Beck led Olwyan on a wide loop back to the road. The snow came up her knees in places and twice she had to talk Beck into stopping. Her body ached with the bruises from the fight and the cold, but it was her broken wrist that hurt the most. Both times they stopped, Beck suggested she rest her arm in the snow and pile more on top. The first time she refused, but the second time she agreed and found the freezing snow give some relief. Kneeling on the floor, her arm and hand wrapped in snow, Olwyan looked up at Beck through the falling snow and studied him. From all the stories she had heard about elves, she wondered about what he could do. Clearly, he was not magical and he seemed more like a hunter than anything else. Breathing deeply, she pulled her arm out of the snow.
They walked on in silence, listening to the sounds of the winter forest. The strong wind blow heavy flakes around them whilst rattling the tree branches together like bone dice in a cup. Sometimes icicles chimed in or else fell with a muffled thud in the deep snow. Olwyan heard a touch of bird song in some places, the distance cries of the forest demons in others and low growls that could have been wolves or something else.
‘We’re not far from the road again now,’ Beck said.
Olwyan rubbed her wrist, which she held pressed to her chest and looked around.
They went through some thinning and smaller trees then the slope up to the road was before them. Beck helped Olwyan up and they stood on untouched snow. She could not see very far in the small blizzard and left Beck to paw around for tracks. Stepping off to the side, she buried her wrist in the snow again.
‘This part of the road does not seem any different. Are you sure we did not double back on ourselves?’ Olwyan called.
‘Trust me,’ Beck responded over his shoulder, ‘we haven’t been here before.’
Olwyan bit her lip and watched him. A few moments later he came back to her and helped her up.
‘It doesn’t look like Nightstorm and the forest ogre have been here. We shall have to walk back.’
‘It cannot be much further to Erwood. Could not you come back for him? I really need a healer and a hot bath and some food,’ Olwyan added.
Beck looked carefully forward down the road then back along it, ‘no.’
‘He is only a horse. I am sure he’ll be fine.’
‘Nightstorm is more than that,’ Beck stated, ‘and with this snow he won’t make it.’
Olwyan sighed, the breath misted before her, ‘Maybe he will. Please, Beck. I do not want to be in this forest anymore.’
Beck huffed, his hand going to the top of his great sword, ‘I didn’t leave you behind, did I?’
‘I…You could not,’ Olwyan stammered.
‘I could have easily,’ he snapped, ‘go to Erwood if you want. I’m going to find my friend.’
Beck turned and marched off down the road, hand still on the pommel of his sword.
Olwyan glanced around and shivered. She pulled her cloak tighter and felt tears welling in her eyes. She looked down the road and wiped them away before turning back again. Beck’s figure was fast disappearing.
‘Wait!’ she shouted then hurried after him.
Her feet sank into the snow and she struggled to run. The movement made spikes of pain shoot through her wrist. The last of her tears ran down her cheeks and snowflakes melted on top of them. She stumbled, failed to save herself and slammed into Beck’s back. He spun and caught her, wrapping his arms around her waist to keep her up.
‘I’m sorry,’ she babbled, ‘it’s just after everything…’
‘I understand,’ Beck replied and pulled her up into a hug, ‘I really wouldn’t have left you.’
Olwyan nodded her head into his shoulder as her arms wrapped around him. Her fingers brushed against the quiver resting against his back.
‘And we cannot leave him.’
Beck lifted her chin and wiped her face gently.
Olwyan dropped her arms and moved out of the hug. Her wrist was throbbing. She rubbed it and thought she felt the broken bone moving. Beck rubbed her shoulder then stepped off into the trees. He came back with some short branches and dropping them at her feet, pulled up the layers of top clothing he was wearing.
Olwyan looked away then back again as she heard a ripping sound. Beck was tearing strips of his undershirt off with a dagger. She frowned and wondered where he had been hiding that blade. The strips fell on top of the branches then Beck made a splint and wrapped her wrist up.
‘Thank you,’ she muttered.
‘It should help,’ Beck replied, ‘let’s go.’
They got back to walking and the snowfall seemed to let up for a few minutes, giving them a clearer view. Olwyan peered through the trees, but could not see anything. She trailed behind Beck, unable to keep his pace. An hour later, Beck stopped and even through the snow had started again, Olwyan could see what he was looking at. Before them on the left side of the road something large had ploughed through the snow going down the slope. Beck went over and crouched down inspecting the disturbed snow carefully. Olwyan lingered beside him.
‘I can’t be sure, but this looks like a horse. There’s dried blood spots here too,’ Beck spoke.
He stood and looked between the trees. The snow had fast filled in the trail the animal had left behind.
‘It’s getting dark,’ Olwyan whispered.
‘Wait here and I shall follow the trail.’
She looked into the forest then back at him.
‘It’ll be faster and you can rest up. Here,’ Beck said and gave her his short sword again, ‘take my cloak too and the bow and arrows.’
Olwyan tucked the sword under her arm and let him wrapped his cloak around her. He left the long bow and quiver at her feet.
‘I won’t be long. Scream if anything happens.’
She nodded then watched him disappear into the trees. For a few minutes, she stood and looked around then picking up the bow and quiver went to a nearby tree and lent against it. She watched snow falling against the already covered tree branches opposite her and tumbling to the ground. Finally she gave into her tried limbs and sat down, wrapping Beck’s cloak tighter around herself, though the coldness still seeped through. She shut her eyes and huddled over, thinking warmer thoughts.
Beck moved through the trees swiftly, snow crunching under him and sinking. Every so often, he would stop and look for the trail. The fresh waves of snow were burying it all too fast and he was painfully aware that he had to find Nightstorm but not leave Olwyan for so long. His burning, frozen fingers moved the top layer of snow and looked for hoof prints and blood drops.
Luckily, the trail went in a straight line between the trees and he was able to catch up to the animal. He peered through the trees and saw a large black warhorse kicking snow and ice from a stream before him.
The horse’s ears twitched back then the head swung to face him.
Beck darted over and grabbed the bridle. His other hand stroking the long neck and patting the horse. Nightstorm whinnied and brushed his check against Beck. In response, Beck buried his face in the warhorse’s neck and breathed in the smell of sweat.
Letting go, Beck checked him and saw there was a few scratches and bite marks from the forest demons, but nothing more. Seeing that his packs were still secure, Beck drew his great sword and hacked through the iced over stream. Water bubbled up and spilled out. Nightstorm lowered his head and drink. Beck joined him then led him back to the road.
Olwyan raised her head at the sound of movement coming from behind her. Slowly, she tightened her numb fingers around the short sword. Peering out from the hood, she saw Beck coming through the trees with Nightstorm. She stood and went over.
‘He is fine,’ Beck said.
Olwyan pressed her head into Nightstorm’s shoulder and stroked his soft damp coat.
‘We need to make for the next outpost now,’ Beck cut in.
‘How far is it?’
‘Two, three hours perhaps, maybe more, but it is closer than Erwood.’
Olwyan nodded and went to give his cloak back to him. Beck first went to get his bow and arrows, then having sorted everything out, headed back to the road. They walked for a few minutes then Beck helped Olwyan on to Nightstorm’s back and led them to the tower.
She was not sure how much time had passed when they arrived, but the sky was almost black above them. Beck helped her stiff body down from Nightstorm then drew the lantern and a fresh candle. Olwyan watched him light it then hold it out to her. Taking the lantern, she went to the doorway and looked in.
‘There’s snow in here,’ she said.
Beck came to her side and peered in. The tower looked identical to the last one, only the front door was missing and snow had gathered in the ground floor room, almost reaching the first step of the spiral staircase.
‘It’s better than out here,’ Beck said and gently pushed her in.
Olwyan walked forward and heard him leading Nightstorm in. She shone the light on the wet walls and thought she saw patches of dark stains. She turned back and held the lantern so Beck could take Nightstorm’s tack off and gather the things they needed.
To Be Continued…