Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The King's Challenge #221 and #222

TKC 221 and 220

We find some discarded items in the earlier sleeping chambers. Marian still had her pack with her – it rests against the wall of the antechamber cave – and we thus load in what we find. It is not much. A mug, a pot, someone’s threadbare scarf, a water canister and some knotted twine. Marian has her dried food rations, her water, and personal essentials, and her bedroll.

Hal heaves a sigh. “We have to go north to the trees. There we may find food.”

Not only will it be a dangerous journey as we attempt to hide from the Glonu, but it will be a hungry walk. We stare at each other, but we have no choice.

“The sun is going,” Marian says from where she peers out into the plain. “I see no movement yet. We should go now.”

Hal hefts her pack. “Open a hole, Marian.”

Swallowing, she stands back and presents her palms to the rock fall. Boulders big and stones small begin to shudder, to abruptly part, leaving a doorway sized exit.

We shift through swiftly.

Marian turns on the outside and smacks her hands together. The rocks tumble back. “Let them think everyone was buried inside,” she murmurs before putting her back to the place of death.

As shadows we hug the cliffs as the last rays of the sun vanish to the west. All is silent.

Then we hear it. The thud of multiple footsteps. The march of an army. They are coming.

“Above us,” Kay whispers. He grabs my hand and starts running along the cliff wall, heading north. Hal and Marian follow.

Making as little sound as possible, we move all night, keeping to the greater shadow of the plateau, moving ever north. The marching sounds die away as the night intensifies. Either we are moving fast enough to put distance between us and them, or they have stopped for the night.

In the early hours it begins to rain. At first it is a drizzle, which brings with it an icy breeze, and then it becomes a downpour. We are soon so wet we can no longer remember what it is to be dry, but we go on. At least all signs of our passing is now erased.

As the greyness of a new day strengthens we come to a place familiar to us. We have arrived at the path where the host descended from the plateau to the plain. It is the way up.

Crouching amid boulders opposite, we study the area.

It will be a mud slide in the rain, that path, but the region seems deserted. When the rain becomes a torrent, creating veils between us and the path, we hurtle across the space. If we cannot see, they cannot either.

That upward clamber through mud, sticks and stone is the most difficult act of will I have ever endured. For hours we climb, a few steps up, a slide down, grazing knees and elbows, faces sometimes dunked in mud. Soon my clothes weigh more upon me than my body size can claim. Every muscle aches, every nail on my hands is broken, but I grit mud-ridden teeth and go on.

Finally the path levels and we hasten to the nearest cover, a gnarled tree surrounded by a jumble of rocks. There we hunker as rain sluices most of the mud away, shivering uncontrollably.

Marian passes a single stick of dried meat to each. She sets both her flask and the one we found under the tree where the leaves have created a funnel. Soon the vessels are full and we drink our fill. She props them to fill once more.

Nothing moves on the plateau.

It is a truth, however, that the rain hides all.

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