“If you were paying more attention, Paign, you’d have heard me say that it was by then very dark, even by lantern light, and dangerous going, so I wasn’t exactly keeping track of my position on the ridge,” she snapped. “But, yes, I suppose I was somewhere below Ruar’s Peak.”
“Well,” Anders chimed in, “there are no cave entrances anywhere along that ridge. We’ve climbed all over that rock face, Freida, especially last summer.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” sighed a dispirited Freida. She’d expected an enthusiastic response from her friends, not the third degree. “What I’m telling you is this: there is a cave opening now. I’m convinced it wasn’t there before when we searched for it.”
“Oh, come on, Freida!” Paign sounded more irritated than he meant to, but this was getting out of hand. “People in our village have been looking for the Cave of Parting for nearly three hundred years. Our fathers searched for it when they were our age. Their fathers searched for it, and so did their fathers. It hasn’t been seen since old hermit Sandersohn wandered into the village, delirious and wild-eyed, declaring he’d seen Widow Vellhelmina vanish into the mountain—that the mountain had, in his words, ‘devoured her, robes, staff, witch and all!’”
Of course, all the children for miles around their village—perhaps all around the country—had heard the Tale of Vellhelmina and the crazy Hermit since they were wee tots. For Anders, it had become nothing more than a fable elders would tell children to scare them from wandering off into the mountains until they were of age. So, it was difficult to take Freida seriously, except for the fact that she appeared to be as set in her belief as the cold, hard ice crunching on the path under his feet. He could see her face was red, and he didn’t think it was just from the cold wind blowing down the valley.
“OK, Freida, let’s say you have found it.” He shot a glance at Paign, who appeared to choke on something. “We’re almost home. Paign and I have chores to do tonight. You’ll be up in the mountains most of tomorrow with your flocks. Why don’t we all meet Sunday, at noon, behind your barn, and you can take us up and show us what you think you saw?”
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