The rugged uplands of Haphyr matched my expectations, and exceeded them. My sacha's stories did not do the land justice.
"What a forbidding place!" Parita said.
I glanced at her in astonishment. She sat her horse with all the enthusiasm and grace of a lump of clay.
"You really think that?" I asked.
Parita gave me a sullen look. "I suppose you don't."
"You don't see the beauty here?" My gesture took in the steep ridges and switchbacks, rising to snow-capped mountains in the distance.
"A cold and ugly place full of snow is what it looks to me," she said.
As if on cue, a flake of snow landed on my cheek, quickly followed by another. Our guide, an elderly Merwik man named Shengo, looked back over his shoulder at us, brow wrinkled.
"What is it?" I called to him.
My horse, a mare near as sullen as Parita, put back her ears in irritation. The temptation to swat her arose, but I put the thought aside as unworthy.
"We'll have to pick up the pace," Shengo told me. "The snow could halt us at Wizard's Pass and turn us back until spring."
"This?" Parita said, scornful. "It's hardly snowing."
Shengo gave her a look with equal parts derision and annoyance. "Here, yes. But the pass has already seen snow. Much more, and no one will pass until spring thaw."
I digested this even while I urged my mare to a quicker gait. To be turned back now would be--disappointing. House Theuron expected us. I very much doubted they would appreciate a four-month delay in our arrival.
"Glennis, do you see that?"
A distinct quaver in Parita's voice caught my attention immediately. I followed her pointing finger with my eyes. Far ahead, near the limits of vision, what looked like a great white creature strode along the edges of a ridge near the trail we followed.
"Shengo," I said, and jerked my head in the creature's direction.
By the time he turned, the creature had disappeared.
"What did you see?" Shengo asked.
"A great white creature that strode like a man," I said.
Shengo turned to look again, searching the ridge.
"Men in these parts speak of something they call the teu shan," he said. "I have never seen it." He shook his head. "But these were men in their cups. Drunken stories should never be trusted."
Shengo turned and smiled at me, but his eyes betrayed him.