River of Stone
The cart needed some repairs after their adventure, and the loading of household goods needed serious consideration if they ever hoped to get through the boulder field. The makeshift hut they had thrown up for the past few weeks was adequate for their needs and left several of the tent panels and poles unused so Chilcoat collected them into a pile.
Lannon ambled up eating his morning stew. “What’s up, Pop?”
“Yeah… Just trying to figure out if we can lighten the load a little…”
“Maybe we can leave some stuff and come back for it later.”
“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking, but what?” Chilcoat stood for several minutes assessing different items, moving them from one tarp to the other. When he was satisfied, he called to Caran to pass judgment on his selections.
She considered the prospects, occasionally nudging an item with her toe. She eventually moved a couple of things from one pile to the other and settled on her preferences. It all seemed fairly well settled when she noticed the stick figure and robes lying amongst the clutter. “Has Tarra agreed to this?”
“I don’t suppose you’d talk to her about it.”
“Oh no… This is between you and her. You know what she is going to say.”
He nudged the bundle with his foot. “Yeah, I suppose so.” He rolled it awkwardly onto the ‘move tarp’ with his foot. “I guess it won’t hurt, besides, maybe we’ll need it for firewood.”
“I’ll carry it if it is too heavy for you.” She scornfully pulled her ceremonial clothes from the ‘leave pile’ and placed them with the bundle of sticks.
“Yeah, I know you will.” Chilcoat tried to lighten the mood. He gathered the ‘leave’ articles into a tight bundle. “Lan, Give me a hand.” He struggled one handed to gather the loose ends under a rope.
Together they lifted the bundle onto the back of the cart and used it as a platform to drape it over a branch high in a tree. After a quick assessment, they decided to use the last bit of hemp rope. It was a gamble that they wouldn’t need it for cart repair, but safeguarding the household goods was worth the risk. As they finished the job, some of the other families gathered around to watch.
“It would be good for each of you to find another tree and do the same thing,” Chilcoat offered.
“And if you leave any kitchen things, be sure they’re clean so the animals won’t be attracted.” Caran struggled onto the cart and sprinkle ground pepper on the package hanging overhead. “That should keep them away for a little while.”
They spent the next full day hoisting overloaded bundles into the oaks scattered around the glen. Some of the trees were not very receptive to their new duty and rejected their load in bouts of cursing and comic relief. Many of the decisions of what was to go, and what was to stay, turned into shouting matches amongst the family groups.
Chilcoat tried to remain uninvolved telling them, “It’s your decision, but it would be best to take as little as possible for now, and come back in a couple of weeks to pick up the remaining things.”
As morning arrived, the village gathered at the fork in the trail. Some of the young men hiked to the top of the nearby hill and gazed out onto the boulder-strewn gorge extending to the horizon. Chilcoat pointed out the small knob silhouetted in the haze. “That’s where we need go, and I don’t see any good way to get there. If there ever was a trail, the rain seems to have washed it away long ago, so this gully is as good a place to start as any. We just need to keep that ridge in view and pick our way as best we can.”
A snake-crew took up the lead and the heavily burdened carts followed their way winding along the sandy riverbed. A gaggle of children excitedly drew up behind in a long staggered line of grunting sweating families.Breakdowns became more frequent as the creek bed narrowed and hardened to fist-sized stones that eventually turned to impassable boulders. The men formed teams hoisting each cart, in turn, over the next obstruction until everyone was exhausted and they found a relatively flat section of ground. The hastily assembled tents clustered in a windswept channel and the young women set up as alarm watch.