Thursday, May 27, 2010
Short chapter. Very important. The entire WIP is at 37,800 words.
The frozen edge of the wind slashed the final tenacious leaves off bony trees, hurling the leaves through the night, freezing them so that when they finally hit the ground they shattered. Gusts lifted puffs of snow from the white-blanketed earth, casting icy clouds about and softening the edges of a path of footprints that marred the otherwise smooth groundcover. The deepest sets of footprints formed a straight line that exited the tree line on one side of the ravine, down that ravine wall, and across what had once been the bed of a river. Other footprints seemed more shallow and wandered somewhat, although they also ended at an enormous pile of rocks that covered a wide stretch of the opposite side of the ravine.
Minions of the army of wind whistled through cracks in those rocks, probing for space in which to cause havoc. The last dregs of the blistering cold finally broke through the rocks and found defeat in the torch-lit warmth of a small cavern. Two tall figures stood next to one of the smaller segments of cave wall, their profiles illuminated intermittently by wavering torch flames. They held a small, slumped figure that seemed to be sleeping and having a nightmare. Regular moans and protests exited the sleeping form.
Two other tall shapes stood in the shadows near a narrow corridor that stretched away from the small cavern. Their postures indicated alertness, their faces turned to the darkness of the corridor.
Two stools stood in the middle of the room, a large shape sitting on one and a smaller, but still adult, shape perched on the other.
"The time is fast approaching," the smaller figure said, voice hushed. "Patience for just a little longer, my friend."
"Patience is one thing out in the middle of nowhere," the larger figure said. "So you keep prattling about patience, sitting in your comfortable caves, while I do all the work. Patience is easy for you."
"But you have found the guide. Now we just need the sword." The smaller figure raised a hand as if to touch the larger and calm him down. The hand stopped inches from the larger man.
"The guide does me no good locked up."
"Does 'us' no good, you mean."
"Of course." The larger figure grunted dismissively.
"It is safe, so you say. That's all that matters for now."
"No, what matters is that we finish this finally. What matters is that you stop stalling and get your people ready to move."
"You must be joking. It's the dead of winter." The smaller figure stood, scorn in his voice.
"Of course I don't mean now. But as soon as spring arrives, we move."
The small figure paced around the cavern, his face seeming to change shape in the dancing light. "You assume that we will have the sword by then."
"I will have it."
"And yet you have made no progress with the girl."
"But I will." The larger man turned in his seat, keeping his eye fixed on the other man. "She says she knows nothing, but that can't be true."
"What if it is?"
A heavy growl, very similar to that of the jungle cats that roamed the forest outside, rumbled from the large man's chest. He rose to his feet with a dangerous grace, the tension in his body making him look ready to pounce. "I will still find it. You should stop worrying about my end, old man. You get your people ready."
"Relax, my friend."
Another growl. "Stop telling me to relax. You relax in your secret cavern while I do all of the work and put myself in danger. You let yourself get served hand and foot by these idiots," the man gestured at the two guards standing at the head of the corridor that headed deeper into the earth. "But don't forget that we are both in this, and if one of us fails, we both do. And we both die."
"Nice speech," the smaller man said. "But you cannot hurry the winter. You use your muscle with the girl and I will use a more gentle approach with my charge." The small man turned casually toward the corridor, flipping a hand in the direction of the slumped figure held by the two large men. "Take him."
The corridor guards stepped forward, skin flashing deep red, and accepted the semi-conscious captive from the other men. The guards dragged the slumped figure after the small man as he made his way into the corridor.
A growl escaping from his throat, his jaw muscles visibly tensing in anger, the large man stepped toward the segment of cave wall his men were standing near.
"And Shule," came the small man's voice, echoing down the corridor. "Patience!"
The large man cursed. "We will see who rules when this is over." He palmed the cave wall and pushed. The wall swiveled smoothly outward, as if it were any well-hung wooden door. The freezing winter wind immediately filled the small cave, extinguishing one of the torches. Cinching his heavy bear fur tightly around him, the large man stepped out into the stark night, his two men following and the door swinging closed of its own accord.
The three men strode silently through the snow, following their footprints across the ravine. Shining down with pale light that matched the frozen land, the moon illuminated the men as they made their way up the far side of the ravine, their movements economical and precise. Moments later, still making no sound, the three men melted into the shadows cast by the naked trees of the forest.