- Crystal Kingdom
The wolf closest to me hesitated, growling at me once more, before turning back and running with the other one toward the hut. The home owner was still holding a gun, but she’d called the dogs off, so I took that as a good sign. I slowly stepped closer to the hut, and a second later, Ulla followed me.
“Who are you? What do you want?” the woman barked at us.
“I just wanted to talk to you for a minute. If that’d be okay.”
She was cloaked in thick fur, and a hood hung low over her face, so I could only see her mouth, scowling at me. As she considered my proposal, it seemed to take forever, with the two wolves standing by her side.
Finally, she said, “You’ve walked all this way. I might as well let you in.” Without waiting for us, she went back into the hut, and the wolves trailed behind her.
Since I wasn’t actually sure how safe any of this would be, I turned to Ulla. “You can head back to town if you want. I can handle this from here.”
“No way. This is better than anything that happens in town.”
I didn’t want to stand out here and argue with her, especially not when someone with a shotgun and wolves was waiting on me. So I nodded and went on.
Inside the hut, the walls were made of gray exposed wood, and there was a wood-burning stove, small kitchen table, and bed all in the same room.
It was surprisingly warm inside, and the woman had already taken off her fur and tossed it on the bed. Her long dark hair was pulled back in a frizzy braid that went to her knees. She wore a loose-fitting black dress with wool leggings, and, much like Ulla, she wore many pieces of wood and ivory jewelry.
When Ulla and I came in, she was busying herself filling up two metal dishes with chunks of meat from an ice chest. I took off my hat and scarf while I waited for her to finish. The wolves whimpered excitedly until she set the bowls down before them, and then she turned her attention to us.
Her eyes were dark gray, with thick lashes framing them, and without all the fur she appeared rather petite. She looked to be in her early twenties, but with her arms crossed over her chest, she gazed at me with the severity of someone much older and much more hardened by life.
“What do you want?” she demanded.
“Are you Kate Kissipsi?” I asked.
“That’s what they call me,” she replied noncommittally.
“I was just looking for someone, and Ulla Tulin”—I motioned to Ulla beside me, and she gave Kate a small wave—“thought you might know something.”
“I live alone with nothing but Magni and Modi.” Kate looked over to where the wolves were chomping down on the semi-frozen red meat. “I don’t think I can help you.”
“Do you know anything about a Mina Arvinge?” I asked, almost desperately. “Anything at all?”
Her eyes widened for a moment, but her expression remained hard. Finally, she let out a heavy breath. “Ayuh. You mean my sister?”
My jaw dropped. “She’s your sister?”
“I suppose I should make us some tea, then.” She turned her back to us and went over to the stove. “Come in and sit down. You’ll probably have a lot you want to talk about.”
Sorry about the gun,” Kate said, glancing over to where the shotgun rested by the door.
“It’s no problem,” I told her hurriedly, eager to get on with the conversation.
Ulla and I had taken off our jackets and sat down at the table while Kate prepared the tea. The metal teapot had begun to whistle, so she came over and poured hot water over the tea bags into chipped ceramic mugs.
“We’ve had problems with nanuqs this year, coming too close to the house and getting more aggressive than normal. The long winter’s been hard on them,” Kate explained as she sat down across from us.
Nanuq was one of the few Inuktitut words I remembered—it meant “polar bear.” We had plenty of polar bears that lived around Doldastam, but they were almost never hostile. Still, I didn’t want to start my interactions with Kate by doubting her claims.
“They call me Kate Kissipsi, but that’s not really my name,” she began, staring down at the mug. The larger of the two wolves lay close to the wood-burning stove, while the other lay on her feet. “We came here when I was seven, and nobody here wanted to take in orphaned children.”
She looked up at Ulla then, who nodded solemnly.
“Too many babies and kids are dropped off here,” Ulla said. “There aren’t a lot of open hearts or open doors anymore.”
“None of the Kanin would have us here, but we were eventually taken in by an Inuit family that lived nearby,” Kate said. “That’s when I adopted the name Kissipsi—it means ‘alone’ in Inuktitut, and that seems like the best word to describe my life.
“Arvinge isn’t really Mina’s last name either,” she added.
As soon as she said it, it clicked with me. The Kanin had taken to using many Swedish words for official titles and names, even adopting them as surnames. It was so common, I hadn’t thought anything of Mina’s alleged maiden name until now.
“Arvinge means ‘heir’ in Swedish,” I said, thinking aloud. And then everything began falling into place “And you came here when you were seven? It was in 1999, wasn’t it?”
Kate nodded, but she hadn’t even needed to confirm it. It all made sense.
I leaned back in my chair. “Holy shit. You’re Viktor Dålig’s daughters.”