Linke shifted, careful not to press himself too close to the likely unstable wall. Ivgalrea’s tipi- Jan’s enthusiasm for the term was wearing on him- was obviously not meant to provide shelter to as many people as it currently was, i.e. seven. It was not helping things that three of them were noticeably above average height.
Juri had decided lying down was uncomfortable, so he was in a vague lotus position to Linke’s right. Jan was next to him but slumped, the slobbery bastard, against Linke’s side because that was the most ideal situation for everyone, unlike using someone’s lap as a pillow or lying down on the grass mats. Linke had tried to shove Jan into Juri or at least somewhat more upright without much success, leaving him stuck with an ever-growing pool of drool on his shoulder.
His left was bereft because Frank was playing cards with Fabi. They were using an upturned flashlight for light. Linke would protest the waste, but he had more than enough batteries stashed away because of Frank to say anything. It lent some normalcy to this fucked up outing, too, so there was that.
Besides, what was as interesting as it was uncomfortable was the way Fabi’s brother and Mäx were curled around each other. Now Linke wasn’t known for his insistence on barriers…but there was something about imagining two people being coupley less than a meter away that got to him; made him itchy. And he didn’t have time for that.
They were stranded on an impossible island. They needed to focus. He needed to focus, more like. Frank could do whatever he wanted.
The tipi wasn't spacious and the bundles were still unwieldy, but, with little to no trees on the horizon, they could always count on having better shelter than a lean-to.
Linke closed his eyes, but he couldn’t get rest, couldn’t relax. His thighs and feet still throbbed from long hours of walking over rough terrain in socks that had never gotten a real chance to dry.
It had taken only seconds to convince Jo, Fabi, and Mäx to come with them. The trio had been moving rather aimlessly until they had run into a hunting party, who had taken them back to Svabalrea’s village, “while poking the shit out of them,” according to Jo.
So it was that they had started in on another day of walking across an island that was becoming increasingly large in Linke’s mind, the only difference being the addition of four- yes, four- travel companions. Svabalrea would now be coming with them. Ivgalrea had said it was “for protection”.
Svabalrea had loaded them down with supplies, half of which were piles of poles and brush wrapped in greasy, immensely heavy, sewn-together hides. That had led them to switch loads, mostly because Linke and Juri had silently agreed that it was a dick move to make two women older than their mothers carry anything any distance when they could do it themselves. So now he and Juri were both carrying brush, and Frank and Jan were carrying the packs. It made for oodles of fun.
Physical pain followed Linke, blisters and scrapes, the bite of frigid cold, the chafe of salt-coated clothing, and the ache of muscles unused to traveling kilometers day after day. His lungs ached from air that was too cold, too thin, from moving along a perpetually uphill path. When they reached the glacier, a river of ice streaked with the most brilliant, electric blue, there were added burdens, slick patches and crevasses to watch out for. Linke slipped a time or two the two days they walked along it. Considering the throbbing and the dull ache in his head, he probably had a concussion.
He began to play games with himself, little tests of his own self-discipline and little lies, like ten more steps and then you can rest or you can empty the rocks from your shoe in five minutes. When ten more steps or five more minutes came, he made up a new game, a new promise. This went on and on, for hours, while he tried to craft melodies and harmonies in his head, repeat earworms until they became tuneless, did anything, really, to escape the pain and the frustration, and the fear deep, deep within him that everyone they knew was gone.
Jo had become his partner in complaining. This was odd for two reasons: a) Jo was more fit than most of their little band of merry misadventurers; and b) Linke wasn’t actually voicing his ill mood, so Jo was essentially whining for himself, unless his boyfriend got off on it. Regardless, Jo was saying the things Linke was only barely keeping himself from saying.
Linke’s main aggravation and motivation in all this was Jan. Jan, who couldn’t stop pestering Ivgalrea with questions because she was suddenly his best friend in the whole world. Jan, who was acting like this was still the excavation and not a shit-terrifying situation where they could die like everyone else h- might have. Jan, whose sudden friendship with Ivgalrea, whose rekindling with Fabi and Frank, whose ongoing, epic flirtation with Juri were all moving steadily closer to something threatening to Linke, something he had no right to contest because he’d never been there for Jan in the first place. If Jan could go every day with minimal complaints and stringent determination, Linke could, too.
They traveled for a week this way, meeting no one else. A week over steppe, glacier, and hilly grassland without anyone else in sight. They might not be making great time, but Linke found himself questioning again and again how such a big tract of inhabited land had gone unnoticed by the outside world for so long. Frank’s receiver had no concept of any land here at all, just ocean.
Which meant no one would find them if they didn’t make it to Jan Mayen.
Because there was so much land and they were traveling across it rather than hugging the coastline, Linke told himself not to worry that they were finding no signs of Timo, David, or any other travelers. It didn’t mean anything when another day passed with no other human life presenting itself. Still, a deep part of him he didn’t want to address was troubled by it.
That first dusk, Ivgalrea had taken the bundles of brush from off Juri’s and Linke’s backs and begun to lash three poles together in a distinct fashion.
“Tipi!” Jan had blurted out happily. Linke would have called it a chum or a Kohte personally, but tipi worked. Tipi worked because it added that little bit of whimsy and disconnect to this miserable world of travel with only a vague end in sight.
Linke drew in a harsh breath, tugged Jan a little bit closer to him, and pretended he felt any hope.
“Chris,” Juri said, his deep voice low and quiet. Once again, they were walking. Walking and walking, and walking to a city Ivgalrea claimed existed, a claim that, coincidentally, couldn’t be corroborated by anyone. Also, because Linke was getting a backlog of karma that would kill a lesser man, Frank was hitting on Svabalrea. From a purely scientific standpoint, it would probably be quite fascinating how Frank managed to get his desires across politely without a shared language. Linke had never got the hang of distancing himself from anything (he had an opinion about everything, yes, everything unless it was horribly boring and that was an opinion in and of itself, wasn’t it?), however.
“What?” he asked.
“Frank and I have been going over the coordinates and looking at the route we took before we hit the storm-”
“Frank was paying attention to that?”
“Yes. He set his receiver to record our path.” Frank. Frank. Blessed, wonderful Frank who was always far more useful and together than anyone expected. “About that. The route…” Juri frowned.
“Unless the Kaulitzes are terrible at navigation, we were never heading for Austurland.”
“So why did th- the Mountain People call your grandmother that?” Jan asked, stumbling over his words. They had been traveling uphill for some time, and he was out of breath. He had been out of breath for days, to be honest, which was actually kind of great since it meant he’d be in great shape when they got back home.
“Excuse me?” Ivga asked. Her German had been improving greatly every day. Jan would like to think it was because he was an amazing teacher, but it was probably because she was just getting used to speaking it again. It wasn’t like there were too many people around here for her to talk to.
“You said they called your grandmother a sorceress. Why?”
“Oh.” Ivga’s brows bunched together. “She lived very long time. People here, they not live very long. Thirty, forty years maybe. My grandmother, she lived seventy.”
“And you’re pretty old, too, right?”
“Right.” Ivga said the word uncertaintly. “Also, people died. When she first came to island, big sickness. Wherever she went on island, people died. She traveled many years from people to people. Everywhere, people died. They called her sorceress because.”
“She killed people?” Fabi asked, butting in. Jan grinned at him. He wasn’t grinning at Fabi’s words, of course, because that would be weird and morbid, just that Fabi was walking up with them and keeping them company. Juri stayed towards the back of the group, Mäx and Jo spent much of their time making side comments to each other or doing their weird, we’re-not-boyfriends-except-we-totally-a
“No!” Ivga burst out vehemently, startling Jan. Seeing this, Ivga backed down. “Excuse me. Everyone said she killed but no. I knew her. She killed no one. People…they died around her. But not because of her.”
Jan changed the topic quickly. Soon they were telling Ivga about Germany, which was probably incredibly confusing as Jan was talking about Schleswig-Holstein and Fabi was talking about Bayern, but Ivga seemed rapt nonetheless.
Jo let out a low whistle around midday. He and Mäx had wandered ahead of the group, only to stop as they finally started going downhill.
A valley spread out below them, grassy slopes tapering down into the wide river bisecting it. While it would have been noteworthy enough that they had finally reached something that corresponded with Ivga’s map, there was something else in that valley. On the right side of the river were people.
They were the first humans they had seen in days, those people gathered on the slope into the valley. Relief coursed through Jan. They must be close to the city now.
That was when he saw that it was no idle gathering.
A tall pole had been sunk into the ground, a man tied to it by ropes around his arms and waist. The people standing in a circle around the man held stones, their intention clear. Stoning was, in a way, a kinder punishment on society…and far, far more cruel in another. No stone could be deemed the killing blow, so no one person was responsible for the death, but that meant every person who launched a stone was equally responsible for the death.
“Maybe we should come wait until they’re done,” Jan suggested. He didn’t want to see this, didn’t want it to happen, but knew it wasn’t his place to say anything. The best they could do was leave and come back. He said as much.
Linke, being Linke and therefore predictably unpredictable, forgot all about the basic ethics of their field, and continued down the slope, tapping the shoulder of the first person he came upon, a boy dressed in a dull green tunic belted almost at his hips.
“What is going on here?” Linke asked, his voice sharp and making Jan cringe on the inside. This wasn’t their place. The man facing his death looked strong. His chin was up, his nostrils flared in anger. His body language, in sharp irony, said he could take care of himself.
Ivga translated quickly into a strange, sibilant language. It didn’t sound exactly like what she had used with Lakti or her own daughter.
“Miscegenation,” she said in German. “This man lay with woman from different people. Woman Utmoak; man Kumjenak. He must die.”
Jan didn’t get angry often and shame wasn’t something he felt much, either, but right then he wanted to rip the fucking heads off of every one of those fucking fuckfaces, because miscegenation was a word he knew far too well and one he didn’t like at all. It was a word they all knew, a word they’d known was wrong from the first they had ever heard it.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Linke took a step forward, hands balled at his sides. Frank grabbed his shirt in a tight fist and pulled him back.
“It’s not our culture,” he warned.
“It’s still fucking wrong,” Jan spat. He literally spat on the ground, he was that fucking disgusted. “What are they going to do to him?” he asked Ivga.
“He will die,” was the old woman’s simple answer.
“We have to stop this.”
“You got a plan?” Jo asked.
Linke’s face twisted in a cruel grin.
“Ow.” Jo clutched his cheek where a bruise was coming into full bloom.
“My face hurts,” Fabi commiserated. Blood dribbled from his split lip and he had a bruise forming to match his brother’s. “That was a very, very bad plan,” he told Linke.
“Oh, shove it.”
“No, seriously, that was terrible.”
“They didn’t kill him, did they?”
Although the man had gotten away, probably to go into hiding far from his homicidal tribesmen, charging at the same tribesmen had proved painful and near suicidal. If it hadn’t been for the freaking carving knives Linke had produced out of nowhere and the locals’ lack of metal weapons, they wouldn’t have gotten away themselves. Gotten away was a bit relative, though, as they were hiding behind a ridge while the tribespeople searched for them. Jan had a very tiny bit of hope that they would give up the search well before their expert knowledge of the local terrain panned out.
“Ah, shit,” Linke said abruptly, looking at Juri’s back. This drew Jan’s attention immediately. He sucked in sharply when he saw the red, spreading stain on his friend’s lower back and the stone hand axe that was the cause of it.
“What?” Juri asked.
“I’ll get something to stop the bleeding,” Frank said far too brightly.
“Juri, you’re gonna need to sit down.”
“What’s going on?” Jan asked, looking worried.
“Yes, what is going on?”
“I’ve got iodine tablets as well,” Frank offered, pulling a shirt that looked suspiciously like it belonged to Linke out of the insanely heavy backpack Jan had been carrying. He had thrown it off when they stopped just to be able to breathe.
“Bad idea. Do you have any clean water, if we can wash it out, that should be good.” Jan was grasping at sketchy memories of first aid and chemistry courses he’d taken back when he’d wanted to do something in medicine, way before he’d decided this with its poor pay and little respect was what he wanted to do with his life. Why had he wanted to do this again? Fuck.
“Does anyone know how to sew?” Frank asked, holding up a needle and a spool of thread he had produced from his backpack. Seeing this and still getting no answer from anyone, Juri’s face turned swiftly to alarm.
“What do you need to sew up? Chris, you are not doing this,” he warned when Linke moved to take needle and thread from Frank. “You don’t have nimble fingers.”
“’Nimble fingers’,” Linke echoed to Frank, who giggled. “The man says I don’t have ‘nimble fingers’. Pray tell, Juri, my good sir, whose fingers are ‘nimble’ enough for you?”
Juri groaned, reaching to rub his face in his hands.
“Don’t do that!” Jan commanded. Didn’t Juri know lifting his arms would stretch the skin on his back and shift the position of the point? “You’re just going to make it worse. Here, I’ll do it.” Jan didn’t think Juri would object to that. “Give me the thread, Frank.”
“Does anyone want to tell me what is going on?” Juri demanded.
“No,” Linke said simply.
Jan bit his lip. “You got stabbed with a hand axe, Juri.”
“Which means you’re either very stupid for not telling us about it or exceptionally thick for not noticing it in the first place.” Always so very helpful, Linke was.
Juri’s answer was low and indecipherable. He might have even cursed.
Jan accidentally on purpose leaned too close to Juri, using his shoulder as a balancing point. The bleeding wasn’t bad and probably would have stopped by itself, but it wasn’t a good thing to be walking around with a biface several centimeters deep that close to your skin or anywhere really. Juri made a strangled noise as Jan, using Linke’s probably, possibly, hopefully clean shirt to apply pressure, yanked the small knife out of his lower back.
“I don’t think it hit your kidneys,” (“Bullshit, Jan, don’t pretend you have any idea what you’re talking about,” came from Linke’s direction; Jan had a very good understanding of human anatomy, thank you very much, and had spent enough time studying Juri’s to have a good idea which parts were where, so Chris could suck his very large, very manly dick.) Jan told Juri, seemingly unaware of the very evident pain that had caused him. He poured water over the gash, which Linke held close so he could start the suturing. It didn’t take long. Jan was rather pleased with how well he did considering how little practice he’d had. “Tell us if blood starts coming out either end.”
Juri didn’t look too reassured by that statement, but he agreed to do so. He even thanked Jan for sewing him up with a surprisingly heartfelt hug, which kind of made the little blonde’s day.
Then the tribespeople caught up to them, and they had to set off running again.