Justin awoke feeling more rested than he had since the beginning of the trip, probably due to the feather bed and the warmth of the room. All was pretty quiet as he walked into the main room and wondered where everyone else was.|
He opened the front door and looked out to find Pectin getting the horses ready. Garth was sitting on the steps looking like he had indulged a little too much of the valley wine. He was holding his head and groaning. Justin stepped up behind him and said good morning loudly in his ear. The big man howled and jumped from the porch.
"Don't ever do that again when I'm thinking." he growled.
"You mean don't do that after you've been drinking," laughed Justin. "Head a little big this morning?"
"About two sizes too big. What is that stuff they make?" he moaned.
"I don't know, but I stopped after one mug." He looked to Pectin and asked, "Has Cheek informed you of our new traveling companion?"
"Yes, he told me earlier this morning. He woke me rather rudely too," grimaced Pectin. "I'm not as bad feeling as Garth, but I would rather not have been woken before sunrise."
Around the side of the building came Mr Symms, the man they first encountered when they entered the town. He was bringing a horse for Kara. Justin had found out that he was Kara's guardian and spoke very little. Justin thought he seemed a little mysterious and didn't look like he fit in with the rest of the townspeople. Justin figured that Cheek would explain everything later and it all would still be clear as mud.
Justin heard a door open and turned to the building to see Kara coming out. He ran up the steps to her and took the large pack that she was carrying.
"Good Morning, Kara, I hope you slept as well as I did."
"I slept well for about an hour, but I think I will survive." She gave him that smile again and Justin's heart melted. He hoped that he could keep his mind on the task ahead and not on her so much. He knew it wouldn't be easy.
"Where is Althea?" Justin inquired.
"She is staying here with Mr. Symms. Cheek insisted that she was not needed on the journey." Her smile dropped a little. "I'm glad for that but I'll miss her."
"I know how you feel. I'm lost without Cheek when he's not around."
"Do you know how long it will take to reach Kyr?" She asked.
"Cheek said last night that it will be about a four day ride from here. If all goes well and we aren't stopped by one of Mandara's traps." He frowned thinking about taking her on such a dangerous mission.
"Don't worry Justin, I'll be alright." She put her hand on his cheek and the warmth made him feel good. It was almost like she could read his mind, and not really knowing anything about her, he thought it would he better to be careful what he was thinking in case she could read minds.
"I don't like taking a woman on this trip," growled Garth from behind.
"I'm Sorry Garth, but Cheek said it is to be so, and he seems to know more than he will admit. For good reasons I hope."
"Well, I want it known that I disapprove." Grumbled the big man.
"So noted, my friend. Now I think I had better find Cheek and get this group on it's way." Justin went to the house and found Cheek saying good-bye to his mother. Cheek turned to Justin and jumped onto his friend's outstretched hand. Cheek took one last look at his mother and said to Justin that they should go. Justin went back outside and found everyone was mounted and ready to go and Justin noticed that the mule had been replaced by a fresh horse. Garth now also had his own stead which would make things easier on the journey.
"Justin, ask Pectin if he has Kigamsti with him?" Cheek sounded a little worried. Justin inquired of Pectin as to the wereabouts of "his" mouse and Pectin replied that the creature was safe with him.
They headed out of the village as the townspeople watched quietly. Justin thought this was odd as they should have been cheering them on, but they probably were more concerned for Kara's safety. They left the green valley and made it back to the main road as Garth was grumbling about the cold and Pectin kept telling him to shut up causing the big man would shoot back with an insult to the boy. At least they were funny enough to keep everyone's mind off the journey ahead.
They traveled mostly in silence as the days wore on and they stopped to rest as little as they could to save time. The sun was getting lower in the sky but would never go below the horizon this far north. Even though it would never get totally dark, they would eventually have to stop to sleep and it wasn't long before Cheek suggested to Justin that they should do so. Justin found a small area that looked good for a camp and told the others to set up there.
They were all quite tired from the trip and the short rest that they had in the town had made them a bit too lazy to be energetic. Everyone but Justin and Kara had climbed into their bedsacks and drifted off into sleep. The young couple sat on a blanket before the fire and just stared into it.
"I wonder what is ahead for me," Kara broke the silence.
"It must be important or Cheek would have never taken you along," replied Justin. "You must have a great deal to do with preventing Kyr from being free. I guess that my task is to see that you get there safely."
Kara looked lost in her thoughts, years away from where they sat before the fire. "I feel sad and yet relieved that I am finally away from the valley and maybe finding out what my life is all about. I have been raised and pampered there without knowing why. Mr. Symms has seen to my education and protection and I never knew my parents since no one seems to know what happened to them. They just disappeared when I was small. My life has been one big mystery and maybe this is a way to find out something." She paused to reflect on her life and Justin had no words to comfort her. He thought of how he had never known his mother and barely had any time with his father before he was killed in the war.
"I'm sure that all will come together and soon you will be free to get on with your life," Justin said and thought of how he'd like to be part of that life. Her face and hair looked so beautiful before the fire and he wanted so much to kiss her again as he had the night before.
She looked to him with a smile again. Justin panicked, had she read his mind about the kiss? She looked deep into his eyes and then leaned toward him and gently kissed him. Justin felt warm and yet embarassed by the kiss. He wanted so much to hold her but kept his thoughts hidden, just in case.
"I think we should get some sleep, we should try to be rested for tomorrow," offered Justin, changing the subject before his thoughts gave him away. "I will be close by in case of danger, so don't worry."
She smiled again and said "With you near me, I will sleep well. Thank you Justin." She gently kissed him again and went to her bedsack. Justin waited a few moments till she was safely tucked in. He then went to his bedsack and laid there for what seemed hours before he fell asleep.
It was a long quiet night for the small party of heroes who were now all sleeping soundly, not hearing the strange movements around them in the semi-dark. They would not know of the terror of what was happening till they awoke that morning.
Justin heard Cheek mumbling something. His mind was still groggy but he was certain that Cheek was tugging at his ear and saying something about being in trouble. He sat up quickly, dropping Cheek off onto the ground. He blinked his weary eyes and looked to the small mouse, still yelling at him.
"Justin! Wake up! We have a problem here!" The tiny creature was frenzied.
"What is it Cheek? What problem?" He yawned. His eyes focused ahead and the hair on his neck stood up at what he saw. He jumped up and stood looking around the camp. Sometime during the early morning someone or something had put a huge ice cage around them. Justin ran to the crystal clear bars that imprisoned them. They were about one arms length around and so close together that he could just barely get his hand through.
"Garth! Pectin! Get up! We have a problem!" He cried.
"That's what I said!" yelled Cheek.
"What's the matter now?" Grumbled Garth as he woke and his eyes went wide as he saw the cage. "Fates preserve us, what happened?"
"I don't know, I heard nothing during the night. It's as though it were poured over us and frozen." Justin rounded the perimeter trying to find an opening.
Garth and Pectin were now pushing and pulling at the bars with no luck. Kara sat up in her bedsack but Justin told her not to move. He stood at the center of the huge structure and surveyed the sides and top. It did look as though it were poured from a point at the top, too high to climb and far too slippery.
"Now what do we do?" cried Pectin as he tried to hack away at the crystal bar with his knife. It was frozen so hard that the blade made barely a dent in it.
They all felt an icy shiver run through them as they heard an inhuman growl from around the closest hill. They watched as a hugh hairy beast, walking upright like a man, came around the side of the hill. It came toward them and up to the cage as everyone ran to the far side of the area away from the creature. It was tall enough to look down at them from the top of the cage. Justin remembered his sword and ran to his pack. As he fumbled for it he heard screams from his friends and as he looked up he saw a hairy hand above him. Grabbing his sword he slashed at it with all his strengh. The beast made a howling cry at the small wound in it's finger and pulled back.
"Oh good, make him mad!" yelled Garth.
"What would you have me do, let him pick me up to say hello?" screamed Justin.
The beast stomped on the ground with his foot causing the small people to lose their footing. The creature stomped away back around the hill and was gone, for the moment. It grew quiet after a while as the party listened for a sound of it's whereabouts.
"We have to get out of here." Demanded Pectin.
"Do you have a suggestion boy?" Barked the big man.
"Quiet down, both of you and think." Justin ordered the two as he paced the cage walls. "The bars are made of ice! If we could build a fire around one, then we could get out."
Pectin ran to the fire wood but stopped in panic. "Justin! The creature has frozen the wood in ice. We'll never get it out."
Justin had to think fast. He needed heat to melt the bars, and with out the wood there could be no fire. He stood there looking at his breath and thinking about how cold it was. He didn't shiver despite the cold and thought of how he was warm in the magic cloak that Mandara had given him. His mind started to wander when it hit him. "My cloak! It gives off a heat of it's own depending on how cold the wearer is! If I can get it around one of the bars, maybe it will melt it enough to get out."
"We need a roaring fire to melt these bars, not a cape!" roared Garth.
"It can't hurt to try," said Justin as he tried to reach around one smaller bar with the cloak, but couldn't get his arm through. "Great, I can't reach."
Cheek and Kigamsti came running over to him, "Justin, give us one corner of the cloak and we will pull it around to the other side."
Justin pushed the cloak through the bar and the mice ran out pulling the cloth around the bar to the other side, enough for Justin to pull it back through. He slid the cape up around the block of ice and held it together at the opening. It started to feel warmer in his hands and after a few moments it started to get hot. He fastened the clasp and let go. Water started dripping down the sides of the ice bar and everyone let out a cry of joy at the sight. The water was comimg faster now and Justin told everyone to pack quickly.
"Where are the horses?" cried Pectin.
In the panic no one had noticed that they were gone. "Great, the creature ate them." Barked Garth.
"Let's just get out of here, then we'll worry about the horses." ordered Justin. The bar was getting smaller now and everyone carried as much as they could of the supplies.
Justin watched as the bar melted faster and watched for the beast, hoping to be out before it's return. Every so often he had to adjust the cape tighter so it wouldn't slip down. It was very hot and Justin's hands were hurting from the adjustments. The bar finally was small enough that Justin ran against it with his shoulder and it gave way with a crack. Everyone cheered and started scrambling to get out. Justin gathered up the cloak and found it had cooled quickly to where he could put it on. He led his friends away from the cage toward the hill.
"Unfortunatly we have to go down the trail past the point where the beast went. We'll have to take our chances that it won't see us." Justin said quietly to the frightened group.
They made their way to the hill where they last saw the creature and as they came around the corner they stopped. There was a sort of ice dwelling that must have been the creature's home. In front of the house was a large pot over a fire which Justin figured the beast was melting ice for the water it used to make the cage, or worse, to cook them in. Just to the left of the building were the horses in an ice corral. Justin wondered how he got the horses there without them making noise.
"We've got to get them or we'll never make it to Kyr in time." whispered Justin. The beast was no where to be seen. They stood there a few minutes, thinking, when they heard a noise from behind them. Turning, they saw the creature had come around the other side of the hill to the cage and finding it empty, became angry. It was heading their way but had not spotted them yet.
"Run to the house! Quickly!" he said and was on his way. He lead the group around the back of the building before the beast could see them. It came to the building and walked to the corral to check the horses. Satisfied that they were still there, it stood there puzzled by the disappearance of the humans. Justin was trying to figure out how to subdue the beast so they could rescue the horses and get away. He came around the opposite side of the building from the creature and studied the water pot. It was hanging from a bar supported by posts. Justin thought that if the posts were knocked over, the pot would spill and if they could get the creature to walk into the water, maybe it would get stuck as the water froze. It was a risk but the only one Justin could think of. He came back and told the others of his plan. They came back around the building and saw the creature just standing where it had been. The men ran to the side of the pot unseen by the beast. They studied the post and found that if they could pull one of the supports outward the thing would be unbalanced and fall. They frantically worked the support out as they kept an eye on the creature. It was just standing there in some sort of thought. The post started to sway as the support gave way then they pushed at the post hoping to make the pot fall toward the creature. It did. The water poured down toward the beast in a wave. It splashed the legs and feet of the beast and settled around him. Justin hoped the ground was cold enough to freeze the water quickly. As the hairy creature howled in surprise and turned to see what was happening, it slipped on the watery ice and came down on it's side. It tried to get up but slipped again. The water was beginning to crystalize and the beast's hair was sticking to the ground and finally it was trapped in the ice and could not move. It laid there howling at the top of it's lungs.
The men cheered and hollered in delight that the plan had worked. Justin yelled to them to get everything together and get the horses packed. They worked frantically to get away although the beast could not move. Kara stood safely from the beast and said to Justin, "I feel sorry for him. He will die laying there."
Cheek poked his head out from Justin's pocket and replied, "Don't worry about him. As soon as the afternoon sun gets overhead he will warm up enough to get free and we will be long gone from here."
Justin was impressed by Kara's compassion for the beast that almost killed all of them. She had a good heart and that made him care about her even more. The horses were packed and everyone mounted up to leave the beast. It lay there watching them go and let out a blood curdling howl. Justin looked back and wondered if they would have to deal with the beast on the way back.
"Cheek," inquired Justin "Will we have to go back through all these dangers to get out of the Northlands?"
"Don't worry about getting out until we see if we can get in. Then we'll worry about getting back." sighed the mouse perched on Justin's shoulder.
They rode on again in silence other than Garth's occasional comments complaining about the cold or having a woman on the journey. Pectin would quiet him by reminding him that he could always go back, making the big man just scowl all the more. They made camp that evening and Justin made a schedule for the men to take turns watching the camp. Garth growled some more.
The next few days were traveled without any problems. Cheek and Kigamsti seemed to spend more time together chattering away. Justin figured that they were plotting something for when they arrived at Kyr's pyramid. At night the reddish glow from Kyr grew in intensity bringing a chill to Justin's spine. He wasn't really afraid, just worried. What if he failed? What if one of them were killed along the way? What if something happened to Kara? He stopped thinking about it before he went crazy with worry.
Cheek finally announced that they would be to Kyr's land the next day. Everyone was silent at the announcement not knowing whether to be happy that it was almost over or worried about what was to come. The last few days had been uneventful and that worried Justin even more. It had been too quiet. Was the worst to come before they would get to Kyr?
They set up camp that evening and everyone sat quietly around the fire thinking about the next day. Justin sat with his arm around Kara, basking in the warmth of her and the fire. Cheek and Kigamsti were still off chattering their secrets, or maybe just having a good time telling mouse tales. Garth finally broke the silence.
"I just want to say that I am sorry if I complained a bit too much. It's just my way of blowing off steam. Justin, you have done well to get us this far and I know all will go well tomorrow.
" "We'll make it safely back to our homes and Kyr will be put in his place for a while again," offered Pectin.
Justin just smiled and thanked his friends for coming. He felt that he could have made the journey alone but Garth and Pectin made it more enjoyable despite their bickering.
They all said their good nights and went off to sleep. Justin lay there watching Kara's bedsack and wondering what was in store for her tomorrow. He drifted off just about the time that Pectin awoke him to take his turn at watch. Justin sat sleepily in the silence wondering if he would ever get a good nights rest again, or after tomorrow would he die and spend eternity sleeping.
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