A Dwarf for Each
“Murder,” called out Pauloosie. “We want murder and death!”
“No, a dwarf story,” argued Ila. Other children chattered and moved on the library’s story carpet.
The audience for Amaruq’s afternoon stories of Inuit legends was usually children. Pauloosie was a regular, and always wanted stories of murder or cannibalism. Some people thought he watched too much television.
Lately all Ila wanted to hear about were dwarfs, her heroes. Pauloosie figured it was because she was so short, like a dwarf.
Amaruq looked into his carving box and gestured. The lady who always pushed his wheelchair pulled out two soapstone carvings and handed one each to Pauloosie and Ila. Then she swung Amaruq’s wheelchair facing the children.
“Today I will tell a dwarf story for each of you. First Ila.” The children quickly settled down to listen.
“There are dwarf stories from everywhere across the north. This is the story of the Dwarf who Gave Caribou. This is an old story from this island but from far away from here.”
The woman who cared for Amaruq put a mug of herbal tea on the table next to him.
“A man was hunting in summer, looking for marks of caribou having passed. He saw something move. He did not attack right away, instead he moved in its path. It was good he did not attack, for the movement in the grass was not a caribou or a muskox, but a little man, a dwarf.
“The hunter went up to the small man to meet him. When the dwarf first saw the man he stopped, but then resumed walking. This dwarf had a large and very heavy pack on his back. It was bigger than the dwarf.
“The dwarf was suspicious of the man but met him anyway. The hunter was amazed to see that the dwarf carried most of a caribou wrapped in its skin.
“Before the hunter could greet the dwarf, the dwarf said, ‘I know what you are looking for. It is over there.’ The hunter looked where the dwarf pointed. ‘Follow my footprints in the mud.’
“The hunter followed the footprints and found a pile of caribou fat along with the caribou’s head, tongue, and legs. The hungry hunter sucked the marrow from the caribou’s legs. The rest he brought home to feed his family. The dwarf had made a kill for the hunter, and had given it freely. The hunter never met the dwarf again.
“Those are all the words for Ila’s dwarf story.”
There was a small burst of chatter from the children while Amaruq drank from his tea. One girl held up the soapstone carving of a dwarf with a giant pack on his back so more could see it. But the children quickly silenced when Amaruq looked up again.
“Now, for Pauloosie, I will tell the story of the Dwarf Who Smothered a Man. This story is also from Nunavut, and not from the east or west.
“A man was hunting by sled when he saw a little man in the snow. The hunter stopped, waiting to see what the dwarf would do. The dwarf leaped completely over the dogs and landed on the shoulders of the man wrapping his arms and legs around the man’s face and neck.
“The man could not breathe. After a minute he was dying and he fell over backwards. When the man hit the ground, the dogs attacked the dwarf. Maybe they thought he was a fox, because his clothes were made of foxskin.
“As the dogs bit the dwarf, the dwarf let go of the man’s face and neck to defend himself, so the man could breathe again. But the man was too weak to stop his dogs’ attack, so he just watched them. The dwarf was unable to fight off the dogs, and they killed him.”
Amaruq drank more tea.
“When the man was recovered enough to travel, he followed the dwarf’s tracks in the snow to the dwarf’s icehouse. Of course an icehouse for dwarfs is too little for a man to go inside, so the man stood over the airhole and called down, ‘your man is dead. My dogs killed him, because they are bad dogs.’
“There was no response from the house so the man went home. He came back the next day and followed tracks from the icehouse to the water and onto the ice floes. When the ice was too dangerous, he stopped tracking and went home. He never saw the dwarf family.
“That is all there is to this story. There is no more. The stories are done for today.” Amaruq returned to his tea.
Pauloosie grabbed Anik’s arm and shook it when he said, “I thought the dwarf was the killer, then maybe the man was the killer, but it was the dogs. What a great surprise!” Anik seemed enthusiastic, too.
Ila was talking about how strong her dwarf was when the children quieted as they sensed Amaruq was ready to go on.
“Kevin, what did you think of the stories?” Amaruq asked.
“These stories don’t mean anything to me. A dwarf cannot carry a caribou, or leap over a dogsled onto a man’s back. I don’t see any reason for these things to happen.”
Pauloosie went wide-eyed in amazement. Kevin always had some high-sounding scientific or metaphoric interpretation of Amaruq’s stories.
Amaruq nodded approval of Kevin’s honest answer. “Ila, what do you think of your story?”
“It shows that little people can hunt and be strong. And generous. In the second story, the hunter takes the time to go to the dwarf’s family and when he’s there he calls the dwarf a man, he’s saying little people are as good as big people.”
Amaruq nodded again, and sipped his tea. “Osha, what did you think?”
Pauloosie had long ago noticed that Osha always paused before answering, like she was shy. He wished she would just get on with it.
“I think we know from stories of the eastern ice that dwarfs and dogs don’t like each other. I think in Pauloosie’s story that the dwarf jumped on the hunter’s head because it was the highest place around. I don’t think he was trying to smother him. I just think he was scared of the dogs.”
“A good way to look at the story.” Amaruq said. “What do you think Pauloosie?”
Pauloosie was not used to Amaruq calling on him. It surprised him, and he blurted out his answer without thinking.
“Trust. The stories are about trust. In the second story the dwarf did not trust the hunter to keep his dogs under control, so he died. In the first story, the dwarf was cautious, but he trusted the hunter not to steal the best meat from his back, and so they shared and both lived and ate well.”
Amaruq nodded. “On the big ice, having trust or distrust at the right time is often the difference between life and death. Is that true in a big city such as Iqaluit?”
Kevin laughed, and Amaruq looked at him quizzically.
“Eight thousand people is not even a little city. It’s hardly a village,” he said.
“Is not Iqaluit the only city in Nunavut?” Amaruq asked.
“That’s just a governmental designation.”
“To warmlanders a city is a place of people without end. To people of the ice who are used to seeing no more than twenty people at once, Iqaluit is the biggest city ever. The idea is relative, but we are people of the ice, and this is our city.”
Pauloosie hoped Kevin would just shut up.
Ila spoke up. “The first question is whether we need the right amount of trust in the city, and the answer is yes. We have to trust that when we turn out the sewage light, help will come to fix or empty the tank. If our heat stops, we trust neighbors to let us stay with them. But everything is so expensive it is hard to trust the people who sell us food and tools.”
“Why do we need people to sell us food?” Amaruq asked.
“Because we choose to live in this city instead of on the big ice.”
“In the warmlands there are places where people do not have to work to live. They have trees. Many trees have edible fruits, and in some places the ground is covered with fruit that can be eaten without effort. What would it be like to live in a place like that?”
The question was meant for everyone, but little Ila chose to answer again. “Lonely? I mean, if people do not have to work together, maybe they would not stay together.”
Amaruq nodded. “Yes. Lonely I think. It is time for me to drink tea and carve. And time for you to go do something together. Go. We will talk tomorrow.”
And with that, Pauloosie made sure the soapstone carvings were returned to Amaruq’s box and the children charged through the library proper to put on boots and parkas, and tumble out into the snow to play.
This story originally appeared in Stinkwaves V.5#2 Fall 2017