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.“It’s a risk.I’d rather set up the town down here, but we don’t have the water resource we’d need, nor the wood.We’ve only seen copses, the trees too young to be used for anything useful.So if Korbin thinks we can make it to the top with the wagons.”Arten grunted.“Let’s see how stable the rockslide is first.We can always stop and continue north.”“I’m not so certain of that.” Tom nodded toward where Walter and Jackson stood at the base of the slide itself, the first wagon already starting to crawl up the slope along its base, angled sharply to the north; it was too steep to head directly up the side.The wagon rocked as it was pulled over the rough stone.One of the guardsmen led the wagon, cutting through any tangled undergrowth in the way.“Walter’s intent on getting to the upper plains.He’s been searching for a way up since we left the Falls.”“And he’s right.” When Tom raised his eyebrows in question, the commander added, “To the Court, the difference between having a settlement down here or up there is significant.The Bluff is a boundary, and the Carrente Family position will be stronger if Walter can establish a town, or even an outpost, on the far side.”The wagon had reached the edge of the slide, and both men watched in silence as its driver and the group of men around it turned it so it could head back toward them, a little higher up the scree.Tom drew in a sharp breath when a few rocks gave way beneath one wheel, the stone clattering down the short distance to the grass, but the horses didn’t falter.Once the leader was on its way, a ragged cheer erupted from the rest of the men and women still on the ground, and the second wagon started out.“I’ll feel better about it once we’re all safely at the top of the Bluff,” Tom said, then searched for Ana.He found her at the third wagon, with Korbin and his wife, Lyda.He headed toward her, smiling as Ana reached out to touch Lyda’s growing stomach; Arten moved away, toward Walter and Jackson and the rest of the Armory.“Has he started kicking yet?” Ana asked.“Not yet,” Lyda said, her voice soft, her face radiant in the sun, a glow that Tom had seen in Ana’s face when she was pregnant with Colin, a vibrance that had shown through no matter how sweaty, grimy, or dirty Ana’s hair and face had been.Lyda’s hair was lighter than Ana’s, her face rounder, skin smoother.But Tom thought the differences had more to do with the difference in their ages.“Hmm,” Ana said wryly, then smiled.“It won’t be long now though.” It was the first smile he’d seen on her face that wasn’t tainted with anger or weariness or regret since they’d left Trent.A pure smile, touching her eyes, trembling in her hands.When she drew away from Lyda, one hand going to her chest and the hidden pendant there, Tom took her other hand and kissed it.She gave him a questioning look, but he shook his head.The wagon beside them gave a lurch and started forward, Korbin and Lyda moving to follow.“He’s a lucky man,” Tom said.“I was worried about her when they told us they intended to come with the wagons,” Ana said.“I thought they’d head back to Andover, since they were expecting a child.”“Why were you worried?”They started after the wagon, walking hand in hand, watching where they stepped.Ana glanced ahead, to make certain that Lyda and Korbin wouldn’t overhear.“She seemed a little.soft.Delicate.I wasn’t certain she’d be able to handle the walking or the work.But she’s handling it better than some of the others.”Tom nodded.Ahead, the wagon had reached the first turn, Korbin overseeing the change in direction.The wheelwright shouted for help.Tom squeezed Ana’s hand.“I’d better go be useful,” he said, then jogged forward.As he put his shoulder to the side of the wagon and shoved hard, he saw Ana rejoin Lyda, both cutting up ahead of the horses.And then sweat ran down into his eyes, and he focused his attention on getting the damn wagon to move.Afternoon grew steadily into evening, and the wagons zigzagged their way up the slide, each pass getting shorter as the rockfall narrowed.The first wagon passed the neck of the slide an hour before sunset, struggling up the last section into the bowl that had sunk into the upper plains beyond, where the ground was flatter and less rugged.They reached the top of the Bluff moments later, whistles and cheers echoing down the scree from above.Tom paused to stare up at the men waving from the heights and smiled, relief coursing through him.All down the trail, people clapped and whistled in response, the excited conversation that had died down after the first hour of climbing returning with laughter and claps on the back.Dogs barked, tails wagging, and goats bleated.“I told you it was possible,” Korbin said, and Tom turned, gave him a grin.Korbin smiled in return, pushed his glasses up onto his nose.Behind him, Tom saw the ground beneath the back wheel of the wagon slip.“Watch out!” he barked and surged forward, rock and dirt cascading away from the wheel in a small avalanche.The wagon began to tilt as he brushed past Korbin—Then his shoulder slammed into the corner of the wagon, his feet sliding in the dirt.For a moment, he thought the ground beneath him would give way, that his weight would set the entire slope tumbling down to the plains below, but his boots found solid stone and held.The weight of the wagon began digging into his shoulder.He gasped, sweat already sliding down into his eyes, down his back.He heard shouts as men began converging on the wagon from all sides [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]