So the months passed and the snow fell.
Early in Ulriczeit, a man rode into Lin-Adelle. Throwing back his hood, he was revealed to be Greywolf. He settled in to stay with the elves for a few weeks at least, and many councils were to be held in that time. He listened to the companions' tales and looked with great approval on the sword of Ryo-Aldenar. "That was well done," he said.
When his turn came, Greywolf told them of his adventures. "I have been seeking a way across the World's Edge Mountains," he said. "But with Chaos on the rise, safe roads are hard to find. The passes are choked with goblins and Chaos Beastmen and even the mountains near the passes are overrun. I tried then a mountain crossing east of the Black Water, but those mountains are high and dangerous. The goblins and Beastmen do not prowl there, but the cold and cliffs are enemy enough.
"Then I went to Caraz-A-Carak, to speak with the dwarves. Perhaps they knew of a way to the othe side. At first, I had no success, but then I might Drogi Snorrison. He is descended from Drogoni Longwalker, and he told me of the mine his ancestor made. Drogoni's mine was not a great fortress, nor a great city or dwarfhold. It was not even a particularly rich mine. It was famed only for its length. It was constructed by connecting a naturally occurring series of caverns and if legends are true, crosses the entire range of the World's Edge mountains.
"Drogi and I searched for, and I believe, found an entrance into that mine. We did not venture far in, and I do not know if it has been overun with goblins or worse, but it might also be a road across the mountains.
"The choice, of course, is yours. To try the passes, although I do not recommend it, to try the path east of the Black Water, or to make the attempt through Drogoni's mine." Greywolf leaned back and looked at the assembled party.
Herger had been very pleased to once again see his uncle, but it saddened him slightly to know that he was getting to enjoy time with a member of his family, but Marri had to avoid hers. He devoted a deal of time to what Uncle Theo had proposed to them and came to what he thought was a more narrow selection, "Staying away from the overrun passes is a must, so that leave us with two choices: the high, cold mountains, or the deep, dark caverns." He avoided looking at Marri and Tibbiddo as he said, "The cold weather on the mountains may be more than some of our party could bear. However, the unknown occupants of the cave system could be a much more dire threat. I will not take the crowded passes, but I leave the final decision of the other two ways to my companions."
Marri had to hide her smile when Herger tried to be diplomatic by avoiding mentioning that she and Tibbi would have a harder time in the mountain passes than the others. "He hasn't had to use that skill in quite a long time!" she thought, "Not since... before our master died! And that seems like forever now!" She didn't join in the discussion that followed Herger's statement, though she listened carefully to the points that everyone made. She gave her friend a hard hug before she left the group that night, and took a long walk with an exuberant Traveller before retiring. She didn't sleep very much that night -- or the next few. She spent most of her time alone when she wasn't studying with the elven healers. She prayed for guidance from the good Esmeralda, and for insight from the brilliant Verena.
Finally, after she had made her decision, she found Herger alone one afternoon. As usual, she had a sack with a few pieces of bread, some cheese, and some of the lovely elven fruits with her, and she sat down next to Herger and handed him some of the food and after a few companionable bites began to speak.
"I've been doing a great deal of thinking about the next section of our trip, Herger. I have to agree with you about avoiding the overrun passes, of course. Strong and brave as you all are, it does not seem reasonable to expect you to fight your way through the goblin hordes - even with my trusty skillet as backup!" she said with a slight twinkle. She stuffed a bit more of the fruit into her mouth and licked her fingers.
"To be frank, for me, I think it comes to this. I would prefer to die outside. So I vote for the passes. Tibbi and I will manage the cold. Like you, I will accept the majority opinion on the subject." She fell silent and ate a bit more bread.
All things being equal, Rurik preferred to go through the Dwarven mine, though he admitted the reason was more out of curiousity for what might be in there than concern for getting safely to the other side. He also expressed concern about taking a route that the horses could follow.
Following in the grand tradition, Maewyn suggestted using the mountain pass. If it proved too difficult they could aways try the mines. Besides being undergorund did not seem right to her for some reason.
"So you shall attemp the peaks. So be it," said Greywolf. "It is utter folly to even make the attempt before Mitterfruhl. So enjoy your time here."
Greywolf left Lin-Adelle a few days after Mondstille, reminding them again not to attempt the mountains until after Mitterfruhl. The elves helped them lay in supplies against the crossing, warm clothes, cloaks, blankets for the horses, and the like.
Early in Jahrdrung, Greywolf returned for a few days. He had brought with him Rico Pandolfo, a Tilean of hearty appearance. "Rico is a trapper and hunter, who has lived and worked these mountains all his life. If anyone can help you find a way across the mountains, he can," said Greywolf making the introductions. Then once again he was off on some mysterious errand.
After Greywolf left, and near the time when they would be leaving, Marri invited all the companions to a special dinner. Although the elves volunteered to help her, she did all the preparation herself, even to the cleaning and setup of the dining area. She insisted on serving the company herself during the meal. She served all her best dishes -- baking and cooking tirelessly for two days ahead to make certain there would be enough food. The companions agreed that, though her food was always good, this food was amazing, especially as she had not included any of her "experimental" herbal teas.
She contributed a number of amusing stories to the dinner conversation, which became, as the wine and ale flowed, loud and extremely lively. All the companions had more than sufficient of food and drink and enjoyed an amiable evening with friends -- with what lay ahead of them no more than a lurking shadow that made the night more special.
Finally, at the end of the evening, when all were sated and quiet was beginning to settle on the group, Marri finally alluded to the one subject which had been carefully avoided in the evening's conversations.
Lifting her mug in the evening's final toast, she said, suddenly serious, meeting each of their eyes in turn, "I very much hope I may invite you all to dinner again upon our safe return!"
Finally the day to leave was almost upon them. A final meeting was held with the Lord and Lady of Lin-Adelle. "The time has come," said the Lord, "to tell you the last steps of your quest." He nodded at the Lady and she placed a crystal vial on the table. "This vial is to be filled with water from the Fountain of Lemnar. Legend tells us that the Fountain is on the top of Mount Adnor, some six hundred miles east of the World's Edge mountains. It stands alone and once you are across the mountains, it should be easily visible. Legend tells us that on the South side of Mount Adnor is a pool at the bottom of a waterfall. At sunset, a light will shine out of the mountain. If one approaches that light, one finds a crevice which is the only path to the top of the mountain."
"We have gifts for you all. For you, Herger, we have this shirt of mail crafted by our most skilled artisans." A servant brought forth a shirt that was marvelously light and fine.
"For you, Rurik, bearer of the Sword of Ryo-Aldenar, this helmet in the style of that hero." Another servant presented him with the helmet, which looked like the one they had found in the cave in Arrak-Arras.
"Kinswoman," he spoke to Maewyn, "You are new to the sword, that is clear. Perhaps this weapon will serve you well." A light and finely balanced sword was given to her.
"Small mistress, I wonder if you are not the most courageous of all, to go forth on this quest as neither warrior nor priest, but as simple healer. Take these. In the silver flask is a rare drink we call Meaghuthan, some call it Elf-mead. If drunk, it helps the body help itself. And this," he dangled a clear stone on a chain, "is a purewater stone. If dipped in a liquid which is not healthy or wholesome it will turn red. It returns to clear when dry, but be warned if it ever remains red after drying, it's power is gone forever."
"For you, Master Tibbido, we thought long and hard about what to give you. Finally, we settled on this: a pouch of the finest smoking herbs we could find. We have mixed it with some of the most potent herbs in these mountains and it may be that the smoke will lift not only your spirits but those of your companions as well."
"That leaves only you, the last to join the compnay." He turned to Michael. "For you, a coif of mail to protect you on this journey."
"Beyond that, we can offer only our prayers," he said.
Rico led the party up into the mountains north of Lin-Adelle, remarking in broken Reikspeil that in all his years in the mountains he had never realized that the elves had a stronghold here. It was two days before they reached the end of the forest and began to climb in earnest. Their progess slowed immediately. Rico told them, "if all goes perfectly, we are maybe twenty-twentyfive days in the mountains. If not," he shrugged eloquently. Each horse was loaded with food for forty days, and Marri had another fifty man-days of food on one of the ponies. Maewyn, of course, was hunting for her own food with Swiftwind, and she was having decent luck. Some days she fasted, of course, but others she feasted.
After ten days, of climbing mountains, and crossing ridges, Rico estimated that they were a third of the way across. Several times they had been forced to turn back when a path that had looked promising had proved impassable. Rico, however, knew his business and progress was slow but steady. As they camped the evening of the tenth day, it was with high spirits, for they had found what looked like a longish stretch of fairly low ridge that they could follow. As they made came and the sun dropped lower in the sky, they slowly realized that they heard singing coming from ahead of them on the ridge. Very bad singing. It seemed to be a single voice and did not seem to be moving.
"That can't be good," Rurik muttered to himself as he adjusted his warm weather gear to make for a more mobile posture should they be required to enter combat or flee rapidly.
Herger nodded in response to Rurik's comment and said, "Indeed, it's not good at all. That singing is terrible, in fact. Let's go check it out. Unless someone has a better idea."
"I will come with you I like to see the owner of that voice. Sounds more like the cry of a sick hawk then anything human."
Marri thought the singing awful! "I'll stay here. I'm brewing some tea," Marri stated. "Perhaps it will just turn out to be someone in need of a good, hot cup of tea!" she continued. Thinking that if it wasn't someone they had to fight, at least drinking the tea would keep them quiet! If it was, well... hot tea in the face tended to slow up many things!
Maewyn, Herger and Rurik set off to investigate the singing, leaving Marri, Tibbo, Michael and Rico at the camp. It wasn't hard to track the sound and soon they found themselves staring at an odd sight. Sitting near a large campfire and singing to wake the dead was what could only be a giant. It looked like he'd stand about twelve feet tall, if he was standing. He was not, however, standing. He was sitting near the fire with a small barrel to hand serving as a mug and a much larger barrel nearby from which he was refilling his cup. The singing was punctuated by pauses for drinking, which the giant had clearly been doing for some time now. The giant had a smile on his face and presented a cheerful and somewhat comical appearance. What looked like a whole mountain goat had been rudely spitted and was cooking over the fire and next to it in the fire was what looked like a large stone cauldron with a few tree trunks poking out of it.
Turning his horse around to head back, Rurik spoke softly to his fellow riders. "This pass is occupied. Let us find another route before we become lunch."
Herger nodded in agreement, saying, "I'd rather him focus on his drink and song than on our company."
Maewyn nodded and the trio turned back. They told the others what they had found and Rico nodded. "The giants are not all bad," he said in broken Reikspiel, "but finding out can get you killed." As the party packed up and moved back a mile or so, he told the story of a friend of his who had made friends with a giant and brought him gifts from the city in exchange for which the giant gave him skins and stuff. Then one day he arrived to find the giant had gotten married. "The wife, she didn't know about my friend, I guess. I think they stewed him."
Tibbiddo shivered at the tale. It was definitely NOT one that he would re-tell, unless he was able to embellish here or there to make it more exciting of course. "Tell us Rico, what other dangers lie ahead?"
Rico shrugged eloquently. "Who knows? We've been lucky so far. Maybe we stay lucky."
"Hope so," whispered the halfling to himself.
Marri had been a little upset when their hurried repositioning had disrupted her plans for a good dinner. But upon hearing about Rico's stewed friend decided it was the better part of valor. "Having stew is better than being stew!" she confided to Traveller a little later, as she set out a quick meal of dried fruit, nuts, bread and cheese along with a bit of mead and some newly brewed tea. "I wish I'd the time to make us up a good stew tonight!" she said, frowning worriedly at the food. "Oh dear, I hope there will be enough!"
Maewyn helped Marri with the food. She may no longer be able to eat what Marri was setting out but but she could stil help prepare it.
The next day, they began to backtrack to avoid the giants. So eager were they to escape the one threat, that they nearly fell prey to another. A scream from Marri broke through the silence. Two large white wolves had risen from the snow and leapt upon poor Klaus the pony savaging him with fangs and claws. The wolves were thin and dangerous looking, obviously hungry and desperate to attack such a large party.
With a look of sadness Maewyn pulled her bow and prepared to attack. The wolves were just following their nature. Maewyn prayed that an attack on them would scare them away but she feared it would not. The wolves were just too deperate. Maybe the only hope for them was to put them out of their misery.
As the wolves attacked Maewyn drew her bow notching an arrow she shoots the lead wolf.
Rurik pulls up his new crossbow and tries to steady his mount while he aims. "Let's put this thing to good use," he breaths before letting loose a bolt at whichever wolf provides the best target.
Herger also readied his bow, concentrating on all the target practice he had gotten in while in Lin-Adelle, and moved to a position where he could shoot at the wolves without endangering Marri by a passing arrow.
Marri threw her rocks, exhibiting a ferocious regard for those in her care. The rock flew true and fetched the wolf a stunning blow on the head. It turned to Marri and growled and ran at her ... only to drop when Rurik's crossbow bolt took it high in the chest. The rest of the company fired as well, but had trouble getting a clear shot as the remaining wolf tore the throat out of Klaus and tried to drag the body away.
Those with crossbows began to reload as Marri, fearless with her rocks, threw them again shouting at the wolf to go away. The rocks drove the wolf back, snarling. Maewyn put an arrow high in its flank and a moment later, Herger placed another one in nearly the same spot and the beast fell, gasped twice and was still.
"NO! NO! NO!" Marri screamed; falling to her knees in the snow; large, fat tears running down her face. "No.... No....." Shaking her head, she looked around helplessly. "He was *my* responsibility! He's been with us from the beginning! And... and... he always worked so hard. He... Oh poor pony. Poor... Klaus! Oh...." She'd coped with fear, and heights, and cold, and exhaustion and even missed meals. But the death of the pony somehow seemed to be the last thing the little hafling could bear for the moment and she buried her face in her hands and sobbed.
Tibbiddo sucked up the fear that had paralyzed him and crawled along the snowy path to Marri's side. A plump arm encased in even thicker padding reached out to comfort her. "There, there now. The Pilgrim has seized his lead and carried him off to high adventure in a strawberry patch!" He gave a knowing nod, sure of the outcome; for he knew a tale that said so.
For a few moments, Marri found herself unable to stop sobbing. But finally, the tears lessened. She wiped her face, sniffed a few times, and nodded her thanks at Tibbi for his kind words, attempting a not very successful smile. "I suppose" she said quietly "the Blessed Esmeralda will take him back to Her Kitchen, someday to be part of a new recipe." Standing, she looked away from Klaus' bloody remains and continued "Would you all mind very much if I did not help unpack the provisions? I know it is my job, but ..." Tears began flowing down her cheeks again, and she turned a little away and stared off into the distance.
Maewyn moved over next to the halfling taking Marri into her arms she offered the hlafling a shoulder to cry on.
"Klaus was a very brave pony. He served us well. I am sure that he gladly gave his life so his little misstress could be protected. When the wheel of life turns and Klaus returns to this world the sacrifice wil be rewarded. Maybe in years down the road you will meet once again the spirit of Klaus. With ever rebirth our actions of our past life bring us up or down the scale of creation. We all understand. I'll unpack the provesions. You just relax and I see about making you a pot of tea. After all you have taken care of us often enough in the past. It is only fair that we take care of you on occasion."
"Yes," agreed Tibbiddo, adding "I will cook!" He brushed the snow from his cloak and raved "I know of a dish that tickled the palate of the Duke of Amboy himself, if only I had a haunch of the legendary great white buffalo...but I shall manage, nevertheless. You just relax." Tibbiddo scratched himself and paid great detail to the foodstuffs and utensils trying to formulate something.
It was a somber meal, and Tibbido did a creditable job, even if it wasn't up to Marri's standards. Out of Marri's earshot, Rico suggested butchering the pony to replenish their reduced stocks of food.
Rurik was of the same mind and agreed to help with the task.
The two men set to their task and had it completed by the time Tibbido had finished preparing dinner. They added it to the supplies and joined the meal.
Marri understood the necessity of butchering the pony, though she had not been able to bring herself to help. She paid tribute to Klaus in her own way over the next weeks... by making the stews she made from the meat as tasty as she could. She hoped no one noticed that one of the spices was often her own tears.
The next day was a frustrating one, filled with much backtracking as they sought passage and that night a storm blew up, and they spent the night shivering in their tents. They made almost no progress the next day, and had to fend off an attack by a pack of smaller but no less hungry wolves. This they did with little difficulty.
Then the weather turned, and with it their luck. Rico's choices were sound, and the weather, though cold was not dangerous. After a week, they found themselves high on a slope, but ahead of them was only a final descent to the plains of the Dark Lands. Ahead of them in the distance, they could see what must be Mount Adnor. As they made camp, Rico looked at the hollow they were in and said, "Not a bad spot at all. I'll camp here and wait for you to return."
Trudging along that week had let Marri work through her feelings of failure and mourning, and at least some of her natural equilibrium had returned. She stood and stared at Mount Adnor for a bit with the others before heading back to camp to prepare a special meal before Rico left the party.
The meal was fine and over it, the company made their last preparations.