Blog Tips, Advice and Blog Strategy – 2/25/16

A great post for all bloggers to think about.

Dream Big, Dream Often

I have decided to write today exclusively about content.  This post has been on my mind a lot lately mostly due to what I see and read week-to-week from other bloggers.

Each person blogs for their own reasons and every blogger has their own writing style.  I don’t really have any advice or tips on writing style; you either have it or you do not.  If you don’t possess this skills to produce a well-written post I would Google the topic and educate myself.  I will leave that to you.  What I want to discuss is more about content.

As I have stated in the past, content is the single most important aspect of blogging in my opinion.  You can have the greatest SEO strategy, the highest level of credentials and the best of intentions, but if people don’t like what you write they will not return.  And if…

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The Wolf Pack. Valley. The Wolves encounter the guardians of the Sword.

It’s the first Tuesday in the month again, and so it’s time for the next episode of The Wolf Pack. I hope you enjoy it.

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The valley was truly beautiful. It opened towards the east and the sunrise. It was densely wooded but with open glades between mature oak trees. The snow-capped mountains towered high above them to the north, west and south, but gradually fell away towards the east. Below them, spring was beginning to burst out. Trees were showing the first pale blush of green and there were spring flowers blooming. They wondered how long they had spent with the yeti.  They worked it out by the height of the sun that it must be the middle of Grildar at least.

‘Then I’m not a child any more,’ stated Thadora. ‘If it is the middle of Grildar, my birthday has gone. It was on Grildar 8. I’m sixteen!’

‘That should have been cause for a celebration, then,’ responded Basalt. ‘We must have a birthday party when we finish this quest.’

They slowly walked down the slope towards the woods, listening to the birds singing their songs in the trees and bushes until they entered the woodland. It seemed an almost magical place. The large oak trees spread their branches high towards the sun as though in welcome and all with the hint of new greenery. Beneath their feet, last autumn’s leaves crunched. The huge trees every now and then gave way to open glades where the sun’s rays filtered down making the place look almost magical. Then they stepped out of the forest to see a lake spread before them. It was steaming in the sunshine. Kimi wondered why that should be so.

Basalt explained to her. ‘This is volcanic country, Kimi. There is heat below the ground, which feeds the volcanoes. There are often hot springs nearby. I suspect this lake is one such, fed by a hot spring from below the volcano.’

They decided that they all needed to eat, and then to bathe, as it was a long time since they left Roffley and their last bath. Settling down by the lake, they ate the cold food that Grnff had given them before they parted. As they looked towards the lake, they saw strange birds flying in the sky.

‘What are they?’ Thadora asked the words that had been in everyone’s lips.

No one seemed to be able to say. Then one of the birds, followed by two or three of the others, dived into the lake. They expected to see them rise into the air shortly, probably grasping a fish or something, but to their surprise, they seemed to remain swimming in the water. Then Asphodel noticed something with her superior elven sight.

‘Strange birds, with four legs as well as wings,’ she said.

The others looked closer.

‘The wings look rather leathery, not like birds’ wings at all. They look like pictures I’ve seen of dragons in my father’s library. I used to like to look at his books on the animals and plants of Vimar when I was a child,’ said Randa.

‘You know, I think she’s right. They do look like dragons,’ responded Basalt. ‘Just our luck. I suppose we couldn’t have hoped for our good luck to continue,’ he grumbled.

‘Well, they’re a long way away. Maybe we’ll be able to avoid drawing their attention,’ said Asphodel. ‘We’ll have to be very wary. Anyway, they looked rather small. Maybe they’re just babies.’

‘Or maybe they only looked small through distance. Or maybe they are babies, but if so, their mother won’t be far away,’ groaned Basalt. ‘Well, at least I’ll end my days in pleasant surroundings in the company of friends.’

‘Don’t be so pessimistic, Bas,’ Kimi scolded him. ‘We may not see any more of them, and even if we do, if we’re careful, we may not alert their parents.

‘Always expect the worst, Kimi, lass,’ Basalt retorted. ‘Then when it doesn’t come to pass it’s a pleasant surprise.’

‘You don’t always go by that philosophy though, do you Basalt?’ Fero put in. ‘I’ve known you to be a happy sort of fellow at times.’

Basalt grunted in reply.

After they had eaten, the dragons seemed to have disappeared so they walked slowly and quietly down towards the water. They were looking for places where they could bathe in privacy, the men apart from the women. There was a small beach in front of them, and they were approaching it when Fero, who was ahead as usual, held up his hand and stopped. They drew along side of him and saw, sprawled on the beach and basking in the warm spring sunshine, a small iridescent shape. It was one of the baby dragons they had seen flying over the lake. It was about three feet long from the tip of its snout to the tip of its tail. Its wings were spread out to catch the maximum warmth and it was snoring gently. It had the horns of an adult dragon on its head, but they were rather smaller in comparison to its size. It did not seem to be a definite colour, but its scales shone with many colours in the sunlight. There it looked red, here blue, and then again green. Sometimes it seemed to be black. It was a truly beautiful creature.

‘The pictures of dragons in my father’s books were definite colours,’ puzzled Randa. ‘Not this iridescent mix. I think that the books said that there were blue dragons in the mountains.’

‘Yes, but p’rhaps th’ young’re different. P’rhaps th’ colours come later on, but dragon or not, it’s so-o beautiful,’ put in Thadora.

‘True enough. Many youngsters look different from their parents,’ responded Fero. ‘Think of frogs and toads to name but two. Dragons may be like that. Anyway it seems there are dragons around here after all.’

Asphodel then murmured in Elvish. ‘Dragons! Typical! How are we to fight dragons?’ Then she turned to the others. ‘That poem said there were guardians near the tomb, but didn’t specify what. Maybe the guardians are dragons.’

The sleeping creature suddenly leaped up. It looked around itself, saw the friends and made some sounds.

Asphodel looked surprised. ‘That sounds like a form of elvish!’ she said. It sounded as though it said, “Dragons? Where? I’ll sort them out for you.”

The Wolves looked at one another.

Asphodel replied, in elvish, ‘You’re the dragon, even if only a baby.’

The creature looked incensed. ‘Baby?’ it said. ‘Baby? Who are you calling a baby?’

‘But aren’t you a baby dragon then?’ asked Asphodel.

‘Indeed I am not! I am a fully-grown dragonet,’ it responded.

Asphodel translated the conversation to them.

‘I’ve heard of dragonets,’ Randa said, ‘but they are considered to be myths by most people nowadays.’

Asphodel translated when the little creature asked what Randa had said.

‘Do I look like a myth to you? My name is Mulldee, by the way. If you’d been properly brought up you’d have introduced yourselves to me first, since this is my home.’

Asphodel again translated for the others and Randa then looked towards the creature and said, ‘I, at least, have been properly brought up. I am Randa. My companions are,’ and she indicated each one in turn, ‘Carthinal, a mage, Asphodel, a curate of Sylissa, Fero, Thadora, Basalt, Kimi and Davrael. May I apologise for our poor manners.’

After more translation, the dragonet replied, ‘That’s better. Now we know each other, I must ask you what brings you to our valley?’

The companions looked at each other and then at Carthinal. The young half-elf spoke for the first time.

‘Asphodel, tell Muldee that we are passing through. We became lost in the mountains, and a pair of yeti showed us the way through the volcano.’

The dragonet put his head on one side, and looked at Carthinal. ‘Most unusual. In fact, unheard of. Yeti helping people?’

Suddenly there was a flurry of wings over Muldee’s head. Another dragonet appeared, this one paler in colour, but still with the iridescence of Muldee. It made a series of whistles and clicks. Muldee responded with his own series of whistles.

‘My clutch mate, Amonine,’ he told the Asphodel. ‘She hatched after me, and so is more of a baby.’

‘Huh! Baby indeed. I only hatched seven hours after you! Come on, Deedee. We’re waiting for you.’ (She spoke in the form of elvish that Muldee had used so Asphodel could understand her.) With that, she dived into the water and swam away.

Muldee’s concentration seemed to evaporate as he saw his siblings swimming and diving, and he turned to the travellers saying, ‘I don’t suppose “they” will let you do any harm, anyway, so I may as well go and play.’

With that, he ran to the water’s edge and swam out to join the rest of the dragonets out in the lake.

Once he had gone, the others looked at each other.

‘Not only do they damn well exist, they talk too. That’s real cool,’ said Thadora in delight at the little creatures.

‘At least they’re not dragons. They seem harmless enough,’ Kimi replied.

They decided to continue their search for bathing places. The men quickly found another beach about one hundred meters away, and so the party split. The girls quickly undressed and ran to the warm water. Randa had some soap in her pack, and she soaped herself, and then her hair. She threw the soap to Asphodel who did the same, and then the other two had the soap. They swam in the water and splashed each other. It was so good to feel clean again.

The men had also stripped off. Basalt was quite happy to wade into the water as far as his waist, but pointedly refused to go any deeper. ‘If dwarves were meant to swim, we’d have been given webbed feet,’ was his reply to the urgings of the others.

Davrael was standing in the shallower water still trying to persuade Basalt to come in deeper, when all of a sudden, he found himself swept from his feet, and took a severe dunking in the water. The normally proud and dignified Horselord looked far from proud or dignified as he thrashed around to regain his feet, and came up spluttering. He automatically felt for his knives, but of course they were not there, as he was naked. He looked at the others. They were all laughing. How could they laugh when something had nearly drowned him? Then he saw a flurry of water in Basalt’s direction. Something was beating the water and covering the dwarf in a fountain.

Basalt was spluttering in anger, and he too reached for his non-existent axe. Then a shape burst from the water beside him, and he realised what had happened. Muldee had decided to join them in their swim. He was still smarting from the loss of his dignity but had to smile when Carthinal was dragged down by the playful dragonet, and came up spluttering and angry. Muldee then flew high in the sky and dived into the water. Soon they were all, except for Basalt, swimming and diving with the little creature and enjoying themselves immensely.

When the men saw that the four young women had left the water, they too climbed out onto the sand and sat there drying off before putting on their clothes, also to give the girls time to dry off and get dressed. They saw ripples in the water and thought that one of the dragonets was approaching, but nothing emerged. Davrael thought he saw a figure that looked vaguely human beneath the water, but could not be sure. They watched, but saw nothing. Eventually, they decided it must have been a large fish of some kind. Then, just as they were dressing to go back to the others, Fero dashed into the water and managed to catch the shape. He drew out a beautiful woman, who was spitting and scratching at him. She had blue hair and a faintly greenish tinge to her skin. Her ears were pointed like an elf’s, and she had elf-like slanted eyes of a deep blue colour, but her pupils were elongated like those of a cat.

Fero held her gently, but firmly whilst the others looked in astonishment.

‘It’s a nymph!’ exclaimed Carthinal. ‘This must be her lake.’

‘Yes, half-elf,’ she spat, ‘This is my lake. You did not ask my permission to swim.’

‘I apologise,’ he replied, bowing slightly to her. ‘We didn’t realise that a nymph was present. We’d have been more respectful if we did.’

‘So I would hope,’ she said. ‘Now let me go!’ This last was to Fero.  ‘No one has visited this valley for hundreds of years, and I have been left in peace,’ she said. ‘Now you come. Why are you here?’

‘We are on a quest,’ Carthinal told her. ‘We are searching for a magical item.’

‘Oh-oh,’ the nymph said. ‘Well, I don’t expect you’ll get far. The Guardians will soon see you off. No one comes here now. The stories of the Guardians are enough to frighten would-be treasure seekers. It suits me. Although sometimes it does becomes lonely with only the dragonets for company. They are amusing, but at times can be rather irritating.’ She cast a sidelong glance at Fero. ‘Occasionally I feel the need for company of a more, shall we say grown up kind. The dragonets get a bit tiresome at times.’

‘Don’t look into her eyes, Fero,’ Basalt whispered out of the side of his mouth, ‘Nymphs can spell humans into thinking they are in love with them.’

‘Don’t worry, Dwarf,’ she said, ‘I had a human lover once. He loved me of his own free will and I him. That is better than a sorcerous love. I have never wanted anyone under magical coercion since.’

‘That not usual?’ asked Davrael. ‘Nymphs not usually love humans, I think.’

‘That is true. He found his way into the valley when he and his army got lost in the mountains. He wandered away from them to be alone. He had just lost a battle and was feeling despair. I saw him and loved him immediately.

‘He was proud and dignified; a bit like you, warrior,’ she looked at Davrael. ‘I was going to cast a spell on him, but he saw me and I then realised I did not want him to love me through magic, but for my own self. I showed myself to him, and comforted him. He truly loved me. He could not stay with me forever though as he had a wife, and had his duty to his country and so he left.

‘He returned many times though. His adviser, an elf, cast a spell on his men so they would forget where the valley is. Only my lover and his adviser could find it again. But that was hundreds of years ago. I’ve been alone ever since, except when the advisor came with others and created the Abominations. My lover came back to me, you see. To stay forever near me; not her, his wife. He was dead, of course. I’ve mourned his passing ever since. Don’t worry, handsome, dark stranger,’ she said to Fero. ‘I would never want to have love through magic again, when I’ve had the free love of a man.’

They were silent for a while. Then Carthinal asked, ‘Why are you telling us this? Nymphs are usually shy and don’t talk readily to mortals such as we.’

‘I don’t know,’ she replied looking puzzled. ‘I felt that it was important you know. Whether to you or to me I don’t know.’

With that, she turned and slipped back into the water and was gone.

The men looked at each other. ‘I think we’ve found our valley, guys,’ said Carthinal. ‘Let’s go and tell the girls!’

They all sat around the fire they had built from dead branches gathered from the woods around. Carthinal repeated what the nymph had said.

‘It was most odd,’ he told them when he had finished. ‘Nymphs are the shyest of creatures, and don’t usually succumb to loneliness, yet this one was quite voluble, telling us things I would not have expected.’

He left them to draw their own conclusions about the valley, which they quickly did.
‘There are tales of Sauvern falling in love with a nymph, aren’t there?’ asked Asphodel
‘Yes, indeed there are,’ replied Carthinal, ‘and if you take into account that we’ve been warned about “them” and also told of the “Guardians” it seems to add up. As I said to the others, we seem to have found our valley.’

‘Or rather, had it found for us,’ said Basalt. ‘We would have been hopelessly lost, if not dead if Grnff and Zplon hadn’t saved us and brought us here.’

Asphodel was thinking. ‘And there was the mysterious man who told Grnff about us—before we even knew each other existed. We’ve definitely been directed here. I think this is the valley, too.’

Just at that moment, there was a flurry of wings overhead and then, in a spray of sand, Muldee arrived. He landed on his hind feet, and sat, to all intents and purposes like a dog begging for food, his strong tail balancing him behind. In his front talons he was carrying a large fish.

Asphodel translated his words.

‘I thought you may like this,’ he told them, dropping it straight into Randa’s lap. ‘I’m sure you would like a change from those birds the yeti seem to enjoy so much.’

Randa was not over-pleased at having the wet and fishy creature land on her, clean as she was now, and she threw the fish away from her. The fish was still alive, and it flopped about, wetting Randa further.

The others smothered laughs as she picked it up gingerly and said, ‘Thank you, Muldee. We’ll enjoy this immensely. Will one of you kill it please?’

‘Why can’t you?’ said Asphodel.

‘I’ve never killed anything before. I’m not sure I can.’

‘That’s not true, Randa,’ Fero told her, ‘you managed to kill those wolves that attacked us, and very efficiently too, I might add.’

‘That was different. They were attacking us. It was our lives that were at stake.’

Fero looked at her, and pointed out, ‘It could be our lives at stake here too. People die without food as well as by being killed by wild animals. It’s necessary to kill in order to survive. Sometimes killing is to stop something from killing you, but more often it’s in order for you to eat.’

‘Yes, but someone else has always done it for me,’ she whined ‘and it’s arrived on my plate looking nothing like an animal that has given up its life for me to eat.’

Asphodel responded to this by telling her that it was about time that she learned to face life’s unpleasantness as well as the good things. Carthinal glanced at her. She had learned a bit about life and death herself since her kidnapping by the orcs and having to live off the land.

‘Killing a living being is never pleasant,’ she went on, ‘but sometimes it’s necessary as Fero said. Before the flood I’d never killed anything either, but I had to learn or starve. You kill the fish!’ Muldee had been listening to this exchange with a perplexed look on his face.
Randa, supervised by Fero, found a large stone and hit the fish sharply on its head, and began the process of cleaning it. By her face, it was not a job she was enjoying very much. When she had finished, Asphodel gave her a handful of herbs, which she spread inside the fish along with some wild garlic they had found near the trees. Then she wrapped it, supervised by Asphodel, in leaves and placed it by the side of the fire, almost, but not quite in the flames.

Muldee was again bewildered. ‘Now you burn it!’ he exclaimed. Asphodel laughed at the little creature’s expression and translated once again. ‘Why do you ruin a good fish? I had a lot of trouble catching that. It’s a big one. Enough to feed you all.’

Asphodel had to explain again to the dragonet. He sighed and replied to her explanation.
‘It seems I know little of the world. We’re very sheltered here in our valley.’

Then he seemed to be considering all he had learned.

They ate the fish, and it was very good. It was, indeed, big enough for them all with some left over. They offered Muldee some, but he refused, saying that he did not think he would like burned fish, even if they preferred it. Then he flew off, telling them that it would soon be dark and he needed to go back to his clutch mates for safety.

They spent the night there on the beach. The nights were getting warmer, but not warm enough to want to be far from the fire, even if it were safe to do so, which they were unsure they were. After all, there were the mysterious Guardians to consider.

The following morning, they finished the remains of the fish, which tasted even better than it had the previous evening. Each of them expressed a feeling that eyes had been on them all the time they were on watch. It had been a most eerie feeling, as there was no sight or sound of anything, Fero had moved silently towards where he felt the eyes were, but had seen nothing. They quickly dismissed it as imagination. The warnings of Muldee and the nymph had been on their minds they decided.

After breakfast, they set off in search of the tomb that they were now quite sure must be in this valley, somewhere. They walked towards the head of the valley, in a westerly direction, with the intention of circling the lake, and returning by the northern and eastern shores. The mountains towered over them, making them feel very small. There were small woods down here nearer the lake, interspersed with meadows, which now had flowers blooming. The day was warm, and the sky cloudless. In these less dense woodlands, bluebells were just beginning to form their blue carpet under the trees. Thadora was entranced. She had never seen a bluebell wood before and exclaimed continuously of its beauty.

‘If I’d ’ave known ’ow lovely the damn countryside is, I’d ’ave never stayed in ’Ambara,’ she exclaimed. ‘I always thought as ’ow it’d be so not excitin’ livin’ outside o’ th’ town, y’know, nothin’ to do, nothin’ ’appenin’, like, but it’s so bleedin’ lovely, and I’ve not been bored one little bit.’

The others all laughed at her comments, and Fero pointed out that their journey so far had been an unusual one. People did not normally get attacked by wolves, traverse a difficult, almost impossible pass, nearly die from the cold in the snow, get rescued by yeti and walk through a volcano, not to mention meeting dragonets.

Yet in spite of the idyllic surroundings, as they neared the western shore of the lake, they all began to have a sensation of being watched, much as they had during the night. The nearer they approached the western end of the valley, the more fearful they felt. They instinctively drew nearer to each other, and walked with hands on weapons. Carthinal searched his mind for both offensive and defensive spells, and used the staff to put protective armour of “hardened” air on himself.

As they emerged from one of the little woods they saw spread out before them a meadow of wild flowers, much as others they had passed through. There was one difference, however. The feeling of menace here was stronger than ever, and standing before them amongst the flowers, looking somewhat out of place in the meadow, were twelve warriors, swords drawn and ready to do battle.

Twelve battle-hardened warriors against eight mismatched adventurers are not good odds, but that was not what brought them to a standstill. It was a feeling of utter terror that was emanating from the warriors. It washed over the Wolves. Wave upon wave of fear. It was all they could do to stand their ground. In fact, Fero held out his hand to physically stop Carthinal from turning back there and then.

‘We’ve not come this far to fail now,’ he whispered to the half-elf. Carthinal looked at him.

‘They are undead warriors,’ he said. ‘If there is one thing that I cannot face it’s undead. They frighten me more than anything else does on Vimar.’

Just then one of the undead stepped forward. He was wearing a captain’s insignia of a very archaic design on equally ancient armour. He spoke, and it sounded as though the voice was all around them, echoing from the mountains that surrounded the valley.

‘Why do you come to the Valley?’ he intoned. ‘You must return and let the dead rest in peace.’

‘We mean no harm,’ Basalt said in a quavering voice.

‘You are not the leader. We must speak with the leader,’ went on the undead captain.

‘Carthinal, speak to him,’ prompted Asphodel as Carthinal made no move to step forward and respond to the creature.

Carthinal’s face was pale. He seemed as though he could not stand. Fero was all but holding him up.

‘I-I can’t,’ he managed, ‘I can’t speak to those dreadful creatures.’

‘You must or we can’t get any further,’ Asphodel scolded. ‘Remember the rhyme. “No fear must show or from there you will be hounded.” We now know what the Guardians are. You must control your fear and not let them see you’re frightened.’

Carthinal was about to protest again when Davrael came to him.

‘I understand, Carthinal,’ he told him. ‘I have fear such as you on bridge. You must face it. We here. We help you. I come stand by side. Face it and it seem less.’

With Davrael on one side, and Fero on the other, Carthinal drew himself up to his full height. His legs felt weak, but he forced them to move and carry him forward.

The three approached the centre of the meadow, and the captain, with two of his men did likewise.

‘I am the leader of this group,’ Carthinal ventured reticently.

‘Then you must answer my question. Why are you here?’

Carthinal thought of a number of myriad replies, then decided that he must answer with the truth. These creatures would surely be able to tell if he lied.

‘We are here to find Sauvern’s Sword,’ he told them. ‘We have been sent by a man who believes the world is in grave peril.’

‘What is this peril?’ asked the undead captain.

‘We don’t know. We weren’t told any details. We’re only the employees doing our employer’s bidding.’

The captain appeared to think about this reply. He turned to look at the other two with him. There were no words exchanged, but Carthinal had the distinct impression of a conversation passing between them.

Then the captain said, ‘My youngest knight, Bry here,’ he indicated the man on his right. ‘Wishes to ask you a question. It is unprecedented for the youngest to ask, but he has served bravely and well, so I grant him this boon.’

The young undead knight, who looked not much older than Thadora, said, ‘Who are you?’
‘I am Carthinal Mabrylson. My companions are…’

He got no farther before Bry interrupted him.

‘No, Not your given names. That is meaningless. What do you call your group, if anything.’
Carthinal paused for a second, wondering if he should give the name as it suddenly seemed rather adolescent to call themselves a name. Rather like the adolescent gangs in the cities to which he, himself, had once belonged.

Then Thadora suddenly ran forward. ‘We call ourselves “Wolf”,’ she cried.

The undead warriors looked at each other.

‘They are the ones,’ intoned the leader. ‘Now our vigil is at an end. We can at last go to our rest.’

With that the twelve warriors seemed to slowly fade from view, and the feeling of being watched vanished with it along with the feeling of menace. All at once, the birds began to sing. They had not realised, due to their own fear that they had not been singing in this part of the valley until the song recommenced. A collective sigh came from the members of Wolf.

Jovinda and Noni Part 2

This is the second part of the story of Carthinal’s parents, Jovinda and Noni. I thought it would only be two instalments, but this is the second and it’s not finished. There will be at least one more.

Jovinda eventually stopped crying. There were no more tears left to cry. She lay on her bed looking out of the window at the clouds floating in a clear blue sky where the sun seemed to be mocking her. She did not want to live. How could she without Noni?
She rose and walked towards the casement. She opened it and looked out, drawing a deep sobbing breath. If she jumped from here she would only hurt herself. It was not high enough to kill her and so she withdrew into the room.
There was a knock on her door. She threw herself back down on the bed and ignored it. The knock came again, followed by her mother’s voice saying her name. Jovinda did not want to speak to her mother. She hated her and her father for forbidding her to see Noni.
Her mother called again, and then Jovinda heard a sigh and the footsteps retreating. The girl rose again and went to the window where she sat on the window seat and gazed out at the passers-by. She had to make a plan. She must see Noni. What if he thought she did not want to see him? Would her parents allow her to go out alone? Probably not, just in case she went to see him.
After a long while, she had her plan all sorted out. First she must go to see Salor. Her mother could accompany her if she wished. She was not going to go to try and see Noni. She must continue to act the broken-hearted girl though. If her parents thought she had recovered too quickly they would be suspicious. A few days would suffice.
For the next two days, Jovinda stayed impatiently in her room. She felt much happier now she had worked out her plan. Slowly she opened the door and walked down the stairs into the hallway, keeping her eyes lowered and her mouth downcast. She was hungry. She had eaten very little during the last two days. She had picked at the food her maid had left outside her room wanting to seem as though she were still unhappy.
When she entered the dining-room she sat down at the table where her parents were beginning their meal.
Ellire smiled at the girl. ‘Well, we’re very glad to see you, Jo. We were worried about you up there on your own, hardly eating, weren’t we Kendo?’
‘Yes, we were. You were hardly eating anything and not speaking to anyone. It’s good to have you back at the table again.’ He turned to the butler. ‘Olori, serve Miss Jolinda with some of this soup, will you please.’
The meal passed with little said, and nothing about Noni. Afterwards, Jovinda told her parents that she was going to visit Salor that afternoon. She half expected an argument, but she was ready. After all, they could not legally stop a young woman of sixteen from going out. She was of age now.
Instead of an argument, though, Ellire said, ‘Oh, what a coincidence. I have planned to go to see Bremla this afternoon.’ She named Salor’s mother. ‘I need to talk to her about the women’s meeting next week. I’ll walk with you.’
Jovinda was not surprised that her mother wanted to talk to Bremla. She knew it was just a made-up excuse, but she pretended to be surprised and agreed it would be pleasant to walk together.


Noni stood at his window for some time. He was not going to give this girl up. He loved her with all his heart and although no words of love had passed between them, he believed she felt the same.
Later that day he left the Rindissillaron embassy where the elves were staying and walked towards Jovinda’s home. He had no idea what he was going to do. He stood in the street and looked up at the house. Where was she now? Was she in her room or had she gone out? Should he knock on the door? He had always been warmly welcomed before. He decided he must see Jovinda and he crossed the street and knocked on the door.
It was answered by Olori, the butler. ‘I’m sorry, sir,’ he told Noni, ‘but Miss Jovinda is not entertaining today.’ He then politely closed the door.
This happened for the next two days and Noni decided that either Jovinda was no longer interested in him, which he did not believe, or her parents had had a similar conversation with her as his father had had with him. He must see her, but how? He had waited outside her house for two days and had not seen her. She must come out sometime, though. Her parents could not keep her inside against her will. She was, after all, an adult by the standards of the human world.
On the third day of waiting, Noni saw the front door open. His heart leaped as he saw his beloved coming down the steps, but it sank again just as quickly when he saw she was accompanied by her mother. He slipped down the street opposite and looked back to see Jovinda smile at something her mother said. She did not look unhappy. He sat down on the step of a nearby house. Perhaps it was true that she did not want to see him. His head sank into his hands and it was all he could do to prevent the tears.
He walked back to the embassy and entered. His father was just about to leave to go to a meeting.
‘Where have you been?’ he asked. ‘Hurry up and get ready. We have a meeting with the goldsmith’s guild shortly. You need to come and learn about diplomacy and negotiating contracts. I hope you’ve not been seeing that girl.’
‘No, Father, I’ve not been seeing her. I’ll be along in five minutes.’
But I will see her again, and I will ask her if she wants to continue seeing me, have no fear of that.


Salor took Jovinda to her room. As soon as the door closed, Jovinda began to talk rapidly. She told Salor how her parents were objecting to her relationship with Noni and how she was going to defy them and see him.
‘I’m an adult, Salor,’ she told her friend. ‘I can do as I wish and they can’t stop me. I want to see Noni. I will see Noni. I love him, Salor.’
‘This is so romantic. A forbidden love. Will the lovers overcome the obstacles and win through?’
‘Look, Salor, I want you to do me a favour. Have you got a pen and paper? I want to write a letter to Noni and I’m asking you if you can somehow get it to him.’
Salor stood and walked over to a desk in front of the window. She picked up a pen and paper and Jovinda wrote a brief note to Noni.
‘How are we going to get it to him?’ Salor asked.
‘I’ve thought of that,’ Jovinda replied. ‘Your maid can take it and give it to Noni’s manservant. He’s called Kifferissimos or something that sounds like that anyway.’
The two girls plotted how Salor’s maid, Muren, could find out which of the elves was Kifferissimos and how she could get the note to him. It would not be easy, and Muren would need to be sworn to secrecy too.
They called the girl in and told her what they wanted her to do. She was as excited as Salor to be involved as a go-between in an illicit affair. She suggested that if he were agreeable, she and Kifferissimos could pretend to be lovers. That would be a good excuse to be seen together.
They agreed the plan and Jovinda gave the note to Muren. Just then, Ellire called and Jovinda left Salor and ran down the stairs smiling at her mother.
‘It’s good to see you smiling again,’ said Ellire, smiling back. She turned to Bremla. ‘I think she’s seeing the sense of what we told her about human and elf relationships. I feel so relieved.’
The two girls exchanged guilty looks, but neither of the older women noticed.


Three anxious days passed. Jovinda could hardly contain herself. She could not rush round to see Salor every day, as that had not been their usual habit. There was sewing to be done and helping her mother with the household accounts. She took left over food to some of the poor families. Those who did not live too far away, though, It would not do for a well-bred young lady to venture into the poor district.
She visited the temple of Sylissa to help the clerics with preparation of bandages and then each day went to pray at the temple of Bramara, the goddess of the Family and Marriage to pray that things would work out well for her and Noni.
Eventually her patience paid off. Salor came to visit her one afternoon and when they were alone, passed a note written in an elegant style. Jovinda could hardly contain herself.
‘Read it, Jo,’ Salor said. ‘You can write a reply and I can take it with me when I go.’
Jovinda broke the seal.
My darling, Jo,  it said.
I hope you don’t mind me calling you my darling, for you are indeed most dear to me. I received and read your note with excitement. Does this mean that you feel the same about me as I do about you? This I can hardly dare to hope for.
You tell me that your parents have forbidden you from seeing me. The same has happened here. My father has been quite adamant that we do not see each other. I am sure they think that it is in our best interests, but I do not accept that.
Jo, my darling, I now admit that I love you with all my heart. I cannot live without you. I WILL not live without you. It matters not one jot to me that you will grow old before me. I will love you just the same, young or old.
Please tell me how we can meet. I must see you again as soon as possible.
Yours forever
Tears filled Jovinda’s eyes as she read the letter. Salor was worried.
‘What does he say? You are crying. Is he finishing it?’
‘No, Salor. It’s such a beautiful letter. He says he loves me and how can we meet.’
The girls began to plot again. This time how Jovinda and Noni could meet. They eventually decided that the girls would plan a picnic. Noni would ‘accidentally’ be walking past, and Salor would have to go somewhere, so they could be left alone.


The day of the picnic arrived. Salor arrived at Jovinda’s home with a picnic basket and Jovinda picked up her own basket.
‘Where are you going to have your picnic?’ Ellire asked. ‘It’s a beautiful day. I think the meadows down by the mouth of the Brundella would be nice.’
‘We thought up on the hill out of town,’ Jovinda replied. ‘There’s a bit of a breeze up there as well as the woods if we need some shade. It might be a bit hot down by the river.’
The two girls climbed the hill to the top and sat down, spreading their picnic out in front of them. Jovinda was on tenterhooks.
‘What if he doesn’t come? What if he’s changed his mind about me? What if his father’s found out and has somehow prevented him from coming?’
Salor smiled. ‘He’ll come, Jo. Don’t you worry.’
Then a figure strode out from the woods. The girls gave out a little scream, then Jovinda recognised her lover and leaped up. she ran towards him and he held out his arms to receive her.
Salor quietly slipped away.
What will happen when Noni and Jovinda’s parents find out they have been seeing one another?
Find out on the third Tuesday of March.
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Can Animals Talk?


What is talking?
Talking is using words in order to express a meaning.
What is a word?
A word is a sound, or combination of sounds assigned to a particular thing.

Having set that out I will state that in my opinion, animals can and do talk. Just because they do not talk in such a complicated way as we do does not mean they


are not talking.

Take birds, for example. Birds sing. Some birds have songs that are beautifully melodic and musical. Take the British robin for example. He isn’t just singing because at last winter is over and it’s a nice sunny day, so he feels happy. No, he’s saying to all other male blackbirds ‘I’m here and this is my patch, so stay away.’
At the same time, he’s advertising to all female robins that he is a good catch.

Songbirds emit up to 20 different sounds that tell of fear, hunger or alarm an

d warnings to fledgelings. (The Free

OK, so perhaps that is communicating and not talking. After all, we communicate an awful lot without saying a word085bird1, so let’s look a little deeper.

Anyone who had a cat or a dog can usually catch on pretty quickly what their various sounds mean. One meow for ‘I’m hungry’, and a different one for ‘Let me out, I need a pee.’ If your cat always makes the same sound for the same thing, is that not what a word is?

I have no idea what all the sounds made by Herring gulls mean, but they have such a wide variety that I would like to find out if they use them for particular things. I do know that young herring gulls make a little squeaking noise to beg for food from their parents. Is this a ‘word’ meaning ‘food’ or ‘I’m hungry’? It’s not used at any other time as far as I am aware.

What made me thiwolf1nk of this was something I was reading in a book called ‘Proust and the Squid’ about how we learn to read. It told of monkeys that when danger was spotted, used a particular call for a leopard and a different one for an eagle, the two main predators. They had also combined the two to mean ‘get out of here fast.’
If the sounds are made exclusively for those things, and as I read it, they are, then are they not ‘words’?

An article in ‘Dr Goodword’s Office’ on ‘Can Chimpanzees Speak’ ( decides they cannot. It states that chimpanzees that learned to sign cannot form complex sentences. they would say ‘Give John Banana’ or, ‘Car hit man.’ The writer states that these are not truly speech because there are no morphemes (-ing, -ed, at, I, she etc). I hesitate to disagree with the writer, but I am going to anyway. The chimpanzee is communicating its desires or information using, in this case, signs and not sounds, but I would say it’s talking.
Just because an animal can’t make the same sounds that we do, does that mean it can’t talk? That would be like saying the French can’t talk because they don’t use the same sounds that we do for specific things. (‘chien’ for ‘dog’, ‘livre’ for ‘book’.)

OK, I’ll admit that animals can’t hold conversations in the way we understand them, nor express complex ideas, but they do talk to each other using ‘words’ and we are being rather superior in thinking they can’t talk. Dr Goodword’s Office seems to have the definition of speech as a rather complex achievement, involving sentence st

ructure and all parts of speech.

Your cat ‘tells’ you what she wants by her meow. The pygmy sloth ‘tells’ all around he’s feeling randy by a particular call. (I heard that one on the Radio 4 the other day.) The young herring gull ‘tells’ its parent it wants food by squeaking. If these sounds are used specifically for that particular thing, then it fits the definition I made above of what a word is.

I think it all depends on your definition of talking, and there may be a difference in speech and talk. Perhaps animals can talk, but what they say is not speech.

My conclusion? Animals can talk (but your cat will never make a speech).

8 Over-used Words and Phrases

I am going to take a rest from my usual second Tuesday subject of Commonly Confused Words to talk about a few words and phrases that I think are very overused in today’s world. The unfortunate thing is that the overuse dilutes the meaning and/or impact of the words.

 I am talking from a UK point of view, here, of course. These words and phrases may not be in common use in other parts of the English speaking world. They may interest some of you. though.


Everything nowadays seems to be iconic. An icon was originally a religious picture. They were used in the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches and were usually pictures of Christ, the Virgin Mary, saints or angels and were used as aids to worship.

Another meaning of the word is a small picture or symbol that links to a program in computing.

Neither of these seem to fit the use of it as used commonly these days. It has come to mean something that represents something else.
‘The Eiffel tower is an iconic building.’ It represents Paris.
There are so many icons around these days! Nearly everythibng and everyone is an icon.


I’m afraid our American friends are largely responsible for this one. While there are some truly awesome sights and events in the world, much of the time this word is used, the users mean something really good. It won’t fill them with awe and wonder, just make them feel excited and possibly surprised.

Having used the word ‘wonder’ above, it occurs to me that the word ‘awesome’ is going the same way as ‘wonderful’ and having its meaning diluted. What are we going to say to something truly awesome?


As opposed to a moment out of time? where else is a moment except in time?

What’s wrong with ‘NOW’?

4. One beloved by football commentators. I’m still not sure how it came about.


This means that someone is going to do something , well, early! Why the ‘doors’ has been added, your guess is as good as mine. Are doors early? How are doors early? It irritates me.


As opposed to various the same? Tortology, I think. Can you have a variety of things that are the same?

6. There are a couple of variations on this one.


You can’t have either an unreal truth or untrue facts. It’s either true or not, or it’s a fact or not.


‘Unique’ means there is only one. It does NOT mean that something is unusual or rare. You cannot have things that are ‘fairly unique’, ‘very unique’ or any other modifier. Something is either unique or it’s not. Period!

8. EPIC.

This word has come to mean some large event. We, in the UK have apparently been having floods of epic proportions. (Or else, if not epic, then of Biblical proportions!)

Epic is supposed to mean a monumental struggle of some kind, or something monstrously huge.

It originally meant a heroic story.

It is another use of a word being downgraded.

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Yeti. The Wolf Pack finds help from an unexpected source.

wolfpackcover (2)




She awoke with the feeling that something was not quite as it should be. Slowly, as she came awake, she realised that she was warm. Not only that, but she felt dry. Blankets and furs were heaped over her, and when she opened her eyes, she saw a flickering orange light. Someone had lit a fire. She remembered drifting off to sleep in the snow. She had remembered someone in a distant life telling her that it you could easyly drift off to sleep in the snow and die of exposure. She had felt that it was the easiest thing to do, out in the cold and wet. It had been pleasant, that drifting into sleep and death. Maybe she had in fact died and she was in the afterlife? Then Thadora saw rock around her. Ahh! She was in a cave.
‘I ’spect th’ others found th’ cave an’ carried me ’ere,’ she thought, ‘Though where they found th’ wood ter light a flippin’ fire I can’t imagine. Anyway, thanks, dudes.’
She turned to look to her left. She saw the fire and what looked like several other mounds of fur. Sounds of breathing and occasional snores came from them. The others, she surmised. One of the mounds stirred slightly. She saw a pair of light blue eyes and a wisp of silvery blonde hair. Randa. Randa made a shushing shape with her mouth. Thadora frowned. Why must she remain quiet? She could smell cooking now as her senses returned. Who was cooking if the others still slept?
She heard the sound of footsteps approaching the fire. Then an arm reached over her and added some logs to the blaze. Her heart began to beat rapidly. The hand seemed far too large for human, elf or dwarf; and then she noticed the arm attached to the hand. Long, snow-white hair covered it. At first, she thought it a garment, but soon realised it was part of the creature.
Thadora tried her best not to scream, but a small squeak escaped her. She shut her eyes tightly. The little girl in her told her to do this. If she could not see these creatures, they could not see her. It was not rational, but she was too frightened to be rational. She heard Fero’s voice in her head. “Savage beasts. Eat human, elf and dwarf flesh…” They had been caught by Yeti.
The snow-white yeti made a harsh grunting noise of several sounds. It moved away, and another one took its place, this time, Thadora saw when she ventured a peek through tightly squeezed eyelids, a more greyish colour. The creature seemed about nine feet tall and covered head to foot in grey hair. Hair almost obscured its face, but a pair of black eyes in which no whites could be seen gleamed from above a small black nose and a lipless mouth. Then she squeaked again, this time in surprise for the yeti spoke. It spoke Grosmerian, very badly and very slowly and obviously found it difficult to form the words, but the creature could just be understood.
‘You wake,’ it said. ‘You slep’ long. Much days. Eat food. You be better.’
With that, it put some meat down in front of Thadora. Her mouth watered, and her stomach growled, but she did not take the food.
‘Oh no,’ she said. ‘No way. I got no idea what this is, man.’
‘You eat. You need strong. This, bird from mountains. Good eat. Good for cold and warm folk.’
Thadora puzzled over the speech. ‘You mean I should eat this—bird from th’ mountains. That it’s good ter eat fer both cold and warm folk? I don’t get “cold and warm” folk!’
‘You from warm. Die in cold. We from cold. Die in warm.’
She could not resist the meat put in front of her any longer. She picked it up and took a large bite. It burned her mouth and she almost spat it out. She breathed cool air in through her mouth over the meat to cool it. The yeti made a grunting noise, almost like a laugh. The meat was delicious. Like a cross between chicken and pork.
The yeti wandered away saying, ‘I go. Too hot here. Br’ng food for rest warm folk.’
When it had disappeared, Randa rose onto one elbow. ‘Thadora,’ she hissed, ‘The food may be poisoned or drugged. You shouldn’t eat it.’
‘Randa, I don’t give a toss. I’m bleedin’ starvin’. If I’m gonna be killed by these bastards, then I’ll die wi’ a full belly.’
The greyish yeti returned with more food, which it put on the ground.
‘Not poison or drug. You must strong. Not kill. Why you think kill?’ This last it said to Randa.
There were movements from several of the other mounds of furs as the others came awake. The yeti turned its head and looked at the emerging people.
‘Who you chief?’ it said.
Carthinal started to stand and then quickly lay down again as he realised that he was naked under the furs, as indeed were all the others. The yeti curled back its lips in what Thadora supposed was a smile, but it was rather fearsome, since it showed its long canine teeth.
‘You warm more quick with no close,’ it said. ‘Have close when leave.’
Carthinal looked embarrassed, but spoke to the creature. ‘I am the leader of the group. My name is Carthinal.’ He spoke slowly and clearly to the yeti. ‘What do you want with us?’
‘I Grnff.’ The yeti pointed to itself. Grnff was obviously its name. ‘Mate she called Zplon. She beautiful, no?’
He was proud of his mate, who lurked in the cave entrance. His black eyes gleamed in the firelight as he looked lovingly towards her. She lowered her gaze and then looked at Grnff through her lashes in a very human and coquettish way, giving him a savage “smile”.
Grnff had trouble with Carthinal’s name. ‘Crthnal,’ he repeated, slowly. ‘Crthnal.’
Carthinal looked at the yeti. Fero had called these creatures “beasts,” but they were obviously more than beasts. Beasts did not light fires and talk. They would have to move with care.
‘We would feel better with our clothes. We can then get up and move around.’
‘Why not up with no close?’ asked Grnff, frowning. ‘Warm here. No need close.’
Carthinal sighed. He could not begin to try to explain the customs and taboos of the “warm folk” to a yeti. Asphodel helped him out. She had woken during this exchange.
‘In the culture of the warm folk,’ she said, ‘it is taboo for members of the opposite sex to see each other unclothed unless they are mated.’
‘Strange custom,’ said Grnff, musingly, then added, ‘Grnff giv close.’
He went to the side of the cave and rummaged among some furs. Then he brought their clothes, armour and weapons, and also some furs. ‘Fur better than cold le’ther and m’tal. Why you wear cold le’ther and m’tal?’
‘It helps to protect us from attack.’
‘Hmmm. But not good in cold. You eat. Talk after when you str’ng.’
Basalt whispered something to Carthinal.
‘I think it’s all right, Basalt. We’ll have to eat something anyway. I don’t see we have a choice. Anyway, if they wanted us dead, we wouldn’t be discussing whether to eat or not to eat. We’ve been at their mercy for quite a while, I think, and they’ve not harmed us at all. Quite the contrary, in fact. I rather think we’d have died out there in the blizzard if it were not for these…’ he hesitated, trying to find the right word, ‘These people.’ He had decided the Yeti were in fact people rather than beasts.

The members of Wolf ate their meal in silence. They were all now awake. The cave smelt slightly of yeti, but it was not too unpleasant, and not enough to put them off the delicious food. While they were eating, they speculated on their position.
‘It seems that reports of these creatures was inaccurate,’ observed Fero. ‘The little I’ve heard, they were said to be animals, but these obviously have speech and fire, so they cannot count as beasts. I’d say they need to be re-classified as being amongst the sentient races of Vimar.’
‘They don’t seem hostile either,’ put in Kimi. ‘Grnff seems friendly, and I think his mate is just rather wary of us.’
‘Now we’ve got our clothes back, I suggest we dress,’ Carthinal said. ‘As long as we’re here in the cave with the fire I think we can dispense with armour and wear these furs. Grnff was right about armour not being good to keep out the cold.’
‘Why’s he doing this? What’s in it for him?’ asked Thadora.
‘Let’s ask him when we’re dressed,’ replied Carthinal.
They agreed that the four men would dress first, and then they would go outside to see Grnff while the girls dressed. They soon accomplished this, and the eight travellers sat just inside the cave mouth with Grnff and his mate, Zplon.
‘Now, Grnff. Tell us why you rescued us and fed us. Never has it been known before for yeti, that is cold folk, to help warm folk as far as we know,’ Carthinal began the conversation.
‘Man come. Man speak Grnff language. Strange. Never warm folk speak Grnff language. Man magic. Cold folk no magic. Man say you come. Man say you need help. Man say Grnff and Zplon help. Man say you called Wolf. Man say you eight warm folk. Man say chief is magic man too. Magic man have red hair. Man say four female, four male, one male small with hair on face like cold folk. Man say one female have hair colour of cold folk. One female have red hair, one black hair. Man say one male very dark and big for warm folk. We look. We find near dead. You cold. Make fire. Wrap in fur. You thaw like icicle.’
They all felt as though someone had dropped cold water down their backs as shivers ran up and down their spines at this. Who was this strange man who knew all about them, and how did he know they were going to need help in the snow? Carthinal asked a question that made it even stranger.
‘When did this man come?’
‘Many darkness ago. We not count time. Man here in very cold time. Man here just before light is shortest.’
‘He came before the winter solstice? But that’s impossible! We hadn’t even met then. In fact, that was even before the flood on the Brundella!’ exclaimed Randa. ‘You and Carthinal had not even left Bluehaven, Asphodel!’
‘How you learn speak Grosmerian?’ Davrael asked.
‘Man teach. Man say Grnff need to speak with you or you ‘fraid.’
‘That’s the best crash course in a language I’ve ever seen,’ commented Basalt. ‘It took me months to get to the stage that Grnff is at. How did he do it?’
‘Grnff say. Man magic. Man teach by magic. And Grnff very clever. Quick to learn, man say.’ He puffed himself up with pleasure at relating the man’s words.
Asphodel touched Carthinal’s arm. He turned, heart beating wildly at her soft touch.
‘There is more here than meets the eye, Carthinal,’ she said. ‘No one could possibly have known we were coming here as far away as the winter solstice. For Sylissa’s sake, we didn’t even know ourselves. Someone described us to Grnff before we’d even met!’
‘The description could be after the event. After all, Grnff here has seen us and could have put in our descriptions himself to make a mystery and win our confidence,’ pointed out Basalt, ‘and as to speaking Grosmerian, he could have learned it at any time in the past from any passing traveller.’
‘True enough, all you said, Basalt, my friend. Just one thing I’d like to see you explain,’ Fero said. ‘How did he know we’ve called ourselves “Wolf.”?’
‘We-el,’ Basalt considered, ‘That is a bit of a problem.’
‘One o’ us could ’ave talked in our sleep,’ suggested Thadora.
‘Yes, I suppose we could have, but I prefer to think that we are being watched and guided by the gods,’ Asphodel said. ‘What did the man look like, Grnff?’ she asked, turning to the yeti.
‘He look like other warm folk. He not tall, not small. Him close have many p’kets and ink m’rks on. Him h’ve long feather in p’ket. He use to m’ke marks on white stuff him c’ll paper.’
‘Sounds a bit like the man in my dream.’
Kimi then butted in. ‘Also the man who married us in the glade on our way to Hambara.’
They left theproblem unsolved, as the group continued to talk to Grnff. The fact of the matter remained that, for whatever his reasons, man or not, Grnff had saved their lives, and for that they were in his debt. They were not all completely without suspicions. They could, as Fero pointed out later, be being fattened up for later killing and eating, a thought that Thadora did not want to think about at all. On the other hand, they had been given their weapons and armour back. Not something anyone would do if they wanted to kill you. They decided to play the whole thing by ear.
Grnff told them that he would show them the way to their destination. “The man” had told him where to take them, apparently. He insisted that they were not yet ready for the journey and the dangers they would encounter once there, and they must continue to rest and eat. He and Zplon found food and cooked it for them. How they managed to find it in the wintry conditions existing outside the cave, the others could not guess. Certainly it seemed bleak up in the mountains, but they managed to find meat and enough fresh edible vegetation to make the travellers begin to feel strong and healthy.
During this time, Thadora seemed to strike up a strange rapport with Grnff.  He showed her how his long hair covered an undercoat of soft fur. He also confided in her that Zplon was pregnant.
‘She have cubs in warm time. Soon go to birthing place. Cold folk have two cubs one time,’ he told her. ‘Many cubs not live. Life hard in mountains. Cold folk have hunger. Cold folk have enemies who eat them. Animals. Some warm folk kill cold folk. Call us beasts. Say we savage and a danger. We stay away from warm folk. But Grnff like you, Red Cub. You friends not bad too.’
‘You’re a real cool dude, too, Grnff,’ Thadora told him.
The yeti frowned, not understanding. Basalt translated for him.
‘She means you’re a good man,’ he said.
During the next sixday they stayed in the cave with Grnff and Zplon. Then one day, Grnff stated they were ready to move.
‘You now strong. We go,’ he said. ‘Must leave or too late for Zplon to get to birthing place. Then cubs die. We very sad. First cubs.’
‘Oh, Grnff, we can’t risk your cubs dyin’’ said Thadora, appalled at the idea. ‘Tell us th’ way an’ take Zplon to th’ birthing place. We’ll be OK. We’re strong now, right?’
‘You not find way. We go through mountain. We take path of fire god. You good, Red Cub, but fire god angry if warm folk go alone on paths.’
‘What happens if the fire god’s angry?’ asked Basalt looking anxious.
‘He wake. He shake with anger and ground shake. He breathe fire from mountain.’
‘A volcano!’ exclaimed Bas. ‘By Kassilla’s tits, I think we’re going to go through a volcano!’
‘They must worship the volcano as a god,’ Asphodel said.
Grnff had overheard this exchange, and had obviously understood most of what had been said. He replied, ‘We have two gods. Fire and Ice. God of fire destroys if angry. Must keep him happy. He sleeps now. He sleeps for hundreds of seasons. He not like to be wak’nd. God of ice good. Makes water hard so it not run away. Makes snow to keep cold folk cool, but not too cold. Must give gift to fire god to keep him happy.’
‘What must we give?’ asked Carthinal.
‘Something you hold dear.’ Grnff replied. ‘Must be sacrifice or not good enough for god.’
They all thought hard about this, and then Kimi stepped forward. The thing I hold most dear is this ring, given to me by Davrael. It symbolises our love. No beginning and no end.’ She looked sadly at Davrael. ‘I’m sorry, my love,’ she said, ‘but if it is required for our safe passage through these mountains, I must give it up. It will not change the way I feel.’
They all then searched for something they held dear. Thadora handed over a locket that had belonged to her mother; Davrael gave an eagle’s feather, symbol, he told them, of his standing in his tribe; Asphodel reluctantly gave a ring that had been given to her by her sister. Then Fero added a stone carved in the shape of a lion’s head, which had been carved by his mentor, a ranger in his home land, and Randa, a silver pin that had been her mother’s. Basalt gave a black opal, one of the first to be found in his parents’ mine and Carthinal pulled out of his pocket an exquisitely painted miniature of a handsome couple, he an elf and she a human.
‘My parents,’ he said as he laid it on the little pile.
The Wolves looked at the pile of belongings sadly, each remembering other times, people and places.
Grnff swept them up in his huge hand. ‘Give to god in deep place,’ he said.
He then went to the back of the cave, accompanied by Zplon. The pair took a bundle of torches from a natural shelf there, and lit one each. Grnff then beckoned the others and they followed him into the deeper part of the cave.
After travelling for a while, the Wolves realised that Grnff was right. They would have soon been hopelessly lost in this maze of tunnels. However, Grnff and Zplon seemed to know exactly where they were heading and took turn after turn. They seemed to be continually going down. Basalt had grumbled at first about having given their most treasured possessions to a volcano. He would not have minded, he told them, if it had been a genuine god, but a mountain was ridiculous. Asphodel reminded him that they had to get Grnff to lead them, and he would not have done so without the sacrifice. Basalt said no more, but continued to stomp along making his displeasure clear in his body language.
‘You friend not happy, Red Cub,’ Grnff said to Thadora.
‘No! He don’t believe th’ mountain’s for real. Least not godwise.’
‘He gave. He safe. It not matter if he believe in god of mountain, god of mountain believe in him,’ came the reply.
They continued deeper into the caves. Basalt felt the most at home here, since he was a mountain dwarf, but even he jumped when they heard a rumbling deep in the bowels of the mountain.
‘Must go quick,’ said Grnff. ‘Giv’ sacrifice. God wake. Angry with strangers in him.’ And with that, Grnff began to move more quickly. Basalt, with his short legs, had to almost run to keep up with the long stride of the two yeti. Even Thadora and Kimi found they had to break into a trot every now and then to prevent themselves from being left behind.
Shortly the tunnel opened out into a large cave. Adeep crack ran across the cave and from this crack came the rumbling sounds. Grnff and Zplon went to the edge of the crack and fell to their knees. Bowing deeply, they began to chant in their strange, guttural language.

It sounded more like the growling of angry beasts that a known language, and they understood how people had thought of it as such. However, they had come to recognise several distinct sounds and phrases in the growling, and Thadora had even learned some words, although Grnff and Zplon had laughed their feral laughs at her attempted pronunciation. After a few minutes of this chanting, Grnff prostrated himself, then drew out their treasures and dropped them one by one into the fissure, saying the name of the owner, even though his pronunciation souded rather strange.
‘Tadra, the Red Cub. Dvrel, the Savage One. Littl Kimi. Black Fero. Strong, hairy Bslt, Pale Rnda. Priest of strange god, Asdel. Chief and Magic man, Crthnal.’Then they stood, turned round three times and backed away from the fissure.

Immediately after this little ceremony, there came a much louder rumble that made them move instinctively closer together. Further from the fissure. Davrael and Kimi clung together, and Carthinal suddenly found himself holding Asphodel in an instinctive desire to protect her. He quickly dropped his arms and took a step back. Then just as quickly, the rumbling stopped, and there were no more sounds.
‘You gifts accepted,’ said Grnff. ‘God say gifts good. We pass now.’
Then they saw, for the first time, the bridge that spanned the fissure. It was a natural stone bridge, but they would only be able to cross in single file and there was no parapet. Davrael visibly paled on seeing the narrow path they would have to walk. He was a man of the plains, and while a fierce warrior who knew no terror in battle, he had no experience of crossing such a path. He swallowed, and glanced to the fissure. Then Zplon murmured something to Grnff.
‘You give rope,’ he said to Fero. ‘Zplon take. Cross bridge. Grnff hold end here. You cross holding rope.’
Zplon duly crossed the narrow span, and between them the two yeti held the rope taught.
Thadora quickly skipped across the bridge without using the rope. She stopped once in the middle to look down, calling cheerfully back, ‘I can’t see th’ bottom. ’S real deep!’
‘Shut up, Thadora. You’re not helping,’ growled Carthinal to her.
She grinned and ran nimbly across to the other side. After all, in her career as a thief she had run across rooftops and climbed walls and heights did not frighten her.
‘Of course, you’d expect a thief to be able to cross high stretches. I expect it’s in the job description,’ mumbled Randa disapprovingly, as much to herself as to anyone else, which was as well as no one else seemed to be listening.
The only other person who had no qualms was Basalt. Being a dwarf and used to wandering about in mountain tunnels, the bridge held no fears for him, so he crossed next.
Carthinal insisted that Davrael go next. He had noticed the paling of Davrael’s face when he realised they would have to cross the bridge. If he left the young warrior with too much time to think, they may never get him over.
‘Go on, Davrael,’ he urged. ‘You’ve seen Thadora and Basalt go. It’s not too bad.’
‘I not afraid,’ said the plainsman, but his face belied his words.
However, he stepped forward and slowly and carefully placed his foot on the stone. He gripped the rope so tightly that even in the dim light of the cavern they could see the whiteness of his knuckles. He inched his way across, slowly.
‘Don’t look down,’ called Basalt, which was the wrong thing to say as Davrael’s eyes were immediately drawn downward.
Then he froze. He saw a deep, dark drop beneath him. His fear was almost palpable. Almost half way across his feet refused to move. His heart began to beat frantically. He thought that he was going to have a heart attack it beat so fiercely. He had fought enemies and been in danger of his life. He had tamed the wildest of horses. He could ride better than anyone in his tribe, and perform death-defying feats on horseback. He had even come face to face with a mountain lion that had wanted him to feed to her cubs, and lived to tell the tale, which was more than the mountain lion did. He had never known fear like this, though. Never again would he call anyone a coward for being afraid. All he could only see the dark beneath him. Then he heard a voice at his elbow, urging him on. Thadora had run onto the bridge and talked him across. Slowly, inch by inch, she got him to move. The span seemed to go on forever, until at last the black abyss hd disappeared from beneath his feet. His legs gave way under him and as he sank to the ground, Zplon pulled him away from the edge.
When the others were all across, they found Davrael still slumped on the ground shaking.
‘I coward. I not think me coward, but I be.’ He seemed unable to say nothing else.
‘No,’ said Asphodel, kneeling beside him, ‘That was one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen.’
Davrael looked up at her sharply to see if she were mocking him. ‘I afraid. I not able to move. You should send away in disgrace. I be outcast to show such cowardice in my tribe.’
Kimi held him, but carefully did not say anything. She knew that whatever she said to reassure him he would take as an expression of her love, and not take any notice. She let the others do the talking.
‘Have you ever been afraid before, Davrael?’ asked Fero.
‘No. I thought to be bravest in tribe. I not fear anything.’ The warrior drew himself up a little in pride, but quickly slumped again. ‘Until now,’ he finished.
‘That’s not bravery,’ continued the ranger. ‘Anyone can seem to be brave if they don’t feel fear. True bravery is to feel fear, face it and overcome it. That is what you did.’
They continued to talk to him in this manner until they had convinced him that he was not a coward, and bolstered him enough for him to be able to continue. He suggested several times that they should leave him in the mountain for his perceived cowardice. Grnff and Zplon waited patiently while this was going on, and when Davrael at last rose to his feet, they continued to lead the way through the mountain.
They continued walking until Grnff decided that they must rest.
‘It night,’ he said suddenly, and lay down, put out the torches, curled up into a ball with Zplon and promptly fell asleep.
The Wolves unpacked their bedrolls and spread them onto the rocky ground. They lay in the pitch-blackness hearing the soft breathing of the yeti pair as they slept. The darkness was complete. Only the dwarf and those with elf blood could make out anything at all.

With their infravision, they saw warm reddish mounds. Kimi and Davrael snuggled together under the furs and blankets to conserve warmth. As he looked around, Carthinal wished he could snuggle with someone too. Although not cold in the mountain, it did feel cool. He pulled the furs closer round him and turned over.
Sleep was a long time in coming even so, and it seemed that he had no longer dropped off than he felt Grnff shaking him and saying, ‘Eat. We go.’
He ate the piece of meat thrust at him, and saw the others being woken and a meagre breakfast thrust at them. He wondered how long this passage through the volcano would take and ventured to ask Grnff.
‘We out wen sun highest,’ Grnff replied. ‘Now sun get up.’
True to his word, about six hours later they emerged from a cave to see a beautiful wooded valley spread out before them.
‘We leave you now,’ said Grnff. ‘We go birthing place. Just time before cubs come.’
Carthinal turned. ‘We can’t thank you enough, Grnff,’ he said. ‘You saved our lives and guided us through the mountains. If there’s anything we can ever do for you, we will.’
‘Finish task is what you can do,’ he replied. ‘Make world safe for cubs to grow up.’
The others said their goodbyes and began to descend the slope, but Carthinal and Thadora remained where they were. Thadora flung her arms round first Zplon and then Grnff, giving them a hug. She came only about up to their waists. They hugged her back, gently. Zplon said something to Grnff and he translated.
‘We talked. We decide on naming cubs. Cold folk have two cubs, always. One male and one female. We call male Crthnal for you, red magic man and chief, and female we call Tadra, for you, Red Cub. Go. You friends wait.’
With that, the two yeti re-entered the cave and were gone.
‘Cool,’ said Thadora. ‘I never thought I’d ’ave a yeti cub called Thadora after me, an’ there’s to be one called Carthinal too, after you.’
‘At least Crthnal and Tadra, anyway. Come on, Red Cub,’ he replied, grinning at her. ‘We’d better join the others.’