Here’s the conclusion of Brotherhood: The Mountain Ascent, a story set in The Victor’s Blade universe! If you missed part 1, click here.
[Frum Wimbleton and Pepin are on a dangerous trek through the mountains to reach the lands beyond. The boys may be traveling companions, but they have very little in common: Frum is a boisterous, talkative elf while Pepin is a silent Snow Faer. Frum is small and light on his feet, while Pepin is tall and limber. Still, it will take both of them to reach the other side of the mountains… before the approaching storm comes.]
“Hoi, Pep, d’ya think it’s getting hard to breathe?” Frum anxiously pawed at the fabric of his coat collar.
They were getting high on the mountain now, and both boys were panting. At a nod from Pepin, both boys stepped back and simultaneously plopped down atop a snowdrift to catch their breath.
Each lad glanced about the cold mountain while they sat, their breath puffing like smoke from a dragon’s nostril.
Frum shivered and patted his arms, shaking his head. As his teeth clattered noisily, he glanced at Pepin with a rueful smirk. “Boy, Pep, you don’t need nothing, do ya?”
Pepin raised his brow curiously. Then he glanced around at the snow and shrugged.
“Nah, I don’t just mean about the cold. Just look at ya! Sittin’ there like a stone, as if this whole mountain could come down on ya an’ ya wouldn’t blink!” Frum waved his hand at Pepin, gesturing ridiculously.
The stoic Snow Faer cracked a grin. He held out an open palm… and then smacked his hands together.
“Yes, I know we’d both be smushed if the mountain came down. But I’m bein’ serious now.” Frum’s characteristic smile had faded completely. “Ain’t there anythin’ that scares you?”
There was a moment of consideration. Pepin tapped his chin before shrugging.
Frum rested his chin in his hands. “Nothin’ at all? But weren’t you all by yourself back home? No one to look out for ya?”
Pepin held up his fingers in an “O” shape. Zero. No one.
“No family, no girl to keep ya company?”
With a sad little sigh, Pepin frowned and shook his head.
“No best pal?”
Pepin was silent, and he looked puzzled as he contemplated the question. Finally he shook his head and shrugged.
“Oh, Pep! Ya gotta have a pal! Everybody needs one!” Frum cried, jumping from his seat in the snowdrift. “You can’t go it alone,” Frum added quietly, glancing back down the mountain the way they’d come. He looked a bit… sad suddenly. “No one can.”
Frum motioned to the surrounding mountain. “Life’s just like this mountain, see? It’s full of dangers and twists n’ sharp turns. Y’can’t travel up it alone. A climber needs a pal beside him who can pat him on the back and tell him he’s doing a good job when he climbs a real rough crag. Or tell him not to give up when he’s just about had enough and wants to go home. Or give him a good cuff once in a while, just to keep him on his toes.
“That’s what a friend’s for, pal.”
For a long time, Pepin did not respond. He sat on the mountain snowdrift, brow knitted in thought.
But his thoughts were interrupted by Frum clapping his hands on his knees. “Welp, I’ve got my breath back. Let’s keep movin’!” With a fresh spring in his step, he skipped away, merry as ever, as if nothing were bothering him.
Pepin shook his head and shouldered his pack as the two continued their ascent.
The drifts swelled from the freshly fallen snow, and it was not long before Frum and Pepin were wading through snow waist-deep. Frum was light enough to continue walking on the surface of the snow, but Pepin was far heavier, and he struggled to cut a path through. The boys had wandered far from the shelter of rock and crag, and the wind snapped at them from all directions.
As snow flew in their faces and stung their eyes, the boys pushed forward, side by side. Their progress was painful and slow, Pepin shoving inch by inch through the thick and heavy snow. The scenery around them was monotone: blinding white and shadowy gray with the thickening clouds overhead. Every sound from their labored breaths to the crunch of flakes beneath their boots was muffled by the snowfall.
So the terrifying crack that rent the air sounded even louder.
Frum spun this way and that, his blue eyes wide with fear. “W-what’s—?”
But Pepin knew what. His face was nearly white as his hair. He lunged toward Frum, his mouth wide in a soundless shout.
Two more cracks and a long, whining creak, and suddenly the heavy snow on the slope just ahead shifted in one giant slab. In the next moment, it was all rushing like a waterfall, barreling straight for them.
There was no time to react. Frum and Pepin went under the powder of snow immediately, sucked below by the powerful current. The avalanche crashed down the mountainside, and the boys tumbled down with it: rumbling, crashing, falling…
And then, silence and darkness. The avalanche settled as soon as it had started. For a long time, the new field of pure white snow sat, silent.
And then—“Pep!” Frum’s hoarse voice carried eerily over the death-silence of the mountainside. “Peeeeeep!” Frum, powdered white with snow, staggered across the new snowy slope. He whirled about, knees knocking together, eyes roving wildly, completely at a loss. “Pep, where are you?!”
Frum dropped to his knees, digging furiously, flinging snow everywhere. But there was nothing there. He staggered down the slope a few more yards and dropped to his knees a second time. Again, he dug. Again, there was nothing.
“Pep!” Frum’s eyes flooded with tears. “Oh, Pep, I’ve dragged you from your home to your grave! Confound it, Pep, you can’t die here! Where are you?!”
Frum wavered down the slope, digging in two more places. “Confounded adventure! Confounded wander-lust! Confound me, Pep! Why’d I have to drag you into this just ’cause I couldn’t go it alone?”
But there was nothing. No sign, no sight, no sound of his friend.
“Pep!” Frum’s voice caught in his throat. He staggered a few more paces before staggering face-first into the snow. He sat up, hot tears coursing down his face. “Oh, Pep, pal… I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. This is… it’s all my fault!” He buried his face in his hands. “Please, Pep… don’t leave me all alone…”
Only the bitter wind was there to howl at him for his foolishness.
And then a hand burst through the snow three yards away, waving frantically.
“Pep!” Frum shrieked in wonder and relief, all tears forgotten. He clambered on hands and knees over to Pepin’s scrabbling hand. “Don’t worry, pal, Frum’s here to help!” Immediately Frum set to work, clawing at the snow around Pepin’s arm to dig his friend free.
As soon as his head cleared, Pepin gasped for air. He floundered in the compact snow, trapped by its weight.
“Pep! Pep, you’re all right!” Frum cheered as he dashed away tears and started digging even faster. As soon as Frum had freed Pepin’s arm, the Snow Faer helped dig too. Soon Frum was dragging Pepin out of the pit of snow.
“You scoundrel, you’re alive!” Frum choked as he threw his arms about the Faer. Pepin gasped for air, but offered Frum a weary grin. He patted Frum’s back gently. They sat for a while, hugging each other there on the silent snowy mountainside.
Pepin stared up at the snow-white ceiling of the new snow shelter. Frum had tossed and turned, shuddering and muttering for hours. At last, however, he’d finally fallen asleep.
Pepin glanced over at Frum. Even in sleep the elf was neither silent nor still, shivering and grumbling in his sleep.
Pepin shook his head with a smile and gently patted his friend’s head. Rising on quiet feet, Pepin clambered out of their snow hut and peeped out at the midnight sky.
Stars dotted the clear sky, crisp and clear like diamonds glittering in a black velvet gown.
Pepin stood gazing at them for a moment, watching his breath smoke and rise into the night sky. Then he turned and stared at the snowy slope he’d been buried beneath only a few hours before. Another turn and he was gazing back the way they’d come: down that winding, terrible path that led back to his village. Pepin stared at that one for quite some time, thoughtful. Contemplative.
But then he turned once more, this time to face the slope they’d cross tomorrow: the path they’d been traveling all this time.
Pepin tugged on his hood once before ducking back into the snow fortress.
Frum still slept, mumbling incoherently and shivering with cold.
Pepin shrugged off his beautiful fur-lined coat and set it on Frum’s shivering shoulders. Frum’s shivering slowed… and then stopped altogether. The elf stopped mumbling, and a smile spread across his face.
The smile had spread to Pepin’s face as he settled back in to sleep.
“Wow… what a view…” Frum whispered.
Pepin gazed down the slope of the mountaintop, past the gentle snowdrifts and the coursing paths, past the misty clouds below them, to the greenery below. Trees—first pine and then others, oak and maple—stretched into a forest that passed away into green hills and yellow valleys crossed with sapphire-blue rivers and streams. Smoke rose in lazy tendrils from cheery chimneys of cottages sitting upon the knees of the mountain.
The boys had reached the other side of the mountains.
Frum’s face was bursting with a grin that threatened to melt the snow around them for miles. “I think,” Frum announced, his arms akimbo, “that will be an excellent start for my adventure!” He pointed down the mountain slope to the land far beyond.
Rolling his eyes, Pepin shook his head and tapped Frum’s shoulder.
Frum spun to him, and his grin grew even brighter. “Right. Our adventure.”
A grin to match Frum’s spread across Pepin’s face.
“Let’s go, pal!”
And together, side by side, the two began the long descent into the lands beyond.
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