She began trudging up the frozen slope of her ancestors’ pasture. Tiny trotted up ahead. Anders and Paign followed behind.
Her father, Farmer Skulstad, watching for them from Freida’s bedroom window, finally saw them appear in the distance, just over the top of the barn roof. A few moments later, they were lost in the clouds roiling down the ridge.
The fresh powdered snow made their journey slower than their first trip. Where the snow collected to a few inches, it gave them more traction, but where the mountain breezes whipped it about, it actually fooled them into expecting better footing over the icy crust. So it took almost three hours to retrace their way back to the entrance to the Cave of Parting. Again, the lighting there was ghostly, the result of a dimmed sun unable to break through the swirling cloud rolling off Ruar’s Peak hundreds of feet high above them.
Freida lurched over the uneven heaps of snow and ice into the cave’s entrance, kicking crusted snow off her boots, while also brushing it off her coat. Pulling back her hood, she waited only moments before Paign and Anders stomped into the opening together. With the added benefit of midday light pouring into the narrow fissure, all three pulled out their lanterns, lit and trimmed the wicks, and walked into the chamber they’d discovered just a few days earlier.
Now that they were out of the cold wind, they stuffed their coats into their packs and re-hoisted them.
“OK, Freida. What’s the plan now?” asked Paign.
“Well, I’ve been thinking we should go inside to the chamber we found, so we can get away from the howl of the wind here at the entrance. Then Anders can finish telling us what he discovered about the parson’s death,” she replied.
“Right, then,” Paign agreed.
Anders shrugged and led the way down the tunnel, which spanned the thirty meters from the cave opening to the chamber within. When he reached the entry to the chamber, he stopped and put his lantern on the ground, waiting for the others to catch up.
After Paign and Freida caught up to Anders, Freida carefully picked her steps over the loose rock and shale that partially blocked the opening to the chamber. She immediately sat down on the largest rock, set her gently hissing lantern on the stone floor and looked curiously at Anders.
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