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Friday, June 30, 2006 The Hermit Awakes

Without wasting any more time, Robert, Carolyn and Christopher takes Father Andreas – who’s still unconscious – to Grad. Christopher and Andreas mount the same horse, and Chris is already having problems keeping this sleeping dwarf sitting straight and he grumbles along the way. Robert and Christopher carry provisions in their backpacks, and Chiel flies above them as a scout to warn them if there are monsters or attackers ahead or behind. Once in a while, Chiel flies down and tries to transfer more holy energy to Andreas to gradually bring him back to consciousness.

As they enter the Borgian-Arcadian border, they ride on along the main trade road, and soon meet with a huge pile of snow blocking the road. Robert and Carolyn dismount, and work hard to melt the snow blockage from the road with their fire skills and spells. While Chris guards the horses, the provisions and Andreas at the back.

The rest of the journey is uneventful, since the monsters usually hibernate or hide in warmer places and only few come out to do quick hunts. Non-carnivore monsters usually keep a stock of food that they have gathered and stored to survive the winter. And carnivore monsters usually eat a great deal so they keep the excess nutrition stored in their body and they will consume it during winter. So, monsters generally behave like common animals, they kill to eat.

No bandit, goblin or orc roam the main road as no traveler passes there to rob and kill. The only thing to fight against is the snow – and the freezing winter weather that comes with it.

But somehow, thanks to Robert’s cool leadership and Carolyn’s precise calculations on provisions management, they manage to arrive in towns before their provisions run out. The only drawback is, Chris always wants to eat more than his ration, and Robert has to keep a sharp eye on Chris at all times just to make sure he doesn’t steal extra meal from his comrades’ share or the backpack. Robert even shoot a bolt once that passes right in front of Chris’ eyes when Chris is nearly succeed in stealing a meat ration from the backpack. And Chiel once pokes Chris in the eye when Chris tries to steal Chiel’s share. And all that leaves Chris with a sulkier and sulkier face each day.

Carolyn scolds Chris by saying, ‘Keep your chin up, pal! This is not a walk in the park! This is a delivery mission! I’m sick and tired with your complaints all the time!’

And Chris becomes more depressed now as they leave the last town to Grad Mountains. They have to continue their journey by foot. They entrust their horses in the public stable master’s care and they set off after replenishing their provisions and have a night’s rest. Chris now has to carry Andreas who is still unconscious, and Robert and Carolyn carry their backpacks.

When they finally reach the mountains of Grad, the greatest mountain range in Borgia and obviously, in the continent of Aurelia, they can’t but stare at it in wonder (Robert, whatever, again hides his amazement with an indifferent look on his face). And as usual, Chris whimpers and lets out his stream of complaints – again.

‘Damn, this is HUGE! Correction – HYPER-HUGE! Is this where shortie here told us to go through? Man, he sure demands so much while he’s sleeping on my back! Why? Why me?’

Robert and Carolyn ignore that complaint altogether, as they don’t hear any suggestion to go back yet. If they do, they’re all ready to smack anybody who said it down as an answer.

They tread the steep mountain path through an extremely cold weather and a violent, snowy wind that one might mistake as a blizzard. It’s a good thing they don’t have to climb the mountain to reach The Dwarfs’ Citadel of Ylbarra in Grad although they must hurry as a dwarf’s life is at stake. They walk on and on for a few days and can hardly say a word.

The party, even Robert never went to Grad before, and the townspeople there only told them to follow the path. And just as Robert and his party think that they are lost and it’s impossible to reach Ylbarra in this weather, they find a cave and decide to rest in there and plan the next move. They cut the roots that grow through the cave wall, and make fire from it plus some firewood Carolyn brought in a backpack.

Just as things are getting warmer, Chris is the one who talks first.

‘Man, we almost die freezing out there! Now we are stuck here in a cave in the middle of nowhere!’

Carolyn scowls, ‘Hmph, I know I can’t trust you to ask directions to Ylbarra from the townspeople. I just feel that their information can’t be good.’

Then a voice comes, ‘Don’t blame him… or the townspeople… no man can reach Ylbarra…. Unless… there’s a dwarf… or someone who’s been there… to guide them…’

Carolyn answers, ‘Well, thank you for your “timely” information, Rob, why didn’t you… hey, wait a minute! That’s not Robert’s voice! This means…’

Robert, Carolyn and Christopher turn their heads almost at the same time to the place where Father Andreas lies down. And there he is – he is conscious now but is still weak. Carolyn rushes to Andreas and checks his condition. She says, ‘Thank Vadis! Teacher, this is me, Carolyn. And these are Christopher, and Robert. We have been carrying you all the way to Grad.’

Andreas replies feebly, ‘Ah… Vadis be praised… but what am I doing… returning to Grad? I went to find… help… to chase them…’

Robert asks again, ‘Chase whom? Ah, you were the one who wants to return to Grad. You said that and we decided to take you all the way here.’

Andreas sighs, ‘Ahh, this is bad… real bad… but how come… you find me? The last thing I remember is… I was lost in the snowy field… and… and I was about to die…’

Robert answers, ‘Chris here saw you collapsed and told us to rescue you. I think Vadis has sent us there so you can be saved. What a fortunate coincidence.’

Andreas tries to laugh but all he can produce is a weak giggle.

‘Aye… Vadis can work miracles… But alas, they must be gone now… how can I… return to report…. This failure?’

Chris now talks, ‘I don’t get it, Father – who are they? Did they harm you and give you those wounds? And what is failed?’

‘Ahhh… ahhh.. no other choice… we have to… go to Grad….’

‘Hey, fatso, answer me first!’ Chris is getting impatient.

‘Chris! Mind your manners! My teacher is still weak! Let him rest for a while.’

Andreas shakes his head. ‘Ohh, nay… can’t rest now… must reach Ylbarra… and receive punishment.’

‘Punishment?! This guy is a psycho. If I were you, I won’t return there!’ Says Chris, pointing his finger onto his head.

Robert is irritated, but he makes a quick decision. ‘Enough, Chris! Don’t insult him again! Now we need rest, and we’ll set off again at sunrise! And Andreas will guide us there and explain us everything when we reach Ylbarra.’

Andreas forces a weak smile. ‘Good thinkin’, lad.’

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