Rolling by Peter Jerrim

It took them a whole morning to cross the bar at the river-mouth but by then a stiff offshore breeze was blowing and they set sail. By evening the land was only a smudge in the distance behind them. To the north and south the late-lit sea arched up until its pink wall merged with the overhead grey.

The breeze dropped during the night. They took it in turns to paddle and sleep in pairs, but by the following afternoon the breeze lifted again and for two days they rested as they were driven quickly forward.

'Why is the sea so big?' asked Sherri one afternoon.

'It's the weather,' Rodji replied. 'You need a large area of water to keep it stable. Our world is small, and if it wasn't for the sea then the temperature and the rainfall would change so unpredictably from season to season that most living things couldn't survive. But because we've got the sea we've never had any problems like that, till now, that is.'

'Except the flood,' said Copper.

'Look ahead.' Fostos pointed to a towering black cloud that had materialised about a thousand measures in front of them.

'Not again,' said Copper. 'The one on the plain was bad enough.'

'It's not a whirly,' said Rodji. 'It's worse than that.'

The wind dropped. Lightning flickered from the cloud to the sea.'How come it appeared so suddenly?' said Fostos.

'I don't know,' Rodji said, 'but we'd better get ready for it fast.'

By the time they had stowed their gear under an awning made from the sail and secured themselves with lines, the storm was nearly upon them. The black water glinted in the lightning. They waited.

A clap of thunder smacked into them from directly above. Its force was so great they felt rather than heard it. The raft was depressed into the water and then surged up again. Blinding rain collapsed on them. The awning that protected the provisions was torn in two by the weight of the water.

A huge sea rose. They were tossed high on the crest of each wave, dropped into the trough and then up again. Through the roar of the sea Rodji heard a scream. He reached out and found Copper's hand on one side and Fostos' on the other. As he felt for Sherri's line he heard a scream above them. Sherri was floating up the side of the wave. She had been thrown off and her line pulled under the raft. Its friction on the hull and the tow of the wave made it impossible for them to haul her in. Sherri could not swim.

Then, as quickly as it had hit, the storm departed, and they were left floating in a choppy sea in the light of early evening. The storm growled shorewards. But Sherri was nowhere to be seen. Her line drooped in the water near the raft.

'Help,' a voice croaked from the stern. They found Sherri grasping the ropes that held the rudder to the raft. They hauled her aboard and she sank into the slops on the deck. Copper lifted her up.

'We'd better dry you off,' she said. 'We've all got to get dry and warm as quickly as we can. It'll be dark soon.'

Only then did Rodji recognise the courage his sister and friends had shown in coming with him. He watched them as they comforted Sherri and prepared for the night. By now, he thought, they must be exhausted with terror yet not one of them had complained.

'I've got to say sorry to you lot,' Rodji began.

'For what?' asked Sherri. 'It's not your fault I went over.'

'None of you has said a word about your fear of deep water. You must be out of your minds with it all the time. I'm sorry, but I didn't even think of it.'

'Neither did we,' said Sherri.Copper said, 'Didn't you know, Rodji? Since the day you returned the fear has gone. No one is afraid of deep water or holes in the ground any more. Someone must have told you.'


'I don't think I would have come if I was still scared of the water,' said Sherri.

'The Day Light. It must be the Day Light,' said Rodji.

'What do you mean?' asked Copper.

'It's a bit hard to explain, but the fear of deep water, and the fear of caves and so on came from the Day Light. It mustn't be working properly.'

'You mean the world will go dark?' said Fostos.

'We'll know soon enough--if the summer days get cooler. When the Day Light and the Night Light lose their brightness the world will begin to grow cold. Then we'll only have a few days left.'

Sherri shivered and looked out to the Day Light which was far in the west, over the land. 'I feel cold already,' she said.

'I don't think it will happen that fast,' Rodji said. 'But I'm not sure. Anyway, it could have been Lakremae who stopped the fear chemicals falling. There's no need for them now. I think they were probably needed to keep anyone from finding the entrance to the outer world before time.'

'Which just goes to show,' said Copper, 'that we're headed on the right path, so to speak.'

'What do you mean?'

'You said the cave you were forced into was the only proper entrance made to the outer world. Well, if that's that case, why should people have needed to be afraid of deep water?'

'Because there's another way in over the deep water?' suggested Sherri.

'It ties in with the prophecy,' said Fostos.

'I hope so,' said Rodji. 'I hope so.'

The next morning found them warm from paddling through the night, following the course of a breeze that they could not catch with their torn sail. They took it in turns to eat damp oatmeal and the last of the dried fruit.

By noon the clouds had cleared and the heat of the Day Light was intense. Having seen a number of birds overhead they hoped for land but it was not until late in the day that they realised they were close to the great wall. Because it was the colour of the sea they did not notice it until they were a hundred or so measures away, and they only saw it then because of the streaks of white from centuries of bird droppings on its lower cliffs. Apart from that, everything was a disappointing blur. They bent to their labour and eventually made landfall.

The wall extended into the sea in a smooth slope that was slippery but not difficult to walk on. They towed the raft up as far as they could and then transported the climbing equipment and remaining provisions to a ledge that ran about ten measures up the cliff. It jutted out the same distance and was thick with birds and their droppings. The birds showed no fear and had to be pushed out of the way.

'Let's camp here and start climbing in the morning,' Rodji said. 'I hope we aren't buried by the birds during the night.'

'You're very confident,' said Fostos. 'That cliff looks too smooth to me.'

'We won't be able to climb on the cliff,' said Rodji, 'you're right about that. We'll climb in it. It's a matter of breaking through into the honeycomb. You'll see in the morning.

But when morning came and they inspected it, they found the wall to be uniformly hard and smoothly vertical. There was no access to be seen in the rock.

'What did I tell you? We're in a mess now.' Fostos looked up to where the brilliant Day Light had emerged high above them. 'How can we ever get up there? We were crazy to try this.'

'Give us a chance,' said Sherri. 'We might be able to find a way. Let's have another look for a hole in the cliff.'

But it was no good and, after searching all morning, they returned, disconsolate, to their camp site to decide their next move.

Copper spoke first. 'We can't go back. We haven't enough food--although we could eat these birds, I suppose. And even if we mended the sail, the wind would be mostly against us. We couldn't paddle all the way.'

'We can't go back anyway,' said Sherri. 'There isn't enough time. Haven't you noticed how cold it is today?'

'You're a great encouragement,' said Copper.

'Well, there might be a way in much farther along the ledge,' said Sherri.

Fostos agreed. 'We could split up into two parties and go in opposite directions. The first pair to find a way in could go back and get the others.'

'No. We've got to stick together,' Rodji said. 'Anyway, I'm sure there's a better solution.'

'What was it Old Gengah told you about birds when you were a little boy?' asked Copper.

'Follow the birds' path,' Rodji said.

'Well&endash;where does the birds' path end?'

'Here,' said Fostos.

'I'd always assumed it meant up,' said Rodji, 'but it could mean we have to go in, here, on the ledge.'

'How can we do that?' asked Sherri.

'Well, it's covered so deeply in these droppings we could easily have missed something that's underneath,' said Copper. She stood and picked up the axe they had brought with them. 'Let's see,' she said and dug into the crust. Soon she had gouged out a hole a measure across and about a measure deep. At the bottom she reached the grey substance of the cliff. She hacked away. It sounded hollow.

Rodji said, 'The chance that this is an entrance is ridiculously small.'

'I remember you telling us about some rather incredible coincidences, don't I?' said Copper as she continued chopping. 'What did you say Lakremae called the glass jars?'

'Harmonic chaos inverters, I think. But don't ask me to explain...'

'Well, if those little things can do all that, how come this big cylinder you say we live in can't do the same, perhaps more so? How else could you and she both hear Old Gengah talking to you at the same time? And what about the Accusers chasing you to the only entrance to your outer world?'

'All right. The surface sounds pretty thin here. We'll have to use brute force.'

'What do you think I'm doing?' grunted Copper.

Rodji shinned down the rope they had anchored in the guano and clambered to the raft. He shouted up to them, 'We won't be needing this again!' The others joined him and helped him cut through the lashing that held the raft together. They separated one of the main logs and rolled it up the slope to the bottom of the ledge. In half an hour they had succeeded in pulling it up onto the ledge where they had lashed two spars to it to make a vertical battering ram. In a few more minutes they had bashed hard enough on the thin material at the bottom to make first a dent in it and then a hole.

Copper slipped in upside down and put her head through. She called in a muffled voice, 'You can see in here. It's not very bright but some light comes through from outside--from higher up, I think.' She withdrew her head. 'If we bash it a bit more we'll be able to squeeze through.'

The grotto that lay beneath the ledge was divided into honeycomb cells about one measure in diameter. Above, in the cavity behind the wall, the cells were twice the size. It was easy to step through them when travelling horizontally and not much more difficult to ascend. They started to climb.

'It doesn't matter if we stray off course,' Rodji called. 'As long as we keep going up we can't miss.'

At first it was exhilarating, climbing through the hive but after a few hours they had to pause for rest and food.

'At this rate we could be climbing for days before we get there,' said Rodji.

'What did you expect?' said Fostos.

'In this world always expect the unexpected.'

'Well, in that case,' said Sherri, 'why don't we have a look outside?' She climbed round the edge of the hexagonal-sided cell in which she had been sitting and made her way to the inside of the wall and started to climb. A minute later she called, 'Come up here! I saw this before but you got ahead of me and didn't hear me when I called.' The others joined her.

Sherri had found a hexagonal plate in the wall that was not a translucent grey like the rest but was transparent. They could look out and down to the sea. The surface of the water far below looked like distant fields smudged with wind.

'I didn't realise we were so high,' said Copper.'These clear windows come every sixty six sections,' said Sherri.

'You mean there are more of them?' asked Rodji.

'This is the thirtieth I've seen,' she said. 'You were too busy climbing to look.'

Fostos called, 'Hey, look out here!' There was a ledge, about three measures wide, stretching steeply up the face of the wall. 'If we could get out onto that we could go faster.' He pushed hard against the plate and, to his surprise, it popped out and fell onto the ledge, sliding several measures before coming to rest. Rodji stepped through the hole and crawled to the edge.

'It would be faster this way, all right, but we wouldn't want to wander off course.' He pushed the plate with his foot. It slid over the edge. He watched it for about a minute but lost sight of it before it reached the water.

'It's worth a try,' said Copper, who had joined him on the ledge, 'but we should go in single file and stick close to the wall.'

'You go first,' said Rodji. 'But don't slip! If we start sliding down here we'll all end up in the water--the quick way.' The other two joined them on the ledge and they all started to climb. The path continued at the same angle for as far as they could see, spiralling round the wall, getting closer to the centre all the time. Every thousand paces or so a horizontal landing jutted out, twice as wide as the path, a place to rest. They spent the night on one of these, huddled together against the wall for warmth and safety.

They were woken by the Day Light when it burst from the wall, still a long way above them. It made them too hot to do anything. They lay still and sweated it out until the light was further out over the sea. An hour later it was cool enough to move.

'One, two, three, four...' counted Rodji. 'Good. No one sleepwalked. Time for breakfast.'

Then they had a very long haul.


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