Geoffrey felt that his sister was diverting them on another of her tangents. She had told him they were going fishing. But it was unlike any fishing trip he had ever been on. They had crossed the only stream he had seen the day before and now they were in high cold, hard country stretching out for miles toward the north. He searched the landscape in vain. . If there were a body of water, the waning sunlight would have sparked a reflection. There was only flat cold ground and low scrub with a dusting of snow. She motioned him to a knot of standing stones on a small rise as she nudged her horse ahead of him. "We will be safe here," she said as her voice drifted over her shoulder.
The young prince followed his sister's lead and dismounted when they arrived at the stones. Then he hesitated as he looked about to find something to secure his horse. He didn't want his only transportation wandering off in this forbidding landscape. "They are trained to stay near, brother," She laughed, "Besides, they know this to be a safe zone."
"Safe from what?"
Ignoring Geoffrey's question the wizard began her climb up to the uppermost rock. It was a large slab that lay atop of the other stones. She gathered her robes about her to make a cushion against the cold and sat down. Then she patted the flat space beside her in invitation to Geoffrey . He pulled at the constricting parts of the winter robe she had given him and made the climb up to his sister. As he made himself more comfortable he noticed that she was watching him with a curious expression. She smiled when they made eye contact then she looked away and gazed toward the North. "We are atop a dolman," she said as if addressing someone else. Geoffrey started a bit. Sitting on tombs was not something he did off hand. She turned back to him. "The occupants don't mind, they are old friends."
"They?" he asked and saw he wasn't going to get an answer. She held her hand up in a motion for silence and then pointed to the Northwest part of the plain. In the gathering dusk, Geoffrey made out a shifting of shapes and darkening of color growing towards them. Then he heard the bells.
Thousands of bells. It wasn't the harsh sound tinging to a metal clapper. They were high pitched, castanets at various rates, growing louder, nearer, until it became the cascading sound of rain. In the gloom he made out the individual shapes that made up the living river on the tundra. Reindeer! Thousands of Reindeer! They seem to coalesce from the twilight and spread like a river across the plain. All were traveling towards the Northeast, intent on answering a mysterious call. Geoffrey found himself sighing. "They are called Caribou, a larger cousin of the Reindeer," she spoke quietly.
"The sound they make is their toe hoofs clicking together." He found himself completely absorbed by the scene. Wonderful! The large males with proud bearing would let out a whistle that punctuated the shower of horned bells. He watched as the females nudged their calves to keep inside the great stream. Then he saw the others, low creatures running the edges of the herd. "Wolves" he whispered.
"It's the nature of things. There will always be wolves," she replied.
"We will always be wolves," Geoffrey said unconsciously. Not realizing what he said he turned to his sister. She was nodded her head in agreement.
"Another one?" Galen refused to look at his brother's disapproving glower. He gritted his teeth and replied, "Looks like it." He wished he could make it sound more nonchalant but Galen was preoccupied in maneuvering a better handhold on the rocks of a steep ravine. He didn't bother looking down at the poor creature who lay broken below and he definitely didn't want to look to his brother's black countenance above. "Just get me through this day," he thought.
"Your reputation with horses continues to grow. What makes this one? Number eight . . twelve . . . thirteen? You would think I had a river of horses for you to drink up and piss away." Galen was furious with himself . . . he was beginning to believe he was cursed when it came to horses. The animals seemed to sense his ill luck. This last one only allowed him on its back when the equine had no more choice. Galen noticed that the horse's demeanor changed. The creature became depressed in a fashion, resigned to its. Maybe he was reading more into the animal than he should. But, that would explain why the damn thing leaped over the side into the ravine instead of facing the tiger's attack. A dirt clod crumbled in his fingers causing him to grasp for more stable rock. He was near the top now. Dirk motioned Basil over to help Galen to the road. Galen gripped Basil's arm in thanks and quickly released him. Brushing himself off, he quickly examined the claw marks on his left hand. One of the company's surgeons hurried over to dress wounds.. "You got your tiger, Dirk" Galen said gesturing to the big cat on the road. I hope it was worth the cost of a horse." Dirk straddled the carcass of a very big and very dead tiger. Grabbing it by the ears and cheek fur he hefted it up. "I have to say Galen, you make almost as good bait as Geoffrey," he said waggling the dead feline's head. "But the horse was your fault." Dirk dropped the head. It made a squishing thump as the once noble creature hit the ground, tongue lolling. Dirk brushed his hands together to rid himself of loose fur bits. Then the brushing turned to mock applause as the stepped closer to his brother, Galen. "I shan't give you another." "What?" "You heard me, find your own damn horse." "You would have me jog along side of the company?" "As amusing as that would be, no. I would have you take one man and go that way," Dirk gestured to the Northeast. "There is a pass into a small valley, you can get supplies there and continue on to the East. You will come to the Kartiea steppes."
"Finest horses in the world can be found there." Dirk continued as he mounted his black stallion.
"I'll be able to purchase some there?" Galen asked.
Dirk burst out laughing, "There isn't a horse herder in all of Kartiea will sell you one. You will have to catch some for yourself. Shouldn't take you more than a week. You can meet us in Harbor ton in that time, providing you have a horse!"
Dirk's men secured the Prince's trophy to the pack mules then regrouped to ride north with their lord. Galen watched as the mass of men moved on away from him. Him . . . alone . . . on foot . . . in the middle of the rode . . . with a dead horse in the ravine . . . a dead horse with all his food and gear in the packs . . . damn . . . damn . . . He walked over to the edge of the precipice. He looked at the unfortunate mare lying broken and wedged between two large boulders . . . on her back. Even if he were able to climb down to the carcass, he still couldn't get to his gear. "Damn!" he cursed. He glanced to the north and saw Dirk's party was no more than a blur of dust and clatter. He wouldn't try to call them back. "Have I been in worse?" he asked himself, trying to evaluate his situation. He liked comparing present dilemmas with past ones. It was part of the puzzle solving he found satisfying in his life. There was that time when he and his men had to hack their way through a two-week-old crocodile corpse that blocked their path. It was a little bigger than the horse and in worse condition. He wasn't alone then. Did he really need all the ‘stuff' in those packs? Definitely, he needed his swords. Those were left on the mount when he leapt off. Someone coughed. He whirled around to meet this new challenge. Galen moved so quickly that the soldier was startled and put out his hands to show he wasn't a threat.
"What is your name?" Galen barked, coming to a commanding stance as gracefully as he could. The soldier came to attention. "Rahn, Aaron Rahn, sir" he announced in proper military fashion. "Mister Basil gave orders from his highness, that I should accompany you as guide to the steppes." It took a moment for Galen to connect that this was the 'man' his brother assigned him. "You are familiar with the Kartien Steppes?" "Bred, born and raised there, Sir!" Galen noticed the large war-horse standing behind Rahn. "Your mount? Carry us both?" The soldier nodded. "Good!" Galen thought things were looking up. "Soldier, retrieve my swords. Be mindful not to draw them from the scabbard. I'll wait for you here." Rahn obeyed.
Geoffrey watched as the last of the herd disappeared into the night. The sounds were still resonating through his body. He was content to let the music of the herd to wash his nerves and rest his soul. All things became now. Stars were firing up in the indigo ski. Mountains were rising up from the plains and moving towards them. Or was it the dolman traveling toward the mountains? He looks about himself. The knoll he and his sister were on, was now planted firmly on the shores of a great lake, surrounded by mountains.
"We are here," she said. "And there is the boat."
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