Mountain pass, part seven

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Harbend woke late in the morning. Arthur watched him stirring and left the wagon. He was back in a moment and offered Harbend a cup of steaming tea.

"Welcome back."

Harbend groaned and shivered. "It is freezing! Where are we?"

"We're where you fell asleep yesterday, and you're happy to be freezing," Arthur answered.

"We have to get going. How late is it?"

"It's late, but we're not going anywhere today. There are a couple of funerals to be taken care of first." Arthur was surprised by the coldness in his voice.

"Funerals?"

"Yes, a soldier and a trader froze to death during the night before Gring could find them. A few others suffer frostbite but they'll recover."

"Frostbite?"

Arthur explained, still feeling strangely detached from what he was saying. Somehow he couldn't accept that Harbend, who he had trusted to know everything about this world, could have made such a dangerous mistake. Somehow, if he was honest to himself, he couldn't accept that a friend he trusted didn't know everything there was to know, and the thought shamed him. He had no right to expect Harbend to handle all dangers they encountered. After all, the man was close to twenty years his junior, and Arthur, not Harbend, was supposed to know how to travel during winter. That lack of foresight cost a man and a woman their lives.

He turned away so as not to have to meet Harbend's stare.

"Arthur, thank you."

"Thanks for what?"

"I thank you for saving my life."

Shame grew even stronger, and Arthur only nodded before leaving the wagon.

He started to untie his horse but decided against it. Instead he climbed the trek to where he knew people were making ready to mourn. He needed to see what his negligence had cost others.

He was almost at the burial when he met his two human self appointed apprentices. Both men were wearing no more than the silks they had donned several days earlier, and Arthur wondered why he didn't see any signs of frostbite. Probably some more of their strange magics. He examined the man closest to him. Trai of the Achnai family, and titled Khar, just like his companion, Escha. They looked tired.

"What are you two doing here?" No response. Arthur was about to repeat his question when he realized neither of the men would understand a single word he said if Gring wasn't present. He bowed stiffly and continued past them.

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