The boy and his wolf stood on the far bank of the Yukon River, watching our boat navigate to the dock at Dawson. He looked my age, maybe seventeen or a year older, and instead of a hat he wore a strip of red cloth tied across his forehead. The wolf was young, sleek and well-fed, and they both had a look of wildness that drew my eyes and held them fast.
Papa noticed me looking. “That boy is Wolf Clan.” My father knew the Yukon’s people from his time here as a young man.
“Will he be at your school?” I asked.
“Maybe, if he’s Métis. Not if he’s full T’rondëk Hwëtch’in; Indians can’t go to municipal school.” My eyes were stuck on the boy, and Papa added, “He will marry a Raven woman one day and his children will be Raven Clan.”
The wolf saw me first and he smiled in a toothy, wolfish way. The boy didn’t smile, he studied me; the tall girl dressed in trousers traveling alone with her father. The wildness in him called out to me, beckoned me, and I wondered if he could hear me the same way.
“I might be your raven,” I whispered at him across the water.
Our new home was on the edge of town, under the slide, and the summertime trapping and fishing jobs were my dominion. After our own stores were full, the furs and extra meat were mine to trade.
Few people in Dawson knew what to make of the white girl called Minty who dressed like a boy and came in from the woods swinging rabbit skins. Mostly they just shook their heads and whispered behind their hands about motherless girls that no man would ever take to wife. I didn’t mind the talk. I was motherless, and my father had raised me to be capable. Helpless isn’t a female condition, he always said, it’s an ignorant one. Along with books, life lessons were the most important things he taught in school.
I sold some skins in town, but I preferred to do my trades in Moosehide, the Indian village down river. The women there taught me things for free, just for making the two mile trip. I learned some Hän words from them, the plants to keep infections out, and a way to tan the rabbit skin using its own brains. The boy and his wolf lived there, and sometimes I heard his wild song in the woods, when his eyes tracked my progress down the trail and his wolf kept a wary eye out for bears.
It was midsummer when I found the raven chick. Her nest had been felled by a woodsman’s axe, and her mother and siblings killed in the fall. She was just old enough for me to feed without chewing the food first, a good thing since she ate all manner of worms and insects. I tucked her inside my shirt, and when she still lived after a week, I named her Raven. It wasn’t just what she was, it was who she was – elegant and feminine and sleek and pretty. It was more than a girl with a buck knife and a raven tucked in her shirt could say for herself.
I saw Wolf Boy the first time I walked to Moosehide with Raven. He was cutting wood while his wolf lounged in the sun nearby. The wolf saw me, and the boy could feel us there, but he didn’t turn to look, and I didn’t stay to make him. In the village, the children laughed at Raven, and the women shook their heads. But no one hid their smiles behind their hands, and Sara, a village elder, took to calling me Raven Girl after that.
I was often in the woods near Moosehide with Raven. I taught her to fly, to land on my shoulder, and to hunt for her own food. Soon, the whispers in town grew to angry murmurs about the new teacher’s wild girl who spent too much time with Indians.
“Ignore the gossips, Minty. It’s their own consciences that need wiping, not yours,” my father said one night when I worried out loud about Mrs. Kellerman and how far her voice carried at the trading post.
Raven squawked loudly and tucked her head beneath my hair. “Why do they make such a fuss about Indians?” I asked.
Papa looked thoughtful. “People have different reasons for thinking themselves superior. Usually it’s fear, but sometimes it’s ignorance too. I try to teach my students to open an eye to the ways we’re the same, and then the differences don’t seem so big.”
Raven grew as the summer turned cool and the rabbits got wary, and she mostly rode my shoulder or flew overhead when we hunted. We were at the river washing rabbit skins the day Wolf Boy finally spoke to me.
“Why you got a raven?” His low voice startled Raven and she shot up into a tree. His wolf laughed at her in that wolfish way as he stood at the boy’s side.
I tried to cover my surprise with a shrug. “Why do you have a wolf?”
He contemplated the skins I dragged through the chilly river. “Those for Moosehide?”
“Probably. Sara said she’d teach me to make gloves if I brought her matching ones.”
He nodded, considered, and melted back into the willow trees. I sighed out the breath I held, and Raven returned to settle on my shoulder.
The boy came back a few minutes later with a handful of willow sticks and some long grass. He sat at the edge of the river and wove a cage of sorts. His wolf lounged behind him and watched Raven with one eye, the boy with the other.
“Do you go to school in Dawson?” I asked.
He tied a deft knot. “Don’t go to school.”
“Missionary school in Moosehide’s not for me.” He shot a quick, wary glance past me. “Ran away from the school at Carcross.” He got up and handed me the cage. “Put the skins in here and wedge it underwater with rocks. Leave ‘em for a couple days, they’ll get clean.”
Before I could stammer my thanks he was gone. Not once did he meet my eyes, yet the wildness in him called to me like a siren’s song. I secured my skins in his cage and weighed it down with rocks like he said, then walked home on shaky legs.
That night, after the rabbit stew was eaten and we’d settled in before the fire, I asked my father about Carcross.
“The church and the government think to help the Indians by making them more like Whites. There’s an education to be had at the school at Carcross, but taking kids from their families and stripping off their culture is going to have consequences no one’s thought of yet.”
“They make them go?” I asked.
Papa nodded. “I heard they sometimes take Indian kids in the dead of night, then shoot ‘em if they run.”
I sat by the fire with my father, silent about the wolf boy who had run from the place that could strip the wildness away.
I didn’t see him the next time I went to Moosehide, when Sara taught me to sew gloves, or the next, when little Joe gave me shooting lessons with his toy bow. Then school began and the days were full of reading stories and figuring numbers. My favorite was science. The natural world gave all the reading and figuring a place to mean something that felt real – like something I could touch and taste and smell.
Raven waited for me outside the schoolhouse each day, and together we checked traps and collected the washed skins from Wolf Boy’s cage. I missed him. I felt his absence like still water or a windless day, with no music to stir the air, and I tried not to worry that they had come in the night to take him.
Moosehide visits stopped when the snow came and game was scarce. By Christmas, half the day was a night by the fire. If I was restless, my raven was twice so, and Papa banished us outside one Saturday in February so he could work in peace.
I wore my rabbit skin gloves and Raven flew above me, croaking her pleasure at the chill in the air. I tramped through the fresh snow to the field at the base of Moosehide Slide. There might be early spruce tips to harvest or an animal to track just for the fun of it.
There were prints in the field – wolf prints – and I searched for the flash of a red band. There, in the trees at the edge of the clearing, was the red I sought. The wolf boy stood motionless, like he waited for me, and I approached carefully.
“You want to hunt?” He asked with no preamble. His eyes rested just above my shoulder.
I nodded and Raven croaked her agreement. He looked at her and a corner of his mouth quirked up, and a thrill whispered through me.
We started up the trail into the hills behind Dawson. He wore a rifle slung over one shoulder, a bow and quiver of arrows on his back, and a buck knife at his hip. His wolf led the way, and I followed with Raven when the path narrowed. At the overlook, he handed me a water skin.
“What’s your name?” His voice was pitched low and his song hummed in my veins.
“Araminta. My father calls me Minty.”
A wild raven danced in the sky above us, and he seemed to decide which name fit as he watched it. “I like Araminta,” he finally said.
“What’s yours?” I asked.
“Named for the old Chief?”
He shrugged. “Probably.”
I took off my rabbit fur glove and held out my bare hand to shake. “Nice to meet you, Isaac.”
He pulled off his own glove with his teeth and took my hand in his. And then his eyes met mine. “You too, Araminta.” His gaze tied me in knots, and I swallowed hard to keep my heart down.
The wolf growled behind him, and then Raven called a startled warning. Before I could turn, Isaac had the rifle off his shoulder and aimed it right past mine.
The shot rang in my head like thunder, and Isaac yelled something muffled and far away. He pushed me down and shot again.
Steam rose from the bear’s blood where it stained the snow.
Raven screamed and flew at its lifeless eyes, and the wolf’s menacing growl was strangely comforting as the ringing cleared from my head.
A shout called from a miner’s cabin below, and Jim Kellerman strode up the hill just as Isaac held his bare hand out to me. Jim took in the scene and he scowled. “Everyone okay,” he asked me.
I nodded shakily, and Raven finally returned to her perch on my shoulder. Jim’s eyes narrowed at her, then even further when he saw Isaac’s wolf. “You kids should be in school,” he snarled.
“It’s Saturday,” I said. Isaac’s face was impassive as he pulled out his knife and knelt to skin the bear.
“You all get on home now and let me see to the bear,” Jim said. He glared at us both equally.
Isaac ignored him as he pulled a handful of steaming entrails out of the bear’s belly and tossed them to the wolf. Then he cut off a piece of liver, caught Raven’s eye, and threw it to her.
Isaac glanced at me. “Make a cut here and here,” he indicated points on the bear. “Cut around the holes and you’ll have enough skin for a pouch to carry the meat home.”
I ignored Jim Kellerman too, and squatted down to cut where Isaac showed me. The man left muttering things like “no good” and “dirty Injun.” I bit back the thing I should have said, and my silence filled the place he’d been.
“Thank you,” I whispered when we were alone with our animals; the dead bear flayed open before us.
He shrugged. “Maybe you’ll do it for me someday.”
When I got back to the cabin with a pouch full of bear meat and instructions how to make sausage from it to kill the worms, Papa’s expression told me he had a thing to say.
“Mrs. Kellerman came out and said you were alone in the woods with one of the Moosehide boys.”
I narrowed my eyes and set the meat down. “He shot a bear. There’s enough for sausage.”
Papa sighed. “It’ll go hardest on him, but they’ll come after you both if you keep it up, Minty.”
He looked startled. “What?”
“My name. I like Araminta. It’s the name Mama gave me.”
He smiled a little sadly then. “Araminta,” he agreed. “Think on what I’ve said.”
I looked him straight in his eyes. “I’m his raven, Papa. He is Wolf Clan and I’m his raven.”
Isaac’s wolf found me at my cabin at dawn when I went out for water.
There was dried blood on his muzzle, and he growled softly to me. Come, he seemed to say. And then Raven flew to my shoulder and plucked at my hair to pull me forward. We go, she answered him.
I took my medicine bag and followed the wolf through the snow; Raven on my shoulder croaking encouragement and urgency. The wolf led me south, past the edge of town, down the road toward Whitehorse and Carcross. He turned off at the convergence of the rivers and ran ahead. Raven followed by air, then flew back to me and plucked at my hair until we caught up to the wolf. The whites of his eyes screamed his impatience.
The ice was thin in spots where we crossed to the island. Isaac lay hidden in a copse of trees, and the fresh snow masked the blood in his footprints. He was unconscious when we got there, wet and so very cold. The wolf whined and licked his face while I found the bullet wound in his thigh. I packed it with dried yarrow and fresh snow and bound it tightly with my scarf.
Isaac shivered and moaned, but didn’t wake, and I took off his wet shirt and wrapped him in my dry one, then settled myself around him. I draped my coat over us, and bade the wolf to lie across our legs.
The hours passed, the shivering gradually stopped, and then wondrously, Wolf Boy turned to me. We were face to face, a wolf and a raven warming us. His eyes, which usually looked anywhere but at me, searched mine.
“You said you’d be my raven,” he murmured.
“I am,” I answered, and the wild song of us sang in my blood.