Gender: Male Age: 53 Location: Las Vegas, Nv
|Introduction: The High Pass|
When we led the team of horses out the gate there were dwarves that lined the way. As we walked we looked at the stunning colors of fall. Little One scampered out of a bush with Charles chasing her. She ran right up my body as Charles detoured to leap up into Ellie’s arms.
Four days later we stopped early to camp beside the entrance into the dwarven tunnels. Ellie had purchased sacks of grain and I put feed bags on each horse before heading out to gather wood for a fire. Tiny light snow flakes began falling before I brought the first arm load of wood in. She glanced up and grinned, “We have company.”
She nodded to the new thick door into the dwarven tunnel that was open now and I smiled to see Tolivar. He came out carrying a big pot of what looked like stew, “I was up here checking on the new door and decided to stick around until you came by.”
I grinned with Ellie and set the wood down. It was a nice evening but after eating it began to snow a little harder. Little One and Charles both grumbled about wet feet and went to hide in the wagon. I had moved a few warm furs to the bed a few days before when it began getting cooler at night.
Tolivar looked at the drifting snow, “Be careful going through the pass.”
He stood and headed for the doorway without looking back. It was still snowing lightly the next morning as we headed towards the pass. It wasn’t a blizzard but I knew it could get bad. I had Ellie sit in the driver’s seat of the wagon while I guided the horses. I was a little worried one of the horses might slip and break a leg but they seemed to do fine.
Even the extra horses behind the wagon carrying more grain did okay. We stopped for a lunch under some tall pines. I made a small fire and smiled at her amazement when I made grill cheese sandwiches. Ellie walked with me during the afternoon. By the time we stopped for the night in a thick stand of evergreens it was snowing a little harder.
Little One and Charles went out to explore while I gathered wood. We fed the horses grain warmed in a mash before cooking our own dinner. Ellie surprised me by walking around our camp and whispering a spell. She smiled and told me it was to ward off wild animals. We were just getting ready to climb into the wagon.
A whisper of sound came to me and Ellie spun in surprise and glanced out into the darkness, “Who’s there?”
The creature that stepped out surprised me. It was only two feet tall and covered in fur. Then I realized it was wearing a type of fur robe or overcoat. Ellie knelt, “How may we help little one?”
The voice that answered was high and almost squeaky, “We are traveling over the pass to the Deep Forest.”
I looked at Ellie as she smiled and glanced at me and then back at the little person, “How many travel with you?”
It seemed to smile, “My family, four adults and six children.”
Ellie nodded and smiled at me, “We can take them with us?”
I smiled at her, “I don’t think they will take up much room.”
She nodded and turned back to the little person, “Bring your family in and warm yourself at our fire.”
It almost sounded like a ritual and the little man bowed, “Thank you.”
Ellie stood and moved back to the fire and added another few sticks. I sat on a fallen log and waited. She finally turned to face me, “They are Gnomes. Very timid and rarely seen. They normally live in heavy forests.”
I nodded, “and use some type of poison on their weapons.”
She looked surprised but nodded, “That is a closely guarded secret.”
I shrugged, “The fur he was wearing told me.”
She smiled and looked towards where the gnome had been, “mages tend to help them when we can.”
I nodded, “Makes sense. They can ride the wagon to stay out of the snow.”
Ellie grinned, “They can be very fast on snow.”
I smiled, “Moving through snow can be tiring no matter how big you are.”
“You are right human.”
I glanced over at the small group pulling what looked like a sled. I bowed, “Come, be welcome at our fire.”
An older looking female bowed slightly and led they way. She held her hands out to the flames but looked at me, “The whispers tell us you are responsible for the troll’s death.”
I nodded slowly, “The death of even one such as it is not something I am proud of.”
She actually smiled, “You are strange human.”
The others had gathered around and a younger female busied herself cooking. I sat beside Ellie as they ate and cleaned up before looking around. I smiled and stood to walk to the wagon. I pulled out a couple of bison skins I had been using on the floor. I laid one out and folded the other before walking out to look for what I needed.
When I came in I was carrying several sticks. I pulled out some leather strings I had started collecting and made a dome shaped frame. I went to the fur and set the frame down and draped the second skin over it. I turned and bowed, “It should stay nice and warm.”
Ellie stood and bowed, “Sleep well. We can speak again in the morning.”
I followed Ellie into the wagon and undressed before slipping in beside her. She shivered and held me tight as the blankets slowly warmed. Little One meowed and crawled under the blanket and then Ellie squeaked as Charles did the same against her back. I woke to Little One purring and kneading my chest.
I pet her and rubbed her face as Ellie shifted and woke behind me. The two bond cats climbed out when we got up to dress. The chill made me wish for an electric heater. I dropped from the wagon and walked to where the fire had been but it was covered in snow and more still fell.
I squatted and used a pine branch to brush some of the snow away before building another fire. Once it was going, I went to check the horses and feed them some grain. When I came back to the fire the gnomes were up and moving around. Ellie was beside the fire toasting bread and cheese. Little One and Charles were both being petting by the gnome children.
I squatted beside Ellie, “If this snow keeps up it’s going to make the other side of the pass dangerous.”
The elder gnome woman snorted, “Only if you don’t know what you are doing human.”
I smiled, “I have news for you little mother, not only am I just learning about horses, I’m also new to this world.”
She looked at me with questions in her eyes and then nodded, “We will travel with you as far as the forest and help you if you need it.”
One of the male gnomes cleared his throat, “Your frame was very efficient.”
I smiled and accepted toasted bread and melt cheese from Ellie, “If I had a liner for the inside it would be even warmer.”
He nodded and turned away. After breaking our fast, I harnessed the horses while Ellie helped the gnomes into the wagon. She rode on the wagon seat most of the time, talking to the gnomes. I was careful leading the horses on the snow covered trail. I was carrying my bow and managed to kill several rabbits along the way.
I skinned them and cleaned them before handing them up to Ellie. I knew they would last a long time in this cold. She gave the skins to the gnomes who cleaned them as we traveled. We reached the highest part of the pass just before I decided to stop for the night. I picketed the horses in front of the wagon while Ellie and the gnomes started a fire beside it.
After putting a blanket on each horse and fitting a feed bag over their heads I went to help Ellie. She smiled and stood to stretch before starting a walk around the camp with her staff. I left to gather wood for the fire as the gnomes pulled a bison fur under the wagon. I returned with my arms full of tree limbs and pulling a large heavy branch behind me.
The gnomes had the tent I had made set up with another skin fitted over it. As we ate dinner the elder gnome man talked about switching the horses on the trail down. Putting four horses to pull if needed and the others behind the wagon to resist or act as brakes. I was a little surprised when Little One and Charles went into the gnome tent to sleep.
Ellie shivered as I slipped into bed and held her. It was awhile before we warmed up from the chill of being in the snow all day. I woke in the middle of the night with Ellie shifting around. She whispered, “Something is near.”
I slid out of bed ignoring the cold as I quickly dressed. I grabbed my rifle before climbing out of the wagon. I switched the thermal sight on and slowly turned as I looked through the scope. The small shape that appeared was familiar. Ellie touched my shoulder, “Do you need light?”
I glanced at her, “It’s a small fire drake.”
She blinked and turned to gesture. A globe of light sprang to life and we both saw the small huddled form in the snow. I shook my head as I started forward, “Wait here.”
When I reached the drake it growled weakly. I knelt beside it and reached out to hold the neck before releasing my rifle and shifting closer. It was the size of a small dog and weighted even less. I used my other hand to turn it and then lift. It growled but didn’t pull away as I stood and held it against me.
I don’t know why but I headed back to the wagon and bed. I only took my gear off before climbing under the pile of furs and held the small drake against me. It shifted and growled a few times but it wasn’t long before it was asleep. Ellie had climbed back in bed behind me and rubbed my back before snuggling close.
I woke to the drake shifting around and lifted the furs to look at it. It sniffed but didn’t growl or bite which I thought was a good sign. I climbed out of bed thinking real hard about making a gas heater. After putting everything on, I dug out a fur skin and then reached in to lift the drake out.
I tucked it into the fur before climbing out of the wagon. Of course it was still snowing and it took a little longer to get the fire going. I set one of the dead rabbits from yesterday beside the fire to thaw. Ellie climbed out to join me and then the gnomes came out. Of course the drake growled again but I just reached into the fur and rubbed it under the chin and it calmed down.
The gnomes were a little hesitant but finally started moving around the fire to warm up. I gave the rabbit to the little drake and went to check and feed the horses. It was an interesting day, I carried the drake around with me and more than once Little One would meow from the wagon in displeasure.
I left the drake with Ellie when I went out hunting at midday. Little One rode my shoulders and rubbed against my neck the whole time. I used my bow to kill the four rabbits I found instead of my rifle. Like the day before I skinned and cleaned them before handing them to Ellie. The drake rode in the wagon the rest of the day.
I think it enjoyed the attention the gnomes gave it. There was an overhang beside the trail that had seen many fires. It was huge, more than large enough to put the horses in the back where someone had cleared all the rocks and made a crude fence. The wagon even fit under the edge and we sat by a cheerful fire that evening.
I cut a rabbit up and we took turns tossing the pieces to the drake as I lay beside the fire. Ellie had walked along the edge of the overhang and done one of her spells to ward us from animals. I looked out into the snowy night and saw that it was snowing even harder. She leaned against me, “We start going down tomorrow.”
I nodded and held her, “Next time I see the dwarves I’ll tell them they could make a killing if they had a tunnel all the way through the mountains.”
She laughed and the drake looked up. She gestured and tossed the last piece of rabbit. The gnomes were almost cheerful as they said good night. When Ellie and I climbed into the wagon it was to see Little One and Charles curled around and on the young drake. Ellie smiled and murmured something that made the air in the wagon seem warm.
I woke to wind shaking the wagon and glanced at Ellie still asleep. The two bond cats were still draped over the young drake and they all seemed to be purring. I shook my head and climbed out before dressing. As soon as I dropped to the ground I knew today was going to be bad. Snow fell thicker and the wind was blowing harder.
I moved to the horses and was surprised to feel it warmer in their corral. I fed the horses and went back to start the fire. I put water on to boil and headed out into the storm to try to find more wood. I moved along the cliff face and hadn’t gone very far before I came to a huge wind fall of branches.
I started dragging large branches back and after three trips I sat by the fire to warm up. The gnomes came out stretching and made me grin, “Sleep well?”
They grinned and came to the fire. I gestured to the falling snow, “I don’t think we should head out just yet.”
The old gnome woman nodded as she started making their breakfast. I stood and went to bring a rabbit body back to the edge of the fire so it would thaw out. I looked into the back of the wagon to see Ellie tickling the drake, “I’m going out to hunt.”
She nodded and sat up as I turned away. I grabbed my bow and headed into the falling snow. I was a little surprised at how many rabbits I found. When I returned to camp it was with six fat plump rabbits. I had already skinned and cleaned them and hung all but two on the outside of the wagon. Beside the fire Ellie took the rabbits, “I was thinking of a nice stew.”
I squatted down and held my hands out to the fire, “Sounds warm.”
I looked around, “Where’s the drake?”
The gnomes laughed and Ellie grinned, “Sleeping in the back of the horse corral.”
I looked around, “Where’s Little One and Charles?”
She grinned as the gnomes laughed again, “Sleeping on the drake.”
I grinned and stood up to take the heavy coat off before moving to the wagon. I hunted around until I found the roots and the small jars of preserved vegetables. I pulled out the large pot and carried everything back to the fire. It was a slow day of watching the heavy snow fall. I did go out several times to bring the rest of the dead fall back to the overhang.
I woke the next morning to a sense of calm, the snow had stopped falling. It was a little different going down the other side of the pass with some of the horses behind the wagon to slow it down. I went out hunting at noon when we took a break. I used my bow again and had both rabbits and what I thought were grouse when I came back.
Almost from the moment we started moving again it started snowing. It started off light but quickly grew heavier. I knew we were in trouble when I couldn’t see the wagon from the lead horse. I stopped and went back to pull out my thermal scope and push Ellie up onto the wagon with both bond cats.
The hours crawled by as we followed the trail with me using the thermal scope to see the way. It was just after dark before I saw the cliff beside the trail disappear leaving the wind and snow behind. I led the horses into the huge cave and Ellie dropped off the wagon as she brought light into the cave.
Right away I saw the cave had been used as a way point, it even had a corral and small stone hut. With cold, shaking fingers I unharnessed the horses and put them in the corral. Ellie had found wood and started a large fire in front of the hut. I fed the horses a double measure of feed and started rubbing them down.
By the time I finished Ellie and the gnomes had a tasty dinner ready. The glow Ellie had made faded as I sat and held my hands out to the fire. The gnomes looked at me with respect but it was Little One that warmed me by just crawling from my shoulder down into my shirt. I shivered as her small furry body vibrated and began warming me.
The drake even crawled into my lap and Ellie grinned. I finally relaxed and scratched the drake under the chin as Ellie passed bowls of rabbit stew out. I ate while Ellie pulled everything out for the gnomes and set up some protective spells. After feeding the drake I headed to bed, I was worn out from fighting my way through the storm.
I blinked awake and glanced back at Ellie before slipping out of bed. Both the bond cats were missing as well as the drake. One glance at the gnome’s tent told me where they were. I went to check the horses and feed them before building the fire up. I went to the mouth of the cave to see that it had stopped snowing.
The day actually went smoothly and just before I was ready to call it a day, another larger overhang appeared. Four days later we walk off the last hill in the trail and entered a thick evergreen forest. I pulled the horses to a stopped and helped Ellie unload everything of the gnomes.
I was sorry to see them leave and wasn’t really surprised when the drake whined and followed after them.
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