Rogue and Rover: Part Two
There was no such thing as waiting for the weather to clear on Terror Mountain. The sun shone through the clouds on only a handful of days each year, and even if there wasn't new snow falling, the wind still whipped the existing drifts back up into the faces of anyone unlucky enough to be slogging through them – such as Kanrik and Hannah the morning they set out from the mining town of Praskia onto the parchment's path to treasure.
Kanrik looked back down the trail at the great pine tree – the ancient mountain giant that had stood for generations just north of Praskia was the trailhead for the path. As he did, he adjusted the scarf over his muzzle, trying to keep as much of the bitter wind and stinging ice away from his face as possible.
Hannah was ahead of him – his legs were longer, but she was more used to the less-travelled mountain ways. In the deep snow her lesser weight served her better than Kanrik's greater height, and her tail helped her to balance well on the steep and narrow paths. He called to her, "Slow down! Some of us don't do this very often!"
She flicked her tail at him. Usul tails were irritating – Hannah didn't even have to turn around to mock him. He growled, "You know what would warm me up? A Usul-tail scarf."
But he'd caught up, so he was rewarded for his comment by another tail-flick that caught him right in the muzzle, and then Hannah broke into a run.
He finally leveled with her again at the Icefall not too far ahead, where a river tumbled from the sheer heights above them under a ridged sheet of ice. It surfaced quick and cold down by Praskia, but here the ice was thick enough for them to walk over, and there was a fork in the narrow way. They sat to eat a brief snack as Hannah said, "We're taking the western path here."
Kanrik looked up. "If the weather holds fair, we should be able to make Grigr's Lodge by sundown. It's not as good as the tavern in Happy Valley, but it's a solid place to stay, and it's a safe distance away from Howling Peak."
Howling Peak loomed west of them whenever they had Terror Mountain proper at their backs – Kanrik had insisted that they keep away from it as much as they could, though there was no avoiding its lower shoulders. Hannah asked, "What's so bad about Howling Peak?"
Kanrik said, "It's not so much Howling Peak as it is Castle Whitestones and Lord Alistad there."
Hannah nodded. "Never met him, but I've heard tell of him. He's the most powerful of the mountain-lords that rule the western slopes, isn't he?"
Kanrik nodded. "All these little fiefs here have ancestral treasures safely tucked away. We've plundered quite a few. But we never touch Castle Whitestones, because Lord Alistad has announced in no uncertain terms that any Thieves' Guild representative that he catches at Whitestones is getting thrown headfirst into the nearest crevasse."
Hannah winced. "Let's avoid Howling Peak, then."
He nodded. "Exactly." He took a deep drink of the hot coffee out of his canteen – it wouldn't remain hot much longer, since the canteen hadn't been invented that could best Terror Mountain's brutal cold, so it was best to enjoy it while he could. He asked, "Ready to continue?"
She grinned fiercely. "Try to keep up."
She did slow down a little, so they could discuss the route together. They would stop at the Lodge tonight, which rested on the northern shoulder of Howling Peak, and be on the other side of the peak – and Whitestones territory – by evening tomorrow. After that, another day's journey would have them at this old fortress. Kanrik wasn't worried... they had plenty of food, and neither of them were novices at traveling. This was much less dangerous than dodging psycho Bori mages throwing fireballs.
By noon, they passed a shield attached to a tree – it was white, with a silver mountain emblazoned on it. Kanrik said, "Whitestones land. Let's keep moving."
Hannah nodded, and they ate lunch quietly as they walked.
Now that they'd entered the edge of Whitestones territory, they could see more signs of habitation – just beyond the shield was a low wall and a shelter that could be used by a knight that needed to fight off a Snowbeast or bandits. Hannah said, "I've heard a few of the legends from the western mountain region, especially in Praskia. They say Lord Alistad and his peers are descended from knights who lived in what's now the Three Kingdoms – Meridell, Brightvale, and the Darigan Citadel didn't exist yet – who came north on some quest and stayed. There were a lot of lords and castles in the Winter King's day, ruling the outsides of the mountains like the Bori ruled the inside. Most of 'em are ruins now, and from what I've been told there've been enough landslides and icefalls that it'd be nearly impossible to get to a lot of them, even for someone with wings."
Around midafternoon, Kanrik threw the grappling hook once more to provide extra support as they scaled a steep, icy path. It had been a necessity for the roads they faced today, and Kanrik and Hannah both had tired arms as well as weary legs and feet. The Whitestones warriors knew this land well enough to get around without any but the most meager paths, and they didn't intend to make things easy for anyone else trying to reach them. He climbed first – it was easier for him to help Hannah if she needed a hand than the other way around.
He forced himself to not think about the time when he could have given her that hand and hadn't. He'd apologized for it, and he knew that she'd forgiven him – as he pulled her up onto the next section of flat ground and they looked out over the broken, rocky, hilly expanse they'd already travelled, he doubted that the time in the Bringer's prison-tomb had even crossed her mind. But that didn't mean that Kanrik would ever stop feeling guilty about what he had done that day.
He'd done plenty of things that he felt absolutely no guilt for whatsoever. But he deserved to feel guilty for the role he'd played in the near-disaster in the Ice Caves. And it was good that he did – it reminded him of what would happen when thieves stopped remembering that they dealt with people. Stupid people, often, and people they were quite happy to fleece out of any valuables they might be so foolish as to leave insufficiently guarded, but people who did have their own lives and deserved to continue to live them, even if they had to live them with slightly lighter pockets.
Hannah looked up. "Kanrik, I think the sky's getting darker. Those look like blizzard clouds to me."
Kanrik winced. It was subtle, but he could see that the clouds were perceptibly darker and swollen. He'd been born here in the northern mountains, and he knew the signs. He said, "That'll be a full blizzard before night."
She said, "I haven't been to Grigr's Lodge before. Can we make it in time?"
He said, "To be honest, I'm not sure."
She replied, "To be honest, I don't really like "not sure." Not when it comes to blizzards."
Kanrik nodded. Enemies could be fought. Traps could be dismantled or outwitted. There was nothing to do with a blizzard, though, besides take cover. He looked back down the slope. "I'm not sure we could get back to that storm shelter we passed, either."
Hannah shook her head. "Not before nightfall – it'll come quickly." She said carefully, "I've got an idea, but you won't like it."
"What's the idea?"
"Where we are, based on my map, the closest shelter is Castle Whitestones."
He shot her a look. "Do you remember what I said about the crevasse?"
She pointed out, "They'll only throw us in a crevasse if they find out that you're the infamous Kanrik."
Kanrik took the map. "Let me see that." He squinted at the part of the trail they were on – as he'd feared, the only two places marked anywhere close to them were Castle Whitestones and Grigr's Lodge. He said, mostly to himself, "There's a chance that we could find a cave or another storm shelter, but that's not the sort of luck I like to lean on."
The wind started to pick up speed. Hannah said, "We need to get moving if we're going to. It's straight uphill to Castle Whitestones."
Kanrik asked her, "And what'll we do there?"
She smiled. "We're a pair of rovers seeking shelter from the storm. I can spin the rest of the story as we get there."
That was true. Hannah loved telling tales as much as she loved learning them. He still didn't like the idea – it was akin to trying to bed down in a Werelupe den. But even a Werelupe den was more easily survivable than the merciless snowstorms of Terror Mountain and its surrounding peaks. He said, "I still don't think this is going to end well."
Hannah said, "Which is why, while I plan what we're going to say, you can plan how we're going to get out if it all goes south." She pointed out, "Plus, if Lord Alistad finds out who you are and starts trying to kill you, you don't have to feel obliged as a guest to refrain from stealing everything you can fit in your pockets."
That was a benefit, though Kanrik still didn't think this was a good idea. The problem was that the oncoming blizzard meant there were no good ideas left. He muttered, "If this goes south, I'm going to have Whitestones treasure and a Usul-tail scarf."
She sniffed. "My tail looks far better on me than it ever would on you."
He sighed once more. "And neither of us would look good as a Gelertsicle or a Usulsicle, so let's set our course for a lord who'd like nothing better than to wipe out the Thieves Guild."
He took a swipe across the muzzle from her tail once more as she chided, "It's sneaking around, just like you do – except with fewer dark corners and more blatant lies. Come on – I'll start telling you who you're going to be on the way to the gate."
To be continued...