Temple in the Sky
Chilcoat rose at first light and couldn’t help but feel a little confused as he watched Caron and Tarra adjust to his departure by cuddling closer to each other. The camp began to stir in fits and starts as he pulled his cloak into place against the bugs.
Lannon soon joined his solitary breakfast. He too had donned his cloak and huddled against the guide stone. “Any ideas on how to proceed today?”
“I know everyone’s anxious to get started, but I’m afraid they’ll kill each other trying to scale that cliff.” Chilcoat pointed at their nearest neighbors as they packed their tent for the day’s travel. “I guess we should have a meeting to get organized.”
“Does that mean you and the priestess are going to put on another show?”
“No, I think we can do without the theatrics for now.” He finished his meal and lit his pipe while he watched others begin to pack for the final leg of the journey. They all seemed a little confused since they didn’t really know where they were going to go from here. They just wanted to get started, and packing came as second nature to them by now.
He climbed onto the guide stone and called out for all to hear. “Can I have you all gather around again? Don’t bother packing your tents; we’ll need them tonight if we don’t get up the cliff. I want everyone to bring your best ropes to the base of the cliff where the trail comes off that incline.” He pointed to where the guide stone had carved its path in the stone rubble. “The first group to climb will need to carry the ropes so we can set up ladders and guide lines for the others to use. We’ll have to make many trips, so this camp will serve us for another day or two while we move things.”
Everyone wandered off to unpack what they had just spent the morning packing. By mid-morning, a pile of ropes had grown at the base of the cliff and they begin weaving ladders from the somewhat frayed reed cables.
Chilcoat was disturbed to find that Caran was not feeling well and that Tarra would not leave her side even to care for the children’s meal. Charona took up the burden without hesitation, but it put an unsettled edge on the day. He was puzzled at their indifference to his concern but resigned himself to the day’s tasking and figured that things would be better when they were finally able to get in out of the heat.
Lannon led the first team of young men to begin climbing the treacherous route to the top. They strung ropes against the cliff face in short, staggered, sections making the climb somewhat easier, but the project took longer than anyone expected. The stone was an unforgiving master, frequently rejecting their attempt to drive anchoring stakes and resulting in sections of rope dropping callously back to the base of the cliff.
They rigged over half of the cliff with ladders on the first day and a small scouting party ventured into the temple to dispel the rumor that Chilcoat had fallen under the spell of the young witch. They returned with some ripe fruit and stories of wonder and amazement speculating on who had built such a fortress. Everyone generally agreed that it must have been the Shanare who had built the temple and that they were entering into the Promised Land. Chilcoat reserved judgment on the issue and merely acknowledged that it was an amazing bit of stonework.
By the end of the next day, the rigging was complete, and the first group of residents entered the temple. The fit youngsters were, of course, the first to reach the top so they just wandered around in disbelief and explored the far reaches of the gardens eating their fill of fresh fruit and drinking cup after cup of cool water.
Chilcoat returned to the camp to fetch Caran and the children. He energetically bound into the tent ready for squeals of glee from his brood, but instead, found Tarra still tending Caran with damp cloths and cups of cool tea. She looked up from her nursing with somber concern and assured him that they would be ready in a few minutes.
“Take the children and the kitchen stuff and we’ll follow with the bedding in a few minutes. Caran struggled to appear normal.
He did as she desired, but was unsure why she excluded him from her infirmity. She normally sought his comfort in times of illness and relied on him to tend her needs. Maybe it’s a good thing that she has taken Tarra into her confidence in this matter. They’ve grown close enough to feel they don’t want to burden me with women’s issues in this time of celebration.
The children were a handful climbing the ladders. They had to stop to rest many times and allow others to pass them as they inched their way up the precarious rungs of makeshift rigging. The ladders had begun to show signs of wear and the children were the first to recognize it since they didn’t like being so high to begin with.
Chilcoat grabbed Lannon as he passed on his way down for another load. “Put some of the older guys to work on repairing the ladders before somebody gets hurt. It’ll make them feel like they are part of it.”
“Yeah OK, if you say so, but it’ll take twice as long.” He agreed to the tasking but didn’t think much of the crew selection.
“Yeah, I know, and see if the women need any help while you’re down there. They seem to be having one of their ’quiet times’.” He turned to urge the children up the next section of ladders.
They finally reached the narrow path that cut behind the cliff face and opened onto the plateau. The children shrieked in delight as they spilled out into the bustle of villagers exploring the myriad of gardens, rooms, and terraces scattered around the structure. They each ran in different directions and joined the fray of people hurrying from place to place poking their heads into doorways and windows and calling to each other, “look at this.”
“Don’t run, and stay away from the edge,” he called in vain.
There were discarded bundles of household goods and tools scattered wherever their owner’s had dropped them around the plaza. Chilcoat walked directly to the workshop alcove he had noticed on their previous visit. Someone had put a bundle of tools in the doorway apparently making a claim to the location. He hesitated a moment in disappointment then realized they were his tools. Lannon knows me well, he recognized, as he stepped over the pile and added his load to the heap.
The interior of the shop was empty except for the work platform in the center of the room. The windows high along the front wall cast columns of light onto the stone table where the unfinished ladder rested in crumbling atrophy. A layer of dust covered everything except where they had disturbed it on their previous visit. The rooms in the rear of the shop were dark and mysterious with their earlier footprints disappearing into the blackness. He brought his staff to bear and approached the first doorway. His eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness, and he could make out another doorway in the back wall that led into an even darker room beyond. His eyes strained to adapt, but the gloom only hinted at possible outlines and shadows.
Again, in the shop space, he grabbed some of the tools and utensils from the pile and placed them on the work platform. The stillness of the stone swallowed the noises they made and startled him slightly. It was as if he hadn’t completed the task because the clatter of the tools just wasn’t there. It’s an eerie artifact of the temple that will take some getting used to.
He used his staff to write his name in the sand on the floor and restacked the remaining heap to form a barrier across the entryway. As he stepped into the stark light of the central plaza, his eyes strained to adapt to the evening glow. Everything blended into surreal monotones of red from the setting sun as he searched the scurrying populace for his children. He had to judge, largely by size and stain patterns on their cloaks, but he eventually spotted them running up one of the stairways with a group of their friends.
“You guys be careful. I am going to go fetch your mother, so be good, and don’t get hurt.” They flapped their cloaks in a flying gesture and resumed their play.
He found his way past other families that were starting to stake out homestead claims around the central plaza and quickly snaked his way down the cliff coordinating his descent among loads of people and things. He found Caran and the others nearly ready to start their passage but they were moving frustratingly slow. Lannon had bundled the remaining household goods in the tent tarps and was puzzling over what to do with the poles when Chilcoat arrived. “Bring them along; we can use them as skids to drag the bundles over the rough spots.”
The women climbed the ladders one section ahead and waited for them to raise their load and exchange the ropes for the next section. They dragged the tent poles up behind and repeated the process again. The slow progress suited the women and gave them plenty of time to socialize with others moving up and down the rigging. They left the poles in place for others to use on the last section and wrestled their load down the stairway and into the central plaza. Chilcoat directed them toward the workshop he had selected for their home and lugged their bundles around the ceremonial platform.
Caran was mesmerized by the temple. She felt her way slowly along the smooth surface of the platform delicately tracing some of the carvings with her fingertips. Tarra and Charona hovered nearby urging her toward the workshop alcove while still marveling at the complexities of the temple.
The evening meal was quickly prepared with vegetables and fruits from the gardens and everyone’s spirits were high. As soon as the meal was complete, Charona rummaged through the bundles scattered around the workshop floor and found two small lamps that still held a meager amount of fuel. Tarra joined her in a giggling, whispering, exploration of the dark interior of the mysterious rooms. The children also joined as rear guard carrying hunting staffs made from Tarra’s mannequin at the ready. It was eventually resolved that the mysterious inner sanctums were probably larders or closets of some sort. There were niches etched into the walls that likely carried shelf supports.
It had been yet another long hard day, but the relief of finally being in the temple made it all worthwhile. It bothered Chilcoat to call the place a temple. He wasn’t sure what the place was, but he didn’t like calling it something religious. It was more of a fortress or castle in his mind. He would have to start calling it “Fort Chilcoat,” maybe then they’ll find a better name and stop calling it the Sky Temple.Caran staked out the bedroom on the left and turned the closet into a nursery, leaving the children with a lamp and freshly made beds for the first time in weeks. She too retired leaving the others to chat and speculate about what the future held.