Kyle slept, and dreamed. He dreamed dark dreams of blood and steel and fire. Dreams of death, and ashes.
But he woke slowly, and as the dreams faded their details melted like fog, and he could no longer remember them. His nightmares were replaced by reality, and that was almost more frightening than the dreams.
He sat up slowly, the soreness in his muscles a reminder of yesterday, of running for his life. He groaned, and looked around. Dim light was filtering through roots that made up the entrance of the cave, morning light. Pocahontas was sitting with her back against the wall a few feet away. As far away as she could, actually. It was a small cave.
“Good dawn,” she said. Another one of her weird phases. English, yes, just not quite right. Another world. He shivered.
“Good morning,” he croaked, and she tilted her head to the side. That must sound as strange to her as what she said does to me. Oh well.
She tossed the water jug to him. It was almost empty, so he only took a sip.
“Finish it,” she said. “We have another long walk ahead of us today, and it will do more good in your stomach.”
Hopefully it would be at a little slower pace this time or he might not survive. He swallowed the water.
He set down the jug, and started brushing sand off his shirt. It had actually been rather comfortable, considering. “Hey,” he said, “last night you said you thought I was from the ‘south’, but I never asked about it. Where are we?”
“Oh, I forgot that you don’t know,” she said. “Of course you don’t know. We are in one of the northern most areas of civilized habitation. It is only about a fortnight’s walk north of here to the Icewall Mountains, and beyond them is the White Waste, where the snow doesn’t melt, even in the summer. No one human lives there, that I know of, and only a few go hunting there in the summer.”
“Wow. Okay, it certainly doesn’t feel that cold. It’s about the same as it was in the foothills of the Smokies, in October. I mean, it’s not warm, and I’m glad I have my hiking clothes, but it doesn’t feel like the ‘Frigid North’.” He wiggled his fingers in air-quotes.
“Midsummer was two days ago. This is as warm as it gets here. I don’t know where your October is, but you are fortunate that you came here in the summer. In the winter you would have already frozen to death in those clothes.”
“God, it feels like everything in this world wants to kill me. Orcs, rocks, the freakin’ ground falling out, and now I avoided freezing to death by being lucky enough to be wearing under-armor. Wonderful.”
She smiled. “Well, I don’t want to kill you. Yet.”
“Gee, thanks. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that if I am in another world that it could be a different time of year. And October is a month, by the way. In the Fall. The Smoky Mountains are where I was hiking.”
“Interesting. There is a Smoky Mountains here as well. They are far to the South and East of here, and are rather smaller than Icewall Mountains. My Uncle told me that they were so named because the morning fog never seems to go away. I wonder if yours are named for the same reason.”
“I don’t know. It makes sense, though.”
“You will have to tell me more of this October the Month, but first…” she tossed him the small bag she had unburied last night. “Cheese, and smoked venison, and bread. Well, hardtack, which is like bread but has the potential to break your teeth. And lasts forever, which is the primary reason for it. None of it is particularly tasty, but it will fill our stomachs, and there is enough there for a few days.”
She started crawling toward the entrance. “Now, enough sitting. If we move quickly, we should be able to make it to my uncle’s cottage almost before sunset. But we will have to eat while we walk.”
Kyle grabbed the bag, and his sword – his sword. It still sounded strange.
He crawled out of the cave after her.
The sun had just risen, and the light was still soft as it filtered though the huge trees. They seemed like some kind of pine or cyprus, but he wasn’t sure. It was beautiful. He looked around for a moment, entranced. Llara had already started walking, and after a moment, he followed her.
“They certainly are majestic, aren’t they,” she said, looking back at him.
“They’re beautiful. What are they called?”
“The darrow tree. They are, all of them, much older than us. Some of them were probably alive at the fall of the Empire.
“Now,” she said, “we need to be fairly quiet, but tell me more about this October the Month.”
He smiled, and told her.