Part Three – The Ken
Obviously they have to leave the house, and they can’t head towards Sutrium (I was wrong they did have to go down that way, which seems rather long, tedious and convoluted.) because all the soldierguards are coming that way, so they are heading TOWARDS the mountains, and hiding there. Because who would guess that they would trap themselves in this ‘cul de sac’. They will just think they’ve tried to escape, so will not search the mountains. And Brydda knows a good place for them to hide. It’s a good thing he grew up here as a boy and explored around, otherwise they wouldn’t have such a good hiding spot. Everything is in danger, and now that Ariel is leading the attack on Obernewtyn, he knows all their weaknesses. And Ariel hates everyone, and wants revenge for disrupting his plans, and revenge is a dangerous thing.
It was also a very sad time for Brydda, Grufyyd and Katlyn (just saying that the two men both have double letterings which are kinda odd) who had to pack up a few belongings, but leave all the rest behind. Not only that but they had to burn down their own house! That would be so hard to do, even though it is just ‘stuff’ it has so many memories and we get so attached to things.
Brydda and Elspeth have some more time by themselves as they collect firewood. They can see the Blacklands from a higher vantage point, and apparently Pavo believes that with time they will recede, which is hard to believe for Elspeth, as it just seems so unlikely that things would ever grow again on the land. Brydda has got Elspeth alone to suggest that the group go to Sutrium with him, and Domick who has to return anyway, and after winter they can return to Obernetwyn. Pavo isn’t up the journey, and Kella needs to be with him to ease his pain. But Jik could easily be recognised again, and Dragon wouldn’t cope with a city, so they cannot go with him, and someone has to go to Obernewtyn and warn them, and that someone is her (plus the other two).
Brydda just assumes that Elspeth could communicate with Obernewtyn, but that isn’t possible and we get a little ‘recap’ of abilities and their limitations. The higher up Elspeth is, the more powerful she is (why would that be, or is that just because it is easier to work down that it is up?) but there are mountains in the way of Obernewtyn, so that isn’t an option. Brydda raises more concerns about Elspeth’s feet, but she reassures him that she is fine, and is more than capable to take care of herself (reference to killing power?). But they still have very little time to spare before the pass freezes over, but Brydda might be able to help Elspeth with that, with a shorter route.
But just to keep us waiting, we have to get back to the others to find out what he is talking about, as they finalise their plans. Pavo, Kella and Domick will go to Sutirum with Brydda, and in exchange for his help, Brydda will be getting information from Domick about what he learns from the Council. All the horses will go to Sutrium, and Elspeth, Dragon, Jik and Darga will go through (YES through) the mountain to get to Obernetwyn before the freeze. Apparently not all the path is poisonous, and they can use Darga to detect a safe route. As a boy, Brydda has been on the path, but never all the way through, and he is still alive to tell the tale. It is a risky plan, as there may not be a safe route all the way through, but it is the only way that they can warn Obernewtyn. Domick isn’t pleased with the idea, and offers himself to take the journey, but his position in the Council is too valuable to throw away. Elspeth will have Dragon with her, to scare off any Druidsmen, and Elspeth is capable of taking care of herself as well.
So it was decided, they would leave a first light, and Brydda will start them in the right direction. And the others will head to Sutrium, once it is safe to leave. They said their goodbyes, Pavo’s was the hardest, as it is likely they will not see him again. It took them an hour to walk to the beginning of the Olden pass, and already Elspeth’s feet were hurting, and it was there that they said goodbye to Brydda. They started climbing the mountain, and Darga was at the front leading the way with his sense of smell. It was hard going as there was a rock fall that was in their way, and it took some time to reach the path proper. I find it quite hard to actually imagine this place, and the path and mound of rocks and the relation to the cottage and their other hiding spot. It’s not because of the writing, it’s just my inability to picture things so well.
They reach the pass, and have to slide into a really small opening, between the mountain sides to continue forward, and it is a good thing that Avra didn’t come along (she wanted to) because she wouldn’t have fitted. No one has gone through this pass for years, so nature has gotten a strong hold on the area, with thick cobwebs and vines covered with dust. It is slightly easier going now they have gotten past the rock fall, but Elspeth’s feet still hurt, I don’t know how she is going to make it, and even if she does, her feet are going to be destroyed. Elspeth thinks about how strange it would be if they did use the Olden pass in the first place, and how many things would not have happened, like meeting Brydda, would Dragon have come, too many possibilities!
They sky was darkening, and it looks like there might be a storm (which is very ominous when you think of last time they were here, with the storm) which could be a good thing as it keeps away the Druidsmen, but it will make the going even harder. They soon reached bramble which didn’t really have a fixed path anymore, and was filled with stinging thorns, so they had to hack their way through using knives. It took more than an hour to get around the bramble and on the otherside was a deep gorge, which at the bottom was a river, possibly a tributary of Suggredoon. The only way across it was to go down to the river and swim across, which of course Dragon might have trouble with as she HATES water.
They looked for an hour for an easier spot to climb down the gorge, but their original spot was the best. The stream (okay not a river) was moving quite fast, and Darga suggests that he will swim across first with a rope and will tie it onto a tree as best he can, and then Jik can climb across and tie it properly and then Elspeth and Dragon can follow. The stream was really strong, and Darga had to struggle just to keep moving forward, without floating away downstream. And even once he had gotten to the other side, it took a while to get up the soft bank and once he got up the bank, he was exhausted. For a while he just lay there, but once he regained strength he went to work to tie up the rope, for Jik.
Jik hand-crawled along the rope, and at the lowest point was half in the water, but the rope was still strong enough to hold him and assist him getting across the river. He was able to tie the rope more securely now, and it was now Dragon’s turn to climb across, Jik’s safe passage gave her some confidence, and as long as she didn’t touch the water she was fine, and got across safely. It was then Elspeth’s turn, and she was disappointed that she wouldn’t find a way to somehow get across and save the rope to use it again. If they had to cross another stream, they had no more rope. It had taken them two hours to cross such a short distance, and getting out of the gorge was quite hard, unless it got easier, they might still run out of time.
They took some time to rest, eat, and sing a few songs, before moving forward once more. It did start to get easier, and they were still some way away from the poisoned area. They walked all day, and once it was nighttime it was very cold, winter was nearly upon them, and snow would soon be falling. The moon wasn’t bright enough to light their way, so they had to light some of their torches to continue walking. Elspeth wanted to continue, even though they were now very close to the poison region, and would now have to rely on Darga’s sense of smell.
They continued, walking single file, and soon the ground began to turn swampy and soft. The path quickly became full of obstacles and Darga had to constantly warn them and give them directions on the safe way to walk. Without him they would have never made it through, and I guess we know now that Darga was probably the key ‘person/animal’ on this expedition, as he saved their lives and helped them countless time, now they should know how valuable beasts are. In the end, it was Darga that made them stop, needing a break. The found a spot that they could rest on that was safe, and ate and drank, and most importantly rested. They didn’t have much water left, and couldn’t fill them up, as all the water was too dangerous to drink.
Elspeth was just about to drift off to sleep, when a savage, terrible growl broke through the air. They are not alone in the Olden pass, and something isn’t happy that they are there (or it is, because it has something large to eat…).