Today’s blog is the continuation of, Welcome to the Valleys. If you would like to catch up with the tale, the first section can be found at this link
Quieted by Walter’s frustration, the group continued down the empty road in silence for nearly an hour. Jeremy noticed their path began to follow an incline, and turned toward a low ridge two or three miles distant.
“Lad,” Walter said as he dropped back in the line to walk next to Jeremy. “I know I may have come off a bit bitter back there.”
“Just a bit,” Jeremy replied. He offered Walter a nervous smile.
Walter shrugged. “It’s been a long time coming. One of the reasons I left was because of all the secrets kept in The Valleys. I couldn’t handle it any more, and now, here I am diving into the deepest secrets of all.”
“Walter, it’s OK, I understand.”
“Yes, well, alright. But I don’t want you to think I don’t appreciate what the folk in these parts have accomplished. And we’re about to come up to something I think is absolutely amazing.”
His curiosity aroused, Jeremy turned to look at his friend. “What is it?”
Pointing toward the ridge Jeremy had spotted, he replied, “You’ve seen the ridge we’re heading toward, right?”
“Well, on the other side of that is a cliff which drops into the river valley below. On the other side of the river is the Birch Tree grove where Woodhall sits.”
“Why would they run a road straight to a cliff?”
Walter grinned. “Well, years ago, there was a narrow crack which led up to the plateau here, it was the only way to get up this way for miles in either direction. But the folks in Woodhall have created a rather more elegant way of descending to their grove.”
“What is it?”
Walter grinned, “*Wait and see.”
With those words Walter dropped back to Ama, and Jeremy overheard him offering another apology to his oldest friend. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Ama smile and take Walter’s hand into her own. He couldn’t be certain, but he though he might have caught a glimpse of a tear running down the old Senator’s cheek.
Fearing he was intruding, Jeremy turned back toward the ridge. He wondered what could possibly be on the other side which Walter found so impressive. He found the last two miles of the road to be intolerably slow, and even sped up his pace in his eagerness to solve the mystery.
“Jeremy,” Terrin called has he stepped ahead of the group to catch up with the youth. “It’s probably best if you stay with the company. I don’t expect any trouble, but as I’ve been charged with your safety I’d feel better.”
“Oh,” replied Jeremy as he slowed down to allow for the group to catch up. “I suppose you’re right. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry,” Terrin smirked. “If I didn’t know what was on the other side of that ridge I’d probably be rushing ahead as well.”
Jeremy crossed his arms in frustration. “You too? What is over there?” Jeremy cried in mock frustration as he pointed down the road.
“You’re almost there, it would be a shame to ruin the surprise.” The group had almost caught up to the two friends. Terrin looked back toward Michael, who grinned and waved them on.
“Well Jeremy,” said Terrin with a smile. “Seeing as my superior officer is telling me to move forward I suppose I have no choice. Do you think you can jog the last half mile with me?”
Terrin started off down the road without warning. Shouting in surprise, Jeremy took off after the guard. Behind him he could hear the rest of the group laughing at the spectacle. It wasn’t long before the pair had reached the crest of the ridge, where Jeremy found himself struck speechless.
The road, indeed, came to the edge of a high cliff. But it didn’t end there. Descending down the cliff, and ending at a low bridge which crossed over the river, was the most massive staircase Jeremy had ever seen. It’s sides and hand rails were made of stunning white marble, while the steps themselves were made from a blue-grey stone he didn’t recognize. On the other side of the river, he spotted a large grove of Birch Trees, with the hint of Spring buds adorning their branches. While he could tell the trees were impressively tall, they looked small from his lofty vantage point. To his right a path of switch backs also made their way down the cliff-face. This road seemed to be made of the same materials as the staircase, which it joined just before the bridge. The water of the river rushed below and, even though he couldn’t see it from his vantage point, he could hear the roar of a waterfall coming from somewhere near by.
In the midst of the Birch Grove Jeremy spotted a tall house rising up from the trees. Through the branches he could see a low stone wall surrounding the building. As impressive as the structure was, he couldn’t help but wonder where the rest of the settlement was located. Off to the South acres and acres of well-tended farm land stretched out, also showing signs of Spring growth, but he could see no other structures.
“Well, Jeremy. What do you think?”
“I… I can’t believe what it would have taken to make this.” He looked around the surrounding hills and wondered, “Where on earth did they get the materials?”
“You’re standing on it. The people of Woodhall carved out the cliff to obtain their materials. There’s supposed to be some rather impressive caverns underneath us, the legacy of this great engineering work.”
“And you’ve never been here.”
Terrin shook his head. “No. But I’ve seen pictures. The great stairs of Woodhall are one of the wonders of The Valleys. They’re probably the greatest engineering project ever completed in the outer settlements.”
“You’ve never seen Highcliff, though, Terrin.” Walter spoke as he joined the friends at the stop of the stairs. “When people see what folks there have done, Woodhall just might become jealous.”
“Yes, I’m sure the Coastlanders are engineering wizards, Walter,” grumbled Tollen as he reached the end of the road. “Now, can we get down to the settlement please? I’m tired and hungry and want off this cursed plateau.”
Walter shook his head. “Fine. Michael, would you lead the animals down the switchbacks? And anyone else who wishes to join you, of course.”
Michael bowed slightly. “As you wish, Walter.” He took the reins for the party’s pack animals and started for the switchback path. As he departed, everyone but Walter and Terrin followed along.
“Meddle,” Walter called. “You don’t want to take the stairs?”
Ama didn’t even turn around to respond, “I’ve walked the stairs enough in my time, Old Fox. I’ll take the road.”
Walter rolled his eyes, and started down the staircase without further comment. Terrin followed after, leaving Jeremy alone at the top. The old Senator turned when he noticed Jeremy hadn’t followed, and Jeremy noticed how dwarfed his friend looked standing in the midst of the massive construction.
“Come on, lad, don’t dawdle.” He pointed to a handrail in the middle of the staircase. “If you feel a little off balance, just grab the handrail.”
Jeremy took a deep breath and nodded. He took hold of the marble handrail and began to move tentatively down the steps. It took him some time to become used to the strange environment, but soon caught up to his two friends.
“Pretty impressive, right lad?”
Jeremy grinned and nodded. He and his companions were nearly at the bottom of the stairs, and he turned over his shoulder to spot where the rest of his friends were in their descent. The switchbacks were apparently longer than they appeared from the top, the remainder of their group was only about a third of the way through their descent.
As he reached the bottom of the stairs, Jeremy spied a well-dressed man crossing the bridge toward the companions. His skin was tanned deeply, even this early in spring, and he strode to the three men on thick legs. Jeremy also took notice of the man’s powerful arms, which swung tightly by his body as he walked.
“There you are, Old Fox! I was expecting you yesterday! The council is rather distressed at your delay.”
Walter held out his hands in apology, “My apologies, Senator Fellow. Our company felt it better to spend the night in Mountain Hold before coming on to your fair town. I should have sent word.” Turning toward Jeremy, Walter called the youth forward. “Jeremy, come and meet Senator Fellow.”
“Ah, Jeremy. Of course I’ve seen you. You put on quite the show in the Senate.”
Jeremy had not met Fellow before, but knew him to be an friend of Kaitlyn. He’d left The Ravine immediately after the Senate session closed, much to the annoyance of his ally.
“Hello, Senator. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Smiling, Fellow motioned for the others to follow as he began to walk up the road.
“Fellow, I’d like to wait for the rest of our company. If you don’t mind.”
Woodhall’s Senator turned and shook his head. “I’m sorry, Walter, but the Council really must see you immediately. Don’t worry!” he added quickly as Walter’s face fell. He pointed back up the road, from whence several uniformed men were approaching. “I’ve arranged for porters to convey your friends to the settlement. Their needs will be well-met.”
“All right, then, Fellow. Lead the way.” The Senator followed his colleague toward the house. Terrin and Jeremy soon followed.