Tane’s front room was only nine steps across, but tall as he was and with his tendency to rush, he usually crossed it in seven. He had no back room, and no rooms to left or right. From the outside, it looked like he should, the way the rear and right walls tucked against the sheer face of the bounding hill behind it.The straight walls and gabled roof looked more like the entrance hall to something magnificent hidden in the hill than the small mountain shack that it was. If rich glass windows with carved shutters appeared in the back, studding the dirt and grass, no one would have been surprised.
Tane liked it that way. He walked up the steep incline to his front door, ignoring and frequently crossing the snake-spined road that led up the side of the mountain, and he smiled at the idea of returning to his mansion. Inside, he had all the space he needed: one clean room with wide, empty corners and a knee-deep cellar dug under the floorboards.
He had a dog that patrolled all the way around the hill. He’d never trained her that way, just fed the pup too many times and the full-grown animal kept the habit of shoving her triangular head under Tane’s head for a good scratch between the ears, and returned the favor by stretching a deep growl over trespassers too close to his walls. Sometimes she stayed the night, curled over his feet at the foot of the bed, her tail swishing against the wall and her front paws curled over the front edge of the mattress while her nose pointed to the door. Other days he heard her prowling in the dark, and found her curled into his doorstep in the morning.
She was an odd color, looked different colors in different lines. Loping beside him under the trees daylight, she was ruddy brown, and in fierce sunlight she was fiery, gleaming red like a smith fire with the dark coals underneath where the sunlight didn’t touch. In darkest night, she turned gleaming back and under starlight she turned gray. Under moonlight she was silver-red like a star just returned victorious from a battlefield. Different shadows, different lights, and she looked a different dog.
Tane wasn’t sure what deal she’d made with the local wild ones, but when she barked, they crept in under the trees, careful to stay out of her sight and growled with her at whatever thing she had caught. She showed her fangs, and they rumbled, and his woods seemed guarded by a dozen hounds high as his hip, with that strange red color that bordered on the dangerous unnatural.
Once a month, Tane saved up enough coin to come down the mountain and spend an evening in town. He put on a bright blue coat, buttons shined from rare use and common attention, and strode down to the main road in fresh oiled boots. He bought the finest hot meal in one of the tap houses with steak and bread and vegetables all grilled over the heat with spices from the far side of the world, ambrosia compared to the plain stuff he munched without thought at his home. He stayed the night, or two nights if he wanted, or three, high in an inn with a window tall as he was that looked out over the scattered lights of the city. And when he was ready, he picked up and went home.
And somewhere on the way, he always heard someone murmur behind him, call him the King on the Mountain.
Tane smiled. They weren’t wrong…