Far Horizons: Tales of Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror. Issue #13 April 2015 - Page 135

you know.” “Well, I for one have no intention of venturing into any more woods or forests, or even a small spinney for a long time to come,” Gamying said. That night, they were glad of the extra warm clothing they had brought with them. Even with a roaring campfire, the wind, blowing from the north, had a bone chilling aspect. They awoke early, shivering, and after a quick bite from their rations, they began the long trek toward the Gap of Despair. It was easy country, open grassland with a gentle ascent. The grass was brittle with frost and crunched underfoot. The four walked in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. How is Simon getting on? I wish I had gone with him. Jhamed will look after him. But what can he do against a witch? What could I do against her? By midday, the frost had disappeared and the spring sun was quite strong. Manfred began to struggle with the pace. I’m too old for all of this. After a brief stop for lunch beside a small mountain brook, where they refilled their water bottles, the three younger companions redistributed the packs so that Manfred didn’t have to carry anything. They pushed on, Manfred using his staff as a walking aid. By mid-afternoon, the grassland had given way to rocky foothills with sparse spiny plants and loose rocks that caused frequent trips and slips. The going became slow and Manfred began to wonder whether he had made the right choice. We could have been in Fang by now, on horseback all the way, settling down to a cold beer and a warm meal before sleeping in a soft bed. I must be crazy. Gamying seemed to sense his thoughts. “Don’t worry old man; we will reap the benefits with the easier climb through the Gap of Despair. The path from Fang would be impassable with so much snow around.” They spent an uncomfortable night, sheltering behind a few rocks as best they could. There was insufficient fuel for a fire and they had to survive on water and cold rations again. They huddled together for warmth. Manfred opened his mind to read the thoughts of the others. They are worried about Simon, about securing the Sword. Gamying worries what we might find in PAGE 134 Tamarlan. Aglaral is concerned about his family. He has a cute baby boy. I cannot read Kris. It is as if he guards his mind. That is unusual for a human. Next morning they set off again at first light. Gamying was now leading, as he was most familiar with the mountains. “We must make the foot of the Ice Stair before nightfall. There is a hut there and there should be food and fuel for a fire. Then we will only have to spend one more night in the mountains. Tomorrow we shall rest in the mountain halls of Dia son of Din son of Dane and taste dwarven hospitality.” It was a tough climb. The snow got thicker the higher they climbed, while the air got thinner. They were on a clear path now, the winter route from the south to Devil’s Mouth, usually used only on the rare occasions when the more direct route to Fang was blocked by snow. This year, the Fang path had been closed since Late Autumn. The path to the east of Mount Despair always got less snow than the path on the west side. In addition, snow that built up on the Ice Stair would often avalanche down the western path and block it. The two paths met at the Ice Stair, which was essentially a huge staircase cut into the permafrost. It ran up the side of Mount Fang, arriving at the top of the Fang Glacier. From there it was an easy climb up to the entrance to Devil’s Mouth, over deep packed snow in both summer and winter. Below the Ice Stair, there would usually be fields of loose rocks with abundant wild flowers in spring and summer. It seemed that there would be few wild flowers this spring season. Gamying encouraged a quick pace, anxious to reach the hut at the base of the Ice Stair before dark. Manfred had a feeling that they weren’t alone and remembered Dawit’s description of fell creatures and wolves. He shivered, and not just from the bone-chilling cold wind. As they climbed higher, the amount of snow increased until they were struggling to force a path through the frozen drifts. They stopped around midday, exhausted and hungry. They ate a miserable meal from their cold rations. Gamying spoke for them all. “We have travelled less than a third of the distance to the Ice Stair and already more than half of the day is past. I fear for our lives if we have to spend another night outside. And not just from the cold. Have you