Galbron looked into the distance, and continued his story.
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He spent much of his money buying drinks for prospectors in the tavern where he stayed. Most of them had the same thing to say: “The best way north is along the river. There is a trail. Sing or whistle as you go, so prospectors know you are not a sneak.”
“But when you pass the headwaters?” Jakrom asked. “What then?”
“Not many of us go that far,” they said, shaking their heads. “But there is a line of mountains that run north, then east. Some say there are gems to be had there, but it’s a long way and those who prospect there never go alone.”
“But nobody has gone past those mountains?” Jakrom would ask.
“What else is there? Only more mountains at the Edge of the World, cold and rocky, then the Great Nothing. What fool would go there?”
“A fool seeking the bride-price of a rich man’s daughter?”
And the prospector would laugh. “Ha! Luck to the bold, as they say. If I see you here again, I will buy your drinks next time!”
Jakrom followed the river northward. Remembering the advice of the prospectors, he sang of fair Rakah and her friendly smile as he went. All along the river, the prospectors welcomed him and invited him to share their sleep-fire. They smiled and shook their heads when he told them of his intent, but wished him luck and sent him on his way after breakfast. As he continued, the camps became infrequent and he often slept alone.
Once, he came upon an empty camp. He called out, and heard an answer from the river. He followed the call to find four dejected men standing in the river, looking at a low bluff that formed the riverbank at this point. “Discover and prosper!” he called, for this is how prospectors greet one another on the river.
“We have discovered,” said one, “but alas, we may not prosper. We have found a vein of gold, but our pickaxe has broken.”
“Then use mine,” said Jakrom, offering them his tool.
They cheered, and invited Jakrom to join them. They took turns digging gold out of the riverbank, filling five sacks. Later, around the sleep-fire, they opened a jug of wine and made merry. When they awoke, Jakrom left them his pickaxe. “Your broken one will serve my purpose,” he told them, taking it up.
“You must take your share of gold with you,” they insisted. “We will dig some more before we return down-river, and we won’t be able to carry our share and yours. But we will leave you more in town, as thanks and fair trade for your pickaxe.” Thus, Jakrom departed with a heavy burden. But soon, he left the river behind. To his east rose the mountains. His shadow, a little longer each day, led him north. He found a place to bury his share of gold, and left it there with a curse upon anyone who might find and take it away. The curse was an old family heirloom, passed down to each generation, and had not failed them.
Every day, the sun hung a little lower in the sky. The air turned cool, then cooler still. Jakrom donned the jacket he’d bought for this part of his journey, and slept a little closer to his sleep-fire. At last, he spied another range of mountains to his north: the Edge of the World. Game was plentiful here, in a land where people rarely came, yet Jakrom chafed at the time needed to hunt and prepare his meals. He was a young man, within sight of his goal.
A cold wind fell from the mountains as Jakrom drew closer, and only the exertion of climbing kept him warm. He began to seek sheltered places to build his sleep-fire. Fuel for his fires grew scarce on the dim and shaded mountainside, as did the streams and rills which he depended on for his water. For the first time, Jakrom began to have doubts about his goal. But to have come this far? It was a lesser foolishness to press on, so press on he did.
As he scrambled up a rocky face, near the summit, he stopped for a moment. He’d heard something, like a faint cry. He cocked his head, and this time he heard another sound: a cough.
“Is someone here?” he called.
“Well?” Chelinn rumbled. “Was there someone?”
“Sadly, my wineglass has emptied itself,” Galbron sighed, looking at his friend through the glass. “If only it could fill itself anew.”
Sarna laughed and took up his glass and hers. Ethtar met her with the jug, and filled both glasses with a smile. Sarna returned with the freshened glasses, and sat closer than before to Galbron. She looked up at her adopted father and grinned.
Galbron took a long sip. “Ah, better. Perhaps I can continue now.”