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The Seeress and the Stone 22
The next day work began in full swing. The two blacksmiths Orel had chosen finished the metal rings and pulleys. Orel and others climbed to the ledge to fit the rings into the rock wall and brace them so they wouldn’t come out. After testing them they gave Celendar the okay to begin the hard work of hauling.
The following morning they began transporting people and supplies up to the ledge and into the caves. Celendar supervised the work on the desert floor and French supervised the work on the ledge. By late afternoon over half of the company was in the caves. Many of the men were determined to bring the rest of the people and supplies, but the work was too exhausting. All of the families with children had been moved into the caves. The remaining people slept on the desert floor with the remainder of the supplies and the horses.The morning of the third day they finished transporting the supplies.
Last came the difficult task of lifting the horses and other livestock up the cliff face. Several of the women had sewn large slings out of their canvas tents. The slings were wrapped around the horse’s bellies and chests. They tied the slings to the ropes that were strung up the cliff through the metal rings and added a few more ropes to steady the load. The horses had to be blindfolded and Le’Mone mixed herbs in the feed to help keep them calm. It took almost all of the men to lift one animal to the ledge. It was dangerous work, but the rings held and with the group effort they were able to transport half the animals up by nightfall.
That night was cold on the desert floor. Celendar and French and a few others stayed with the remaining horses. The desert was quiet, but toward morning a stiff breeze swept across the desert. French could smell the rain on the wind. Celendar woke the men early and they began to work quickly to lift the remaining horses to the ledge.
While the men worked to bring the horses up, Jexson directed the rest of the travelers to carry supplies to the large cavern on the other side of the cliffs and out into the valley. When the last horse was up the remaining men climbed the cliff gathering as many ropes and pulleys as they could.
Celendar and French were the last ones to leave the desert. They both stopped at the ledge to look out across the desert. The western horizon was hazy in the afternoon sun.
“We should get the animals out of the caves as soon as we can,” Celendar remarked.
French looked out across the desert. “Yes, we should hurry.” He had his own reasons for wanting everyone settled in the valley on the other side of the cliffs.
Celendar nodded and they both stepped through the crevice in the cliff wall and made their way to the large cavern on the other side.
It was sunset by the time they reached the interior opening. The last rays of sunlight turned the sky a deep crimson color. French approached the ledge that opened to the valley. It was wide, like a cut in the hillside. The group leaders were already moving the remaining livestock out of the caves and down the steep trail to a grassy meadow next to the river. Several tents had been erected and French could see Jexson directing others. The people still remaining in the caves prepared for dinner and bed.
French felt uneasy as he crawled under his blanket. After an hour of tossing and turning he got up and walked through the caves to calm his restless nerves. He was anxious to finish this project, though that didn’t seem to be the cause of his uneasiness. He moved quickly through the dark passages until he reached the western opening. The air felt heavy with moisture.
French stared out deep in thought when he noticed lightening flash in the distance. A storm was coming. Lightening flashed again and his eyes widened. He turned and began running back through the passages.
It took him an hour to reach the eastern opening. As he approached a rumble of thunder echoed in the cave.
“Celendar!” French shouted waking most of the travelers.
Celendar sat up. “What is it, French?”
“The storm. It is coming!” He panted for breath. “It is coming fast. Lightening, massive clouds, wind. It’s bad.”
Celendar got to his feet and looked out at the peaceful valley. The sky brightened briefly from the lightening behind them.
“I have a bad feeling about this storm,” French said ominously.
Most of the people who were in the caves now surrounded them with worried expressions.
“How severe do you think it will be?” Celendar asked.
“By the looks of those clouds, very. I think we should get everyone out of these caves and down to the river.”
“The people will be safer under the protection of the caves.”
“These caves are a natural drainage way for water. Just like the western side. If there is heavy rainfall the whole cave could flood,” French warned.
To emphasize his words a sharp crack of thunder ripped across the sky outside the cave.
Celendar motioned the people over and directed them to gather what things they could and start descending the trail. He pointed to one of the group leaders.
“Take the first group. Let’s have one torch for every six or seven people. It will be slow going in the dark so be careful.”
Those who were ready began down the trail immediately. The second group, consisting mostly of women and children, left a quarter hour later.
As they made their way down the trail, thunder rumbled in the distance, echoing off the cliff walls. The wind whipped their hair and clothing while the patter of raindrops echoed in the cave entrance. French monitored the slow progress of the torches. Another half hour later Celendar sent the last group of people down the trail, hauling only what they could carry. French scoured the cave and then motioned for Celendar to hurry.
Lightening streaked overhead and the thunder crashed in his ears. Suddenly the rain was all around them. It was like the clouds had ripped open. The rain came down in sheets washing everything on the ground. Water flowed down the trail making passage nearly impossible. The refugees huddled together slipping and sliding the best they could down the trail. Many dropped their packs or lost them in the mud.
French watched them for a moment then dashed back into the cave to grab his pack. It held all of his carving tools and some small items he had made for Angelia and his aunt. That was when he heard the low roar of rushing water. He looked up to see a stream of water moving rapidly through the tunnel. It began building up in the cave and pouring out of the cavern opening with tremendous force. In an instant the rush of water swept him off his feet. He shouted as he grasped for a handhold in the smooth floor, certain he would be swept out to his death.
Suddenly a hand reached out and clasped his arm. French looked up to see Celendar standing on a small outcropping of rock just outside the cave entrance. French held on desperately searching for solid footing as his muddy arm slowly slipped through Celendar’s stiff grasp. The ledge was now a fast moving waterfall.
“French, I am losing my grip! Give me your other hand,” Celendar shouted straining to hold on.
French looked down at the now useless trail. The water furiously followed the path toward the river. Lightning flashed overhead and the thunder crashed deafeningly. The water filled the entire entrance of the cave and Celendar’s small ledge was quickly disappearing in the flood. French knew if he fell he would be killed.
He released his precious pack and with all of his strength he reached over and grasped Celendar’s hand. With Celendar’s help he pulled himself onto the ledge gasping for breath. The wind tore at their clothing peppering them with mud and rocks from higher up.
Celendar stepped back against the rock wall and slid to the ground. “How are we going to get down?” he asked wearily.
French shook his head. “I don’t know, but we don’t have much more time. This ledge won’t be here much longer.” He turned and scanned the rock behind them. Everything was muddy and slippery. “We can try climbing over to the large rocks over there,” he said pointing to some boulders that had broken away from the rock slope.
“It will be rough going down,” Celendar replied.
“Yes, but better than being washed down in that flood. Let me try.”
Celendar nodded and French began searching for safe footing. They slowly made their way across the thin ledge of broken rock. When they reached the boulders they collapsed on the wide uneven surface.
They waited in the darkness for the storm to pass. In the east the sky began to lighten and the rain lessened. When it was light enough they began zigzagging down the slope, sliding most of the way in the loose rock, gravel and mud. By this time the rain had become a light drizzle. The clouds moved steadily to the southeast leaving clear skies in their wake.
French and Celendar slowly covered the remaining distance and arrived at the sodden campsite dripping and filthy. Their clothes were ragged and torn and both were covered with cuts and bruises.
Le’Mone rushed to them and threw her arms around French’s neck sobbing. “I thought I had lost you,” she cried.
French hugged her back, speaking softly, “We’re fine, Aunt Le’.”
“What happened? You look terrible.”
A weak smile slid across French’s face. “I got caught at the mouth of the cave when the storm struck. The water flooded out the caves so quickly. I slipped and almost—” He stopped, looking over at Celendar. “Lucky for me Celendar was there to catch me.”
Le’Mone grasped Celendar and pulled him into an embrace. “Thank you,” she whispered.
Celendar looked around at the travelers. “Did everyone make it down safely? There was a group just ahead of us when the storm hit.”
Le’Mone nodded. “Most of the people saw the water and got out of the way. Five were caught in the mud and washed halfway down the mountain. We were able to reach all but one; he was washed into the river. The others are badly hurt and two of them are still unconscious,” she answered wearily. “We weren’t expecting the flood and a third of our supplies was washed into the river. Everyone is taking stock of what we still have.”
“All of the supplies left in the cave were swept out, so that makes about half of our supplies and tents. We may have to stay here for a few days before we can move on. We need to move camp away from the river.” He took a step towards the tents and collapsed.
“Celendar!” Le’Mone and French cried together.
“I’m tired that’s all,” he replied weakly. “French you will have to take charge.”
French nodded and moved toward the drenched camp.
“Neither of you are going anywhere.” Le’Mone replied stopping French. “You’re both exhausted and need to rest. I will take charge.”
French didn’t even want to argue. He sank into the wet grass and watched his aunt. Le’Mone began directing people towards a clump of trees growing near the base of the hills. They set up camp the best they could. The drizzle eventually stopped and by the time the morning sun peaked over the horizon the dark clouds were disappearing into the mountains to the south. Everything and everyone were soaked through.
French fell asleep in the warm sunlight and was awakened by the sharp smell of herbs and tea. He felt a sharp sting in his arm and sat up. He was lying in a tent and his aunt was washing a deep cut in his arm.
“You are a mess,” Le’Mone replied.
French took in his surroundings and asked, “How long have I been here?”
“Most of the day. I thought I should take care of these cuts before they got infected.”
“How is Celendar?”
“He is fine. He is helping lay things out to dry. Half of the supplies we had left are ruined.”
“I need to help.” French started to get up but Le’Mone pushed him back down.
“You need to rest.” Then as an afterthought, “After you take a bath. You are filthy and your shirt isn’t even worth keeping for rags. When you finish bathing come back here so I can finish treating all of those cuts.”
French sighed. He knew not to argue with his aunt. He took the damp, clean clothes she handed him and went to find a place to bathe. His muscles were tired and sore, but some of the stiffness washed away with the mud and grime.
After a day of rest Celendar sent French back up the mountain to see how the trail and caves had fared in the storm. A hunting party was sent out to search for game and children went with Le’Mone to search for berries, roots, and herbs.
French returned that evening muddy and tired. “I think the trail we were following was not a trail, but a stream bed. During the storm the water coming down from the mountain had two outlets: the trail and the caves. The caves took the brunt of the water. I tried to get inside but the water is flowing too quickly.” He looked at his muddy clothing and smiled. “I took a bit of a mud bath coming back down. We are going to have to wait for a few days before we can even attempt to go back through those caves.”
He looked wearily up at the cave opening and his smile faded. “Celendar, I looked at those caves as we were passing through. The walls and floor are worn smooth from the heavy flow of water. I don’t think it would be safe to be anywhere near them. During a storm the water runs through the passages down to the river. They may also take the runoff from winter snows. It will not be safe for anyone until we know how the weather will affect the passages.”
French felt defeated as he finished his report. He knew he would not be able to travel back that way again, at least not for some time.
“Thank you, French. You have been a great help. I think it is time you got some rest,” Celendar suggested. He smiled at the young man and called out as he left, “And a bath, too.”
French smiled. “I just washed yesterday.”
Celendar shook his head and waved him away.
The travelers camped near the river’s edge for several days. They had surveyed their surroundings and prepared to travel further into the valley. Celendar found French sulking by the river. His clothes were wet and dirty and he looked worn out.
“Any luck with the caves?” he asked.
French shook his head. “The water is just too fast. I can’t figure out what is feeding the stream. There must be some sort of reservoir in the caves that has burst open since the storm. That is the only explanation I can think of. Unless it dries up soon, the caves will be flooded out. I don’t believe anyone will ever come through that passage again.”
“No, we are not meant to go back that way,” Celendar replied.
French’s face fell with discouragement and frustration. Celendar reached out to him. “Do not worry about the caves anymore. I am certain there is another way. I feel it deep inside; there is another way.”
“What are we going to do now?” French asked.
“I think we should explore this valley. It is going to be our new home, so we best find out what is here. I want you to gather the people together for a meeting tonight.” French turned to walk away, but Celendar stopped him. “French, she will be all right. I promise.”
He nodded, fighting back the frustration and anger that rose in his chest. Celendar patted him on the shoulder and headed toward camp.
French built up the bonfire before the meeting. Crickets chirped in the darkness and the wind danced through the nearby trees. He could sense the tension and excitement in the company. Everyone seemed anxious to know what was going to happen next. He could see the same sadness and frustration in their eyes that reflected in his own. Many hoped, just as he did, there would be some way to go back and help the people of Viecity, many of whom were family members who had been left behind. Celendar described French’s findings at the caves and some of his hopes for the valley.
“Celendar, what are we going to do next?” Jexson finally asked.
“I feel we must move eastward. It is important that we explore this valley and discover what it holds for us,” Celendar replied.
A murmur of agreement went through the crowd.
Celendar held up his hands until the group quieted down. “The caves are of no use to us. It is clear that there is no returning through them to the desert. The river has washed out our pathway and turned it into a dangerous trap. I discourage any attempt to return that way.”
Everyone began talking again.
Le’Mone spoke, “I agree with Celendar,” she said softly. The crowd quieted down, “There is something out there.” She pointed to the southeast.
Celendar motioned to French and Jexson and then sat down. French stood up. Through their months of travel to the valley, he had gained the respect of most of the travelers. He had shown strong leadership skills and courage when others had failed. His voice resonated as he spoke and the crowd listened.
“I would like to get a small group together and travel down the river ahead of the main company,” he began. “I want to build three boats to navigate the river.”
“How long will that take?” Jexson asked.
“Hopefully not too long.”
“How far are you planning to go?” another young man asked.
“All the way to the bay we saw at the other end of the valley.”
The crowd began chattering and a few courageous explorers approached French. Jexson stood to speak followed again by Celendar. Finally the crowd broke up, returning to their tents. After choosing four other companions, French left to look for some suitable trees to build his boats. He wandered among the young saplings and older, statelier trees listening to their distinct ‘voices.’ His search was interrupted by the sound of human voices in the dark. He quietly followed the voices until he came upon Celendar and his Aunt. Not wanting to interrupt, he eavesdropped on their conversation.
Timidly Le’Mone spoke, “Celendar, what you saw, in your dream, has it already happened?”
“I don’t know.”
“I feel so helpless here. Is there nothing we can do?”
Celendar did not answer. Instead he looked to the southeastern mountains, to the peaks that French was certain were part of the Heighe range.
Le’Mone followed his gaze, “What is in those mountains. I feel like they are guarding something, a secret of some sort—they call to me.”
“I have felt the same thing. I don’t know why, but I do know that we must get to those mountains.”
Le’Mone moved closer to Celendar and laid her head against his shoulder. “It is so beautiful in this place. Is this really going to be our new home?”
He put his arm around her shoulders. “Yes, we are home. But the journey is not over. There is still much to do.” He looked at her pale face, “You should get some rest. You have been worrying over me for too long.”
Le’Mone smiled mischievously and replied, “Well someone has to watch over you, old man.”
“Well, more like ancient.” She laughed. She turned to leave and French stepped back into the shadows.
He felt a strange sense of satisfaction to see his aunt happy in this way. She had never sought the love of any man when he was young and as he grew older he wondered if it was because of him. As he watched his aunt with Celendar he realized she must have cared for him for a very long time.
“Goodnight, Le’Mone.” Celendar called to her retreating form. He watched her walk away for a moment and then returned his gaze to the southern horizon.
French also looked to the east. The river, shimmering in the moonlight, wound its way to the bay. The rising moon outlined the mountains in the distance.
“We shall see you tomorrow,” Celendar said suddenly.
French looked up thinking Celendar had spoken to him, but the old man just walked up the forest trail to his tent. French followed slowly after him. He stayed up late sitting by the fire poking sticks and thinking about his lost chance to return and help Angelia. About an hour later Celendar stumbled out of his tent towards the fire. French looked up in surprise. Celendar’s face was pale in the firelight and his eyes were wide, fearful and bright green.
“Celendar, are you alright?” French asked.
Celendar looked at French. “Angelia!” he cried and fell to the ground unconscious.