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The Seeress and the Stone 32
The river flowed smoothly and the two small boats traveled swiftly with the current. French’s craft was in the lead followed closely by Jexson. French squinted at the scenery ahead. It seemed like the same view of tree lined banks that they had passed during the last two days and if they weren’t continuing to the south, he would have thought they were traveling in circles. He dug his paddle into the water and slowed the boat until Jexson caught up.
“Should we stop for the night?” Jexson asked.
“It looks like there is a clearing just around the bend. It would be a good place to stop,” French replied.
“How far back do you think the main camp is?” Geran, Jexson’s companion, asked.
“I would say at least a week, depending on whether or not Celendar has awakened. The brush along the river is very dense. They are going to have quite a time making their way through it on foot,” Jexson replied.
“If my Aunt has anything to do with it, they will be dragging Celendar behind a horse if he hasn’t woke up yet.” He smiled a sad smile then continued. “I think you are right. They should be about a week behind unless they left the river to find an easier path.”
“Hopefully the group that left after us will have cleared enough to speed up their travel,” Rory piped in. He was French’s cheerful companion.
The four young men had quickly become friends. Rory knew French and Geran had grown up with Jexson.
Geran leaned forward. “I hope the main party can build some rafts and travel by boat down the river. This beats walking anytime.”
French smiled and Jexson nodded, but his attention was being drawn ahead.
“Listen,” he said.
They paddled on in silence. There was a dull roaring sound in the distance. It got louder as they drew closer to the bend in the river. When they rounded the bend, the trees fell away from the river’s edge, widening into a deep blue lake. The young explorers stared in awe at the scene before them. Along one edge of a large clearing, the towering cliffs rose hundreds of feet in the air. Just beyond the clearing a beautiful waterfall cascaded down the face of the cliffs and disappeared from view, but that wasn’t what caused the roar. About three hundred lengths ahead the entire breadth of the lake dropped out of view.
The boats floated out into the lake and French quickly paddled his boat out of the current to the western shore and got out. Jexson followed. The roar of the falls thundered in their ears. As they walked along the edge of the lake it became louder and louder. When they reached the edge they simply stared. The water from the lake rushed over the edge tumbling a hundred lengths into a deep pool below. The waterfall from the cliffs fell into the same pool.
French stared across the roaring falls. As far as he could guess the river was nearly seven hundred lengths across when it dropped over the edge. His eyes followed the edge of the lake along the cliff to the north and whistled. The others followed his gaze. The steep escarpment went as far north as they could tell.
French shook his head in amazement. “This is definitely going to slow us down.”
“Yes,” was Jexson’s only reply.
They made camp on the western shore of the lake near the tree line. The roaring of the falls drowned out all sounds of the forest behind them.
French poked at the coals of the fire determinedly. “I want to keep going. We will just have to find a way to get down the cliff.”
“It is pointless to go on. The escarpment goes on for miles and our ropes are not long enough to reach the bottom,” Jexson disagreed. “We just have to wait for the main group.”
“I can’t just sit around and wait. I will go crazy,” French replied exasperated.
“We can explore the cliff’s edge during the next few days. Perhaps there is a way down,” Geran suggested calmly.
“We have to do this the smart way, French. If we rush ahead someone will get hurt,” Jexson added.
French looked at Jexson’s face and then shrugged his shoulders. “I guess I am being a little impatient.” He stood and walked to the edge of the firelight. “Where do you want to start tomorrow?”
“Well,” Jexson’s brow furrowed, “I don’t think it would do us any good to search the edge on this side of the river. The cliff drops strait into the pool and I’m not planning on jumping to see how deep the pool is. It might be a good idea to leave someone here to wait for the main group.”
“I can stay, Jexson,” Geran volunteered.
“We can all go across the lake in the morning and then figure it out from there,” Jexson replied.
“If we can’t find a way down then we will wait for the main camp. How much rope do we have?” French asked.
“Three thirty foot coils. Not enough to do much here.”
“Well it will give us a start.” French placed another log on the fire. “We should probably get some rest.”
“Sounds good.” Jexson spread out his blanket roll and lay down
French spread his roll on the ground, but sleep did not come for many hours. His emotions had wound up with each passing day. Knowing Angelia was in danger made the waiting an unbearable torture. This new obstacle only made things worse.
The next day the four young men paddled across the lake. The trees grew thicker on the other side, but became sparse closer to the edge of the cliff. As they walked further north, the roar of the falls quickly fell away. The terrain began to incline slightly becoming rocky and uneven. The explorers often scanned the face of the cliff looking for any possible way to climb down, but nothing appeared too promising.
By mid-day the four young men were exhausted. The hot sun burned their skin as they walked along the unprotected edge of the cliff. They made their way to the tree line and collapsed in the shade. Jexson, stared up at the sky.
“We are never going to find a way down. It is too steep and too far down.”
“Maybe I could try climbing down, with the rope. Just to see if there is a ledge or out-cropping we could stand on,” French replied hopefully.
“I suppose we could try it. Let’s look down the escarpment a little further.”
Rory piped in, “There might be good place up ahead. It looked like the base of the cliff sloped more, but I couldn’t tell from the distance. I was waiting until we got closer.”
“Where is this place?” French asked.
“Maybe another hundred lengths down. Follow me.” He hopped to his feet.
French sighed. Rory’s excitement with the adventure was a little exhausting, but he followed directions explicitly which made him fairly easy to work with.
“All right let’s go.” Jexson jumped to his feet and pulled Geran up.
The foursome walked along the escarpment until they came to the place Rory had seen. The edge of the cliff had a depression lessening the angle of the escarpment . Further in French could see a dry stream bed.
“This is a water outlet,” he stated, remembering with uneasiness the caves they had recently left behind.
He looked over the edge and the others joined him. The face of the cliff was still jagged and the ground beneath littered with large rocks.
French leaned out over the edge. “It looks like our ropes might actually reach the bottom here. The level of the ground slopes up from the deposits of sand and rock. Let me see your rope.”
Jexson handed him the rope and French uncoiled it and tied one end to a near-by tree. When it was secure he tossed the other end over the edge of the cliff where it dangled about forty feet above the ground.
Jexson whistled. “It is a shorter distance, but it still isn’t long enough.”
French pulled the rope back up and tied a second rope to the first. “Let’s climb down. I can look for hand and foot holds.” French adjusted the rope, looped the third rope around his shoulder and began inching towards the edge of the cliff.
“French, I don’t think this is a good idea,” Jexson warned. “It isn’t long enough.”
“I am going to go down a ways and see if there is a ledge or something to stand, or even a place further down to attach the last rope. It will be fine,” French said nonchalantly.
He slowly let himself over the edge and using his feet made his way down the face of the escarpment. Halfway down the length of rope he stopped and swung over to a tiny ledge. He scanned the ground below and then continued climbing down.
When he neared the knot between the first and second ropes he found another ledge and rested for a few minutes. With his back to the cliff he tested the knot and turned to start climbing. As he did, the rock ledge beneath his feet gave way. He grabbed wildly for the rope and felt the hot burn as it slid through his fingers. Before he could get a firm hold to slow his descent he slammed into the side of the escarpment and slid down down the remainder of the steep slope. He realized, too late, that this was probably what Angelia had seen when she saw him fall. Pain overwhelmed his senses as he crashed against the rocks below.