The Followers of Galashad Chapter 6

Chapter Six

The river current increased as they passed into the canyon.  In a matter of hours they had traveled the equivalent of two days distance on foot.  As the sun rose over the mountains and canyon walls Aerikai surveyed the landscape around them.  The land near the river was lush and green with plenty of plants and trees, but further away the ground turned rocky and barren.  She saw a few animals as they traveled, but the canyon did not readily support life.

Close to mid-day Ashier paddled the boat to the eastern bank and pulled it out of the water.

“We must eat and rest.  We should be well out of the reach of the Diviner.”  He motioned the other boats to follow.

Aerikai got out of the boat and stretched her legs.  Celedand and the other children went in search of sticks and dried grass to burn.  Aerikai moved among the people inquiring into their well-being after their terrifying night.  She tried to comfort them the best she could sharing a little of what she had seen when she first touched the Stone.

After eating most of the men rested while the women packed up the supplies and loaded them into the boats.  An hour had passed and Aerikai wanted to continue on.  They may be out of the reach of the Diviner, but strength of her powers was unknown.  She would not feel safe until they left the canyon and reached the lands to the south.

They pushed the boats back into the river and continued their journey.  Several times they came to swift flowing rapids that had to be navigated carefully.  No one wanted to suffer any more losses.  As the sun set they found a sandy beach to set up camp.

The night sky was finally free from smoke and Aerikai studied the stars.  As far as she could gauge they had traveled what would have been a fortnight’s journey on foot.  Whether or not they could maintain this pace depended entirely upon the river.

The next day was spent in much the same way.  They encountered fewer rapids and the landscape became more hospitable to life.  On the third day Aerikai could see the southern mouth of the canyon.  It was a narrow opening through which the river coursed.  It would be dangerous by boat, but as far as she could tell impossible on foot.

She brought it to Ashier’s attention and his brow furrowed.  “We will have to explore the passage before taking the boats.  I don’t want to lose anyone else.”

Aerikai nodded.  “Do you know where the river goes when it leaves the canyon?”  She asked hopefully.

“No.  I don’t know of anyone who has traveled further than the canyon.”  He replied.

“I hope it will continue with our journey.”

“Do you know where we are going, Priestess.”  Seyln asked.

“All I know is that it is a valley to the south.”  Aerikai answered.

“There will be trees.  Lots of them.”  Celedand piped in.

“How do you know that?”  Aerikai asked her son.

“I dream about it at night.  Father comes to me and we walk among the trees.  He says it is a very special place.”  Celedand said confidently.

Aerikai stared at her son.  He was surprisingly attuned to their world for a six-year-old.  She only hoped his future would be much more peaceful.

The sun dropped steadily as they approached the mouth of the canyon.  Ashier signaled for the boats to stop so they could explore the passage.  Aerikai got out and reached down to help Celedand and Julili when the earth began to shake.  Aerikai pulled the children out of the boat and pushed them up onto the bank.

“What is it mother?”  Celedand cried.

The earth heaved and moaned around them.  Waves began rocking and thrusting the boats against each other and the riverbank.  Terrified screams echoed from the people still on the water.

Aerikai looked to the north and could see a plume of dust and smoke rising above the horizon about where the northern entrance to the canyon lay.  She drew into herself and placed her hands on the earth.  Again vague blurry images filled her mind, but behind them was always the dark, cloaked figure of the Diviner.

“She is instigating this.”  She moaned.

Finally the earth stopped shaking.  Another boat had flipped during the earth shake and some supplies washed downstream.  Everyone was scattered on the bank unscathed, but shaken.  Ashier began examining the boats and their supplies.

“Three other boats are damaged.  We will have to repair them before going on.”  He reported.  “We have enough food left to last for at least a month on rations.”

“Well we couldn’t continue tonight as it is.  Let’s make camp and you can start repairing the boats.  Tomorrow morning I will take a group to scout out the river ahead.”  Aerikai said.

Ashier agreed and began instructing several of the men to pull the boats out and begin the repairs.  Aerikai directed the people to make camp and prepare the evening meal.  There was an atmosphere of contentment among the people as they enjoyed a more relaxing evening.

At sunset Aerikai was mending one of Celedand’s shirts when she heard shouts.  She looked up as Celedand and two other children came running into camp.

“Mother, what is that?”  Celedand cried pointing north up the canyon.

Aerikai looked where he pointed.  Moving swiftly toward them was a wall of water.  It was at least six feet tall and it flooded the canyon as it moved.

“Ashier!”  Aerikai screamed.  He looked up and his face paled.

“Get away from the river!”  He shouted.  “To higher ground.”

“Celedand!”  Aerikai cried calling him to her side.  “Julili, we have to get up higher.  Hurry!”

People around them were scrambling away from the river in all directions.  Some were moving toward the canyon mouth to higher ground while others were running as far away from the river as they could get.  Aerikai ran pulling Celedand and Julili with her.

She looked back at their camp and all of their supplies.  Everything would be lost in the flood.

“Keep going to those trees and climb up.”  She instructed Celedand.  He took Julili’s hand and pulled her along.

Aerikai ran back to the river and grabbed the full pack of food from their boat.

“Aerikai what are you doing?”  Ashier shouted.

“The food will be lost.”  She shouted back. 

Glancing upstream she grabbed one more pack and ran after Celedand.  The children had reached the trees and Celedand was helping Julili climb up.  Aerikai gauged the speed of the moving water and she knew she would never make it to the trees in time lugging the heavy packs.

There was a smaller, scrawny tree much closer.  It wouldn’t offer much protection, but she hoped she could hold on to the upper branches long enough for the surge to pass.  She reached the tree and hauled the two packs up to the first trunk as the wave reached their camp.  Behind her she could hear the creaking and splintering of boats and screams of fear.  She climbed higher.  The river behind the surge flooded into the canyon reaching her tree in a matter of minutes.

She tied the packs to the trunk and then scrambled up higher.  The water rose quickly covering the base of the tree and flooding up to where the packs were tied.  She could hear crying in the distance and she looked to the trees where Celedand and Julili had taken refuge.  The water had reached them and was rising.

“Go higher, Celedand.”  Aerikai tried to shout over the rushing sound of water.

She couldn’t go any further for the branches wouldn’t hold her weight.  She grabbed the trunk and held on as the water surged drenching her to the waist.  The pull was unbelievably strong and after only a few minutes Aerikai wanted to give up, but she knew she had to hold on for her son.

Finally after what seemed like hours she felt the tug lessen and the level of the water dropped slightly.  She relaxed her hold slightly and pushed herself onto the crook of a branch to rest.  The sun had set and the light was fading quickly.

“Celedand?”  She called.  “Are you all right?”

No answer.  Aerikai started to panic.

“Celedand?”  She shouted.

“Yes?”  Came the faint reply.

“Are you safe?”  She cried.

“Yes.”  He replied.

She breathed a sigh of relief.  “Stay where you are until I can get to you.”  She shouted.

“All right.”  He sounded tired.

As darkness set in the water level dropped slightly.  Aerikai felt the wind pick up and shivered as it chilled her wet clothes.  Sounds of crying and shouts of acknowledgement echoed across the canyon.  Aerikai wondered if everyone had made it to safety.  She waited impatiently for the water to recede.  The hours ticked by slowly and finally the moon rose over the mountains.

All around Aerikai could see the flooded land.  It looked like a lake with trees and rocks sticking up in places.  She could make out a few of the people sitting on large boulders or clinging to the tops of trees.  The camp and boats were all gone.

She noted the current of water pulling toward the mouth of the canyon.  She couldn’t risk trying to swim to Celedand and Julili’s tree until she had rested and the pull of water slackened.  After a while the shouting quieted and all she could hear were quiet whimpers and sobs.

She knew Celedand would be getting restless so she lowered her body into the cold water to test the strength of the flow.  She gasped from the shock.  Her body adjusted slowly and she decided it was worth a try to swim to Celedand’s tree.  It was about fifty lengths away.

She pushed herself away from the tree and began swimming to her goal.  About half way there the current slackened to half of what it was.  She treaded water for a moment to redirect and then continued on.  When she was ten lengths away she heard a splash ahead.  She stopped.

“Celedand?”  She called out.

“He jumped in.”  Julili answered.

“Celedand!”  Aerikai shouted.

“I’m all right, Mother.”  He replied just ahead of her.

She increased her pace and reached him quickly.  They swam back to the tree together and she helped him up into the branches.  When she was safe beside him he threw his arms around her.  She wept for joy.

“Why did you jump in?”  She scolded after a few moments.

“I could see you coming toward us and I wanted to help.”  He replied sheepishly.  “It was harder than I thought it would be.”

She pulled him close.

“Julili are you all right?”  She called up into the tree.

“I’m frightened.”  Julili said.

Aerikai and Celedand climbed up to where she sat clinging to the tree branches.  Aerikai found a crook of two branches and settled against the main trunk of the tree.  She helped Julili into her lap and situated her so she could rest and wouldn’t fall.  Celedand leaned against her legs.

“We are here together now and I’m not going to let anything happen to either of you.”  Aerikai promised.

“Will we have to sleep in the tree all night?”  Julili wondered.

“Probably.  I hope the water will recede by morning, but I don’t know.  We will know more when the sun comes up tomorrow.  For now you can rest.  I will stay awake and make sure you don’t fall.”

The children settled in and Aerikai sighed with relief.  By morning the water had returned mostly to the river.  The thirsty ground outside the normal river flood zone was thick with mud and debris.  Little pools pocketed the landscape.

Aerikai and the children trudged through the mud and water to the higher ground where many of the people had fled.  She retrieved the sodden packs from the scrawny tree where she had tied them.  Ahead Ashier was greeting the survivors.

“Aerikai, you’re safe.”  He embraced her.

“How many did we lose?”  She asked fearfully.

“You are the last to come in.  There are fifty-three in all.”  He said forelornly.

“So many?”  She gasped.

He nodded.  “Almost all of the supplies were washed away along with the boats.  There were a few like you who grabbed packs.”

She held up the two she carried.  “I’m afraid these will be useless, but hopefully we can salvage something.”

She scanned the group and then the terrain ahead.  “We will have to wait until the water recedes before we can move on.”

“I’m hoping we will find some of the tools and things, but there is a lot of mud and debris covering everything.”

“Did we save any of the water skins?”  Zurinsk asked approaching them.  He looked haggard and exhausted.

“You can check these.”  Aerikai said handing him the packs.

“We can use today to gather anything we can find for food.”  Ashier stated.  “Have the children check the pools for fish and other animals.”

Aerikai called Celedand and Julili over and explained what they needed to do.  Together they went to gather the other children and set out to explore.  Aerikai gathered a few of the women together and set them out to collect any wood they could find and also to dry out anything that was saved.

By the end of the day the water had returned to the river banks.  Some of the men had found three of the boats washed up onto a high embankment and relatively undamaged.  They made makeshift paddles and rowed them back to camp.  A few more packs had been discovered as well as a bag of carpentry tools that had been washed downstream.

The children brought back enough fish and other drowned game to last for several days.  Aerikai and the others set out to clean and dry as much of the food as they could.  They would have to make the best with what they had before moving on.

Toward nightfall Ashier beckoned Aerikai over to the river.

“What is it?”  She asked wondering at the expression on his face.

“Look at the river.”  He said pointing.

“What’s wrong?”

“The whole area was just flooded, but now the river is well below its normal flow.”

“It was quite a surge, I’m sure it is just low from that.”  She suggested.

He shook his head.  “I don’t think so.  If it was a surge it should still be high, even flooded.  Something is wrong.”

“What should we do?”

“I think we should leave as soon as we can.  We need to get out of this canyon.”  His voice was foreboding.

“It will take us days to get everything ready and even then most of us will have to walk.  We can’t fit fifty people into three boats.  If the mouth of the canyon is still flooded or blocked we won’t be able to go anywhere.”  Aerikai wrung her hands anxiously.

“I’m going to take a group on foot to the end of the canyon to see what is ahead.  We’ll leave at first light tomorrow.”  He said firmly.  “I want you to collect as much food as you can and put together any type of makeshift packs.”

Aerikai took a deep breath.  “Well, we will have a lot of work to do tomorrow.  We’d best go to sleep.”

She left Ashier standing on the riverbank and returned to camp.  There was a roaring fire and Celedand had dried some grass to sleep on.  Aerikai slept fitfully.  Her dreams were filled with floods, lightning and dark shadows. 

Toward morning she found herself walking through a grassy plain.  A figure waited ahead for her.  She increased her pace until she reached the person.  He turned around to greet her it was LeDande.  She wanted to rush to him and embrace him, but the expression on his face held her back.

“Aerikai.”  He said quietly.

“LeDande.”  She responded.  “I have missed you greatly.” 

She wanted to ask him why he hadn’t stayed with Celedand at his mother’s house, why he didn’t listen to her, why he had left her alone, but she knew those questions would only shorten their time together.  He gazed to the west.  Aerikai followed his gaze and her heart dropped.  The plain disappeared into a vast desert.  She could feel the heat as the wind blew on her face.

“You must be strong, love.  Strong for Celedand.”  He counseled.

She wanted to cry.  “Will we even survive?”  She asked.

He looked at her with love, hope and concern, but remained silent.  She watched his face drinking in every line, hair and curve.

“Ashier is wise, you must trust him.  If you are to survive the power of the diviner you must leave the canyon soon or she will follow you and you will have no peace.”  He said suddenly.

She nodded.  “All right.  We will go as soon as we can.”

He smiled and looked at her, she knew, for the last time.  “I love you, Aerikai.  I always have and I always will.”  He reached out to wipe the tears from her cheek, but she felt nothing.

“I love you too, LeDande.”  She closed her eyes and reached out to touch his face.

When she opened her eyes she was lying on the ground near the dying fire.  Her outstretched fingers brushed Celedand’s cheek.  Tears filled her eyes and she finally let herself grieve for her husband.  When the tears finally stopped the first touches of sunrise had lit the eastern horizon.

She got up silently and walked to the river.  Ashier was already there examining the level of the water.  Aerikai could tell it was much lower than the evening before.  He was right.  Aerikai knew this was the work of the diviner.  At that moment one vision came clear.  She remembered the cloud of smoke and dust she had seen just after the earth shake and she knew what had happened.

“The Diviner diverted the river.”  Aerikai said quietly.

“The earth shake?”

“She brought the earth up to block the Peridean’s course.  This caused the river surge.”

“Will the woman stop at nothing?”  He asked angrily.

“Not until she thinks I am dead.”  Aerikai stated.  “I had a dream early this morning.  We need to leave the canyon as soon as possible.  You were right.”

Ashier nodded.  “I walked the river this morning.  The mouth of the canyon will no longer be a threat.  We can load what supplies we have gathered into the boats and send them through the canyon mouth.  The rest of us can travel by foot.”

“How soon do you want to leave?”

“I will wake the camp.  We don’t have enough food to last for very long, so I think it best to skip our morning meal.  We can stop later in the day.”

“I will go and start loading the boats.”  She turned away.

“Aerikai.”  Ashier stopped her.  His face was very serious.  “What lies ahead?”

She dropped her eyes to the ground.  “Giadre`.  Desert.” 

She looked up into his eyes and read in his face the anguish she felt.  The desert.

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