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The Lichenwold Crossing (Part 7 of 8)   1521.01.10  
Creators: Layla Lawlor (Writer)
The Lichenwold travelers are growing desperate - they are dangerously low on supplies, and interpersonal tensions have driven them apart when they need each other most.
Posted: 10/07/13      [1 Comment] ~ 1030 words.

When Birka woke in the dull gray light of another cloudy morning, Anler had vanished. Tiren was crouched on the other side of the fire, mending part of Bluebell's harness.

"He took Grayfeathers to scout ahead," Tiren said in response to her questioning look, and nodded toward the fire. "There's tea."

It was blackberry tea, not her favorite, and it was lukewarm. But it was, at least, tea, and the addition of a generous dose of milk helped somewhat. "By himself?" she grumbled, getting dressed under her sleeping furs for the sake of warmth. She'd reached that unpleasant part of long-distance travel where every item of clothing she owned was equally sticky. "That's not wise."

"I tried to stop him, but I think he needed some time alone." Tiren looked up at her, over the low flickering fire, and Birka realized to her surprise that he was angry. She'd seen Tiren's anger aimed elsewhere, most particularly at Fala, but she'd never had it turned on her before.

And it put her hackles up. "What's eating you?" she demanded, pushing her furs back and clambering out of them. "Don't tell me it's Anler, because I believe I remember you telling me that we should work out things on our own."

"That's before I had to calm him down after you upset him."

"I upset him?"

Tiren laid aside his mending and leaned forward. "You've been flaunting that empty bead-space at him for days, and then when he did get up the stomach to ask, you turned him down."

Birka stared at him in disbelief, mouth open. "Flaunting my bead-space? Are you even listening to yourself? You sound like the old domestics when they've had too many cups of Neri's best recipe! Tiren, this isn't like you."

"Maybe I've had just about enough of young rangers and their bead troubles," Tiren snapped, and he stomped off towards the snowies. Apparently she wasn't the only one whose temper was worn to a nub.

"I really do not believe this," Birka informed the air in general, and then, since it seemed that they weren't going anywhere for a while, stirred up the fire to make some decent tea. It gave her something to do other than stuffing both her male companions into a snowbank.

Anler came riding back around midday to report that he'd found a navigable slope to the west. They packed up camp with a stiff sort of formality that was very unlike their usual easy rapport. Birka found herself avoiding the eyes of both her companions.


Anler noticed that Birka and Tiren seemed to be fighting now. He sighed. It was probably his fault; he knew how Tiren could get. Tiren still hadn't forgiven Fala for her fight with Dareg, and Anler hated the idea of instigating another long-lasting quarrel in his little group of friends. There was a part of him that had fully expected Tiren to take Birka's side -- he'd been of half a mind that she was holding onto that open bead space for Tiren's sake -- but now that Tiren seemed to have come down firmly on Anler's side, he just felt sorry and sad. Birka was right, it hadn't been a good time to bring it up. On the other hand, she'd been sending clear signals -- at least he thought so. She ought to be the one to apologize.

So they rode onward in grim silence. The slope Anler had found started out well enough, but soon disintegrated in a rubble field at the base of another cliff. They were high enough now to be wary of Others. Thin, glittering streams flowed across the sky, visible through the clouds. None showed signs of coming near to ground at the moment, but with the cliffs on one side and a steep drop-off into the valley on the other, there weren't many options for escape if they needed it. Making things even worse, they had ridden into the low-lying clouds. Wisps of mist clung to the cliffsides, and they could see little above or below them. They rode through a silent, soft gray world.

Tiren rode near enough to the cliff that he could lean out and touch it, prodding it with a gloved thumb. "Do you notice how this isn't completely overgrown? I think the plants are different here. There's still a lot of lichen, but it isn't quite so overwhelming."

"We're coming out of it," Birka breathed, and then, looking up at the cliff above them, amended, "If we can find a way through these mountains. We know there's a pass; the maps said so. We only have to find it."

They continued to explore the cliffs, keeping a cautious eye on the Others and an equally cautious eye on the frosted plant life for the frozen remains of border chicory. It began to snow, small sandy flakes sifting down and collecting on snowy fur and parka ruffs.

If only the clouds would lift, Anler thought. It seemed that the weather reflected everyone's mood: somber and gray. They were going to have to cut the snowies' rations soon, and the animals' health was precarious enough as it was.

The snow picked up and so did the wind. It was only afternoon, but the dense clouds made it so dark that it might have been dusk. Anler hoped they weren't in for another storm. Every delay made their situation worse.

"We might want to head downhill," Tiren said. Anler looked up and saw that the shifting strands of Others were noticeably lower than they had been. None posed a direct threat -- yet -- but this high in the mountains, a smart ranger never grew complacent.

Between the worsening weather and the Others, they began to descend at what Anler later realized was an unwise pace. It didn't feel like it, though. They had all spent plenty of time riding in hill country, and none of them were reckless enough to push their snowies' safe travel speed. But this was unfamiliar hill country with very uncertain footing, and he didn't realize he was riding into trouble until he was already in the middle of it.

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