The Tale of Tiger Lily - Chapter Two
When the North Winds Blow
The morning sky was dark and grey, and the rain and the winds roaring in from the north made the canoes bounce wildly as they sailed toward the mainland. It was apparent from the shape of their small birch bark canoes and the rough unkempt appearance of the occupants that they were traders from the tribes of the north. Their bodies were thick and pale in contrast to the tribes of the south, whose crisp, clean attire adorned their slender sun-darkened skin.
When the canoes docked, children and adults of all ages began to unload them. They were to stay for a fortnight to trade Arctic furs of caribou, polar bear, and moose in exchange for the precious treasures of the south.
The days felt longer with Tiger Lily gone. There was quietness in Jerrekai’s life. The daily company and conversations came to an abrupt end and Jerrekai’s smile had faded. Some days he would walk up to the clearing in the woods and carve instruments to pass time; other days he would sit on the rock and listen to the wind blow, hoping answers would come for the many questions in his head. Today was one of those days. As Jerrekai sat on the rock asking the Creator for guidance, his meditation was broken by noise coming from the branches behind him.
Jerrekai clutched his knife and braced himself to see a bear, but instead a strange-looking northern boy with wild curly hair jumped out of the bushes with a spear in hand in pursuit of a jackrabbit.
After a few unsuccessful attempts to spear the skilful creature, Jerrekai could not contain his laughter anymore.
The wild-haired boy stopped abruptly and turned to see Jerrekai holding his belly in amusement.
“You are doing it all wrong,” Jerrekai called out in between chuckles. “You will never catch a jackrabbit with a spear. Didn’t your father teach you about the hunt?” Jerrekai felt compelled to help the poor young boy of the north who didn’t know how to hunt. “You need to set a snare. Here, let me show you.”
Jerrekai looked for a good piece of willow to cut free. He peeled back the layers of willow to produce strands that he quickly weaved together to form a snare, which he then tied to a short branch near the trail. The boy watched in silence.
“Here, you try,” Jerrekai offered.
As Jerrekai handed over the knife and the willow to the boy, he gasped at a sudden realization. The young wild-haired boy was in fact a young wild-haired girl. “You’re not a boy!” he exclaimed.
“Of course I’m not a boy.”
“Then why are you hunting?” asked Jerrekai, still in shock. “Girls can’t hunt!”
“No,” she countered, “girls aren’t supposed to hunt. It doesn’t mean we can’t.” The wild-haired girl began to cut and fashion a snare just as easily as Jerrekai had. “And I know how to catch a rabbit! I was merely perfecting my technique. Didn’t your father ever teach you that spearing a jackrabbit is the best practice for a hunter?”
She picked up her spear and headed back down the path, then called out, “I’ll be back to check my snares in the morning!”
The next morning as Jerrekai was working, he found himself peering over his shoulder at the trail leading to the clearing. He had been so shocked by the girl who was hunting that he continued to think of her all night.
Finally at mid-morning he noticed the girl heading toward the trail. Quickly, Jerrekai set down his tools and went into the clearing after her.
“Why were you hunting?” asked Jerrekai, finally releasing the question that had been on his mind since yesterday.
As if the wild-haired girl was expecting him, she didn’t bother turning around as she answered. “The same reason men hunt—to bring food to my people and for the rush I get when the animal goes down on the first hit.”
Jerrekai was surprised with her candidness. “Is this some sort of new age thing in your tribe?”
“No, but I do it anyway as long as nobody knows,” she revealed. “Anything I catch I give to my brother and he brings it in for me as his own.”
“Clever,” Jerrekai said, astonished.
“I could probably show you a trick or two,” she teased.
Jerrekai smiled back at the girl, who behind all that wild curly hair was quite pretty. She had large round eyes with just a tint of sepia, a small button nose, and a wide grin that ended with dimples in her full cheeks. But it wasn’t just the appearance of the girl that had him smiling. Her pleasant voice, her confidence, and her wit had Jerrekai feeling as if he already knew her.
Hours quickly passed as Jerrekai and the wild-haired girl wandered through the woods swapping hunting secrets, each always trying to top the other. She came from the north, she explained. She and her tribespeople were on their last leg of trading before returning home, and would sail away when the chief and Tiger Lily returned.
Come supper, they had talked so much that they forgot to hunt. Jerrekai, starved for the conversation that he had been missing since Tiger Lily left, invited the girl back to the clearing later that evening to show her something he had made.
The sun had already begun to set when Jerrekai finally finished the work he had neglected that afternoon. He rushed to the clearing without even a bite to eat, hoping that he was not too late. When he arrived, the wild-haired girl was nowhere in sight. Disappointed, Jerrekai turned, sat on the rock, and put his head in his hands.
“RHAAAR!” the girl yelled as she jumped up from behind the rock.
Jerrekai was so frightened that he stumbled forward in a failed attempt to flee.
The girl laughed at him. “Ahh, brave Jerrekai, how will you ever protect me from the wilds of this world?” she teased. “I think I will have to protect you…and hunt for you, and trap for you…” She laughed again.
Jerrekai smiled widely. He found her little games amusing and he was just happy that she had waited.
“I want to show you something,” he said, pulling a handmade flute from his pouch. “This flute is different from the flutes carved from wood. It is made from the reeds of the sea.”
“How did you acquire such a possession?” She looked at it curiously.
“I made it myself,” Jerrekai professed. “When I was a boy, my uncle would take me salmon fishing on the Great Sea. Every now and then we would come across reefs that were shallow enough for us to see clearly along its bottom. Uncle would dive down and cut the reeds to make flutes for all the little children in the village. Since he has now passed, I decided that I would like to carry on this tradition. But this is the first one I’ve made. I’d like to practice a few more times before I start handing them out.”
“I think it is spectacular,” the wild-haired girl said with admiration. “I have clearly underestimated you,” she added jokingly. “May I try it?”
“Yes,” said Jerrekai. “Do you need me to show you?”
“Do I ever need you to show me?” she said, smiling.
The girl put the flute to her lips and began to play a melody that was unquestionably foreign. But for Jerrekai, it was the most enticing melody that he had ever heard. He stretched out in the grass beneath the stars and watched the northern lights dance wondrously to the music.
One by one, the next few nights would be more magical than the previous. Jerrekai continued to be amazed by the wild-haired girl and her adventurous spirt, and she in turn was always surprised with Jerrekai’s knowledge of the world and ability to craft whatever he needed. Not a day went by that they would not laugh and play and tease and challenge each other, but they also knew how to be serious and offer praise when praise was due—though never far in the back of his mind was the beautiful Tiger Lily.
Jerrekai often found himself comparing the two. Tiger Lily seemed delicate and pure—handle her with care or you may break her, touch her and you may dirty her. There were things that she could not do and sometimes there were things she refused to do. Tiger Lily did not run and play like the wild-haired girl. She didn’t long for mindless adventures and distractions. Tiger Lily was practical and reserved; she knew what she wanted and what was needed, whereas the wild-haired girl ignored the rules and questioned the unknown.
But in his heart, Jerrekai knew that Tiger Lily loved him. He was certain of that love just as he was certain that she would be back. The only thing he was uncertain of was the feeling that he had when he was with the wild-haired girl. He knew it couldn’t be love, because it was impossible to be in love with two people. Whatever the feeling was for the wild-haired girl, he was sure it would leave when she did.
One afternoon as Jerrekai and the wild-haired girl were out on one of their adventures, Jerrekai found the answer that he had been seeking.
Up they went. It was a race to the top of the great sycamore tree. Jerrekai did not even try to let the wild-haired girl get a head start; she didn’t need it. Once they reached as high as the branches could sustain, they sat in silence for several minutes to catch their breath. There they sat at the highest peak either of them had ever been, marvelling at the splendour of creation. All around them were treetops and meandering rivers, smoke from the fires in the tiny village below, and in the distance, mountains and valleys as far as the eye could see.
“Do you know the only thing that could possibly happen right now that could be more exhilarating than this?” the girl said to Jerrekai.
“What?” Jerrekai asked, eager to hear her answer.
“This,” said the wild-haired girl as she leaned into Jerrekai and pressed her lips firmly against his.
What Jerrekai felt in that moment had far surpassed anything he had ever felt before. It felt as if all the breath had been removed from his body and replaced with a cold burst of fresh water. His body quivered with pleasure, and right there at the top of the world, Jerrekai knew that what he was feeling was love.
As the pair walked back to the village, giggling and holding hands, Tiger Lily was far from Jerrekai’s mind. He was in love with the wild-haired girl; when he was with her, he could no longer think of anyone else.
But just when Jerrekai was enjoying the feeling of no longer struggling with the questions in his mind, he was suddenly halted when they came face to face with Nascha. He immediately let go of the wild-haired girl’s hand and braced himself for Nascha’s reaction.
Nascha walked up to the couple and without taking her eyes off Jerrekai, she said, “Jerrekai, may I speak with you in private?”
Jerrekai looked at the wild-haired girl. “I will see you this evening.” Then he turned back to Nascha who had not taken her glaring eyes off Jerrekai.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Nascha yelled. “What is Tiger Lily going to say when she finds out you have a little girlfriend?”
“Nascha, you don’t understand.” He put his hands out, trying to calm her. “I care deeply for Tiger Lily, but you and I both know that she and I don’t have a future together. I know she will be hurt, but she will be hurt either way. Her father wants me banished from the village and she’s willing to risk everything for me. I can’t let her do that.”
“Oh, you sound so noble,” Nascha sneered, expressing her disgust. “Please don’t try make me believe that you are doing all of this for her.”
“No,” Jerrekai said. “But it is why I am letting it happen.”
The two were silent for a moment, then Nascha said her final words. “It may be what’s best for her in the end, but it won’t prevent her heart from being broken.”
Nascha walked away, leaving Jerrekai standing alone.
The evening air was cold as the winds blew fiercely. Jerrekai had been waiting for hours for the wild-haired girl to show up, and just as he was about to give up, she walked into sight. There was going to be no easy way to have this conversation and Jerrekai had no idea where he would begin.
“I was going to let you freeze here tonight,” the girl said, “but I decided to come hear what you had to say for yourself. I know whatever it is, it is going to be unpleasant, so you may as well get talking so we can both get over it and move on.”
Her forwardness made it easier for Jerrekai to just come out with what he had to say. Even though he did not feel like he was hiding anything because they were only friends, relationships as important as the one he had with Tiger Lily should have been talked about—yet he never spoke of her once.
“There is a person in my life—a girl, not the one that you saw, but another,” confessed Jerrekai.
“Well, where is she now?”
“She went away with her father, the chief,” he said, finally looking up.
The girl stood in silence. This was the first time Jerrekai had ever seen her speechless. As she tried to make sense of what Jerrekai had just said, he continued, “Her name is Tiger Lily, and we shared a secret relationship before her father took her away. He did not want us together. They set sail the day you arrived and she asked me to wait for her until she returned and I said I would.”
Again there was an unfamiliar silence between the pair. The only sound was the raging winds that Jerrekai tried to ignore.
“I always knew in the back of my mind that she and I could never be together the way she wanted, and when I should have been falling in love, I was falling more into anxiety. Then you showed up and without effort or fear, I fell in love. I’ve never felt more happy and alive than I do now. But before you say anything, I don’t want you to think that I fell in love with you because it was allowed. I fell in love with you because you are amazing. You are…”
The girl put her fingers on his lips. “Did anyone ever tell you that you talk too much?” She smiled. “Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to hear you finish telling me how much you love me, but it’s cold out here.”
Laughing, they embraced in the night air, and as they walked back to the village the wild-haired girl thanked Jerrekai for his honesty.
Over the next several days, the north winds did not ease up and snow blanketed the ground. The songs of the magpies were gone and beavers too had disappeared from sight. No one had predicted that winter would come so early.
Word spread to the village that the weather had delayed the chief’s return. He and Tiger Lily would not be able to travel until the northern winds settled; this early winter also meant that it would delay the wild-haired girl’s departure.
Jerrekai did not know which emotion was stronger, his happiness or his relief. The only feeling that was certain was his affection for the wild-haired girl. He could not live without her; it scared him to think that the time for her tribe to sail back home was not far away. There was only one option left: When the day came that she would sail away, Jerrekai would sail with her and Tiger Lily would be set free to fulfill her destiny and marry her warrior. Jerrekai took great solace in knowing that the beautiful Tiger Lily would one day find the same happiness that he had found.
There in the presence of both tribes, the couple joined together in marriage, solidifying their love for one another. The days that followed were filled with joy as the young lovers played all day long, made love each night, and frolicked in the bliss of knowing that they would never have to part. But among all the happiness and laughter, looming in the back of Jerrekai’s mind was the reality that Tiger Lily would be back soon and they would have to leave the village.
Jerrekai made a promise to himself that he would not leave until Tiger Lily’s return so that he could honour her feelings with the respect that she deserved. He may not have been a warrior, but he was no coward.
When the weather calmed and the boats could sail again, Jerrekai watched as the wild-haired girl bid her family safe travels. She vowed to stay on with him to await Tiger Lily’s return and then the two would leave together.
The day came sooner than anticipated. As Jerrekai and his wife were out gathering feathers to make arrows, they were interrupted by a great eruption from the tribe. The chief had returned, and with him, his beautiful daughter Tiger Lily.
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