The Warlock of Hymal - Book 1 - A Boy from the Mountains/C1 Chapter 1: Journey into the Unknown
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The Warlock of Hymal - Book 1 - A Boy from the Mountains/C1 Chapter 1: Journey into the Unknown
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C1 Chapter 1: Journey into the Unknown

Nikko took his time cleaning the stables, but not because he enjoyed all the hard slog. There was never any shortage of work to do around the place, so why hurry when the only thing waiting for you was the next filthy job? If you worked too fast, all you did in the end was work more. Besides, at least in the stables there was no chilly wind blowing, like there was out in the yard. It was a good place to take his time.

The cold months were drawing to an end, fortunately, and they would soon release the village from its icy grip. The blanket of snow had begun to retreat to the mountains. Soon, the green fields up there would be free of snow again, and he would be able to drive the goats back up to the high meadows. The thought immediately brought a smile to his face, not because he found herding the goats particularly enjoyable, but because he would at least be able to get away from the farm during the day and have some peace and quiet up on the lonely meadows.

“Aren't you done yet?” a surly voice dragged him harshly out of his thoughts. It was Gimu, his oldest brother. “Speed it up! You've still got to clear the barn,” his brother snapped. “The snow's slipped off the roof and it's blocking the whole damned door.”

“Do it yourself! I still have to visit Thorodos today,” Nikko lied, earning himself a furious glare.

“Lazy, good-for-nothing …” Gimu grumbled, bashed a beam with his fist and stomped away, snorting. From time to time, Nikko had to lend a hand to old Thorodos, and Gimu had no say in the matter. For some unknown reason, Nikko's grandfather thought it important to carry out this duty to the old man. And on the farm, his grandfather's word was law.

The blonde lad with the big, blue eyes could not suppress a spiteful smile. He liked none of his many siblings much, and Gimu least of all: a burly brute with a loud voice who acted as if he was lord of the manor.

Now all he had to do was find a way out of his spur-of-the-moment lie. If Gimu found out that he had lied, there'd probably be hell to pay. Nikko did not get on with his family as things were. He was frail, often sick, and far too short for his age. Not a good combination for the hard life in the mountains, where the only people of much use were those who could really pull their weight. For his many brothers and sisters, he was the weakling, no more, and lazy to boot.

Hiding somewhere on the large farm seemed too risky to Nikko. Besides, they'd always found him in the past. And it was still too cold to vanish outside for a while. So it seemed to him best to actually pay old Thorodos an unannounced visit.

He'd been helping the old man for the last two years. He usually had to clean or tidy up, and now and then to run an errand. All in all, it was not a particularly pleasant duty, on top of which he often found the old man in a foul mood. Still, Nikko had always enjoyed the time he spent with Thorodos. The old man was simply different from everyone else in the village.

So a little later that day, Nikko set off for the old man's hut, just a few minute's walk from the family farm. Made entirely of wood and only a single story, the small house stood out from all the mountain farms that made up the village. Nikko had no idea for which purpose the building had originally been built. In their village, at least, there was nothing else even similar.

Apart from Thorodos's house, the farms of Vyldoro were all built in the same way. The main house, where the family lived, had a ground floor made of stone, or rather lumps of rock held together so badly with clay and dung that the walls had to be patched up constantly, especially when the hard winters were over. On top of the stone walls there was an upper floor cobbled together from sprucewood and crowned with a crooked slate roof.

When Nikko arrived at the old man's hut, he knocked quietly. He was not really supposed to be coming by that day, and in any case he could never be sure what mood he would find the old man in. But, as was almost always the case, no one reacted to the knocking, and the lad cautiously pushed open the door, stepped inside quietly and looked around.

The dwelling was certainly not very big, but despite its size it was crammed with an astounding number of things. The old man horded hundreds of dusty jars, strange bottles and containers. Then there were all kinds of implements whose purpose Nikko could only guess at. If he hadn't just thoroughly cleaned and tidied up the place a few days earlier, it would certainly have looked a lot worse than it did.

Finally, he spotted the old man napping in his armchair in front of a blazing fire in the fireplace. At the sight of old Thorodos snoozing away, Nikko was suddenly overcome by an attack of weariness himself. A little nap would be just the thing right then. Much better than digging the stupid barn out of the snow!

“The fire's starting to burn down again. Go and get some fresh wood, now that you're here,” the old man abruptly ordered, without so much as opening one eye. “Then you can clear the snow off the roof before it comes down by itself and shuts me up in here.”

Oh, marvelous! Was it really asking too much just to have a little time for himself? But he knew that any protests would be useless. Objections would just earn him a scolding and—what was worse—extra work.

Some days later, Nikko was, in fact, able to take the goats up to the high meadow for the first time that year. Finally, he was able to enjoy the tranquility offered by the remote field, broken only by the occasional bleating of the animals.

From up there, he had a good view back down over the village. Vyldoro was no more than a backwater, high in the mountains at the top of a valley that cut deep into the massif with its bizarre peaks. Countless springs fed into a small stream that flowed through the village before gaining power and eating its way down through the rocks. A path wound down through the valley, following the course of the river, and if you took that path you would come finally to the road that led to Hocatin. But in the east there was no more than a narrow track that led back high into the mountains, all the way to the old pass into Hymal.

Nikko himself had seen neither Hocatin nor Hymal, though. Like most of the inhabitants of Vyldoro, he had never left the village. That village, with its half dozen farms with their crooked walls and moss-covered slate rooftops, the spruce forests that always smelled so deliciously of resin, and the fertile alpine meadows ringed by jagged ridges of rock, their white crests looming high into the sky … this was all the world that the boy from the mountains knew.

He looked over toward the goats again. The mountain air was good for them, that was clear. They had spent the entire winter cooped up in their stalls with nothing but dry hay to eat. Free again, they tore greedily at the fresh meadow grass. Although the sight of the satisfied animals made Nikko happy, he didn't really care about the goats. But at least out here he didn't need to feed the beasts or clean up after them. All things considered, herding the goats was one of the more bearable duties of the farm.

He let the spring sun warm his face, still pale from the winter, and as he did so, his gaze wandered across the valley to the old pass high in the mountains. Seen from down where Nikko stood, the trail wound up from the spruce forests, climbing in a series of switchbacks higher and higher into the rocky summits, only to disappear into a snow-covered trough between two peaks. On the other side lay Hymal, a land steeped in legend. Hymal … could all the stories told in the village about that place be true? Frightening tales of vile orcs and trolls, old legends of elves and grim dwarves. Hymal, on the far side of the mountains. Another world, so close, yet still so remote.

Until the previous year, no one had paid the old mountain path much attention. No one ever crossed the old path anyway. No one had ever traveled to Hymal nor returned from there, at least not for as long as Nikko could think. The people in the village itself had had no reason to climb the steep track. The ascent was long and difficult. Besides, everyone in the village agreed that Hymal was a dangerous land. No one had any reason to go there, and consequently no one went.

The previous summer, though, that had changed when a strange expedition made its way over the mountains to the east. Nikko could still vividly remember the soldiers from Hocatin and the strangers from the south. The excitement in the normally so sleepy village had been enormous. The villagers had observed the events of that day with a mix of curiosity and suspicion, but because the travelers had had little to do with the simple villagers, the motives behind the expedition remained a mystery. Throughout the winter, the appearance of that band had provided enough fodder to fill the nights of the Vyldoro farms with the wildest speculations until, finally, when the expedition had swelled in the memory of the villagers into the passage of a huge army, the opinion prevailed that the old landgrave was trying to seize power over long-abandoned Hymal for himself. Most likely in the search for new sources of ore. That's what these things were usually about: the valuable ore that the rulers needed so urgently to fit out their armies in iron and steel.

As he so often had, Nikko wondered whether he should have joined the expedition, to see where his fortunes lay. Of course, whether the expedition could have used a simple village boy like himself was another question entirely. But he had not worked up the courage to ask. Had he missed the only opportunity he would ever get to escape the tedious life of the farm?

Just then, Nikko noticed some sort of commotion down on the village square. It could only mean one thing. Old Fodaj and his two sons were visiting the village.

Fodaj was a permanently jovial trader from Hocatin, and also the only trader who ever found his way up to Vyldoro. Despite his advancing age and not inconsiderable weight, twice a year he and his two sons—not as old, certainly, but still no less corpulent—took it upon themselves to weather what he called the “inconceivable travails of the long, dangerous journey up to Vyldoro.” His motive, as he took care to repeat every time he made his way to the village, was the untainted solidarity he felt with the inhabitants of the place, people he held in the highest esteem. Of course, this most generous of men didn't come to the village just for the roaring trade he did there. No, he offered his goods at far too low a price for that, after all.

Even though no one in the village was willing to accept his assertions at face value, the trader was still a welcome guest. Not only could the villagers trade their own products for the many items that they themselves did not produce, but Fodaj always brought with him news and novelties from the wider world, and in particular from Hocatin.

The livelihood of almost all of the families in Vyldoro was dependent on livestock, mainly goats and sheep. The alpine meadows, with their lush grasses and weeds, provided abundant good feed for the animals, and the villagers used their rich milk mainly to make cheese. Fodaj gladly took the cheese and wool, but also pelts from animals hunted in the forests, and dried mushrooms and herbs. In return, he offered flour and fruit from the valley below, clothing, tools, pots made of expensive metal and other bits and pieces from Hocatin. Usually, the trade was goods for goods; coins rarely changed hands. For most of the villagers, money was suspect, and very few of them could count well.

Nikko set off immediately for the village, as he didn't want to miss out on anything. He could leave the goats to look after themselves for a while. He would only have to drive them back to the farm that evening. Besides, it was likely that the trader would have a delivery for Thorodos that would need to be taken to the old man promptly. The previous autumn, when Fodaj had last visited the village, Nikko had had to pass on an order from the old man. How well he still remembered the small leather sack with the coins clinking inside …

When Nikko arrived at the village square, a crowd of curious villagers already surrounded the portly merchant with the silvery-gray hair and his two sons. They had pulled up in the middle of the muddy village square, and were plying their wares in well-practiced three-part harmony.

“You're Thorodos's boy aren't you?” Fodaj enquired loudly when he spied the breathless youngster, who had raced all the way back to the village.

“Yes, sir,” Nikko panted. “But I'm not a boy anymore. This year will be my sixteenth summer.”

“I beg your forgiveness, young man,” the trader said, and laughed. “I have the delivery for the old man,” he went on, rummaging in one of the wagons and excavating a crate. “Please do me the favor of taking it to him at once.”

Nikko nearly dropped the crate when it was handed to him: for being so small, it was astonishingly heavy.

“Take this with you,” Fodaj grinned, and put a sealed letter on top of the crate. Nikko eyed the envelope incredulously. Thorodos had never, ever received a letter before.

“A consignment that has come a long way, by all appearances. Tell the old man that it's been sitting down in Hocatin since last autumn, so he can't blame me for how late it is,” the trader assured him with a wink.

Nikko would have loved to stay a little longer, but he knew well that he had better not keep Thorodos waiting. The cantankerous old man would certainly have noted the merchant's arrival in the village. Besides, he was very aware of the increasingly grim looks on the faces of the villagers. Did they think he was some kind of show-off, just because he accepted the delivery for Thorodos?

As he lugged the crate toward the old man's house, it became very clear to Nikko that the other villagers were looking at him with increasing suspicion. Did that have to do with how much time he was spending with Thorodos? It was certainly true that the old man was a strange bird who said little. Hardly anything was known about him in the village. But one thing was clear: he was an educated man, and that was enough to mark him as different from the simple village folk. He was the only man far and wide who could read and write, or at least he had been until he taught Nikko to do the same. He had been living in Vyldoro for quite a few years now. But he rarely revealed anything about himself to the villagers, and if he did, then it was only ever with reluctance. Many considered him a loner. Others thought there was something fishy about him. Some even feared him.

So perhaps it was no surprise if some of that now rubbed off on Nikko. But what good was there in that? To be as despised in the village as he was on his own family's farm …

A little later, when he arrived at the old man's hut, he put down the heavy crate and knocked loudly at the door. But it came as no surprise to once again get no response. Thorodos was usually deep in thought. Or asleep. So Nikko opened the door and heaved the crate, which had slowly been threatening to pull his arms off, inside.

Thorodos—a lean, gaunt-looking man compared to whom even Nikko's grandfather looked young—was standing at the fireplace, looking unimpressed. He turned the bald dome of his head, which was ringed by scanty dark-gray hair just above his ears, and turned to stare at the young man through gray eyes set deep beneath wild, bushy eyebrows.

“About time,” he rebuked Nikko as he gathered something on his table. “Put the crate down and take this back to the merchant before he disappears again!”

“This is also for you,” said Nikko, and felt important as he did so. It was the first time he had ever handed the old man a letter.

“What is it?” Thorodos asked brusquely, Nikko could almost believe he heard a tinge of excitement in the old man's voice.

“A letter from Hocatin. No, wait … that's not right. It's been lying in Hocatin since last autumn. But Fodaj denies all responsibility for that.”

“What are you blathering about? Give it here!” the old man snapped. He was visibly excited. “Now where did I put my glasses? Blast it all!” he muttered, once he had snatched the sealed letter out of Nikko's hands.

“Open it up! Read it!” he barked at the lad after a pause, handing the envelope back to him.

The letter was sealed with a shiny, red cachet in which strange symbols appeared. But Nikko had no time to admire it. Beneath the old man's impatient gaze and his hooked nose hovering like the beak of a predatory bird, he broke the seal and opened the folded paper inside. But what he saw was a confused tangle. It made no sense. It was almost as if letters and numbers had been thrown across the page at random.

“I can't read it, sir. The letters look all messed up,” he apologized from beneath the old man's intense gaze.

“A cipher?” the old man asked, exhilarated, although the question was probably directed more to himself, and he took the letter back again. He set it down on the table and stared into the blazing fire in the fireplace.

“All right. Here, take this and give it to the merchant,” Thorodos said, after a few endless moments that crackled with suspense, and he handed Nikko a list and a small leather sack containing some coins. Then he pushed the lad out the door before he could ask any questions. Nikko knew better than to pester the old man anymore. Thorodos rarely answered questions at the best of times. He would probably never discover what the mysterious letter was all about.

When he finally reached the square again, Fodaj and his two sons were securing the loads on their ox carts. Most of the villagers were busy toting home their exchanged goods to their farms, there to inspect them thoroughly in peace and quiet. Nikko found himself practically alone with the traders on the muddy square.

“Well, kid. A new order?” Fodaj asked when he saw Nikko approaching.

“Yes. Here it is, sir,” Nikko replied, and he handed the man the list and the little sack of coins, at which Fodaj smiled warmly. After a pause, Nikko worked up the courage to ask, “Are you going to Hocatin?” He hoped, at least a little, that he might be able to move on with the trader.

“That comes later, kid. First, we're heading over to Skingár. Ever been there?”

“No,” Nikko answered. “How long will it take you to get there?”

“To Skingár? A good three days with these heavy carts. But now we've got to get going.”

Fodaj said goodbye with a smile, and set his heavily loaded wagon into lumbering motion. His sons followed with the other two.

What a coward I am! thought Nikko. He had almost asked the trader—who seemed to like him—whether he might go away with him. But only almost. As so many times before …

Later that evening, after he had driven the goats back down from the meadows, he joined his family for dinner. As usual, they had mostly goat cheese to eat. Cheese! How he hated the stuff! He couldn't stand the stink of it, nor could he choke it down without it making him feel sick. His big, blue eyes scanned the table, desperately searching out some edible alternative, and he was able to snatch the last wizened apple. Apart from that, there was only dry bread. As usual, he had come back from the high meadows too late. And as usual, his brothers and sisters had not left much for him.

He tried to enjoy the unsightly piece of fruit and the bread, but it was a tough task. On top of that, the others at the table just shook their heads at him in disbelief. “What's the matter with our good cheese?” his mother needled him.

Nikko did not reply, and tried to ignore the snickering of his siblings. Yet again, he felt out of place at the dinner table, because all the talk revolved around goat cheese, as it always did. The year was still young. There were plans to be made, a lot to prepare. Fodaj had left an even larger order than the year before: Vyldoro cheese was increasing in popularity in Hocatin, apparently. But Nikko didn't really listen to any of it, because he didn't really care a damn about the cheese—nor the farm, for that matter.

He was lost in thoughts that had nothing to do with cheese when, without warning, someone elbowed him sharply in the side. “Are you deaf now too, dolt?” Gimu, his detested older brother, barked at him.

“What is it?” Nikko bleated, pressing a reproachful hand to his side.

“Simoj for you,” Gimu replied gruffly. Apparently, Nikko had not heard the knock on the door.

Simoj, an annoying little red-haired runt with a face covered in unprepossessing freckles, was the youngest son of the westside farm, not far from Thorodos's ramshackle hut. No doubt the old man had sent for Nikko again.

The little, red-haired mischief maker puffed himself up importantly when Nikko finally went to the door. But before Simoj could trumpet his message, Nikko, unimpressed, asked, “Thorodos?” at which the boy stuck out his tongue at Nikko and ran away, laughing childishly.

It was almost dark when, a little later, Nikko once again knocked at the old man's door. Naturally, he got no answer. So Nikko, feeling rather dispirited, opened the door cautiously and immediately saw Thorodos sitting comfortably in his armchair in front of the blazing fire, drawing thoughtfully at his pipe. The heavy crate that Nikko had delivered earlier that day had obviously contained some new pipeweed as well: Thorodos had not smoked anything for weeks.

“There you are,” the old man remarked offhandedly. “Brew us both a cup of hot tea, then come and join me.”

The order—which sounded more like a request, in fact—surprised the lad. He had made tea often enough, to be sure, but he had never before joined the old man in drinking a cup. Thorodos was acting more strangely than usual. But he didn't think too much of it; he was already familiar with a number of the old man's quirks.

Silently, he set to work filling the copper kettle with water, then hung the kettle on a bar inside the fireplace. While the water slowly heated, he began to prepare the tea. The tea canister was fuller than usual: apparently, the delivery from Fodaj had also included a new packet of tea. Nikko took two clay cups and put one of the aromatic leaves into each. Now, as the water began to simmer and stir, he observed the old man, who was still staring into the fire, and now and then puffing at his pipe.

When the water finally reached a good boil, Nikko used a hook to remove the kettle from the fireplace and set it down on the table. Then he took a ladle and scooped hot water into the two cups before returning to the old man. Handing him the steaming cup, he pulled a chair over by the fireplace and sat down.

Inhaling deeply, Nikko took in the spicy steam rising from the tea. Tea was not something he had drunk often; in the village, the herb was unknown. But from time to time, he had had the opportunity to sample it there in the old man's house. How far to the south does the land lie, where these leaves come from? the lad wondered, waiting for a reaction from the old man.

“What are you planning to do with your life?” Thorodos said, finally breaking the silence. He sipped at his cup, then went on in a calm, almost grandfatherly voice, “Do you want to be a farmer, or a shepherd perhaps?”


“It wasn't such a difficult question, was it?” the old man asked in response to Nikko's less than eloquent answer.

“No, I don't want to be shepherd. Nor a farmer, no thank you,” the lad answered, trying to speak with conviction, despite the fact that he was only telling the truth.

“Then you have to make a decision. Here and now,” said Thorodos calmly. “I'm going on a short journey. Come with me, if that's what you want.”

“A journey?” Nikko was instantly enthusiastic. “Where to?”

The old man nodded with satisfaction, and said, “To … Skingár. We leave tomorrow, at the crack of dawn.”

“I'll have to ask my grandfather first,” the lad replied excitedly, and hoped very much that his grandfather would agree to his going away, and not raise any objections. Nikko did not understand what had just happened, but the thought of going on a journey electrified him. To leave the village … it was something he'd been aching to do for a long time!

“Good,” the old man said. “Bring food, warm clothes and blankets.”

“How lo—” Nikko tried to ask.

But Thorodos grew surly again and cut him off in a gruff tone, “Enough! Go home and prepare yourself. Tomorrow at daybreak we leave!”

Nikko knew perfectly well that he would get no further information out of Thorodos then. All he could do was say goodbye and head home again. Perhaps the old man would be more talkative the next day.

On the way home, his head was filled with questions. The old man was behaving even more strangely than usual. Why this sudden departure? Did it perhaps have something to do with the coded letter? Why was Thorodos suddenly being so friendly with him? Why was he eager to have Nikko accompany him? What did any of it have to do with whether he wanted to be a farmer or a shepherd?

Skingár, as far as he knew, was a mining settlement in an offshoot of the long valley that ended at Vyldoro. Fodaj, the portly merchant, had just set off for Skingár. Maybe the old man had simply forgotten to add something important to his order. Yes, that had to be it!

When he arrived home a few minutes later, he found most of the others already in bed. Only his grandfather Vikko, a man marked by years of hard toil, was still up, sitting as he always did in the evenings, in the large kitchen on the ground floor, gazing into the dying embers of the fire, lost in thought.

“Grandfather?” asked Nikko meekly; he didn't want to upset the head of the family and the farm by startling him. The fact that he would not be able to tend to the goats for the next few days promised to cause enough trouble, and Nikko didn't want to add to that unnecessarily.

“What is it, lad?” asked the old man absently, his eyes still on the fire.

“Thorodos,” Nikko replied shyly. “He wants me to go to Skingár with him. Tomorrow morning.”

His grandfather looked up, somewhat perplexed, but after a brief moment asked, “Is there a problem?”

“The goats?” Nikko said, almost reproachfully, feeling that his work as a herdsman had just been unjustly maligned, as mundane as he himself found it to be.

“If Thorodos wants you to do something, then you do it!” the family patriarch replied, in a voice that brooked no objection. “It's as simple as that.”

Then, at Nikko's incredulous expression, he added more gently, “Don't worry about the goats. Both of us know that you are no shepherd. Now off to bed with you!”

When the old man said those final words, Nikko could almost have believed that he heard an unaccustomed quavering enter his grandfather's voice, a voice that was normally so firm. But “Good night, grandfather,” was all he said in reply. Most of all, he felt a great sense of relief that the unplanned journey would not cause him any trouble on the farm.

It was only in their communal bedroom, upstairs in the wooden upper floor of the house, that Nikko began to wonder what his grandfather might have meant when he said that Nikko was no shepherd and that both of them knew it. It had not sounded like an insult, which would have made it easy to explain. And he wondered, too—not for the first time—why the services he did for Thorodos mattered so much to his grandfather. He hadn't even objected to the unannounced journey to Skingár, although it meant that Nikko could not tend to his farm work for several days.

When Nikko had finally nestled into his creaky bed, all of these questions were forgotten. He was too tired to let himself be robbed of sleep by the events of the day. Or by the dreadful chorus of snores from his siblings, led by Gimu.

The night was short, but the sleep good, and Nikko rose with the rest of the family before sunrise. But he had no time that morning for breakfast with the others; he didn't want to risk getting back to old Thorodos too late. Instead, he helped himself from the breakfast table, quickly putting together a small supply of bread and sausage and a few juicy apples. On the way out he packed two blankets, and grabbed his hooded cloak last of all.

“Here, take this too, lad,” his mother said abruptly, making Nikko jump just as he was about to leave the house. With a motherly smile, something that he had not been granted for a long time, she handed him a small parcel. “Stay well, my boy. Be careful!” she finally said, her eyes misty.

Only then did it really come home to him that he would soon be further away from home than he had ever been before. Every day of his life had been spent close to the village, and every night he had slept at the farm. But he quickly banished such thoughts from his mind. His joy at finally leaving was too great.

“Goodbye, mother. Don't fret. We're just going after fat Fodaj,” he said to ease his mother's fears, although he was beginning to doubt himself that the merchant truly was their goal. He would have liked to exchange a few words with his grandfather, but the old man was nowhere in sight, so Nikko set off along the path to Thorodos's cottage.

Just on sunrise, he knocked at the door of the old man's small hut. To his surprise, Thorodos immediately opened the door and asked excitedly. “Did you tell them we were going off to Skingár?”


“ Whom do you think? The village idiots!” Thorodos snapped.

“I only spoke to my grandfather and my mother. But yes, they know that we want to go to Skingár,” Nikko reported.

“Old Vikko? Good, then everybody in the whole cursed dump will know about it by this evening,” Thorodos said, and laughed a hoarse laugh. “Here, take this.” He threw a backpack to Nikko that could hardly be described as light. “Now let's be off!” he ordered. “We have a long journey ahead of us, after all.”

At least Nikko now knew why the horrible old geriatric wanted to take him on this trip: as a pack mule, obviously!

They left the village along the road heading north, and after a few minutes came to the fork in the road, where the paths led either eastward, over the mountains, or westward toward Hocatin, down into the valley. Nikko had only the vaguest idea of how long the march to Skingár would take. Fodaj had talked about three days. But on foot they would no doubt be faster than the trader with his heavy ox carts.

So lost in thought was Nikko that he almost failed to notice that the old man, just a few steps ahead of him, did not turn to the west, but followed the road to the east instead. Of course, he thought that Thorodos had taken the wrong direction by accident. So he said, rather smugly, “Wrong way,” and made as if to turn back to the west.

“How fortunate for me that I brought you along,” the old man teased him, without even turning around. “I almost went the wrong way. What would I do without you?”

But Thorodos made no move to change direction, and went on following the dusty path to the east. When Nikko at first hesitated to follow, Thorodos shouted back to him, “Come on! I want to make it over the pass before sundown. Or would you rather spend the night up there?”

Libre Baskerville
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