The situation came to a head as El, Storm and the others struggled to offer the blueflame item to Alassra within a secluded cave, and Manshoon appeared before them all. Alassra returned to her full self, restored Elminster's physical form, and presented everyone with a missive from her long-dead mother: El and Manshoon would have to work together against the machinations of the Imprisoner, and close the many inter-planar rifts that had been opened by warlocks and others during the last hundred years. If they failed, the primordials would take over Toril, and the world of elves, men, and dwarves would be no more. Elminster and Manshoon both agreed to work alongside the other...for a time.
It was before Smoke Bellew staked the farcical town-site of Tra-Lee,made the historic corner of eggs that nearly broke Swiftwater Bill'sbank account, or won the dog-team race down the Yukon for an evenmillion dollars, that he and Shorty parted company on the UpperKlondike. Shorty's task was to return down the Klondike to Dawsonto record some claims they had staked.Smoke, with the dog-team, turned south. His quest was Surprise Lakeand the mythical Two Cabins. His traverse was to cut the headwatersof the Indian River and cross the unknown region over the mountainsto the Stewart River. Here, somewhere, rumour persisted, wasSurprise Lake, surrounded by jagged mountains and glaciers, itsbottom paved with raw gold. Old-timers, it was said, whose verynames were forgotten in the forests of earlier years, had dived inthe ice-waters of Surprise Lake and fetched lump-gold to the surfacein both hands. At different times, parties of old-timers hadpenetrated the forbidding fastness and sampled the lake's goldenbottom. But the water was too cold. Some died in the water, beingpulled up dead. Others died of consumption. And one who had gonedown never did come up. All survivors had planned to return anddrain the lake, yet none had ever gone back. Disaster alwayshappened. One man fell into an air-hole below Forty Mile; anotherwas killed and eaten by his dogs; a third was crushed by a fallingtree. And so the tale ran. Surprise Lake was a hoodoo; itslocation was unremembered; and the gold still paved its undrainedbottom.Two Cabins, no less mythical, was more definitely located. 'Fivesleeps,' up the McQuestion River from the Stewart, stood two ancientcabins. So ancient were they that they must have been built beforeever the first known gold-hunter had entered the Yukon Basin.Wandering moose-hunters, whom even Smoke had met and talked with,claimed to have found the two cabins in the old days, but to havesought vainly for the mine which those early adventurers must haveworked.\"I wish you was goin' with me,\" Shorty said wistfully, at parting.\"Just because you got the Indian bug ain't no reason for to gopokin' into trouble. They's no gettin' away from it, that's lococountry you're bound for. The hoodoo's sure on it, from the firstflip to the last call, judgin' from all you an' me has hearn tellabout it.\"\"It's all right, Shorty. I'll make the round trip and be back inDawson in six weeks. The Yukon trail is packed, and the firsthundred miles or so of the Stewart ought to be packed. Old-timersfrom Henderson have told me a number of outfits went up last fallafter the freeze-up. When I strike their trail I ought to hit herup forty or fifty miles a day. I'm likely to be back inside amonth, once I get across.\"\"Yes, once you get acrost. But it's the gettin' acrost that worriesme. Well, so long, Smoke. Keep your eyes open for that hoodoo,that's all. An' don't be ashamed to turn back if you don't kill anymeat.\"II.A week later, Smoke found himself among the jumbled ranges south ofIndian River. On the divide from the Klondike he had abandoned thesled and packed his wolf-dogs. The six big huskies each carriedfifty pounds, and on his own back was an equal burden. Through thesoft snow he led the way, packing it down under his snow-shoes, andbehind, in single file, toiled the dogs.He loved the life, the deep arctic winter, the silent wilderness,the unending snow-surface unpressed by the foot of any man. Abouthim towered icy peaks unnamed and uncharted. No hunter's camp-smoke, rising in the still air of the valleys, ever caught his eye.He, alone, moved through the brooding quiet of the untravelledwastes; nor was he oppressed by the solitude. He loved it all, theday's toil, the bickering wolf-dogs, the making of the camp in thelong twilight, the leaping stars overhead and the flaming pageant ofthe aurora borealis.Especially he loved his camp at the end of the day, and in it he sawa picture which he ever yearned to paint and which he knew he wouldnever forget--a beaten place in the snow, where burned his fire; hisbed, a couple of rabbit-skin robes spread on fresh-chopped spruce-boughs; his shelter, a stretched strip of canvas that caught andthrew back the heat of the fire; the blackened coffee-pot and pailresting on a length of log, the moccasins propped on sticks to dry,the snow-shoes up-ended in the snow; and across the fire the wolf-dogs snuggling to it for the warmth, wistful and eager, furry andfrost-rimed, with bushy tails curled protectingly over their feet;and all about, pressed backward but a space, the wall of encirclingdarkness.At such times San Francisco, The Billow, and O'Hara seemed very faraway, lost in a remote past, shadows of dreams that had neverhappened. He found it hard to believe that he had known any otherlife than this of the wild, and harder still was it for him toreconcile himself to the fact that he had once dabbled and dawdledin the Bohemian drift of city life. Alone, with no one to talk to,he thought much, and deeply, and simply. He was appalled by thewastage of his city years, by the cheapness, now, of thephilosophies of the schools and books, of the clever cynicism of thestudio and editorial room, of the cant of the business men in theirclubs. They knew neither food nor sleep, nor health; nor could theyever possibly know the sting of real appetite, the goodly ache offatigue, nor the rush of mad strong blood that bit like wine throughall one's body as work was done.And all the time this fine, wise, Spartan North Land had been here,and he had never known. What puzzled him was, that, with suchintrinsic fitness, he had never heard the slightest calling whisper,had not himself gone forth to seek. But this, too, he solved intime.\"Look here, Yellow-face, I've got it clear!\"The dog addressed lifted first one fore-foot and then the other withquick, appeasing movements, curled his bush of a tail about themagain, and laughed across the fire.\"Herbert Spencer was nearly forty before he caught the vision of hisgreatest efficiency and desire. I'm none so slow. I didn't have towait till I was thirty to catch mine. Right here is my efficiencyand desire. Almost, Yellow Face, do I wish I had been born a wolf-boy and been brother all my days to you and yours.\"For days he wandered through a chaos of canyons and divides whichdid not yield themselves to any rational topographical plan. It wasas if they had been flung there by some cosmic joker. In vain hesought for a creek or feeder that flowed truly south toward theMcQuestion and the Stewart. Then came a mountain storm that blew ablizzard across the riff-raff of high and shallow divides. Abovetimber-line, fireless, for two days, he struggled blindly to findlower levels. On the second day he came out upon the rim of anenormous palisade. So thickly drove the snow that he could not seethe base of the wall, nor dared he attempt the descent. He rolledhimself in his robes and huddled the dogs about him in the depths ofa snow-drift, but did not permit himself to sleep.In the morning, the storm spent, he crawled out to investigate. Aquarter of a mile beneath him, beyond all mistake, lay a frozen,snow-covered lake. About it, on every side, rose jagged peaks. Itanswered the description. Blindly, he had found Surprise Lake.\"Well-named,\" he muttered, an hour later, as he came out upon itsmargin. A clump of aged spruce was the only woods. On his way toit, he stumbled upon three graves, snow-buried, but marked by hand-hewn head-posts and undecipherable writing. On the edge of thewoods was a small ramshackle cabin. He pulled the latch andentered. In a corner, on what had once been a bed of spruce-boughs,still wrapped in mangy furs, that had rotted to fragments, lay askeleton. The last visitor to Surprise Lake, was Smoke'sconclusion, as he picked up a lump of gold as large as his doubledfist. Beside the lump was a pepper-can filled with nuggets of thesize of walnuts, rough-surfaced, showing no signs of wash.So true had the tale run, that Smoke accepted without question thatthe source of the gold was the lake's bottom. Under many feet ofice and inaccessible, there was nothing to be done, and at mid-day,from the rim of the palisade, he took a farewell look back and downat his find.\"It's all right, Mr Lake,\" he said. \"You just keep right on stayingthere. I'm coming back to drain you--if that hoodoo doesn't catchme. I don't know how I got here, but I'll know by the way I goout.\"III.In a little valley, beside a frozen stream and under beneficentspruce trees, he built a fire four days later. Somewhere in thatwhite anarchy he left behind him, was Surprise Lake--somewhere, heknew not where; for a hundred hours of driftage and struggle throughblinding driving snow, had concealed his course from him, and heknew not in what direction lay BEHIND. It was as if he had justemerged from a nightmare. He was not sure that four days or a weekhad passed. He had slept with the dogs, fought across a forgottennumber of shallow divides, followed the windings of weird canyonsthat ended in pockets, and twice had managed to make a fire and thawout frozen moose-meat. And here he was, well-fed and well-camped.The storm had passed, and it had turned clear and cold. The lay ofthe land had again become rational. The creek he was on was naturalin ap