In the Dead of Winter..

6 Feb

Another GSP release from Author of the Week: Tamara A. Lowery.

In the Dead of Winter by Tamara Lowery

Master Torbin feels honored to be accepted to a post at the University of Cordun and eager to get there. His greatest obstacle is the long trip around the edges of the Forest of Narghill. Why is there no route through the forest? No one in the village he stops in on his way seems to know of any path through. The villagers try their best to delay Master Torbin’s departure, at least until the after the Solstice and the Winter Festival. Only one old man claims to know of a shortcut through the forest, and offers to show it to him. He soon learns why no one travels in the Forest of Narghill, especially on Solstice.


The traveler was not surprised when the old man approached him with word of a shorter route to Cordun. He’d made no secret of his destination or why he was going there. And he had been asking around the village if anyone knew of a path that would take him through the Forest of Narghill.

No, the surprising and somewhat annoying thing was that no one in the village of Timbro seemed to know of any such path. Everyone thus far had told him the only route was to stick to the main road. The problem for the traveler was that the road skirted the vast forest. Villages were spaced three to five days’ travel apart along the road, but the maps showed Timbro was directly opposite of Cordun with only the forest between them.

The traveler had been sent from the University in Borduin. He was to go to the University in Cordun, to assist the Dean of Science there. He had been chosen from a large number of candidates for this honor.

He studied the maps, and it had been his reasoning he could shorten his journey by nearly a fortnight simply by going through the forest, rather than following the road several leagues to the south to go around it. Being nearly fifty leagues west of the forest, no one in Borduin could find any record or reason why the road had not been cut through the forest.

His friends at the University begged him to put off his journey until after the Solstice and the Winter Festival. They knew it might be many years before they could celebrate the Festival together again. But he had been eager to assume his new post and set out as soon as he could get his affairs in Borduin settled.

So it was with gratitude that he welcomed the old man to his table in the dining room of the Timbro Inn.

“You are the young man seeking a way through the Narghill?” the old man asked.

“Yes, Grandfather, I am,” he replied, using the customary title of respect for the unrelated elder. 

“Please, sit with me. Would you care for some food or drink?”

“No, thank you,” he said, shaking his head. “I am fasting until Solstice night. It is my custom.”

“I see. Tell me, Grandfather, do you know of any path that leads all the way through the forest to Cordun?”

“There are many paths in Narghill, my son, but only one that may take you to your destination,” he said. “I was a hunter in my youth. I have wandered farther into the forest than any other man alive. I can lead you to the trailhead.”

“My thanks, Grandfather,” the traveler smiled. “Are you sure you won’t dine with me?”

The old man shook his head with a sad smile. “No, my son, I must keep to my vow. Just be ready to go at daybreak. I will meet you at the village gate.”

“Thank you. I will.”

Shortly after the old man left, a serving girl brought a flagon of wine to the table. She seemed nervous, darting her eyes about as if to see if anyone was watching.

“Is it true? You plan to go into the forest?” she whispered.

“Yes. I leave in the morning,” he replied, puzzled by her behavior. “Please inform the landlord I wish to settle my bill.”

Rather than leave to do so right away, she gave him an almost frightened smile. “Please, sir, delay your departure for a few days. It’s almost Solstice. Our Winter Festival is quite the spectacle.”

He frowned politely. “I am afraid I cannot. The Dean of Science at the University in Cordun is expecting me. It would do much for me in his eyes if I could reach there a fortnight early.”

Once again glancing around nervously, she leaned closer and said in a low voice, “If you try to go through Narghill, you may never reach Cordun. There’s an evil that stalks the forest, and it is not safe to enter into this close to Solstice. Please, sir, stay here for a while, or at least stay to the road.”

“I appreciate your concern, my dear, but I am a man of science. I do not subscribe to unfounded superstitions,” he said firmly, but politely. “Now, go inform the landlord I will be leaving in the morning and wish to settle my bill.”

Bowing her head at the dismissal, she replied meekly, “Yes, sir.”

After a few minutes, she returned with his meal and the landlord of the inn. Silently, she placed the food on the table and then left to wait on another table. The landlord cocked his head toward the opposite chair with a questioning look in his eye. The traveler nodded, and he took the seat.



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