My name is Jeremiah Thrush and I live in the Mountains of Nalgenia. It’s a foreboding lifestyle and it’s not something many people can do. The mountains are rough, cold and there are not a whole lot of people.
I live with Possum Jack and Sallye Jane. Sallye Jane is a mule and Possum Jack is my adoptive father. He is a man of the mountains and he has taught me his trade and way of life.
Together, we run a small outpost that Jack calls “Last Call”. The truth is, it is the last place one can procure supplies before traveling further up the mountains. Not many travel up the mountains, but the few that do are the rare breed like Possum Jack and the small community of Blight.
There’s Ma Brown and her family, she has three sons, their wives and children living with her. Possum Jack says that the Creator broke the mold when he made Ma Brown, because there are no other women like her. I think it’s because she makes a mean pie and corn whiskey.
Possum Jack found me when I was a babe. He said that my mum had frozen to death and I was still crying in her arms. He buried my mum and took me to Ma Brown for help. She said I smelled like Thrush, which is a foot disease horses tend to get up in the wet climate of the mountains, and it kind of stuck.
Though the community is maybe 200 hundred strong, Jack and I do a fair trade at our outpost. We use Sallye Jane and some other mules to carry supplies in and out of the trails from the mountains. Sallye Jane is the most important, because she’s our pack leader. She knows the trail better than old Jack and would probably make the journey on her own if we’d let her. She is the head of the organization, because Jack thinks that she’s smarter than the both of us.
When Possum Jack and I travel down the mountain, we trade furs and other wares with Roderick Jessup. He and Jack have known each other since they were greenhorns, and I am guessing that must have been a really long time ago because they both have white hair.
Mr. Jessup always gives me some books to take up the mountain to read. We usually spend the night in the local public house and talk to the locals about life down the mountain.
Life down the mountain seems to focus on a good bit more than just doing what needs to be done to make it to the next sun rise. The entertaining ladies, as Possum Jack’s friend Red Horse calls them, love to talk about all of the latest gossip in the Kingdoms. Which Duke is marrying which early and how they wold just love to be a princess and have all of “those fancy gowns” to wear to all of those different parties.
I honestly think that women are insane. They are always worried about how they look and different fashions and styles. These women would never make it in the mountains. Ma Brown still chops her own wood for her stove, these girls look like they have not worked a day in their lives.
“The King of Airadawn is coming to look at the old mine,” Red Horse reported to Possum Jack. Red Horse is a Plainsmen of the grasslands south of the mountains. His people live a nomadic lifestyle and he has chosen his place here in Waelden. He’s not bad for a low lander when it comes to surviving off the land and has a talent for tracking animals.
“Which old mine?” Jack responded looking at the bottle of whiskey that looked as though it threatened to be empty soon. “Because, last I checked there are many in number in this valley.”
Red Horse gave Jack a solemn, cold stair. Jack looked up from the bottle and it was clear by the look they shared that both knew which mine he was referring to.
I have gotten to a point in my life where I have learned to tune out Jack and his friends when they start to reminisce of the days of old. I thumbed threw my new book from Mr. Jessup and found that it was a history book about someone named Cathger and Orwick.
Winston Cathger was a young boy when he was found separated from his family in the wilderness. He was taken to the Kingdom of Airadawn where he became a ward of Orwick the Wise.
“Orwick, the Wise. I bet he doesn’t know how to roof a lodge,” I chuckled to myself. These books were always giving people such grand titles like Jonas of the Blackfoot or Orwick the Wise. I think I should start calling Sallye Jane, Sallye the Wise. Maybe people would give her more respect. I chuckled to myself as I continued to read.
Orwick taught Winston about magic and the King had him trained as a knight. As the boy grew, he became a strong Paladin Knight.
I laughed to myself. Magic, Paladins? Who was the author of this book? I flipped to the author’s page. I wonder what kind of herbs he’s using. Magic isn’t real. Maybe he’s jesting about this book being historical.
“What is that you have there?” I heard Red Horse say.
I hesitantly lifted the book up and looked at him. “History of Nalgenia.” I looked back at the cover page. “I want to know what kind of herbs this guy has, because he’s talking about magic like it’s something real and claims this guy went from being nothing to being a Paladin Knight.”
Red Horse stared at me over the candle light, his face placid and calm.
“Jeremiah,” he began. “There are many kinds of magic. My people believe that some have the ability to change forms. Others believe in a magic that can raise the dead. Magic is something that is deep in the earth and can only be harnessed by the chosen.”
I looked at Possum Jack and found that his face told of nothing and then back to Red Horse.
“But wouldn’t that constitute what your people believe?”
Red Horse nodded. “You could call it a belief, yes. But it takes belief in Magic for it to work.”
Possum Jack cleared his throat and stood up from the table. “Come Jeremiah, we best get some sleep so we can get up on time and not be left by Sallye Jane. You know her and her time tables.”
We retired to our quarters and I thumbed through the book. Reading of different places and names. There was a lake named Hiraeth with an island. This island was where King Cathger was laid to rest by Orwick.
That’s odd, I thought to myself, how would the Wizard outlive the younger man?
I closed the book and stuffed it into my pack and lay in my bunk staring in the ceiling.
I’d always heard Red Horse telling the stories about his tribesmen that could communicate with dead ancestors and performing great acts of healing. I just always figured that was something that was part of the lives of Plainsmen.
Is magic real? Is there more to this world than the life that I know?
That night, I dreamed that I was in the woods with Sallye Jane collecting what I had trapped on my lines. I had caught rabbits of a variety of colors and it didn’t seem to bother me or Sallye. I hung the animals on Sallye’s saddle pack and, as always, she dutifully followed me around the woods.
I collected some nuts and berries, like normal, and Sallye grazed on bushes and tree branches as we traveled down the trail. The trail began to change as we walked. It grew smaller and darker and the feeling of being watched began to prickle up the back of my neck with goosebumps. I looked to Sallye, who was sure to alert me if there were any true danger, and she ripped a branch from a tree and began munching on it like nothing was happening.
“Do not be afraid child…” came a soft female voice. I looked around, but it I saw nothing.
I rested my hand on my tomahawk when I heard the branches on a nearby bush begin to rustle. Possum Jack and I hunt with bows, but we always carry the extra protection of a tomahawk and knifes. A bow was not easily load when rushed by a large mountain bear. We carried what was necessary and never more.
My eyes tracked the motion in the bushes and a large, bear sized, grey wolf stepped from the bushes. I felt like it’s eyes were piercing me and penetrating deep into my soul.
All I could do was stare back.
In the mountains, there are wolves. In general, they stay away from humans unless there’s some idiot that hasn’t properly managed their meat. Wolves love greenhorns, because they can always get a good easy meal of a recently butchered animal.
I think that us Mountain Men and Wolves have an understanding. We stay out of their way and they stay out of ours. This wolf, however, was nothing like I’d ever seen, and it stood there before me like a statue.
I glanced back at Sallye Jane, but instead of seeing Sallye Jane I saw something amazing… I saw a unicorn.
I woke with start and realized that he sun had risen. I looked over at Possum Jack who was still snoring as loudly as a bear. I pulled on my boots, picked up my pack and made as much noise as I could, but he did not wake. I threw the pillow from the bed I was slipping on at his face.
“Hmph…” I heard Jack mumble under the pillow.
“Jack, it’s time to go. You know how Sallye gets when we’re late.” I rolled my eyes, turned, opened the door and walked out slamming it loudly behind me.
I walked to the paddock where we keep our pack mules and Sallye had already opened the gate and was standing at the ready next to her pack, as were the other mules.
I walked over to Sallye, ruffled her forelock and scratched her ears. I put on her feedbag and pack, then went about doing the same with the 5 other mules.