Artwork by Nici Bueckert.
Please visit the Sinner Page to read the story in sequence.
Sinner stopped climbing momentarily and wiped the sweat from his brow. Although the air at this elevation was cooler than in the lowlands, he was still working up a sweat climbing the steep trail that led up to the ridge.
True to her word, Kara had not exaggerated when she said that she knew these mountains. She had led them over ridge and through the first valley into the mountains a day ago. While Tinker had been through the mountains before, it had been a long time and he deferred to Kara. She was their guide now.
The Great Barrier Mountains stretched the entire length of Sinland’s eastern border. Its jagged, highest peaks remained snow covered year round. Its life-giving rivers and streams cut down through the foothills and meandered through the vast plains that comprised most of Sinland. Truly, a formidable wall o f rock, Sinner thought, but not impassable as the name suggested.
The mountain range did not receive its name so much because it was impenetrable, but more so because of the legends that surrounded it. From an early age, the children of Sinland were warned about the eastern border of Sinland—The Great Barrier Mountains. The gods had placed the mountains there not to hem in the people of Sinland, but to protect them from the dangers on the other side. Stories abounded of monsters that roamed the mountains, eager to devour any Sinners foolish enough to enter. There were also stories of evil sorceries and strange happenings that could not be explained.
Sinner shivered involuntarily as he thought about all the stories he had heard about the mountains. He had never given much credence to the stories before, but if the Tier’n were real, what else might be lurking out there? He shrugged off the thought as he crested the ridge and joined his companions already there.
The panoramic scene that unfolded before him was simply majestic to behold. Although, they were nowhere near to being on one of the tallest ridges, they were in fact on one of the lowest ones, the view was breathtaking. Sinner had never seen anything like it. As far as the eye could see were mountains and more mountains. The snow capped peaks were further into the range. A lush, forested valley lay spread out directly before them with a river running through it. From his vantage point, it looked like a ribbon of blue laid on top of a green carpet.
“It’s beautiful,” said Sinner.
“That it is,” said Tinker, as he leaned on his rune staff.
A gust of cool air buffeted Sinner causing him to shiver and clutch his cloak tightly about himself. His sweat drench clothing suddenly felt very cold against his skin.
“It is beautiful,” said Kara, “but in the midst of beauty lurks danger. We must be wary. The tales of the mountains are not all fables.”
“So it is with life,” added Rayn. “The twin companions of beauty and danger are often found to be inseparable.”
“As are joy and sorrow,” Kara said, as she started to make her down into the valley.
Sinner glanced at the wide expanse of blue sky overhead. A hawk soared the currents high above, and, briefly, Sinner wondered what it would be like to fly free as a bird. Then he followed his companions.
Later in the day, they entered the forested valley. Kara led them to a small clearing beside a bubbling mountain stream. At the sight of the fresh water, they all rushed over and gorged themselves. The water was cold and refreshing. They decided to make camp early as Tinker complained about his old, aching muscles. There had been no sign of pursuit, and Tinker figured that perhaps they would be left alone after all because they had headed into the mountains and not remained in Sinland.
Wolf disappeared into the forest while Tinker and Rayn busied themselves setting up camp. Kara settled down on a large rock beside the stream. Sinner joined her, knelt down, and thrust his water skin into the flow of the stream. The water was cold as it flowed over his hand.
He felt sorry for the girl as she sat there staring blankly ahead. She had lost her uncle, the only family she had as far as he knew. Now, she was forced to lead a group of strangers away from monsters that would destroy them if given the chance. There had been no opportunity for them to retrieve her uncle’s body so that she could properly lay him to rest. He realized he was staring at her, but he found himself unable to turn away.
She turned her head, looked at him, and smiled weakly. “I think your water skin is full.”
A sudden flash of heat filled his face. “What…er…Oh, of course.” He jerked the water skin out of the stream and excused himself as he stumbled to his feet. A tingling sensation filled his hand, leading him to wonder just how long he had been staring at Kara with his hand in the icy water.
Sinner stifled another yawn as he tried to keep his eyes open later that night. Tinker had already fallen asleep. His form lay on the other side of the fire. The fire blazed warmth into Sinner’s body. Kara and Rayn were talking about the way to her cabin, but the discussion was a distant hum in his mind, blending with the nightly buzz of insects. He lay down on his side. Fleeting thoughts of bedrolls and pillows crossed his mind as he drifted off to sleep.
Something nudged his shoulder. Another nudge, more persistent this time. Sinner opened his groggy, sleep-filled eyes. A shadow loomed over him. “Wake up! Something’s wrong,” it whispered urgently.
Sinner recognized that voice. “Rayn?”
Slowly, Sinner rolled into a sitting position, reaching for his staff.
“Something is out there,” the shadow that was Rayn said as he retreated from Sinner’s side.
The others were already up. Tinker fed some more wood onto the fire, his rune staff at his side. Kara held one of her axes in her lap. She looked nervous.
“What is it?” asked Sinner, as he rubbed the residual sleep from his eyes.
Rayn looked up from where he had started stringing his bow. “I don’t know, but there’s more than one, and they have Wolf on edge.” He indicated the wolf prowling the edge of the light cast by the fire. A low growl emanated from his throat.
To be continued…
© Peter Wiebe 2013