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Grayish light, diffused and dirty looking, bathed the world beneath the heavy clouds. If the clouds held rain, they were reluctant to give it up, just as they had been everywhere the caravan had passed in the six weeks since they left Overton.
The old truck the woman in the lead drove wouldn't make it much farther. However, if Eliora remembered right, they wouldn't have far to go. This had to be the last range of hills before the river valley.
The others had followed this far on her word that she could lead them to a place of water. Desperate people who clung to the hope of survival, although everywhere they'd passed they'd found nothing but death and drought.
They'd left most of the vehicles behind as they ran out of gas. The others rode horses, or traveled in horse-drawn wagons -- not much easier to keep going, with supplies so low. She had the last car. And the last five gallons of gas.
She didn't want to walk, and if her will could keep the truck going, it would take them all the way to the Promised Land that these people believed was out there, waiting for them while the rest of the world died. She couldn't imagine how they could have such faith in their great god Leje, not when they had suffered so much and seen so many of their own die on this journey.
The old truck staggered its way up the narrow path that had been meant for animals, not vehicles. Twenty years ago she had come here with her father. There had been green everywhere, then, and trees -- not the wooden skeletons that clung to the hillside now, bleached white as bones. She'd seen a couple birds, though, and that gave her more hope thanshe cared to admit to anyone.
The truck reached the rise, and the trail dipped down on the other side to a wide flat area, and then down much farther...
She stopped the truck and got out, running her hand through her short brown hair. Plants grew on this side of the mountain, unexpected splashes of green: a color she had never thought to see again. Eliora feared she would cry at the sight and the others would know it, seeing the tracks through the gray dust that covered her face.
But even better than the plants, she could see the river, sluggish and muddy, but still flowing, in the valley below. They had arrived, and by some miracle (perhaps even Leje's work) the river still existed in a land where everything else had dried up and blown away.
"Eliora?" Buri asked, the older woman slipping from her worn-out horse and walking up to stand beside her. "Is it time to make camp?"
"Not yet. We'll camp by the river tonight." She waved her arm in that direction.
The woman stared. Shock came so plainly to her rough face that Eliora suspected the woman didn't believe in her god's power as strongly as some of the others.
But even so, Buri turned back to the others and lifted her arms to the sky. "Leje be praised!"
The shout echoed down the path behind them, and even those who had not yet seen the view took it up. Many of them abandoned their horses and wagons to come to the ledge and look down -- and kept going, belongings forgotten.
And forgot Eliora as well, who had led them here. No one looked back at her. She was not one of them. She did not believe in Leje or any of the other gods, and she certainly didn't believe that this group of barely a hundred had been chosen to survive while the rest of the world died.
However, desperate as they had been, they'd willingly hired an unbeliever to bring them to this river-land that she had visited long before the drought had made a desolate desert of the land outside of Overton. They'd traveled five hundred miles, all on the hope of finding this place still unoccupied.
Where would these fools be if she hadn't agreed to take them away from the city that had been dying by inches, and where they had fallen out of favor by preaching that the city elders had brought the drought by their own immorality?
Eliora hadn't been popular either, though for another reason. She still couldn't say what had driven her to offer this refuge to those wretches. She could have come here on her own. Surely she didn't need the company of others so much that she had even taken these people?
Copyright © 2005 Lazette Gifford