Greyn’s dogs whined and strained at their harnesses, scrambling to dig their claws into the ice as they pulled the sled up the eastern slope of the Laskyn Valley toward the icefield. He hated pushing his sled from behind, leaning into it with all his weight, often slipping, and always getting hot and sweaty inside his furs. He already regretted giving in to Tardra about coming up here. It could cost them dearly. But Tardra wouldn’t take this kind of risk without good reason. He was a fool, but he wasn’t stupid.
They hadn’t come up the eastern slope for years. There was no reason. All the hot spring valleys were to the west. Only desolate ice lay out this way. But Tardra’s agitation about what he had found out here was infectious. Greyn was curious. Tardra couldn’t tell him what it was, not because he was being his usual irritating self, but because he actually had no idea. He insisted it was important, but, how important, only the spirits knew. Tardra was easily excited.
Greyn peeked up from under his fur lined hood and a gust of wind whipped tiny ice crystals into his face. He shut his eyes.
Lately, he had been swearing more and more, and for any small reason. He couldn’t stop himself. He would swear at the wind and the sun and at other people and even inanimate objects if they got in his way. Now it was about his stinging eyes and burning cheeks. Even with a full beard, he envied his dogs their fur-covered faces.
Tardra’s sled was just reaching the top ahead of him. The dogs chuffed clouds of white breath into the crisp morning air. Greyn was glad he had left Caro behind. Her injured foot and tail wouldn’t have survived this abuse.
Finally, they reached flat ice. Greyn cracked his whip above his dogs’ heads forcing them ahead of Tardra’s who were were already lying down. He didn’t need any fighting today.
His dogs resting, Greyn walked back to Tardra who was standing there grinning at him. It was times like these he enjoyed imagining punching Tardra’s teeth out. He looked down into the Laskyn Valley from where they had come. White steam billowed up from the hot springs below, warm and inviting. He felt like going home and submerging himself. Something was weighing on him, depressing him, but he didn’t know what it was. Just a heaviness, like the cloud mass that covered the sky today.
“What the hell do you want me to see out here?” said Greyn.
Tardra just smiled, and nodded out toward the northeast.
Greyn scanned the icefield. There were no trails in the snow on this side of the Laskyn Valley, just gray ice merging with gray cloud and a dark band all around the horizon. He knew what was out there. Nothing but shiny black peaks jabbing into the sky, so steep that snow could not cling. No matter which way you went, you would inevitably reach those cold mountain cliffs. Even the gyrfalcons rejected them, preferring to build their nests on the warm walls of Silverthrone, the old volcano to the north.
“Just show me where the hell it is, and we can get on with our work,” he said.
“Look!” Tardra shouted, startling him. He was pointing to Silverthrone.
Greyn noticed a darker grazing of black in the sky over the volcano in the distance. It streaked out in a horizontal line over the mountains.
“She’s been smoking more lately,” Tardra said.
“I know that,” said Greyn. “Is that all you wanted to show me?”
“No, that’s over there.” Tardra pointed to an area just east of Silverthrone.
Greyn could see the gyrfalcons off in the distance, flying around, as if they were being disturbed by something. He had always envied them their wings. As a boy, he had wished he could fly over the mountains to see if there was anything out beyond them.
He noticed a faint trail to the northeast, just visible as a shadow in the snow.
Tardra rose up and down on his toes, unable to contain himself. Greyn couldn’t help smiling. Tardra had always had that effect on him. He never knew whether to love him or hate him. He was such a child, even at seventeen. It reminded him of when they had been novices together with Kern and Brag, and deer herding had been an adventure. Each new hot spring valley had been a discovery, as if no one had ever been there before. But that was over now. They had been to all the valleys hundreds of times. Kern was dead and Brag was fighting to keep his first child fed.
Greyn knew Tardra just wanted to impress him. He was one year younger and had always followed him as the leader. Sometimes he was glad of that, and sometimes he wished Tardra would take some of the burden of responsibility.
He felt a wave of exhaustion, and went over to lay a hand on Tardra’s shoulder. “Now let’s, get going. We’ll see your secret, and then we have to go back. We still have reindeer to move.”
They had left the herd in one of the smaller hot spring valleys two moons ago. They would be hungry now, would have eaten all the succulent willow shoots at the edge of the warm water and would be pawing at the snow, rooting for mosses and sedges. He hoped none of them had calved. They must be moved to another valley or they would starve.
“Yes, master,” Tardra bowed his head.
Greyn snapped and grabbed the front of Tardra’s parka. He was tired of Tardra comparing him to the Harrud king, even in jest.
Tardra’s eyes narrowed. The smile left his face.
Instantly Greyn was sorry for what he had done. Violence against a fellow Laskyn was madness. Maybe Tardra was right. Maybe he was becoming like one of the Harrudin.