Bewildering Stories

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Chapter 3: The River

part 1

by Tala Bar

Gaia began in issue 88. Chapter 2 concluded in issue 97.

The river water glittered below in the bright morning sun, as the women climbed down the steep, wooded hill. It was not an easy going. Besides being steep, the slope was full of pitfalls. Unlike the new, upturned boulders on the new hills formed by the upheaval, here the rocks were embedded in the ground, smoothed by eons of weather of all kinds. The travelers had to use their leg muscles continually to stop themselves from slipping down, or from getting a foot in a cleft and twist it. Luckily, these muscles had been hardened by the long walk and hard climb they had been going through, their bodies having acquired the agile mental attitude necessary in climbing down a mountain. They did their best to hold fast to any protuberance, or sometimes to each other, to prevent a serious fall.

Toward noon they had left the trees behind, together with any signs of ancient ground. Closer to the bottom of the hill, marks of the upheaval had returned. Large, black boulders were thrown about, blocking their way and necessitating going round them, sometimes even back up to find a better way down. Slippery stretches of lava that must have been thrown from another hill, made their descent even more halting and dangerous. Dar shuddered to think what would have happened if she or Nim had broken a leg; she would have no means of treating it…

Gradually, the slope evened up. A wide scope opened before them, of a vast, hilly country, with the meandering river running at the bottom of it. The travelers stopped for a stretch and a meal, feasting their bodies and minds at the same time. No trees were in sight, barren mountaintops filled their vista as far as the blurred horizon. The nearest hills, rising up beyond the river, were thrown helter-skelter, reminding Dar the sight of the ruined City. She saw again the colorful mist rising from the valleys among the hills, shining in the bright sunlight.

“What is it, do you think?” Nim wondered. Dar did not answer, not wanting to think what deadly stuff could have caused the beautiful scene in front of them. The river itself, whose flow could not be detected at that distance, seemed to be lying peaceful in its bed like a large, shining, blue animal, lovingly lapping at its boundaries. Dar sighed. For the first time in their journey she thought they were venturing into a country strange for both of them.

“Have you ever gone beyond that wooded hill?” she asked.

“No,” Nim replied, “it was considered unsafe.”

From her grandmother, Dar remembered having heard about excursions she had taken part in, in her youth. ‘That custom had stopped a long time she reflected. Very few interesting places had been left for visiting, and no open place was really safe from gangs of robbers.’ She sighed again, deeply. It was strange how things had changed now. She and Nim were travelling across country with not much thought for other people who might have survived, like them. ‘Maybe they should think about it,’ she pondered. But she decided against it. It would only make their mental life harder, beside the physical hardship they were going through.

“Why did you ask about our going beyond the wooded hill?” Nim interrupted her meditations.

“It seems very clear the river had changed its course a few times since the upheaval,” Dar pointed. In the wide valley where the river was flowing, it was easy to see narrow strips of wet land on both sides, where the water might have coursed through before the catastrophe. Large boulders strewn among these channels marked the familiar signs of Earth’s devastation. “Come on,” she urged, “let’s get down and continue on our way.”

To be continued...

Copyright © 2004 by Tala Bar

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