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hands, and
realized he had come to the end of one bit of rope. He picked up another
length, and tied the two together.
"What kind of a knot is that?" Dekh babbled, moving closer. "Will you teach me
how to tie it?
What. . . ." Mika sighed. There was obviously no getting rid of the lad, and
perhaps he could be useful. Patiently, he began to explain.
Though Dekh got tangled up in the rope once, they soon were ready. Mika tied
the final end of the rope to the axle of his wagon. Then the two of them
together pushed and heaved the massive coil over the edge of the cliff.
It plunged, unwinding as it fell-as Mika had planned. "It's too long," said
Dekh, peering downward. The rope ran all the way to the rocks at the base of
the cliff, where a length of it snaked back and forth.
"That's all right," said Mika with relief: far better too long than too short.
"We can haul some of it back in." And they did, though it was hard work; they
were hauling on a hundred cubits of hefty rope, no light load.
They peered down again; only a short length ran across the ground at the
cliff's foot.
"Now what?" asked Dekh.
"Untie the rope from the wagon," said Mika. He had only tied it there to
secure it temporarily.
Dekh skipped over to the axle and began to pick at the knot. Some moments
later, Mika sighed with frustration-couldn't the boy undo a simple knot? He
headed over to help Dekh but, with a little crow of victory, Dekh turned
around with the free rope-end in his hand  and, in proffering it to Mika,
managed to drop it onto the floor.
The weight of a hundred cubits of rope hung down the cliff. This end was
secured by-nothing.
In a long moment of frozen terror, Mika gazed as the rope end moved,
scrabbling over the cavern floor, pulled toward the edge of the cliff. His
body seemed stolid, immovable, but only because time telescoped in that moment
of fear; in truth, Mika was launching himself into instant motion, hurtling
toward the rope. If it went over the edge, there went all hope of riches; and
possibly, his life with it, for the gods only knew whether they could escape
this cave without the rope.
One foot moved in front of the other; the rope gave a little leap into the air
as it whipped over the edge of the cave mouth; Mika dived for it.
The rope brushed one hand. His fingers clasped-and missed.
Mika landed, stomach painfully first, on the very cave lip. For a long moment,
he balanced insecurely, certain he was about to topple into the void  but at
last his weight shifted back toward his knees.
He had lost everything. He
He noticed that there was still rope running down the side of the cliff. He
had landed bodily atop the tag end. With fearful care, he reached down,
grabbed the rope, then rolled into the cave, wrapping it around his fist, his
entire body shaking in reaction.
"You lackwit!" Mika said with quiet disgust. "You scat terbrain!
Haven't you the slightest-" By now he was shouting-but a sudden thought made
him pause. He peered at Dekh with narrowed eyes. What better way to thwart his
plans than by losing the rope? Could the boy actually have planned this?
But Dekh was blushing a deep, shameful red, and the expression on his face
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bespoke a veritable agony of selfcontempt.
Mika turned away and gave a shuddering sigh. Oh well, the boy would be
hard-pressed to
botch the next task. "Take the broom and snag the loop," he said, pointing to
the loop on which Dekh had descended, which still hung in the cavern entrance.
Dekh did as told, almost teetering over the edge himself in eagerness. Mika
contemplated the boy, tempted to give him a shove. Dekh was clumsy enough;
Mika could pass it off as an accident-but the moment passed. Dekh caught his
balance.
"Now, take the loop in both hands, and hold a length between your fists,"
ordered Mika. When
Dekh did so, Mika drew a knife of bronze, and sawed at the rope between Dekh's
fists. At last, it parted. Mika took one end, and tied it to the rope that
hung down the cliff. He hauled on the free end, drawing it into the cave, and
secured it to the axle of his wagon.
"There," said Mika in satisfaction.
Dekh looked down, eyeing the rope that ran down the cliff then up, at the
length that ran to the pulley at the peak above the cavern opening, and the
length that ran back down from the pulley and into the cave, where it was
fixed to Mika's wagon.
"I see," said Dekh. "Now we can haul Nijon up when he returns."
"Err-yes," said Mika. "Yes. Precisely."
Dekh was happily banging away on the wagon. Mika had explained the need to
disassemble it;
he doubted the hoist would bear the weight of the whole vehicle.
"But why do you want to get the wagon down the cliff?" Dekh had puzzled.
"So we can take away more of the treasure," Mika had explained.
"After Nijon gets back, you mean."
"Of course, of course, why, certainly. After Nijon gets back."
The cart was held together with wooden pegs. Metal hardware was far too
precious to waste on things like wagons; most wood construction used pegs,
joints, or glue. Each peg had to be driven out of its hole with blows of a
hammer. Unfortunately, Mika had only the vaguest idea what he was doing, and
Dekh had none: The boy was wedging his peg farther in.
"No, no, you dullard," Mika shouted over the noise of blows. "The other way."
He showed the boy what to do, wondering whether Dekh was help or hindrance.
Then he turned to return to his own task.
Shemli was bent over, shouldering a bag of grain. "That's my millet!" Mika
protested.
"Matli says-"
"Matli can hang. It's my millet, and you can't have it." "Do you want dinner
tonight?" Shemli demanded.
I-
"The firewood is ours. Understand? And the beef. Unless you want to chew raw
millet-"
"All right, all right," said Mika, scowling.
"Supplies are limited," said Shemli. "We're likely to run out in a week or so,
Matli says, even on restricted rations." "We should be able to leave before
then," said Mika. The woman stared at him as if he were mad. "How?" she
demanded.
Mika motioned her over to the rope, and began to explain his scheme.
Not entirely awake, Mika lay in his bedroll, facing the wall of the cave. From
behind him came the noises of morning bustle, but he had no great desire to
face the day. He and Dekh had spent the whole previous day taking apart the
wagon. Mika wondered when, if ever, he would get enough sleep, and promised
himself he'd spend weeks lounging about, drinking ale and eating sumptuous
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delicacies, once he returned to Purasham a rich man. Sighing, he at last
turned over to survey the scene.
Women were loading up bundles of food and treasure. Dekh danced around,
offering help and asking pointless questions. The women laughed at him and
gave him bits of food, which he greedily consumed.
Mika scowled. The treasure was huge, but between them, the women were loading
up a substantial portion. He rose, and went to Matli. "What is this?" he
demanded.
"We are leaving," Matli said, rapping him on the leg with her cane. "Out of my
way."
"What? But you can't"
"Certainly we can. That contraption of yours will lower us down."
"Yes, but-"
"No buts about it. Are we to stay here and starve?" "But if we all work
together," said Mika soothingly, "we can transport the entire treasure. Each
of you shall have a share-"
Matli barked laughter. "Bah," she said. "Return to Purasham in the company of
a man, and a schemer at that? Where women are chattel and men own all? You
would plunder us of our portion."
"Do you hope to do better, wandering the wilderness? Defenseless maidens,
alone in the wicked world?" "Defenseless?" snorted Matli. "Try to stop us, and
see how defenseless we are."
Pleading, Mika followed them out as they went to his hoist, then worked
together to lower themselves down the cliff. None bore more than she could
comfortably carry, Mika saw with relief; they were not planning to steal his
wagon. Still, he scowled as a good quarter of the dragon's hoard disappeared
down the cliff. [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]




 

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