By Matthew Tansek
Uthal’s people called the ancient zig zagging path that descended the eastern side of the mountains the Retreat of Blood; for in all of the tribe’s recorded history those that had come to conquer them had been thrown back and sent slinking away in wounded defeat down its rocky way.
The sun sank low over the distant horizon casting stark lined shadows through the needle bare pines whos lean forms huddled in clumps among the great jagged outcroppings of stone. Uthal’s only companions, two thickly furred and heavily laden horses, plodded down the path with grim resolve and proved to be meager company. Uthal on the other hand, who lead them by a stout tether bounded like a young mountain goat. The frigid air felt pure in his lungs, and the more distance he put between himself and the tribe the better he felt. It was out in the wilds of the world his inadequacies haunted him less, and he could almost forget the pitying looks the elders always gave him.
The blazing violet of the sunset had faded to swirling amethyst by the time it was decided that camp should be made, and Uthal set to work digging out a suitable spot to light a fire and pitch his simple bear fur lean-to. He wondered, as he unfastened the saddle-packs that contained the various valuable ingots he was hauling, if he would forever be made to travel these lonely steep passes. Skilled enough to survive the hostile terrain, but too dumb to wear the tribe’s crest as an honorable warrior.
He munched on half frozen oats with the horses, and listened to the solemn wraith-like wail of the wind as it raced up and down the stark landscape about him.
It was in the grip of one of these gusts that first brought the scent to his nose, stopping him mid chew. Such a scent he had never experienced before, and in an instant its fragrance brought to his mind images of pale blue flowers dancing in far away undersea currents, and of strange luminescent fruits in untrodden subterranean grottoes. Uthal breathed deeply again and again circling the campsite, each time seeming to catch more of the fleeting aroma, until finally settling on which direction upwind that it must have been coming from.
His giant-like thews crashed through brittle lower branches and hard packed snow alike as he made his way away from the firelight and into the gathering blackness of the lofty night. A lesser creature would have no doubt met a quick end in such a pursuit, for sheer cliffs, razor sharp sheets of ice, and the ever present theft of body heat from the malevolent torrents of wind was put against him.
At last he came to a wide shelf of rock that jut out away from the mountain, where not even the bravest of the scraggly trees would dare to grow. Uthal stepped a few crunching paces out onto the shelf, and as he did so he felt the wind die down about him, and saw the sharp white light of the moon vault over the distant peak.
The sudden reflected light made him blink, and after a moment he saw that perched at the very edge of the shelf was the unmistakable figure of a woman. Her skin almost seemed as white as the snow between them. Her lythe form, motionless, stood with its back to the aether and wore upon it face a countenance of dreaming beauty.
“Who…?” Uthal said, his words caught in his bewilderment.
“Goliath of the mountain, are you to be my love?” she replied. Her words seeming to drift upon the air like a wisp of rolling fog.
Uthal stepped closer, enchanted. “You speak of love to a brute such as I? You must take me for one who bears the crest of his people. You must take me for one who is esteemed, and honor bound.” A quaking not born of the cold ran through him as he spoke.
“Like a simple stone you are,” she said raising her left arm and beckoning him to her, “you are falling.”
Her words struck him like a volley of arrows, and the tears upon Uthals face flowed hot and froze within his beard. “I cannot will myself a keener mind. As strong as I am, I cannot lift my name from the dirt is has been cast to.”
“But falling stones can be the most potent,” she said clasping her slender hand to his and bringing it to her breast, “for as they fall an avalanche can be born. You, Goliath of the mountain shall crush all that stand before you, thunder with a voice louder than a thousand men, and reshape this land before you are done.”
Uthal moved to step closer, to fully embrace this mysterious figure that had so enthralled him. But as he did so he felt the ground falter under his heavy footfalls. An unintelligible cry escaped his lips as he tried to grab hold of any part of the rocky shelf that still clung to the mountain. For an instant he saw the beautiful woman before him twinkle like fresh fallen snow and then seem to vanish amidst the tumult of the cascading rock. Then all went black.
Uthal bolted upright, shouting and startling the two furry horses as he did so. He found himself to be next to the warm embers of his campfire, swaddled in the heavy hides he used for sleeping. He ran a meaty hand across his face, listened to the silence and wondered if it had all been a dream.
He lay back down by the dying fire, and was just about asleep again when he smelled ever so slightly a familiar scent. Crawling like a dog on hand and knee he pursued it, until after a time he came face to face with the sack of ingots he had set down beside the tethered horses.
There upon the rocky mountain pass, with only his two horses as witness Uthal pulled from that sack of ingots something that had not been there before. Something that lit a fire in his soul and started an avalanche in his heart. Within his trembling hand Uthal beheld a glinting bottle of blue liquid; a perfume that could call to the mind images of pale blue flowers dancing in far away undersea currents, and of strange luminescent fruits in untrodden subterranean grottoes.