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The Frozen North – A Song on the Wind

  “Oi gots an idea!”  Loki shouted before rummaging over the deck for a spare anchor.  “Throw this overboard and see if it breaks through!”

  “Using the anchor would be a good idea,” Book replied tactfully as she and others moved between Loki and the edge.  “As long as we lower it on a rope slowly.”  Bookworm directed Loki to join her and soon the group lowered the anchor to rest on the ice below.  Before Loki could celebrate prematurely, Book reminded them, “We still do not know if adults will be able to cross, or if there are any patches of thin ice between us and shore.  We need a volunteer.”

   “Reckon I should be the one, seein’ as I’m the lightest.” Tepic grinned as he hopped on the railing to look overboard.  He might be the first Babbage urchin to say they walked on a foreign ocean.

   Bookworm considered the excited boy for a few moments before she shook her head, “No Tepic, I think our volunteer should be Beryl.”

 “What?”  Beryl and Tepic were both dismayed by this sudden turn with simultaneous cries of, “Why me?/Why Beryl!”

  “Beryl moves on all fours, so they distribute their weight better,” Bookworm explained hoping her explanations would appease everyone.  “They will be a better judge if the adults can pass safely.”  With a small grin she added, “But most importantly, they didn’t help pack last night so now they have to see if this is safe for everyone else.”  

  Beryl winced at her pronouncement but accepted they had been drafted.  They removed their snow boots and were lowered to the frost below.  For a few moments they skittered nervously, but instead of breaking through the ice felt solid beneath their paws.  Almost secure enough for ice fishing.   They moved forward cautiously and called for the others to join them.  

  The expedition began crossing tentatively in case they encountered a patch of thin ice along the journey.  Tepic and Beryl traveled ahead scouting safe paths using a long stick to test several feet ahead of them.  Loki, Mariah, and Bookworm were next in line followed by Yang and Mr. Wright, who was pulling Tepic’s sled with over half of their supplies.  Losing the sled would be a terrible loss, but better than someone falling through because they carried too much.  

  About halfway, Beryl stopped Tepic and the boy tested the ice in front of them.  After a moment they chose another route.  The others followed, but as Yang passed he paused to examine the patch the two had avoided.  He did not see anything at first, but as he stared he could hear a soft music on the wind.  Suddenly he noticed a woman beneath the surface, a preserved corpse with closed eyes.  He let out a startled cry and turned to Mr. Wright, who stared at him in confusion.  “There’s…there’s a woman down there.”

  Mr. Wright looked over to the patch for a moment and then shook his head, “You must have sleep in your eyes Mr. Moreau.  Ain’t nothing there.”

 Yang turned back to point out the frozen form, but it had vanished leaving only a patch of ice.  Embarrassed at his brief moment of whimsy, Yang put his hat down and followed the team.  Mr. Wright examined the patch himself before following.

  When the shore was less than a few feet away, Tepic took his last few steps at a satisfied run, jumping onto the snow along the shore with a triumphant shout.  He was not the first urchin on the ice, but he had reached shore first.  The others joined him on the other side safely.  

  “I want to thank both of you for leading us safely,”  Bookworm grinned at Beryl’s sullen face.  Crossing that much frozen water had made them uncomfortable.  Loki also looked incredibly relieved to reach solid ground.  Wright unloaded Tepic’s sled of the excess weight and passed everyone their packs.  Though the sled could carry more supplies Tepic wanted to pull it himself.  Mariah and Book had insisted that he not overburden himself when he offered the sled for everyone’s use.

  “Where exactly are we goin’?” Loki asked as he put on his shoulder pack.  

  “We will be heading for Wuldram Shores, following Mr. Wright’s lead.  We should find the town if we keep the Gulf in sight and find Avariel along the path, but if not we can organize a proper search party from there.”

  Wright took point and looked over the team, “We move during daylight hours so we can see our footing.  We don’t want to slip on ice or scree that we would have noticed in daylight.  We stop an hour or more before sundown to set camp and ready a fire.  We do not camp out in the open and we set watches for predators.  We don’t know what took Avariel but if you follow me I’ll get us back to New Babbage safe.”

  Loki let out a heartened cheer at this promise, though the others just nodded.  Wright studied the path and started them up the mountain along what may have been a trail. It was difficult to know with the thick layer of snow covering the ground.

  Wright tested each step making sure that it was safe before gesturing for everyone to follow.  He was often forced to double back after encountering treacherous terrain deceptively shrouded by the white powder.  They passed evergreens, barren trees, and stumps from trees that had exploded from the cold or cut down, but no animals.  

   The absence of life was noted by the group who topped the first ridge within two hours.  Wright took a moment to plan their journey down.  He spotted a copse of fir trees in the distance which would make a decent landmark to stop for a light lunch.

 “Anyone else hearin’ a lass singin’?” Tepic asked the group, to which many of them nodded in agreement.

 “It’s just the wind blowing through the mountains.”  Wright said dismissively, though his hand still drifted near one of his firearms. “Keep your wits sharp, eyes open, and follow me.”

  Tepic regaled Loki and Beryl about their newest experiences and the stories they would tell when they returned home.  Mariah followed Wright’s lead without question, making Bookworm wonder if she was starting to trust their compatriot.  Yang often fell back, as if something weighed on his mind and he forgot to keep walking.  The group had called him back to his senses twice.  They arrived at the copse tired and in need of the lunch they had been promised.  To their surprise there was a cabin hidden under the trees.  

  Wright turned to the group, “Well, I reckon a table might do better than a tarp, but might be they don’t want visitors so don’t get your hopes high.”

 “We should be careful,” Yang began, but Loki had already moved ahead to knock on the door which was unlocked.  A wave of warmth emanated from the building where a woman’s voice politely called out to her visitors, “Hello weary ones.  Welcome to my home.

  “Oi, much appreciated ma’am!”  Loki entered the cabin and the rest followed after them, some enticed by the warmth and others out of concern for Loki.  Beryl and Yang hesitated near the border of the trees the longest before entering after the others. 

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