Chapter Sixteen: Wherein we travel for two days without my companion uttering a single word.
Jholeira curled up in my blanket next to the fire and went to sleep without another word. I didn’t think this strange, but when she did not deign to speak to me the following morning I began to feel a little put off. I decided that if she wasn’t going to speak to me, then I wouldn’t speak to her either. We packed up and left our campsite in complete silence. By elevenses I was getting rather tired of the quiet. Over a brief meal of raisins and cheese I tried first to coax her and then to trick her into speaking. She would have none of it however and I eventually stopped trying.
The little path that we followed wound down through a series of small valleys, eventually coming to the stream. The trees grew thick on both sides of the stream and indeed on the far side there was a vast expanse of forest that is Elven Wood. The stream itself was no more than twenty feet wide and its broadest expanse and in those places where it widened out thus, it was only a few inches deep. Though the banks were icy, the water was clear and free flowing. Upon reaching it in late afternoon, we followed it southeast until, finding a narrow spot where the water deepened to several feet, I stopped to drink and look for fish.
The greatest skill I ever learned, with the single possible exception of story telling which is more of an art form than a skill, is that of guddling fish. Fish that have swum up the shallow part of a stream, will often take shelter under a rock or a ledge when they come to a deeper and slower moving part of a river. When they do, they become prey for the guddler. He reaches his hand under the ledge, knowing where a fish ought to be, and carefully locates the fish’s tail. Then he begins tickling the fish with his finger, tickling its tail, then tickling its belly, and finally tickling right under the gills. Then with a quick grasp, he pulls the fish from the water and tosses it up onto the shore, ready to be cleaned, cooked, and eaten. If the temperature of the water made the fish sluggish, you couldn’t tell it by the ones I found, though it didn’t do me any good sticking my arm in. I caught two lovely river trout that day, one which I cleaned and cooked over the fire for our supper, and the other which I kept captive by running a string through its gill, and tying one end to a sapling, and tossing the other end, attached to the fish, back in the water. This second fish we ate for breakfast.
It was late the following afternoon before we reached the intersection of the stream with the East Road. By this time I had resolved myself to the fact that my little orphan boy/girl was never going to speak to me again, but as we crossed the small bridge, which spanned the juxtaposition of the road and the stream, as bridges are wont to do, she at last broke her silence.
“We should spend the night on this side of the stream.”
“The forest is dangerous, especially at night.”
“I don’t care,” said I. “I’m not talking to you.”
“Yes you are,” she replied.
“No. I am not.”
“I was not talking to you, but now I am. But you are definitively talking to me.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes you are.”
“I’m not talking to you. I’m just telling you that I’m not talking to you.”
“That means that you are talking to me, because in order to tell a person something you have to talk to them.”
“No you don’t.”
“Now you are just being contrary,” said she.
“No I’m not.”
“Fine,” said she. “I don’t care whether you are talking to me or not…”
“Yes you do.”
“I don’t care whether you are talking to me or not and I don’t care whether you are being contrary or not. In either case we should spend the night on this side of the stream.”
“No we shouldn’t,” said I.
“Because,” I explained.
“Well as long as your reasoning is sound,” said she.
“No it isn’t.”
We spent the night on the west side of the bridge, just at the edge of the trees on that side of the stream. By the time we made camp, it was too late for me to find any fish to guddle, so we ate dried beef and drank coffee for our supper. Jholeira curled up in the only blanket while I snuggled up in my coat and set my head upon a large flat rock to use as a pillow.
“Are you cold?” she asked.
“I’m sorry I stopped talking to you. You have been a very great help to me and you didn’t have to and here I am wrapped up in your only blanket while you have nothing but your coat to keep you warm.”
“I have the fire. Besides, it is only fitting that you have the blanket, being an orphan or a girl or a princess or some combination of the three.”
I stayed awake quite late watching the stars and listening to Hysteria complain about her lack of oats. She should have been happy, as in that particular spot by the bridge there grew not only an abundance of grass but some early flowering szigimon, which any stable master can tell you is the very best horse feed in the world. Many times she has had to make due with busy grass, which is the least best horse feed in the world—not that it is bad for horses, but it does nothing more than give them something to chew on and doesn’t provide any real nourishment. You would think by now she would know when she had it good.
“What are you doing?” asked a small voice from the other side of the campfire.
“I’m pondering horse feed,” said I.
“Well, go to sleep.” It must have been some kind of elf magic, because no sooner had she said this than my eyes closed, seemingly of their own volition.