Matan squinted across the browned grass toward the horizon. "We don't usually spend much time outdoors during the winter. We sort of hole up in our lodges instead. If a man inside his lodge keeps his fire going, it's fairly warm inside, and a pot-full of snow will melt down in an hour or so. Ice takes longer, but it will melt—eventually. Most of us don't care all that much for ice. It takes quite a while to melt, even if the lodge is very warm."

"How do you melt it when you're out in the open and it's very cold?"

"The best way I've found is to chip the ice with a hand-axe. If you tried to use an axe with a handle, you'd probably break it up into small pieces. You want very tiny chips of ice, since bigger ones take longer to melt. Then, when you've got what looks like enough, you scoop them into a pot. Then you scrape together a fair-sized heap of dried grass, put your pot in the middle of the heap, and then set fire to the grass. You'll have water to drink in almost no time at all."

"Isn't the water a bit hot for drinking?"

Tlindan shrugged. "Add some more ice to cool it down. In the wintertime, I sort of like to drink warm water. Your stomach will spread the warmth around, and you'll feel better all over—except for your feet, of course. Everybody's feet are cold in the winter."

"How can anybody live in a place like this?"

Tlindan spread out his hands. "The hunting's very good, and winter doesn't really last all that long. We don't usually spend much time out of our lodges in the wintertime. It's a very good time to catch up on your sleep. Twelve-hour naps are sort of nice when there's nothing going on outside. A man who takes twelve-hour naps feels all rested when spring arrives."

Andar looked up at the grey clouds rolling off toward the east. "Is it cloudy like this all winter long?" he asked the native.

"Fairly often, yes. Dahlaine's playing with the clouds this year, though. Usually we get blizzards here during the winter season."

"Blizzards?"

"Heavy snowstorms. A good blizzard can put twelve feet of snow down in about a day and a half. When that happens, nobody goes outside. They're not really bad things, though. When the snow melts off in the spring, the grass gets lots of water, and it grows very fast. That gives the bison herds plenty to eat, and they're nice and fat when we go hunting. Weather works for you, if you know how to get along with it." Then he squinted up at the sky. "We'll probably have to stop and set up camp fairly soon. It'll be dark before much longer."

"It's just barely past noon," Andar protested.

"That's one of the things you should know about the north country. In the wintertime up here, the days are only six or seven hours long, and nighttime comes very fast."

Andar frowned. "We can talk more later," he said. "I think I'd better go warn Commander Narasan that night's almost here." He walked rapidly toward the front of the column. "I think we might have a bit of a problem, Commander," he said.

"Now what?" Narasan demanded in a peevish-sounding voice.

"It's going to start getting dark before long. One of the Matans warned me about that. We aren't going to have daylight for much longer."

"It's only a few hours past noon, Andar."

"The Matan told me that there's no more than six or seven hours of daylight up here in the wintertime."

Narasan scowled. "I think we'd better go have a chat with Lord Dahlaine, Andar. We've got a long way to go to reach the east coast, and we're going to need longer days—or it'll be summer before we reach the coast."

"It's not really all that much of a problem, Narasan," Dahlaine said. "I'm sure you remember my toy sun. She—and sister Zelana's fog-bank—helped us quite a bit down in Veltan's Domain."

"I should have remembered that," Narasan said. "How many extra hours a day would you say she'll be able to give us?"

"How many do you want? She enjoys putting out light, so she'll give you as many extra hours of light as you want."

Narasan squinted across the frozen grassland. "She puts out heat as well as light, doesn't she?"

"She kept the inside of my cave warm and cozy when Ashad was just a baby."

"That might even be more valuable than light," Narasan said. Then he looked at Dahlaine. "This isn't really any of my business," he said, "but you don't feel hot and cold in the same way that we do, do you?"

"I know that they exist," Dahlaine replied. "I think I see where you're going with this, Narasan. It's not a bad idea, now that you mention it. If my pet gives you and your men light and heat, you'll be able to go much farther each day, won't you?"

"I'd say at least an extra five miles," Narasan estimated. "Possibly even an extra seven or eight." Then he winced. "That might just disturb my men quite a bit, though."

"I didn't quite follow you there, Narasan."

"Ten miles a day is one of the articles of faith in a Trogite army, Lord Dahlaine. Individual soldiers could exceed that, I'm sure, but when they're marching together, ten miles is the limit. Anything any farther is viewed as an abomination. It's a custom, and we Trogites are big on customs." He shrugged. "It actually grows out of the inevitable delays that keep cropping up when you're moving a hundred thousand men."

"Wouldn't you say that 'rest time' has something to do with the ten-miles-a-day limitation, Commander?" Andar suggested.

"Rest time?" Dahlaine asked.

"Another custom, Lord Dahlaine," Narasan explained. "We're expected to give our men a quarter of each hour spent marching to catch their breath. It makes a certain amount of sense in mountain country, but it's a bit foolish on flat land." His eyes hardened. "I think it might just be time to abolish that foolishness. If we can add an extra few miles to each day's march, we'll almost certainly reach the east coast of your Domain several days earlier than we'd originally planned. I'd say that it's worth a try. Then too, if it's warmer, we won't have to worry too much about blizzards, will we?"

Dahlaine grinned. "It might make them a little sulky," he said, "but I think I'll be able to make them quit pouting. Let's see how far my pet can go. I don't think we'll want midsummer, but early autumn might be sort of nice."

"Whatever you think best, Lord Dahlaine," Narasan said.

"You're very good at putting all sorts of things together, Narasan," Dahlaine observed.

"That's what an army-commander is supposed to do, Lord Dahlaine. Our people come up with all kinds of ideas, and we're supposed to fit them together to construct a plan that might work. There are many people in my army who are much more clever than I am, but that doesn't hurt my feelings very much. My job involves putting their assorted ideas together to come up with something that'll work and won't get too many of my men killed."


Tags: David Eddings The Dreamers Science Fiction
Source: www.StudyNovels.com