Thilda and Breena continued into the hills, followed by Wil and Gwendolyn with the pack animals. The snow was falling quite heavily by now, and they were now truly glad they had taken the furs from the temple. The camels, however, were not in the least way impressed by their new surroundings.
“We are being watched,” Breena said, without turning to look at her companions.
“For about an hour now, I think,” the archer replied, “but I can’t see anyone, just little clues in the snow.”
The drifts were beginning to really become deep in places, and the mountain path had totally disappeared. It was only the spacing of the trees that gave any indication of where the trail might lead.
“There is movement to our right, but nothing seems to be there,” Breena said quietly. The blanket of snow was unbroken, she started to question herself, had it only been the falling snow she sensed?
Then, as the “path” began to descend a small hill, four white-clad figure appeared ahead of them. They were tall and fair, and even with their hoods pulled up against the weather it was obvious that they had the features of Mountain Elves.
The “Old Ones” didn’t draw weapons, or do anything threatening other than block their path.
Breena began to say something in the “Old Tongue,” but it didn’t seem to mean anything to the white-clad figures before them.
Suddenly to everyone’s surprise, Thilda held two fingers to her forehead and said “I give you honour,” in the modern elvish tongue.
“We share your respect,” was the reply of one of the centre figures. The Elves, for they were indeed of that race, were of the Snow Clan, who had lived in the upper passes of the mountains for longer than anyone knew. They were fair, indeed almost albino in their features, though their eyes shone as azure or sea green depending on the individual.
“Thilda, how in the hells,” Wilberta began.
Thilda raised a palm to silence her, and mouthed, “Later.”
“We have lost our way and three of our companions,” Thilda said to the Elves.
“Your companions are safe, and on the opposite peak,” one of them replied. “If you come with us, you can wait for the snow to pass. Then we will see to the others.”
“Guys, trust me on this one,” Thilda said turning to Gwendolyn.
They looked uncertain, but they had no way of knowing how many Elves surrounded them. They took her lead, and followed the white-cloaked figures.
It took about half an hour before a break in the rock face opened into a narrow gorge. This in turn led to a cirque-bed in which a ring of about twenty cottages stood. It was then that the colleagues noticed about a dozen additional white adorned figures who had followed them into the enclosure.
They dismounted and tethered their animals, and they were then led into a long building which was larger than the others. Once inside the Elves removed their hoods revealing their braided platinum hair. Gwendolyn noticed that the inhabitants were indistinct in gender, and quickly remembered Thilda’s “friend” from the armourer’s stall.
“You little . . . ” she said with a smile and a wink at her long-time friend, “I would have never imagined.”
Thilda, uncharacteristically blushed.
An Elf who seemed to have some authority over the others, gestured to some stools for the companions to sit upon, then pulled one close for them-self.
The fair figure held two fingers to their forehead, and said “I give you honour” in elvish.
Thilda replied, “We return your respect,” on behalf of the party.
Another older elf drew a stool close to the leader and sat down. “You are far from the lower paths,” the Elf said in a thickly accented common tongue.
Gwendolyn sizing up the situation, put two fingers to her forehead and said, “The snows fooled us, and we lost our way.”
“Where are you bound?” the Elf questioned.
“To the Capital in the kingdom.”
Thilda added in elfish, “We did not mean to trespass.”
The authoritative one raised a hand in a dismissive gesture, “This is of no concern, unless you have ill intentions.”
“None, I assure you,” Thilda said with an imploring voice.
The leader smiled. “How do you come to speak the ‘High Tongue’ so well?”
“I, I um, have a friend,” she said blushing again.
“You are welcome here,” the leader said in elvish. This was repeated in the common tongue by the other elder.
They were then brought a filling stew and bowls of tea in the elvish fashion.
Comfortable beds were prepared for the night, and they were told that the Elves would find their friends in the morning.