Their spirits were high as they rode on. They were feeling that nothing could stop them now as they ventured forth on the way to the enemy. It was probably all the excitement from the successful bridge crossing mixed with the happiness of being alive that Justin felt his blood rushing through his body and was feeling invincible.
Cheek could sense that Justin was getting intoxicated by the excitement and decided it was time for a bit of restful diversion. He poked out from the pocket and looked up at his friend.
"Justin," he called up. "About two miles ahead is a side road to the left. Take the road and follow it to the end. We will stop there for a day."
Justin suddenly felt disappointed by the break in their journey and asked why. Cheek said that there was something that had to be done before they could go any further, and disappeared back into the pocket.
After a while they came to the road and turned on to it. Garth complained about having to take the side trip but Justin told him what Cheek had said and that it was important, so the big man quieted down.
They had just come over a hill and saw something that they could not believe. Ahead in a small valley of snow and ice was a patch of green. In the middle of the forested area was a small town. Their spirits lifted again with the thoughts of getting out of the cold. They crossed out of the snow into the grassy land and could feel a warmth. Justin removed his cloak and felt the cold leave him. Pectin was asking if his place was enchanted and Justin replied that it probably was. Garth commented that he hoped the town had a tavern and Justin thought to himself that he may even have a drink to celebrate getting this far.
Cheek popped out again and spoke to Justin. "When we enter the town say nothing to anyone until I say so. There is one person who we must meet before we can do anything safely. Is that clear?"
"Yes, Cheek. Is there danger here?
"Not as long as you and the others do as I say. Tell them so." Justin relayed the orders to the others and they nodded in agreement.
They entered the town and quietly rode down through the center, being watched by the people now coming out to witness the ragged little parade. Justin saw that they looked like normal everyday folks, and wondered what they did here as he could see no businesses, and the stone buildings looked like simple homes. Children ran around them jabbering excitedly but did not get in their way. Cheek and Kigamsti were watching from his pocket as though they were expecting something and as they came to the far end of the town that stopped in front of a larger dwelling, Cheek told Justin to stop and wait there.
After a moment a large man came out of the building and approached them. He stopped before Justin and stood staring at him which made Justin felt uneasy as he wished something would happen. Then it did happen.
The door of the large building opened again and out came a girl. She was wearing drab clothes and was rather plain looking and as she stood on the steps of the building Justin noticed that she had a mouse on her shoulder. Justin looked from the mouse back to her face and suddenly recognized her as the girl in the mist. His mouth dropped and he almost said something when Cheek ran up to his shoulder and spoke in a loud voice.
"Althea, my mother, I have returned to you. I am Cheek, your son, taken by Edan the Elder to Freland many years ago."
The mouse on the girl's shoulder stood up and cried out. "Cheek, is it you, my son?"
Both mice found their way down to the ground and ran to each other. They hugged and danced and cried. Justin was filled with emotion at the sight knowing Cheek was reunited with his mother. Justin had lost his mother after his birth and never knew what it was like to have a mother.
"Cheek, look at you, so grown up. I have missed you all these years." She looked up at Justin and asked, "Is this your master?"
"Yes mother, he is Justin, and a good friend also. He is to be trusted."
"Well then, Cheek, it will be known by all that your master and his friends shall be trusted here."
With that the man standing before Justin smiled and welcomed Justin and his friends. The townspeople came rushing toward them shouting their welcomes. Justin got down from Canter and came to Cheek and his mother. Bending down he asked Cheek to introduce him. Cheek did so and when Justin looked up he saw the girl standing before him. Justin stood and smiled.
"Hello, I'm Justin."
The girl smiled back and said, "Welcome Justin, I'm Kara, Althea's master and friend." She knelt down and picked up the two mice and asked Justin to follow her. Justin turned to find that Garth and Pectin were busy talking to the crowd, so he followed her to the building.
The interior of the building was plain and simple. The furnishing were made of wood, and the walls were covered with tapestries. Justin was impressed by the plants, of which there were hundreds, scattered around the room.
"You have a very nice home here, Kara."
"Thank you Justin," she replied as she set the mice on the table. "I made it as comfortable as possible. Please sit down."
Justin sat at the table and watched Cheek conversing with his mother while Kara brought out a bottle and into two mugs she poured a clear liquid. She set one mug in front of Justin and raised her's to him. "We shall toast to the return of Cheek, and to our new found friends," she said and drank.
Justin sipped the liquid and found it to be very tasty. It had a fruity flavor and after he swollowed, he could taste a bit of wine in it. He drank more and felt a bit flushed for he was not much of a drinker.
"Careful with that wine, Justin, it goes down smooth but kicks like a mule," Cheek warned the boy.
"I think it's delicious," and to Kara, "Do you make this?"
"Everything we eat and drink is made here. We have learned to grow much in such a small area. The constant weather is perfect for growing year round."
"I didn't see any cattle. Where do you get your meat?"
"We're vegetarians, so we have no livestock. It also saves on having to feed them," she smiled.
Justin stared at her smile for it had been on his mind and in his dreams for the past week. She noticed his stare and asked "Is there something wrong with my face?"
"Oh, no, I..I was just thinking about something. I was sure that I've seen you before, somewhere," squirmed Justin.
"Not unless you've been here before. I have never left the valley," she smiled again. "And I'm sure that I would have remembered you." Justin was becoming intoxicated by both the wine and her smile. He set the wine down and concentrated on her smile. Kara went into another room saying that she would prepare a meal for them. Althea said something to Cheek and she scurried down the table to follow Kara.
Justin suddenly remembered Kigamsti was still in his pocket and looked in to see what the black mouse was doing. Justin was surprised to find his pocket was empty.
"Cheek, do you know where Kigamsti went?"
Cheek ran over to Justin and spoke quietly. "Justin, please don't mention anything about him yet. A mouse without a master is not welcome here. Later you must explain to Pectin that he is to say that he is Kigamsti's master."
Justin nodded and told Cheek that he would go tell him now before they say anything to the townspeople. He called to Kara say that he was going to check on his friends and would be back shortly. Justin left the house to find that his friends were not to be seen. He asked a man walking by if he knew where they were and the man pointed out a building across the way and said they were there. Justin thanked him and went to the building. It was a small tavern, which probably pleased Garth. Justin's eyes adjusted to the dim light and saw his friends seated in the middle of the room. Garth was busy telling his tale of conquering the snake beast and Pectin was looking bored. Justin called to Pectin and when the boy came over he told him what Cheek had said. Pectin said that he would do Cheek's bidding and told Justin that Kigamsti was in his pocket already. Justin was relieved to know that the mouse was safe and went back to Kara's home.
After the sumptuous meal Justin helped clear the table and the conversation was mostly about the town and the people there. After a while they went out to the porch and sat on a bench facing north. The sun was low behind the mountains and the eerie red glow was starting to be visible in the northern sky.
"I have heard tales of Kyr and what would happen if he were loose." Kara said to Justin, "Do you think that you will be able to stop him?"
I hope so." Justin answered. "I still don't know what to do when I get there. I'll just have to worry about it when it happens."
Cheek looked up to Justin and said, "Justin, it's time that I tell you why we stopped here. We came to pick up someone to go with us. That someone is Kara."
Justin and Kara both looked surprised and Justin said, "Cheek, the journey is too dangerous to take her. I won't allow it."
"I'm sorry Justin, but it has to be so or we will surely fail."
"But why Kara? Aren't there any strong, brave men here who could go?"
"It has nothing to do with being strong or brave or men. Kara is the only one we must take and I can't say any more. It has to be." Then Cheek crawled up on Kara's lap and continued, "Kara, you must go willingly, but it is extremely important that you do. Are you brave enough to help save our world?"
Kara thought a moment and answered. "Cheek, I could sit here till doom comes and die a coward, but I will go with you to help. What is it I must do?"
"Pack warmly and ask no more questions. That is all I can say for now. I will explain more when we reach Kyr."
Cheek climbed down and he and his mother went back into the building. Justin sat there dumbfounded for fear of anything happening to Kara. Although he was a little glad that she would be with him longer.
"Kara, I swear on my life that no harm shall come to you. I will be your protector on the journey."
"Thank you Justin, I hope I will sleep better knowing that." She smiled again.
"I hate not knowing anything and the mystery of why you must go there." Justin said as he stood. He went down the steps followed by Kara. They walked in silence toward a flower garden on the side of the house. They stood there watching the red fire light in the sky, not speaking. Kara moved close to Justin and he put his arm around her. They looked into each others eyes for a long moment then felt a little embarrassed by this.
"I feel as though I have known you for years," spoke Justin finally. "I first saw you in a mist at Mandara's cavern. He knew we were going to meet and I'm glad for it. I have thought of little else but you for the past week. It was the one thing that helped get me through the journey so far, and now I am actually with you."
"I'm also glad you're here," she spoke softly. "I have had a dream that someday a handsome young man would come to rescue me from the valley. I love it here, but I am lonely for companionship. The young men in town all treat me as though they were forbidden to be with me. My life so far has been as mysterious as your journey. With you here I feel as though my life is going to change for the better despite having to go to Kyr."
"We will get through this together, and after it all, I have to be with you, I know this in my heart." Justin spoke as though he felt an emptiness were being filled inside. "I feel the fates have brought us together and let no man take us apart."
They looked again deep into each others eyes and gently kissed. From behind them a small deep voice cleared it's throat and said, "I think it's time for you two to get some sleep, for we still have a long journey to go."
They turned to see Cheek standing on the porch. They smiled to each other and with Cheek went into the house and later as Justin lay on the soft quilt bed, his head was filled with daydreams of Kara. Her smile was the last thing he saw as he fell asleep.
Back to Main Page