Tothelea: Chapter 16

Three days later, late in the day, they reached the Mountain Loop Road.
Trevor decided they would cross the road, find a secluded place to camp, and
stop for the day.  They would be climbing up soon, probably tomorrow, and he
wanted them to start fresh.  Approaching the mountains during those three
days, it had become clear that they were going to arrive at them just about at
the tip of a thin line of peaks that jutted out from the main portion of the

There had been no sign, yet, of Aramathokoa.  Still, Trevor wanted to take no
more chances.  He had thought long and hard about how Aramathokoa had found
them in that deserted village.  In the end, the most reasonable notion was
that he had indeed waited for them in Church, expecting them to come up the
road.  But he must have heard about them from some of the boatmen they had
passed, the ones travelling down-river.  Maybe he had even set a reward for
information about them.  When he got word, he had then ridden up-river until
he found their trail.  If that was correct, then it was imperative that no one
see them as they crossed the road.  They had to get to the mountains in
complete secrecy.  Trevor would feel safer in the confines of the mountains.
The peaks would make them harder to see from a distance, and anyway, the
terrain would be harder to track them through.

So they waited, hidden behind some trees, watching the road until it was clear
of all traffic.  Then they ran to the road, across it, and farther on the
other side to the nearest clump of trees they could hide in.  Trevor peered
out from behind a tree, watching the road, to see if anyone had appeared.  But
there was no one.

They waited till the light grew dim enough that anyone on the road would be
hard pressed to see them, and then pushed on, farther towards the mountains.
When they camped, they were near the foot of the Spine.  The mountains reached
almost to the road here.  The line of peaks was on their left, and the first
village marked on the road was on the other side of it, maybe a long day's
walk on the road from here.  Trevor had no idea whether anyone--or
anything--lived in these mountains.  He hoped not.  Why would they?  The peaks
looked harsh and uninviting to him.

The next morning, Trevor dug the necklace, the one that had once belonged to
Belden, out of his pack.  He said a quick prayer for guidance, and tossed it
into the air.  It landed in a shapeless loop.  Trevor hunted for the marker
bead, and found it.  It was on the side pointing vaguely northeast.  The
direction they had been traveling all this time.  What did that mean?  Perhaps
they were not close enough yet.  

Where to go next?  Garron had said that Belden went in search of seclusion.
So, probably he was not in the part of the mountains that stuck out towards
the road.  That wouldn't make much sense.  Trevor suspected they would have to
go deep into the mountains to find him.  In which case, they should stay down
here, on the flats, for as long as possible.  No sense getting into the
mountains right now, here at the tip of that line of peaks, only to have to
hike the long and difficult way through the peaks.  Better to get closer to
the main part of the Spine, first.

Too, there was the little matter of food.  It had been a long time since
they'd been able to replenish their packs.  They had been relying more and
more on what Harmony could forage every evening.  He was thankful that she had
as much skill as she did, but even so, he suspected that the foraging would be
harder as they entered the mountains.

But then, he craved the privacy and security that the jagged peaks offered.

How to choose?  Not quite sure what else to do, they broke camp and followed
the necklace, contining on in the same direction they had been.  It was as
good a plan as any.

Before the sun was very far up, the ground began to grow moist and soften.
Soon it was quite boggy.  They sank to their ankles in mud, and slogged
through shallow pools.  It was hard work, and slower going.  More than once
they slipped, and were soon covered in muck.  After perhaps half an hour of
this, both of them sweating and panting, Harmony asked the obvious.

"Trev?  Should we go back?"

They stopped.  Trevor bent over, resting with his hands propped on his knees.
He swore to himself.  After everything else, they didn't need this, too!
Still, he would do what he had to do.  "I think we should.  This shows no sign
of stopping, and I don't want to be stuck in this stuff come night fall."

"Me either."

"We'll go back.  Skirt around the edge of this marsh, and hope the whole Spine
isn't surrounded by it."

Tired and frustrated, they turned back.  Trevor grumbled to himself.  It
hadn't been on the map!  Sort of an important thing to leave out.  But if the
map had left out that detail, what else about it was wrong?  Yet another
question with no answer.  Or at least, he feared, no answer they weren't going
to learn the hard way.

They got out of the marsh soon enough, and turned westward to follow its
periphery.  Once back on solid ground, the going was fast again, and they were
soon dry, if filthy.  Well, mountains had streams, right?  Surely that's why
there was a marsh there in the first place.  Streams had to go somewhere.

Before lunch, even, the ground started to rise.  Gentle, at first, so they
didn't even notice.  But when Trevor turned to glance back the way they had
come--a habit that was almost second nature to him now--he was taken aback to
see that they were some ways above the lands behind them.  And yes, the ground
was entirely dry now, and plenty  solid.  They paused to look around for a
moment.  From here they could see the marshy area they had wandered into.  It
had a darker, more olive color to it than the surroundings, and it extended
off to the east as far as the eye could see.  But, Trevor thanked the Aran
once again, obviously didn't form a complete girdle around the mountains.

Bouyed by this turn of events, they made their way into the mountains.  Even
difficult going through them was better than slogging through the mud, step
after ponderous step.  Now, all they had to do was find one of those mountain
streams and clean themselves off.

Before long, they had passed over and between low foothills, and the road was
hidden from them.  And they from it.  Trevor relaxed a notch.  It was still a
while before they found a stream, but thankfully that did happen before the
end of the day.  They took turns bathing and washing their clothes, then made
camp, allowing themselves the luxury of a nice fire.  Trevor knew they hadn't
made much distance that day, but was very glad to be in the mountains.  Like
we've passed some big test, just getting here, he thought.  He was proud.  It
had been long, and hadn't been easy.  They had almost failed, back in that
deserted village.  But here they were, in the Spine mountains at last.  They
had done it.

By the end of the next day, he almost wished they hadn't.  Everything about
the mountains was new, frustrating, and difficult.  There was no such thing as
going in a straight line here.  They had tried, at first, not knowing any
better.  But it soon became obvious that walking directly up and down the
slopes was the fool's way to go.  It was physically demanding, and used
different muscles than the ones they had conditioned so well since leaving
White Sands.  It was longer, but much easier going, to find the most level
path that went in the general direction indicated by the neckace.

They consulted the necklace frequently, too.  Having grown up in the open, by
the sea, and having traveled all this time in the open, the mountains played
havoc with their sense of direction.  The sun moved, there was no clear
horizon to judge the time by, and the shadows of the surrounding peaks lay all
at crazy angles upon each other.  Everything Trevor knew about getting from
place to place was useless here.

And his scab itched.  The scab, where he had scraped his elbow, had been
itching all afternoon.  He scratched at it after supper, as they went to bed.
It was a painful itch, that kept sleep away much longer than seemed fair,
really.  But in the end, exhaustion won out, as it always does.

Harmony woke him the next morning.  Trevor was cold.  He felt stiff, achy.
No, he didn't feel good at all.  He tried to push himself up to a sitting
position, then  screamed as unexpected pain exploded in his elbow.

"Trev, what?" Harmony asked, worry in her voice, as she helped him to a
sitting position.  Trevor went to roll up his sleeve, to get a look at his
elbow, but gasped in pain again.  He couldn't bend his arm enough for the
usual motion to work.  He held his arm stiff, and worked at his sleeve.
Harmony brushed his hand away, and helped him.  The sleeve was stuck to the

Arelenoa's hammers! it hurt.  Harmony stopped, looking to Trevor's face for
what to do.

"Just-- just rip it off," he said, panting through pain-clenched teeth.

She did, and it was agony.  Trevor tried to look, but couldn't bend his arm
enough to get a look at the elbow.  Harmony inspected it, probing gently with
her fingers.  Everywhere she touched burned with fire.

"It's infected," she declared.  "From the mud yesterday, probably."

"Yeah, probably.  Still, we can't stay here."

"Shush!" she commanded, feeling his forhead.  "You have a fever.  You need to

"No, we have to go," Trevor tried to stand up, but was surprised at how weak
he felt.

"No, we stay,"  Harmony insisted.  "You listen, Trevor.  All this time, you
take care of me.  Now, I take care of you.  You can't travel.  Not like this.
On a road, maybe.  But not here."  She pushed him back down, onto his back,
and pulled his blanket over him.  He gave in.  He knew she was right, really.
And besides, he didn't have the strength to fight her even if he'd wanted to.

She made him eat some food, and drink some water, then said "I need to see
what plants are here.  You rest."

He did, trying not to move.  Every motion he made, every twitch, made his arm
hurt.  This was no good.  He couldn't be sick.  Not now, anyway.  Not after
all this.  Harmony couldn't be left on her own, not over a stupid scrape.

I have to get up, he told himself.  I have to get moving.  I'll feel better if
I can just move around a bit.  Make a fire.  It's so cold this morning!  No
one said the mountains were going to be so cold in the mornings!  I'll just
rest here a minute, then I'll get up.  I'll just--

Harmony woke him again.

"Trevor!  Trevor, wake up!"  She was patting him on the face, forcing him to
wake.  He came to, opened his eyes.  The sun was on him now, coming through
the gap between two peaks.  He was freezing cold, and began to shiver.

"Your fever is worse," she said.

"I-- How long were you gone?" he managed to ask.

"Two hours, maybe.  Took a while to find these."  She held up a handful of
different plants for him to see, some with little white berries on them.
"Rest.  Try to stay awake.  I need to prepare these."

He did as she told him.  Although he had grown used to being in charge, right
now he was glad glad for someone else to have that honor.  Besides, he had
learned not to doubt Harmony when it came to plants.  He heard her rummaging
in their packs, pouring water into one of their tin pots.  Stoking the fire
back up.  Other noises too, that Trevor couldn't figure out.  She mumbled one
of her little nonsense songs while she worked.

After a while, she returned to him, carring both tin pots.  She knelt beside
him, setting one of them down.  She lifted his head up, and held the other to
his mouth.  "Drink this.  It's hot."

Trevor took a sip.  He coughed and spat it out.  It was hot, and vile.
Bitter.  "Aran!" he exclaimed, grimacing as some of the liquid made its way to
the back of his mouth. "what is that!"  Everything else she cooked tasted so

She seemed prepared for his reaction, and quickly pulled the pot away.  "Drink
it!" she ordered.  "It will ease your fever."

She held it to his mouth again, holding the back of his head firmly.  Swallow
by swallow, she made him drink to the dregs before taking the pot away.

Then she picked up his arm, as gently as she could, and laid it across his
body in so she could work on it.  She probed it some more with her fingers.
"I need to clean it out," she said.  "I'm sorry, Trev, but this is going to
hurt.  A lot."

"I know," Trevor answered, miserably.  He had known this part was coming.

"I'm sorry.  I wish I could wait.  If I waited, the medicine would take some
of the pain away, too, with the fever.  But the infection would only get
worse.  Better not to wait."

"Okay," he said.  He turned his head towards her, to see as much as he could
of what she was doing.  But without lifting his head, he couldn't actually see
down to his elbow.  He did see her reach down to her calf, and draw out the
knife she still carried, sheathed there.  She warmed the knife in the fire,
then quenched it in the dregs of the medicine he had drank.  She moved the
knife to his elbow, and pressed the point in.  Trevor didn't hold on to
consciousness for long.

When he awoke, it was evening.  "Harmony?" he called out.

He heard her, and then she appeared before him.  "How do you feel?"

"Horrible."  She felt his forehead, and inspected his elbow.

"Your fever is a bit better.  That's good."  Trevor reached over with his
other hand, and felt carefully.  His elbow was bandaged, and there was a stick
incorporated into the wrapping, holding his arm straight.

"What did you do?"

"Drained it.  Scrubbed it clean.  Put a piece of boiled cloth over it, and
packed some mashed leaves over it."  Trevor could feel a squishy lump over
where his wound was.  "The cloth will bind to a new scab.  Don't peel it off.
It will fall off eventually."

"It doesn't hurt as much," he observed.

"It will.  The medicine will wear off.  I will make more tomorrow."

Trevor grimaced at the thought of having to drink more of that nasty stuff.
"Okay, okay!" he said, quickly, before she could chastize him.  "I know, it'll
help me get better."

She nodded.  "Eat now, then rest," she added, offering him some stew.  Trevor
managed to sit up, with help, and tasted it.  Relieved, it was her usual tasty
stew.  Not some strange medicine stew.

On their third morning in the mountains, they broke camp and resumed their
journey.  Trevor still had a low fever, but he couldn't bear for them to stay
in one place any longer.  He had already cost them enough time.  She
re-dressed his wound before they left, applying more crushed leaves over the
boiled cloth, which was now as inexorably attached to Trevor as his own skin.
They went slowly that day.  The next day, whether due to exercise or simply to
time, Harmony pronounced him cured.  His elbow, and indeed, most of his arm,
was still quite tender.  But he could bend it as much as the cloth stuck to
his wound would allow, and he was able to grip more strongly with his hand.

The days passed, and settled into their own rhythm.  Different than the daily
rhythm in the grasslands, but just as predictable.  Wake, eat, walk.  Go
around a hill or mountain.  Consult the neclace for direction.  Repeat until

As the days passed, they became accustomed to the rigors of mountain travel.
Their newly discovered muscles adapted to the exercise, and their aches faded
away.  They made better time, passing more and more mountains every day.  But
as they went, they seemed to be rising, ever upward.  Up and down many times
each day, to be sure, but on the whole higher and higher.  And despite the
sun's march towards summer, Trevor was sure it was getting colder, not warmer.

Two weeks into the mountains, they ate the last of the food they carried with
them.  From then on, unless something unexpected happened, they relied on
Harmony's skills.  Higher and higher into the Spine they went.  How far had
they gone?  Trevor wondered.  There was no way to gauge distance in these
mountains.  Still, surely they were getting close.  Seventeen days in, two
notable spires of rock had come into view.  Sometimes they were hidden, to be
sure, but several times a day they would appear between the peaks.  Trevor
tried to judge direction by them.  He couldn't be sure, but it seemed as they
neared the spires, that the necklace was leading them more and more to the
right, eastward.

The weather grew colder, and the plants grew sparser.  Nineteen days in, they
were getting hungry.  Harmony was having more and more trouble finding things
they could eat, and Trevor, well, he had no skill with trapping.  Harmony
wouldn't eat the meat anyway, he told himself, even if I could catch anything.

On the morning of their twentieth day, the awoke, surrounded by strangers.