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east and would break away," Fafhrd explained. "Look you, Mouser; do I
know more about snow and ice or do you?"
"I once crossed the Bones of the Old Ones with you," the Mouser retorted,
shrugging. "There was snow there, I recall."
"Pooh, the mere spillings of a lady's powderbox compared to this. No, Mouser,
on this stretch my word is law."
"Very well," the Mouser agreed.
So they roped up rather close -- in order, Fafhrd, Mouser, and Hrissa -
- and without more ado Fafhrd donned his gloves and thonged his ax to his
wrist and began cutting steps for them around the shoulder of the snow swell.
It was rather slow work, for under a dusting of powder snow the stuff was
hard, and for each step Fafhrd must make at least two cuts -- first an in-
chopping backhand one to make the step, then a down-chop to clear it. And as
the slope grew steeper, he must make the steps somewhat closer together. The
steps he made were rather small, at least for his great boots, but they were
sure.
Soon the ridge and the Obelisk cut off the sun. It grew very chill. The
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Mouser closed his tunic and drew his hood around his face, while Hrissa,
between her short leaps from step to step, performed a kind of tiny cat-jig on
them, to keep her gloved paws from freezing. The Mouser reminded himself to
stuff them a bit with lamb's wool when he renewed the salve. He had his pike
out now, telescoped short and thonged to his wrist.
They passed the shoulder of the swell and came opposite the beginning of the
snow-saddle, but Fafhrd did not cut steps up toward it. Rather, the steps he
now was cutting descended at a sharper angle than the saddle dipped, though
the slope they were crossing was becoming quite steep.
"Fafhrd," the Mouser protested quietly, "we're heading for Stardock's top, not
the White Waterfall."
"You said, 'Very well,'" Fafhrd retorted between chops. "Besides, who does the
work?" His ax rang as it bit into ice.
"Look, Fafhrd," the Mouser said, "there are two goats crossing to
Stardock along the saddletop. No, three."
"We should trust goats? Ask yourself why they've been sent." Again
Fafhrd's ax rang.
The sun swung into view as it coursed southward, sending their three shadows
ranging far ahead of them. The pale gray of the snow turned glittery white.
The Mouser unhooded to the yellow rays. For a while the enjoyment of their
warmth on the back of his head helped him keep his mouth shut, but then the
slope grew steeper yet, as Fafhrd continued remorselessly to cut steps
downward.
"I seem to recall that our purpose was to _climb_ Stardock, but my
memory must be disordered," the Mouser observed. "Fafhrd, I'll take your word
we must keep away from the top of the ridge, but do we have to keep away so
_far_? And the three goats have all skipped across."
Still, "'Very well,' you said," was all Fafhrd would answer, and this time
there was a snarl in his voice.
The Mouser shrugged. Now he was bracing himself with his pike continuously,
while Hrissa would pause studyingly before each leap.
Their shadows went less than a spear's cast ahead of them now, while the hot
sun had begun to melt the surface snow, sending down trickles of ice water to
wet their gloves and make their footing unsure.
Yet still Fafhrd kept cutting steps downward. And now of a sudden he began to
cut them downward more steeply still, adding with taps of his ax a tiny
handhold above each step -- and these handholds were needed!
"Fafhrd," the Mouser said dreamily, "perhaps an ice-sprite has whispered to
you the secret of levitation, so that from this fine takeoff you can dive,
level out, and then go spring to Stardock's top. In that case I wish you'd
teach myself and Hrissa how to grow wings in an instant."
"Hist!" Fafhrd spoke softly yet sharply at that instant. "I have a feeling.
Something comes. Brace yourself and watch behind us."
The Mouser drove his pike in deep and rotated his head. As he did, Hrissa
leaped from the last step behind to the one on which the Mouser stood, landing
half on his boot and clinging to his knee -- yet this done so dexterously the
Mouser was not dislodged.
"I see nothing," the Mouser reported, staring almost sunward. Then, words
suddenly clipped: "Again the beams twist like a spinning lantern! The glints
on the ice ripple and wave. 'Tis the flier come again! Cling!"
There came the rushing sound, louder than ever before and swiftly mounting,
then a great sea-wave of air, as of a great body passing swiftly only spans
away; it whipped their clothes and Hrissa's fur and forced them to cling
fiercely to their holds, though Fafhrd made a full-armed swipe with his ax.
Hrissa snarled. Fafhrd almost louted forward off his holds with the momentum
of his blow.
"I'll swear I scored on him, Mouser," he snarled, recovering. "My ax touched
something besides air."
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"You harebrained fool!" the Mouser cried. "Your scratches will anger him and
bring him back." He let go of the chopped ice-hold with his hand and,
steadying himself by his pike, he searched the sun-bright air ahead and around
for ripples.
"More like I've scared him off," Fafhrd asserted, doing the same. The rushy
sound faded and did not return; the air became quiet, and the steep slope grew
very still; even the water-drip faded.
Turning back to the wall with a grunt of relief, the Mouser touched emptiness.
He grew still as death himself. Turning his eyes only he saw that upward from
a point level with his knees the whole snow ridge had vanished --
the whole saddle and a section of the swell to either side of it -- as if some
great god had reached down while the Mouser's back was turned and removed that
block of reality.
Giddily he clung to his pike. He was standing atop a newly created snow-saddle
now. Beyond and below its raw, fresh-fractured white eastern slope, the
silently departed great snow-cornice was falling faster and faster, still in
one hill-size chunk.
Behind them the steps Fafhrd had cut mounted to the new snow rim, then
vanished.
"See, I chopped us down far enough only in the nick," Fafhrd grumbled.
"My judgment was faulty."
The falling cornice was snatched downward out of sight so that the
Mouser and Fafhrd at last could see what lay east of the Mountains of the
Giants: a rolling expanse of dark green that might be treetops except that
from here even giant trees would be tinier than grass blades -- an expanse
even farther below them than the Cold Waste at their backs. Beyond the green-
carpeted depression, another mountain range loomed like the ghost of one.
"I have heard legends of the Great Rift Valley," Fafhrd murmured. "A [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]