After another ten minutes, they began to feel the draft of cold air coming in from the entrance to the cave. “The first thing we will have to do is descend this craggy ravine,” said Duman. “Brego and Folsom have gone ahead with the ponies. If they are safe, they will be waiting for us in another cave hidden 2 miles from here.”
“In this rain?” asked Martha.
“We couldn’t ask for a better cover,” replied Duman. “Our woolen cloaks will shed most of the water, and, hopefully we can dry them out tomorrow. But the gargoyles will certainly not expect us to leave in this.”
“In full dark?” Molly put in.
“Yep, you’ll all have to learn to trust the rope just like we did in the tilting yard.”
It was rather shocking, when cold rain suddenly pounded around Martha’s hood as they walked out into the night air. Her ears were filled with the sound of rain. Her boots protected her feet from the sharp rocks, but the walking was extremely uncomfortable, because her foot rarely fell in a flat place. She held the rope in her left hand and it moved along very slowly. Duman took frequent pauses, especially if someone fell or stumbled.
Martha thought of the times when she had gone hiking back on earth. She had thought nothing of wading in a small stream when it was 50° outside. But it was amazing how quickly she felt cold now. It was 45° and rain. She had begun to shiver slightly despite the activity. She was very glad for the leather gloves with which to hold the rope so that her hands didn’t freeze.
Darkness. Noise and total darkness.
Martha didn’t even see any light reflecting off raindrops. There were no streetlamps. They were out in the wilderness. Martha had to completely rely on her senses of hearing and touch. Every few minutes, Duman would mention a turn in the path or a sharp outcropping or something. Martha began to listen carefully for these admonitions. A few times, she found herself drifting off and forgetting to listen. If she didn’t, she almost always paid with a stubbed toe or loss of balance.
Well, what did she expect? Did she expect adventures to just be fun– jumping around and laughing at bad guys? Somehow, more than anything else, this rain made her realize that this was not just going to be a light fairytale.
But as the rope moved forward, Martha was developing more and more a sense of trust. Miriam was directly in front of her, and Millie was behind her in the line. They seemed to be working their way gradually down a rocky slope. At one point, Miriam actually fell. She had lost her footing because of a jagged rock. Martha felt the rope go down in front of her and instinctively grabbed it with her other hand as the whole line came to a halt. It was enough. The friends on either side of Miriam had prevented her from hurting herself on the sharp rocks.
“Everyone okay?” called Duman through the rain.
“I’m allright!” Miriam replied. “Be ready for a few sharp ones where I am.”
No one really wanted to pause very long in the rain, so they kept moving again. After another half hour or so, Duman brought the whole group to a halt. “This is the rocky ledge. It is twenty something foot drop with no footholds. Jeremy, you are next. I’m using one of your iron stakes. Malachi, it’s time to use your sword again and risk a little bit of light. It should show a faint grey.”
As Malachi drew the sword out slowly , it seemed bright to their adjusted eyes. “Yes, mostly grey,” said Duman. “But I am troubled by these slight green flickers.”
He put Malachi’s sword in his own belt and began to descend. With the faint light, they could see Duman going down the rope hand over hand using Jeremy’s iron forged rope holding devices. A moment later, Duman’s voice came from somewhere below. “Jeremy, show the others what to do!”
“Okay Martha,” said Jeremy. “Ease yourself off the cliff edge, then hand over hand with these clamps just like we practiced in the tilt yard.” He handed her the pair of iron ‘descenders’, as he called them. They were heavy, but held you firmly on the rope when you kinked the rope in them. “Duman will be ready to catch you at the bottom, take your time!”
Martha could see the outline of Duman below by the grayish light of Malachi’s sword. Using the ‘descender’ devices, Martha could almost walk down the cliff. She had descended perhaps 10 feet when she really blew it. She looked up. The heavy rain coming straight into her eyes caused her to try to wipe them with her hand. For some reason she forgot that her hand could not let go of the rope.
Instantly she began to fall. The scream didn’t really come out of her mouth until she was almost to the ledge below. She felt the paralyzing sensation of fear and freefall.
But Duman was ready. Part of his training had been practicing catching other men when necessary. His arms, chest and bent knees absorbed the momentum as he crouched, then rolled with Martha’s flailing personage. When they hit, the back of her head hit the side of Duman’s ear.
“Oow! Are you all right?” Said Duman.
“Yes! Actually…” Martha checked herself. Her ankle felt bruised where Duman’s leg had crushed it a bit. She found she could stand.
Doing yelled back up to the others, “she’s okay! When you are descending, do not look up at the rain!”
In the end, Duman did have to catch Molly, though from a lower height. The rest managed the descent.
“What about the rope?” Asked Malachi.
“Ahh, that’s where Jeremy’s iron stakes come in!” Said Duman. “Why don’t you demonstrate, Jeremy?”
Malachi noticed that there was a string with a piece of stick hanging on the cliff face. Jeremy simply pulled the string back through the eye hole of the iron stake and pulled the rope back through!
“So you see,” said Jeremy, “the only thing we leave behind is the stake.”
“We’re not safe yet,” said Duman, sheathing Malachi’s sword again so that full darkness returned. “We should reach the cave in 10 minutes or so.” With that, he began to lead them all forward with the rope again.
The cave entrance was well hidden halfway down a gully. Harry the Mason had been keeping watch. “Halt!” He called into the darkness.
“Patterns, pilgrims and patience!” replied Duman with their prearranged password. “Do you have the woolen blankets ready?”
The companions came in under the mouth of the cave. Martha had never in her life been so glad to get out of the rain. Harry the Mason led them away from the mouth of the cave into what felt like a room in the darkness. They could hear the breathing of the ponies and smell their husky sent. They could also hear human snoring amidst the ponies breathing. This turned out to be Johnston and Medgrave.
“They’re here!” said Harry. “Time to wake up and help me hang their wet gear.”
Using the rope still, Harry let them to a place where there were woolen blankets laid out on the floor. In the dark, he instructed them to remove their wet outer gear and put them in a pile.
Martha rolled into the woolen blanket and was soon fast asleep.