I was feeling particularly fidgety that night, much to the annoyance of Lynea. I kept thinking of Bos, up the mountain all alone. Thanks to my stupidity and rotten luck, no less.
I could tell that Lynea was just as nervous as I was, if not more. How long had it been? A week? Two weeks? Time was slipping away fast, and Bos only had so many provisions. What if we had been wrong? What if there had been no one there? No one to come for us? No one to tend to Bos’s needs?
Too many questions bounced around my head, crowding my thoughts. My head ached, but not the way it had before. The kind of ache you get when your brain just wants to shut down because you don’t want to think about things anymore. But I did anyway.
I thought about the Door. What had Roleo always said to me?
“You must remember, Arlen,” he had said, “the difference between a Door and a Home. The Door itself is the rip in the Dimension, the portal to the next one. It cannot be destroyed, but it must have a physical manifestation. This is the Home. If the Home is destroyed, the Door will be forced into a new one. This can become very complicated for any Traveler, as it means a long search for the new Home.”
But how to search for it? What to look for? I didn’t have the slightest clue.
I took my mind off of my own problems and turned to the tragedy before me. Ther still lay the question of “who?” Who would have done such a thing? Who could have such a terrible grudge against such a peaceful people? What had happened here, perhaps in this very hollow, that had earned this land such a terrible fate?
I couldn’t answer any of my own questions, so I tried to just shut my mind down. When this failed, I tried to distract myself.
I looked timidly towards Lynea as she built a fire for the night. The sky had just begun to darken, and the first few stars danced their way across the sky. A pale half moon could be seen, winking in the distance.
Lynea seemed to be having trouble getting a fire started.
“Ah!” she hissed, cutting her hand on the flint.
“Here,” I said, “let me.”
Lynea looked up at me, her eyes harder than the flint in her hand. Then, reluctantly, she handed me the flint.
I sat down by the woodpile, striking the flint over and over. I didn’t really think I could do this sort of thing better than Lynea, but I could still see, even now, the tremor in her long, clever fingers.
This was the first time I had really taken to observe her since that day they found me (or I found them, whichever it was). Her face was pale under the dirt, but also thin, hollow, even. Probably from malnourishment, I thought. Her eyes, a deep green, had an intense, searching gaze. They darted here and there, constantly watching, as though she expected to be attacked at any moment. She had long, skillful fingers, which she was using to pick apart burnt blades of grass at her feet. I saw again the scar on her neck, and wondered how she got it.
She looked up at me sharply, and I quickly turned my gaze back to the flint.
I caught the flint at the desired angle, and a spark flew into the dried wood and twigs we had gathered. Lynea raised an eyebrow coldly, but I could tell she was surprised.
There was a slight pause as I replaced the flint into the supply wagon. “Thank you,” Lynea mumbled.
“Don’t mention it,” I said politely.
I sat down and stoked the fire for a while, trying to work it into a blaze. We had been very careful to ring it with as many stones as we could find, to keep it from spreading along the dry debris that covered the rest of the ground.
After a few minutes, I had managed to get the fire strong enough to add a little warmth to the chill of the night. I sat and warmed myself for a few minutes.
For a while, Lynea did nothing. Just sat and watched the flames leap up and settle down. I saw a haunted look on her face as her eyes glinted in the firelight. After a while, she came and gingerly sat down across from me. She warmed her shaking hands, maybe hoping that it was the chill that made them tremble so. Despite her cold manner, I could tell she was repressing an intense agitation. I couldn’t help feeling sorry for her as I wondered how many friends she had lost that day she was forced to watch her village burn. Despite what I had been through, she had suffered infinitely more than me.
Once I had tried to ask her why she had left the camp, but she had just brushed my inquiries aside with a brusque request to not concern myself with things that weren’t my concern. I had noticed that as I got stronger (and Bos’s days longer) any trust she had for me had diminished. At first I though that she had just been worried for Bos and was snapping at me because of it, but now I wondered if she didn’t blame me for his leaving. And then, I wondered, is it all because Bos isn’t here? Without Bos’s words of defense, I reasoned, it was not likely that the two of us would be on particularly friendly terms. Especially since he had left for my sake.
I felt a pang. What if something happened to him? Surely I would be responsible for whatever fate awaited him up there. If he was harmed in any way, I would never forgive myself.
I tried my best not to think of such things again, and turned to Lynea.
“Does it hurt?” I asked quietly.
“What?” she asked sharply?
“Your scar,” I said, motioning to my own neck.
“Oh,” she said, relaxing slightly, although I noticed that she didn’t meet my eyes. “No, it has healed, by now. There is no real pain there, but–” she stopped herself. “It does not hurt,” she said shortly.
Neither one of us said anything for a while, staring into the fire pensively. I looked up at Lynea and saw that same haunted look in her eyes I had seen before. I wondered if it was the memory of that day in her village, or something else that disturbed her so.
Lynea and I both looked up sharply, hearing the unmistakable sound of tramping feet across the dried debris. Lynea leapt to her feet, a knife suddenly clutched in her hand. I stood, too, my heart in my throat, and rummaged in the supply wagon a moment, in search of another knife. I withdrew my hand, which I had cut on the blade of the knife we used for food. I carefully put my hand back in and drew it out. Not quite as reliable as Lynea’s hunting knife, but still, a weapon is a weapon.
The sound drew closer, and my heart pounded harder, until I feared that the intruder could hear it. My hands trembled, but Lynea’s were now steadied.
“Get behind me,” she hissed.
I obeyed without question, getting as close as I dared, which really wasn’t very close.
“There are two of them,” she said tensely.
I listened. Sure enough two different voices could be heard.
“They will come from between those trees,” she whispered. “You go over there, I’ll take the other side. When they come through, I’ll rush the one, you the other. Stay clear of their hands,” she added, and rushed to the tree.
My whole body trembled as I hurried to the tree Lynea had indicated. I felt terror claw at my insides. No doubt I was a snivelling coward, but I had never been in such a situation and hadn’t the slightest idea how to handle myself. I had the knife, however, and could probably hold it to their throat, if I could get a good hold on them. I hoped I could get a good hold on them before they got a good hold on me.
Then, just before the intruders emerged, I heard a familiar voice:
“I saw the smoke coming up here, do you think it could be them?”
I almost collapsed with relief, and I might have done, if at that very second, the two had stepped out into the clearing, and Lynea hadn’t tackled the woman, the first to come out.
The man gave a cry of shock and withdrew a knife.
“No, stop!” I screamed.
All three turned to look at me, then at each other.
“Arlen!” croaked the woman.
“Yanna!” I cried.
Lynea looked at me in surprise. “You know one another?” she said.
“Yes,” said the man, “and I believe you know me.”
Lynea looked up with a start. “You!” she cried. “You are the father that tried to steal from us!”
He looked pained. “I can’t tell you how much I regret it,” he said sincerely. “Especially after you were so kind as to give me food for my family. Without you, we may never have made it to the mountains.”
“So you did make it!” I said, smiling. “I’m glad of that.”
Lynea let Yanna up from the ground. Her face was suddenly very excited.
“You say you made it to the mountains,” she said urgently. “Why did you come back?”
I knew the answer Lynea was hoping for, and she was not disappointed.
“Your friend,” said the man, “the boy that was with you, Bos I believe he said. He sent us. Said that one of you was ill. Starved, even. He said that she wouldn’t be able to make the journey without some assistance.”
The grim seriousness of Lynea’s face had disappeared entirely. Her face seemed to glow in the firelight, and her expression was merry. For a moment, I thought she might laugh with relief. If she didn’t, I thought, I might.
“How is he?” I asked.
“He’s fine,” assured Yanna.”His father was especially glad to see him.”
“His father?” cried Lynea. “But then-”
“The Hallosh survivors made it to Mount Caradas,” smiled Accos.
Lynea seemed to tremble slightly. “So Mother is there,” she mumbled. I noticed that the merriment had left her face somewhat, and she seemed exceedingly nervous.
“Yes,” said Yanna, “Amara, isn’t it?”
“She’s been very worried about you,” said Yanna. “Every morning, she and Severin would search the surrounding area for the both of you. Of course, ever since Bos came, I assume she’s been waiting for you.”
Lynea seemed to me very pale, and slightly ashamed. “So she didn’t seem . . . angry?” she asked timidly.
I looked at her curiously, but she kept her gaze on her feet.
“Angry?” said Yanna, surprised. “If anything, she seemed angry at herself.”
Lynea was still staring at her feet, and seemed unable to say anything for a long time.
“But what’s this about you being ill?” asked Yanna, turning to me with concern. “Yu would think that you were on the brink of death, the way the boy put it!”
“I was for a while,” I said ruefully. “If it hadn’t been for Bos and Lynea, I’d probably be lying dead in a pile of ashes somewhere. I’m a lot stronger now, though,” I said, and stood up as straight and tall as I could. Yanna’s gaze lingered on my ribs, which you could almost see through my tee shirt. I blushed slightly, noticing for the first time what a goofy choice I had made weeks ago when I decided to wear that ridiculous “Bossy Beyond Belief” shirt my mom had gotten me one Christmas as a gag gift. Thankfully, I thought, no one else could read it.
“She’s been having severe migraines,” said Lynea, who seemed to have regained her composure. I noticed that she didn’t look at me with such suspicion anymore. It seemed that the arrival of Yanna had validated my story.
“I haven’t had an attack in a couple of weeks,” I protested.
“She tires out easily,” persisted Lynea.
“I’m fine!” I insisted.
Yanna looked at me for a long time. “I have something for migraines,” she said finally. “A herbal cure the village uses sometimes. And we can make frequent rests, if you get tired.”
“I won’t get tired,” I said earnestly. “I can make it, I know I can.”
“I might be able to help you with your more obvious problem,” said Yanna. I assumed she was talking about my being stranded here. “But I admit that I’m no expert at such things,” she added anxiously.
“It’s all right,” I said quickly. “I’m sure things will be fine.”
“Lets hope,” said Yanna grimly.
For hours and hours, we climbed. I felt my muscles, already shrunken and weak from malnourishment, seize up with terrible cramps. I gritted my teeth, however, and kept climbing. I wasn’t going to cause any more trouble.
However, when offered a break, I usually took it. But just long enough to relax the cramps and catch my breath. Then we were off again.
The others were always watching me with eagle eyes, and although I knew that they were just looking out for me, it was a little disconcerting. It made me feel as though I were bound to just collapse at any moment.
I was glad of the clothes Yanna had brought for me to wear. My tee shirt had been torn and stained in so many ways, it was definitely time to let it go. Somehow, though, it had made me sad. It had been like a bit of home.
For days and days, we continued to climb. Although tiring, it did have it’s perks to be up so high. Every evening, I would stop for just a moment to savor the spectacular view of the sunset.
The golden red sun would sink slowly down lower into the darkening sky, below the craggy peaks around us. And then, just before it disappeared completely, the light hit the mountains just so, and suddenly, the sky seemed to glitter with an array of color. Gold and red streaked the pinkish clouds, as the ever darkening sky above descended upon us. The faint glitter of stars and the glow of the half moon were mixed in with the magnificent display before us. Beams of light were thrown toward us for the briefest moment, and then, it all disappeared. The stars glittered more brightly, and the dark silhouette of the mountains were thrown into stark relief by the moon.
I sat and watched in awe of the powerful scene, then, suddenly more determined, I followed the others once again.
One night in particular, I will never forget. I couldn’t sleep, so I had decided to walk around a bit.
We were about halfway through with our journey, and had set up for the night. We were on a wide ledge jutting out from the mountainside, and had been able to set ourselves up comfortably. We hadn’t been able to bring up the wagon for the supplies, so most of it had been stuffed in my backpack, or else carried in woven baskets. The pile lay safely against the immense rock wall behind us.
Our sleeping bags lay a little closer to the edge than we would have liked, but still a safe distance away. Although the drop was a little unnerving, I still could not get over the incredible views of the mountains, and had volunteered to sleep the closest to the edge. Every morning, I would awake to the fantastic early morning sun warming my cheeks and prodding me awake with it’s light.
I stood up and walked to the edge of the ledge (rhyme unintended), and stared out below me. Once you got over the gut churning feeling that you were about to fall over, it really was a spectacular sight. It made me feel as if I really were on top of the world (and, in a way, I suppose I was).
I crept on tiptoe past the sleeping bags, to a crevice in the rocks I had noticed before. I had noticed that that particular spot looked over the entire mountain range when we passed it, and I couldn’t resist the idea of such a view. I dearly wished that I had my camera, and could have taken pictures of all the beautiful things I had seen. But, then, who could I have shown it to?
I passed by the sleeping bags. The first, mine, was empty. The second was Yanna’s. I paused a minute, and looked at her. Even in sleep, she looked older. I felt a stab of pity. She had already told me about Sield.
The third was Accos’s. I suppressed a giggle as he let out a snore like a congested bear.
The fourth was–
I looked up sharply to the crevice and saw that Lynea was already sitting in it. Her bag had been empty.
I tried to sneak back to m sleeping bag, unnoticed, but had no such luck. She seemed to have eyes in the back of her head! As soon as I was about to turn back around, she looked around at me.
I froze for a minute, unsure of what to say.
“Couldn’t sleep?” she asked, amused.
I shook my head.
“Neither could I,” she said, turning her gaze back to the skies. “What with Accos’s snoring. The whole camp probably already knows we’re coming. That is, if they haven’t mistaken it for a very congested Paxas.”
I gave a start, and then a surprised laugh. That was the first time she’d made a joke.
She smiled, which was something else she rarely did. “You needn’t be so afraid of me, you know,” she said shrewdly. “I know I was gruff with you before, and I’m sorry.”
“You were just being careful,” I said, shaking my head. “I wouldn’t have trusted me, either.”
“That doesn’t make much sense,” she said frowning, “but I assume it means ‘all is forgiven’?”
I smiled. “Yep.”
“And that means yes?”
I laughed again. “Yes.”
She looked relieved. “You know,” she said matter-of-factly, “maybe you should just shake or nod from now on.”
“Good idea,” I grinned.
“You have been watching the skies every evening, yes?” she asked.
I almost replied, then remembered to just nod.
The corners of Lynea’s mouth twitched. “If you think that our sunsets are amazing, then you should see our sunrises.”
“What are they like?” I asked eagerly.
“See for yourself.” She turned her gaze back to the mountains.
I followed her gaze, and felt my jaw drop open.
The sun seemed to be made of pure gold. It’s brightness and warmth were incredible. Rays of gold penetrated the silvery gray sky of early morning. As the sun rose higher, the light came lower, and it’s rays illuminated the land before us, bathing it in it’s beautiful golden light. The green grass below us, the dark rock above us, all turned to pure gold. And as the warmth of the sun chased away the chill of night, I felt a sudden surge of hope. If the darkness of night could be so easily eradicated, why not the darkness that covered this land? The chill of fear within me was suddenly warmed with new optimism. Things would get better soon.
Even if it got worse, first.