“If I don’t see the outpost over this hill, I’m done,” Dolen complained.
Emin smiled at the young man’s complaints. He’d been hearing them for the past several days. “That’s what you said on the last hill, and we now we’re to the top of this one.”
“I mean it this time.”
They crested the green slope, but there was no sign of the mountains that rose like a grey crown behind the outpost.
Emin smiled, and Dolen grumbled.
“We’ll get there, eventually.”
“How do you know?”
“Dolen...,” the old man scolded.
“Maybe the hills are filled with iron and messing with us.”
“Enough. We’re going the right way.”
He wasn’t concerned with Dolen’s whining. They were far enough that turning back would take longer than continuing forward. The only real punishment was watching Dolen mope if they made camp for the week.
“Enjoy yourself,” Emin said. “It’s sunny and warm, and these fields are filled with rabbit and deer. We’ll eat well tonight and sleep under a starry sky.”
“It won’t last.”
“Then we’ll make shelter and embrace the rain.”
Dolen grumbled under his breath.
Emin sighed. “Once we reach the outpost, you’ll get a hot bath and a fresh glass of whisky, and be recognized for your part in charting the southwest passage.”
After that, Dolen quit complaining, imagining all he’d been promised and more.
Emin enjoyed the silence, knowing it wouldn’t last.
He watched a hawk circle in the sky and kept his eyes off the far horizon. He knew he’d see the mountains soon enough, but every day he didn’t, he rejoiced.
This expedition was his fifth, and the worst part was always the return. He didn’t care for his name in the newspapers or the books. He only cared about the moment of setting out and the journey in-between.
It may not be tomorrow or the next day, but they’d soon see the mountains, and this would all end.
The hawk dove and snatched its prey from the tall grass on the far hill. It flew off ahead of them, carrying something small, like a field mouse or a vole in its beak.
Emin had heard rumours of another survey planned in the fall, charting the mountains north before winter arrived. Perhaps if he arrived early enough at the outpost, he could sign up.
He turned back to the young man and grinned. “Let’s pick up the pace. I’m sure we’re only days away and your accolades await.”