Here is another extract from The Wolf Pack as promised.
The birds were beginning to sing as Asphodel rolled over in her blankets. She half-opened her eyes then suddenly she was wide-awake and sitting up. There on a log, feeding the fire with some fresh twigs, was a dwarf. He had chestnut brown hair and beard, his eyes were a light brown, and he was wearing leather armour. He had a grey cloak folded neatly on the floor by his side. She looked round, panic rising, for Carthinal. She saw him lying slumped against the log on which he had been sitting. Immediately she jumped to her feet in a fighting crouch, ready to use her unarmed combat skills. She quickly took in the dwarf, and noticed that his crossbow was lying on the floor by his side with the bolts next to it. Also lying there was a dwarven battle-axe. She also realised that she could smell cooking meat, and saw that there was a rabbit on the spit over the fire.
‘Well, are you going to fight me or eat with me?’ said the dwarf in a gruff voice. ‘I’m not impressed with your choice of travelling companion though,’ he went on. ‘Falling asleep on watch is one of the worst things you can do in the wilds. If I hadn’t come along to look after the pair of you, who knows what might have happened.’
Asphodel looked afraid, but his tone suddenly softened.
‘Don’t mind me, lassie,’ he went on. ‘Come and sit down and have something to eat. The rabbit’s fresh. It came sneaking into camp while I was sitting here waiting for you to wake up so I took a shot at it and got lucky.’
The smell of roasting meat was making Asphodel’s mouth water. She was very hungry. She and Carthinal had hardly had enough to eat the last couple of days. She glanced over at him then back at the dwarf.
‘He’s all right,’ he said. ‘Just asleep. I’ve not harmed one hair of that laddie’s head, nor would I.’
At that moment, Carthinal stirred. ‘I thought I heard voices,’ he muttered, almost to himself.
‘Carthinal, we have a visitor,’ said Asphodel, ‘And he’s brought breakfast.’
Carthinal sat up and looked over to where the dwarf sat. ‘How do we know we can trust him?’ he said in a low voice.
‘We don’t,’ whispered Asphodel in reply ‘But I think that at the moment he has the upper hand. He has his weapons at his side. We’d better go along with him. Anyway I’d like to eat some of that rabbit, wouldn’t you?’
Carthinal turned to the dwarf. ‘You now know my name, at least if you were listening to my companion. Do we have the honour of knowing yours?’
‘I’m sorry,’ replied the dwarf, standing and bowing to each of them in turn. ‘Most remiss of me. I’m Basalt Strongarm. My friends call me Bas. Now what about the beautiful young lady? What is your name, my dear?’
‘Less of the “my dear”, if you please,’ Asphodel bristled, and Carthinal smiled to himself at her response. ‘I don’t know you, sir. As to my name, it is Aspholessaria.’
Carthinal blinked and looked at Asphodel, a fact that did not go unnoticed by Basalt.
‘But you’re not known by that name here in the human lands are you? You didn’t give that name to your companion, whom I take it hasn’t known you for very long or he wouldn’t have looked so surprised when you gave me your elven name.’
He turned to Carthinal who had looked surprised at the dwarf’s observations. ‘Surely you realised that the name she gave you was not elven, you being a half-elf and all?’ He turned back to Asphodel. ‘Come on now, you know I can’t get my dwarven tongue round that outlandish name. What are you called outside your elven lands?’
‘Usually people call me Asphodel.’
‘And it suits you well. Pretty girls should always be called after flowers. Well now that the introductions are over, how about eating some of this rabbit with me? It’s just about ready, and since I took advantage of your fire, it is only fair that I share it with you.’
The talk stopped while they ate the rabbit. It was delicious, doubly so since they were so very hungry. Bas could not help but notice the way they relished the food, and licked every drop of juice from their fingers.
‘These young folk need some help,’ he thought to himself. ‘They are trying to conserve their food. They have the injured man to tend to as well. That is probably why the half-elf fell asleep if he’s been pulling that contraption.’ He went on aloud, ‘Where are you headed? To Hambara?’
Asphodel and Carthinal looked at each other, each trying to seek the other’s thoughts as to what they should tell this dwarf. Neither was sure whether to trust him or not. Carthinal gave a slight nod to Asphodel, indicating that it would not do any harm to tell him where they were heading.
‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘We are going that way. We lost our companions in a flash flood at the ford over the Brundella. We were the only ones lucky enough to survive, although Mabryl was seriously injured. We were left with only what we were carrying. Which is precious little.’ she added to emphasise that they were not worth robbing.
‘Yes,’ replied Basalt. ‘I was in the flood too. I was further back in the caravan and I was swept away downstream. Isn’t it unusual for the Brundella to flood at this time of year? The floods don’t usually come until after the start of the New Year, as I understand it. There’s a month to go until then.’
‘Yes, it is,’ replied Carthinal. ‘The warmer weather usually starts to melt the snows in the mountains after the Equinox. Why it should be different this year only the gods know. Although it was the dark of both moons, Lyndor and Ullin, the night before the flood,’ he added ominously. It was considered to be a bad omen when both moons were dark at the same time.
Asphodel got up while this was going on and went over to tend Mabryl. She gave him some water and did the first of her daily healing rituals on him. She thought he looked a little better this morning.
Then she heard Basalt say, ‘I’m heading in the same direction as you, my lad, so if you will accept the company of a dwarf, I will be willing to accompany you. If we run into any trouble I have my cross-bow and axe, and I am not called Strongarm for nothing; I’ll take my turn with yon contraption.’
Carthinal was tempted to say “yes” immediately. He had taken to the dwarf, and he would welcome the help. He also thought that it would be a good idea to have someone who could use weapons with them. They had been lucky so far, but their luck may not hold out. However, he owed it to Asphodel to consult her and to take her feelings into account.
The dwarf noted his hesitation and said, ‘Go and consult your friend. I’m not offended. I know you both need to agree. I’d feel the same in your position. After all, you know nothing about me.’ Carthinal went over to Asphodel and after a hurried conversation, came back and told Basalt that she agreed with him that they should accept his kind offer.
Carthinal extended his hand. ‘Welcome to our little band,’ he said.
Basalt took it, and the two shook hands, exchanging a warm smile. They liked each other. Carthinal liked way the dwarf observed things around him and drew accurate conclusions, and in his turn, Basalt liked the obvious devotion and loyalty that Carthinal had shown so far both towards Asphodel and, it seemed, to the obviously seriously injured Mabryl. There were those who would have left behind such a sick man in order to ensure their own safety, he thought. Nor could he blame the half-elf for falling asleep on watch. He must have been dog-tired after a day of pulling his friend.
‘I’ll take the first turn with yon contraption,’ said Basalt to Carthinal. ‘You can carry some of the things on it.’
Carthinal did not argue. He had not relished tying himself to the travois again. He realised now how tired and stiff the pulling had made him. They were a little later than before in setting off, what with meeting Basalt and the extra food at breakfast, but they would probably make up the time with two of them to take turns with the pulling. The sun was well in the sky now, not just coming up, as it had been the previous day. It was still cold, but not as cold as usual a month before the start of the year.
The year started at the vernal equinox on Vimar, when the buds of the trees were starting to break, and the birds beginning to nest. The last few weeks of the year were now passing. Carthinal had hoped that his apprenticeship would have ended with the year, but now he was not sure that he would be able to take his tests so soon. Still, he would take them sometime. He had promised Mabryl that he would do so. Maybe he would wait until Mabryl was up and about again, then see about them. He tightened the harness on Basalt’s shoulders and made sure that he was comfortable, then picked up his and Mabryl’s packs. He lifted Mabryl’s staff, and as he did so, it seemed to him that a tremor passed through it and he felt a sight tingling where his hand rested on the heavily carved wood.
‘I’m imagining things,’ he thought to himself. ‘I’m probably still tired.’
They trudged on along the road for nearly two hours, with one brief stop. Basalt and Carthinal had decided to take two-hour stints each at pulling the travois, so at this point they changed.
Basalt rubbed his shoulders and circled them a few times. ‘You are tougher than you look if you did this for a whole day on your own.’ he observed.
So they continued on their journey heading towards Hambara, and sharing the hard work of pulling Mabryl. By the time they stopped for the night, the three had become friends.