Jacob's Ladder - Part 6

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Chapter 6

The march to Hermit's Ridge seemed longer than on Jac's previous visits, though one had been on shorter legs and the other whilst bleeding. The shadows lengthened and so did his stride. His mind raced with questions and with accusations. Some said the hermit could see the future. Anyone who had seen Jac's future and not warned him about it held part of Milo's death in their hands. The hermit had said years ago that Jac would want someone to kill him soon enough. What was that if not a prediction? Jac drew one of Rennor's knives. The one that had taken a life in the cellar just a day before. He would have his answers.

As on his last visit the sun was riding the ridge by the time Jac reached the slopes. The sky burned red, cloudbanks tinged with flame. Behind Jack's eyes another fire licked around the beams of his cottage once again. He began to climb, cold in his resolve.

What drew his attention from the faint path before him Jac couldn't say. Perhaps a whisper, or a glimmer, or nothing. But there in the dying light, across slopes where bracken and gorse struggled to keep a foothold, a sword lay. It had been left upon a flat boulder and the sunset echoed along its blade. Jac knew it well. He had owned that sword since he was seven and taken two lives with it.

Jac sheathed the knife he had been carrying and advanced on the rock. He kept his eyes upon the sword, somehow worried that if he looked away it might vanish.

When the ground gave way beneath him he didn't even have time to yell.

If Jac had fallen the distance to the cave floor beneath in Jacob Summer's body he would have broken an ankle at the least, probably a leg. If Armston had fallen he would have broken his good leg and his wooden one, and maybe his neck. Rennor knew how to fall. He absorbed half the impact in both thighs and the rest as he rolled to the side. Even so it winded him and for a time he lay on his back staring up at the slot through which he had fallen. A slow rain of debris sifted down as the remains of the twigs and bracken set to cover the hole followed his fall.

Eventually Jac's lungs agreed to allow him more than a gasp of air and he sat with a pained wheeze. His shoulder hurt but nothing seemed broken. He edged around the space that held him, feeling his way as the light from above was too weak to reveal much.

"Hell." The cave ran the same way the crack above ran, too broad to reach both sides together, tapering to a fissure at either end, the roof closing above him too high to reach, even with his fingertips at a jump. The walls were wet and offered too little purchase for escape even if it were a straight climb with no overhang.

A trap then, baited with his sword. Jac sat with his back to the wall. He would try to climb out when the daylight returned. Then at least he could look for cracks where he might wedge his knives and hunt for handholds. But the hermit didn't want him climbing out, so it seemed unlikely that it would be easy or even possible.

Gaia had asked him, what if you freeze? What if you hang? Would you die then? Jac supposed that the question was now, what if you starve in a hole, licking the rocks for moisture? He felt that the answer would be that it would make a true end of him. The blood had felt vital every time. The touch of his blood on skin. On the skin of the one that killed him.

The night passed by in pieces, broken by dreams of murder and of falling, punctuated by periods where Jac lay shivering on the cold earth beneath the hole. For a while the moon reached down to touch him, but her caress held no warmth.

Dawn found Jac climbing, falling, cursing, and climbing again. By wedging his blades into one long crack he could reach the ceiling but where it curved away toward the fissure above he could make no progress. He was an insect trapped in a jar, waiting to die.

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