we'll leave part of our stuff here to be picked up later. No use wearing ourselves out on the first trip."
It took the three of them most of the day to make enough trips to carry the sleds, skis, supplies and furs to the top. Christina's knees shook from the exertion, and her back felt as if little people were skating over it with sharp skates. That night she slipped into a state of profound unconsciousness, and Anders had to shake her twice next morning before she was ready to crawl out from under her covers.
For Olaf it had been a very good year trapping. There were bundles of fox, wolverine, and lynx skins to be traded. Anders carefully packed the furs onto two sleds lashing the bundles to the wooden frames with netting cord.
Like a captain planning a campaign, Anders addressed his crew. "Olaf and I will pull the large sled. Christina, you take the small one. It is fifty or sixty miles to the village; and if the weather is good, we can be there by late on the third day. If a storm comes, we'll wait it out in the tent." He pointed at his daughter. "You lead." Orders given, they started across the vast expanse of snow.
Even pulling the weight of two sleds and traveling on skis, the trio covered the ground swiftly. They stopped infrequently for rest and ate dried fish for lunch while moving. Light was beginning to fade when Christina pulled to a halt. She stood with her head down catching her breath for a few moments, then turned, expecting to see Olaf and Anders close behind. To her surprise her father and Olaf had dropped some distance back.
She shielded her eyes with her hand and gazed around at the unfamiliar flat, snow‑covered landscape. Something moved on the horizon but she couldn't make out what it was. She stood still, watching the spot while she waited for Anders and Olaf to catch up.
The figure in the distance grew and took form. It was a reindeer pulling a sleigh. But, what was leading it? Maybe it was one of those gnomes that she had seen drawings of in her book of fairy tales.
She heard the swish of skis behind her and turned as her father and Olaf pulled up behind her. She pointed at the distant figures. "Look, a gnome leading a reindeer."
Her father grunted. "Looks like we'll soon be meeting the Lapps. They'll be on their way to the summer grazing grounds on one of the islands."
As the Lapp approached they could see that he was dressed in skins dyed blue and trimmed with embroidered red cloth. Behind him many sleighs appeared, each pulled by a single reindeer.
When the Lapp finally reached them, Christian was surprised to see that he was very short. His head came only to her chin. She whispered to Olaf, "It's his legs. He's got almost no legs below his knees."
Olaf whispered back, "It's not that he's so short; it's that his bowed legs make him look that way. If you hammered his legs straight he'd be as tall as you."
Christina continued to stare at the Lapp. "His feet, they're huge."
"No, they're regular size; it's his shoes." Olaf answered. "They use reindeer skin filled with grass to keep their feet warm.’
The Lapp spoke to Anders in Finnish. Christina listened in amazement as her father answered haltingly. Her father frequently surprised her. He never bragged or talked much about what he had done. To learn anything she had to observe it directly or hear about it from others. It would be so much simpler if they could just talk to each other more.
All at once the vast herd of reindeer flowed around them. As they passed around her, she could see that they were already shedding their winter coats. The long white belly hair was patchy and gray as it was falling out and their brown sides looked moth eaten. She was surprised to see that even the females had antlers. The animals were moving swiftly with their warm bodies giving off a heavy odor.
As interesting as the reindeer were, Christina was more fascinated with the Lapps' dark blue costumes with the embroidered red trim. They were even more beautiful than the colorful native costumes of Vardo. It struck her as strange that some of the children had blond hair and blue eyes and could easily have passed as Norse. She must ask Pa about this later.
After talking with the leader, Anders told his children, “The headman speaks Finnish. He is pleased to learn that Olaf's load of skins for trading contains so many predators. He said he loses many reindeer to those animals every year. Last year he lost almost half of the calves to bad weather and the wild animals."
Christina asked, "Can we stay overnight with them?"
The headman grinned at her and spoke to Anders.
"He guessed what you wanted by your expression," Anders told her before turning back to the Lapp and continuing the exchange. Finally, he turned back to his children. "He says we are welcome to stay here tonight and invites us to come to his tent when we finish setting up ours." Anders motioned Christina and Olaf to follow him.
They pulled their sleds a hundred yards up wind from the herd, set up their tent and stowed their belongings. Knowing that the Lapps were likely to serve food that his children wouldn't like, Anders had them eat a light supper of dried fish and hard bread. The sun was long gone and the moon well out before they set off for the headman's tent.
Before they entered, Anders took Christina and Olaf aside and spoke to them quietly. "Don't be shocked at how dirty things are here. The Lapps never wash either themselves or their clothes. It will stink of sweat so bad inside you'll find it hard to stay. Don't show any distaste. We wouldn't want to offend our host."
Anders held the tent flap aside for them to enter. The warmth and smell hit Christina like the inside of an uncleaned barn in the heat of high summer. She gagged and felt her dinner of dried herring rise in her throat. Holding her breath she forced it back down. "I'm glad Trina isn't along," she whispered to Olaf. "We'd have something else smelling up the air."
A stooped old lady was stirring something in a pot hanging over the fire in the middle of the tent. The headman noted her interest in the old woman and said something to Anders. Her father translated the leader's explanation. "He says his mother is very old. She'll make this trip to the summer grazing grounds, but he is afraid that when they return she'll be too weak to make it over the mountains. When they go, they'll leave her in the tent to die. Her body will freeze, and when they return on their next spring trek, they will bury her."
Christina shivered, suddenly cold. To be left alone to freeze was a terrible thing to do to his mother.
Olaf saw her shudder and leaned over to whisper, “Ivar says that he's seen them get rid of the old people another way. He says they strapped an old man to a sleigh when he was still alive. They pushed the sleigh down the snow‑covered precipice into the fjord. Ivar said it shot way out over the water and fell with a big splash. They all stood around congratulating each other like they had done a good thing."
"Olaf, that's awful." In her disgust at the idea she took a deep breath, frowning from the sudden intake of foul odor. When she got her stomach under control again, she said, "Oh, Olaf, you made that up."
"No, that's the truth. The old people expect this to happen. Old Lapps don't even complain when their time comes. Ivar said that sometimes when an old woman is near death, they give her a cold bath to help her die faster."
Anders, who had caught the last part of Olaf's whispered comment, glared at them. They immediately hushed.
Some of the foods were an unpleasant surprise to Christina. First there was reindeer meat. That was tasty enough. Next, they brought out cheese made from reindeer milk. Despite being used to strong Norwegian cheese, she could only eat a sliver. She almost became ill when they offered her reindeer blood to drink. Her father and Olaf drank it, but she could see her father understood her distaste and was grateful he didn't encourage her to show good manners by drinking it anyway.
As they broke camp the next morning the headman gave them a present of a large hunk of reindeer meat. It would be a pleasant change from the dried fish they had brought.
When their sleds were loaded, they pulled the harness on over their shoulders. As they started to leave the camp, the headman said to Anders, "You may meet our wolf hunter camped out on the fell. His name in Norwegian is Wolfman. Since you are Norwegians, he'll be very cautious around you until he knows you're not one of the dangerous ones."
"Why should a Lapp be afraid of us?" Anders asked.
"Norwegians are greedy and take much of our good land. Norwegians have killed Lapps who have tried to keep their reindeer on old grazing grounds that you now say is yours. Wolfman knows that the day of the Lapp will soon be ended. You will move us to the villages, and we'll live in houses like you and no longer follow the reindeer. When that happens, Wolfman says our brains won't work right any more."
The trio left the camp and continued their trek across the flat snow‑covered land. Shortly before the sun set, the Gunnersons saw a tent. Anders, in the lead, called over his shoulder to the others, "Probably the tent of the wolf hunter."
As they came closer, they could see a Lapp watching their approach. Close up, Christina saw the weathered face of a man probably in his late forties. Wolf skins were stretched out at the side of the tent to dry, a wolverine and fox skin among them. He answered her father's greeting in heavily accented Norwegian.
Once he found they had the blessing of the headman, he invited them to set up their camp near his for the night. After pitching their tent they went over to where he squatted next to a small fire. He studied them for a few moments. Christina could feel his mind reaching out and entering hers. At first the weirdness of a foreign presence in her brain frightened her, but he quickly withdrew and was just a small, older man sitting by a fire. Whatever he had found in their minds must have reassured him, and he motioned for them to sit down.
At first Wolfman was cautious about talking. Christina finally got him to start by asking, "The headman told us that one day all Lapps will live in villages, but their brains will stop working. What did he mean?"
Wolfman thought a long time. She began to wonder if he was going to answer her question. Finally, with a sigh he said, "When a Lapp goes into a room, his brains go round and round--they stop working. The only way to make a Lapp's brain work is if the wind's blowing in his nose. He can't think quickly between four walls. I have been to your towns; there I am nobody. When I get back on the fells and cold wind blows across my face, I can think like a Lapp again."
As he talked Christina got used to his accent and was hardly aware of the strange intonations. She encouraged him to go on. "Your headman says you lose many reindeer to the wolves."
"Always we worry about the wolves. If we didn't kill them, soon there would be so many that none of our reindeer would be safe. Even if we keep watchers on skis circling the herd, the wolves sneak by in the darkness and cut out a bunch to drive away and kill. If we didn't kill wolves, we'd soon have no reindeer left and we'd starve."
"And you are the one who hunts the wolves?" Christina asked.
"God is good to us. He always sees that some Lapps are born to hunt the wolves. The Lapps know who we are when we are young. They watch the children to see who moves very quickly and runs the fastest. It is said we are born running. When they find one of us, they give us to a hunter so he can teach us how to kill wolves."
Once he started talking, Wolfman was enjoying sharing his experiences and ideas with these strangers. He continued, "When I was a young man, I thought of the wolves as my enemy because they killed my reindeer. When I killed a wolf, I told him his crimes."
He stood and turned away from the fire and stared at a spot twenty feet from the fire as if holding the eyes of a wolf. Then in a loud voice he said, "’You have killed my draft reindeer, you devil, you Satan of Hell. Now you long‑tooth‑of‑a‑cursed‑race, you shall no longer eat my reindeer.' Then I would strike him dead." He jabbed the air with an imaginary spear. He turned and took his seat by the fire.
That he should talk to the wolf as to another human seemed strange to Christina. "You told the wolf why you were going to kill him?"
"Only when I was a young man. Then I hated wolves. Now I am just an old hunter, and I know the wolf only does what he must. He will not kill more than he needs for himself and his cubs. The reindeer have increased so much that they roam over the fells the whole winter and in the forest belts in the valleys in the summer. The wolves get as many as they want. But, I must still kill him or we will not have enough reindeer for ourselves. The wolf breeds when he is well fed and soon there would be too many of them."
Smoke from fire changed directions and drifted toward Christina. With her eyes smarting she got up and moved. This gave Olaf an opportunity to compare methods of trapping. He used steel traps and killed the animals he caught with an old smoothbore muzzle‑loading gun. As Christina sat down on the other side of the fire, he leaned forward to get Wolfman's attention. "How did you kill the wolves we see around your tent?"
"I use many ways. I sometimes use a spear. When I was young, I would run them down on my skis and kill them with the shaft of my ski pole, but that was very hard work and brought blood to my mouth. I could hardly find strength to return to my tent. Now I find the best way to kill a wolf is with poison."
Olaf was startled by the answer. "You poison them? How?"
"When a wolf has killed a reindeer, if he hides it away, I know he will come back to eat it later on. I take away the torn up animal, and in its place I scatter pieces of meat in all directions where the body has lain. I study the snow to see how many wolves there were, and then I put out that many pieces of meat. The poison is in the meat.
"Sometimes the best way to kill the wolves is to put the poison in a whole reindeer body. If the wolves come and eat it, then you get rid of them all at one time."
Christina, who had lost the floor to Olaf, watched as he changed where he was sitting to get closer to Wolfman. He was fascinated by the older man's knowledge. "What poison do you use?"
"Strychnine. When you use poison, you must be careful that there are no sores or cracks in your hands. It would be dangerous if the poison gets into wounds. You must not even get the smell in your nose. And when you are preparing the meat, you must take care that no poison falls on your clothes, or on any things that other animals might eat. The meat you use must be half frozen. You dig a little hole with your knife and put in the poison."
Christina saw that she was not going to get the rest of her questions answered because Olaf had Wolfman's full attention. Olaf asked, "Have you ever been attacked by a wolf?"
Wolfman nodded and said, "I have killed wolves with my hands. When the wolf seizes hold of your arm, you must thrust your hand into the wolf's jaws, right down his throat and squeeze the lowest part of his gullet. Then the wolf cannot bite. With the other hand, you must strike with your knife. If the wolf gets a grip on a foot or the middle of the arm, he bites through to the bone."
Wolfman paused. He peeled off his reindeer skin shirt. Christina held her breath as the gamey smell in the tent moved up to stinking and stared at the arms the hunter held out for their inspection. Jagged, white scars rippled both arms where they had been gnashed by wolves. She was surprised to see how much lighter his skin was where it had not been exposed to the weather.
Wolfman continued. "I've not always been lucky in my battles with the wolves. Sometimes they've bitten me so badly I nearly died. The hunter who was my teacher died when he was bitten. He held out his left arm for further inspection. "When the wolf chewed on this arm," he said tapping the jagged scars on his left forearm with a gnarled finger, "I was sick for a month. I had to lie in my tent and be fed by others as if I were a baby. When the wolf bit this arm," he held the right arm up, "I could do nothing for the whole winter."
Wolfman was satisfied that Christina was impressed. He slipped his shirt back on over his head. "The scars of a wolf bite last as long as a man lives."
Olaf began asking about other predators, but Christina had trouble following the conversation. Her eyes were heavy and kept closing and her head nodded forward. Anders noticed and said, “You're falling asleep, girl. It's time for you to go back to the tent and go to bed."
It was dark when they hit the trail the next morning. Starlight against the snow was their only light. As they finished loading the sleds, Olaf said to his sister, "You look well rested. Would you pull on the big sled with Pa for awhile? I didn't get to bed until late, and I can hardly move. Wolfman had so many stories I just couldn't leave."
Pulling the small sled, Olaf walked alongside of Anders and Christina. After they were on the trail awhile, some of his energy came back and he started to talk to Christina. "You missed some good stories last night. Wolfman asked us to stay another day, but Pa wanted to move on to take advantage of the full moon."
"What kind of stories?" .
"One was funny. The Lapps tell stories about a people they call the Savolacs. They think the Savolacs are pretty dumb. It was even worse than the stories those crazy Swedes tell about us."
Olaf had her attention. She liked a good story. "Who are the Savolacs?"
"Pa and I aren't sure, but they aren't Scandinavians. We think maybe it's some group in Russia. The story was about three Savolacs who went hunting for a bear. They found a den and decided to send one of them in with a rope to tie up the hibernating bear. They put a rope around the man going into the cave so they could pull him out if he had any trouble. Being a Savolac he does a clumsy job of tying up the bear. This makes the bear angry so he rises up and tears the man's head off. The two Savolacs outside wait a long time but finally decide something must have gone wrong and pull their friend out. When they see him without a head, one of them asks the other one if he had a head when he went in. After thinking for a long time the second one says, "Yes, I know he must've had a head; I remember that he had a beard."
"Oh, no one is that dumb," Christina protested.
"Well, when I said that to Pa, he said, 'Son, you just haven't met the Russians yet.'"
The Russian village was not as neatly kept up as those in Norway, and to Christina the buildings looked shoddy as if the workmen had not learned their jobs well or just didn't care. A Scandinavian would never have settled for such conditions. The people also appeared to be made of cruder material than the Norwegians or Finns. Maybe God hadn't been as careful when he put them together. The men were shorter than her father, but taller than the Lapps. They had dark hair and beards and looked very fierce. She wondered if they frightened Olaf and her father also.
She said to Olaf, “They seem like animals. Are we safe here?"
"Don't be a baby. They know we're Vikings. The Russians respect us as great warriors and know we're not to be trifled with."
Christina stared at him--he was talking nonsense. "We're not warriors."
"The Russians have fought Scandinavians before. Even the Swedes beat them, and everybody knows we are better soldiers than the Swedes."
The Russians all seemed so strange--even stranger than the Lapps. They darted from one building to another, hardly looking at the Gunnersons. She could understand the Lapps staring at them, but to avoid looking at strangers didn't make sense to her. Did they really fear Olaf and Anders?
They were given a room in one of the houses in the village to sleep in and store their goods. As they unloaded their effects into the corners of the room, Anders said, "I don't trust these Russians. They'll steal anything that isn't watched. They're cowards and won't take anything from you directly, but they'll sneak it away when you are not looking." Christina knew enough history to know that Vikings had felt it acceptable to take things from other people as long as they killed them first, but they never stole anything.
Staying close to her father, Christina kept her mouth shut and listened closely. She was surprised to hear him talk to the Russians in that awful sounding language of theirs. After he finished trading a small fur for honey, they took it back to the room. When they were alone, she asked, "Pa, how do you know Russian?"
Anders stopped wrapping the honey jars in straw and sat on the edge of the bed in the room. "I have fished and traded with them for years, so I know some trade talk and some fishing talk. It is not much, but I can get by."
Since he was giving her his full attention, she continued, "The people in the village seem so unhappy. They never smile. Everybody seems afraid. Is something wrong?"
Anders moved to get a more comfortable spot on the bed. He paused pondering her question before speaking. "Their leaders are worse than ours. As bad as the Swedish king is, he doesn't demand what the Russian Czar demands of his people. The powerful in our country always have the upper hand, but they don't sit on us. Here the people are little better than slaves, not free men like the Norse who can come and go as they wish."
They were interrupted by a knock on the door. Two men with full black beards and heavy fur coats were standing there. Looking serious, Anders stepped forward to shake hands. He gestured toward Christina and they nodded in her direction. After a brief exchange Anders pointed to the furs and the two men began sorting through them. While they worked, Anders turned back to Christina.
"These are the buyers I hoped we would find. They travel around the country buying furs. They’ll give me credit at the trading post they run here in the village. We'll be able to pick up all the supplies we need and get back to Norway." Having examined the furs, the men began dickering about the price. Christina saw another side of her father she hadn't known before. The Russians were emotional traders, waving their arms, shouting, and occasionally laughing. After one exchange when her father shouted at them and pointed to the door, she saw tears in one of the men's eyes. She could imagine him saying, "If we pay you that price, my children will go hungry, my wife will have no clothes. You are being unreasonable."
After an hour the deal was struck, and they shook hands. The Russian who had looked as if he had been ready to cry before the dealing was done brought out a bottle of vodka from the pocket of his bearskin coat. From another pocket he dug out three small glasses. Carefully filling the glasses, he handed one to each of the men. They raised the glasses, shouted something she couldn't make out and drank down the vodka. It took four more toasts to finish the bottle. When the toasting and shouting were finished, all three men were happy. The Russians hugged her father, hugged her, hugged each other and floated out the door.
When Olaf came back, Anders lay snoring on the bed. "You missed so much," Christina told him. "The Russian traders came, and Pa acted just like a Russian. He shouted. He hugged the traders, and they cried. Then they all got drunk on vodka."
Olaf looked confused. "Slow down. Tell me one thing at a time." It took her the rest of the evening to tell him all the remarkable events of the afternoon.
The next day was spent picking out supplies at the trading post. The following morning they loaded the sleighs with honey, beeswax for candles, vodka, a bolt of white fabric for Petrina's wedding dress, some bolts of gaily-colored cloth, and some bags of salt and sugar.
Christina was disappointed when they didn't see the Lapps on their way back to the fjord where they had left their boat. With the help of the Northern Lights they were able to travel late into the evening making the land portion of their journey in only two days. The boat trip back to the island was uneventful. Christina was brimming with stories of her adventures to share with Trina, her neighbor, Mrs. Peterson, and Ivar.
The only one who wasn't pleased by her exciting trip was Hans Stammerud. He was concerned that Anders would take his daughter into such a dangerous situation. He made this clear when Anders came over with his bolts of cloth as payment for his debts. When they were finishing up their business and the accounts had been entered into the book, he said to Anders, "A young girl shouldn't be exposed like that to dirty Lapps, wild wolves and thieving Russians. Have you no shame?"
Anders held his tongue. He had mixed feelings about Han's reaction. He didn't like younger men talking to him that way, but he did appreciate that at least one young man was concerned about his Christina. When he told Christina about it, she replied, "What a blubberhead Hans is. What does he think I am made of, sugar?"