The Stone Mountains have existed in my imagination for decades. They are a central location of The Companion, an as-yet-unpublished fantasy story and, the moment I first saw this painting of Steven’s, it was as if he’d gone inside my head and pulled the picture from my imagination.
The story’s two protagonists, Martin and Kiera, both have heard fables about the dangers of going up into the mountains. These two excerpts from the novel describe their concerns about this mysterious mountain range.
From Kiera’s story:
A small fence separated the garden from the rest of the farmyard, the gate currently open and inviting. Kiera couldn’t resist stepping onto the garden’s teeming earth, feeling the tendrils of power curl around her bare feet. She lifted the hem of her robe and dug her toes in deep.
“How do you keep your feet warm when you go into the snows?”
Kiera turned to see Ham the younger hanging over the top of the fence, the pail of water he’d been sent to get sitting beside him, only half full. The path to the well showed where the rest of the water had gone to…a trail of wet splotches led right to Ham’s feet.
“Earth Mothers don’t go up into the mountains, Ham. ‘An Earth Mother who crosses the Mountain’s Foot is lost forever,’” Kiera quoted. How she’d hated those lessons with Mother Abbess. Until being accepted by the One and sent to study at Earthhome, Kiera really hadn’t given geography much thought. All right, so she sometimes had wondered what lay beyond her own town’s flat fields and small woods, but really, curiosity had never been her curse.
But at school, learning more about the land they called Splithome gave her a desire to see the places drilled into them as forbidden. Repeating the lesson now as much as for Ham as for herself, she told him, “The Stone Mountains support no life, sapping the power of the Earth Mother until even our Companions cannot save us.”
“I won’t let the mountains hurt you, Earth Mother. I’m gonna go there when I’m bigger. I’m gonna climb the tallest one and stand up on top of it and look at the whoooole world!”
His mother had other plans for him. “Yes, well, you can do that after you’ve delivered the water to the Companion. He’ll need it to rinse. Get going.”
From Martin’s story:
Martin had heard the legends about the Stone Mountains, of course. Every first year Candidate knew the warnings by heart, though Martin discounted the stories of ghosts and haunting screams, knowing those were just tales to frighten children. He was more concerned with the tales that spoke of Sky Fathers who had made the attempt to cross and who had gone mad. Upon their return, they gibbered of a “great emptiness” and “wasteland like no other.” Their insanity, however, made it difficult to understand. The few who came back died not long after their return.
Martin, however, was fully Renewed and determined to discover what lay on the other side. The tales had been full of stories on that account, too, filled with wild savages and unholy beasts who roamed the far side of the mountains.
Taking his horse by the reins, Martin turned toward the road leading upwards. Path, really. The old Stone Road that started at the western shore and wound its way through Renthom theoretically continued up and over the Stone Mountains and down into the land on the other side. Years of neglect, however, had narrowed it considerably after it left Anre’s farm. What lay before him now would permit two men walking side-by-side in comfort, three at a squeeze. Too steep to ride a horse, however.
Squaring his shoulders for what might lay ahead, he stepped up the path -- and stopped dead.
His powers were gone.
Paintings by Steven Duprey (www.dupreyart.com)