The Treeless Tundra Road
By Kizzie Le Carpentier
Kizzie Le Carpentier is a graduate of Plymouth University in the U.K. She published her first book, “The Walk Back Home” in June of 2021.
I love books, movies and stories that unravel a new world with new creatures. I love it when a writer makes up something completely new and unreal – but I love it even more when a writer can convince me that their fantasy world could be real.Kizzie Le Carpentier
“Goodnight; sweet dreams.” I lean in to place a kiss on my child’s forehead and tuck the sheets into the bed. My dark hair falls over my shoulders and drapes over the bedsheets.
“Where are you going, Mummy?” My little girl looks into my eyes and then at my thick fur-lined cloak.
“I’m just going out for a bit. I’ll be back. If you need anything at all, just ask your brother.” I stroke my daughter’s head with my gloved hand.
The wind outside was hitting the hut and making the wooden shutters shake. I stand up and walk over to my son, waiting patiently at the door, and place my hand on his cheek, stroking it with my thumb.
“You make sure to look after your sister while I’m gone.”
“Yes, mother.” His eyes are watery; it is obvious from his clenched jaw that he’s fighting back the tears. His remaining parent is about to leave in the same manner as his negligent father. He coughs into his hand.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be back soon. Make sure you get some sleep too.” I walk over to the bedroom door, which is also the front door, and slide my fur boots on.
I look over at the countertops, making sure there is food and water on the side and then look to make sure all the shutters are closed and that the key was where my seven-year-old could reach it. The cold made the dampness on the ceiling reek and the air harsh. The fire is raging, but it does little for comfort.
“Make sure to lock the door behind me. And don’t answer for anyone other than me.” I open the door, and a freezing gust of wind blows into the hut as I step outside into the darkness. The moon lit up the landscape in front of me, but an ominous cloud in the direction I’d be heading made me wince inside.
“Yes, mother. Please be safe.” My boy frowns, and I smile briefly at him before he closes the door behind me. I smile wider, and my eyes soften as I hear the sound of the key turning.
The snow crunches under my boots, and I struggle against the wind as I head towards the rocky road of the tundra. I put my hood up to stop the frosty wind scraping at my ears. The cold is already giving me a headache and making my nose and cheeks uncomfortable.
Now that I am away from my children, I can let my heart ache, and my heart pound and my fear escape whilst I walk away from the outskirts of Stormvale and towards the tundra wilderness. I wish I had a lantern and not just candles at home.
I look in the direction of the lights at the bottom of the mountain to where my potential employer waits. I scoff, thinking of his liney, scruffy, nasty old face. My eyes cloud over as I think of what I’ll have to do.
I think back to the conversation I had with him, to me sitting on his lap in the tavern. He stunk of ale, and I knew he was no good, but what other option did I have:
“I can make you a favorable offer.” He whispered into my ear, breathing hot air onto my face that I had to ignore; I smiled at him and chuckled.
“You can trust my word. I’m a wealthy man with wealthy connections.” He slurred, hiccuping loudly into my ear.
It’s at least an hour walk to the bottom of the mountain, and the wind is picking up, blowing snow that was like dust into my face and sticking to my clothes.
I think about the past year and my struggles: my husband vanishing, raising two kids on my own, the lack of money, our small, broken-down home. It was so simple when I lived in the city. I wonder whether I should have heeded my parent’s warnings, but it doesn’t matter now. I was young, naive and in love when I first met my husband, and I found myself regretting most of my decisions as his love grew bitter and my heart yearned for something more. I wouldn’t give up my children for the world, but I had them way too early. I should have waited…
I walk onto the snowy-pathed road and follow along the brick wall, stroking the stone with my hand as I walk up the road. The dark clouds start creeping across the sky, lingering over my head. I hope they don’t cover the moon, or this journey will be difficult.
The many bright moons made it so I could see the barren landscape well, but as the wind gets faster, the light quickly dims and hides behind the clouds. Gaps in the clouds make the moons peek out every numerous seconds, but I can tell that I’m going to have to rely on the lights from the houses to guide my way. I know the area well, so I think I will be fine.
I look back behind me at my house, a small distance away now, and ache to be with my children in the warmth next to the fire. I hope I will be able to get back tonight. I hate making my boy worry.
I look back at my destination and start to panic as thick snow fiercely falls from the sky, making the light from the houses barely visible. As the snow starts to layer fast on top of the already ankle-high snow, I can’t help but think the worst. I pray I’m not heading into a storm…
I pick up my pace, hopping my way through the snow, getting closer and closer to the house. I can see the thick layers of bricks and light get brighter as the wind tries to rip off my hood. I hold my hood in front of my eyes, powering on through.
I relax a little, relaxing more and more as I hurdle my way to the steps of a giant, white-bricked mansion laced with marble pillars and a thick picket fence.
The fence’s gate opens with a screech, and I carefully climb the steps like a waddling bird until I get to the top. I let out a giant sigh under the roof of the porch, brushing snow off my coat, and go to grab the giant door knocker in the mouth of a creature I don’t recognize…
The door suddenly opens, and Frederick, my client’s valet, is there glaring at me.
“Good evening, madam; I’m afraid my master has decided to retire early for the evening and won’t be requiring your services until tomorrow morning. Please return here promptly tomorrow morning. Good evening.”
And with that, he slams the door closed.
I grit my teeth and let out an audible groan, clench my fist and turn back around to look at the invisible road.
It is getting scary now: the snow is non-stop, and the wind is getting stronger the longer I stand here and think.
I wrap my arms over my chest and hug my shoulders, walking back down the stone steps. But, I step too quickly and lose my balance, slipping on the edge of the step and landing on my spine!
“Ouch-ch.” T-that hurt!
I slowly pick myself up, caressing my spine. My padded fur cloak saved me there. I slowly walk down the remaining steps and through the gate, not bothering to close it. I hope it gets blown off!
I walk left, back the way I came, hanging onto the stone wall for support, guiding my way back through touch.
I walked for about six minutes clutching for dear life onto the wall, not knowing exactly where I was anymore. The wind was coming from all directions now and wasn’t stopping; now up to my waist. The cold seeps through my boots and lower half. My face was sore to the touch. The snow that had clung to my eyelashes started to freeze.
I feel my legs give way, and I use both my arms to cling to the wall so I don’t fall.
I pause on the wall, catching my breath, trying to calm my pounding heart. Should I turn back?
A small light coming from behind me catches my attention; getting ever closer, the distinct sound of boots compacting the snow restores some of my hope. A tall cloaked figure approaches me. I can’t see what they look like through the snow, but I focus on the lantern in their hand and what sounds like a bell clinking with every step they take.
“You’re going to die if you stay out here.” A man’s voice calls out to me from behind the shield of falling snow. A harsh voice, an unused voice.
“Please, I’m stuck. Can you help me?” I reach out my hand to the stranger who unexpectedly grabs my wrist, pulls me closer and chucks me over his shoulder.
He starts walking back in the direction of the mansion at the bottom of the mountain. Frederick? This doesn’t seem like something he’d do…
“Wait! My home is back the other way.” I wriggle under his grasp.
“We don’t have time.” He grunts back at me.
“But, my children are waiting for me!” He doesn’t loosen his grip…
“NO?!” I wriggle again.
“The storm’s going to get worse and will last all night.” He continues walking, jumping over the stone wall into the open tundra. He heads towards the foot of the mountain to what looks like a man-made cave that was admitting firelight.
I give up wriggling; the man was right. If I continue, my kids might not have a mum to come back to them.
We approach the cave, and as soon as we’re at the entrance, he plonks me down next to the fire. Pain shoots through my legs from the cold as I contact the hard ground.
Three other figures sit crossed-legged by the fire; some vegetable stew is bubbling away. As my eyes adjust, I don’t know whether to be pleased that I was saved or scared that they were wuyon’mar men. Four fierce and big pointy-eared men glare at me from the other side of the fire. My whole body tenses, and I responsively wrap my arms around my knees. I let out a heavy breath.
“Who is this?” The man with dark toffee shoulder-length hair looks me up and down and then looks over to the hooded stranger brushing snow off his coat. The toffee-haired man glares at him with his round, green eyes and grimaces with his thin lips. He is dressed in a black hooded tunic with matching bottoms, leather boots, and gloves.
“I don’t know,” he answers back stiffly.
The other two men by the fire have long caramel-colored hair, both sharing the same matching caramel eyes, narrow, pointy noses, oval chin and lips, and long blonde eyelashes. They look like siblings, and they both look at me with suspicion, not taking their eyes off me. They were lean in stature and wore thick leather armor and fancy embroidered trenchcoats.
I look up at my escort, who uncovers his head and shows his pointy ears, square face, strong nose, monolid eyes the color of the stone, and his dark hair tied up into a bun on top of his head. He unclips his trenchcoat and lays it on top of a bag in the corner of the shelter, leaning it on one of three large crates.
“Go on, then. Who are you?” My escort abruptly sits on the ground next to the fire. He sits upright, stretching out his tight-fitting quilted gambeson jacket, making his tight leather trousers groan under strain.
“Dianne. And who are you?” I’m not sure I can trust them.
“Our names are too complex for you to understand, but you may call me Vince; this is Jasper, Luis and Issac,” he nods his head in the direction of his comrades, who ignore me.
“Thanks for saving me.” I smile at him as warmly as I can muster. The wuyon’mari are known to cause unrest and trouble wherever they go. They’re rude, uncivilized, brutal and coldhearted. They appear uninvited and disappear randomly as they please. Not to mention the trouble they caused in Stormvale recently. They are only kind to their own…
He grunts back at me. “You shouldn’t be out in this in the first place.” He lazily lays down and rests his head in his hand, watching what me and my daughter like to call fire fairies, crackling and dancing out into the air.
“You mentioned you have kids. Why aren’t you with them? It’s not smart to leave them alone in a storm.” The other men look at me with judgmental eyes. I feel myself getting hot on my forehead and bite the insides of my cheeks.
“I didn’t exactly have a choice!” I clench my jaw, anger surges through me, clouding my thinking and my better judgment. I can’t hide my irritation — that was just rude — it’s none of their business — !
“Everyone has a choice,” the toffee-haired man rummages in the bag behind him and pulls out three beautiful shiny red bowls and a large travel flask.
“Yes, and some people have to feed their families.”
Vince looks at me and strokes his chin. He sits up as Jasper hands him a red bowl and the travel flask. I breathe in stiffly, they’re either ignorant or ignoring my pain, either way, they don’t react to my chapt lips, sore face, stiff body and wet clothes.
“What kind of a job requires you to be traveling around at this time of night?” He pours the stew into the red bowl and then the travel flask and blows onto it.
“An unpleasant one.” I look down at the ground, avoiding his gaze; I could tell he was judging me.
He offers me the travel flask. He didn’t react at all to my comment…
“What’s this?” I raise an eyebrow.
“Food. Do you not want it?!” He looks offended. The other men slowly slurp the food into their mouths, stopping to chew at the vegetable chunks before slurping more.
“No, but thank you.” I have no idea what’s in this.
“You need to eat something warm.” He gestures for me to take it.
I breathe in stiffly, feeling the ache in my stomach. I take the flask and sniff the stew, steam dampening my nose and chin.
He half-smiles, nods his head, quietly grunts and stares at me, waiting for me to start slurping away at what smells like beans and mushrooms. I hate beans and mushrooms.
The others are now staring at me again, having finished their bowls and impatiently waiting for me to finish mine, Jasper’s middle finger tapping his knee. I smile awkwardly at him and take a small sip… It’s actually not so bad.
Vince looks at Jasper, who rolls his eyes and then nods at him in silent agreement.
“We’re looking for an advocate. We haven’t had much luck trading with humans as of recent.”
I swallow another sip of the stew. “Well, that might have something to do with the trouble your people caused at the border.” I glare at him this time, and he looks away. “But, I’m sure Stormvale has someone that would work with you.” Although, they might have to learn how to communicate and interact with our culture first…
“Are you not interested then?” He looks at me, baffled.
“You seem like you’re available. And, you don’t seem afraid of us.” Vince raises an eyebrow again, in unison with the other pointy-ears.
“Don’t you hate us? Why do you want to trade with us?” I let go of my knees and fold my arms over my chest.
“No, we don’t.” Jasper shakes his head, anger in his glazed eyes.
“When have we ever stated that we hate your people?” Vince scowls, confused.
“Then why would you block the main road? Why do you never come down from the mountain? Why do you treat us with such disgust when you converse with us? These two haven’t said a word to me since I’ve been here.” I point to the two brothers whose faces were now more creased than ever. I definitely hit a nerve with that comment as Vince’s jaw clenches and he broadens his body. I don’t think I should be picking a fight with these men, but they seem oblivious to their own behavior.
“We have tried conversing with your people in the past but were met with constant deceit and trickery. Your people rarely uphold your word; you never regulate the people who are coming in and out of the Shey Lands. As agreed by both of our people decades ago, there is a limit to how many of you can live in the Shey Lands.” He’s leaning in my direction, his voice ear-piercingly harsh, his eyes narrow locking onto mine.
“And Luis and Issac are mute,” he growls, not letting my eyes wander. I can’t look away.
“I didn’t know that.” I swallow, my heart hammers in my chest. He softens his eyes and whatever hold he had over me falls away. Remorse flickers in the corner of his eye as he looks away from me.
There’s a moment of silence…
“As for trade, you have things that we need and don’t have. If you are so interested in us getting to know your culture, then this is the perfect opportunity.” Vince finally relaxes his body, making me feel a lot calmer.
“I don’t know anything about trade.” I wave my free hand in the air.
“You don’t need to know anything about trade. You just have to go up to potential merchants and say we’re trustworthy.” Jasper looks at me and then at my still half-full flask. I reflexively take another sip and gulp it down quickly.
“I can’t just leave my two children alone while I travel.”
“Then, bring them with you,” Vince says nonchalantly. As if it’s that simple.
“What about schooling? I have to think about their education. And they can’t live in a wagon or a cave.” I rush to get my words out.
“I can assure you they’d get a better education with us than a school. And why not a wagon or a cave? Is it better than where you live now?” He looks me in the eyes, and I feel irritated again. He knows I’m desperate, and he knows he’s right.
I think back to the cramped, drafty, moldy shack my kids are sleeping in at this very minute, and my heart aches.
“As for the cold, you will not be affected as long as you’re with us. Do you not feel better?” He looks at the empty flask in my hand, and I realize how warm I feel… He did something to the soup. When could he have tampered with it… He blew on it.
“First of all, if I’m even going to consider your offer, you will have to start telling me what you’re doing before you do it! Especially telling me when you’ve tampered with my food!” I raise my voice, pointing my finger at him. They all smile and grunt at each other, which annoys me even more.
“I will work on it.” Vince smiles at me wider.
“I barely know you.” I carry on.
“You will get to know us.”
“I haven’t agreed to anything yet!” I sigh heavily.
“You’re desperate, are you not?”
“My seven-year-old has better manners than you.” I sigh heavily again.
“We should get some sleep. You can give me your answer tomorrow.”
They all get up and take rolled-up fur rugs and pillows from their bags and lay them down on the ground, lying on their backs, blanket-less, staring up to the ceiling.
“You can sleep on this.” Vince tosses me his trenchcoat.
“Thanks.” I roll my eyes and lay the coat out flat, curling up into a ball onto it on the ground. I let out a sigh and close my eyes as I deflate; his coat smells like eucalyptus. I pull my hood over my eyes and nuzzle my damp arm. My cheeks were now warm, and my legs no longer ached…
The wind howls outside, and I worry for my children and miss my children, and wish I could hold my children. I would do anything for my children. Anything.
If I were to go with these men, I could get my children out of our broken house. I hate to admit it, but a wagon would be better than the rundown ruin we live in now. The wuyon’mari are intelligent; they live a long time and could teach my kids a lot. I wouldn’t have to work for that horrible chancellor; I wouldn’t have to do things I don’t want to. That’s if they’re not trying to play me.
I think back to him grabbing my wrist and throwing me over his shoulder; and to him blowing on my soup… But, they’re somewhat thoughtful in their own way.
“Morning.” Vince nods at me as I sit up. Vince and Luis carry one of the crates past me to the outside. My back aches.
I look around at the now-empty cave and then outside. A large sled-wagon was just by the entrance, Jasper and Isaac were fixing one of the metal joints that attached the sled to the wagon. A path had been chiseled through the chest-high snow from here to the main road – I’m assuming by the fancy wagon in front of me, as the path ends at the wagon. My heart sinks to my stomach as I realize I really would’ve died if not for Vince.
Vince and Luis walk out from the wagon.
I walk out to meet them. I was tossing and turning all night; I think I’ve made a decision, but whether it is the right one, time will only tell.
“Well, have you made a decision?” Vince closes the wagon doors and padlocks them shut.
“I have.” I nod at them. They all look at me for my answer.
“I will come with you. On the condition that my children come first, and you can ensure they will have an education, food and a roof over their heads every night.”
“Of course. And what is it that you want?” He raises an eyebrow.
I raise an eyebrow back; I hadn’t thought about myself.
“Hmm… I can leave with my children at any time. If a better deal comes along, I will take it.” This I was serious about: if I’m going to be traveling with strangers across the country, I want an out.
“That seems fair.” They all nod at me, grunt, and then faff over the wagon. I look at the wagon. It isn’t old or worn-down or ugly. In fact, it is covered in intricate carvings and even has a solid-looking window and thick-looking walls. I think my children will be comfortable enough with this.
“We can get another kızak. This one isn’t big enough or suitable for children,” says Jasper, standing up from the sled next to me.
“Aren’t wagons expensive?”
“They’re only a gold piece or two.” He says this so casually: a gold piece or two!
“That’s expensive.” I must look shocked as he looks at me with a smile, amused.
“No, it isn’t,” he says nonchalantly, smiling wider. I look around at the others, who were also smiling, listening to our conversation. I can’t help but feel a little embarrassed.
We arrive at my shack, and I see my little boy shoveling snow outside the house engulfed in the snow; luckily, the chimney was ok. My little girl stood next to him, watching him lift a shovel double his size.
“Mummy!” My little girl spots me sitting on the wagon and drops her doll jumping toward us as the wagon comes to a stop.
I jump off, catch my daughter from almost falling face-first into the snow, and hug her. She squeezes as tight as she can and doesn’t let go. I look over to my boy, glaring at Jasper and Isaac, who are on the front of the wagon. Vince and Luis walk round from the back.
“It was not smart to leave them here alone last night,” Vince mumbles to Luis, who shakes his head, both grimacing at my tiny home.
I glare at them and then carry my daughter to my son, who leans the shovel up against the wall.
“Who are those guys? They look shady.” He frowns at them, looking at their ears and turns his back to them, folding his arms.
“George! These men helped me get back to you.”
“Aren’t they the same men that tried to block off the road to the Shey Lands?” He mumbles quietly to me.
“I don’t know, but I don’t think so,” I mumble quietly back. I think back to Vince’s comment about there being too many humans in the Shey Lands. I’m not going to lie to him; they very well might be… I suppose they had their reasons for doing so.
He unfolds his arms and lets out a huff, and finally goes in for a hug. I hold him with my free arm.
“Are you ready to go, or do you need some time to pack?” Vince barges on through the snow to the open shack door; Jasper, Luis and Issac follow him in.
“Go! Go where?” My boy looks up at me frantically. My attention is split between wanting to shout at the wuyon’mari for letting themselves in and trying to comfort my weepy boy.
“It’s time that we leave.”
“We can’t leave.” He lets go of my waist. “What if father comes back and he can’t find us?”
“George, he isn’t coming back. And we can’t stay here.” His eyes start tearing up again, and I pull him in for another hug.
“You don’t know that!” He scrunches his face and makes himself as big as he can, pushing himself away from me, and I brace myself for a meltdown.
“I’m not going! I’m waiting for him right here.”
“George, enough!” I put down my girl and she clings to my side, hiding behind my leg and watching the pointy-ears murmur to each other in the cabin.
Jasper walks out of the cabin and picks up my girl’s plush doll and hands it to her with a smile. She takes it and smiles shyly back, nuzzling closer into my leg.
“You should listen to your mother, boy.” He turns to face my son and looks down at him.
“No, why should I?” he shouts while looking at the ground, avoiding looking at Jasper.
“When was the last time you saw your father?” He crosses his arms.
“Like a year ago,” he grumbles.
“Does he know where you are?” Jasper is surprisingly calm and collected, not batting an eyelid.
“Yes! He used to live here too!” he shouts again.
“So, if he knows where you are but hasn’t come back, then he has either been detained somehow or has chosen not to come back to you. He knowingly left you in a small, dark, cold shack with little money or food, which suggests he is either incompetent, or has little empathy for your wellbeing and left willingly. If he has died, then he definitely won’t return.” Jasper kneels down to be face-level with him and my boy finally looks at him with an open-mouth expression. Jasper’s words are harsh, but I think George needs to hear this from someone other than me.
“Either way, is that someone worth waiting for?”
“No,” my boy says quietly, looking at his hands and then back at Jasper, a few tears escaping from his eyes.
“Don’t waste your time waiting for someone who may not return.” He places his hand on his shoulder for a moment before walking off to the wagon.
My boy walks back to me and clings onto my other leg.
Vince is leaning against the doorframe, looking me in the eye and has what looks like a genuine smile on his face. I smile back, trying not to cry myself.