Authors: Mell Eight
Tags: #fantasy, #M/M romance, #Dragon's Hoard
Kam spent the day doing odd chores for people, trying to keep his own feelings out of the way of patching tents and stitching fur. By the end of the day Kam had seen Lor in conference with Mae at least six times and his poked fingers were regretting him ever getting close to a needle and thread.
Lor had already left by the time Kam woke the next morning. The worry hanging over the clan was even heavier than the previous day. No one strayed far from the central fire and voices were hushed. Kam got the happy job of brushing the dozens of dogs with Hern and Mae. If their fur got too matted it could pull, leaving a bald spot that was prone to frostbite and could seriously injure or kill an animal.
The dogs came to Kam one-by-one and flopped down next to him as he pulled the heavy comb through their fur. The dogs' fur was mostly grey, but the occasional white or brown fur was pulled off the comb and tossed into the fire, too. Kam was just happy that he didn't have to poke his fingers with needles a second day in a row, but he felt how pleased each dog was with the attention and petting they were getting so his mood was fairly good by lunch time.
Mae started the day frowning and even though she also seemed to enjoy playing with the excited dogs, her frown only grew as the afternoon neared. She kept glancing south, in the direction Lor was supposed to be coming back from, but by the time lunch had been cleaned up and they had returned to the dogs Mae started glancing up at the sky just as often.
It was getting dark awfully early, and Kam only realized the cause was heavy clouds coming from the west when Mae started giving those clouds sharp looks while they were washing the lunch bowls.
When the clouds started to take on a faint green tinge, Mae calmly stood up and started barking orders.
"Blizzard's coming!" she yelled. "Start packing up. We're settling in the caves tonight!"
Kam gulped. He had never been in a blizzard before, just the regular snowstorms that fell every few days. His own fear and the scurry of everyone around him galvanized Kam. He quickly gathered up all the brushing paraphernalia and started calling the sled dogs over.
Even as the sleds started to fill with the clan's belongings, Kam was busy hitching up six dogs to every sled. When all ten sleds were ready and he still had a couple of loose sled dogs, Kam improvised a way to hook one or two more dogs to the traces until every sled dog in the clan was accounted for.
"I've packed up your tent," Hern called as he dropped the trunk that usually held Kam's meager belongings onto the sled Kam was working by. Somehow the trunk had been turned into a case for Kam's entire tent. The heavy leather straps that held the top closed also secured the tent poles and Kam was sure his furs and the tent itself were stored safely inside. The clan was clearly prepared for any eventuality.
"Thanks, Hern," Kam called after Hern's back as the man rushed off to complete another task.
The hunting dogs were still loose, but Kam already had a solution for them. He had seen hunting parties go out with the dogs on long leashes attached to the sleds when the hunters didn't want their dogs to stray far during the journey. Kam dug out those leashes and started calling the hunting dogs to the sleds.
"I've never rounded up all those animals so quickly before," Mae said as she stopped by the sleds and saw all the dogs sitting calmly in their leashes and traces next to their sleds. "Usually the excitement from our packing sends them into a frenzy. Maybe there's something to what Lor was saying," she added offhandedly. "Is there anything you need help with?" she asked finally.
Kam nodded. "I've gotten all the dogs except the new mother and her four pups. I wasn't sure how you wanted me to secure them."
Mae hummed thoughtfully. "Well, the mom's okay to run by now. Hook her up to a leash. Take out one of the old furs from the kennel and find a place on the same sled to stash the pups. I doubt the runt is strong enough to make the journey, so if you can only find space for three, you'll have to leave her behind."
Kam frowned at that thought. The runt might be small, but she was going to grow into a great hunting dog. Leaving her behind would be a great disservice to the clan.
"All right," Kam said as he hurried off to the kennels. The mother dog was waiting by the door with all four of her pups whining awkwardly at her side. The runt took a tumble as she tried to hop forward to say hello to Kam. He quickly bent down to scoop her and her siblings up before turning to the mother. "Come on," he said gently. Kam led them at a pace slow enough that he didn't accidentally drop one of the squirming pups in his arms. He leashed the mother to the side of one of the sleds and tucked the three pups into a secure space between two trunks where they could still smell their mother.
Kam could have fit the runt into the space as well, but the poor thing was shivering and unhappy, so he tucked her into his coat where Kam knew she'd be warm and secure.
The sound of panting dogs made Kam turn just in time to see Lor's sled rush into what was left of the camp. Lor was at the helm, but he was alone.
"Move out now!" he yelled before anyone could turn and ask questions. "The storm's much closer than it looks."
Luckily, the tents, people's belongings, and the essentials like food and peat were already loaded. Only the unessential things were left behind and everything that could be grabbed as people rushed to the sleds was grabbed.
Kam ended up in Lor's sled with Ness, Hern, and Lor as well as whatever trunks they could stash last minute. Lor waited as the other sleds moved out. He was giving his exhausted sled dogs a rest and he wanted to be last to make sure everyone got out safely. Kam couldn't help wondering where they were going. Mae had mentioned caves and the sleds were heading in the direction of the mountains, but Kam didn't know about any place the clan had prepared for such an event.
The wind started to pick up after the first half hour as the ice-covered mountains slowly became larger the closer they got. Kam watched from his place at the back of the sled as the heavy green clouds grew closer as well and what looked like a curtain of white began inching nearer.
Lor was sweating after the first hour of travel. His face looked pale and worn. Hern was guiding the sled, so Lor must be trying some sort of spell. He looked exhausted and frustrated that whatever he was trying to do wasn't having as strong an effect as he had hoped.
The first sleds were just vanishing around a curve in the mountain that did not look entirely natural when the curtain of white caught up with them. Kam got a glimpse of a huge opening in the mountain many times the size of their sleds before all he could suddenly see and hear was white and wind. He wouldn't have been able to tell which way the mountain was, but Lor seemed to know. Kam thought he could faintly hear Lor shouting instructions to Hern over the wind. Their sled was going to move forward until they caught up with the one in front. They'd use rope to guide all the sleds into the mountain.
Kam thought they started moving forward again, but all he felt was a huge jerk as the sled was suddenly and violently pulled off the right. Kam saw one of the sled dogs come tumbling past out of his peripheral vision and he heard Ness yell as she also disappeared from the limited scope Kam could see in the total whiteout. But Kam had problems of his own. He had lost his grip on the safety straps he'd been holding and couldn't find them again.
The sled overcorrected to the left and Kam felt his knees slide along the frozen furs and wood. His hands scrabbled for purchase, but it wasn't long before he too was tumbling off the side of the sled into the drifts of snow.
All Kam could see was white. The snow was coming down so heavily that he could barely see his gloved hand in front of his face. The wind whistled in his ears so loudly that Kam couldn't even hear himself breathing. He was probably only a few feet from the sled, but he couldn't tell which direction the sled was.
The runt squirmed against Kam's chest, picking up on Kam's anxiety.
"We'll be all right," Kam murmured to the pup as he ran his hand down the front of his fur coat. The runt couldn't hear him, but she seemed to understand his intent because she calmed.
Kam bit his lip as he waited, hoping to see Lor come out of the blizzard to help Kam back into the sled. After an indeterminable amount of time, Kam decided that Lor wasn't coming for him. Kam understood—Lor had the rest of the clan still trapped outside the mountain on their sleds to get to safety. Just saving Kam could lose many lives.
There was also a sense of worry just behind him, which reminded Kam that one of the sled dogs as well as Ness had also been thrown off when the traces snapped. He could feel that dog just behind him, putting out those strong emotions of anxiety. Kam took an involuntary step in that direction and shrugged. Lor couldn't come save Kam, so it wouldn't matter if Kam moved to comfort the dog. Maybe he could find Ness, too.
Kam almost stepped on the dog where he was crouched over Ness's huddled form. Both had white snow almost totally obscuring their fur coats.
"Ness!" Kam yelled, but his voice was lost in the wind. He hurried forward against the wind until he could drop to his knees at her side. "Are you hurt?" he yelled when she looked up in surprise.
There were tear tracks freezing on her cheeks and she couldn't seem to answer, but Kam saw the despair on her face. She thought she was going to die. The dog whined above Ness and tried to push her forward with his nose. Ness batted the dog away impatiently, but Kam understood.
"You can guide us to the cave?" Kam asked even though the dog couldn't hear over the wind. The dog lumbered to his feet in the snow and wind and pointed his nose to the right. Kam turned his head in that direction, but couldn't see anything except snow. Still, it wouldn't hurt to try.
He caught Ness under the arms and yanked her to her feet, pointing in the direction the dog had indicated. She shivered and shook her head, more tears falling, but didn't stop Kam when he began pulling her in that direction. The dog took point, staying so close that his tail brushed against Kam's knees, and Kam followed with Ness clinging desperately to his arm.
Kam couldn't tell how long they walked or if they were walking in circles. His socks were wet and his hat wasn't thick enough to keep his ears from freezing. Ness was having trouble staying on her feet, putting much of her weight on Kam's shoulder.
Finally, Kam thought he saw a red colored light shining through the snow. He couldn't be sure, but the dog was aiming in that direction. Slowly, the light came into greater focus and soon after Kam could begin to see two dark forms standing just ahead.
Lor was standing in the entrance to the giant cave Kam had seen earlier, one arm outstretched with a pulsing orb of red light shining from his fingers. He was leaning on Mae, who looked like it was taking much of her strength to hold Lor up, and glaring out at the snow.
The sled dog bounded forward happily, pushing his head into Mae's side. She looked up and saw Kam and Ness, her lips opening in what Kam assumed was a cry of shock since he still couldn't hear anything over the wind. Lor turned his head as well and started yelling.
Two men rushed out of the cave towards Kam. One took Ness and the other wrapped Kam's arm over his shoulder and helped Kam take the last few steps into the mountain.
The sudden cessation of wind was abrupt and startling to Kam's ears and skin. He stumbled, shivering, further into the monstrous opening as Hern determinedly guided him along wide stone hallways until they entered another huge doorway into an empty cave.
Kam didn't have time to marvel at how smooth the walls were because seconds after he stepped into the room Lor charged forward.
"You idiot!" Lor snapped. "What were you thinking?" His hands came up to cup Kam's cheeks and warmth began to spread through Kam's shivering limbs.
"I fell off the sled," Kam forced out through chattering teeth. "I found the sled dog and Ness and the dog knew the way back here."
"Don't scare me like that!" Lor snapped again. He started yanking at the clasps of Kam's coat, trying to get the soaked material off.
"Bring him over to the fire, Lor!" Mae called where she was helping Ness get her own soaked and frozen clothes off. "And stop using magic; you're too exhausted."
Lor guided Kam over to the fire in the center of the cave where the rest of the clan members were also huddled. The sleds were parked around them and all the dogs had found somewhere to lie down. Lor got Kam to sit and resumed pulling off Kam's fur coat.
The runt tumbled free with a yip. Lor and Mae watched, incredulous looks on their faces, as the puppy clumsily found her feet and began exploring.
"You had that pup in your coat the whole time?" Mae asked.
Kam nodded, feeling sleepy. "She wouldn't have made it on the sled," he explained, but his words were slurring so he wasn't sure just how much Mae understood. Kam felt his boots and socks being pulled off and heard Lor's swearing at the state of his feet, but even the extreme heat of Lor's spells on his toes and Mae's scolding couldn't keep Kam awake. He slumped to the side, feeling his face hit Lor's shoulder, and drifted off.
Kam woke when something licked his face. He slowly opened his eyes and was greeted with the sight of two barely opened blue puppy eyes staring him right in the face and a wet black nose nudging his cheek. Runt whined.
"Go find your mamma, if you're hungry," Kam grumbled softly. The cavern was dark and quiet, apparently everyone else was asleep and the fire was slowly dying down.
Runt whined again. The part of Kam that wasn't mostly still asleep marveled at how mature she was, more like several weeks old than several days. Any worry he still had that she might not survive dissipated.
"She's over in that direction," Kam told her, pointing over his shoulder in the direction he could feel three slumbering puppies.
Runt licked Kam's face again and toddled off, her nose working furiously as she whined piteously for her mother to find her. Kam waited until he felt Runt's satisfaction at finally being found before sighing and pulling the sleeping fur higher over his shoulder. He turned his head to tuck his nose back into the warm chest he was pressed against and felt the arm around his waist tighten in response.