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the most basic indicator

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The Inuit woman- or “Silence”, as some of the men seem to mockingly call her- is obviously reluctant when he expresses a desire to learn her language, but she at least seems to sense that his intentions are good and not borne out of any ulterior motive. She gives a small nod of acquiescence after a moment, something which he can’t help but beam at as he sits there. Though she does not seem to understand their reasoning for coming to the top of the world- Harry hardly knows whether she has found it in her heart to forgive them for accidentally shooting her father, hardly knows whether some part of her resents him for being in that party- and rejects his offer of food, she is at least extending the tiniest of olive branches to hand to him in that moment, and he has to be grateful for that much. He had genuinely meant his compliments towards her about both her people and her language, as unlike the rest of the men he doesn’t see the Inuit people as savages, or as lesser than him. He wishes to take the opportunity to learn and expand his knowledge, and now that this door has been opened to him he fully intends to take advantage.

She speaks slowly, and he is quick to write down important words or details in his journal. Occasionally he asks for clarification on a certain term or phrase or stops her in order to write down the pronunciation of a word, but for the most part Harry is content to let her talk. She teaches him words that will surely be necessary to learn if they are to establish good relations with the native peoples, names of the local flora and fauna as well as other, more personal terms. Family. Father. Loved. Harry records them all, later taking them back to his sleeping quarters and practicing saying them with his own mouth, the words coming out clumsier than he would like but still inspiring pride when he manages to not stumble over the phonetics. Ataata. Ilagiit. Nalligijaujuq. He curls his tongue around the words, feeling them within his mouth as though they were exotic pastries that he was tasting for the first time, and admires how beautifully complex the Inuktitut language really is.

Harry does not rely solely on her for talk of Inuit culture and customs, though he makes it clear that anything she wants to share is exceedingly helpful. He instead combs over the ship’s library, searching for any books that might have even a snippet of information held within their passages. What he cannot find or has deeper questions about, he goes to Silence with, and though she seems rather bemused that he is going to such effort to learn about her people she shares her knowledge. He learns of the belief that there are other worlds deep below the sea, where gifted shamans would have the power to journey. He learns of the sea goddess Taluliyuk, a young girl cast into the ocean who then became the keeper of every mammal found within it. He learns of fantastic creatures like the Ijiraat, shapeshifters that can change into any animal that the Arctic carries but who cannot hide their brilliant red eyes (he thinks of the creature out on the ice during that particular tale, and shudders in spite of himself). He sits wide-eyed and fascinated over it all, much like a child rushing downstairs on Christmas morning to see what gifts they had been left with. He has been introduced to a world so much richer than anything he ever imagined, and should they indeed make it out of the ice and back to England, he cannot wait to share his findings with both his siblings and any member of the scientific community that might bother to listen to him.

If only more of his fellow Englishmen could see. These people are not savages, are not lesser than any other society. Much like the lands that he had come from so long ago, they hold their own set of beliefs and practices that are unique to themselves, and so very awe-inspiring. He admires what he has been given, but knows that there is so much more for him to learn, so much more that he may never fully learn everything that this new world has to offer.

(He never asks about her father, for he hardly wishes to reopen her wounds that are only now beginning to close, and there are no words that can possibly express the amount of guilt that he feels that he and the rest of the men could have led to her experiencing such a loss. Harry also only gets around to asking her about the creature a grand total of one time, for when he begins her face immediately becomes tightened with fear and anguish, and the mere weight of her expression keeps him from pressing the matter. He remembers how she had told them that their best option was to take their boats and flee, and it sends a shiver of trepidation up his spine whenever he cares to dwell on it.)

It is only after everything has happened- the disastrous Carnivale and all the injuries that came with it, the long walk over the shale and ice, Collins coming to him with tales of his mental turmoil before collapsing weeping into his arms- that he is allowed to come to her again. Crozier and Fitzjames speak of her having to leave the camp before the men’s hostility and fear should turn against her, and as she solemnly and silently turns to leave Harry finds he cannot help himself. He staggers across the shale with all the urgency of a man on fire, calling for her to wait and letting out a breathless sob when she finally turns to face him. For a moment he tries to plead with her, telling her that he can make it safe for her to stay within the camp. Surely with all that he’s learned, he can convince the men that she and her people are worth showing kindness to. He can share his knowledge and learn more in turn, he can prevent even more tragedy from happening-

But he knows, deep inside, that Silence’s place is with her people. That their lowly camp was never truly her home to begin with. So as he stands before her, both of them regarding each other silently, he says the only word he can think of to express how regretful he is that all of this has come to pass- that they have come to her land and disrespected it so, how they have killed her father and seemingly left her without any kind of support in her life, how they have wounded the creature that she fears so much and potentially caused it to turn its anger onto her. How they have killed those that she may have called family, all because of the testimony of a man who has proven a thousand times over that he cannot be trusted.

Mamianaq,” he whispers to her, and for once the word does not come out shaky and fumbling. “Mamianaq.

He so desperately wants her to understand, and thinks that the expression on her face means that she does. It is impossible for him to tell. She only gives him a short nod and a smile before turning away again, heading back out into the shale and ice, into this world that had seemed so hostile to him once but now seems so beautiful.

Harry watches her go, and lingers long after her form has receded over the horizon. It is only then that he squares himself and turns back towards camp, trying his best to blink back the last of the wetness from his gaze.

As her people need her, now his people need him.