A Tale of Two Bori: Part Four
Time was hazy to Trealiy; even night and day looked the same on Terror Mountain, since it was always bleak, and the dim sunlight could never be seen through the white cloud cover. He was growing restless, agitated by this pointless existence, holed up in the snow capped mountain without a purpose.
He was a stranger to the other Bori. They saw him as a hermit, a novelty not unlike the Snowager – to visit on a dare, to test one's courage by peeping into the tunnel before the nervous giggling gave them away. At first he was amused by the flocks of curious young Bori who tried to clumsily spy on him, gasping in awe when they saw that he truly was made of ice as the rumors foretold. As time crawled inexorably onward, and his nightmares gave him no relief from the waking world, Treal's reactions grew more tense and unfriendly. Now whenever he saw another member of his clan, his icy hackles would raise, and he would grind his teeth anxiously until they passed him by. When cornered in his burrow by thrill-seeking youths, he would stamp his feet and lash his tail, growling under his breath that he just wanted to be left alone.
An Ice Bori was hardly a Bori at all to the others; they could all remember the icy skeleton marauders, and Trealiy could see that recognition in their eyes when they looked at him. They would whisper about him, shoot him glances, avoid his path. He had tried to live alone to avoid it, but now the paranoia was following him as the Bori colony expanded further up the mountain, integrating with the Valley dwellers like Bruces and Lupes. There was no way to escape it. Being pariah was not enough – he would have to leave his ancestral home entirely if he wanted to shed the stigma his appearance held.
Treal sighed, rubbing his tired eyes with the back of his paw. If he could just have one night of uninterrupted sleep, maybe it wouldn't bother him so much. But as things were, he was exhausted and lonely and frustrated. He shuffled over to the small shelf he had built for himself, running his ice claws over the handful of books there. Books were rare and cherished by northerners, since they had to be imported from other lands where it was warm enough that their inkwells would not freeze. Trealiy's scant collection had been read so many times that the pages were tattered, the hardcover spines worn almost completely through. He used to share them with any Bori who asked, but now that he was an outcast, they were the only source of comfort he had.
He plucked one knowingly without looking at the title, and carried it over to his nest of bedding, curling snugly with his slender tail wrapped around his paws. A good read might bring him solace, the familiar words already committed to memory. It was a story about a hero, a knight who defended the kingdom from invaders and monsters without a thought to his own safety. Trealiy had wanted to play that role since the first time he read the tale. It had been his inspiration for becoming a guard in the first place. A pall of sadness settled over him, knowing that now it was impossible; he had lived through an actual battle, and instead of becoming a brave knight, he had run away. He had buried his helmet and armor in the snow where no Bori would ever see it again. He was not hero material, and never would be.
"No!" Treal squealed abruptly, snapping the book shut and throwing it to the floor. "No, no, no! I can't do this any longer!" He sprang to his feet, bolting for the entrance of his tunnel. He had to get out of here! His tribe didn't want him any more, and he had failed to protect them as a hero would have. But he could learn from his mistakes, couldn't he? Leave this place behind, and become someone new, someone brave and noble and nothing like the coward he was now! He wouldn't pack any of his meagre belongings, he wouldn't tell anyone where he was going, and he was going to start over completely! And if it turned out that his icy form could not survive outside of Terror Mountain's frigid climate, well, he was just going to melt and that would be the end of that!
Treal's flight down the mountain was one long blur; the white sky and white snow made it difficult to judge time, and he did not want to slow down long enough to start thinking again. It was refreshing simply to be out of his own head. Living in the present instead of flashbacks - hearing nothing but his own ragged breathing, the drumming of his heartbeat, the crunching of snow beneath his frozen paws – it kept his resolve from wavering. And when at last he collapsed, out of shape and gasping for air, he found that he had bypassed the Valley and reached the shore after all. He lay there to catch his breath, limbs fatigued, tongue lolling to one side, tail twitching from the sudden exhaustion.
The rhythm of the ocean was calming. He lay on his side for some time, too tired to explore the glacial crags that jutted into the arctic seawater. He was trying not to become discouraged. There was only so far he could run in a straight line; his ancestral home was the northernmost continent, all of its edges surrounded by water. There was seasonal sea ice this wintry time of year that extended in a ring around the mountain, preventing any traders and fisherman to reach them by boat. Now that the impulse to leave was fading, Trealiy would have to devise a way to actually migrate across the water, unless he wanted to give up and wait for the shore to thaw in a few months.
The ice Bori watched the waves for some time, mesmerized by the rich blue and green colors and the swirling movement of foam on the surface. Every once in a while, a chunk of sea ice would splinter and separate, bobbing away on the current. It wasn't long before the idea occurred to him – carve his own ice floe, and it would serve him as a boat. Ice always stayed afloat – perhaps he himself would float, though the Bori had no idea how to swim.
Eager to keep his momentum going lest his nerve fail him, he rose to his paws, stepping out to the edge of the ice shelf. It groaned beneath his weight, but held steady. He flexed his long digging claws before scoring a gash in the ice, marking the wide arc that was to be his platform. Then he let his tunneling instincts take over, scooping and shoveling away frozen shards until he had carved a fissure into the ice. He swallowed nervously, hearing it begin to creak not unlike a tree being felled for timber. He cast one long look at the silhouette of Terror Mountain, before gripping the ice with his sharp claws and holding on for dear life.
With a splintering crash, it splashed into the water, rocking violently with Trealiy's weight. He had his eyes tightly shut and tried not to yelp in surprise, managing to suppress his fearful reaction to an undignified squeak. After several long moments, when he determined he was not about to sink like a stone, Treal began to relax his nervous grip and look around him. The ice floe was bobbing in a gentle rhythm, caught up in the ocean's current. Waves lapped at the edges of the ice, but the arctic water was too cold to melt it. The mountain was behind him, slowly shrinking in the distance. He had done it. He was at the mercy of fate, drifting wherever the ocean would carry him. It was the first brave act of his life.
It was not long before regrets and doubt returned to Trealiy's mind. He had not packed any supplies such as drinking water, and he had no way to steer his chunk of ice. Terror Mountain had long since disappeared over the horizon, and now all he could see in any direction was flat blue ocean. The surface was calm, which was some solace, but it also meant that the current had left him. The sky was grey as always, giving him no way to estimate the time he had spent drifting to nowhere. It could have been hours, it could have been days. The Bori lay with his chin atop his claws, quietly watching the briny water around him. He was just so tired...
Trealiy awoke from a heavy, dreamless sleep, feeling wet. Disoriented, the Bori raised his arm before his eyes, realizing he was dripping. A jolt of horror shocked him upright – he was melting! Frantically, he spun in a circle, splashing and shrieking in panic, before tripping over himself and tumbling back to the ground. It was a moment before his buzzing mind processed that last sensation – ground. Hadn't he been floating on ice?
The Bori sat up, realizing he had washed up on a rocky beach while he slept and was now laying in the shallows. His trusty ice floe was nearby on the coast, but the temperate air had caused it to melt down to a third of its previous size. Still shaken by his scare, Treal examined himself very carefully, from his claws down to the tip of his tail. He was wet from the ocean, but his icy body had not melted at all. Moreover, the water that ran off him in rivulets was not freezing or sticking to his crystalline fur – did that mean he was not as cold as real ice? In any case, it meant he was safe to explore... which was quite a relief.
He clamored from the shallow water, awkwardly making his way over the large rocks that made up the inlet. There were cliffs here that he could not scale – Bori were diggers, not climbers. He could see something promising already, though – the passage of water had carved tunnels into the cliffside, which were open during the low tide. He had no idea where he had washed up, or whether he would be in any danger here, but he hoped he could find something to eat soon. All this physical exertion was leaving him lightheaded and dizzy, and he wanted to find someplace dark to sleep again.
Treal made his way laboriously to the cliff face, noticing a change in the air as he neared one of the tunnels. It was damp from the receded tide, leaving small clumps of seaweed and silt along the smooth stone floors, but there was a breeze coming from within. Bori are natural-born tunnelers, and he instinctively knew what that meant – the passage would lead all the way through the escarpment, bringing him to the other side. Perhaps other creatures would have shied away from the dank grotto, preferring to climb the cliff face or find a way around it, but Trealiy moved to it without hesitation. It felt so welcoming, protecting him from the bright openness of outdoors. The ice Bori scurried through the channel, head tucked down, back plates scraping the low ceiling. Water currents had carved strange formations into the stone just as it did ice, but the visitor did not stop to appreciate the natural sculptures. He knew he could not rest here, as the high tide would inevitably flood these chambers again.
There! He burst from the far end of the tunnel, squinting at the influx of sunlight. The shoreline had been shadowed by the tall rocky cliffs, but now he could clearly see that the sun was set high in the sky, enveloping this land with its warmth. As he blinked rapidly, trying to adjust his vision, the new landscape slowly filtered in.
He was standing on a rocky bluff that stretched along the coast into a dark foreboding mountain range, deep violet against the warm sunshine. Trees peppered the base of the headland, spreading into forests and groves further into the dell. The color green was everywhere; fields of waving green grass cut by swatches of farmland, green crops in neat columns and rows. Beyond the farmland, Trealiy could make out the shapes of houses – small huts and cottages, wooden with thatched roofs, huddled together in small villages connected by dirt paths like the spokes of a wheel. And at the center of it all, the heart of this lush green continent, was a sight that made Trealiy's heart soar.
There was a castle. Just like his storybook described, there was a tall building of shining white stone, surrounded by a moat of water diverted from the river. Golden parapets glittered in the sunlight, accented by bold crimson turrets and fluttering banners from the ramparts. Trealiy gazed in awe, hardly believing what he was seeing. Of course, knights and kingdoms and castles had to be real, but the book he cherished made it sound like they had all existed long ago, and were nothing but history now. No paladin had come to defeat the Bringer of Night – that monster was felled by a Bori, just like the hordes of thieves that followed, attempting to ransack their ancestral home. It had given him the impression that the world outside of his mountain was a lawless wasteland of brigands and rogues. Perhaps he had been wrong... There really was a such thing as a knight in shining armor.
If there was ever a place to overcome his cowardice and become a hero... It would have to be here.
To be continued...