The Unconquerable Heart of Ice

A retelling of a Mi’kmaq tale.

When the world was young, long before it became old and bad and rotted, people would travel along the Saguenay River up to the Northern Woods in search of good hunting ground in the land of ice and snow. The Northern Woods, it was said, extended forever and had no limit. Under dark grey skies, the hunters and their families would walk softly among the towering trees and snow banks. For no birds stirred in that cold land.

Deep within those silent forests lived the Chenoo, men and women whose souls were poisoned with ice, their minds turned to blood and killing, their bodies twisted with rage. It is said the Chenoo was once human but something foul came to live among the ruins of its half-burned soul. The soul-stone, the thought-stone.

In their unceasing hunger they chewed off their own lips. With bloody smiles they stalked through the firs. They were known to roll about in sap until their shriveled flesh was covered with dead leaves and moss. Sometimes hunters came across them so disguised and they rarely returned to camp for the Chenoo grow in strength as does their hatred and thirst for violence. Such is their love for fighting that when an ancient Chenoo comes to its end, its own kinsmen delight in slaughtering and consuming it. In this way they take its power into themselves and become mightier. Indeed the Chenoo fought each other as often as not and the forest was torn asunder by their battles. Trees were torn from their roots and boulders shattered into a million jagged shards. Deep within the cold heart of the Chenoo lies a tiny figure of a human carved in ice. Little hands, little feet, every detail perfect. Moreover, for every human heart that the Chenoo devours, it adds another shimmering figure of ice to its own dark soul.

Once, a beautiful young girl traveled with her family to the Northern Woods during the long winter hunt. With her traveled a young man whose lust for her drove him to follow her wherever she went. His hair was long and his limbs straight and strong but the girl found something loathsome and cruel lurking in his eyes. In time he hoped to impress her with his valor on the hunt but she would not look upon him kindly no matter how many deer’s hearts wet the tip of his spear. As they journeyed deeper and deeper into the frozen heart of the North, the young man grew more and more maddened and desperate in his love. Every night he would throw the bodies of the animals he had slain that day at her door. The winds grew colder.

At last the young man, realizing that the girl would never love him, fell into despair. Knowing that he would never possess her, he turned his thoughts to revenge. Being versed in the ways of medicine, the young man went into the forest by himself one night to gather that herb which makes people sleep. The next day he came upon the girl when the others were not looking and help the herb to her nose. She fell, insensible. The young man ripped open the furs around her throat and he felt warm in his loins as he gazed upon the flush of her skin and the graceful curve of her neck. Then he gathered a bit of snow and placed it in the delicate hollow just below her throat. The young man did not stay to observe the results of his evil-working. He disappeared into the forest and was swallowed by time and the raging snows.

For many days the girl slept and no matter what they did, her family could not wake her. As she lay there, the cold crept deeper and deeper inside of her. When she finally awoke she was sick and shivering. Her family tried to give her meat but she would not eat. Her parents asked her what ailed her but she would not reply and turned away from them angrily. Time passed and still the girl would not eat. She had become strange and her family could scarcely recognize her, so thin and wretched had she become. One day she was sent out to fetch water and when she did not return, her mother followed her. In horror, she found her daughter crouching on all fours on the ground like an animal panting as she shoveled handfuls of dirty snow into her mouth. “Oh, my daughter. What has become of you?” Her mothered wailed. The girl looked up with wide, blood-shot eyes, and said, “There is a fire inside, mother, and only the heart of ice can soothe me.”

After this, the young girl’s family avoided her as much as they could and everyone looked at her parents with pity. The girl’s condition grew worse. She began to attack people, clawing at them with her dirty fingers and gnashing her teeth. In such moments her parents would seize her. “Mother! Father!” She howled, “Please, let me kill! I want to kill!”

At last with tears in her eyes, the girl came to her family, all gathered in the big lodge, and she said to them that they must kill her or she would surely slaughter them all. She told them that they must use seven arrows to kill her. If after the seventh arrow found its mark she was still breathing then they would all perish. With heavy hearts seven men came forward with their bows. The girl smiled and stood with her arms open. The first man shot his bow and his arrow buried itself deep in her heart. The girl continued smiling and beckoned encouragingly to the others. One after another, the men shot their arrows into the girl’s heart. Only with the last, and seventh, arrow did she fall at last. The family burned the girl’s body and long after her flesh had turned to ash did her icy heart remain hard and invincible. Eventually the heart melted and dissolved. The family broke camp soon after and no one has ever set foot in that place again.

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