45. To the Top

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I might have been a little hasty in my judgement. The mountain paths we started to climb were steep, and the rope did come in handy. More than once I stumbled, and it was the only thing that prevented me from sliding back down the gravelly path, towards a fate that included a cracked skull and several broken bones. The one time that was really dangerous, however, was not when I slipped and fell, but Karim. The sudden, violent tug on the rope nearly ripped me off my feet, and only by combining all our strength did Mr Ambrose and I prevent our favourite turbaned giant from plummeting down the mountain.

Mr Ambrose never slipped. Mr Ambrose never fell. It was as if the mountain's rocks, knowing that it was just another rock walking around on them, extended him special privileges. He never even teetered or showed the slightest hesitation in his movement. Briskly he strode up the path, his eyes cold, his face set in stone.

We took a brief break around noon, and then started up again, up, up and farther up. The path grew even steeper. Often now, we were more climbing than we were walking, pulling ourselves from rock to rock. Sweat was streaming down my back in rivers, every drop caused by exertion, and not one by heat. The stifling hot jungle was long behind us. Up here, the air was starting to become bitterly cold. Of course, the only one who didn't seem to notice the temperature was Mr Rikkard Ambrose.

It was probably about 1 pm, just as the sun was starting to sink towards the horizon after reaching its zenith, that we came to the wall.

Not a man-made wall. Oh no, that would have been manageable. We did have rope after all, and two tall men who, if one stood on the other's shoulders, could probably have topped most walls that weren't built to deter hordes of barbarian invaders. But this wall was another matter entirely. From top to bottom, it was made out of solid, rough, unbreakable rock, with scarcely a handhold in sight anywhere. Somewhere deep down I knew it was simply a natural rock formation, but it looked as if it had been placed here by some ancient race of giants to block anyone from going farther. Our path ended at the bottom of the wall. There was no other way in sight.

'What do we do now?' I demanded. This couldn't be it! We couldn't be forced to give up now, after all we had been through!

'Climb,' was Mr Ambrose's cool reply.

I stared at him, then let my eyes wander to the wall and finally back to him.

'Have you lost your marbles, Sir?' I enquired, politely.

'I have never been in the habit of collecting marbles to begin with, Mr Linton. Look.' And, raising his arm, he pointed up the wall to a spot I could hardly make out from down here. I squinted.

'Something is up there.'

'What impressive cognitive capabilities, Mr Linton. Yes, there is something up there. A ledge.'

'A ledge?'

'To which we are going to climb up.'

'You're joking!'

'It is a mystery to me why you insist on accusing me of such a useless habit. Well, Mr Linton?'

'We are seriously going up there?'

'Indeed we are. Unless your manuscript can point us a different way?'

I scowled. 'No. This is where it said to go.'

'Then what are you waiting for?'

My eyes went wide. 'What? You're not expecting me to go first!'

'Certainly, Mr Linton. When climbing a mountain, the least experienced climber always goes first. That way, the experienced climbers can catch them if they fall.' His eyes slid over me, assessing, lingering particularly long on my generous derriere. 'Don't worry. It won't be easy, but I'm strong. I'm ninety-nine per cent sure I'll be able to manage.'

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