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|You are now going to be subjected to my tendency of non-linear chapter flow and all the aggravations it can bring you. We catch up with Alicia and Martin about one month later.||
The rocks gave way to the rush of rain and mud, and Shadowbrook tumbled down the ravine. Alicia screamed, instinctively grabbing at her horse, and plummeted after, her arms tangled with the rains. I lunged to the cliff wall and clutched desperately to a knot of roots that had been exposed by the mudslide.
I tried looking over my shoulder, back to where Alicia had fallen, but the frozen rain pelted at my face and eyes. I saw nothing. Just darkness. Ice. Mud. A swarm of pine needles, broken off by the gale, hurled themselves at my neck and back.
"Alicia!" I yelled, but the wind drowned the sound from even my own ears.
My arms throbbed. I pulled myself up, every movement breaking off another bit of road and sending it to the ravine below. My foot slipped. The roots tore at my hands. With a desperate kick I threw myself up to solid ground, barely getting enough of my body braced to keep my balance and climb all the way up.
I looked down. Alicia and the horse were gone.
The ravine was covered with a thick clutch of oaks, scrub-firs, and there was no way to see how far down it went. I could easily tell where to look for them, though. Their path was well-marked with shattered branches and ripped up trees. But there was no way to follow, not without jumping off the cliff.
So I huddled against the cliff wall, keeping myself sheltered by the few trees that somehow grew there, and waited. I rubbed my arms, trying to keep my shivering under control. The rain froze in my hair, and my clothes were stiff and frosted over. The wind turned each breath into ice.
After a while the rain changed to snow.
All I could think about were the stack of blankets sitting in my cabin gathering dust and keeping their shelves warm. If Alicia's father hadn't led a mob to burn it down already, that is.
The snow stopped before long. Several inches had fallen, but I had seen much worse storms, even in the valley.
I stood up. The wind blew through my soaked clothes, and my whole body shook. The road ahead, though still overgrown with thistle bushes, at least looked intact. That didn't mean we wouldn't find more sections that were washed out. There were a lot more mountains to go through.
Kneeling in the mud and rock, I peered over the edge of the road. I still couldn't see Alicia or Shadowbrook. I looked around, trying to find some way down and quickly found a small trail, probably from deer and elk, that branched off the road just a few yards ahead. It led down the ravine.
What luck, I thought bitterly. It was luck we wouldn't have needed if the road hadn't happened to wash away exactly where we were standing.
Carefully, I crawled to the path and followed it down the ravine. At the bottom the trees blocked the wind, and I suddenly felt almost warm. Only a faint dusting of snow covered the ground. A small creek rushed down the mountain, its waters high, swift, and muddy.
It didn't take long to find them. Both lay still, on the side of the ravine a few dozen feet above the creek at the bottom. Shadowbrook's back legs were submerged in a cascade of runoff water, and Alicia lay on the ground near the horse's head. Her left arm was bent backwards and still tangled in the reigns. An enormous branch lay next to her.
I rushed to her. She was breathing. Her eyes were closed and bruises were forming on her face. But she was breathing. The horse was dead, its neck broken. But thank the gods, Alicia was breathing.
I sat next to her, held her good arm with my muddy, filthy hands and cried. For the first time in years, I cried. For my father. For the inn. For the weeks we had followed along a road that had been abandoned and left for ruin centuries ago. For every cut and scrape on my legs and arms. For Shadowbrook. And for Alicia, sleeping and freezing at the bottom of a ravine, her face bruised and arm shattered. I cried until there were no tears left, and even then I sat there with my eyes closed, holding tight to Alicia's hand, feeling her heartbeat and listening to her shallow breaths.
"Oh Gods!" I heard her whisper, "my arm."
Her eyes were opened wide, and her teeth chattered.
"It's broken," I told her.
I took a deep breath. "Really bad."
"He–he didn't make it. To be honest, I'm pretty much in awe that you did."
"Oh, I'm cold," she said. "I don't know if I've ever been this cold before."
She tried sitting up, pulling her hand away from me and trying to prop herself up. But she couldn't do it.
"Where are the packs?" she asked. "Are they still strapped to him?"
"Can you get to it?"
I nodded. "Let me help you up first, though." I grabbed her shoulders and helped her sit up, leaning against the horse's back.
"Oh damn, that hurts," she said, laughing softly and wincing at the same time.
I reached for the packs, yanking them open.
"Everything's dry," I said.
"I told you–they were–waterproof," Alicia said. "I told you at least twenty times this past week."
"You did, but ..." I couldn't think of anything else to say. I strapped the packs back shut and started untangling her arm from the reigns.
"What are you doing!" She shouted in pain, swinging her arm in reflex and smacking me in the face.
"You're still tangled up," I said. "We need to get to out of here and find someplace we can get warm, and I'm not carrying your dead horse. This is going to hurt, and I'm sorry, but I don't know what else to do."
I picked up her arm again, carefully unwrapping it from the reigns. Gasping and tensing her entire body, she closed her eyes and locked her jaw while I got the arm loose. Her foot dug into the mud. A sudden rush of runoff water, still surging over the horse's legs, ate away the dirt, and the animal started slipping down in the mudslide.
I clutched her arm and braced my legs against a rock. Alicia screamed at the pain. The horse tumbled down to the creek. The icy runoff now gushed over both Alicia and me, and I desperately held her. Grabbing at anything she could reach with her one good arm, she caught my shirt and tugged herself up. I let go of her broken arm, and she clung to me, her entire body shaking with the cold.
"We need to get warm," I said.
Neither of us moved.
When the runoff finally slowed down, we crawled down the slope and looked for anyplace to give us some shelter. I pulled the packs of the horse, hoping everything was still dry, and we slowly walked along the creek bed. Neither of us spoke until Alicia pointed out a small overhang on the other side of the creek.
It was rocky, and the ground beneath had no snow. We both stood and looked at it bleakly; it was probably the best we would find.
We crossed the creek, neither of us even noticing the freezing, icy water we had to wade through, and sat down beneath the rocky jut. The air was still. Our breaths puffed into frosted clouds. Alicia started nodding off.
"Wake up," I said, grabbing both shoulders and jostling her. "If you fall asleep right now, you'll never make it."
"Then what should I do?" she snapped at me.
"You need to get out of those clothes," I told her, opening the packs again and pulling out our two blankets and her extra clothes. "They're soaked and they're icing over."
"And what about you," she asked.
"I need to do the same. But I have to figure out how to make a fire first. No offense, but these blankets you packed aren't going to be enough for either of us today."
"Maybe we should have gone to your cabin first."
I shook my head. "We'll be fine," I said. "But let's get you dry first."
I handed a blanket to her and turned around. I started rummaging through the second pack, looking for the hatchet she had brought, when she spoke again.
"I–I can't–I need your help," she said. "I can't do it with one hand."
|Legend of the Whisper Wood, Ch.1.2||Resurrecting the Scarlet Avenger, Ch. 1.2|
|Legend of the Whisper Wood, Ch. 1.1||Resurrecting the Scarlet Avenger, Ch. 2.2|
|Song of the Nightlillies||The Day the Caravan Passed By|