By day’s middle, they had explored all the village had to explore, and gone into the homes a second time to retrieve every item they could find. From the second and third floors, the women simply threw things out the windows, while the women below sorted through them. This done, they gathered on the first level.
“We should make a report to each other.” Elynir decided. “About what we’ve found, what we can use.”
“You go first.” Ludyrr said. “Since you think you know so much.”
“I will. One of these lower rooms served as a shrine. It has a well in it, and an old rope and bucket for drawing water. I drew a bucket out and tasted only a fingertip’s worth of water. It was bitter. I wonder if the rot has poisoned it.”
“You’re still alive, aren’t you?” Ludyrr said.
“You are beginning to tire me.” Elynir replied.
“Is that the bucket?” Endieve pointed at one.
When Elynir nodded, Endieve walked over to it.
“You shouldn’t drink more than just a fingertip of it.” Elynir warned.
Endieve tasted the water and made a face of repulsion. Her daughter decided she must have a taste also, and showed a similar reaction.
“How could you taste that?” Dinieve asked.
“I didn’t know it would taste that way.” Elynir said. “I had to find out.”
“I found firewood.” Ludyrr spoke up. “It isn’t much, but we should be have enough to get a fire going. The wood is so dry I can break it with my fingers.”
“I wasn’t finished.” Elynir said. “I found a small, enclosed garden, ruined with nothing in it, and three chambers that once had livestock, all of them empty.”
“Are you finished now?” Ludyrr asked. “Because if you are, I was going to say that we could start up the fire the old way, by rubbing sticks together. Once the flames are up, we can burn these old rags in it.”
Elynir and Ludyrr started at each other like rival bobcats.
“I found two brassieres.” Ibagghi spoke up. “They are made of linen and they are in good condition. They were stuffed into a small hole in a wall, along with this earring.” She showed the piece of jewelry. It was a small wooden disc with blue and red strings hanging from its bottom. “A shame I didn’t find the second one. They would be pretty, wouldn’t they?”
“I think I should get a brassiere.” Ludyrr decided. “Because I have the biggest breasts. Isn’t that true, Elynir?”
“Are you dogs now?” Endieve asked. “Why are you barking so much?”
“I think we should carry less gear.” Dinieve said.
Elynir turned to face her. “Why?”
“If the water is poisoned, we can’t drink it.” The daughter started. “We’ll have to walk faster to reach a clean water source.”
“We can build a fire.” Her mother said. “We can boil the water and drink it when it cools.”
“What if it isn’t safe even after it’s boiled?” Dinieve questioned. “That would be a foolish way to die, to be awakened and die a few days later because of poisoned water. Hear me, mother. There is no water because there are no clouds. How long until we reach the clouds, one day or two? We could get there faster if we weren’t carrying so much weight.”
“It will be colder.” Ludyrr said.
“How do you know that?” Endieve asked.
“Because the air is cold already and when we descend more it will be cold and also wet. If we get wet, we will feel colder than this. Elynir had the idea to use the next up-climb to reach the next level below us. What do the rest of you think?”
“People fall from those!” Afiruk answered.
“They don’t fall that often.” Ludyrr replied.
“If we use the up-climb, we could use rope to lower the bundles.” Elynir said. “Or we could space ourselves out and pass the bundles down carefully.”
“Space ourselves out in a forever drop?” Afiruk asked. “Are you crazy?”
“I don’t like up-climbs.” Ibagghi said. “But we do have rope. Perhaps not long enough for an entire section of up-climb, but at least half.”
“There, you big coward.” Ludyrr snorted at Afiruk, at someone besides Elynir this time. “We’ll tie you and lower you down like a bundle of rags. I’ll tie the end of the rope to myself. Don’t you start whining about it either, or else I’ll jump and take us both down.”
Afiruk’s eyes gaped in outright fear.
“My dove and I found an old skinning knife.” Endieve said. “The edge is fire-tempered and still sharp. With the items we’ve found here, I’m sure we can sew brassieres and undergarments for the bunch of us.”
“Did you find a needle as well?” Ludyrr asked.
“I did.” Ibagghi said. “I found several needles and thread.”
“Can you sew?” Elynir asked her rival. “Because I can.”
“Of course I can sew!” Ludyrr replied. “Give me a needle and I’ll show you!”
They stayed busy for a time, with Endieve cutting fabric while others measured and sewed their undergarments. Afiruk, who seemed to be good at nothing, was given the task of drawing water and starting the fire. The difficulty was in keeping a wooden bowl close enough to the fire to get it hot, but not close enough to burn it. Elynir had the idea to put three spears together, and to tie leather straps around the bowl and keep it suspended. At first, the water kept evaporating, until Ibagghi had the thought to throw bits of wood into the water. The water was absorbed and kept the wood moist enough to chew later, and even to eat since they had nothing else.
“I’ve had to eat wood before.” Ludyrr admitted. “When we ran out of food in the village.”
“Don’t think of it as wood.” Elynir told her. “Think of it as cinnamon. I had to eat cinnamon a few times myself.”
As they still had a good amount of daylight left, they took a vote. Four against two, they decided to find the up-climb and descend it right then, and to find another village down below before night. Chances were good that a village would be located near the bottom of the up-climb, but in what direction was unknown. Afiruk was the first to descend, with Ludyrr managing her down for the entire time. Twice, Afiruk shut her eyes and froze in place, until the taller woman’s threats got her moving again. Upon reaching the next sloping path, Ludyrr told Afiruk to choose a direction and walk until dark, with the hope that she’d discover another village. Ibagghi was taken down next, by Elynir, and she went in the opposite direction as Afiruk.
With two of their number out searching, the remaining four women spread themselves out in the up-climb. They took on the laborious chore of lowering their bundles and weapons down a little at a time, over what Elynir calculated was an eighty-foot stretch of crevice.