(Into the Abyss)
“These two maps will see you to the base of the mountain. I believe the terrain is still the same as when these maps were made. Gunderbad’s been quiet for over two centuries.” Algar had done extensive research and was pleased with the progress he’d made. “This one shows the best circuit up the southeastern slope and I’ve taken the liberty to draw this one up from the information I gleaned from several tomes on the Voldsom Mountains. See here. This is where I believe you will find the Wyvern graveyard, or at least hereabouts. There was one scroll, unnamed, that I found quite by accident. It had what I’d at first taken for just an ink splotch. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was a crude attempt by a poor artist to draw a wyvern. If I’m correct, the graveyard should be somewhere in this area. I’m sorry I can’t be more specific. This is undeniably a large area to have to search, but it’s the best I could do.”
Arnaald was in awe. “You apologize? Ha! Why, this should lead to within miles of where we want to be…more or less. We may have taken off with nothing but a general direction if not for your efforts.” The wizard rolled up the maps and stashed them in his valise. “You’re a wonder, old elf. There’s no doubt of it.”
Everyone was fed and ready to be off. Spirits were high generally speaking. They were well provisioned and armed and they were getting an early start. Garr was certain the search for the Torque of Asgaard was of essential importance since he was convinced that the dream he’d had and his father’s part in it were portentous. Not knowing what the torque did if anything, or its part in the future of Norgeve and its inhabitants, was weighing on Garr because there were so many unanswered questions. In the courtyard they made last minute adjustments and prepared to leave.
“Share your thoughts, lad?” Briar had been watching Garr and noticed that he seemed distracted.
“Hmm?” Garr was snapped out of his reverie. “Oh sure. After we get on the trail. It’ll make for good travel-talk. Right now I’m not at all sure myself and I’m itching to be off. Come.” They gathered up the last few items, secured their packs, mounted up and were off. As the party waited for the portcullis to be raised and the drawbridge lowered, Garr felt his hackles raise. Something was wrong but he could not discover what it was.
The party was fifteenn in number. They were Garr, Arnaald, Briar, Tykk, Helmut, Bromar, Dolf and Smuntley. Juliex of Drakedahl had offered the members of his entourage, saying they were ‘stout lads who were well versed in dragon and wyvern lore and all were excellent trackers and hunters. They were Edvard, Hornn, Trevor, Skell, Snori and Stern.
Now as they crossed the drawbridge, which spanned a yawning chasm some six hundred feet deep in places, a chill wind swept down from the heights. Just as Hornn had cleared the arched portal a huge raven swooped down panicking his piebald mare. The animal reared up, twisted and lost its footing. There was a low guard wall at the edge of the deck, but since the horse was standing, it simply caught her at the knees and threw her off balance. Bromar, who was nearest to the man and horse, grabbed desperately for the reigns but the mare pulled violently and the reigns ripped free. One moment man and horse were struggling for control, the next they were over the edge and into the abyss.
Juliex screamed, “Hornn!” But it was too late and he knew it. His friend was gone in an instant without so much as a scream or any other sound. All that was heard was the wailing of the mountain winds. Arnaald, Briar and Juliex dismounted as one and ran to the edge of the drawbridge but the depths were so deep and dark that nothing could be seen of man or beast. Soon they were joined at the edge by the rest of the party. For many long moments, all were speechless. Finally Arnaald broke the silence. “An ill omen indeed”.
Kettil, one of the men from Flodeby had been working near the portcullis and had seen the disaster take place. Now he stood next to Juliex and squeezed his shoulder. “Go, sir. Your mission is paramount. We’ll retrieve the lad and send him off as befits a warrior.” Juliex nodded his thanks but could not seem to voice it. After what seemed like eons of stunned silence, the horrified troupe remounted and followed the wending trail out of the keep and into the countryside, despondent.
From high on a ridge the scenario played out under thirteen watchful pairs of dead eyes.
For mile after mile of riding, no one broke the forlorn silence. There was an unspoken realization that no words could be spoken that would aid the situation or provide comfort. What had happened was irreversible and that reality made the vocalization of it anathema.
The group was now well into the mountains and the road was a distant memory. By sticking to arroyos and glens they were able to make good time, but all knew that these were simply nature’s convenient byways and would not continue to lead where they needed to go. Garr had let it be known that he possessed a way-finder and so they often checked their heading. Now they were faced with the decision of making their way up the embankment of a steep hill topped with a dense pine forest and scree-strewn slopes.
They were presently dismounted and gathered about Garr, Briar and Arnaald.
Briar scanned the grade. “I’m still pretty familiar with this area though it’s been quite a while since I’ve been up this way. If memory serves, and I seem to be born out by the map, we would save a day and a half, perhaps two, by going straight over this tor.”
Garr was anxious to be moving again. He was still haunted by a feeling of impending doom and couldn’t place exactly why. Certainly the fate of poor Hornn was still on everyone’s mind, but Garr had experienced the prickly sensation of premonition before that had even occurred. “Well, let’s take the short route. We’re burning daylight. Let’s be off then.”
Briar laid a staying hand upon Garr’s shoulder. “Not so fast, lad.” He turned to the rest of the troupe. “I’d say up and over is the right path for us. However, it will lead us into the woods up top. There’ll be loose ground aplenty on the way up. Be careful. Once into the woods, field of view will be severely limited and there’s a cliff on the eastern slope. I believe that is what is indicated by these hash marks on the map. Before we get started everyone, I want you to affix your bridle blinders. If a horse gets spooked, it could bolt and by the time you regain control you may well be slipping on scree, pine needles and leaves toward that drop. I don’t want a repeat of this morning’s unfortunate accident. Is that understood?” Everyone agreed and went about making ready.
Arnaald had been watching Garr closely and noticed that he seemed uncharacteristically edgy. To Briar, in a hushed voice he said, “The lad’s tense. I’ve been feeling something’s amiss myself. Can’t quite put my finger on it and I don’t have time right now to do any proper scrying.”
Briar finished rolling up the maps and handed them back to the wizard. “Well, keep your ears pricked. This county’s treacherous enough in normal times without trulls and who knows what-all running about. Can’t help wishing we had the dragon with us.”
“Aye”, said Arnaald. “But I think he’d kind of ruin any chances of stealth. No, I think, his professional courtesy aside, he was simply not meant to be here.”
“Hm…we’ll see.” Said Briar. After making the necessary preparations, the party was off again, tacking up the hillside.
The miscreant raven that had caused the demise of Hornn and his mare, was now back at his perch upon the shoulder of Inzveer. He’d received a reward of putrefied flesh and praise from the draug. “Ahhh, my Loki. Sssuch a sssmart and dangerousss ally”, Inzveer kicked his ormhest into action and picked his way carefully down the steep slope in pursuit of the Fjellhiem party. He knew now that Garr was among them and it would be only a matter of time before he and his fellows could ambush the group and hopefully capture this Guntarsen whelp alive for his master. “Come!” he commanded and the others followed instinctively.