The canyon curved under a busy rock seep, bristling with dark clumps of watercress. A heavy patter of drop-drop-drop mixed into the sluggish sounds of the river’s water hugging its course, and then, gradually, another water noise rose in the mix, a heavy crashing.
“Rapids?” Cheela wondered.
They rounded another corner in the canyon, and Dyan’s first impression was that the canyon had simply ended, in a tumult of water noise. When spray hit her in the face, she realized what it had to be.
“Waterfall,” she said. Gauging its height in the darkness was a haphazard enterprise at best, but she tried anyway. “Thirty feet?”
“There must be a way up,” Cheela said.
“There isn’t.” It was Jak’s voice.
Dyan felt something sharp poke her in her lower back.
“Don’t move,” Eirig whispered into her ear. Over the silty stink of the river and her own sweat, she suddenly detected the iron-rich whiff of blood.
She turned her head slowly, slightly, in time to see Jak, his own knife at Cheela’s throat, unclip her whip and both bolas from her belt and hips. He tossed all three items into the churning foam at the base of the waterfall, and then her bow. Finally, he stepped back.
“That’s much better,” he said.
“What—” Dyan started, not even sure what question she meant to ask.
Jak slapped her across the face. “Shut up!”
Her cheek stung, and she said nothing.
“Easy, Jak,” Eirig said. The one-armed boy took away Dyan’s weapons, but rather than tossing them, he slung the bow over his shoulder and tucked the monofilament weapons into a big leather purse on his belt. He trembled as he did it, and where his skin brushed against Dyan’s, he felt feverish. He dug into the pockets of her coat, too, and came up with her light stick.
“I’m sorry about your arm,” she said softly.
“That’s twice!” Jak barked. “The third time, I kill you. Now put your hands on top of your heads and walk.”
Dyan did as she was told. After a second’s hesitation, so did Cheela, and they sloshed back down the river. For the first time, Dyan felt the chill of the evening, biting into the skin of her legs and feet, wet inside their tall rider’s boots, and blowing into her open coat with the stiff breeze.
She was puzzled at first about Jak’s insistence on silence; no one could possibly be around to hear them, unless maybe the renegades of the Wahai had come this far downriver. But then she realized that Jak didn’t know the Crechelings and the Magister had split up. For all he knew, the others were close by, following or watching.
They sloshed back around the arch, following Dyan’s footsteps in the riverbed rather than climbing up and under the stone vault like Cheela had done. At the furthest bend of the river, she realized that Eirig was humming.
He was humming the Gallows Song.
“Shh,” Jak urged him gently, and Eirig fell quiet.
The moon rose above the edge of the canyon wall, throwing silver light over the stone, sand and grass. Everything solid looked gray, and the river was a ribbon of dark blood at the bottom of it all. The moon’s light made the shadows that remained look even more impenetrable. More walking, and they reached the bottom of the chimney where Dyan had mistaken the bats for swallows.
The moonlight shone down into the bottom of a chimney, and Dyan saw a rope dangling.
Jak ignored her. “Can you still climb?” he asked his friend.
Eirig chuckled. “It’s just an arm,” he said. “It’s not like I lost anything important .”
Dyan thought of Wayland, who couldn’t be serious about anything.
“Here’s how this is going to work,” Jak told them all. “Eirig, you climb to the top. I’m going to send the girls … the prisoners, up one at a time, and you tie them. I’ll come last.”
“Done,” Eirig agreed.
“You’d better give me their weapons,” Jak added. “Just in case.”
Eirig handed his purse