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To make up for the early stop the day before the companions had to put on a few more miles then they originally planned. They were not sure how many days travel it was to the North Country but they felt compelled to get through it as quickly as possible. In this case the unknown was not a wonderful adventure, but a terrible cliff of uncertainty. It’s the unknown that lead mankind to believe that the earth was flat, and it was the unknown here that occupied the companions’ thoughts. Had they factually known how long it was they could have planned for it be it a few days, a week, or a month. Knowing would have simply allowed them to adjust their plans. Not knowing how long meant they needed to push themselves without over exertion and find the right pace for appropriate food consumption. Figuring that out usually takes experienced hikers today years. The schooling of a princess and a squire didn’t train them to calculate optimal efficiency through rocky mountains. If anything slowed them down they might get snowed in and neither of them knew how’d they’d fare if an early storm got in their way.
They made good time in the morning, but in the afternoon Dashtek noticed the princess would pause at times to lick the pads on her feet. By evening when they stopped he saw that her paws had become raw from walking on the all the rocks. Each step had become an experience in dealing with pain. To numb the hurt he suggested that she cool her feet in the river. He went to the bank and watched as she waded in up to her ankles. The cold mountain water helped to numb her from the pain but did not resolve the wounds. There was no way they could maintain their pace with the injury. It would certainly slow them down. They hadn’t moved far enough to make up for the early stop the day before and with this problem they couldn’t take another step further. Sure they could have, but then they would only be doing more damage. At this stage the princess was partially mobile. If they continued her feet would begin to blister and bleed. The only choice was to stop for the night.
Dashtek made camp. The princess would wade into the stream every hour or so until finally it was time to sleep.
As Dashtek laid down and waited for sleep to come, he recalculated their journey with this new variable in mind. They had lost nearly a full day’s travel but had eaten two days worth of food. Did they have enough to make it through? What would they eat if they ran out? He anticipated the gnawing of his stomach while he traveled. That same gnawing feeling joined him in his sleep and robbed him from the last possibility of a good night’s rest.
In the morning the princess made a trip into the stream to numb her feet before the companions began to climb higher up the trail. As Dashtek feared the day’s pace was considerably slower. Dashtek’s feet, shod in his favorite shoes began to hurt as well, in part because the rocks now were more brutal than anything previously, and also out of sympathy for the princess. Once Dashtek noticed a small trickle of blood left behind on the rocks from the princess he scanned for the next spot the two could bed down and halted for the day.
The princess was surprisingly silent while dealing with her pain and Dashtek would have liked to know why. It could have been that as a lioness she didn’t have the ability to speak, but even when she could speak as a princess her posture said a great deal. Her posture now was more reserved and as Dashtek noticed he realized that in the past few days Dashtek noticed she hadn’t once used her characteristic stomp, which helped him recognize her in the camp.
The next day started off slow, and continued to get slower throughout the day. They had no choice but to press on as their food supply was dwindling and their hopes for catching game had disappeared. The terrain was too barren and the princess’ newly found hunting skills were neutralized by her injury and the scarcity of game.
They pressed on through the day and into the early afternoon. As they continued to travel the air grew considerably cold, more than what one would expect from just the sun setting in the mountains. They took one of their many short breaks. The sweat entrapped in Dashtek’s clothes cooled quickly and after a quick shiver he pressed himself and the princess to move forward again.
Moments after they resumed it began to snow large wet flakes. Soon the flakes began to stick to the ground. As the snow began to thicken under them Dashtek’s pace grew slower, but the princess’ increased. The snowy blanket covered the sharp rocks that had worn her pads raw and the cold kept them numb enough she could continue to move forward at a reasonable pace. Instead of finding a place to stop, Dashtek decided to take advantage of the situation and push forward. Tired as they were this was the fastest they had moved. He became overly optimistic and convinced himself that the pace was now so good it might get them to crest the mountains that very night. Besides, he thought, the flakes that were wet today and aiding their travel could easily freeze at night turning into a slick crust that would be just as damaging to their pace tomorrow.
It was terribly dark by the time reality set in and Dashtek realized that cresting the trail was certainly out of reach. The snow hadn’t ceased at all, and as he’d feared, it was getting considerably colder. His body had to work harder to keep up with the princess on the snow and now the sweat from his increased exertion began to cool more quickly. The princess had noticed him shivering over an hour before they stopped and had spent the time on the journey thinking of her own ideas to keep her companion warm enough to survive the night. All of her plans involved a fire that she was helpless to build.
Dashtek fought his shivering while he gathered wood. Once again he was keeping busy while he figured the answer to another problem, where to get kindling? All of the smaller branches and leaves he would have used were now wet and covered with snow. As it got darker and colder the effort he exerted to get wood wasn’t enough to keep him warm.
By the time he had a reasonable sized stack of wood gathered the situation became more desperate. He had stopped shivering. The princess thought this meant that he was better, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth and Dashtek knew it. In desperation he pulled open the princess’ bag and grabbed the Hallbrook. He made his numb hands grip and made ready to rip out a few pages for kindling when he was stopped by the lioness’ firm roar.
He looked into her eyes stunned and at the same time mechanically put the book back into her bag. Within seconds he had succumbed to the cold and fell motionless onto the snow. Hypothermia had set in.
What had she done? She didn’t realize that when he had stopped shivering he had gotten worse. She reached at him with her paw and pushed him as if to wake him up. When he didn’t open his eyes she realized how desperate the situation had become. If she could have ripped up the book and lit the fire she would have, but a lion’s paws aren’t designed for tearing pages or using a flint.
There was no one to call for help, no one to save Dashtek but her. As the reality of the situation bore down on her a rush of adrenaline flowed through her body and exploded as a tremendous roar. She was hoping that the noise would have woken him up so he could use the book. When the sound failed to wake him she ran the snow limiting her eyesight to only a few feet in front of her. She scrambled up the nearest canyon wall looking for some shelter. Her pace, fueled by the rush of adrenaline, was faster than when she had chased down the deer. Still no speed could invent something that simply wasn’t there and after a few moments she abandoned her search for shelter on that side and ran across the canyon floor to the opposite wall. There she didn’t find a cave, which would have been ideal, but there was an outcropping large enough that the floor underneath was bare despite all of the snow outside.
She ran back down to where Dashtek was lying. He was now nearly covered in snow. She grabbed him by the back of his coat, the bag still slung over his shoulder, and carried him as a mother carries a cub up the mountain. As careful as she tried to be, it was pretty evident that Dashtek was not cub-sized. The journey up the slope ripped his cloak, scraped his legs, and sucked the energy from her quickly. She did not even care that some of their jerky had fallen out to be buried by the snow. By the time she got him on bare ground she was exhausted—tired enough that she didn’t think to mind the cold of his nearly frozen body pressed against her fur. She was too tired to evaluate whether her plan to keep him warm would work; too tired to do anything but close her eyes and hope that her body heat was enough to keep him alive.
About The Illustrator
Liz Erickson has always enjoyed using her talents to create. Those who know her will not be surprised that she took on the project of drawing the illustrations for this work. Liz worked with ease to adapt her style and provide the author with the specifically desired drawings for this book adjusting quickly from her experience in fashion and painting.
It seems safe to predict that this will not be the last time Liz’s name appears as the illustrator of a printed work. She is just as much a magician with her talents as Alamus with his wand.