“Where to?” Lockhart asked, not that they had much choice on that narrow mountain path. It was either up or down.
“Up,” Boston answered with a careful look at the amulet. She would not look at Roland. She held on to her virtue in the night, but just barely. She knew it would not be long and all she could think was then the unicorn would not visit her, if she ever saw it again.
Roland was not looking at her, either. He was focused on the ghost and repeated what the ghost said. “Up.”
“Good enough,” Lockhart said and they started up into the snow filled heights.
Carthair floated along beside Decker when he was on the wing. “I am not at all comfortable with the Elder Stow,” he said. Elder Stow tended to float along on the other side of the column when there was room. When the way got narrow, Decker and the Elder slipped in behind Roland and Boston, in front of Alexis and Lincoln. Carthair stayed beside Decker’s right hand, and when it got really narrow and they had to travel in single file, he stayed right there, even if it meant floating out over the edge of a cliff.
“Gott-Druk. Neanderthal. Elder race,” Decker said.
“Yes,” Carthair agreed. “The people I don’t mind, but you have two witches and a light elf. The elf worries me. Elves sometimes escort dead people to their resting place, and I’m afraid he might take me to the wrong one.”
Decker said nothing, but he indicated that he understood. He would not want to die and be escorted to the wrong place.
When the travelers came to the top of a particularly treacherous climb, they found a wide and long stretch of relatively even ground. They also found a man there walking in their direction.
“Hello, witch,” the man shouted. He was frowning. “Bitch,” he added., and when he got close he began to insult her. “Coward. What are you, too good and pure?”
“Now wait a minute,” Roland started to object as the others crowded up to join them.
“Baby stealer.” He turned on Roland. “The imps were right. You must be cursed. Your whole family.” The man frowned at Alexis and then Lincoln. “Attracted to morons, I would say. Oh, and look you got an old one to drag around.” He looked at Elder Stow. “Kill you in a blink of an eye with all his fancy gadgets. Without them he is just a grubby caveman. And a ghost lover. Where is that fool of a ghost, anyway?” Decker could only shrug while Alexis interrupted.
“Can we help you? If you are headed down the way we came it is slick with ice, you should be careful.”
The man stared at Alexis for a second before his face blurred and his features became unstable. It took a few more seconds for the face and feature to stabilize, but then the man had a broad grin and kind, sparkling eyes.
“Good of you to say. Very kind of you.” The man’s smile enlarged to fill his face and Alexis could only imagine if he had the beard he might model for Santa Clause. “I am sure that is a virtue for which Lincoln loves you well.” He turned to Roland. “And you, young elf. You should marry that girl before she slips away. That would be a tragedy my other half would like well. And Elder Stow.” He turned again. “All of you, really, I feel if you stick together and help each other as you have been doing, you just might get home in one piece.” He looked at Lockhart. “By the way, I suppose you don’t exactly know where that young Lucas might be.”
“No,” Lockhart responded. “Not exactly.”
“No, I can see you don’t know exactly, and he may well be on the other side of the mountains as you suppose. Still.” The man disappeared and reappeared behind them and their horses. “I am presently charged to look for him, so I am looking.” He started down the way the travelers had come up, and he began to whistle.
Those who dismounted got back up on their horses, with Decker adding a bit of commentary. “Weird, again.”
“Janus,” Katie named the man.
“Eh?” Lockhart wondered.
“Two faces, like comedy and tragedy.”
“We are headed more or less across this open field,” Boston reported, checking the amulet and again not looking at Roland.
“What does the ghost say?” Lockhart asked.
“Not here,” Roland reported.
“I hope the bugger didn’t get himself lost,” Decker added.
Snow covered the field and muffled the sounds of their passage. The sky was cloudy all day but whether that was because the clouds were low in the sky or because they were high in the mountains was not clear. They were glad it did not start snowing.
“It is honestly hard to tell which way to go without our ghost guide,” Katie spoke quietly. There was something about the snow that encouraged stillness and quiet.
“I am iffy on the ghost guide, though it is impossible here to see the trail, if the trail still exists. It was never much of a road to begin with, even lower down.”
“Company,” Decker got their attention, and again the travelers stopped to greet three lovely ladies, in bare feet in the snow.
“Welcome,” Alexis tried, but the women weren’t buying it.
“Why are you hiding Lucas,” the first woman said.
“He must come with us,” the second woman said.
“We will make you tell us where he is,” the third woman said, and the travelers all felt that their minds were on fire. Every evil thought, every bit of wrongdoing, every mistake they ever made came crashing into consciousness. It was torture. They were tormented even with the good in their lives which was twisted to appear wicked.
Several travelers screamed. They all abandoned their horses and rolled on the ground in agony. Lockhart remembered one of those beauties bending over him with a grin of pleasure. The next thing he remembered someone hand held his and patted it gently.
“What?” Lockhart tried to sit up. “What happened.”
It was a man who let go of his hand and answered. “The furies got a bit zealous and the hedge the gods put around you rose up and slapped them.”
“Gave them a taste of their own medicine,” a woman said. “Ha! They will be in recovery for a while.”
“What?” Lockhart sat up quickly and counted heads.
“All will recover,” the man said. He stood over Lockhart. “I like these people. I claim them.”
“Hello? They are not dead,” the woman countered.
Lockhart watched Decker struggle to his feet while Katie crawled to him.
“But when they die, I put in my claim now. The furies won’t be hampered when they are dead.”
“You do and I’ll find all three of them husbands.”
“You wouldn’t. That would ruin them.”
“Yes and wait for the children.”
“So maybe I’ll take them now.”
“You do and I will find you a wife.” The woman grinned. “Besides. Hedge.”
“Oh, yeah. I guess I have to wait.” The man vanished. Katie arrived by Lockhart and leaned on his shoulders to get to her feet.
“Who was that man?” Katie asked.
“Hades,” the woman answered and then spoke off subject with a glimpse at Lockhart. “Katie, you have Amazon instincts. You can initiate things.”
Katie shook her head with an equally quick glimpse at Lockhart. “It doesn’t work that way in my world.”
“Yes,” the woman responded. “Some of the future things I have to think about,” and she vanished.
“Who was that woman?” Lockhart asked.
“Aphrodite,” Decker said before he went off to collect horses and think about what being on her list might mean.
Be sure and return tomorrow for part 3 of 7, Down in the Cold.