The Seeress and the Stone 17
French looked out across landscape at the scene before him. To the east, the Heighe Mountains rose, cold and uninviting, their peaks cutting into the horizon like a jagged knife, snow tipped and deadly. He shivered and scanned the surrounding land. Everywhere else as far as he could see, was sand. The golden dunes rose and fell endlessly to the west. To the north he could barely see the tips of the mountains above the sand. His heart dropped.
The travelers were tired and the land before them gave them little hope of survival. It had taken them three weeks to travel through the mountain pass. French turned his horse back towards the camp. The trail was rugged, difficult for the carts, but not too hard for animals and people on foot. Soft firelight penetrated the deepening darkness as he rode closer to camp. He could see families gathered around campfires. Despite the rigorous travel, they were singing songs and laughing. Their smiles shone through the dirt of travel, and yet there was sadness in all of their eyes. When he reached Celendar’s tent he stopped and listened quietly outside for a moment before entering. He could hear the rustling of paper and the quiet exclamations of someone deep in thought.
He opened the flap, “Celendar, I’m back.”
Celendar and Jexson were staring at an old map.
Celendar looked up and motioned for him to enter. “French. What have we got ahead of us?”
French sat down on the ground and let out a deep breath. “The descent will not be too rough,” he began. “The trail goes gently down to the foot of the pass.” He stopped for a moment. Celendar was staring intently at the map. When he looked up French continued, “From there out it is desert, just like you said.”
French paused to sort out his feelings. He was frustrated at the thought of crossing the desert terrain ahead because it meant even more distance between the travelers and the loved ones left behind. More distance between him and Angelia.
“How are we going to cross the desert, Celendar? It’s miles and miles of sand dunes with no end in sight. It stretches as far as you can see in all directions. At the pace we are going, we won’t make it very far. We can’t possibly take enough water to last long enough.” His eyes dropped to the ground. He wanted so desperately to go back to the caves.
“We are not going to cross the desert,” Celendar answered firmly
French looked up surprised. Celendar motioned him over to where he was sitting, pointing at the map in front of him and continued.
“We are going to follow the mountains. We have looked it over several times. According to this map, the mountain range stretches along the eastern shore all the way from here to the ocean. Our trail goes along the base of the mountains.”
French interrupted, “But the trail ended at the desert.”
“Then we shall make our own trail.” His tone suggested the end of the discussion.
Jexson added, “We have to stay near the mountains. They will be our only source of food and water out there.”
French nodded, “So if we follow the mountains—are we going north then?”
Celendar stared at the map, “I’m not sure. The map has faded so much and the writing is blurred. I can make out something which looks like another mountain range, but I won’t know until we actually get there.”
French looked at the map and began calculating the time it would take them to travel to the mountain range Celendar pointed to.
“So at the rate we are moving, it will take us about two months to reach this unknown mountain range. That will be hard on supplies and the people.”
“I think once we get out of the pass we will move faster. The terrain at the foot of the mountains is usually hard and flat. That will make the going easier on everyone. I am hoping for a month at the most. As we move north the weather will turn even cooler.” He looked at the map again, “We may go up into the mountains at some point to refill our water supply.”
Jexson shook his head, “We could ration water as we go, I’d rather not go up into those mountains at this time of year, they look uninviting.”
“I agree, Jexson, but I don’t think we will have enough water. If we have to cross the desert at any point I want to have plenty.” Celendar stared out the open tent flap. The moon was just coming over the horizon. The night air was cool, but comfortable.
“French, how hot is it on the desert floor?” Celendar asked suddenly.
“I got there shortly after sunset and it was warm. Why?”
“It is going to be very hot during the day. I think it might be a good idea to travel in the evening and at night while it is cooler.”
“It will be easier on the travelers, but the darkness will create other problems,” French replied looking outside at the rising moon. “We can see by moonlight, but it won’t be the same.”
“It will also help us ration the water more easily,” Jexson added positively. “I think the sun and heat of the day would do more damage than good.”
French nodded in agreement, but he still felt uneasy traveling at night. It would limit the amount of time they could move.
“How soon do you think the group can leave?”
“I wouldn’t push them. I think tomorrow evening would be the earliest. That will give us the morning to fill our water supply and the afternoon to rest.” He turned to leave, “Would you like me to tell the group leaders?”
“Yes, you and Jexson spread the word. Tell them to meet here and we will discuss the plan.” Celendar returned to his map and French left.
He relayed the message to the others and then wandered off to find his aunt. She had picked a camp spot secluded from the others, preferring the serenity of being alone.
As he walked along he examined the surrounding terrain. The wildflowers slept, their buds closed tightly, while the crickets seemed to be having a party. Large rocks littered the landscape accompanied by a few scraggly trees. The rocks were flat and smooth on top, perfect for staring at the stars. He thought about how nice it would have been to lay there with Angelia snuggled next to him, staring up at the night sky. He would wrap his arms around her and kiss her. He shook his head dissolving the image as quickly as it had formed.
Out of the corner of his eye he caught a small movement in the shadows. A solitary figure sat on a large rock that overlooked the desert. When he got closer he could see the familiar form of Jord’s sister Kya. She sat with her legs pulled up on the rock and her arms wrapped around them. He walked over and sat down next to her, instantly missing the close camaraderie the five friends had once felt.
“Hi, French,” she said softly still staring at the sky. “What’s happening?”
“I just spoke with Celendar. He has decided we are staying here until tomorrow evening.” He looked at her unreadable face. “How are you doing?”
To his surprise she started crying. He put his arm around her shoulders, knowing some of what was troubling her. Her father, Geoff, and her twin brother, Jord, were encamped at the caves above Viecity. Despite the secrecy of their location there was still a degree of uncertainty and danger in their position, a situation that he actually envied because of their close proximity to Angelia.
“I just . . . miss everyone. I can’t help wondering if they are all safe,” she sobbed.
“I miss them too.” His voice was quiet. With Jord and Angelia and Sparrow all back at the city, nothing seemed like an adventure anymore. “Don’t worry about them,” he said thinking about Angelia. He knew he was trying to convince himself, but he hoped his words would help Kya as well. “They probably have half of the city converted to Celendar’s story by now.”
Kya laughed. “Especially if my father has anything to do with it.” She smiled wistfully, “I wish I could be there with them.”
French looked at her. “I do too, but we are needed here. We have to be strong and help where we can.” He repeated the words Le’Mone had spoken to him when he told her that his request to be put in the party that remained in the caves was denied.
Kya sat up straight, “Yes. We are strong. I could never leave mother alone to take the rest of the family.” She stared out across the vast desert, “Are we really going to cross the desert?”
“No, we are going to follow the mountains.”
“Good. We go too slow. We’d never make it,” she added matter-of-factly.
French laughed. “My thoughts exactly.”
The smile on her face faded. “I wish everything was different. I wish we had all stayed in the caves, then at least we could have been together,” she said defiantly.
“You know that never would have worked. The leaders of the city were too suspicious of us. I just hope the others made it safely to the caves without being caught,” French replied, then instantly regretted his words.
Kya’s face paled in the deepening twilight.
“I’m certain they made it safely,” he said quickly. “Celendar would have known if something went wrong.” He was kicking himself for the thoughtless words. Jord and Geoff were leading the group that returned to the caves.
“I guess so,” Kya sighed, “Well, I had better go back, mother will be wondering where I am. Thank you, French.” She hugged him and then slid off the rock and ran back towards camp.
French watched her disappear among the tents and then continued to his own. Le’Mone had chosen a pretty little spot next to a tall pine tree. He could smell dinner cooking and as he rounded the tent the glow of the fire drew him closer. He sat on a large rock near the dancing flames and stared at the stars. He let himself think about Angelia until Le’Mone called him to dinner. After eating they discussed Celendar’s plans.
“I don’t know where we are going,” French said defiantly, letting the emotions he had been holding back flow out.
“Well, I am sure Celendar does,” Le’Mone replied.
“He doesn’t seem too. No direction, no destination. The terrain out there is rough and I don’t know how long supplies will last.”
Le’Mone took French’s hand and said calmly, “French, you need to trust Celendar. He may not know exactly where we are going, but he will lead us to the right place.”
“It is just so hard. It seems like everything has gone wrong since we left.” He knew the accusation was childish, but everything seemed unfair.
“I miss Angelia too.”
French looked up and nodded.
“I just don’t understand why he wanted me here instead of at the caves. I thought he understood how I felt,” he grumbled.
“You are needed here,” Le’Mone chided.
“To do what? All I do is scout ahead. Anyone could do that.”
“You’re more in tune with the landscape. You understand what we face better than anyone else.”
“That’s not true. There are many others who could have done it.” As soon as he said it he knew it wasn’t completely true. His senses were fine tuned to the landscape, especially the trees. He could tell where the best water sources were just by listening to the motion of the trees and plants. Le’Mone was much the same, but she had a different way of listening.
“Well I’m sure Celendar has his reasons,” she replied petulantly.
Her short response sparked his temper and all the frustration surfaced. “Well I want to know what those reasons are. We are wandering aimlessly through the wilderness. People are all right now, but that will change if we don’t have some sort of destination in mind.”
“You can’t start questioning Celendar now, French. He needs your support and your leadership.”
French turned away from his Aunt. It was the same argument they’d had over and over during the last three weeks and there still weren’t any new answers. “I suppose we should go to bed. There are many things to do in the morning to prepare for the journey ahead,” he grumbled.
“French do you trust me?” Le’Mone asked softly.
He turned back. “Of course I do.” How could he not trust the woman who had raised him and cared for him after his parents had died? She had done everything in her power to give him a comfortable, happy life.
“Then please trust Celendar. If only because I trust him. He will guide us to where we need to be.”
“And what if that place is so far away that we never see Angelia again? Or Geoff and Jord and the others? What about them? Families have been torn apart by this.”
Le’Mone put her hand on his arm. “I know, French, but there is a reason.”
“That’s not good enough, Aunt Le’. I need to know what that reason is,” he answered sharply. “I’m going to go crazy if I don’t have some sort of foundation for all of this.”
“We may never know the reason until after the situation is resolved,” she said firmly.
“Humph,” he replied as he crawled onto his mat. He hated to admit it, but she was probably right. It still chaffed him though.
Le’Mone sang as she got ready for bed and French fell asleep quickly to the familiar songs. That night he dreamed of Angelia. She wore a beautiful green gown that matched her eyes and she looked like a goddess. He watched her dance with several men and boys from the city and he envied each of them their position. He would give anything to be able to take her in his arms and guide her across the dance floor in the complicated steps. When the dream faded in the early morning dawn, he was even more anxious to find an end to their journey.