They Begin the Descent into the Ufflands

“It’s the only way,” Evan said. He scanned the steep ice filled chutes and the long steep ridge.

“Obviously. But where does it go?” Dorothy had a lot of things she had to be thinking of. Not the least of which was the seed she carried. “Seed of a new mankind,” the old shaman had said. She was gravid with him.

“It goes in the direction we need to go.”

“Down.” Dorothy weighted the word with everything she had. The thin wind tore her coat and seemed to push her toward the deep fall before them. She was cold except on her back, where the sun touched her through the wind. She thought it interesting that here, on the highest point of their journey, she would feel the lowest of her life. They were sitting on a rock on the high ridge that separated the Known from Winersdom. They were resting, believing—incorrectly as it turned out—that the hunter-killers were a day behind them. They were eating dried elderberry and treevenison cake. Again.

Evan turned his heavy, thick browed frown toward her. She was stronger than you would expect, he thought, for a Landinger. A thin, brown haired girl with hazel eyes, a child really, and yet what she carried. . . . If she sat, as she did now, with her coat tented around her, he could almost forget his revulsion at what she carried. He chewed on the dried elderberry and treevenison. Then he turned and gazed across the distance, the white capped mountains, the snow feathering off them, and the distant gray haze. The sun was warm on his back and the wind refreshing across his face. He lifted his hand to his mouth and tore another bit of the dry cake. He chewed on it for a long while before he said, “Yes, that is pretty much all there is from here.”

“I was hoping for a little up from here,” Belinda said.

He smiled at this, “I thought you had enough of climbing.”

“I was speaking metaphorically,” she said, “I wasn’t meaning hills and cliffs.” She nibbled at the cake, found a seed, worked it to her lips and spit it into the wind.

“Will it take us through or past the Uffish,” she asked. Of all the dark things she had heard of the Known outside Landing, the Uffish were the darkest.

“The Uff are the least of our worries,” he said, “but yes, we will be going through the Ufflands.”

When they stood to go, her feet slipped, and he reached instinctively to catch her. She fell against him, the firm round of her belly pushing against him. He shoved her away, so that she stumbled in the rock and snow. He caught her again, but held her by one arm away from him. “I’m sorry,” he said.

She did not look at him, but he could see the small fire of anger, the bunching of her jaw, the stiffness of her shoulder before she pulled it away from him.

“It’s slippery,” was all she said. It was a warning and admonition. She waited for him to lead the way down the ridge to the dark tree line.

“It will be Spring in Uff,” he turned and began stepping down, “And that is probably a good thing.”

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