Scribe of Texas Book Page Scribe of Texas Poems Scribe of Texas Short Stories Scribe of Texas Fan Fiction Scribe of Texas Preaching Politics Scribe of Texas email

Universe of G-Minor Logo
Universe of G-Minor - Ghibbore Title

Chapter 27

“You don’t need pitons on the road,” the skinny old store proprietor objected petulantly. A fuzzy halo of thinning white hair stood out from his head, a counterpoint to the scraggly beard decorating his leathery face. “Skis and snowshoes yes, but not pitons.”

His small shop held a wealth of mountaineering equipment. Skies stood in racks around the tiny room, backed by ski poles, sleeping bags, portable stoves, mittens, parkas, woolen hats, snowshoes, tents, ropes, cleated boots, long underwear, hammers, and pitons. Jars of jerky and journey bread competed for space on the narrow counter-top. Strings of dried onions hung from the rafters along with cured hams. Heavy blankets were stacked in great piles on the floor next to bags of salt and flour. Wide-mouthed canteens decorated the walls, suitable for collecting snow to melt into drinking water. Another wall was festooned with backpacks of various shapes and sizes. Behind the counter was a display of folding knives. Oilskin pouches were stuffed into display cases beside compasses, lightweight utensils, and flint stones.

“We’re not staying on the road,” Storm scowled angrily. “If we have to go to Robling to see Roderick I’m taking the shortest route possible, which means going cross country, which means climbing some cliffs along the way, which means we need pitons!!” he finished in a roar at the top of his lungs. He dropped his hand to his sword hilt for added emphasis.

The old man turned pale. The menacing barbarian towering over him was easily twice his size and weight. He could take the shop apart with his bare hands without even breathing hard. The glowering dwarf behind him did nothing to add to the shopkeeper’s peace of mind. “Of . . . of course,” he stuttered. “Just so. It’s probably the quickest way now that you mention it.” He hurried to lay stacks of pitons on the counter with trembling hands. He licked dry lips. “Will there be anything else?”

Storm sneered. “Of course there will be, old man.” He shoved a piece of paper across the counter. “Fill this order and be quick about it. I don’t have all day!” He waited impatiently while the frail proprietor scurried about the shop grabbing items on the list. The weight of his decision still lay heavily on him. He felt curiously detached from everything around him, amazed at how easy his dissembling had become.

Outside, Ralt and Lorelei stood guard before the door to the shop, weapons at the ready, baring anyone from entering. A glance out the grimy window showed her plan was working; a small crowd of onlookers had gathered cautiously across the street to watch them. They’d made three stops so far this morning to purchase “supplies” for their trip to see King Roderick. At each stop the two of them took up guard at the door, thus guaranteeing their activities would attract notice. After they left each store the crowd descended on the shop demanding to know what they’d bought and what had been said. By now they should be convinced the small band was indeed heading for Robling, their purchase of ropes and pitons notwithstanding. The fact Storm had put on an air of angry impatience since emerging from their rooms should be the final nail in the coffin.

He and Durin left the mountaineering store staggering under the weight of their new acquisitions. Lorelei and Ralt hurried to ease some of their burden, then, casting fierce glances at the townspeople across the street they returned to their rooms to prepare for the trek into the mountains. Storm heaved a vast sigh of relief as the door closed behind them.

“Do you think they bought it?”

Ralt gave him a calm nod of assurance. “Guaranteed. Your impatient barbarian act was the perfect touch. You almost fooled me! By noon everyone in town will have heard about it. They’ll be convinced you’re going to see Roderick to give him a piece of your mind – after strangling him a little to get permission to go to Mount Coldfire of course.”

Lorelei’s plan was to capitalize on Storm’s public indignation in the streets the day before. Assuming everyone was sure to have heard about it she’d seized on the idea of making it the centerpiece of their performance, with Storm assuming the role of an out-of-control barbarian eager to rip the king’s head off. The fact it wasn’t far from the truth gave their words an extra ring of sincerity. “Trust me, no one will suspect anything. No one will even ask us about it,” Ralt finished.

“Good. After this is over I might strangle him anyway.” He favored them with an unsettling smile as he contemplated wrapping his hands around Roderick’s fat throat.

“After this is over you have to keep your promise to avenge my father’s death,” Lorelei reminded him archly. “Choking a king to death isn’t a good way to get started.”

Storm shrugged. “I’ll only strangle him a little then. It won’t take long.” He might not be an actual barbarian but he’d lived with them long enough, and even the best man had a little savage in him anyway, as his father used to say. He waved it off. “Let’s get this stuff organized. I want to be out of here by noon. We’ll head back up the road to our camp then strike north.”

They obeyed him at once. By some strange alchemy, he’d become their new leader in a way that had nothing to do with Sodan’s defunct caravan. It was an unspoken agreement but real nonetheless.

They stripped off their dusty riding gear, bathed and then donned their new winter finery, vacating the room to let Lorelei change first. Within a short time they were dressed and packed, their backpacks bulging to overflowing. None of them complained about the weight though; they knew it would diminish all too quickly. When they were satisfied with their preparations they filed out carrying their snowshoes at their side. None of them knew how to ski so snowshoes were their next best alternative, although considerably slower.

True to Ralt’s prediction no one approached them as they made their way out of town. Even Kreckin was noticeably absent. “Your reputation proceeds you,” Durin muttered as people scurried out of their path.

Storm favored him with a tight-lipped smile. “Good. I’m not in the mood for idle conversation anyway.”

Once back on the road they paused to don their snowshoes. The improvement was immediately obvious. Despite the awkward, wide-legged gait the snowshoes demanded, their progress was noticeably quicker than the day before. They arrived back at the site of their fight with the demon in half the time they’d taken to cover it before. Sparing the demolished camp no more than a passing glance, Storm turned north, determined to make it to the base of the cliffs by nightfall. He wanted to begin their climb with a full day of daylight before them.

The dense forest growth slowed their pace to a crawl as they had to force their way between tightly packed trees. As they pushed branches out of the way they dropped their heavy load of snow, showering them with a hail of ice and frozen powder. They were compelled to raise their hoods to keep it from falling down inside their clothes. The fur-lined hoods obscured their vision, slowing them even further. The snow itself piled up on their backpacks and shoulders. After every deluge, they had to stop to brush the heavy weight from each other before they could continue.

The trees had also stopped much of the snow from reaching the ground. Frequently they found themselves stepping down on to bare dirt only to have to climb a slippery snow bank again as they left the shelter of each tree. Snow covered bushes, looking like nothing more than small hillocks collapsed under their steps, sending them crashing down and threatening to rip their snowshoes. After the third time one of them had to be extricated from the clinging branches, Storm was forced to cut down a small tree and use the resulting staff to probe the snow ahead of him with each step.

At the top of a small hill, he paused to gauge the distance to their goal. The cliffs appeared to be about two miles away. The sun was already reaching its zenith in the sky. Soon it would start heading back down. If they were going to reach the cliffs before night they were going to have to move faster.

“We have to hurry,” he told his companions, pointing at the distance that still remained, “or we’re going to get caught out here in the middle of nowhere with nothing to protect our backs.” He plunged down a long slope with impatient strides, trying to make up for lost time. Ahead he saw a thin meadow that ran alongside a frozen stream. He veered toward it in hopes of finding a better walking surface.

But fortune was against them.

The meadow itself was a disaster, filled as it was with countless bushes hiding under the concealing snow. The stream was only marginally better. Under the snow was nothing but ice. Even the snowshoes couldn’t keep them from slipping every few steps. They managed to double their speed but the way the stream meandered aimlessly back and forth nearly eliminated their gains.

The sun was dropping rapidly. Shadows began to lengthen around them. Storm pushed them as hard as he dared, leading them in a sort of sliding, shuffling run that soon had them breathing hard from the extra exertion. Their heavy breathing began to sound loud and harsh in the stillness surrounding them. Their backpacks bounced on their shoulders, chafing them through their heavy clothes.

Storm wiped a hand across his brow and wasn’t surprised to see his glove was soaked with sweat. He opened his coat, throwing back his hood to cool off. Sweat was dangerous in the winter. Once they stopped running it would freeze, forming a layer of ice on their bodies, exposing them to hypothermia. Had he been away from the mountains so long he’d forgotten such a simple fact? He cursed his stupidity but continued to run. He panted quick instructions over his shoulder to his friends to open their coats like he did. He glanced back to make sure they obeyed and was pleased to see they had. He was also pleased to note Ralt was keeping up with them without complaint.

The sun slid even further down the sky. Soon it would be vanishing behind the horizon. Clouds were piling up, threatening more snow. They would also obscure what little light the sun left after it went down, shortening the twilight to a few brief minutes before full darkness descended on them.

He ran faster.

They broke out of the forest half a mile from the cliffs. Leaving the wandering stream he led them straight toward their goal, once again probing the snow for hidden bushes. The sun disappeared from the sky just as a few snowflakes began gently swirling down around them. The cliffs started to fade behind a gray curtain of snow and gathering darkness. By the time they were within a few hundred yards of their destination, the last light faded from the sky.

He called a halt.

“Dig out the lanterns,” he grumbled. “I can’t see anything.”

The brief stop was a welcome relief. As they shuffled around awkwardly opening each others pack they took advantage of the rest to catch their breath. It took them several minutes to get the lanterns lit. By the time they resumed their trek the cold had begun to seep in and they had to button their coats.

Storm closed his lantern down to let only a single beam of light escape. Panning it around to find their tracks he managed to reorient himself and set off once again in their original direction.

Twenty minutes later they reached the cliffs.

“Alright,” he said. “Fan out. Let’s see if we can find someplace to spend the night. I’d like to get out of the open as much as possible. Ralt, you and Durin go that way. Lorelei, you come with me.”

They split up, trudging along the base of the cliffs looking for a cave if possible, or even an overhang that might protect them from the weather. After a half an hour of searching, he and Lorelei were forced to turn back empty-handed. Storm was cursing the fates for their position when Lorelei grabbed his hand.

“Look! I think they found something.”

Ahead in the snowy darkness, they could see a light swinging back and forth in an unmistakable signal. Storm swung his lantern in reply. “I hope you’re right. Otherwise, we’re going to spend a miserable night out here.”

They tramped back to meet their friends. The snow was coming down harder. Already their tracks were beginning to fill. Durin was shaking his head in disgust when they reached him. “Don’t ye two ever look behind you? I’ve been waving me lantern ever since five minutes after we split up.”

Storm rolled his eyes. “Why didn’t you yell?”

“I did,” the dwarf snorted. “Ye must be deaf as a post.”

“Thanks,” Lorelei said dryly. “How about showing us what you’ve found. It’s dark and cold, and I’m tired and hungry. I want to get some sleep.”

“It ain’t much,” he warned them as he turned to lead the way.

“If it’s anything at all, it’s more than we found,” Storm replied. “It’s hopeless back that way.”

“Ain’t much better this way either,” the dwarf admitted. “What we found didn’t happen on its own. It looks like it was made.”

A tiny campfire suddenly came into view and they saw what he meant. A semicircle of rock had been blasted out of the base of the cliff creating a shallow cave about twenty feet deep. The sides weren’t rough or jagged though; they were smooth as glass. It looked as if someone had scooped it out with a giant spoon.

Lorelei ran a wondering hand over the sides of the little cave. “What could have done this?”

Ralt stood up from the camp stove he was tending. “Did you two get lost or something? I was starting to get worried.”

They shook their heads wordlessly as they dumped their backpacks. “What made this?” Lorelei repeated her question.

Ralt looked around the cave with a shrug. “Probably a wizard’s dual around here sometime back. A spell must have missed its target and done this.” He waved at the depression they were standing in. “Or maybe it hit the target and he or she was vaporized along with several tons of rock.”

“You mean somebody died here?” she said.

“More than likely,” he nodded.

“Why would wizards be fighting each other?” Storm asked in confusion. “I thought you all got along with each other.” He sat down wearily, leaning against his pack.

Ralt snorted. “I wish. There are as many divisions among those of us who work Art as there are among anyone else.” He motioned them toward the stove where a pot of stew was beginning to steam. “The portions are kind of small,” he apologized as he ladled it out.

“This is fine,” Lorelei sighed as she sniffed her bowl with eager anticipation.

They sat down and began to eat.

“What kind of divisions?” Storm asked between bites. He was intrigued with the idea wizards weren’t some kind of sorcerous brotherhood all working toward a common goal.

“The same as anyone else has. I already told you we’re just people who use magic instead of swords or plows,” Ralt shrugged. “We fight over things just as important, and just as trivial as the rest of the world; philosophical differences, your dog bit my dog, religious and political differences, women, land, money, power – you name it, I’m sure somebody has fought over it. The next thing you know you’ll be telling me all the barbarian Clans don’t love each other the way everyone says.”

Storm sat up in shock. “Are you kidding? They fight like cats and dogs. They –” He stopped suddenly, aware Ralt was baiting him. He smiled sheepishly. “Alright. Point taken. No one really gets along the way outsiders think they do.”

Lorelei slurped down the last of her stew and let out an unladylike burp. “The Biqah are the same way. We aren’t nearly as unified as we’d like the world to think. Look at what happened to my father if you don’t believe me.”

Ralt nodded. “It figures. What about you, Durin? Want to shed some light on the mysterious inner workings of dwarven culture?”

“Not really.” He held up a hand to stop their protest. “But we do fight among ourselves. There’s no secret there.”

Storm wanted to keep the fascinating conversation going but a huge yawn interrupted him. Changing his words in mid-stream he said, “Well, I don’t know about the rest of you but it’s going to be a long day tomorrow and I’m bushed. Who wants to take the first watch?”

Ralt inhaled to say something then hesitated.


“Well, if you don’t mind relying on magic, I’ve got an idea that might let us all get a good night’s sleep without setting any guards.” He shrugged deferentially. “It’s up to you.”

Storm fought down his instinctive answer and considered Ralt’s words. The idea of an uninterrupted night’s sleep was appealing but did he really want to risk his life on it? “What did you have in mind?” he asked slowly, wondering what he was letting himself in for.

“I couldn’t do it before,” Ralt answered carefully, “but with this small a group I can set protective wards across the cave entrance. If anything tries to cross the wards they’ll get a tremendous jolt, like a miniature lightning bolt. It’ll scare the daylights out any animals, maybe kill them – and the noise will definitely wake us up.”

Storm felt his eyes widen. Yet another secret he hadn’t known about wizards. “What about arrows and spears? If someone tries to attack us from a distance . . .”

“Anything like that would get blasted to smithereens, and the noise would still wake us,” Ralt said confidently.

Storm wrestled with it for a moment before giving in. “Alright. We’ll try it your way. But . . . if we get killed I’ll never talk to you again.” He tried to smile as he said it but his heart really wasn’t in it. It went against everything he’d been raised to believe in, and years of experience on the road.

Ralt heard the misgivings in his voice. Before he could change his mind, he pulled a handful of painted sticks out of a belt pouch and began setting them up in the snow across the mouth of the little cave in a semi-circle. He muttered something too low for the rest of them to hear. The wards flashed briefly with blue light then everything was the same as before.

Storm eyed the little sticks doubtfully. His new senses saw a faint blue haze connecting them, stretching to a height of ten feet or so but looking too weak to accomplish everything Ralt claimed. “Did it work?” he asked in spite of the evidence of his eyes.

The wizard started to say, ’Like a charm’, then decided now wasn’t the time for levity. “They’re working perfectly. No one will be able to see them from the outside. But once they step across the line – Boom!”

“If you say so.” With a last, distrustful glance at the frail-looking sticks, he wrapped himself up in his sleeping bag and was out the moment his head hit the ground.

Everything on my web site is free but if you like my writing, please consider donating. Thanks!
donate button
Chapter Index
arrow-back-chapter-26 arrow-forward-chapter-28