The Chronicles of Theldar

Ember's life is simple, normal, nothing to boast about but she likes it. That is until one day her peaceful town is invaded by mysterious enemy forces and she is thrown headlong into an adventure which will test her, her friends, and ultimately decide the future of Theldar.

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6. Lost and found - Chapter 5

 

~ Chapter 5 ~

Lost and Found

 

   'Lost!’ moaned Bracer, ‘That’s what we are! More lost than we’ve ever bloody been before I can tell you that as a fact! Look at this place; it’s a frozen wasteland! It never sodding ends!’

   ‘I have to say I agree with him Elder.’ Tauro said whilst sharpening his axe with a grinding stone, each stroke slow and meaningful, as they all sat with the blizzard that had begun the day afore continuing to whistle about their ears. ‘We’ve been walking for two days now since the attack and still we haven’t managed to get over these gods forsaken peaks.’

   ‘What did I tell you? Lost!’ Bracer boasted.

   ‘Yes, you’ve been saying that for two days as well!’ Ember groaned a sudden bout of anger welling up within her, ‘Shut it for a minute and we might be able to get ourselves un-lost!’

   ‘And whose gonna make me shut it missie?’ Bracer growled, starting from his seat.

   ‘Bracer!’ Elder said sternly before an argument broke out and the basajaun sat reluctantly down, grumbling to himself. ‘Right then, now there is a bit of hush I might be able to concentrate on finding us a way out of this mess.’ With that he turned his attention to some frosty-cornered maps.

   Currently they were sheltering beneath an overhang that was small in comparison to the great peaks but could easily hold Lunk with room to spare. Whilst Tauro sat there sharpening his axe, Bracer had receded to a corner to mumble to himself, meanwhile Ember and RiffRaff were playing cards to the right of the shelter and Lunk watched them. Elder and Serena pored over the large hand drawn maps they carried with them and a fire crackled in the centre, away from the howling winds that would extinguish it, the flickering light bringing a little merriness to the harsh, unforgiving peaks.

   It was about a day previously that they had entered a deep valley situated snugly between two massive mountains, sheer and craggy. It was a great smooth expanse untouched by civilisation and feet alike and stretched for countless leagues before them and after a day’s walking now provided them with a horizon both before and behind them. The snow had quickly dropped to a few feet deep and for the most part of yesterday Ember remembered how they had had to use Lunk and his immense strength to clear a path for them through the waist high drifts; an arduous and time-consuming process that had sacrificed half their usual speed to keep Lunk from hurting himself. The temperature was easily ten below, sometimes nearly hitting the twenty below mark and Ember had to clutch her fur coat tightly to her chest with her red raw fingers to keep out the most of the biting cold even when she was out of the howling wind. She was sure that if Elder hadn’t purchased some spare firewood back in Dumpmoss they would all have ended up as snowmen the previous night.

   Even when snow wasn’t falling, the surface of the snow danced with elaborate patterns – as it did now in the blizzard - where the wind whipped up loose snowflakes and swirled them round like icy ballerinas on an endless frozen rink. What was more, most of the food was frozen solid or when thawed was utterly soaked so for two days the majority of meals had been soup, soup, soup.

   Ember didn’t mind about lugging around her large backpack containing most of the cutlery and crockery; it even supplied her with a bit of heat and blockage from the freezing winds, but she had to admit it was a terrible weight when the wind was at its strongest; not only was she battling to keep herself up but also a large bag full of heavy utensils which threw her balance off entirely, and had caused her to fall backwards into the snow on more than one occasion on their mountainous trek.

   So far the mountain-crossing had been a gruelling task and as their situation seemed ever more doomed and moods dropped ever lower Ember was beginning to think that taking one of those other two tracks would have been the best decision she had ever made, even if there had been more salamanders to get rid of; at least they would probably have been quicker.

   Abruptly, just for a moment Ember thought she saw a glint in the snow, a golden twinkle in a sea of white. Looking around she realised no one here was going to miss her and – after making an excuse to the twins and Lunk - ventured out of the overhang into the howling wind.

   The blizzard battered into her, the snowflakes scratching her cheeks and the cold seeping through into the marrow of her bones. Wrapping her coat about her tightly she trudged for several feet and stopped a short distance from the shelter, a small golden patch at her feet. Digging at the snow she quickly uncovered what appeared to be a small key-shaped locket with a thin golden chain attached which lay delicately upon the snowflakes. Its metal was icy cool and the top of the locket hinged open. Flicking it up she inspected the single small engraving within. Bizarre to her it was simply this;

 

   Returning to the shelter Ember showed her discovery to Serena who was sat sipping at a magically warm cup of tea after losing track of Elder as he continued to examine the maps, muttering to himself rather than anyone else.

   ‘What do you suppose it is?’ she asked.

   ‘I haven’t a clue,’ Serena admitted, though clearly she was interested in what it was doing so far up in the peaks, ‘but the symbol looks old, ancient even – it could be ancient elvish but that’s only a random guess. I wonder what it could mean -’

   ‘Aha!’ Elder exclaimed cutting them off. Ember’s spirits soared at his momentary bout of happiness.

   ‘What is it?’ she asked hopefully.

   ‘Look here.’ The entire group of them huddled round Elder and his map, an unrolled parchment with many lines and dots and landmarks and names scrawled on it. As they stared at it all, his finger tapped on a long dotted line in the depths of the Mylerens, each peak carefully hand-drawn. ‘We are here you see. And I missed it the first time, but if you look here there is a small village on the top of a rise a few leagues to the east. It shouldn’t be too hard to reach for the rise isn’t very steep. There we can get warm and advice on how to get down the other side.’

   A smiled spread unanimously across everyone’s faces, Bracer’s especially. ‘I ‘ope for our sake yer right Elder.’

   ‘And why would that be Bracer?’

   ‘’Cause I just ate the last chunk of bread.’

 

~

 

   After Elder had chased Bracer angrily about for a bit they set off back into the snow, heading east instead of north with hope in their hearts and nothing in their bellies.

   The blizzard had stopped at last, though the chill still bit into them and the wind was still there, even if it was a little less strong. It was an odd feeling Ember thought, with the sun shining down so brightly through the cloudless sky and yet for it to be so utterly inescapably cold. Just another miracle of nature, she thought, though maybe a miracle would be more like it actually being very warm, for the cold was piercing right down to the marrow of her bones.

   An hour into the journey though, her moods were beginning to drop, and as she could feel in the air, so were everyone else’s. Not only had the temperature dropped if possible even lower but seen as the wind was howling in a southerly direction they were bearing all the force of it on their left side, the wind plastering them with a thin layer of snow on their sides within seconds of them rubbing it off. And even as their body heat melted it, this did nothing to improve spirits as the water was still icy cold and soaked deep into the skin.

   So it was much to their relief when they at last reached the side of the pass and a thin crag opened up before them. It was well worn and in some places logs had been wedged to aid in drainage so they guessed it must be the village’s for no-one else came up this far. Entering in single file, Lunk and Tauro finding it a bit cramped but besides this alright, they breathed a sigh of relief as the wind died behind them, not able to howl up the crag, and the temperature seemed much warmer. It wasn’t tropical Ember noted as she continued to struggle to stop her teeth chattering, but it was better.

   Without the snow to hinder them they made good progress along the pathway, the walls around them - surprisingly - sporting several hardy plants growing from cracks in the rocks, and above them all manner of boulders and rocks wedged in the crevice where they became too large to fit any further. The occasional flurry of snow would drift down from high above but besides this there was little movement. They didn’t meet a soul on the way.

   After a league or so the crag opened out onto a large snowy rise but the Outlaws were relieved to see it was surrounded entirely by mountains which cut off the wind. And they found the going very easy, much to Ember’s relief, due to the multiple tracks which had carved a path in the deep snow. Following these they made quick progress to the top, a light sprinkling of snow persisting as they ascended.

   As they came over the crest of the rise a rather odd spectacle met their eyes. It was a small village, too tiny to be a town and made up of about thirty small houses. The odd thing was they didn’t appear to have doors. Instead in place of the usual front door, long covered walkways connected each house to a central raised walkway, also covered so that it resembled what Ember thought a corridor would look like from the outside. In the centre was a large hall type construction and they could see that one of the peaks sloped downwards enough so that the village had also been built within, as several corridors ended at the rocky walls.

   Trudging to a window on the closest corridor they stood shivering in the cold as Tauro reached up and rapped on the window.

   A moment later it was wiped from the inside, a small bearded person started and then there was a clunking sound several yards away where a hatch opened on the underside of the raised corridor. A head popped down and a long beard fell out of the hole too.

   ‘Come in, come in.’ said the, well Ember wasn’t quite sure what he was yet, and then he caught sight of Lunk and tutted. ‘Sorry, can’t have him come in through here.’

   ‘But…’ Ember began.

   ‘Never mind eh? He’ll just have to come in through the hangar.’

   Raising his head again there came the sound of conversation in the corridor above before a second tiny bloke hopped through the hole, landing in the soft snow yet his bare feet barely making an imprint, and took Lunk’s hand. Ember nodded at the buggane and he allowed himself to be led around the houses by the dwarf-like creature and out of sight.

   Tauro hauled himself up first, feeding his arms through the small hole and yanking himself through. After this he simply lifted everyone up by the hand. Ember found the experience quite exhilarating – it wasn’t flying exactly, but the weightlessness was similar, and the hard thud as she was put down again was rather odd too, as she had been expecting not nearly as much sound for she was so used to the floor being at ground level instead of about ten feet above it.

   Once they were all in, the place a little cramped for Tauro who had to stoop rather a lot, and Elder too who had to bow his head slightly, Serena leant over to Ember and RiffRaff, who were all three puzzled as to what the odd little bearded thing, his facial hair dropping past his feet and dragging on the floor behind them, which stood before them was.

   ‘That’s a barbegazi you three – he’s a type of dwarf I think.’

   The barbegazi, his beard mingling with a thick full face moustache and his large bare feet set wide apart to allow his beard through, clapped his hands and said in a childish tone, ‘Right then, let us proceed to the hangar where your friend is arriving.’

 

~

 

   After collecting Lunk from the hangar – a large room bigger than any Ember had ever seen before and stacked with boxes and barrels around the sides and apparently in ownership of a roof which slid apart both ways – the Outlaws were led through the many corridors which never seemed to end in a building, just keep going.

   Their hosts’ feet were wide and angular and incredibly flat-based so it surprised Ember at how fast they were walking, for their small legs caused them to take three steps for every one she did; she was sure if she had to move such feet at such a pace she would topple over in a moment. Their feet seemed to be a blur of movement and Ember soon decided not to stare at them because not only did she think it would be rude but they also made her feel rather nauseous.

   The entire complex was very warm, lit by blazing torches in black braziers, but as they entered a large room the heat was even more intense, the wall not being bare of a torch within a feet in either direction and the sheer intensity of it nearly bowled Ember over.

   Lunk too was less than pleased and groaned pityingly as he crouched low in the corridor outside, blocking it entirely.

   After getting over the heat, Ember took a look at the room itself. Besides the initial areas around the torches, the walls had not a bare spot, every inch being filled with pictures of other barbegazis, each one just a little different from the last, of all shapes and sizes crammed together so they looked incredibly hectic. Meanwhile the floor too was covered in a wide array of mats and rugs, yet not one overlay another so that it appeared the entire flooring was just an elaborate patchwork. A large wooden desk dominated the room around which sat many chairs, twenty at Ember’s count all in a half circle, all of which looked identical to the last; simple, wooden, covered in a patchwork of basic colours. The desk was cluttered beyond belief and on either side of the room a door led onto an adjacent one. The whole place boasted explosive colour so that wherever she looked, Ember felt she was about to throw up.

   Making every attempt not to look at his feet, Ember watched as the barbegazi crossed to the right-hand door and knocked before waiting politely. A few moments later the door opened and framed in it was the smallest creature Ember had ever seen.

   The barbegazi was no taller than Ember’s waist – in fact probably a few inches below, and she was only averagely-sized, and yet his beard was longest of all the barbegazis she had seen; wrapped thrice shoulder to waist before it trailed another two feet behind him it looked so ridiculously disproportionate to his body it was almost comical. Her first girly thought as she raised a hand to her head was how difficult it must be to brush. As were all the barbegazis, he was dressed in a loose tunic under which he sported loose shorts – which to him were full length trousers - rolled up virtually to the top to leave room for his sizeable feet, which too were so covered in hair they resembled those of a bear of some form. He had to be the most out of proportion character Ember had ever come across and he looked almost funny, framed there in the doorway like some great hero, before walking forth taking steps that instead of going forward, circled round so he didn’t trip over his own feet.

   Strolling forward nonchalantly he jumped onto the chair behind the desk with great agility and set his hands in two specially cleared places where the parchment cluttering the thing appeared not dare go.

   ‘Welcome friends,’ said he, ‘I am honoured to greet you into Selthoir our humble village. Did you like the hangar? We use it for trading you know – all the way from the city at the base of these peaks the harpies fly from to deliver our supplies; amazingly strong those harpies you know.

   ‘Anyhow, what brings you fine folks here to Selthoir our humble village?’

   Ember wasn’t quite sure what to make of the fellow and was sure she would have been lost for words had she had to reply, but luckily Elder was the negotiating type and answered suitably, if a little elaborately.

   ‘Why thank you dear fellow. And might I ask the name of such a hospitable barbegazi such as yourself?’

   The barbegazi grinned widely at Elder’s enthusiastic manner which matched his own. ‘Why to be true, I am titled Felin, three hundred and fifty third elder of our humble village Selthoir.’

   ‘Well then my friend Felin, I am Elder and we have arrived at your humble village by a stroke of good fortune. You see we have been attempting to make our way down to the other side of these impressive mountains having come from the south but got lost in the snow. Pray, would you know where we could be able to reach the base?’

   The barbegazi smiled, glad of Elder taking on his own eccentric tongue, and pressing his fingers together chuckled slightly. It was at this moment the small fellow caught sight of the locket Ember had round her neck, the small key placed atop all her layers with the gold chain looped over her neck.

   Seeming greatly interested in the item he forgot his conversation and instead turned to her. ‘Do you know something dear girl, that there locket reminds me of something. Ah, I remember, it was some years back now, but there were three travellers whom did pass through our very village and one of them had just such a locket as that one you do. I heard too of a witch hunt about that time too, though I could not say to you whether they were connected; although they did seem a long way from home but witches and warlocks are so terribly hard to distinguish from everyone else unless you can see their magnificent tattoos and not once did they lift a sleeve.’

   ‘Could you say where they were headed?’ Ember asked.

   ‘I believe they mentioned they were headed down to the city at the base of this snow-covered range.’

   ‘A city?’ Elder interjected.

   ‘Indeed. It is situated at the bottom of the mountains – I could direct you there if you liked; it was the city I was about to suggest as your destination before I caught sight of the fine locket. How do you fancy that my friend Elder?’

   ‘I fancy that very good Felin; indeed we have need to visit the city so directions would be most useful.’

   ‘Yes, yes, of course,’ the barbegazi said, ‘but first I must offer you a berth to stay the night for the hour grows mighty late and you look weary from your travelling. I humbly offer you a night’s stay in our charming village of Selthoir.’

   Elder bowed low and grinned, ‘And we humbly accept.’

   ‘Perfect, I say ‘tis perfect. You shall have the spare house to the back of the village near the mountainside and I am sure you shall be most settled there. Please, we would be happy of your wise party joining us at the breaking of seedbread tonight; it is a delicious weekly buffet. You shall be supplied too for your journey tomorrow morn when you are ready to leave.’

   Elder agreed willingly and with the small elder of the village waving at them from his doorway as they left the Outlaws were led through the crisscrossing maze of corridors again, to an empty house near the rear of the village which backed up against the vertical mountainous cliff.

   It was a very homely place, and out of the stifling heat and nauseous colours of the elder’s house Ember found the entire place to be one of the cosiest, homeliest places she’d ever set foot in. The house wasn’t especially large, but it was big enough for their needs – even large enough to fit Lunk in which was a relief as he had to stoop in the corridors much more than either Tauro or Elder - and that was all they asked after their long trek, though Bracer would have probably moaned at anything less.

   There was a central room like that of Felin’s home which served as a living quarters with a settee, several plush chairs and a roaring fire which heated the whole place just right. Meanwhile two bedrooms sat on either side of the main room, a small bathroom belonging to each and so the girls took the left one allowing the boys to take the right. Whilst the others changed into clothing more suitable for a meal rather than trekking through the mountains Lunk curled up behind the settee for a well-earned short nap, fitting nicely between it and the wall.

   Within five minutes his rumbling snores were echoing through the corridors of Selthoir.

 

~

 

   That night was one of the oddest and yet most laid back and joyous night Ember had ever experienced. Despite the barbegazis strange eccentricity and incredibly exuberant manner Ember found she got on well with them, better even than some of the people she had known for years back in Dutton. Ember had never said it out loud, especially not in front of her family, but she had never truly felt as if she was in the right place in Dutton; she’d felt constricted and sometimes the normality and the routine frustrated her whereas everyone else just seemed to enjoy never getting any adventure. She had always felt she was meant for more than just following the same routine day in day out and now she was with the Outlaws she thought that she had finally found her right place.

   She smiled. The small beings surrounding her were always full of merriment and mirth and constantly able to look on the bright side of life; something Bracer found particularly irritable.

   ‘But what about when you get heavy snow up here? You could get snowed in for years without anyone knowing – you could starve.’ Bracer had been trying for an hour so far to give them a question they could not reply to with an optimistic twist.

   ‘But we would be with our families.’ said a small girl.

   ‘And besides,’ piped up a second, ‘we couldn’t get snowed in – we have plenty of shovels to dig ourselves out and we’re excellent diggers ourselves.’

   ‘Plus the harpies come to deliver our monthly supplies,’ piped up a third, ‘so we would be stuck here for no more than a month until at least they found us, and we have ample food for such a period of time, plus running water from the cave systems in the mountains.’

   ‘What about being attacked – don’t you worry about that?’

   ‘Why would anyone attack us? What is there for them in our village besides a few supplies and some skis? And besides, they have to catch us first if they want to attack us, and in case you hadn’t noticed our feet are perfectly shaped for skiing down the slopes of the Mylerens.’

   Bracer sighed and gave up, moving over to the set of large tables which groaned under the weight of an all-you-can-eat buffet. Picking up his fifth mug of frothy Selthoir ale brewed right there in the village he downed it in one, slammed it down and picked up another; if there was one thing basajauns were good at, Ember had learned in her short time of knowing Bracer, it was holding their liquor and as he took a hearty gulp from the sixth he moved on to attempt demolishing a mean looking pie.

  After filling herself on the buffet and with a half empty mug of ale which was just a little strong for her on a seat a short way off, Ember had taken to dancing the night away on the wide dance floor set out in the centre of the large dining hall. RiffRaff soon joined her whilst Serena stayed sat near the wall on a stool sipping delicately at a wine of some form.

   ‘There is no need to keep up appearances.’ Elder chuckled at her side. She smiled at him, and placing the wine down picked up an ale mug and took a long gulp.

   ‘I never liked elderberry wine anyhow.’ she grinned, lifting her head from the mug with a moustache of froth. Elder laughed.

   Tauro was troughing a great deal as well, as was deserving of a creature of his size whilst Lunk was seated in a corner, even sat down having to stoop slightly, and was tanking his way through pie after pie after pasty after pie showing no signs of slowing down and thoroughly enjoying himself. As Ember watched him she thought the buffet might have bitten off more than it could chew with the massive gentle giant, for beside him stacks of plates were piling up by the minute and she counted at least ten ale mugs, each of which she had observed to be closer to shots than actual drinks to the buggane. She smiled as a delicious-looking golden-topped vegetable pie slid from its plate and was devoured by Lunk.

   The barbegazis were surprisingly good dancers she found, their beards never seeming to hinder them or impede them in any way whatsoever. And after the buffet had been virtually entirely stripped of food by Lunk, Tauro and Bracer, the real entertainment began.

   To start several couples strolled onto the hard wooden dance floor to perform a traditional barbegazi jig before allowing a young children’s group to take to the stage. Performing a dainty if slightly clumsy dance they bowed and hopped and jumped and pranced around the floor until Ember though they would tumble from dizziness.

   After this the Outlaws, all of them but Ember who had no idea of his talent, pushed Tauro out onto the floor where he surprised her in being a talented tapper. Clicking his hooves on the floor quicker than she could follow, his tap-dancing turned his feet to a blur but made the most beautiful noise which echoed from the walls of the silent room. Once he had finished there was silence for a moment, then there rose an enormous cheer, the entire room erupting into applause and it took a full five minutes to calm down the dwarf-like locals who found the minotaur’s performance so incredible they began asking him how he did it and if he could teach them.

   Soon after Elder and Serena performed a graceful, well-rehearsed duet which too raised a mighty cheer before leaving the stage for RiffRaff who had decided to make the most of the room in which they found themselves.

    After the crowd had quietened they performed a spectacular array of free-running feats; a triple flip from a table edge, a ten foot leap from chair to chair swinging on the large chandelier between, an enormous running jump before using the chandelier to swing themselves then drop to the floor and slide through the legs of the smallest chair they could find.

   The barbegazis loved them, but it was Tauro after all who had stolen the show and it took another three performances of his fantastic talent before their hosts were satisfied. Whilst the minotaur was performing, Ember frowned as Bracer looked about warily then led the chieftain away. She would have followed them but was hauled up by the crowd, the cheering and hollering for Tauro still not subsiding even when they had retired to their room.

   Shattered, the eight of them turned in, for Bracer had returned. As they strolled through the corridors back to their room, the Outlaws chatted amongst themselves, and Ember took a specific interest in learning how to free-run; she had always admired RiffRaff’s ability to leap through the trees like apes, and had been meaning to ask them for a while, choosing to do so now because they were fresh from a performance.

   ‘Sure, we could teach you.’ Riff said.

   ‘But it takes a lot of practice.’ Raff added.

   ‘If you want to learn though,’ the twins bowed before continuing, ‘you’ll learn from the best.’ Ember chuckled happily.

   The girls and boys entered their separate rooms and Lunk dropped heavily to the floor behind the sofa, a move which rattled the entire village and shifted the entire plain of snow outside just a little.

   As she lay her head to rest, the last thing Ember remembered thinking about, was how comforting and oddly soothing the great buggane’s snores were which within moments had sent her smoothly into a deep dream-filled sleep.

 

~

 

   The next day after a lie-in which Ember felt they all thoroughly deserved, they broke fast at their leisure and it was well into the tenth hour of the day that they were ready to leave, though even Bracer had to admit he would miss the homely place, though more for its warm food than its kind inhabitants.

   The entire village turned out to wave them off and as they stood out in the snow, the sun only just now managing to crest the peaks surrounding them, they were pointed in the right direction.

   ‘The plain stretches for about a league in an easterly direction then you come to a bottle-neck. Pass this and you come out onto the edge of a mountain; after that it’s pretty much plain sailing.’

   Slipping her feet into the sets of shoes attached to the skis, backpack strapped tight to her back and her fur coat buttoned tight to the top, Ember picked up the two ski poles and digging them into the snow pushed herself into a slow slide forth.

   Beside her, her comrades followed suite, besides Lunk who had found that morning that he could slide well on the snow on his furry belly and so was lay on his front next to her, his eyes filled with excitement.

   As their pace picked up and they all begin to slide quickly down the depression they waved to the barbegazis behind them, all of whom were waving enthusiastically, some of them even twirling their beards high in the air and shouting words of luck and good wishes.

   With high spirits the Outlaws sent themselves into a smooth, lightning fast descent which would take them to the base of the mountain.

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