The smell of cooking fish roused her from sleep. Tinhara opened her eyes and saw the misshapen shadows of people milling about.
“She’s wakening,” Tinhara heard a man announce. She blinked a few times and his body took on the shape of a person. A few more times, and she cleared away the haze in her eyes and saw where she was. The room was small and warm. The smell of the tomcod made the air thick and comforting. She remembered back to the last tomcod she had, at Aqumlluk. And the auction and Hadyn. She sat up quickly, too quickly, and her head spun. She laid back down.
“I am Pawk, and you are here among friends,” he said as he gestured to the others. He smelled of tree sap, a distinctive and rare scent in Qan. It meant he was a mountain person.
He squinted his eyes and stared at her.
She sat up again. Hadyn lay in a second bed nearby. Lefe… she remembered. “Bright blessings from Hecath and Qan.”
Pawk nodded and reached out his hand for her to take. She gripped it and stood on shaky legs. He held her up and led her to a table. The fire softly lit the room, casting surging shadows on the walls. He cleared his throat and Hadyn looked up from her bed.
“Tinhara!” she cried out as she rushed over. She enveloped Tinhara, pulling her in closely and squeezing. Tinhara sighed as she breathed in Hadyn’s smell. Her throat closed over, her heart pounded madly. She wrapped her shaking arms around her companion and her stomach, once knotted and twisted, wrenched. She pulled away and vomited on the floor.
Tinhara gained control of her retching gut. “I’ll clean it up,” she said as she wiped her mouth free of the bile. Hadyn still had her arm around her shoulders, and was patting her gently on the back.
“No need, I will care for you too,” a voice said. A fat woman tottered over to Tinhara and gripped her firmly by the shoulder. “Come,” she demanded as she led Tinhara to a chair. “Sit,” she commanded. With her new charge resting in the heavy wooden chair, Pawk’s wife placed a cold cloth on Tinhara’s forehead, cooling down the rising heat. She pointed at Hadyn, and then the bed. Obediently, Hadyn laid down.
Pawk’s wife took the compress from Tinhara’s forehead and walked over to a nearby shelf. She began to mix some herbs with a thickened seal oil. She waddled over to Hadyn and let the mixture drip over her head. She moaned and squirmed a bit, and then waited in silence. Tinhara got up and stood next to Hadyn, holding her hand.
“You have come far,” Pawk said as he handed a plate of tomcod to Tinhara. “I recognize your name. Your companion called it out in her sleep.” Tinhara paused and looked suspiciously at the tomcod. “ You have done nothing to me, nothing to the people of the mountain, I bear you no grudge.”
Tinhara nodded and ate a piece of fish. She offered some to Hadyn, who refused. “Eat or you will be seen as ungrateful. Do not offend Pawk,” she whispered. She nudged a piece of fish between Hadyn’s lips. It had been a solemn journey of cold and hunger and sorrow until, at the foot of the mountain, the young girl came to them. She offered to lead them the rest of the way to Pawk’s. He was, she said, her uncle. Unlike the others of her tribe, she was bold enough to talk to strangers.
Pawk told her that they had been found wandering by a hunter. “He led you back here. As elder, it is my responsibility to care for you.” His wife took her place behind him, silent and watchful.
They spoke of news from the countryside, although Pawk admitted his news was at least a year old. Tinhara told him of some celebrations, of hunting, and of Lefe.
Pawk nodded. “No choice, no choice.” He slapped her on the shoulder and nodded again.
“I have many wounds from the hunt,” Tinhara said. She would not tell them that the injuries were from her battles with the Guard, magicians and Gods. Pawk nodded again.
“Women are not good hunters. They often suffer needless injuries,” he said as he gestured to his wife. She rounded the chair and adeptly began to grope Tinhara’s body to determine the extent of her injuries.
“Take your clothes off and lie down,” she commanded. Tinhara undressed. She could hear Pawk give a low whistle as he stared at her. She looked down at her body. She was covered in scars, wounds and blood. Some wounds were old, some were new, and all told the truth: these were not hunting wounds.
“You said…” Pawk began. Hadyn swiftly pulled off the rags she had covering her arms and chest. Pawk gawked. She bent over a small bowl and splashed water on her face, arms and chest.
Pawk’s wife quickly looked at Tinhara, then to Hadyn, and back again to Tinhara. She raised an eyebrow and a sly grin passed over her lips. She knew more now than Pawk would ever know about his guests.
With Pawk’s attention on Hadyn’s seductive preening, his wife tended to Tinhara’s wounds. She unwrapped old wounds and wrapped up the new ones. She rubbed oils and poultices, ointments and lotions. Her firm, powerful hands were strong when they needed to be, and gentle when it was called for. She puzzled over the stitches. Hadyn, still half-naked, showed her what she had done to sew the wounds, and discussed how and when to remove them. It was something, Tinhara pointed out, that would be useful to any man hurt on the hunt. Pawk agreed, and said the information was of value.
When both women were cared for, fed, rested and clothed again, the trading began. “I repay your kindness with my news of Kashunaq,” Tinhara announced.
“I accept your payment,” Pawk said.
“And I repay your wife’s tenderness with bear bones,” she said as she reached for her bundle. The bone and claws clattered onto the floor at Pawk’s feet.
“I accept your payment,” Pawk said. There was a moment of silence as he thought of what to offer Tinhara for the knowledge of stitching wounds. Tinhara held her breath: anything he offered was more than she had now. “I repay your healing with advice, tools and weapons.”
Tinhara exhaled slowly. It was more than she expected. She suspected he was also paying for the privilege of having seen Hadyn naked. Tinhara nodded. “I accept your payment.”
They shared information while they ate dinner. Pawk explained how the snow on the mountain lived and Hadyn smiled sweetly throughout. They talked about ice axes, routes, camps and the weather. After dinner, their host fetched some grog for them.
“You promised,” Hadyn said quietly when Pawk had left the table.
“Promised what?” she asked.
“Not to drink grog.”
Frowning, Tinhara replied “I said no such thing.”
“Yes, you did,” Hadyn said. “Back when the magicians attacked us. You were too drunk to protect me and you said you wouldn’t drink again.”
“I don’t recall this,” she said as the drinks were brought to the table. Tinhara licked her lips as Pawk poured the grog into a cup. She took it from him, but when she caught Hadyn’s disapproving look from the corner of her eye, she remembered how sick she felt when she realized she had let Hadyn be taken from her. She smiled and passed the grog on. “None for me,” she told Pawk. She had already gone for a long time without the drink, and she knew she could wait until she returned to Qan to have another. If it made Hadyn happy, she could do it.
“Is there something wrong with it?” he asked as he sniffed at the grog.
“No, not at all, and I mean no offence by it. I made a promise.”
Pawk laughed and swallowed his drink. “I’ve made many promises, but I’ve so often forgotten them in the fog of grog that I grew wiser. Instead of giving up the grog, I decided to give up making promises,” he said with a good-natured smile. Tinhara laughed and nodded her head.
“Perhaps one day I shall be so wise,” she said with a wink to Hadyn.
They spent the night sleeping on the floor of the hut. It was the first restful night for Tinhara in a long time. Once again, she felt confident about her ability to fulfil the prophecy, and she was able to sleep easily. In the morning, she found out it hadn’t been so easy for Hadyn, that her mourning for Lefe had haunted her. She inquired over breakfast, and was told that in Arpine, people would mourn for days, sometimes years, for loved ones who had died. Qanians mourned the passing of the body, but always knew the ancestors to be nearby, and let the sadness go quickly.
Their host provided them with a water-filled grogskin, a couple of walking sticks, some ramblers, a few extra pieces of cloth, a length of rope, an ice axe and enough lean meat to take them over the mountain. “I thank you for being so generous,” Tinhara said as they stood outside the hut. She eyed the mountain and wondered how long it would take for them to climb. It was a steep climb, and that wasn’t something Tinhara was used to. She had almost always stayed in the flatter interior, even as a soldier. Once she had gone to the Karech mountains, but did not go far up. Now, she saw ice rock towering on all sides, with narrow passages twisting through. It seemed to glitter by itself in the moonlight.
“Take a route that travels like a fish,” he said as he wiggled his hand side to side. “Stay tied together, as I told you, and neither of you will be lost.”
“How long do you think it will take us?” Tinhara asked as she bent down to strap the toothed ramblers onto her boots. She motioned for Hadyn to do the same as she cinched hers tightly.
“You both seem fit, and motivated. I think it will take you three days. If all goes well, you will then be at the head of the mountain. You will be able to see Arpine from his shoulders.”
Standing, Tinhara tested the bone ramblers’ jagged edges, stomping to feel how well they gripped the ice below her feet. “I’ve never had ramblers before,” she said as she held up her foot to admire them again.
“Beautiful, aren’t they?” Pawk said with a proud smile. “I carved them myself. You can’t climb a mountain of snow and ice without claws on your feet. Remember to adjust them occasionally or they will come loose.”
“Thank you very much,” said Hadyn as she stepped forward and hugged Pawk. “Your generosity has been as great as the mountain.” She kissed him on the cheek, and a small spark of jealousy flashed through Tinhara.
“Pawk, I thank you for your time and generosity. Bright blessings from Qan and Hecath,” Tinhara said as she passed the rope behind her to the other hand. She quickly made a loop, slipped the end through it, around it and then pulled it back down through. Handing the other end back to Hadyn, she looked again at the mountain before her. In a few days, they would be at the top. Probably another day to reach the bottom on the other side. And then it would only be a day or so, she imagined, until they reached Hadyn’s home village. Her eyes wandered to Hadyn’s waist, and she watched her tie her end of the rope. She shook her head and tied the rope correctly. Four days, perhaps five, before any decisions would have to be made, before she would have to think about how to stay in Qan and still have Hadyn. They left Pawk’s home without further ado, and headed toward the path Pawk told them to take. From there, they began their ascent.
“I am curious,” Hadyn said as they began. She poked the walking stick into the snow and stepped carefully into Tinhara’s footsteps. “Do you think you will want to meet my family?”
“Yes,” she replied over her shoulder.
“And what about my father? Do you think you can charm him as easily as you have charmed me?”
“I don’t know,” Tinhara said as she jabbed her walking stick into a section of snow and wiggled it a bit. A small slab gave way, sliding down the mountainside. “You are the one who has put the spell on me. The snow is moving, we have to go another route,” she said. She backtracked and walked another 20 feet up, then travelled a parallel route. The snow did not move here.
“And what about us?” Hadyn asked.
“What about us? The prophecy was to take you home. I think everything will become clear once you are home,” she replied. She fended off all the other questions with a moody silence. It was hours into the journey when they decided to stop for a moment to rest, drink and eat. They found a suitable spot and sat down. Hadyn pulled out the grogskin of water and the meat and shared them with her companion.
Looking down at Qan, Tinhara could see very far indeed. She pointed to an imagined black speck and said “That is Galmaq. Not very impressive from up here, is it?” she asked.
“I can’t see anything. Where is it?” Hadyn asked as she strained her neck to get a better view. Tinhara laughed a took a drink of water.
“I don’t know if you can see it. That’s my point. From here, it doesn’t exist. All that is here is the land, the snow and the ice.” She looked at Hadyn and asked, “What do you think?”
“I see land and snow and ice.”
“And what do you think of the land and the snow and the ice?” she asked.
Hadyn sucked in a large breath of air and held it for a moment. Exhaling slowly, she looked around her. “When I was taken by the sin traders, I thought I’d never come home again. This land is so different from mine, but you know, sometimes, just in the last little while, I felt like, like it was home. Until Lefe died,” she trailed off.
“I believe we will see him again, don’t you?” Tinhara asked.
Squinting her eyes, Hadyn shook her head. “He’s dead. I know you think differently, but in my country, when you die, you become food for worms. That is all.”
“Remind me not to die in your country,” Tinhara said just before biting into the meat. The fresh meat was good, without the slight bitterness it often gets after being frozen. But she did wonder what kind of meat it was. It was nothing she had ever had before, but it was still delicious. She was so involved in eating she didn’t notice Hadyn’s eyes beginning to tear. She quickly moved to wipe them away. “I’ve told you before, if you cry, they can freeze to your face and scar you,” she chided.
“Why do you care if I have scars? Why do you care at all? You’ve risked your life for me, over and over. Do you really love me?”
“Because you are the other half of me,” she replied. Hadyn sighed and shook her head, and Tinhara knew she’d have to explain it better than that. “You’ve started some kind of… fire… in me. I, I’ll give you everything I have, everything I am. I have given you the most important thing I have. I have given my soul to you. I will do anything you want, anything at all. You fill the other half of me,” she said. Swallowing hard, she turned away from Hadyn’s deep eyes. She could not stand the vulnerability she had just shown. She had tipped her hand, revealing the true power held over her. She cursed herself and flicked at a bit of snow with her hand. Their souls had grown familiar, and it made her uneasy.
Hadyn leaned over and wrapped her arms tightly around Tinhara. “I know you don’t mean that, but it sounds wonderful,” she said. Tinhara turned her head to kiss her and was still able to taste the salty tears that had found their way to the corners of her mouth.
They reached the area Pawk told them of, and following his directions, found the small cave that lay on the other side of the crevasse. It was large enough for only a half-dozen people, but it went so deeply into the mountain that it protected those inside from the wind. Sitting on the cold rock floor, Tinhara began to remove her ramblers. Holding one up, she carefully inspected the craftsmanship. It was admirably carved from a bone, probably a bear leg bone, like the one she left Pawk. It’s teeth were wedged with snow, so she used the end of her walking stick to pick away at it.
They laid down to sleep, curled around one another for comfort and warmth. “It is only a matter of days before we reach my father’s home, perhaps only a few if we meet someone who will give us a ride. I’ll tell you now that my father will kill you should he ever discover that we have been together,” Hadyn said as she stroked Tinhara’s hair. Her voice was sad, full of misery and fear, and it was mystifying to Tinhara.
“Why would you father kill me? I’ve done nothing wrong,” she replied. She frowned when her companion responded with laughter. “Is something amusing you?” she asked.
“You don’t think having his daughter, without permission, would drive any man to kill?” Hadyn asked.
“No, I don’t,” Tinhara said as she sat up and pushed Hadyn’s hands away from her. “What kind of man is he, who would do such a thing?”
“A possessive one,” Hadyn replied. “But I won’t tell him,” she said earnestly.
“Why did you not tell me he is a possessive man? Is he dangerous?”
“Would that have stopped you from anything?”
Tinhara paused. “No.”
Hadyn leaned against her, pushing her breasts up against Tinhara’s arm. “One more time, before my world rushes in and takes over.” Tinhara kissed her and felt Hadyn’s fingers tracing a route down her face and throat.
Tinhara, to still her, gently turned her head and took up those fingers into her mouth. She felt Hadyn’s magic steal into her senses, filling her with a craving she could not resist. Noiselessly she released those fingers and chose instead to kiss her eyes and mouth. Tinhara carefully moved her long red hair out of the way, brushing it back with such delicacy it caused Hadyn to shiver. Her tongue trailed down Hadyn’s pale throat while her hands busied themselves with the lacing of the otuk. Whispering prayers, she pushed her companion onto her back and stroked along her hip. She slipped her hand under Hadyn’s sealskin shirt and raised it up over her head, kissing the breasts that still hid beneath another layer of clothing. Knowing that this may be the last time she would touch Hadyn like this, the desperation of the moment rose to an unbearable pitch in her mind. Tinhara took a terrible risk and removed as much of Hadyn’s clothing as she dared, and tried not to expose her to the stinging cold of the rock floor.
Each hand learned new and wonderful sensations while they searched the beauty of Hadyn’s body. Her mouth followed her hands to each place they touched, madly and urgently taking in every subtle flavour offered and searching out more. Tinhara slipped her hands under Hadyn’s back to support her as she stiffened and trembled and moaned. She could feel for the first time not only the hopelessness of the love that bound her with this woman, but the courage that love bestowed.
Tinhara lay silent for a moment, pressed against Hadyn and at odds with herself. If she fulfilled the prophecy, she would lose this woman, but if she again abandoned the sacred oath she’d given, a terrible punishment would surely be handed down. Hadyn giggled and teased her as she dressed, kissing and touching her with a naïve lust that enchanted Tinhara. If she was this confident and relaxed, Tinhara thought, then so should I be. She murmured soft prayers in Hadyn’s ear, holding her while she fell asleep.
Despite her exhaustion, sleep was unusually slow in arriving. Her heart was weighed down with the melancholy of her journey. Listening to the moan of the wind, Tinhara heard it call to her, reminding her that she was, above all else, a wanderer. Hadyn could never understand the pull of the land on her body, the anguish she felt now that she was leaving the only place she had ever known. She listened to the wind telling stories of restlessness and wanderlust and the rough adventures that could still be hers if she stayed. She relived the thrill of the hunt, the joy of speeding alone across the snow, of the camaraderie of Huel. She thought of Hadyn, then of Lefe and Huel and of her own mother; her chest fell under the weight of the grief.
Then she sat up and stared incredulous. At the mouth of the cave stood Lefe, no less of a giant than he had ever been. He waved and winked and disappeared without a word. She blinked, unsure now that she had seen him. She liberated herself from her lover and scrambled to look out the cave entrance. She saw no footprints. She looked up. The sky was not as familiar as her own. She saw nothing sacred there, nothing but a simple wisp of white that passed for a cloud. She looked around her in the dim light of the moon and saw the ragged lines of the woods away in the distance. How silently the land and trees and stone gave themselves up to the darkness and the light, the cold and the snow. They waited there, under their icy burden, for something only hinted at. Could she ever grow this patient? She wandered into the snow, picking some up with her hand and watching as it fell when she gently released it. She returned to the cave and curled up with Hadyn, but did not sleep, and when the grey of daylight appeared in the mouth of the cave, she roused Hadyn.
The climb was steep and treacherous for them. The weather changed for the worse. A thick cloud covered where they walked, and a cold wind blew in. They were running low on food, and had to double-back an hour’s walking to get around a huge fissure in the rock face. As they laid down to sleep behind a rock, they remained tied to one another. The slope was so steep that one simple turn would send the sleeper tumbling to her death.
On the fourth day, Tinhara awoke to sunshine. The clouds had lifted, and the sun had risen. The sun. Tinhara blinked at it. The sun should not rise that high in the sky. While it was not overhead, it was well above the horizon.
“One thing I have missed are the beautiful sunrises of Arpine,” Hadyn said as she scooted up to where Tinhara sat puzzling.
Tinhara breathed a sigh of relief: she had forgotten. “Yes. Sunrise each morning. That is something I will have to get used to.”
Hadyn hugged her tightly. “Then you will stay with me in Arpine?” she asked.
Tinhara shook her head. “That is not what I meant.” A small wind picked up snow crystals and blew them into Tinhara’s face.
“I know. I know. The prophecy will only be fully revealed when I am home. Are you certain of that? Are you certain you are not supposed to stay with me?”
“I am uncertain of many things. Except one. There is the head of the mountain,” Tinhara said as she pointed above them.
They ate the last of their food and headed up. Together they stood at the crest and looked down into the gorge below. The river raged with such anger, Tinhara asked how to appease the God who fed the flow. “It never stops, it never calms itself. You have to get across without ever going in,” Hadyn explained. She pointed west and said “Somewhere over there is a bridge. That’s how the sin traders took us across. I don’t know of any other crossing.”
Tinhara shaded her eyes with her hand. “I wish I had some squints, I can barely see anything,” she complained. “I don’t think we can run the risk of being discovered by sin traders. If it’s the only place to cross, then they will be waiting for us. We will have to find another route.”
“But I don’t think there is one,” Hadyn said.
Laughing, she replied “Then we make one.” She double-checked her ramblers and began to carefully walk down the mountain, Hadyn tied to her and following behind. At various times over the next two days, they walked, glissaded and even tumbled down to the river. Hadyn was excited: she was finally in her home country, with familiar free-flowing water, songbirds and the fragrant smell of trees. This side of the mountain had more trees than Tinhara had seen in her whole life. Hadyn talked excitedly now, rambling on about her home, her mother, her friends. Tinhara simply nodded and let her talk. She could hear the roar of the waters below and with each step it became louder and louder until the thunderous sound blocked out all but the loudest of shouts between them. As they wove their way down, they passed by tracks in the snow that belonged to an animal Tinhara could not identify.
“Mountain goats!” Hadyn shouted. “They’re very tasty if you can catch them. But they leap from place to place on the mountain like they have wings,” she shouted over the river’s roar. Tinhara nodded her head and continued downward, wishing for fresh food. Once in a while one would slip or the other would stumble, and the woman left standing would act as the anchor, preventing any deadly slides during the descent. By the time they reached the bottom, they were both exhausted and badly scratched by they thorny bushes that lived on the riverside. Once safely down, they removed the rope that bound them. She hated the ceaseless bellowing of the river; it numbed her ears and her head began to hurt the way it did when she drank too much grog. It reminded her of the sound of the ocean storm that attacked her family.
Suddenly out of the bush raced a small animal. Tinhara did not know what it was, other than food. It had been two days since they had eaten anything other than the foul leaves of trees. She threw her stick at it and missed. The animal screeched and flew off. Tinhara retrieved her stick while Hadyn waited at the banks. She did not hide her disappointment when Tinhara returned empty-handed.
“How shall we cross?” Hadyn said. She stood with her hands on her hips, looking expectantly at Tinhara.
Rubbing her forehead, Tinhara sighed. Clearly, they needed a bridge of some kind, but the trees nearby were too small. “Let’s walk down this way, perhaps there’s something that can help us,” she said as she headed east. They tromped through the thin crust of spray frost that had formed on the rocks and earth at the river’s edge. The water was moving very swiftly and was certainly too powerful to swim across. The rocks strewn across the river had no pattern, and trying to jump from one to the other would be useless. Once in a while, the water swelled in a wave, covering the rocks and hurrying past. On the other side of the white water was another small mountain. It had steep rocks and jagged edges, and there seemed no way to crawl up even if they had made a successful swim across.
They found a group of trees, some smaller and some taller, and Tinhara paused near one. She removed her gauntlet and reached up, placing her hand on the bark. It was as rough as she was. She picked off a bit and sniffed it before putting it into her mouth and chewing.
“Are you looking for a certain kind of tree?” Hadyn asked as she watched.
“Not a special tree, no,” Tinhara said. “I just wanted to know what it tasted like. I’m hungry, and it’s as bitter as a pictu. I think this tree will work. I’m going to bring it down, so that it falls into the water. I think we can ride on it until we get to the other side,” she said. “Stand back, behind me, that’s it. I don’t want the tree to fall on you,” she said. Turning her attention to the tree, she tightened her stomach muscles and made a single squeeze that shot a small bolt of light from her mouth. It hit the tree with a great crack, sending bark and tree fragments everywhere. She ducked down, covering her face with her arms, peaking out as she watched as the tree began to sway.
“It worked!” shouted Hadyn. Tinhara held up her hand for silence and frowned as she watched the tree begin to fall.
“Curses! It’s falling the wrong way!” she shouted as the tree fell away from the river instead of into it.
“Oh that’s okay, try another tree,” Hadyn encouraged her. She nodded and, still making sure Hadyn was safely behind her, she flexed and shot another bolt of light. This one cut into the front side of the tree, and she shouted as it began to fall forward into the water.
“Gather everything, we’re going to ride the log to the other side,” she said as she headed toward the tree. It lay half in and half out of the water, but she thought it small enough to be pushed. She pushed on it, glad that her gauntlets saved her fingers from the smouldering ends. After some strain, Hadyn joined her. Together, slowly, they pushed the tree further and further into the water.
“Okay, stop, let me think.” She looked at the tree, considering how they could push the tree far enough into the water that it would float, but still be able to climb safely onto it before it began its journey. She thought that by tying themselves on, they stood the best chance of making it across the river. “I have a plan,” she said as she began to gather the rope in her hands. There was a groan and a creak, and she whipped her head around in time to watch the river steal the tree from them before she was ready. “Curses!” she shouted as she stumbled a few steps toward the tree, but it sailed away from her. Standing on the banks, they watched as it spun and twisted wildly in the river, upending a few times and crashing into rocks. Only a few dozen steps away it hit a large rock and flipped up completely out of the water and then back in. It tumbled and zigzagged away.
“I guess that won’t work,” Hadyn said with a slight laugh. Tinhara snorted, shook her head, and finally burst out laughing.
“I guess you’re right, time for another plan,” she said. She considered the trees before her, wondering how they could be used to cross the river. They didn’t have enough rope to tie them together to form a bridge. The river was only twenty, perhaps twenty-five paces wide, but even a single misstep into that swift-running water would drag them to their deaths. They must avoid the water at all costs. Perhaps a much larger tree, falling all the way across, would land on the other side and give them a bridge. She tried felling a large tree, and watched happily as it fell from its perch across the width of the river.
“That’s it!” Hadyn said as she jumped into the air and clapped. “We can just walk across.”
“Yes, but we will have to be cautious on the other side. The cliffs look steep, and I think it will be a hard climb. You won’t be able to let go of those rocks or you will drop into the water. If we tie ourselves back together, then if you fall, I can still pull you from the water,” she said. As soon as she said it, Tinhara realized the absurdity of that statement. The water was too fast, too powerful to fight. She twisted her mouth a bit; she hated the river. She didn’t like the sound, the speed or the smell of the water, and she had never had to deal with this kind of an obstacle before. She had once made her way over a large crevice in the ice, but the roaring water was alive and perhaps as hungry as she. She squinted her eyes and looked again at the tree bridge.
“It won’t work,” she said as she kicked the ground.
“What? Why not? It won’t float away, will it?” Hadyn asked.
Tinhara shook her head. “No, but look at the water. It crashes over the tree every few seconds. There! Did you see it? If we got caught in that wave, we would be swept away. There’s another one. We can’t get across in between these waves.” She sighed. “It won’t work,” she said. She sat down on the stump of the tree she had just cut down and rubbed her eyes. Hadyn sat beside her, pushing her over with her hip to make room. Tinhara looked at Hadyn as Hadyn looked at the river. “Do you want to go home?” she asked.
Hadyn didn’t turn to look at her when she responded. “I have to go home. My father would want me to return home. But I love being out here with you. It’s so, so free. You let me do whatever I want. Well, almost whatever I want. But I want to see my family again. I guess I want to go home, yes.” Tinhara nodded and turned to look across the river. She scanned the water, looking for a weakness in this new enemy, but saw none. It was strong and fast and furious, and she did not have the strength to battle it. She thought briefly about using her power to cut pieces of rock from the cliffs on the other side, to let them tumble into the river and dam it. But she knew that would not work either; it would not be long enough before the river staked its territory again. With the way things had been going for her, it would do so while she was in the middle of it. She looked further up, past the cliffs to the sky and, tilting her head so far she had to lean back, saw the tops of a few trees on her side of the river. Hadyn leaned over quickly and kissed her exposed neck, causing Tinhara to laugh and sit up quickly. She looked again at the tallest of the trees, and then back to the river. The very tallest tree was probably triple the required length to the other side of the river.
“I have another plan!” she shouted as she jumped off the stump and headed toward the tree.
Hadyn scampered after Tinhara. They walked almost 20 paces to the tree, where Tinhara again looked from the tree to the opposite cliff, and back again. “Didn’t you just tell me that the bridge would not work?” Hadyn asked.
Tinhara smiled. “Ah, but this bridge will be different. You see,” she said, pulling her companion by the elbow as she backed away from the tree. “This bridge, will go across, and up.” She breathed in deeply and forced a short blast of light from her lips, cutting a chunk of the tree from the base. She had to send another blast out to finish the job, and it toppled forward. The sound of the breaking wood was almost as loud as the river itself, and a shower of wood chips went flying as it snapped completely off the base. She inspected her work: the tree rested at a steep angle, from their side to where it touched the other side. It was only a few steps below the top of the cliff itself. It never touched the water.
“How do we climb up the tree? It’s so steep,” Hadyn said.
Tinhara laughed and put her hand on her chest. “You doubt me? This is only the first part of my plan,” she said. “Give me your ramblers.” She sat on a rock and began to unlace the ramblers. She took Hadyn’s and turned them over to clean them. “We will use the teeth of the ramblers to climb up the tree and across the river,” she said with a smile. Hadyn frowned a bit as she looked from Tinhara to the tree to the river.
Holding up a rambler, Tinhara considered how best to cut through the bone to get the best angles from the teeth. “Are you going to cut that in half?” Hadyn asked. When she replied that she was, Hadyn asked “Can you be that delicate?”
“You can blast trees and magicians, but won’t you completely wipe out the rambler? Can you make just a little cut?”
Tinhara blinked. She wasn’t entirely sure that she could make a small cut, since all of her efforts so far had been to get as much power out of the light as possible. “I’ll practice first, on some tree limbs,” she said. After destroying almost every branch on one tree, she was satisfied that she had figured out the right amount of force required to give her a small, focussed burst of power. She spit out a beam of light, almost like a cough, and one rambler was cut neatly in half. She quickly cut the other three, more or less equally, and gathered them up.
“I think that if we tie the biggest pieces onto our toes, and the other ones onto our hands, we will be able to climb the tree. We can use the straps from the ramblers, plus whatever we need from the rope. But I still want enough to be tied together, just in case.”
“You’re a lot like my father,” Hadyn said. She looked at Tinhara, who was glaring at her. “I just mean that you can think your way out of problems, you know how to take command of situations, that’s all. That’s probably why I listened to you, you had that soldierly way about you.” She smiled sweetly and blew a kiss, and Tinhara could not help but grin. She explained how to use the ramblers, although it was only a guess on her part. She talked of how to shimmy up the tree, never letting go with more than one rambler at a time.
When they were rested and ready, they climbed onto the tree and began their ascent upward, across the river. Tinhara stuck her ramblers deep into the wood, first one foot then the other, then one hand and then the other. The right foot would jab in, and she would wiggle her left one free, bend the knee and jab the ramblers into the bark. Inch by inch they made their way across the deafening river that lay below them. In the middle of the tree, where the mist was thickest, the tree groaned a bit and settled slightly, but it was a small shudder and they continued across the bridge.
Reaching near the end of the bridge, Tinhara quickly eyed the area. The end of the tree had nestled itself between a split in the rock and was secure, so she rushed to the end and quickly grabbed a piece of the cliff. It was cold and solid and safe, and she let out a deep breath. She found a foothold. But the ramblers caused her to slip on the rock. She held her hand up to stop Hadyn. “Take off your ramblers, they cannot walk on stone. Give them to me,” Tinhara said as she unlaced hers. She quickly stored the broken ramblers in her pockets. They scrambled up the remaining few feet of cliff to the top.
“This is my home, what do you think?” Hadyn asked. Tinhara surveyed Arpine.