I blinked several times and saw where human-like creatures, though taller than me, thin, and with icy blue skin with whitish hair and clothing. They looked like moving piles of snow, and they were far too quiet.
Edmond shifted, gave a slight hiss of sound at the sight, and went silent and still. We were surrounded; I looked and found some even kneeling on the overhang, looking down at us. Their eyes were only a slightly darker blue than their skin, and they blinked when they met my look.
I tried to stand, but my legs gave out. I had gone as far as I could, and I wondered if Edmond could escape and get to Lord Snow. I didn't know what I faced. They hadn't attacked yet, but they were moving in a little closer now. I could barely hear the sound, like the faint whisper of snow-against-snow.
I thought they might seem more curious than dangerous. They could have attacked me by now. I watched, aware of a whisper of sound that must have been words between them. They were quiet people, and I had the impression that they didn't like to be out in the open where they might draw attention.
I stayed seated, and they formed up in a circle around us, the first row kneeling so that they second had a clearer view of us. Edmond was no longer hissing, and from the way his head turned from side-to-side, I had the feeling he might be rather curious himself.
They were whispering again. I wasn't sure of the language, but if they were here, I had to hope I could talk to them.
"Are you from Elsewhere?" I asked.
Though I spoke softly, it still sounded like a shout compared to these quiet people. I startled them, and even the kneeling ones started to scramble to their feet to get away -- but then they stopped as though they had only just heard what I said. They all knelt this time, and the ones above on the rocks came down and sat with the others. I felt as though I was on a stage and hadn't been told the name of the play, let alone what part I played in it.
"I feel like I should know what they are," Edmond said.
Oh, and that drew a strange reaction. They were not surprised to find that the cat could talk. There was even a nod of heads to him, as though he were something they understood far better than they did me.
I had no idea what to do. We sat in silence for a few moments, but then I heard another sound and saw movement --
Lord Snow arrived.
The people did not panic. I heard cries of surprise, but more of them stood and stretched out their arms to the snow leopard as though in delight. Lord Snow came bounding through the snow and came to a sliding stop beside me. I had to put a hand on the rock to keep from going down.
"My apologies," the big cat said. He sat down and mumbled words that were not in English. The others answered, a chorus of words that seemed to tumble over each other. I thought Lord Snow looked pleased.
"What are they?" I asked when they all went quiet again.
"Icelings, from Lord Ice's own realm. They know me, even though they've been here for a long time. I'm not sure what happened. I think they were exploring other winter lands and somehow ended up here. I don't know --"
One of the Icelings began to talk. Others joined in. I could tell that whatever they said took Lord Snow by surprise. He spoke a few times and then turned back to me. Edmond, I noticed, had snuggled up next to the larger cat's long fur. I wondered if I could shift a little closer myself.
"They have told me something I had not known," Lord Snow said at last. "Mark, there is a second gate to Elsewhere, and it is located high in the mountains, but not too far from here. The problem is that the gate is closed and they have never had the ability to open it, so they were trapped here. If you can get it open, then it would be a better way back."
"I don't know much about gates, but I'm willing to try," I said. I started to stand, but my leg gave out again. Lord Snow reached over and put a paw against it, and I felt a wild surge of magic that made not only the leg but most of the rest of me, feel much better. "Thank you!"
"Dangerous," he admitted. "I'm not used to applying magic to fae or human. But I'm glad it helped."
I picked up Edmond and draped him over my shoulders. He purred since he didn't like to walk and I appreciated having a nice warm fur collar again. The Icelings were excited now, some of them actually leaping as they bounded through and over the snow. They had to slow for the rest of us, but I could sense the joy they felt.
I hoped I didn't disappoint them. I wanted to say something to Lord Snow, to have him warn the others that I might not be able to do the work -- but then I suspected he already had done so. It wasn't like him to give false hope to others.
I'd do my best.
We were heading farther up into the mountains and far away from the railroad tracks, which we crossed. I looked up and down them with a bit of longing but didn't slow. I realized that the 'not far' for the Icelings might be a long distance for me --
Lord Snow looked over his shoulder and nodded. We were being followed. That wouldn't be good since it could be no one but Alsia.
To Be Continued....