Wine of the Gods 4: Explorers

 

Explorers

 

Pam Uphoff

 

Copyright © 2011 Pamela Uphoff

All rights reserved

 

ISBN

978-0-9839469-3-9

 

Cover Art credit P.A. McWhorter

 

This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional. Any resemblance to real people or events is coincidental.

 

Prologue

13
59 Spring

The New Lands

 

Fifty miles to the north they were stopped by a wall of ice.

"The Great Northern Glacier." Lefty stared up at it. "I've seen it on the other side of the mountains. This is fantastic. Do you suppose it goes all the way across the continent to the Eastern Ocean?"

"Only one way to find out." Dydit was riding today, occasionally scouting out ahead of the wagon to find a path the horses could traverse.

Question flashed a grin from the high driver's bench of the boxy wagon. "I want to see what happens when it meets the Rip."

Lefty was on the other saddle horse, and reined around to head east without commenting.

Never stuck her head out of the front hatch to look. A tangle of high, young voices behind her testified to her failed efforts at getting the kids to nap.

She ducked back out of sight, and the kids
crowded in.

"That's a lot of ice." Rustle sounded impressed.

"Wow!" Havi was less verbose, and just as impressed, as he twisted his head to stare up at what must be a couple of hundred feet of jagged ice. Backed up by even more ice towering up in the near distance.

Question nodded. "Yep. Dad says it covers the whole north pole region."

The kids nodded solemnly. Nil was considered an expert, bested only by one of the old gods. Not that they often disagreed with the old wizard.

It took four days to climb the gradual slope of the Rip, scouting out paths over the rough weathered ash ridges that interrupted the smooth stretches of younger lava fields.

The Rip was a strange structure. Taken at its largest it was a ridge, several thousand miles long, a hundred miles wide and a mile high, except for the canyon down the center. Down in the depths of the canyon, it was even stranger, warm and steamy from the numerous geysers, a badlands of twisted rock formations and dangerously oversized lizards living in the warm river that snaked though the eerie lava landscape. Here, where the Rip met the glacier, the wall of ice thinned as it climbed the ridge, and stopped altogether at the rim, adding a mere five hundred feet or so to the canyon walls. The deep canyon arrowed north into the ice and faded into the steam and fog with no sign of narrowing or stopping.

"I wonder how far north the hot zone goes?" Never was sitting cross legged on the rock. "The ice is invisible, to Witch sight. How about you wizards?"

They all variously squinted and closed their eyes, and they all shook their heads. Rustle and Havi, Never's daughter and Dydit's son, copied the adults and reported similar negative results. They were six and five this year, and trying to be good. The concept of being left behind to attend school having been broached, they were being
very
good.

"Should we try and travel down there, or stick to our planned route?" Never paced to the canyon edge and squinted at the fogbank. "Hot wet air rising, hits the cold from the ice. Maybe I could just go
in on foot a little ways."

"Ha! Never." Dydit look
ed over to see how she'd take it.

Never  ignored him. "What do you two think? Is it worth finding or making a way down?"

"We ought to go at least far enough to see if it could be traversed," Lefty opined.

After much negotiation, Left
y and Question climbed down the canyon walls to scout, while Dydit and Never moved south to find a lower starting spot to cut a ramp down to the floor of the Rip. They stopped even with the Old Road. A thousand years old, built by one of the gods, it had once crossed the continent, and was still visible here and there.

They camped and walked over to study the situation.

"The canyon walls aren't getting any lower, and I need the practice, anyway. Let's turn this side canyon into a ramp. That should get us nearly halfway down." Dydit drew a precise hot line across the rocks. "This will get me out of trouble with Nil. Always sneering that I'll never be a decent wizard if I don't practice more."

"Decent? You?"
Never raised her eyebrows, but reached to pull power from Earth. "I think I can give it a push, from here."

"Show me."

She shoved and the rock slid and crashed down into the canyon. "Hmm, let me give it a shake." That was harder, vibrating it so it shifted and packed down . . . she concentrated on small parts at a time, and established a balance between the power she was pulling from beneath her feet and the power she was applying 'over there.'

"Can you shift this stuff?" Dydit heated a pile of rubble.

Never stopped vibrating, and picked up the top boulder and rolled and bounced it into the largest hole. It was hot enough to be squished down flat. With a pattern on top, for traction, just like the Old Road. "Next!"

Witch and wizard, e
ach working in their own way, but also coordinating, they walked forward, cutting back the canyon walls, packing the debris, fusing the surface, and texturing it. Learning as they worked.

When it was done, they
staggered, exhausted, back to the camp. And found Lefty and Question with the kids, cooking dinner.

Lefty spotted them coming and crossed his arms disapprovingly. "When we got back,
two days ago
, the kids were fixing their own food, and feeding the horses and chickens.
Fortunately
the horses were pegged out where they could get to water. Will you two
please
not do that when there isn't a responsible adult around?"

"Mind you," Question added, "it was very impressive, the boulders flying through the air, the rock melting and glowing and flowing downhill. Why, if it hadn't been for both of you being completely oblivious to the whereabouts of your own children, I wouldn't worry about you doing dangerous things like that at all."

Never and Dydit looked at each other.

"How long were you gone?" Never asked.

"Three days." Lefty said. "Assuming you took a day to move here, you two were completely zoned for four days."

"I am a little thirsty." Never admitted.

Dydit turned and walked back to the start of the ramp. Never joined him.

"We did that?" she whispered.

"Guess so." He had an odd expression on his face as he turned away.

Havi and Rustle ran up. "Can we see it now? Please Daddy? Mommy?" Rustle looked longingly at the ramp.

"Certainly. You were very, very good kids while Mommy and Daddy were building it."

"We fed the horses because you forgot." Havi was smug.

"And we cookeded all by ourselves." Rustle informed them. "You wouldn't eat it, though. You just said 'Go away, don't come near.' It looked pretty at night. Me and Havi sat on top of the wagon and watched."

"Uncle Lefty and Aunt Question said you were bad. What did you do?" Havi sounded a bit gleeful.

"We didn't fix dinner or feed the horses or the chickens." Never told her. "You two were
very
grown up and
very
good. And very smart to stay away, so we didn't accidentally hurt you."

They both looked insufferably smug, and at
Dydit's wave, galloped down the ramp.

"You two are impossible." Question came up behind them. "And should they both be calling you Mommy and Daddy when as far as I can tell you don't
do
anything?"

"Bah, nit picking details." Never took the canteen Question held out to her. "Just because we're
almost
as slow as you two were is no reason to pick."

The ramp was wide enough for two wagons, at an easy slant that bent at the rim of the Rip to run along the side of the canyon. It swept around corners and leapt side canyons on graceful curves.

They stared at the first bridge.

"Do you remember us doing that?" Dydit asked.

"Sort of. I mean, I remember saying we shouldn't block the water, and we needed something like that. It looks like it was all melted. I think that's your fault."

They walked down to the first outward curve, where they could see the whole thing. Never leaned out over the low fence between the ramp and a straight drop of a few hundred feet. "Did we build a bridge over the
river
?"

Dydit leaned over and took a long look. "Guess so."

Lefty looked as well. "Is this how you old Scoone Wizards built things?"

Dydit blinked at him, and started giggling.

Never punched his arm, "No hysterics!"

Dydit slid down to sit with his back to the view, and cupped his hands over his mouth while he breathed. He finally dropped his hands. "That is how the
ancient
wizards built things. The Old Gods, maybe. I don't remember
anything
being made like that.
I
certainly should not have been able to do it. My parents weren't that strong," he made a throwing motion. "Well, parents of record. The Scoone nobility were notorious for abducting bloodlines. It was a mark of prestige to have a royal bastard or a god's baby in the family, and every one considered it a show of ability to diddle your betters and put a bastard of yours in theirs."

"So, you don't know, I mean . . . " Never boggled. "I thought you were like a Duke or something."

"Yeah, but only after my two older brothers died. As my mother's fourth child, she may well have, umm, they called it birding, umm, have tried for a stronger wizard to sire her next child. They don't sleep around, mind you, that's a cheap trick. It's all done by magic. Teleportation if you're feeling scientific. Traveling on a very small scale. All the wizard women tried to steal sperm from their husband's betters, all the young male wizards tried to sneak their sperm in where it didn't belong. The top wizards were always defending and shielding their privates. If I'd been a girl, a rumor would have been tossed around, to improve my marriage prospects."

"Improve?"

"Yeah. As a son, well, I was just another kid at the table, no big deal, but I got an advantageous apprenticeship. Old gods! I hope Maleth wasn't my actual father!"

"Heh. No kidding. How about the King? Did the wives try to snag some royal connections for daughters? And of course that was about the time Harry and the Auld Wulf were . . . "

"Enough! Stop! Maybe Maleth wouldn't be so bad after all." Dydit buried his head in his hands. "Unless of course, it was the God of Bad Luck. That would actually make sense. Anyway, that was like, six hundred years ago."

Rustle and Havi came running back, and instantly homed in on him. "Hi Daddy. Are you tired, Daddy?"

"You should eat something before you go to bed." Rustle crossed her arms and tapped a foot.

Dydit pulled Havi onto his lap and hugged him. "Yes, I think I need to go to bed. And yes, Miss Rustle, you are absolutely correct. I need to eat a healthy, well-balanced lizard. Take me to him."

Over dinner, Lefty and Question described the eerie fog covered landscape of the Rip.

"Every once in a while you'd come on these huge blocks of ice that had fallen from above. Just sitting there, slowly melting." Question grinned, "It's a bit hard on the local wildlife, I'd think."

"It's fairly flat. We went nearly fifty miles, and never found a barrier that the wagon couldn't cross." Lefty glance toward the Rip. "Especially with you two around. Still plenty of hot pools and occasionally a geyser. Did we mention the fog? It got thick enough that you couldn't see more than ten feet, and even when it cleared at ground level, it was overhead. Between the Rip and the Glaciers, there may not be much seasonal change of temperature."

"Just the light season and the dark season." Question grinned. "I wouldn't want to spend a winter in there, it's really gloomy already. So whatever we're going to do, we
must
turn back in time to find a geyser."

Never poked at the crumbs of dinner.
"Have you all read Zobeste's History of the World?" They all nodded. "Would it be possible to cross the northern pole and end up in the old world?"

Lefty sat up.
"Or whatever is left of it? I wonder if there is anything left?"

"
There are tales, myths." Dydit scratched his chin. "Maybe we could find evidence of what actually happened."

"The horses will starve if we have to spend a winter in there." Question pointed out.

"Ah, but if we are near a hot spring, we can teleport back through known sites. Or call a god for a lift all the way home. And I suspect that if the geysers don't go all the way across, the ice canyon will close down pretty quick and we'll have to turn back anyway."

Never grinned. "And if we can cross, we'll have a whole new world to explore."

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