The woman whose footprints stopped
Compiled by John Millen
It had been a long winter, but now spring was at last returning to the snow lands. Akiak lived with his wife, Sakiri, in an igloo at the edge of a frozen creek. Through holes drilled into the ice, Akiak caught fish that Sakiri cooked for their winter meals.
They were grateful for the food that Nature gave them, and to still be alive at the end of each hard winter.
Sakiri always cooked enough fish to share with an old widow that lived nearby. There was talk in the village that she was a wise woman who could do simple magic.
But Sakiri thought nothing of this as she put on her thick green sealskin coat and trudged through the snow carrying food for her old neighbour.
But one day when Sakiri headed out with a plate of food for her neighbour, she disappeared. Her footsteps went out into the snow, and then simply stopped.
Akiak was desperate to know what had happened to Sakiri, but could find no explanation for her mysterious disappearance.
Just as he was losing all hope of ever seeing his wife again, help came from an unexpected source. He had been staring at the footprints for hours, when suddenly, brushing the ice from his eyes, he was aware of a figure standing at the entrance to his igloo. It was the old widow, his neighbour.
'It is time for me to repay your kindness. I do not know what has happened to Sakiri, but I am going to give you my ancient walking stick,' she said.
'It will guide you to her. Drive the stick into the snow each night, and in the morning it will indicate the direction you must take to find her.'
Akiak did as the old woman told him, and for five days he journeyed into the snowy wastelands, Each morning, he followed the direction in which the walking stick was pointing.
The stick eventually led him into a valley surrounded by high cliffs of snow and ice. In the middle of the valley was a massive snow-house. Akiak had never seen anything like that before. Outside, hanging on a wall of ice, Akiak saw a huge dark shape, which he eventually made out to be a pair of leather wings.
As Akiak stared at the weird contraption, a man strode out of the house. Akiak quickly ducked down behind a bank of snow. The man fastened the leather wings to his arms and soared into the sky.
So that was why Sakiri's footprints had just stopped in the snow! The bird-man had swooped down and carried her off to his snow-house in this faraway valley!
Akiak looked back at the house and saw a figure standing at the door watching the bird-man vanish in the sky. It was Sakiri!
Akiak trudged through the snow and called out to his wife. She turned and stretched out her arms to welcome him. 'I knew you would come for me', she said. 'But we have little time. Manraven will be back from hunting soon. We must try to reach a cave I have seen in the hillside over there. He will not find us there.'
But Sakiri was wrong. The couple, appearing like two tiny dots from the sky, left a clear trail of footprints behind them as they trudged through the snow.
Manraven followed the fugitives with his beady eyes from high in the sky as they reached the cave. He swooped down, covering the entrance with his vast wings.
As soon as the light vanished inside the cave, Akiak knew what had happened. Manraven had caught them. Sakiri and Akiak were trapped with no means of escape.
Suddenly, the old woman's walking stick began to quiver in Akiak's grip. It shot out of his hand like an arrow and hit the black curtain covering the mouth of the cave. Instantly the raven-man was turned to ice. As the stick fell to the ground, Akiak picked it up and hit the ice curtain, shattering it into a thousand shards.
As they left the cave and walked down into the valley, Akiak paused occasionally to check his wife's footprints in the snow. Then he glanced up into the empty sky. But all was well.
Akiak and Sakiri quickly forgot about their ordeal as they set off on the long walk through the still, white landscape to their igloo at the edge of the frozen creek.
1 Where did Sakiri and Akiak live?
2 How was Sakiri kind to an old neighbour?
3 What happened to Sakiri one day as she was visiting her neighbour?
4 How did the old woman help Akiak?
5 How did Akiak kill the raven-man?
1 They lived in an igloo at the edge of a frozen creek somewhere in the Arctic.
2 Sakiri prepared food for the old widow during winter.
3 She simply vanished into thin air.
4 She gave him a magic stick that would lead him to his wife.
5 The raven-man was turned to ice by the old woman's magic walking stick.