Golden Mountain has a tragic history indeed. Its upper reaches never thaw, and the ice accumulated at its peak is ancient, including several glaciers. Its peak is gentle, and along its edge where it joins its southeastern neighbor, lies the only pass in the Daggora Range.
In chapter 2.4 of Journey to Terreldor, our two visitors ride down the western slope of Golden Mountain, accompanying the King's daughter in her cart. Continue reading to find some of the tales this mountain has to tell.
Just beyond the edge of the road was a cliff—a long drop-off, not far from the wheels of out cart. The worn trail led us along its curved edge, and I looked out from it. I couldn’t see the bottom, but far past the cliff, I saw another rising from the mist. I followed it until I realized the edges of the two cliffs curved to meet at both ends. I labored to sit up and thrust my head through the flap, again painfully turning my neck. The cliff was the rim of a giant crater, colossal in every dimension. I thought back to my dream. Maybe I dreamt of a pit because David mentioned it, I thought, though it made no sense to me.
“Did you know we were going to pass a big crater like this?” I asked my brother, looking to Princess Schelli and her ward for confirmation.
Lady Sally explained, “The Princess and I have passed it many times, but I don’t think your brother knew of it.”
David shook his head, and Lady Sally continued.
“This place has a long and horrible history.” She paused, as if to see if she held my interest. “Centuries ago, there was a great mine in place of this pit. Miners followed gold so deep under the mountain, it became hard to breathe. They found a way to recycle their air, but hit an underground aquifer. They rerouted an underground stream, and ran into yet more problems.”
“Really?” David remarked, “It must’ve been some gold mine.”
“Yes,” Sally replied, “It was indeed. What I’ve described so far took place over a century. Eventually, it became too dangerous, and the King declared the mine closed. A few decades later, a group of rich trolls asked for the King’s permission to work in the mine, and trade with him for the gold they found. They claimed trolls don’t need quite as much air as humans, and it would be safe for them. Trolls dealt with humans more often back then, you see, when the Princess’s great-great-great uncle was king.”
Lady Sally smiled at me and patted me on the head. David’s eyes were fixed on her intently.
“The trolls found great amounts of gold deep under the mountain, and for many years it was prosperous for much of the kingdom. Farms sprouted up in the nearby area to sell food to the many trolls working here. Blacksmiths paid high wages to crowds of apprentices, struggling to meet the tooling needs of the mine. The King, and eventually his heir, saw their treasury grow large with the gold the trolls mined, and the trolls were growing rich too. Their leaders called themselves lords, though they held no such titles from the King.
“No human knew how many trolls were deep within the mine; no humans were allowed to enter. Eventually, the surrounding areas were crowded with farms, and they sent all their food down into the mines. It is said there was a steady line of trolls and donkeys with food and supplies leading down into the mines, and a steady line of donkeys loaded with gold and rock and dirt coming out.
“After many years, the new King became worried. No one knew how deep the mine was, or how wide it had grown underground. The rich troll lords claimed all was fine, and kept telling the King how much more gold was just a little deeper.”
“Were they right?” asked David.
“It seems they were,” Sally answered. “The rate at which they pulled gold from the mine seemed to always increase. It was rumored at the end, they were limited only by the amount of food available to the mine site. If they had redirected food from farms of Terezzia Plain, they would have affected food prices across the entire kingdom, and brought more notice to their growing numbers.”
Sally paused to take a drink. She reminded me to do the same, advising I drink as much as I could hold.
“Where was I now?” she asked. “Oh yes. The mine lords claimed everything was fine, but the King was wise, and didn’t believe them. He suspected things were anything but safe in those deep channels under the mountain—both for the trolls who worked in them, and for his human subjects who lived and worked nearby.
“He knew the trolls had grown in number. Eventually, he called for his advisors to estimate their number. Their results were shocking—far larger than the troll population throughout the kingdom was previously believed to be. The King knew closing the mine would cause a revolt, so he began to gather a great army to enforce the closure without forewarning the troll lords. While he was gathering men from across the kingdom, something terrible happened. It caused a dreadful noise; some say the King heard it all the way Engdynlor, still a few days’ travel from here.”
“What was it?” David interrupted.
“Why, the mine of course. It collapsed.”
“What?” I asked, shocked. I should have guessed where the story was leading.
“Yes,” Lady Sally replied. “The entire mine, and many of the farms in the surrounding areas; they all collapsed. They dug so deep, so vast were their tunnels, the entire area became unstable. Some say,” she added with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, “the roots of Golden Mountain were shaken, and this is why it’s now shorter than its neighbors.” David eyes grew wide, and he leaned closer, drawn in by her tale. She lost her smile, and her expression grew sorrowful.
“All but a few of the trolls died, some of those who guided the donkeys in and out of the mine. Many farmers died too. The great pit you see now is all we have to remind us of their folly. This pit, the Spill Hills, and a tiny slice of the Spill Plain.”
“That’s awful,” I blurted out. “They all just died? None came out?”
“There was nothing left to come out from,” she said. “The entire area sunk as far down as you can see the pit is deep. Their greed for gold killed them all.”
We were all silent for a moment. Eventually David broke the silence.
“What are the spill things you mentioned? Hills and plains?”
“They are two of the three massive changes the troll miners brought to this mountain range. All the dirt and rock they pulled from the ground had to go somewhere, so they formed the Spill Plain and the Spill Hills. We’ll see the last of the Spill Plain further down the mountain today. It was a small plain built downhill of the mine, for farming. They created level ground where before there was only sloping mountainside.
“The Spill Hills are older, created before the Spill Plain. In fact, the Spill Plain is built upon a number of these hills. The hills were built before the mine’s growth was limited by available food. They’re a result of carrying the excess dirt and rock only as far as necessary. If you imagine how much work it is to move enough rock to build a hill, you will understand why they carried it as short a distance as possible. The trolls simply carried their loads as far as they needed to, and dumped them to spill down the far side of the growing hills. Over generations, they created an artificial set of foot hills, built on the gentle slope of this mountain.
“The Spill Hills surround the mine on three sides—every direction but uphill. The Spill Plain—what’s left of it—surrounds the mine on the same three sides, closer to the mine.
“What happened after it collapsed?” David asked. He’d hardly taken his eyes from Sally since she’d begun her story.
“The King declared the entire area abandoned, and illegal to enter. Soldiers were posted around the perimeter for many years to keep people out. They arrested men for trying to enter the pit in search for of gold. Those who snuck past the soldiers never returned from the shifting ground down there. They say it is still sinking today. The sides of the cliffs are too steep to climb up or down without long ropes.”
“Where do the streams go?” I asked.
“See for yourself. They disappear in the rocky ground of the pit floor. What half-filled tunnels lie beneath, no one knows.”
“Yeah, half-filled with gold,” David chimed. “Didn’t the King ever let people go back down to look?” he asked, obviously disappointed.
“No. And neither did he let his soldiers go down into the pit to rescue the dying trespassers. Many greedy men died of injuries which prevented them from making the climb back up the cliff. They snuck past the guards to find gold in spite of the King’s law, only to sink into a pile of rocks. The King declared he wouldn’t allow more to die in trying to rescue the dead. No one came out, young man,” she told David in a scolding tone, “not one.”
I was surprised to hear her speak such brutal towards the trespassers. I shivered to think of those who died trapped in the pit looking for gold, and of the soldiers who wanted to help them. It must have been a horrible way to die, and also a horrible way to live—to hear them screaming and yet be forbidden to help. Well, I thought, at least now I know why it’s called Golden Mountain. Then another thought occurred to me. Why does the prince of the plain believe the surrounding mountains once glowed?
Soon, my thoughts returned to the mine. I lay down again and tried to rest. After a long while, the cart seemed to tilt uphill. When the road became steeper, I decided to look outside. There were scrub pines not far from the cart, and bare, misshapen trees further out. Ahead of us, the gravelly road climbed up a long, wide hill. Sally saw I’d noticed.
“Can you feel the difference?” she asked. “We’re no longer riding on level ground. We’ve passed the Spill Plain and we’re climbing the first of the Spill Hills. Long ago, travelers rode downhill where we are now riding uphill. See if you can find the stream running down this hill, over the last remnants of plain and into the pit.”
I searched for it, but I didn’t find it. We saw so many massive hills around us, I found it difficult to believe they were all built by hand.
“Wow,” David remarked, “Everything in all these hills came out of the mine?”
“All this, and more,” teased Sally, “Remember the gold—they certainly didn’t leave any in these hills. Don’t forget, some of these hills have worn back into the pit over the past centuries. This is why the downhill side of the mine pit isn’t quite so deep. When we begin to roll down the last Spill Hill, you’ll be able to see some of the spill dirt which has eroded away from the mine, too. The last spill hill has the longest downhill slope.
“See if you see an apple or cherry tree; there once were many of them here. The Spill Plain grew crops, and some of the Spill Hills were log ago covered with orchards. Without the extra sunlight, this mountain is no longer hospitable to fruit trees, I’m afraid. It’s simply too cold most of the year to support them.”
“Extra sunlight?” I asked, “What do you mean?”
“Just what I’ve said. This mountain received brighter sunlight, and received it longer than the rest of the kingdom. But,” she added with a smile, “I’m sure you’ve heard more than you care to hear of the Golden Mountain’s history.”
I began to doubt I could put any faith in what the Princess’s ward said. Surely it was legend, or superstition. One mountain can’t get more or brighter sunlight than the rest, I thought. And yet, she spoke with the authority of someone wise and inquisitive enough to discern fables from history.
“How do you know so much of the mines?” I asked.
Lady Sally smiled. “Did you think the King would appoint a fool to instruct his daughter?” I hadn’t realized she was also Schelli’s teacher. We might learn more from her than anyone else, I thought. I turned a little to face her.
“Do you know of any places outside the kingdom?”
“The stars and the sun—and the moon, and the distance between. Some say the kingdom includes those too—but if you include only where people are ruled by the King, it's all the land west of the Winter Palace.”
I decided to ask another way. “If you could sail far away from land, are there other lands you might see, not part of the kingdom?” I hoped she might have learned more geography than the Captain.
“There are a few small piles of rock, and the tiny islands of the Broken Coast. Most are too small for even a house to be built upon, but a half-dozen or so could fit a house and a farm, should someone desire badly enough to live there. As far as I know, no one ever has.
“Whether there is land further out to sea, no one in the Kingdom knows. As far as ships have sailed and still returned, they never saw any. Scientific expeditions have measured the depth of the oceans, and they seem to grow deeper the further out they sail, with no sign of shallowing.” I guessed this could be true of a large island in the middle of the ocean.
“What about the extra sunlight?” I asked, “I’m not bored—I really want to know.”
Lady Sally looked at the Princess and smiled a friendly grin. I would later learn the doomed mine era was Lady Sally’s favorite, of all their kingdom’s long history.
“Princess, it seems you’ve picked some rather studious friends,” Sally joked. “If only you were as eager to learn our history as they are.” The Princess stuck her tongue out, then smiled to cover it up. I was glad for Lady Sally’s stories. She’d said very little before the Captain had spoken with her, almost nothing before I began asking her questions. It’s not so unusual, I supposed, for a teacher. Sally shifted in her seat and began lecturing once again.
“Then I supposed I must begin with another people. I must first tell you of the Korvotians.”
“The who?” I asked excitedly. “Are they from a different kingdom?”
“Of course not,” replied the Princess, visibly irritated. “They were a different people in our kingdom.”
David wrinkled his brow and asked, “If everyone belongs to the same kingdom, aren’t you all the same people?” Sally looked surprised.
“Oh, our King is wiser than that,” she replied. “He values each people group for their uniqueness; their customs and cultures are each their own. This is part of the greatness of our kingdom—our peoples are different, but choose to be ruled by one wise King.” Then her face turned a shade less serious and said, “and if you are all done interrupting me, I will continue…”
I hadn’t even realized we’d distracted her from her lecture.
“The Korvotians were a people who worked with metal, or rather building complex structures with metal. They were contracted by the trolls when the mine began its second expansion: when they saw they would one day be limited by the amount of food which could be redirected to the mine site. It was an unimaginable goal, one of the largest single accomplishments in our history. It serves as a reminder of the many ways greed can motivate. After all, if we aren’t motivated by love, it is as often greed which is our master. For all their foolishness, the troll mine lords had the wisdom to plan well ahead, and the vision to achieve the impossible.”
David and I looked at each other, and I held back a smile. To Lady Sally and the Princess, I supposed I seemed as eager as David.
“The trolls believed there was a near-infinite supply of gold under this mountain; in fact, they claimed the root of the mountain was made of pure gold. As I’ve said, they were wise enough to see how large their operation would grow. Some say they believed they would eventually have the entire kingdom growing food for their miners. It is said they would have eventually conquered the entire kingdom through expansion.”
“What do you mean?” David interrupted.
I glared at him as if to say, another interruption? Sally glared at him too, but answered nonetheless.
“Can’t you see? If the entire kingdom committed all their resources to bringing food to the trolls, it wouldn’t matter if they really ruled or not. In practice, we would all be working for the trolls. They mining lords would control the resources of the kingdom, and with an uncountable army underground, it wouldn’t have been long before they ruled from the throne as well.”
Her eyes gleamed with excitement. She paused to regain her composure—or perhaps for dramatic effect.
“Now, where was I? Oh yes, the farmlands. They knew they would need farmlands nearby, when the mines had grown steadily for another century or so. But the climate was too cold for productive farming most of the year. So they hired the Korvotians to build the Great Mirrors. We should be close enough to see their remnants soon.”
I looked out the door flap, but when I realized I didn’t know what to look for, I lay back down. Before she went on, Sally looked at me knowingly and smiled.
“This mountain is part of a long range. The nearest mountains on both sides were of great interest to the mining lords. The mountain they called Westward lit up with sunlight a little earlier each dawn, and the mountain called Eastward stayed lit with sunlight a little later. They contracted the Korvotians to erect gilded mirrors to cover the closer sides of both mountains. They would reflect sunlight from those mountains down onto the long, gentle slope of Golden Mountain all day long, including the extra time in the morning and evening. So Golden Mountain received the light of three mountains. They stole the sunlight belonging to Eastward and Westward.” Stealing sunlight seemed dramatic to me, but I said nothing. David wasn’t so patient.
“How could they?” he interrupted once again. “How can you build a mirror big enough to cover a mountain?”
“They didn’t”, answered Sally with a smile. “They covered both mountaintops with many, many mirrors. So many, when they were finished, no sunlight touched the ground of the other mountain faces. Let’s look out and see if we can see Eastward and Westward yet.” She looked out first, then let each of us followed her example.
“Look carefully and see the tiny steps carved in some places. Look for roads built in the rockier parts. The Korvotians built all the mirrors the same size. Each one was made of the same parts. Only one in one thousand were made to be adjusted. After they set each of the adjustable mirrors and fixed them to strike in the correct place, the gaps between them were filled with mirrors set in their positions permanently. Watch and once in a great while you may see a flash of light where a mirror is still erected. Of course, most have been torn down for their precious gold. Perhaps one in a hundred thousand remain.” As she said this, she turned quickly to watch David with a playful grin.
“Really?” he asked, hopefully.
“Forget it, David,” said the Princess. “People have spent months looking for just one mirror. What you can see clear as the sun from here gets lost in all the rubble, so far away.”
Sally smiled and continued. “For half a hundred years they worked on those mirrors. How it must have gleamed, though—can you imagine? Both mountains lit up like the sun all day, every day…” she trailed off, apparently lost in thought.
“Look there,” said David, “I can see a little gleam right now!” I turned my head quickly to try to see out the flap he held open. I tried to shriek and suck in my breath at once. Sally slded David and told me to lie down. Gently, she removed my bandage and looked closely at my throat. David’s head was poked up from behind her, trying to see. I saw his eyes grow wide while he let out a tiny gasp. To see this made me shudder.
“Why does it look like that? Why is it blue and…shriveled?” David whispered.
Sally tisk-tisk’ed him away, “Oh never mind about that—it’s only some bruising. You’d be black and blue if I squeezed you long enough.” Despite her reassurance, I grew more frightened than ever.
“Why don’t you let Mark rest,” Sally continued, “and go see if you can find the Captain. I wonder if he knows about the Golden Mirrors.” David looked a little doubtful, but soon said he would go. I imagined he was excited about seeing the Captain without me. He jumped from the cart and ran off to find him.
“You need to get some sleep, my dear boy. But drink some more water first, and eat this.” Sally handed me a canteen and some more bread. I was beginning to worry my injury would only grow worse.
I tried to sleep, but my mind was too full of thoughts. I looked over at the Princess and saw she was sleeping. I turned to ask Sally another question.
“What were you before the King appointed you to care for the Princess?” She looked at me with a sharp eye.
“In a word: lost. Before I found myself in the King’s service, I didn’t know who I was.”
“Really?” I asked, then added, “I hope you don’t mind me asking such personal questions.”
“Not at all. How else would I share what lessons I’ve learned?” She and added with a wink, “I may not look it, but I haven’t been a teenager for a long, long time.”
“Then may I ask: how can you find who you are by serving someone else? Wouldn’t you learn who the King is, more than yourself?”
“Exactly” she said. She wore a smile far too wide to match her words.
“I don’t understand.”
“I’ve known people who spent their entire lives trying to find themselves—and do you know what? They never do. Finding yourself isn’t about focusing your life upon yourself. That’s infinite introspection—you lose yourself within yourself. It limits your horizons, relationships, and success. It destroys your capacity for change, and in the ultimate poetic injustice, your happiness as well. No, it’s not a healthy path for anyone…” She looked lost for just a moment, as if recalling an unpleasant memory.
“But when you dedicate your life to a cause—and not just any cause mind you—then you will find yourself. I was no one before I served the King and his family. My service is my life. And it is a joyous one.”
“Lady Sally,” I replied, “I envy you that.”
“Why do you say that? Of what are you envious?” I was surprised by her confronting manner. I had only meant to compliment her.
“Why, your ability to dedicate yourself to a cause so trustingly, I suppose.”
“I believe we all have that ability. In fact, I believe it’s what makes us alive.”
Though her words made no sense to me, they irritated me. I smiled weakly in her direction, then rolled over and finally fell asleep...
A portion of abandoned mineworks on Golden Mountain; Spill Hills leading down to mine pit.
Views of Golden Mountain's glaciers