kappa (part 1) 🏔️ crossing the ridge 🏔️
🌜 for other chapters, please see the end of this post 🌜
July 14, 1 p.m. — Our journey begins soon after 8 a.m. All the people from Eldor gather at the edge of the village to wish us good luck. We say good bye to each other, then Etin and Rem take us by canoe to the other bank of the river.
Initially the trek is comfortable, with the terrain almost flat and easy to cover. Each of us is carrying between fifteen and twenty kilograms worth of food supplies and equipment. At midday, we eat for lunch a few fish caught in a small pond found along the way, combined with dried fruits from our bags.
We have already advanced about fifteen kilometers. The mountains, with their majestic peaks, are getting close. We shall start climbing them this afternoon. With Nivit, Eori, and Ron by my side, I’m confident I can pass any obstacle.
3 p.m. — The terrain is rising. First, we go over some hills, then we reach a rocky area with a steeper slope and our speed slows down considerably. Marching in large zigzags, our small group begins to climb a narrow path. This lane is apparently made by herds of relatively large animals, most likely a species of antelopes, judging by a few old hoof imprints left on the ground.
The mountains look bare, with only small patches of short grass and lichens growing here and there. Trees are rare, all from coniferous species and only visible in areas less exposed to winds. We are surrounded by massive whinstone rocks that display a vague bluish tint. Far away in front of us and much higher, close to the horizon line, I can see something looking like a narrow canyon.
8 p.m. — We reach the pass by nightfall. There is no wood available to start a fire and we can’t find any fruits to pick, fish to catch, or game to hunt in this cold and bleak landscape. The only choice is to eat from our own provisions. A spring with crystal clear water flows nearby and we use it to refill our water skins. No more antelope footprints are visible in this area, either. They have dissipated on tracks across the mountain slopes, away from the narrow canyon going towards the coast.
The tents crafted following my design prove to be a valuable protection against the cold wind. As the rules of decency impose it, Nivit is sharing a canvas shelter with her father while I partake the other one with Ron.
We have brought two light globes with us, transported inside cushioned wooden boxes and, before getting some rest, I spend another hour writing down a few notes and reviewing my Eldorian vocabulary. Even now, I can’t easily accept the fact that my three friends speak my tongue better than I can speak theirs. Anyway, we always use both languages when communicating with each other.
July 15 — Compared to my escape from the shore, the return trip in the company of my friends promises to be pleasant and enjoyable, in spite of the inherent difficulties brought by the high altitude trek. I really hope we shan’t encounter any nasty surprises this time. My journey from Gold City to Eldor was so full of obstacles and pain that I came to greatly appreciate the routine of the present expedition. In spite of my hurry to reach Excelsior, I secretly wish this trek could last for a long time.
We have a quick breakfast of aledo, dried fish, and dried fruits early morning, then we step into the narrow canyon. I march in front with Nivit, while Ron and Eori follow us a few meters behind. There are no more trees visible, only small bushes from a species unknown to me that grow on the steep, almost vertical side slopes. We decide to collect and carry with us some of their dry sprigs, to be utilized later as fuel for fire.
The path is climbing higher and higher, steeper and steeper. On both sides of the canyon, the walls are vertical, perhaps one hundred meters tall or more, keeping our path in half-darkness all the time. Even with ropes, these surrounding rocks would be extremely difficult and dangerous to scale. They’re not an option for a shortcut to reach the shore.
I suppose we are now more than one thousand meters above the level of Kai River that flows through the valley below, but with the twisted space of this world, you can never be sure of anything. Still, to support my estimate, the air is becoming thinner and colder, as expected.
The people from Eldor come once in a while into this area hunting mountain antelopes, sometimes even bears, yet nobody has tried to reach the coast-facing side during recent times. Why would they prefer this isolation? I find it hard to understand. These villagers lead a simple life, but are highly intelligent. They practice an efficient agriculture, are expert in herbal medicine and skillful craftsmen. I’m sure Ezer could have made a violin or a gun if I had showed him a model, or at least a detailed drawing of it.
The Eldorians like learning new things and attempt to collect inside their library all the valuable knowledge they can get. However, their own history remains shrouded in mystery and nobody really knows how old the village of Eldor is. They often visit their surroundings, but avoid the exploration of far away places.
These people know well the regions downriver, from traders who come all the way to the village once or twice a year, but have no idea what can be found in the opposite direction, beyond the rapids located about forty kilometers upstream. I suppose some villagers also take occasional trips along the traders’ routes, but it certainly doesn’t happen often. What stops them from traveling? And then, why did their attitude towards the exploration of more distant places change so quickly after my arrival, after they heard my stories about Earth? All this looks a bit strange, but I assume their behavior only appears so unusual to me due to our cultural differences.
11 a.m. — The pass ends abruptly into a flat, slightly concave plateau, then, fifty meters or so ahead, we reach the entrance of a large cavern. The plateau is surrounded by the same tall vertical cliffs that look impossible to scale. Looking around, I feel like inside a giant cauldron. If the cavern ahead doesn’t take us further along our journey, we’ll have to go back and find another pass. This process would most likely take several days, perhaps at least a week, as I didn’t spot any other path across the mountains nearby.
We decide to stop here to rest our legs and have lunch. Then, we’ll enter the cave to continue our trip later in the afternoon, assuming this is possible. Ron says people from the village have used this path a few times in the more distant past and a lot of it goes underneath the cliffs, like a long subterranean gallery. I don’t remember seeing in the village library anything describing a path across the mountains.
“Has this path been build by somebody, what do you think?”, I ask my friends.
“Probably not”, responds Eori. “It must have been cut by the water coming from the snows melting in the spring.”
The sky is getting darker. Threatening clouds begin to gather above us in a haste. The best choice is to enter the cave before it starts raining. Inside, the gallery is climbing at a high angle, close to thirty degrees. Is this path going to lead us onto the other side of the ridge? Not like we have around other routes to try, anyway.
In the pale light of the globes, we ignite the dry bush branches collected during the morning and prepare to cook a frugal meal from our food supplies. It’s already raining terribly outside and we can often see lightning flashes cutting the sky, followed immediately by loud thunders. The narrow valley amplifies all the sounds. Long echoes come from all directions, again and again, like canon shots during a big battle. My three friends appear scared by the storm. I try to put their fears at ease, explaining how the lightnings and thunders are generated, but they remain tense and uncomfortable.
12 p.m. — Outside, in front of the cave’s entrance, a small lake is growing, fueled from the water pouring along the high walls of the pass. There is too much rain coming from above and not enough room for it to flow quickly away from the small plateau squeezed between the steep cliffs. The water level starts rising and begins to flood our cavern. We move to higher ground, deeper inside the gallery cut in stone.
Once in a while, I can see a dot of light flashing at the end of our ascending tunnel, visible for a fraction of a second when lightnings fill the sky in that direction. An exit is certainly there, leading to the other side of this ridge. It’s raining harder and harder by the minute. A small stream begins to flow through the cave, pouring along the path that climbs towards the peak. We eat in haste some aledo and fish, then pack our things and proceed cautiously through the gallery, stepping away from the torrents of water below. Again, I’m in front, with Nivit, while Ron and Eori follow us at some distance.
Suddenly, a loud, powerful, deep vibration shakes the mountain. The ground jumps up and down and we lose our balance. It feels like we’re going through an earthquake. Is it possible that a very powerful lightning has struck so hard it cracked the mountain? Or maybe a natural dam broke and a massive amount of water, stones, and ice is rushing from above towards the narrow gorge?
The low-pitched long roar is immediately followed by an even more powerful rumbling noise. The gallery is shaken up and down again, even harder. Stones are falling from the ceiling and we do all we can to avoid being hit by them, protecting our heads with our backpacks. A huge rock lands in the middle of the narrow tunnel, hitting the gallery’s floor with a loud noise, jamming it and cutting our party in two. Nivit and I are left in front, while Ron and Eori are stuck in the lower section of the gallery.
I turn my eyes towards the entrance below and can’t see anymore the passageway that brought us here. Our corridor is entirely blocked by an immense piece of basalt, impossible to budge. I try to push it aside, even a little, but its tremendous weight makes my task impossible. Our group is split in two now and we can barely pick up each other’s voices through the thick barrier of stone. Are Eori and Ron all right?
“Are you hurt?” I hear Eori’s words coming from the other side, muffled and distorted.
“We are fine!” answers Nivit in a loud voice. “What about you two?”
“We are all right,” he calls back. “However, it seems the mountain demons can only accept two people to go further on this journey. The gallery is completely obstructed. There’s a good chance we won’t be able to follow you and might have to go back to the village. We can see the entrance below us, it’s undamaged. There should be no problem returning, once the storm is over and the water retreats.”
Nivit’s face is pale and I suppose mine looks the same. Still, it’s amazing that none of us got hurt. But it is impossible for us to come back through the gallery. And it is impossible for them to reach us.
We would probably need at least a weak to dig with our tools a hole large enough to squeeze through. Whinstone is a very hard rock and our small axes are not made to cut through it. What’s worse, the ceiling near the rock blocking the passage looks unstable and dangerous. More boulders could fall if we tried to clear the way, obstructing the tunnel even worse and eventually killing us in the process. We’d need to find a way to support the ceiling with something, perhaps build an arch of stones to hold the weight above. This work alone would need another couple of days.
Going outside, climbing up and down the peak above to reach Eori and Ron might easily take about the same amount of time. But can it even be done in this area? We’d have to go out of the cave and look for a way around. If Ron and Eori tried to reach us, they’d have to do the same thing: go out of the canyon and search a different passage, perhaps they’ll finally find one very far away from here. They could eventually succeed to find one in a week or it, could take even longer.
In either case, our food rations are going to dwindle considerably during the process. If we go back to them, once reunited, we would all have to return immediately to the village and prepare for a new expedition one week or so later. This is an impractical option, I really want to reach Excelsior as soon as possible. Even now I’m worried I might be already too late. Are my people still near Gold City? Is it possible they have already left this world and returned to Earth? I take a long look at Nivit. We have to continue our trip without them. We know it, and they know it. But I still want to talk to Eori and Ron, I want to hear what they think. Perhaps we can still find a solution to continue the trip together.
For a few minutes, we still discuss the available options, shouting in front of the fallen rock so that the sound of our voices can go through the blocked passage. We’d need probably a week to get back to them going around the ridge, assuming there is a passage somewhere. Then, as our rations would be depleted, we’d need another three days for all of us to get back to village, mainly hungry. Then another three or four days to rest and prepare the trip back, this time needing to find a longer route around to take us to the sea. Overall, that’s a delay of at least two weeks. And this plan can only work if we can find a passage.
If Eori and Ron try to get to our side, this means, again, about a week of struggle if they can find another passage not so far away from here. But then we’d be all stranded here, in the middle of the mountains, with no food left and possibly another week of traveling ahead. We’d be only one week late, but, with no food provisions, might quickly become too weak to finish our journey through the hard terrain. This option sounds even worse. The conclusion is quick and clear: only Nivit and I can continue the journey.
“Please, go in peace and come back soon” calls Eori from the other side of the rock. “My prayers are with both of you!”
“We shall wait in Eldor for your return!” adds Ron.
We can’t stay much longer here, anyway. Because the gallery is jammed, the water coming from above and flowing on the floor has begun to rise in the 2-3 minutes we’ve spent talking. It’s already ankle-deep and soon will be chest-deep, unless the rain stops. We say good bye to each other through a side opening too small to let anyone or anything useful pass through, and too badly blocked to be cleared. There is nothing to do, Nivit and I shall have to continue our trip alone. Luckily we have with us half of the food supplies and one of the tents.
About five minutes later, we reach the other end of the tunnel. We walk through rain along a narrow path crunched between vertical walls that seem to extend all the way to the sky. No human being could climb them without ropes, and we have no ropes with us. The side walls are full of cracks, but these cracks are twenty or thirty centimeters wide, much too small for a person to squeeze through. Only the water can find a path through them, perhaps all the way to the other side, as it keeps flowing around our boots. Our only option is to keep moving ahead. Soon we enter another gallery that goes in the same direction.
At around 2 p.m. we pause for a few minutes to rest, then begin moving again. We continue to walk all afternoon, taking breaks when we feel too tired and getting back on track some minutes later. Once in while we cross short areas in the open, just to get again under a ceiling of rocks only a few dozens of steps farther. In these places with a narrow sky above we can see how the storm has lost its initial strength and became a light, monotonous rain. This means Ron and Eori are going to be all right inside the lower segment of the gallery.
And so, we continue our journey, higher and higher. The luminous globe in our possession has enough fuel to last for at least another month, so we don’t need to worry about the surrounding darkness. It seems we’ll have to march like this a long way, probably until we cross the highest ridge and begin the descent on the other side of the mountain chain, the descent towards the coast.
At seven o'clock in the evening we decide to set camp for the night inside an area where the gallery is a bit larger and get some rest. I think we’ve covered another twenty kilometers through this mountain tunnel with occasional patches of sky above, but I might be wrong. The distances are always difficult to estimate underground. We have a quick dinner of fruits and dried fish, then the exhaustion of the long march sends us quickly to sleep. Cut out from the rest of the world, we spend for the first time the night together, in the same tent.
Excerpt from "Butterfly's Dream", a novel by Marian C. Ghilea;
Photo by Marian C. Ghilea: A river near Kyoto;
(c) Marian C. Ghilea, all rights reserved
12 sample chapters (pre-final draft) are available here: http://nivitx.blogspot.com/2017/08/final-proof-reading-novel-almost-done.html
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For the previous chapters, please check:
iota 1: https://ello.co/gebeleizis/post/heby1mtemuse3klk1txkmg
iota 2: https://ello.co/gebeleizis/post/rtj21h0fjkl5g0yesel18g
iota 3: https://ello.co/gebeleizis/post/_vuxsnauvafnvzrqrqcxow