Tales of a Horse Thief, Cycle 2 Part 3b

Tales of a Horse Thief, Cycle 2 Part 3b

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Getting to the valley proved to be more difficult than he had originally thought. Loden had greatly underestimated the distance, as well as the terrain. The fairly easy downhill slope they had initially set out on ran for a bit over a yat and gave over to a steeper incline which they could still walk down, but had to be careful of the route they chose. To their right they saw that a fast flowing river had cut a deep gorge into the stone of the mountain. The river did not appear too deep, though they could not tell for sure due to the poor light. Eventually they came to a point where the way down became steeper and they had to cautiously climb down feet first. They soon could no longer see the river, but could still hear it some distance away.

At the base of the steeper cliff they came to an area that was overgrown with blue-green shrubbery. A short distance from the cliff base they found soil, dark and rich smelling. Large flowers of white and light blue bloomed from the shrubs and there were also a few spindly trees, though none of the flora was familiar to either of them. They crossed the area cautiously, unsure if the plants were dangerous. There were small crawling bugs on the plants which showed no interest in the intruders. Eventually they came in sight of a cliff wall that went up, which they had not expected, as the lay of the land had hidden it from them. The wall seemed shorter to their right and as they moved in that direction the sound of the river became louder. They did eventually come to a spot where the wall was only ten or so paces in height. It was fairly easy to climb up.

From the top of the wall there was an abrupt fifty pace drop into the river that rushed down the mountainside. They also had a much better view of the valley. There was another mountainside within a couple yat, though they could not tell if it was a different mountain or just another facing of the one they were on. They could not easily climb down to the gorge of the river, nor did Loden trust the look of it, to all appearances the gorge was steep and the river had cut a jagged course through the rock. Regardless of its depth, it was the fastest river Loden had ever seen. The rock wall extended to the left as far as they could see and it was not difficult to traverse its top.

The valley floor came into better view, Loden saw that there was in fact some sort of tower, though its size and distance was difficult to gauge. He avoided looking at the sky as much as possible, happy to pay attention to his footing. Finally Asta called for a rest. They drank a bit of water, ate some of the meat and a bit of hard candy then looked around them in wonder, though Loden still mostly avoided looking at the moons. They unsettled his mind and reminded him of his recent captivity.

“Hey. Look at that.” Asta pointed to a spot below them and to the right.

Loden looked, but did not notice anything of interest, “What? Where?”

“Right there, it looks like a stairway of sorts.”

Loden spotted what she was indicating, but to him they did not look much like stairs, rather, shallow impressions down the outside of the wall they were on. However, they did seem to descend a considerable distance down that side of the wall and certainly they seemed to offer the best course to the valley floor.

She looked at him with an excited expression, “Come on, let’s see if we can get down there.”

They moved back along the wall and stopped above the area where the stair-like protrusions were. They did look more like narrow stairs from above, though if that was what they were, weathering had worn them down. To him they looked more like a naturally bumpy feature along the wall. Asta crouched down and hung out over the ledge. Loden readied himself to grab her should she fall.

“It looks like there’s a door in the wall.” She shifted her position and looked down the other side.

Curious, he did as well, though he saw nothing of interest, “I doubt it’s a door, who would put a door here?”

She stood and looked around, “What if this wall is not a natural feature? Maybe this entire area is a garden of some sort.”

“Stupid place to put a garden.”

She frowned at him, “Maybe.”

He went to the opposite edge and looked down at the stairs again, “I should be able to slide down the wall to the stairs.”


“Without a rope I don’t see any other way down.”

“We have a rope.”

“Right. Don’t you need that?” He pointed to the rope halter Flint had made for her.

“Yeah, to get down there. Give me a hand.” She dropped the coat and turned her back to him, “The two knots under the shoulder blades.”

He hesitated a moment, feeling a little uncomfortable, then shrugged and started to untie the knots. It was very difficult to loosen the first one, though once he had it started it was easy enough to untie.

She passed him a small flint blade, wrapped in a scrap of cloth and a bronze needle, “Hold those please.”

It did not take long before she was able to slip the halter off and soon had the rest of it undone, he was a bit surprised by how much rope there was. He was also acutely aware of her breasts. It made him feel a bit like a cad and he looked away embarrassed.

She laughed, “You act like you’ve never seen breasts before.”

“Hardly.” He still refused to look at her.

“Don’t be silly Loden. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Can I have those?”

“Yeah,” he turned, still avoiding looking directly at her and passed back the items.

She sighed, “Can you tie this off? Maybe loop it over that protrusion.”

He reached for the rope and she grabbed his wrist. Startled he pulled back, but her grip was surprisingly firm and the ledge they were on was not a place to start a pulling match. He sighed as well and looked at her.

“That’s better. Look, we might be here a long time and you and I might be the only humans here. So, I’d suggest you become more comfortable with what you see. I never took you for the prudish type.” She gave him the rope.

“Never used to be.” He went over to the protrusion, tied one end of the rope into a loop and placed it over the rock. It seemed secure enough, so he tossed the other end and watched as the rope fell to its full length. The rope was nearly to the level of the stairs, though where they had tied it meant that it was almost a pace to the right of the stairs. He glanced around for another spot to tie it off, there really was not any other option.

“I think that’s good,” Asta said after giving the situation a critical look. “We’ll have to swing over to the stairs. If we’re lucky we’ll be able to flip the loop off the anchor point once we’re down.”

“Do you want to go first?”

“Sure.” She picked up his coat and tied the sleeves around her neck. Personally he would have been happier if she had just left it. The coat really stank.

Loden positioned himself to be able to help anchor the rope and also to be able to help her over the edge. She certainly seemed fearless. She gave him a wink as she took a firm hold on the rope and he smiled. Then she carefully walked backwards down the wall. He realized that she had changed a lot since Cof Crossroads. He also thought that he had changed a lot since crossing the East Sister River, though he was not sure those changes were for the best.

When Asta was near the end of the rope, she kicked off from the wall and was easily able to reach the stairs. She shouted up, “There is a door!”

Weird. He watched as she backed up a couple of paces down the narrow weather worn stairs. She stayed low, keeping three contact points at all times. Then she waved to him, “Alright.”

After checking to make sure the rope was still secured he lowered himself over the edge. Then he started backing down the wall. A few paces down he could see that there was in fact a very large door, or maybe a carving of one in the outer face of the wall. Though it was well worn by exposure he could see that it was similar to the door they had found in the ruins near the falls. When he came close to the end of the rope, he kicked off from the wall and made it to the stairs. He managed to get his feet anchored and hold onto the rope. He paused a moment or two to make sure nothing was amiss.

“You alright?”

“I’m good.” He carefully gave the rope a bit of a flick, but could not get enough leverage to slip it from its anchor point. He moved up the narrow knob of the stairs and with one arm outstretched leaned into the stone door. Then with his left hand he gave a firmer flick to the rope and down it came. He slipped, sliding down a couple of steps. He flattened himself as best he could and his feet caught the edge of one of the steps just as Asta pushed down on his butt.

He had let go of the rope when he slipped but Asta had been able to snatch it, “Got it! You good?”


“Give me a moment to adjust things.” He glanced back and watched as she put his coat on and then looped the rope over a shoulder, she used a scrap of cloth to tie the rope to the coat.

Carefully they started backing down the stairs, keeping three contact points at all times. It was slow going.

After a while she called up to him, “You finding it easier to breathe?”

He had not really been aware that he was breathing better until she mentioned it, “Yeah, much.”

They reached the bottom of the wall and came to a broad ledge that likely had been some sort of observation point. Another stairway went down the side of the mountain in the direction of the river. They took another break and had a bit of water. They both looked at the distant tower and the valley below them. The tower rose well above the tree level, from what Loden could see the trees below them were very tall, though the angle made for a weird perspective.

“How big do you think that tower is?”


“It’s a lot further away than I first thought.”

“Seems like it. These stairs are much less worn, though there seems to be more debris and dirt.”

“Let’s keep going.” Loden lead the way down the next long flight of stairs, the going was much easier but he was still very careful where he placed his feet. He kept one hand in contact with the mountain. The sound of the river became louder.

Eventually they came to another platform with a tall wall on the opposite end, there was an arch ahead of them. Beyond the arch more stairs went down slope along the edge of the gorge. To the right of the arch, in an alcove, was a double door carved into the mountain. Dirt and debris had piled against the base of the door. It was much smaller than the one above, however, it was still a bit over three paces in height. There did not seem to be a handle or lever.

“Let’s keep going.” Asta suggested.

Loden looked the door over again then gave a nod, “Yeah, let’s go.”

Asta took the lead and passed under the arch. There was a broad stairwell above the river, though the gorge was broader and not as deep as it had been further uphill. They proceeded down to a bend in the river and after rounding the corner Asta stopped in front of him, she gave an inarticulate exclamation.

The river dropped over a broad falls and formed a huge pool before flowing through a narrow canal to another drop off. Around the pool were the ruins of what had been a magnificent town or fortress of some sort. Huge towers lay in toppled ruins, some of the lesser buildings had been crushed by the toppled towers, there were a few structures that seemed to be mostly intact. A massive flock of strange looking birds rose into the sky, circled the ruins then flew off.

Loden had not expected this, “Wow.”


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