The Seeress and the Stone 21
Two days later French began working on the climb up the rock face. The water had stopped flowing shortly after they discovered it, but he wanted to make sure it was nice and dry. He woke early so he could start before everyone else got up.
He took a chisel, hammer and brush to the cliff wall and spent a good part of the morning deepening hand and foot holds at the base. The work was difficult and slow. By mid-day he had only made it about 10 feet up the rock. He descended for lunch and water. His clothes were stained a burnished red color from sweat and dirt. The red stone nearer the ground had dried quickly in the warm desert air, but the further up he went the harder it was to maintain the holds he created.
After lunch he resumed the strenuous work, making little progress. He climbed back down and reported to Celendar that he would have to wait another day or two for the rock to dry out. A few bystanders wanted to help, though Celendar asked everyone to stay clear so as not to damage the work French had already done.
When he resumed work a few days later he was able to move much faster. As he climbed he found better holds that took little or no work. By lunch he had gone another twenty feet. Two other strong young men were chosen to continue the work while French rested. Each took a few hours and by early evening they had reached the ledge. A cheer rose from the crowd that had gathered below as French crawled onto the ledge and sat down. He was exhausted and excited.
After a few minutes of rest he examined the ledge and made his way up to the break in the wall. He disappeared into the opening and then a few minutes later returned and climbed down to the desert floor.
Everyone crowded around as he walked to where Celendar stood.
“What is it like?” Celendar asked.
French sat down on the sand and began drawing the layout as he explained.
“The ledge is about five feet wide all the way up to the outcropping of rock that hides the entrance. There it narrows to about three feet wide. The entrance is barely wide enough to fit a horse through. It opens to a small cave that was too dark to see anything else. I think the cave widens as well. We will have to take torches inside to find out. I could see no other openings or light, though that doesn’t mean there aren’t any.”
“We’ll go back up tomorrow and explore the opening. Do you think we can move everything up there?”
“I think so. Our biggest problem is going to be moving the heavier things up to that ledge. I don’t know how we are going to do that.”
Celendar thought for a moment and then said, “We will have to find a way.”
French nodded and left to clean up and eat dinner. The next morning French, Celendar and Jexson climbed up to the ledge carrying torches in a pack.
“You can see the path of the water,” French said pointing to the patterns in the dirt. “I wonder where it came from.”
“Probably some opening in the passages. There may be cracks in the rock that vent to the outside,” Jexson replied.
“I wonder how far in these caves go?” Celendar asked, peering into the darkness beyond the cavern.
“It will take a while to explore these caves. Do you still want to move the people up here?” Jexson asked.
Celendar thought for a moment. “Yes. I know this is where we need to be. We have been guided through every step.”
Looking back, French could see just how guided they had been. The three men made their way back down to the desert floor where Le’Mone and others waited for their report. A tall gentleman approached Jexson and spoke quietly while Celendar explained what they had found. When he finished Jexson cleared his throat.
“Celendar, this is Orel. He has worked moving heavy objects. We think he has a solution for you.”
“All right, Orel, let’s hear what you have,” Celendar responded hopefully.
Orel nodded. “I worked with Viecity building and beautification. I think I can design a series of rings and pulleys that we can use to haul everything to the ledge. I know there are several blacksmiths in this group and if we gathered all the metal together they could melt it to make what we need. We can drive the rings into the rock and attach the pulleys. That way we can pull things up from above and below. It is a system we used in the city when building or repairing some of the taller buildings.”
“Do you think we could haul the livestock up?” Celendar asked.
Orel looked unsure. “Maybe. It would be difficult. Animals move. It would put a strain on the pulleys.”
Celendar looked thoughtfully at the man and then at the cliffs. “Well let’s try it. I would hate to lose the animals, but if we can’t get them up there we have no choice. Orel, I am putting you in charge of this project. Let’s gather those blacksmiths together and you can direct them.”
“If we could keep the animals calm could your system handle the weight of a horse?” French asked.
“We used to haul large stone blocks up the sides of the walls. It was easier than transporting the stones up stairs,” Orel replied positively.
“Then do it. Give Jexson a list of whatever you need and we will get it ready for you,” Celendar instructed.
“We will need to devise a sort of sling for the horses. If you can keep them calm and still we shouldn’t have any trouble lifting them,” Orel replied.
“Le’Mone might know of something that will help. I will speak with her,” Celendar said.
The next day the camp came alive. Everyone pitched in where they could, but most were forced to sort through their supplies and wait. French climbed up to the ledge with a few other younger men to begin exploring the tunnel. They made their way through the large cavern and up the tunnel. It twisted and turned as they went along. There were several openings into other caverns and passageways and they had to stop to check each passage. Most ended in smaller caverns or collapsed tunnels.
The main tunnel they ended up following was like the hallway of an ancient building. The floor was hard with a thin layer of sand and the walls were completely smooth. The ceiling rose about six feet above their heads. Several hours later they came to another huge cavern where they all stopped in surprise.
The floor of the cavern sloped downward and through a large arched opening on the far wall sunlight came streaming in. They walked over to the opening and looked out.
They stood on a ledge similar to the one facing the desert. To their delight on this side they beheld a beautiful, green valley shimmering like an emerald in the sun. To the left and right of the opening a series of small mountains crowded against the towering cliffs. Their peaks rose sharply into the air like pointed castle turrets. A river wound its way from the peaks on the left through the valley and into a body of water further south. Below them they could see a path twisting and turning down the mountainside. French and his companions stared in astonishment. They had never expected to find a way through the cliffs so quickly, let alone find this jewel of a valley before them.
Silently each turned away from the opening and headed back to the other side. French stared across the valley to the mountains that rose above the valley floor far to the south. He wasn’t totally certain, but he suspected those mountains were the northwestern edge of the Heighe range. He stayed a few minutes longer and then silently followed the others back into the caves. When they reached the desert he immediately sought out Celendar and Le’Mone.
“The entrance leads to a large cavern, big enough to hold just over half of this group. Then there is an arched opening on the far wall. This opens to a tunnel that leads through the cliffs. There are many caverns that open off the tunnel. They would be enough to house our group comfortably if we chose,” French explained.
“How long did it take?” Celendar questioned.
“It took us several hours to reach the other side. The main corridor leads to a giant cavern. This cavern is brightly lit by sunlight,” French declared triumphantly.
Le’Mone gasped in delight. “Oh good.”
“So there is a way through the cliffs,” Celendar replied eagerly. “I knew there had to be. I just felt it.”
French nodded. “That isn’t all, Celendar. There is a large opening in the far wall. As you step up to this doorway you can see the valley below. It is the most beautiful valley I have ever seen in my entire life. It is lush and green with plenty of room for settling and growth. A river runs the length of the valley and flows out into what looks like a small bay. It is breathtaking. More beautiful than Viecity by far.”
“Will this be our new home?” Le’Mone asked, turning shining, hopeful eyes to Celendar.
Celendar looked around at the group that had gathered to listen to French. His face was a mixture of emotions and French could see he was trying to get a certain answer from some mental guide. He looked up and his eyes met with French’s.
“Yes,” he said with stirring finality.
A cheer rose from the company. French grinned, relief filling his mind, but his smile faded as his gaze rested on the desert and cliffs to the south. They had finally found their new home, his work here was done. He wandered away from the celebrations that had begun and was so deep in thought that he didn’t hear Le’Mone’s footsteps until she was right next to him.
“French, what is it?” she asked slipping her arm through his.
“I was just thinking about things,” he replied vaguely.
“I’m sure she’s fine, honey,” Le’Mone said patiently.
French sighed. He was tired of waiting. “We have found our new home. I think it’s time I went back.”
“Not yet. We still need you here. There is too much work to be done.”
“Aunt Le’ I’m going crazy here. I have to know she is all right,” he argued.
“Angelia will know far in advance that the attack is coming. She will be fine.”
“You don’t know that for sure.”
“I believe it,” she said firmly. “Just like you trusted Celendar, you have to trust that she will be safe long before the attack comes.”
He turned away. “It’s not that simple, Aunt Le’.”
Le’Mone put her hand on his arm. “I know this is difficult for you, French, but we still need you here. Help us get into the valley. Then it will be time for you to go back. Please.”
He looked at her pleading eyes and relented. “One week.” He stated as he walked away.