Chapter 54

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Cowal led the way through the trees. He signaled them to stop and listened.

"I don't hear anyone. For now you need to keep silent. Brook always has men around this area," he said.

They nodded and he continued.

Cowal never seemed to question where he was going as he led them deeper and deeper into the trees. Hailie had to wonder how often he had walked through this area. They stopped a few times and listened but they could hear no one and Cowal's eyes didn't pick up any movement. If Cowal said there was no one then there was no one.

It wasn't long before they heard the river. A few seconds later they saw the cliffs. The river was loud. Zigzag went closer to the edge. Hailie grabbed him and pulled him back so hard he fell to the ground.

"What the hell?" he asked, trying to keep his voice low. It wouldn't have mattered much if he had shouted. The river was too loud.

"Do not go near the edge," Hailie growled. She pushed Kendra and Shen away from it as well.

"Then how do you expect us to get down there?" Shen asked.

"I do not expect you to be doing anything except standing at least ten feet away from the edge. Now move," she said pushing them further back towards the trees. "I will be climbing down."

"Hailie--" Cowal started.

"Shut up!" she said. "I am the one climbing down." She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She pointed to the cliff on the other side of the river. "Look. The cliff is mainly mud. There are a few rocks yes, but most of what you are seeing is mud. That mud cannot support your weight. If you try to climb down the chances of you slipping or the mud just crumbling in your hands are great and you will die if you fall. I know how to climb cliffs like this. Do any of you?" Zigzag, Kendra and Shen didn't answer.

"I can do it. Give me the bags," Cowal said.

"If Minerva cried when I left, what do you think will happen if you were to die? And what about this napping girl you wanted me to meet? I am not an idiot. I know you were talking about your daughter who could not even be three. So shut up and stay here. I will be back soon," Hailie said.

"Be careful," was all he said. Kendra only gritted her teeth and looked away. Shen looked as if he wanted to strangle her and Zigzag looked like he wanted to punch her in the face, but none of them stopped her.

Hailie knelt down at the edge and looked over, forming a plan in her mind before she swung her legs over the edge and dropped down to a rock. She held on with both hands until she found footholds and then began her decent. The thing to remember when climbing mud or limestone, or anything slippery and weak like that, was that sticking your hands into holes in the rocks was better than holding onto the rocks themselves, and her hands fit nicely into the holes. With solid rocks she only needed to stick at least one finger into a hole but mud rocks required her to find holes large enough to fit her entire hand.

It was painfully slow going down. She couldn't go any faster but that didn't stop her from wishing she could. Hailie glanced up and saw them looking down at her. She almost let go. Those idiots! They'll fall over. She pressed her head against the mud and closed her eyes. They wouldn't fall. It wasn't raining. The mud was slippery but it didn't mean they would fall. They weren't running. They were just standing there and she had to get down or Eli will die. Yes. Think about that instead. The lifesaving moss was just below her. She had two bags to fill and she had to do it quickly.

She continued her decent.

Hailie dropped down the last few feet and looked around. There was bamboo all around like Celeste had said. It should be on the rocks close to the river. It wasn't too hard to find something that was such a bright red. She took out the bag of moss and smelt it. She used her knife to scrape some off the rock and held it up to her nose. They smelt almost the same. This was it.

She took off the bags and started scraping. One bag and her pockets were filled with the red moss. She filled the other with the green. They would need more dried moss anyway. She just hoped she had enough red moss to save Eli.

Hailie strapped the two bags back to her back. She could feel the extra weight but it didn't matter. She was used to carrying much heavier things when she climbed. She planned her route and then jumped and grabbed a hold of a rock above her. Slow and methodically she went up. One hand, then the other. One foot, then the other. She was faster going up than down.

"Hailie, hurry up," Zigzag said.

"Do not rush me," Hailie said.

"Cowal hears men."

She tried not to think about it. She couldn't rush but she did try to quicken her pace. She was ten feet from the top when she slipped. Her hands were empty and she felt nothing beneath her feet. She grabbed at the mud-rock. Her left hand found a hold and she stopped abruptly, hanging in the air from one hand. A cry escaped from her lips. She shoved her right hand into another hole and kicked her feet into the mud. Her left arm fell uselessly to the side. She felt dizzy.

"Hailie, hurry," Kendra said. Hailie could see the glint from her sword. She clenched her teeth. Her arm wasn't hurting. She was carrying a bucket in her left hand so she could only use her right. That was it. There was a heavy bucket in her hand and no pain in her shoulder. She braced her knees against the rock, crouched and then pushed herself up and grabbed a hold of a slab of mud right above her head. She threw herself up again and grabbed another before the first could break off. Her shoulder throbbed and her hands were surely cut and bruised, but soon she was close enough for Shen and Cowal to reach down and pull her up. She got to her feet and pulled the bags over her head. She handed them to Shen.

"Cowal, take him back to the village now," Hailie said.

"You're coming as well," Cowal said.

"No. There is a reason I brought this many people with me and it was not for the company. Take Shen back to the village. We will lead them away."

"Zigzag and Kendra will handle it themselves. You are injured," Shen said.

"I told you to go. That was not a request. Go now." Hailie pushed them back the way they came.

"I will take him there and come back for you. Do you remember how to get to the beach from here?" Cowal asked.

"Of course."

"Get there and find your way to the sea grapes. I'll meet you there," he said.

"We will be there," Hailie said.

Shen and Cowal ran into the trees.

"Hailie, please tell me you have a plan," Kendra said.

Hailie held her right hand to her shoulder. She felt dizzy again.

"They have to see us," Hailie said.

"I was really hoping that wasn't her plan," Zigzag said.

"When you hear the first shout, run to you right. I will lead you to the beach. Trust me, but try not to fight them. We must avoid that as much as possible," Hailie said.

They stood there waiting.

"I see them!" came the shout.

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