Followers of Galashad Chapter 5
The path to the cliff took over an hour to traverse. The passage wound through the mountain like thread through a loom. When she reached the edge of the cliff she could see the late afternoon sun shining on the city.
She carefully pulled the Stone from her satchel and removed the wrapping. It pulsed and glowed with her touch and the images flitted across her mind weaving in and out of the present and future. She stood listening and viewing the visions the stone gave her. She looked into Naree’s future and saw the sadness and grief that would fill the woman, but she also saw peace and eventually joy.
She looked into hers and Celedand’s future. There would be months of uncertainty, but eventually they would find safety and even happiness. She could not understand all of the visions that coursed across her mind, but she found comfort in all of them. Then her thoughts rested on Sraphine.
The edges of the vision blurred into darkness, but she could see the fallen Priestess in the favor of the Diviner. The Diviner’s words were beguiling and Sraphine hung upon them like a thirsty man on the sound water. Aerikai cried as the images of her friend grew darker and darker with the dark choices she made.
Lastly, Aerikai focused on her task. She knew what she must do, but she also knew that the Stone would tell her how. She could see herself standing at the edge of the cliff of Elkai and finally the images settled into one thought and words came unbidden to her mouth.
“Csercyllth vele’ moru’un, ancellithe!” She cried out as she stepped to the edge of the cliff. She held the Stone high above her head and then cast it from her hands over the edge of the cliff. She watched the blue stone shimmer and glow as it plummeted down the face of the cliff. Her heart broke when it smashed into the ground far below disintegrating like salt in water. In her mind she could see the ground where the Stone had hit. There was nothing left but fine, blue dust that sparkled as it blew away in the wind.
The Stone of Power and Sight was no more.
She collapsed to the ground and cried at the loss this stone would be to the people of the twelve mountains. After a few moments, she found acceptance and her heart rejoiced because it meant that the people would not perish under the rule of the Diviner.
When the cliff finally passed into shadow Aerikai looked up. The sun had drawn closer to the horizon. She stood in a panic. She had to make it to the river gate behind Naree’s cottage by sunset. What would Celedand do if she was late?
She went to the edge of the path Zarkayis had mentioned and looked down. The height was dizzying and her breath caught in her throat. Swallowing hard she descended as quickly as she could.
The path was dangerous, but she didn't realize how deadly it could be. It took her even longer to travel back down and she had several falls that nearly sent her over the edge. As soon as she reached the base of the cliff she knelt on the ground and sent up several prayers of thanks to the Gods of the Mountains.
When she finished she got up and surveyed the ground where the Stone had hit. There were tiny shards of sparkling blue stone all over the ground and a small crater where the Stone had struck, but nothing larger than a grain of sand. She sighed in relief. There could be nothing left of the Stone or else her task would be thwarted.
A weight lifted from her shoulders, but another one immediately set in its place. The sun had fallen behind the walls of the city and Celedand would be waiting for her. In a few hours the Diviner would begin the Masq ceremony. She knew she had to be as far from the valley as possible. She walked along the road that followed the edge of the river.
The path down the cliff had put her outside the city wall, but the ever-burning lights on the city walls lit her way. She approached the first set of river gates that allowed homes in the city access to the water. A man waited near the dock. She approached cautiously, but as she got closer she realized he was one of the Elders of the City.
“Lady, are you on an errand for the Holy One and the Great Healer?” He asked quietly.
She was surprised by the question and suspicious at the same time. “Perhaps. Why do you ask?” She replied carefully.
“I was told by a messenger from the Great Healer to meet you here with a boat and supplies for a long journey down the river. I have a note from the High Priest.” He handed her the note.
Aerikai broke the High Priest’s seal on the note and turned away to read the message.
“Priestess, I have provided the means for you to take your flight. I hope that your journey will be blessed by the Gods. Seeing some of what has come to pass I pray, for the protection of our people, that the Stone is no more. Go with the Gods.
Braeyn Goithe, High Priest, Temple of the Stone”
Tears came to her eyes as she read. Truly the Gods were watching over her.
“Thank you Holy One.” She whispered toward the Temple.
“Aerikai.” The Elder said quietly.
She looked up in surprise. How did he know her name?
“Do I know you?” She peered at his face in the growing darkness. He looked vaguely familiar.
“I was at your Moquie ceremony. It is I who gave you the meaning of your vision so many years ago and it is I who will accompany you on your journey.”
“Accompany me? But I will not be returning. The people need you here.” She did not want to lay her fate on anyone else, her son was enough.
“Priestess, be comforted and know the truth. In my Moquie ceremony I received the sign of a hawk flying south from the mountain, but it did not return. That is why I was given the task of sharing the meaning to your vision. There are many among us who received a vision similar to ours. You will not make this journey alone. Most of the people have accepted this fate and will gladly go with you.”
“How many?” She whispered.
“There are twelve boats, about seventy-five people in all.”
Aerikai shook her head in sorrow, but peace filled her heart and she knew that these people had truly made their own choice and followed their fate willingly. She remembered the vision of Celedand in a new place surrounded by people.
She nodded. The Elder helped her into the boat and shoved off from the dock. He carefully guided the boat out into the stream and paddled quietly past the first few houses. Aerikai looked over her shoulder at the dark mountain. Everything was quiet, but she knew it was the calm before the storm.
She turned to face the river ahead. The lights from the walls reflected on the water making it sparkle. She looked at the Elder.
“What is your name, great one?” She whispered.
“Thank you, Ashier.”
He nodded. When they were mid-stream he took out a little horn and blew softly. It was a mournful sound that echoed along the river banks.
“We must stop at the river gate near Naree Galashad’s cottage. My son is waiting there for me.” She hoped he was still there waiting.
Ashier scanned the river ahead and guided the boat closer to the west bank. It was almost a half hour past sunset when they finally reached the proper gate. A small boy sat waiting determinedly on the dock in the darkness. A lamp sat next to him. He looked worried until the boat bumped the wood. His head came up and relief flooded his face.
“Yes, Celedand. Climb in the boat quickly. Are you ready?” She whispered back.
He doused the light and handed her the heavy pack. She set it on the supplies behind them and helped him climb in next to her. She could see his resolution and excitement.
“Yes, I am ready.”
Ashier rowed out into the middle of the river letting the current take the boat. Darkness wrapped comfortingly around them as he paddled. He blew his horn two more times as they went.
One by one Aerikai could hear boats casting off into the dark river as they traveled along in the darkness. She could hear the soft murmur of voices and the swish of paddles dipping in the water.
“We are not alone, Mother.” Celedand said softly.
“No we are not alone.”
When she had counted all twelve boats, she settled back against the supplies stacked in the back of the boat. Celedand crawled into the comforting circle of her arms and quickly fell asleep.
The smoke from the liquid fire had finally thinned allowing the moonlight to seep through the haze. She watched the houses along the river drift by their inhabitants unaware that the Priestess was leaving the mountain and would never return.
"We must go quickly, Ashier. We must be far away from the City by midnight or our lives are in danger." Aerikai cautioned.
“I heard Sraphine is letting the Diviner take the place as Lord of the Masq.” Ashier commented.
“Yes, but she had no choice. The High Priest agreed to Sraphine’s request, but only to spare the people more sorrow. The Diviner would surely destroy the city if they refused her again.” Aerikai said sadly.
She thought about LeDande and the hundreds of others who were killed without a warning. She shuddered. They had been given a warning, but she hadn’t understood it. The High Priest might have, but the events that occurred during Celedand’s Moquie Ceremony were unusual.
When they passed the last river gate Ashier dug his paddle into the water increasing their pace. Aerikai searched the sky to gage the time, but the stars were covered again by the smoke from the plain. The air was saturated with the scent of burning. It would be a long time before the land recovered from this catastrophic event.
Ahead Aerikai could hear the sound of rushing water. She strained to see what caused the sound, but could see nothing with her eyes. Then she focused her mind on the river ahead and vague, blurry images filled her head. She could decipher nothing.
“Ashier, I think we should go over to the east bank. There is something ahead. I feel very uneasy about it.” Aerikai suggested.
“We can check it out, but it will take time, Priestess.” He stated.
“It is better to be careful.”
“I’ll signal the others to follow.” He pulled out a lantern and lit the wick then flashed a signal to the boats behind them.
When they reached the western shore of the river Ashier jumped out and pulled the boat up on the bank. Celedand awoke with a start as the boat jolted.
“Where are we? Have we arrived at our new home?” He asked innocently.
“No, darling. We have to stop for a bit to make sure the river is safe ahead. Can you stay and watch the boat?”
“Yes, Mother.” Celedand looked disappointed, but he was willing to do as he had been asked.
Aerikai climbed out of the boat and followed Ashier along the edge of the river. The trees had thinned until there was just the wide open plain. Grass grew as tall as Aerikai’s waist. The river cut a wide path through the plain towards a small canyon to the south. Hunters had traveled as far south as the canyon, but the people of the City did not know what lay beyond. All they knew is that the river flowed through the canyon.
The rushing sound got louder as they followed the bank and when they reached a certain point the smoke cleared momentarily. Aerikai gasped. The river had been split in two. The east half flowed steadily on its normal course to the south, but the west half cascaded into heavy rapids towards the chasm. A large boulder sat in the center of the river marking the dividing point.
“Can we get past this on the river?” She asked Ashier.
“As long as we stay near the east bank we shouldn’t have any problems. We have strong rowers in each boat, but I will need an extra set of arms in ours.” He replied.
Aerikai tore her eyes away from the river to head back to the boats. She had doubts about staying in the water, but they had used too much time to walk to the division point. When they reached the boats Ashier explained to the others what was ahead.
“The current will be strong, so you have to stay right up against the east bank.” Ashier instructed.
The others nodded and began pushing the boats back into the water. A man named Zurinsk joined their boat. Ashier handed him a paddle and then shoved off. The current picked up quickly. The men fought the steady drag from the right. As long as they worked together the boat stayed on course.
Aerikai held tightly to Celedand keeping him settled in the bottom of the boat. The current jostled them rocking the boat back and forth at precarious angles. She closed her eyes and prayed.
Behind them she could hear the struggles of the other boats. The closer they got to the split the more difficult it became to stay near the east bank. Just before they reached the large boulder Aerikai heard a scream.
She turned around to see what had happened. In the smoky moonlight she could see one of the boats drifting quickly toward the large boulder in the center of the river. The men were paddling with all their strength.
From the corner of her eyes she saw something flailing in the water. She focused on the water near the boulder and finally saw a young boy trying to climb on the rock. The current of the river beat against his body pushing him against the boulder then away before he could climb up. She could tell his strength was failing. The boat that moved toward the boulder was too far to the west and now the rowers were fighting the heavy current drawing them toward the rapids.
“We have to help them!” Aerikai shouted to Ashier.
He shook his head. “We can’t risk it. The only chance we have is to get to the other bank and send a line out.”
“They’ll be gone by then.” She cried.
Another scream pierced the night and then went silent. Aerikai turned back to the desperate scene. The boy was no longer in sight and the boat had capsized. One of the men and a woman were clawing their way onto the boulder. The boat hit the rapids and Aerikai shuddered at the sickening crunch as it hit the rocks sticking out of the water.
The boy and the two other people in the boat were gone, washed down the rapids. Aerikai hung her head in sorrow. Ashier and Zurinsk finally made it past the danger and quickly rowed to the east bank. Three other boats came up behind them. The others were still trying to get past the boulder.
“Get a rope.” Ashier ordered.
Aerikai jumped out of the boat and pulled Celedand onto the shore. She helped pull their boat up so it wouldn’t be pulled back into the water. When she finished she peered through the darkness to the boulder. The man and the woman had finally gotten on top of the rock and were looking to the other boats and waving them toward the east bank.
Another boat made it to the bank where they had stopped. Ashier began directing several of the men to empty a boat completely and tie the rope to one end.
“What are you going to do?” Aerikai asked.
“We will try to go out to the rock with several men holding the rope on the bank. If we can reach the rock and get the survivors in then we can pull the boat back until it reaches the calmer water.”
“Be careful, the current could sweep you into the boulder.” Aerikai warned.
Ashier nodded. He climbed into the boat followed by Zurinsk and one other man. Two other boats passed the boulder and began rowing toward the bank. Ashier explained what they were doing as they began paddling out into the current. The men in the other boats landed on the east bank and immediately got out to help anchor the line.
Aerikai watched anxiously as they fought the steady current just downstream from the boulder. A few times she held her breath as the boat twisted and jolted. Finally he reached the rock. The boat kept slamming against the rock as he tried to help the man and woman down. When they were finally in the boat the men on shore pulled while Ashier rowed.
When they reached the east bank everyone climbed out of the boat and collapsed on the shore exhausted. Aerikai turned her attention to the four remaining boats. One was safely past the danger, but the other three were bogged down near the rapids. They had started close to the shore, but the current had pulled them far off course.
“Can’t we help them?” She asked the others.
Ashier directed another group to go out with the anchor line and try to pull the boats closer to the east shore. The men made quick work of taking the rescue boat out, but just as they reached the other three one vessel capsized sending the occupants flying. A young man and a girl caught the side of one boat making it rock treacherously.
The men on shore quickly pulled the remaining boats back to shore, yelling for the man and girl to hold on. When everyone was safe they took account of the losses. Seven people and two boats had been lost. Aerikai cried at the heavy price that had been paid. The girl and the young man were now orphaned and the woman who had crawled on the boulder had lost her husband and son.
Through tears and exhaustion the remaining boats were re-loaded. Aerikai brought the orphans into their vessel. She looked up at the night sky remembering the reason why they needed to hurry. It would be midnight in a half hour.
Aerikai approached the men resting on the bank. “Ashier, I know you are tired, but we must move on. It will be midnight in a couple of hours. If we do not continue on we will all be lost.”
Ashier sighed heavily and got to his feet. He directed the others to shove off. The river flowed much slower here, but there could still be danger ahead. They hugged the east bank. The further south they traveled the more the moon shone through.
Aerikai looked out at the plain to the west. She could see tendrils of smoke rising all across the desolate land. Ahead she could see the southern mountains growing taller on the horizon. She knew once they reached the canyon they would be much safer.
She glanced back and could see the lights of the city dimly shimmering through the haze. The city looked small from so far away. She looked up at the sky. It was midnight. Soon the Diviner would realize the stone was a fake.
She watched the city grow smaller, then suddenly a blinding flash of light struck the temple. Aerikai’s breath caught in her throat and she let out a low moan.
“What is it mother?” Celedand asked looking up at her face with concern.
“Aerikai?” Ashier questioned.
Aerikai took a deep breath. “The High Priest has fulfilled his mission. He is gone.”
Tears fell down her cheeks. She hung her head and sang the song of mourning. It echoed across the river and into the blackened plain.