The Wolf and the Lamb
So Taylor took the lead, and Tristan brought up the rear - because it made the most sense, certainly not because the wolf liked it that way. They carried on, with The Lady keeping a sharp eye on the lamb in front of her. That day, their progress was about the same as it had been before.
The next day was just a little quicker, as Taylor found is "ice-legs", and began to understand what he could and could not get away while on the glacier. As The Lady watched Taylor, Tristan found himself watching Gordon. From time to time, the rabbit's ears would perk up, for no apparent reason. A couple of times Gordon even looked back over his shoulder at the wolf as if to ask "Did you hear that?", but since he didn't, Tristan would only stare at him in bewilderment.
And, of course, the next day, Taylor fell into a crevasse. Tied to three ropes, he didn't drop far, but when he looked down at the sharp-edged blocks and spikes below him - this particular crack was "only" fifty feet deep - he gained a new respect for just how bad it would be to fall in. There was no chance anyone would survive that. Taylor slowed down again, his confidence somewhat eroded by the experience.
That same day, once they'd re-grouped – and in Tristan's case, recovered – Gordon suddenly called for a halt. Everyone stood looking at him wondering why, but he seemed to be intently looking at the ridge, downstream. Both his ears were up.
"Did anyone hear that?" he asked without looking away from the top of the ridge.
There was a round of no's and a couple of hear what's. But the rabbit wasn't going to be satisfied with that this time. "Tristan – you got good ears. You didn't hear anything?"
"Like a... like a... it's almost more like... okay, look – I can't actually hear it either. But I feel it with my ears. Don't ask me how. It's like the air does this... short, fast... breaths. Never mind. You don't hear or feel anything, then..."
"Okay - How 'bout this, then," Gordon tried a new tactic, "You got good eyes, too. See the top of the ridge down yonder? Just to the left of those three little peaks? See the snow-shelf hanging from it?"
"Well – it look funny to you at all? In any way?"
"I don't know what I'm looking for... it looks like every other-"
"It's brighter," Taylor spoke up.
Tristan looked at him incredulously, "It is not. It's exactly the same as everywhere else."
"No – it's brighter. Not exactly 'brighter', but whiter, I guess. Or something."
"Taylor," Tristan began, but Gordon cut him off.
"You see any other snow that's bright like that, Taylor?"
"Uh..." Taylor looked around. He'd been so busy studying the ice right in front of him for so long, he hadn't really had much chance to admire the scenery, such as it was. "Not really..."
"All right," Gordon said, "So Taylor sees somethin', and I hear somethin'. Just checkin'. Carry on. Oh, Taylor? Just... keep an eye on it now and then, eh?"
That night, as they sat around where they would have made a fire, if they weren't on solid ice, grimly eating their jerked meat, The Lady had more questions for Taylor.
"Taylor – you've become quite adept at leading us around the cracks. In fact, you seem to have developed a feel for where they're likely to be, judging by how you have us go out of our way for no apparent reason. Care to share the secret?"
The lamb really didn't care to – because he was afraid it would sound stupid. As proud as he was for having an important job now, he was still very much aware of his status as the "kid".
"Oh. Well... I dunno... It just seems like... y'know... the way to go, sometimes..."
"Taylor..." she looked at him severely – he was obviously holding something back.
"No – I swear! I guess I'm just-"
The Lady looked over at the wolf instead, and said tiredly, "Tristan..."
Tristan glanced at her, then back at the lamb, and said, "Taylor..."
Cornered, Taylor looked at Gordon for support.
"Yer on yer own, kiddo," the rabbit smirked.
"Well... I think... I think I can sort of see down through the snow, when there's a crack. It makes it look kinna blue. But I'm not sure. Uh, I mean, sometimes I'm sure, but, uh..."
"Blue?" The Lady said, "I never noticed that. Gordon?"
"All looks the same to me, ma'am."
The pair of them looked at Tristan, who said, "Hey – don't look at me! I wish I knew what the hell 'blue' even was..."
"It doesn't exactly..." Taylor struggled to explain himself, "I mean, if you look right at it, it goes away. Ya sort of have to look at it out of the corner of your eye. It's really really faint."
"Peripheral vision?" Tristan said, "Yeah – I use that to see better at night. You get better colors that way?"
"Well... I guess... The ice in the cracks is blue, and I guess it sort of shines up through the snow that covers 'em. I think."
"Well well", The Lady said, "It seems that the variety in our species is coming in handy, wouldn't you say-"
"SSSSHHHH!" Gordon shushed. Everyone did.
"Tris! Check out the ridge again! See anything going on?" Now that it was dark, the wolf would be the only one of them who'd be able to see it.
"You mean that part that you wanted me to-"
"Yes dammit! Anything happening up there?"
"What did you hear, Gordon?" The Lady asked.
"It was like before – but faster. And louder. You're sure none of ya heard anything?"
No one had. They continued eating in silence, but Gordon shifted himself to face the downstream ridge he was sure was making that noise. He heard nothing further. When it was time to go to sleep, and The Lady was preparing for the first watch as usual, he said:
"Uh – ma'am? Mind if I take the first one this time? I just wanna keep an ear on that snow-self, is all."
"Yes, that's a good idea, Gordon. Quite frankly, you're giving me the creeps with your talk of noises only you can hear."
"And, uh, Tristan? You wanna stay up with me for awhile? I can't see a damn thing up there..."
"Yeah, okay. If you think it's worth it."
Taylor and The Lady spread out furs over the ice to sleep on, and covered up with more furs. There were the usual distant rumblings, like thunder, but no more strange noises.
Until almost three hours later, when Tristan was just wondering if he could at least get a couple of hours of sleep before his watch...
"Tris! Check it out!" Gordon hissed.
Tristan didn't hear anything, and yawned hugely before he glanced at the place in question. But he still didn't see anything unusual.
"Looks exactly like it – oh... fuck..."
"What!?" Gordon cried.
"It's moving. It's like... it's like the whole... now it's starting to break up, some parts are faster than others, and-"
POW!!! Craaaaaak! Because of the distance, the sound had taken this long to reach them.
Tristan damn sure heard that! The sound seemed to travel all the way through his body. Taylor and The Lady were instantly awake, too.
"What's happening?!" The Lady demanded to know.
"Looks like that shelf I've been hearing finally gave way, ma'am. Shouldn't bother us though. Tris?"
"No... no, we're okay – holy gods... look at that... I never thought anything could move so fast..."
"How much time, Tristan. From when it broke to the glacier. How many minutes?" the Old Goat wanted to know.
"Minutes? Try seconds. Less than twenty. Maybe less than fifteen..." Now the roar of thunder saturated the air around them, and further speech was impossible. They all covered their ears against it, but it didn't make much difference. Everyone but Tristan was staring into the darkness, trusting that the wolf would alert them – somehow – if anything bad was coming their way. It was kind of hard to believe that nothing was – anything that made that much noise just had to be bad.
As Tristan watched the front of the avalanche smash into the glacier floor, a two miles away, he was thinking pretty much the same thing. If they had been there, instead of here... there would be absolutely no place to hide. It would be all over. They would be gone.
He glanced over to the portion of the ridge towards which they were heading. It had a snow-shelf, too.
The next day all eyes glanced worriedly at the ridge in front of them as they got ever closer. Tomorrow they would be in range of an avalanche, should one occur. They all knew what it would mean. The Lady stopped them to make camp early - the sun was barely behind the mountains.
"Everyone get as much sleep as possible. We will be getting off this glacier tomorrow - if Taylor keeps up the pace he's been setting - and I think we should keep going night and day until we top that ridge. Are we in agreement, gentlemen?"
No one offered a word of dissent - they'd been rather hoping she'd say something like that. Otherwise they would have suggested it themselves.
"No? All right then. Tristan, since we'll be depending on you once the sun goes down tomorrow, you shall not take your watch tonight. It will be just me and Gordon," The Lady said.
But then Gordon added, "And Taylor."
She cocked an eyebrow at the rabbit, and Gordon only looked back at her unflinching. "And Taylor," she said.
They all looked Taylor's direction - but the lamb was playing it cool. No big deal. "Okay," he said simply. After all, just because they'd finally decided to TREAT HIM LIKE AN ADULT was nothing to get all excited about or anything. About time, really. Really. Taylor went on filing his ice-cleats as if nothing special had just happened.
If Gordon hadn't noticed and stopped him, he would have filed them right off.
"Hey, kiddo. Kiddo! Hey - your watch, buddy."
"Ugh... Already? Okay..."
"You gonna be alright? Want me to stay up with ya for awhile?"
"No... that's okay. Uh... Gordon? I... I can't hardly see anything at all..."
"'S okay - neither can I. Just use your ears and nose, okay? The important thing is that you're awake while the rest of us sleep. 'Kay then - I'm goin' to bed. G'nite, Taylor."
"Okay. Uhm... Gordon? Uh... I wanted to say... uhm-"
"You're welcome. See ya in the morning, Taylor. It should start getting light pretty soon anyway. You'll be all right."
When it did finally get light enough for Taylor to see, he ended up starting at Tristan, much like Tristan usually stared at him while on watch. But the lamb's thoughts were a little different. Instead of "how did this happen?", it was "what's going to happen later?" Because - even though it was taking forever - Taylor was growing up. That was going to change things between him and his wolf. He was afraid of how it might change.
He was afraid of change, period. As far as he was concerned, it could never be better than it had been so far. He couldn't imagine how things between he and the wolf could possibly improve - any more than Tristan could imagine "blue".
But - like Tristan and "blue" - just because he couldn't imagine it didn't mean it wasn't possible.
The next day, they made it off the glacier without further incident. And although the rabbit kept his ears pointed at the top of the ridge, and Taylor kept looking at it, nothing unusual seemed to be going on up there.
Taylor and The Lady walked free of tie-in ropes now, but of course Gordon and Tristan still had sleds to pull along - uphill now. Luckily, the snow still wasn't deep enough to warrant snow-shoes, but they both did still wear their ice-cleats. They were barely a quarter of the way up when night fell, and Tristan took the lead.
They hiked up through the quiet night, hour after hour. Taylor yawned. Tristan's legs got tired, but he didn't complain. He already knew he was going to be sore for awhile after the next time he'd be able to sleep. The most important thing, obviously, was to get to the top of the ridge before the snow-shelf gave way, so there was nothing to be done about yawning, and sore legs, and hungry stomachs. No one talked much. And whenever Gordon said anything, everyone's heart jumped a little - there were afraid he might say "Shhhhh!"
"Shhhh!" Gordon said. They all stopped in their tracks while the rabbit listened. It was about 4 o'clock in the morning.
After a few tense moments, Gordon only said, "Shit."
"Gordon?" The Lady asked.
"Yeah - I heard it again. And yeah, right on top of us. So what's it mean? Last time, it was almost two days I'd been hearing it before the avalanche... Can we count on that? I just have no idea. So now what?"
"Tristan - can you see any place up ahead we might use for shelter?"
"Well... I dunno how much good it'll do, but there's a pretty big out-cropping of rock up there - but it's a good ways up. At the rate we're going, we won't get there until around noon..."
"Yeah - it makes like a vertical cliff jutting out of the slope. I'm thinking the snow from the avalanche would either go around it, or over it - either way, if we stay up against the bottom of the cliff, we might be okay. Sorry - but it's the only thing I see that even might work."
"I suggest we pick up our pace. Taylor and I shall tie into Tristan's sled."
"Now wait a minute!" the wolf said indignantly, "I don't need any help with my sled! I got it! You wanna pick up the pace, I'll pick up the pace! You don't-"
"Hey, wolf-boy," Gordon said calmly.
"You know I'm a lot stronger than you. You do know that, right?"
"Well... I can still-"
"This isn't a contest, Tristan. I'm not trying to 'out-do' you. I toldja - this is survival. And besides, I can see that you're getting tired. There's no shame in that. I'm a rabbit - I have strong legs. You're a wolf - you can see at night. Y'see what I'm gettin' at?"
Tristan sighed. "Yeah. Yeah - all right. Okay, Taylor, ma'am. Uhm... we're gonna have to veer off to the left - that's where the cliff is. Better let me stay in front."
The Lady had one more thing to say as she tied Taylor and herself to Tristan's sled, "Has everyone got a knife? We may need to cut these ropes quickly, if something happens. I want you all to have knives handy. Taylor?"
"Got the dagger you gave me in my belt, ma'am. Sword too."
"Hatchet - but it's razor-sharp, I guarantee."
"Good. If we have to - we will ditch Tristan's sled. If we have to ditch both sleds... well, things will be very hard for us later. And Gordon - keep an ear out. You're the only warning we'll have, right now. We'll see what Taylor has to say when it gets light."
"It... it's brighter..." Taylor said fearfully.
"Shit," Gordon said. He'd heard the odd staccato "breathing" sound twice more prior to now, so he wasn't too surprised. Before the avalanche they'd all witnessed night before last, the noise had taken on a peculiar tone just prior to when it finally let go - but it was only a few minutes prior. And they still had a long way to go to the cliff. Tristan had been right about one thing - there just wasn't any other place to hide.
"Then we shall hurry," The Lady said. She had a way of making things sound simple. It was not, however, so simple.
For one thing, Tristan's legs were so exhausted that he didn't see how it was possible to take another step - yet he kept doing it anyway. He had no idea how that worked, and he didn't care to think about it too much. The harness to which the rope was tied was rubbing him raw in the shoulders, but he didn't think about that, either. He tried not to think at all. But when he did, he couldn't help wonder how Gordon was doing.
The rabbit was "doing" better than Tristan was - but not very much. He had no help pulling his sled. He was bleeding where the straps from the ice-cleats dug into his feet. And just like the wolf, the harness straps across his shoulders had rubbed through his fur long ago - they were now in the process of rubbing through the skin.
The cliff was still a good half-mile away when Gordon heard it again - and very loud. He shouted, without stopping, "This is it, people! Give it all you got! Taylor? What's it look like?"
"It's... it's... it's whiter. The whitest I've seen."
"MOVE IT PEOPLE!" Gordon commanded.
For the wolf and the rabbit - and less so for the goat and lamb - each step seemed more impossible than the last. Tristan and Gordon couldn't even feel their legs anymore - they were taking for granted that they were doing what they were being told to. If felt oddly like running on air - they couldn't even feel their own weight. Gordon was taking huge lung-fulls of air, out-of-step with the motion of his legs, while Tristan's mouth hung open and his tongue lolled out one side. Neither of them would have said that they'd be able to keep it up, if they'd been asked. Good thing no one asked.
But somehow they did keep going. The cliff was only a little over a hundred yards away when Gordon heard the ominous final death-gasp of the massive bank of snow above them.
"You guys cut away! Run for it! NOW!!" he yelled to the team pulling the other sled.
No one asked "are you sure" or "what about you" or "what do you mean". Taylor, The Lady, and Tristan hacked at their ropes and begun running, almost tripping over their own feet now that weight of the sled wasn't holding them back.
Then Tristan stopped. He looked back. He saw Gordon still struggling with the remaining sled. He began to run back towards the rabbit.
"GODDAMMIT TRIS!!" Gordon screamed.
And Tristan screamed back, just as emphatically, "SHUT THE FU-"
The concussion was so loud that it hurt, and their ears rang. The force of it pushed Tristan forward - both feet off the ground - but he got right back up without missing a beat. They had fifty yards to go to get to the cliff - and only seconds to do it. With no time to tie himself to Gordon's sled, he ran around behind it and began to push.
The Lady and Taylor were hugging the cliff now - they'd made it. The goat held Taylor in her arms as they turned to see how Tristan and Gordon were doing. The rumbling noise shook everything - the whole world was jittery. They could see Gordon - his eyes squinted shut as he pulled with whatever was left of his strength, and Tristan behind the sled, his head down, pushing as hard as he could.
And then white covered everything as if the rest of the world had simply been erased.
"TRISTAN!!!" Taylor screamed, and tried to run out into the falling blanket of white, but The Lady held him back.
The Lady held him firmly as the lamb struggled and flailed his arms, trying to get away. Trying to be wherever Tristan was. They could see absolutely nothing beyond ten feet away. Not the ground, not the horizon, not the sun - nothing.
But - did they hear something? It was hard to tell, through the rumbling of the tons of snow falling around and in front of them, but... it sounded... almost like...
"AAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGHHHHHH!!!" - long, loud, uninterrupted by so much as a breath - Gordon screamed, tricking himself into going on, tricking his body out of the last of it's energy. Giving his Last Effort. He would only stop screaming when the last bit of air left his lungs - and then, he thought, that would be it. The Lady watched wide-eyed - and she was not one to be surprised often - as the ghostly outline of a white rabbit appeared as if by magic against the white snow. At long last Gordon collapsed.
At Taylor's feet.
But his sled just kept on coming, as if it propelled by itself, until she could see Tristan emerge from the blinding white void, pushing it from behind. The wolf didn't know what he was doing, or why he was doing it - all he knew was that he had to push. He finally stopped when the sled's runners made contact with the rock cliff itself - then he, too, collapsed.
Now The Lady freed Taylor from her embrace and allowed him to run to Tristan's prostrate body. Because, after all... what the hell.
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. If the email address pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]