The group left early in the morning. The poor villagers, still in a state of shock, began to grieve for the dead. Sadly, Flern could not do anything for them, and she feared the night creatures would show up and finish the job if they did not leave. They had a pass into the mountains to navigate.
Thred did not like the climb, and they often walked the horses as they climbed. There seemed little else they could do beyond struggling up the rough path at a gentle but steady pace. Wlkn looked back now and then, afraid of what might be coming next, but the others kept their eyes focused ahead and did not really have the strength to spare.
The clouds thickened all that day, so they were forced to spend a night among the rocks. Though they had food and managed a fire, it became a cold and miserable night all the same. Flern shivered by sunrise, and when she heard the baby wail in the distance, she shivered all the more.
The second day became a repeat of the first, only this time the legs and backs already ached. By lunch, it finally began to snow, and it came down in blizzard proportions for hours. Even Elleya got cold in the chill wind that seemed to sweep right up the mountainside with an unnatural strength. Boritz, who had been exceptionally quiet since the ghouls, gave her his shirt, and it helped. It covered her to well below the knees, almost like a dress. Andrea looked up at the big man and he looked down at her, sheepishly. Then she stood on her toes, and he still had to lean down a bit, and they kissed, and enough so the others had to look away to be polite.
“That is just for warmth,” Andrea said as she took hold of her horse’s reigns and started to walk again. Boritz said nothing, but he did appear to grin rather broadly, and continued to grin for some time after.
They reached the top of the pass just as the afternoon came to a close and the snow finally tapered off. Wlkn looked back and Elleya looked with him. Andrea and Boritz were trying hard not to look at each other. Moriah and Badl were looking at each other and congratulating each other on making the climb; though to be sure, they were far less tired than the others, apart from Laurel, who still appeared as fresh as a spring flower. Flern felt exhausted from the two-day climb, and all of the stress. She admitted that stress had a lot to do with her condition. She presently felt worn very thin. No wonder she reacted the way she did when the giants approached them—just ordinary ten- or twelve-foot giants, not Titans.
“We have no argument with you, grandson of Perun.” The blond leader of the group recognized Boritz and made a point of asking him to stay out of it. Boritz stood an impossibly big man in that day and age, but he stood several feet shorter than the smallest of the giants. Nevertheless, the giants clearly respected the man, or at least they respected the blood that ran in Boritz’s veins. “We just want the red headed girl. The rest of you can go in peace.” Loki had apparently figured out the switch.
“And do what with her?” Badl asked. Flern presently had her head in her hands. She started working on a whopper headache.
“We have no quarrel with the dwarfs or elves. You are safe here.” The chief said, and that was all he was going to say, but one of the giants in the back spoke up, though he probably should have held his tongue.
“The god said we could roast her, and when we were done, we should throw her remains off the cliff. Then he will bless us with all sorts of good things.” A young giant, he clearly looked forward to the good things, whatever they might be.
Flern snapped. She floated up off of Thred’s back and found the power to fly up to the lead giant’s face where he stood, one giant step out from the crowd. She wagged her finger sternly in that face and yelled. “My village got overrun with the enemy and my family may already be dead for all I know. I escaped to get help, but all I get is one stupid headache after another.” The giant took a step back in the face of her fury, but she followed him. “I was almost raped, and I had to kill him, and I resent whoever manipulated that poor slow mind in the first place. Then I got in a battle and plenty of good people got killed. Then I got tricked into looking into a mirror and I got sucked into this time period and I might never be able to get home. Now, I have lost all of my friends back home as well as my family.” Flern started to glow as her anger began to seep out of her pores, and the giant took another step back.
“But I got stuck here, only to get into another battle, and this time it was not with men, but with ghouls. Now, I am dirty, beat up, and worn to my last thread. I don’t have time to play with a bunch of stupid little giants, so you better hear this. Loki does not own me. I do not belong to the gods and do not bow to them because I have been counted as one of them for hundreds of years. Loki can promise you whatever he wants, but he cannot give me to you, and I will tell you right now you don’t have the guts to take me. You get the same warning I gave the ghouls, leave now and I will let you live. The ghouls did not listen and now they are all dead and here we are, safe and sound. So, leave now before I get really mad.” The giant took one more step back and ended in the midst of his group.
Laurel, Moriah and Elleya had their mouths open. Badl and Wlkn cowered, never having imagined that this sweet little red-headed girl could vent like this. Boritz stood calmly, cradled his big club in his arms like a baby, and Andrea reached up to take the big man’s arm and stand close to him. The corners of Andrea’s lips turned up ever so slightly, and she nodded, but otherwise she looked cool and calm in the face of the storm.
Flern began to weep, even as the chief giant yelled back. “Get her.” No giants moved to obey that command as the earth began to shake and rumble. A genuine earthquake. A sudden great gust of wind blew Flern back to her friends where she fell on to a pile of soft snow and let out her tears. She utterly ignored the rumbling beneath her. No one else ignored it. They all screamed and shouted at each other to hold on. The giants all fell to the earth except one who managed to spread his legs, lean over and place his hands on the ground. He looked like a jackass ready to kick, but he did not utterly collapse. Then rocks began to shoot up like spikes reaching for the heavens. They came up between the two parties and became like a wall so neither side could get at the other. When the wall became complete, the shaking stopped, and Badl, Andrea and Wlkn had a terrible time rounding up the horses.
A woman appeared beside the wall, but on Flern’s side of the wall. She stood too tall, perhaps a foot taller than the tallest giant, and while she wore a long dress that looked and moved like silk in the wind, she appeared to have gray skin and white, marble eyes that were nevertheless alert and aware.
“Who are you?” Flern looked up and feared that this might be yet another one of Loki’s surrogates.
Flern let out a laugh, a small slightly hysterical laugh, while the Storyteller echoed instructions into her mind. “My name is Flern. I seek the Golden Hind, and my favorite color is red.”
The oread stopped moving. “The red suits you,” she said. “But I know who you are and what you seek. The goddess came this way only a day ago. She has gone on to visit my sister, Sylvan in the place where the river runs out of the plateau and down the far side on its journey to the Great River. You must cross the plateau, not go around as you have been thinking, and you must look for my sister when you arrive, before you descend into the Great River Valley.”
Flern took that as permission given and she immediately whistled for Thred who came bounding up like a faithful puppy dog. The others tried to get up on their horses. Only Andrea had a bit of a problem calming her horse enough to take Boritz once again. “Thank you.” Flern looked at the oread who looked startled for just a second.
“You’re welcome,” Carpasis responded, and then added one thought. “If my earth shake sent some of my children of stone into the valley below, and if one boulder happened to crush a night creature, it cannot be helped. There are still four behind you, though I cannot imagine they will bother you tonight.
“Thank you again.” Flern repeated and she started forward before anything else changed. Laurel caught up to ride beside her.
“The Great Lady of Love is most thoughtful to provide a way for us.” Laurel said, having guessed who Carpasis meant with the word, goddess.
“Yes, and I thank her every day.” Flern admitted.
Laurel paused before she spoke again. “So, we are going across the plateau of the Were after all.”
“Yes. Faya help us.”
Laurel said no more, she just clicked her tongue.
The quest needs to cross the plateau of the Were, that is, werewolves, not to mention lions, tigers, and bears… Until next time, Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Reading.