Page:Avon Fantasy Reader 10.djvu/46

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the voice of my mother call down the wind, 'Go north.' I had seldom touched foot on shore, had never found a sweetheart, and in my great loneliness when a little French smack found and took me, half frozen, ashore, I had one purpose in life—to find the mother who had been the only loving sweetness I had known.

"No matter how, I had happened to fall in with explorers. Much of it I have forgotten. But it was with MacKenzie I made the first trip to the Arctic Sea through the Canadas."

Here Crayne interrupted the old man to say, "I have made inquiries and find Captain Ek's story of MacKenzie's outfitting at Fort Chipewyan is true. He started from there in 1789 for the Arctic. Here, also, Franklin outfitted for his two land journeys in 1820 and 1825. The name of Christian Ek is recorded on all three expeditions. Go on, Captain Ek."

"There was a girl at that wilderness fort, a young thing with fair hair, sweet as the wild flowers, straight and strong as a young pine, always laughing until we were leaving. Then I missed her and could not say farewell."

A shaking hand brushed across the old man's eyes as if to clear the mists, and he continued: "I found her among the members of our company, dressed in buckskins, like a boy, taking her share of the work, suffering the hardships, with never a complaint nor shirking a task. It was not until we reached the booming breakers of the Arctic Sea that any but me learned there was a woman with us. Then the beast that lives in all men broke forth. Not crueller is this North than human brutes. She, who had taken her place as courageously as they, was hunted, and I alone stood between her and the wolf pack to which they had changed. That fight was of one against many, of knives and fists, and I went down, but not before she was free, and I had seen the wraith of my mother flying under the stars, seen that dear Shade lift my sweetheart, and fly with her north.

"You will say it was a dream of the cold. But I say I saw the Valkyries, heard their cry, the ringing of steel in that music of the Shades. And as they swept away they beckoned me.

"Of that journey over the frozen North, the ice, the storms, the whirling snow, I have only the memory of their voices singing. You have heard that song which I followed. Sometimes they swept about me in Light, warmed my chilled heart, strengthened my limbs. And I came at last to the Bowl, bridged with the Rainbow Arch, and I believed it was Valhalla. There they danced, as you have seen them dance, and I saw the face of my Woman who awaited me on that Bridge of Light. I had started across when the voice of her who was my mother called me back. Instantly the air was filled with cries, urging me forward, and She who was so new a Shade stood with downcast eyes and would not draw me by their lovelight when my Mother called me back.

"Who hesitates on the Arch of Valhalla is doomed. I had known only two loves—mother-love and love for a mate that was as yet new and strange and maddening, that birth of love that is yet of the flesh and not winged