Chapter 6: "Giants II: Felix"
The next morning, Felix was the first to wake. He made sure to quickly rouse the rest of the company as loudly as possible.
Felix grinned and winked slyly at his new pal Kori across the dregs of last night’s fire. Kori had been curled up closely beside that cute blonde. Felix approached as Kori swatted at his own sleep-matted hair. “Rise and shine, buddy. Sorry to wake you from…well…that.” Felix gestured toward Marielle, who was still barely awake. Felix flashed a toothy grin and clapped a palm on Kori’s shoulder. “I hope I didn’t interrupt anything fun.” Felix winked again and walked over to hoist his backpack.
Kori stammered uncomfortably, “I’m not sure what you think is going on, but Marielle and I are—”
“Whoa!” Felix cut in, “Don’t get in a bunch about it. I just meant that you and Marielle are…you know…getting physical. She’s your project. I understand; I’ve been there. Probably would’ve been there if you hadn’t laid claim first.” Felix nodded toward Marielle.
Kori reached out and grabbed his wrist forcefully. “Felix, try to have some respect for the lady. She’s not a project and we’re not getting physical.” Kori was speaking quietly through clenched teeth now. “I like Marielle…a lot. And I think she feels the same way. So, watch your tongue or I’ll tie it off for you.”
Felix stared, dumbfounded, at the young man before him. Then he smiled broadly. “You, Kori, are a strange fellow. I like you kid.”
Kori released his arm and shook his head. “Kid? You’re like the same exact age as me.”
“Eh, I call everyone kid.” Then Felix pointed subtly over to the Old Man, “Except him. I call him anything but kid. Am I right?” Felix started laughing and shoving Kori. “Come on, kiddo, enjoy life a bit. Look around; we’re in the middle of nowhere, on our way to nowhere…and we’re following the only guy in the world who outdates this mountain. When life gets crazy, you best get a little crazy back. It’s called adaptation.” Felix gripped Kori around the shoulders and shook him just a bit. “Now, let’s talk about Marielle.”
Kori smiled with a clear hint of embarrassment. “Felix, I don’t know that you’d understand. I honestly think that I’m in love.” Kori laughed and rubbed his forehead. “What a ridiculous thing to say so quickly.”
Felix was suddenly very serious. “No, kid, there’s no timeline for love,” he whispered. “It happens when it wants to…and it only lasts as long as it wants to. It’s like fate or something.”
Kori squinted and lowered his own voice. “You sound like you actually know something about love. But that can’t be,” he teased back.
Felix nodded slowly and then hiked over to the rest of the group. He shouted over his shoulder, “Better link up with your girlfriend; we’ve got a long road above us.”
Shortly after they’d broken camp, they came upon a deeply set cave. Felix lashed a rope around his waist and handed the other end to Kori, then quickly yanked it back out of Kori’s hand and gave the rope to Lesedi instead. “No offense, kid,” Felix said to Kori without a care, “but big man here is built like a sycamore.”
Lesedi nodded. “I will hold fast.”
Felix entered the cave and began working his way back through its depths. He shouted back, “If you feel me tug the rope twice hard, it means it’s safe to come in! If only once, cut the rope and run!”
The group waited a while for any sign from Felix within the cave. Finally, there were two sharp tugs on the rope in Lesedi’s hands. The Old Man, as their guide, led the way into the cave’s darkness after their friend.
As the pitch black of the cavern broke away, the travelers found themselves at a campsite. Felix stood up from his place around the fire; he had been seated as part of a circle of men. These strangers had a primitive look about them. The mountain men all had bulging cords of muscle running throughout their bodies, hulking frames, and low-hung postures. Each of the men had a beard that extended well below the breastbone and hair to match.
Felix met them at the entrance to the hollowed out antechamber with a big, charming grin on his face. “Everyone, come meet our new friends. They call themselves the mountain men; this is their chieftain, Gorr. They’ve agreed to give us shelter for the night, food, water, and some information about the road ahead.”
Gorr and the Old Man spoke about their homes and lives for hours into the night. Lesedi joined their palaver after all the others had gone to sleep; of course, he didn’t say very much as usual.
“Gorr, your hospitality has been most appreciated. We have been traveling for weeks now and struck many camps along the way. Mostly, we forage for nuts or berries; sometimes Asher and Felix will hunt with inconsistent results. It has been quite trying but also quite rewarding. We cannot offer enough gratitude to you and your people. This night has been most pleasant.” The Old Man bowed his head in thanks. Lesedi followed suit.
Gorr bowed his head in return. “Our honor to shelter you. May your journey be safe. But take care; many dangers await.”
Lesedi nodded, “We will certainly be careful, friend. What can you tell us of these troubles ahead? Do you know of them?”
Gorr closed his eyes and tilted his head back with a whispered whooping sound. “Mountain men. Not us…others. Above. Not helpers. Not wise. Not good. The above mountain men are the enemies of women. Enemies of life and goodness. You should not go above, friends. Go through. We can show the way through. All the way to the other side. Yes?”
The Old Man paused and listened to the song in his mind then hung his head low and shook it slowly. “Thank you, Gorr. Knowing what lies ahead is very important to us. But the path that has been chosen for us is also very important. The Woman has called to each of us specifically and has set a path of trials and tests ahead of us. Unfortunately, that path does lead us above to the mountain’s summit.”
Gorr nodded sagely. “We understand the importance of journey. Friends, travel well…travel safe.” Gorr bowed his head and retired to his bed slab; the Old Man and Lesedi did the same. The next morning, almost before the sun had risen, the travelers left the cave and set their course for the summit.