Chapter 34: Exhaustion

In this growing age of enlightenment, the antiquated survival skills once prized highly will become vestigial artifacts of a more brutal time. — Palador Masrutab, Education of Kormar’s Youth

Every part of Kanéko’s body ached as she braced herself against the side of the cliff and hacked at the branches sticking out from the tree trunk. “Next time,” she grunted, “we trim these before we drop them off the cliff. That way, they won’t stick on every. single. rock!” She yanked back with every word. Her feet slid on the gravel underneath her and she had to forced herself tighter against the rough stone for balance and to avoid slipping.

“Affirmative,” muttered Ruben. He held on the end of the branch she was cutting, pulling as Kanéko chopped at its base. He balanced on a log no wider than Kanéko’s fist. Sweat dripped down his face, but he didn’t even blink as it dripped from his dark eyelashes.

Kanéko sighed and got a fresh grip on the vomen ax. Grunting, she slammed down on the branch until the blade cut through the green wood.

Ruben tugged it free and tossed it on a pile of other branches.

“Kan!” Maris called out from a short distance away, “I’m running out of rope.”

Maris had three logs braced between her legs as she wrapped the last of the rope between them. The raft wasn’t anything like Kanéko pictured in her head. They only had eight logs bound together which barely gave enough space to sit down. Nine more logs were propped up against the cliff, ready to be joined together, but they were running out of ways to attach them.

Kanéko stepped over a branch at her feet and padded over to the raft. Her feet crunched on the gravel, and she felt moisture seeping through her foot wrappings. Up close, the frustration grew as she inspected the large gaps between the tied logs. Her confidence of building the raft crumbled seeing their efforts so far.

She tried not to dwell on her mistake. In her head, it was over fifteen feet across and a solid platform without a single gap. However, the eight they started with were the straightest but still had bumps and parts sticking out that caused wide gaps in one place even when they were tied tightly together in another. The logs were also short. Anything over six feet was almost impossible to drag over the cliffs so their efforts for hours of work was a leaky square.

The dalpre finished tying the last of the rope and leaned back. “And I’m out of rope.”

Kanéko looked around for something to bind the logs together. The river looked calm, but Maris insisted it was too strong to swim against. On the far side, a few ragged trees clung to steep cliffs. On the shore next to them, they had nothing but branches and gravel. Her eyes scanned up, along the bumpy cliff to the crumbling shelf at the top—nothing besides stumps and rocks. She also didn’t want to climb it again—ten times was enough for her.

She considered her options. “Use the clothes and the packs themselves? Tear them into strips and weave them into ropes. We can use these too…” She sat down heavily on the makeshift raft to unwrap the cloth around her hands and feet. The Jonahas petals fluttered to the ground and she bent over to pick them up.

When she straightened, she saw Maris watching her with a sad look on her face. “Kan, don’t take those off.”

“We need the rope, Mar,” Kanéko tugged on her wrappings, “and these will work just as well.”

“And we can use everything else, but not those. Please? Leave your wrappings on?”

“Why?” Kanéko looked into Maris’s eyes and saw sadness in her brown gaze.

“You’ll get hurt. You don’t have shoes.”

“I’ll heal—”

“No!” Maris snapped and a wind rose up around them. “I don’t care if you’ll heal later. And you need to be safe now.”

“It’s just—”

“No!” Maris’s voice increased in volume. The wind kicked up dust and water to pepper Kanéko’s body.

Kanéko let go of her wrappings. She settled back, watching Maris warily. “I’ll leave them on.”

Maris stood up and stalked toward their packs. She sat down next to the packs and emptied their contents on the ground. Flipping the pack over, she chewed on the bottom seam to split it apart.

Ruben came up to Kanéko with a handful of thinner branches. “These have been used to bind logs together, but I am not able to understand the process to do so.”

Kanéko took one of the branches and bent the green wood in her palms. She thought for a moment, and then used her fingernail to split the bark from the branch. The moist wood inside was flexible but she continued to peel it apart until she had a handful of thinner strands. She looked up to Ruben and smiled. “By itself, they won’t work, but I think we can weave these with the cloth. We might get something sturdy enough to last a few days.”

The sound of ripping interrupted them. Kanéko looked over to see Maris tearing long strips from one of her dresses and setting it down on the growing remains of their packs. Only one bag remained on the depressingly small pile of food and papers. Somehow, seeing the dalpre destroying her own outfit made Kanéko guilty.

She sighed and wiped the sweat from her brow. Her arm trembled from the effort and she felt exhaustion sapping her strength. With a groan, she slipped off the raft and sat down next to Ruben. Below her, the gravel was cooler but she was thankful she wasn’t sitting in the water. “Here, give me another one.”

She started stripping wood and tried not to think about the sun baking down on them. She had never realized how hard it was to make something as simple as a raft. It looked easy in her book. “Next trip, I’m going to bring a chain’s worth of rope.”

Ruben grunted. “I recommend also a full travel pack, two stones worth of food, and a well-trained horse.”

“And I want a ball!” added Maris from the cliff.

“You,” Ruben muttered, “always want a ball.”

Maris stuck her tongue out and Kanéko giggled. The dalpre got up and brought the strips over to Ruben and Kanéko. Sitting heavily on the ground, she dropped the fabric into her lap. Grabbing a pair of Ruben’s pants, she looked at Kanéko. “I’m sorry, Kanéko, I’m just worried about you. And you keep hurting yourself.”

“I’ll be all right.”

“And you will be because Ruben and me will be here for you.”

Ruben cleared his throat. “Ruben and I.”

“Ruben, me, and I will be here for you.”

Kanéko rolled her eyes and stifled another giggle. “Come on, the sooner we can get this thing built, the faster we can get on the river.”

Maris nodded. She finished tearing a strip of cloth from Ruben’s dark trousers.

Kanéko realized something. “Think you could get us a little wind?”

A breeze kicked up, cooling them as they worked to build the raft.