The Shop

            Familiar scents of drying herbs met her nose as she neared the bottom of the staircase. The shop was empty except for Kiuktuk. He was making the last few preparations before opening the shop. His back was to her but he turned slightly as she entered the shop.
            “Have you eaten?” he asked.
            “Yes.”
            “Good. Grab your satchel and get going. We’re running low on snow stars and willow roots. Bring back as much as you can and anything else you can find. Just do me a favour? If you see any piaq moss, don’t bring any of it back. We have too much of it as it is.”
            Nalai frowned. “Piaq is a good plant to have around. It’s worth a lot.”
            “I’m going to have to cut the price of it in order to sell what we have before it goes bad. That’s bad for business.”
            “I understand. I’ll stay away from it until you need more.”
            Kiuktuk showed her one of his rare half smiles. “You’re a good girl, regardless of what anyone else says. No one else knows the plants as well as you do.”
            Nodding, she put on her parka, a little embarrassed by the unexpected praise. She grabbed her herb bag—where she kept her scarf and mittens—and left the shop. Iquiuk ran ahead of her; she knew the satchel meant they’d be leaving the safety of the city’s dome. It wasn’t even an hour past dawn and already the streets of Kuktaiqik were full of people pushing and shoving to get at the shops and stalls, hoping to get at the best items before they were all gone. Nalai didn’t envy any of them. No one paid her any mind as she slipped through the crowds, though that may have been because she’d pulled the hood of her parka so tightly around her face that no one could make out her face.
            Bitterly, she snorted.  They don’t need to see my face; I tower over everyone here. I’ve never seen anyone as tall as I am. I’m told the Iteri are tall like I am but no Iteri has been here in two generations. They don’t like the cold. I don’t imagine anyone as thin as they are would be able to handle it. Not enough meat on their bones as Geioq would say.
            She ducked into a side street, one that wouldn’t have many people on it for at least a little while. Technically, it would take her longer to get to the south entrance that way, but it was faster than having to deal with the crowds.
            Iquiuk ran ahead of her a little ways and then came back as if begging Nalai to move faster. She shrugged the satchel’s strap into a better spot on her shoulder, maintaining her pace.
            “Pace yourself, girl,” she told Iquiuk. “We’ll get there soon enough.”
            From Kiuktuk’s shop, her route to the south gate took nearly an hour. By the time she got there, the noise inside the dome was approaching unbearable levels. I’m glad this only happens once every few weeks, she said, getting her pass ready.
            The guard at the gate stood as she approached, planting the butt of his spear in the ground at his feet. “Your name and business,” he said gruffly.
            She showed him the pendant she wore on a leather thong around her neck. “Nalai from the Ivory Clan going out on a gathering for Kiuktuk of the Whale Clan,” she said.
            “Pass,” he said, gesturing at the man standing beside the gate. The other man nodded and opened up a door large enough to admit a single person. The door was set into the mush larger gate.
            Nalai looked up at the thick metal gate. I wonder if that gate can even be opened. I can’t remember ever seeing it open before. She tightened the laces of her hood, pulled up her scarf, put on her thick furred mittens, and left the dome.