Night and The Mountain

The night was far cooler than the day had been, up on the flanks of the mountain where the trees gave way to scrub. So much cooler, in fact, that it could be said to be colder than was at all comfortable.

Drakon pulled his cloak, now torn and water-stained, closer around his shoulders and watched his breath plume away into the darkness, a thin thread of white. It was hard to walk evenly over the rocks and what remained of the ancient town without light and all of their company save the bears stumbled often; even Urska, back once again in her slender human form, tripped and stubbed her bare toes and snarled ursine curses in the night-time.

Uncurling one frozen hand from where it gripped the fabric of his cloak, Drakon flexed his chilled fingers and tried, clumsily, to shape a spell. A good spell for stealth, this one, if he recalled the book he had gleaned it from; it was not spoken, but cast with the shapes of the fingers, and made neither sound nor light.

The magic was slow in coming, dormant with the cold and his own tiredness, but it warmed him in its awakening and the spell took faster than he might have expected. The shapes of fallen pillars and tumbled stones took form before him, and he smiled in the darkness.

Cat's-Eye, the spell had been called in the book.

It was short work, now he knew what he was doing and his magic had returned to life, to cast the spell on his father and Borysko; Urska would not let him, however.

"It will let you see," he told her. "Your feet must be sore. It will help you avoid the sharp stones-"

"Can see," Urska snapped. "Bears see better than humans. Leave me alone."

And she marched away resolutely, stumbling over a thick chunk of old masonry, snarling her displeasure. Drakon shrugged and let her go. The spell would last longer if it were stretched over three instead of four, in any case.

The crinaeae had told them, bubbling and giggling with the taste of summerwine, that the seers they sought lived on the highest peak of the mountain, where they would not be disturbed except by those with serious requests. It was a hard climb, the rippling little figure had warned them, although the mountain was not high enough to gain snow except in the depths of winter, and the seers would not be pleased to greet them.

Well, they will have to greet us, and they will have to give us answers, too, Drakon thought resolutely. I will not leave until I know what is going on...and, maybe, how to make Borysko aright again...

He glanced back at the warrior, who was lagging behind even with the Cat's-Eye spell; his rasping breathing was clearly audible in the still air. The young prince felt a million miles away from the boy he had been only a week or so ago, the boy who had run his protector a merry dance out of nothing more than idle mischief. Now he felt as though he were the protector instead, and a sense of guilty responsibility washed over him.

This all started when I cast the spell on Urska, he thought. I didn't mean it to do anything, really, just drive the bear away...but then, I didn't mean a lot of things, did I? I didn't mean the time I enchanted Borysko's bedsheets to feel like a bed of thistles, and he ended up having to sleep on a cold stone floor in front of my bedroom door...and I didn't mean the time I let those Tailor-Imps loose on his good leather armour, either, and they turned it into a leather ballgown instead, just when he needed it to deal with those men who had been knifing people in the tavern. I just meant  to be funny...

He sighed. He'd never really thought about consequences before, and now it seemed he was thinking about them all the time. He supposed he could console himself with the thought that surely not everything was his fault-this must have been going on far longer than a couple of weeks-but still, guilt nagged at him.

But he knew Borysko would not welcome any offers of help in climbing this slope, and so he trudged on, lost in his thoughts, as the night wore on towards morning.

It was nearly dawn when they came at last to a pair of gates in a wall that still stood upright. The Cat's-Eye charm had worn off a couple of hours before, and they were all chilled to the bone from the cold and yet flushed and sweating from the climb, and the sight of something that wasn't crumbled and long-abandoned was extremely welcome.

"This must be where the Seers are," Alastor said, squinting up at the gates in the growing dawnlight. "By all the gods, let it be where they are..."

He strode up to the gates and tried to push them open, but they seemed soundly locked. He hammered on them, but nobody came; eventually he stepped back and regarded them with disfavour.

"We were told the Seers don't welcome visitors, Fa," Drakon said, coming up beside him. "I guess we'll just have to wait until we get their attention..."

The End

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