Crossing borders

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Frostbite doesn't hurt while it's still frozen. All the nerve endings are frozen solid, which numbs the overall experience. It's not comfortable, but it's not as bad as when the flesh begins to defrost and swollen vessels resume their flow of blood and start bursting.

Tranton had a beginner's knowledge of such things, having researched it prior to departing from Hollanhead. Back then it had seemed like a distant possibility; one which he didn't seriously entertain, being far too prepared, far too crafty and inventive to fall victim to such avoidable problems. That was before he'd ventured into the mountains and found them uncommonly hostile, with his knowledge woefully inadequate. He'd realised then that he'd made a terrible mistake, though in customary style had then refused to submit to that error.

Fortunately for him, the inhabitants of Lagnin had a far more sophisticated understanding of such matters and had proved to be able nurses. Whether that was due to training or simply an abundance of cases on which to practice he'd yet to ascertain. It hadn't escaped his realisation that had he found the valley uninhabited he would have been in a far more precarious position.

After discovering the door locked, he'd made an almighty racket, banging his good fist on the wood, then had flung shouted threats that he would break the window and make his own way out. It hadn't taken long for him to hear the lock click back into its recess. He'd had his arms up, ready for a fight - not that he was in any fit state to spar against even a child, let alone someone of the size and evident toughness of Roldan Stryke. The door had swung open to reveal not the grizzled old veteran but a young girl of about nine years old, who stared up at him with displeasure and held a large metal key in one raised hand.

"My mum says you'll wake the dead," she said. "And the other guests. Will you stop?"

Entirely undone, his anger subdued, Tranton struggled to find appropriate words. "Your mother?" was all he managed.

"Yes," the girl said primly. "She runs the inn. She's in charge, when my dad's out travelling. She says you're being too noisy."

Gathering his wits, Tranton held onto the door frame and did his best to lower himself to one knee. "What's your name?"

"Erin," she said. "Your name is Mr Seldon."

"That's right," Tranton said, "though I've only told that to one man, about fifteen minutes ago."

"I listen at the door," the girl said, shrugging. "That's what my mum says you should do."

"Your mother sounds like a resourceful woman," Tranton said, smiling. "I'd very much like to meet her. Is she downstairs now, perhaps?"

Erin frowned then shook her head. "Oh, no," she said, "you need to stay up here so that you don't scare anyone."

"You have nothing to fear from me, I promise you," Tranton said in the most reassuring voice he could muster, "but I do not appreciate being locked in my room."

The girl nodded and frowned, then put her hands on her hips. "Well," she said. "That's more about keeping you safe. Not about trapping you or anything."

"Is that so? What makes you think I need to be kept safe?"

Erin clasped her hands behind her back and shifted her weight from foot to foot awkwardly. "Mum says you're meant to be kept a secret. That people might go funny if too many people know that you're here."

Tranton nodded. "Because I'm from over the mountains?"

The girl froze and her mouth slowly drooped open in astonishment. "You're from over the mountains?" she shrieked, jumping up and down and raising her hands to cover her mouth. "How did you get all this way?"

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