In which Dodger sends everyone on a dangerous journey
“Well,” Boon said. “What do we do now?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Sir Rodger said. “We get across.” He removed a length of rope from Henrietta’s saddle.
“No,” Dodger said. “We should split up and search in either direction. Surely there is another way across. Or perhaps it narrows at some point.”
“I’m afraid not. You see, this is Round-a-Bout Gulch. And it-”
“Lemme guess, it goes around the whole mountain.”
Sir Rodger nodded. “And Liar’s Bridge is, well, was the only way across.”
“Of course,” Dodger grumbled. He watched as the knight began to unwind the coil of rope. “So, gallant knight, how do you plan on magicking us across?”
“I have no magic, dear friend. Unless Mr. Boon knows a spell for such things, I am afraid we will get across the old fashioned way.”
“Don’t look at me,” Boon said.
“I wasn’t,” Dodger said.
Dodger watched as Sir Rodger twisted the one end of the rope into a fairly reliable looking lariat. The knight stepped up to the gulch and gazed out across the chasm, zeroing in on the twisted metal across the way. He raised the rope over his head and began to twirl it, swinging it in wide arcs until the noose flattened into a neat circle.
“Is he gonna do what I think he’s gonna do?” Boon asked.
“I believe he is,” Lelanea said.
“He’ll never make it,” Dodger said.
“Of course he will,” Sarah said. “He’s the best.”
Dodger looked down at the child. “Best at what?”
Sarah smiled up at him as she said, “Everything.”
With an excited whoop, Sir Rodger released his hold on the rope, flinging the lariat toward what was left of the bridge across the gap. In a clean and beautiful arc, the noose sailed away from Sir Rodger’s hand, over the empty chasm, and lassoed a warped metal beam at least one hundred feet away. Sir Rodger bent double to catch the tail of the excess rope before it could slither off after its head. He gave it a few hard yanks, until he was satisfied that the thing would hold.
Sarah clapped enthusiastically, and was soon joined by Boon. Lelanea wagged her tail a few times. Dodger was also duly impressed. It may have been an impracticable stunt made possible by the strange physics of Sarah’s dream world, but he was impressed all the same. He was even more impressed when he realized just what Sir Rodger planned on constructing.
Using the other half of the rope, Sir Rodger lassoed a higher section of the bridge closest to him. He pulled on the works, tightening the slipknot until the rope went taut across the abyss. The knight tied the excess to a lower portion of the ruined bridge, as a means of double securing the line. After he was finished, he stood upright and turned to the others with a broad smile.
“Who is first?” he asked.
“Me!” Sarah shouted.
Sir Rodger laughed, amused by her eagerness.
“Excuse me,” Boon said. “What exactly is that?”
“It’s a ropeslide,” Dodger said. “We’re gonna ride it across the gap.”
“Correct, sir,” Sir Rodger said. “Have you employed one?”
“I have, but it’s been many years and many pounds ago.”
Sir Rodger patted his belly. “Aye, I understand, for I am in the same situation. I learned to prepare one when I was just a wee lad. Baron Aloysius placed a very strict curfew upon us squires. Occasionally, a few of us used to slip out of the tower at night by means of a ropeslide such as this. Granted it has been a number of years since I have enjoyed the flight of the slide, but I suppose not much has changed about it.”
“It’s not been quite that long, but it has been some time since I’ve even seen one.”
“Then we will have to remember how it works together.”
“I’ve never seen such a thing,” Boon said.
“I have,” Lelanea said. “Years ago, in Shrewsbury. My family went to see a lad who was famous for riding the rope down from St. Mary’s Church all the way across the river. I think his name was Richard, or Robert or some such.”
Boon put his hands on his hips and stared up at the tight rope. “How do we ride it?”
“You take a bit of rope,” Sir Rodger said, “like this. See?” Sir Rodger cut a length of excess away from the extra rope and looped it over the line, holding both ends as he explained his actions to Boon. “One tosses it across the line, grabs both ends, and sort of slides down the incline.”
“You shove off from the higher end,” Dodger said, “and gravity pulls you across.”
“Ah, I see,” Boon said. “Can I ask one more thing?”
“Be my guest,” Sir Rodger said.
“How can you grab onto both sides if you ain’t got hands?”
“No hands?” Sir Rodger chuckled at the notion. “Good Lord. No hands? What kind of unfortunate creature has … no … hands …” His words and laughter trailed off as he slowly turned to look down at Lelanea. He bowed to her, deeply, his forehead almost touching the rocky soil in his shame. “I apologize for my poorly placed humor, dear Lady. I had nearly forgotten about your affliction.”
“Don’t be,” Lelanea said. “I’ve got teeth, don’t I?”
“Lelanea,” Boon said. “I can’t let you try that. It’s too dangerous. You can ride with me. I’ll rig up a backpack to fit ya.”
“Certainly not.” Her ears flattened against her skull in a sign of annoyance. “I have no intention of sliding across that thing strapped to your back like some helpless maiden. I am perfectly capable of clutching a bit in my teeth.”
Boon lowered himself to her height. “I don’t doubt that, but, I just want you to be safe.”
“I will be safe, my love.” Her ears righted themselves as her stern look softened. “You must admit, my jaw is a whole lot stronger than even your back.”
“You’re probably right. And even if you ain’t, I can see there’s no talking you out of it.”
“Not this time.”
“That settles it,” Dodger said. “We each need to pack as much as we can in our bags before we go. Then I’ll go first, followed by Sarah, then Boon, then Lelanea, and you can bring up the rear, Sir Rodger.”
“I should think not,” Sir Rodger said. “I wouldn’t dream of sending another soul across this line without testing it first myself.”
Dodger huffed as he rubbed his temples. “Fine. Go first. I don’t care, let’s just get this over with.” He stared at the opposite side, to the boulders and bushes and path that disappeared into the mist of the mountain beyond. “Just be careful over there. There is no telling who or what could be hiding out on the other side.”
“I shall be on highest alert.” Sir Rodger grabbed as much as his back would carry before he mounted the platform again. He prepped his hand hold, tossing it over the line then twisting the short length between his fists. The knight glanced over his shoulder, nodding at both Dodger and Sarah. “See you on the other side.” With that, he kicked away from the bridge, slipped between a wide gap in the ruined beams, and slid down the length of the rope toward the other side.
Dodger held his breath, and he was fairly sure everyone else was doing the same. Time slowed to a crawl, as it often did during such dangerous moments, leaving Sir Rodger to travel over the canyon in an achingly sluggish motion. At one point he seemed to hang perfectly still, in midair, with no way to tell if he would fall or fly. Then it was over. Sir Rodger came to an abrupt halt on the opposite end of the rope with a loud huff that echoed over the gap.
Sarah squealed and clapped with glee. “My turn! My turn!”
“All right, girly,” Dodger said. “Don’t get all bent out of shape. Make sure you stuff your pack.”
The child did as asked, pushing as much of the equipment as she could into her backpack. “I think that’s all I can carry.”
“Make sure that bag will close. I don’t want half of the equipment dumped down that canyon.” While Sarah checked her bag, Dodger cut away a suitable length of rope and then waved her over to him. “Hold out your hand.”
“Which one?” she asked.
Sarah thrust out her right hand, and Dodger grabbed it. He wound a bit of the rope across her wrist, then wrapped it back over the child’s palm, tying it tight enough to elicit a hiss from the girl.
“What are you doing?” Sarah asked.
“I’m making sure you can’t let go,” Dodger said.
“I won’t let go.”
“I didn’t say you would. I just said this will make sure you don’t.”
He winked at her.
“Hop on up there,” Dodger said.
Sarah clambered up to the platform, strapped the pack over her shoulders and then raised her hands up to the line without needing to be told.
“Good girl,” Dodger said. He looped the rope over the line and tied her other wrist into the works. Once satisfied the girl was strapped in, Dodger waved across the gap to Sir Rodger.
The knight waved in return, signaling his readiness.
“You ready?” Dodger asked.
“No,” Sarah said. A touch of fear rose to her eyes as her lips quivered. All of her excitement was gone, replaced by genuine terror. “I don’t think I can-”
“Incoming!” Dodger shouted over her worry, and gave the gal a swift shove.
“I’m not ready!” Sarah yelled in a squeal of surprise.
She zipped down the line in a flash, coming to rest in the outstretched arms of her waiting knight. With a flick of his blade, Sir Rodger quickly detached her from the line and she all but leapt atop of him, latching onto his neck as the sounds of weeping drifted across the gap. The knight cradled her to him, as he carried her away from the edge of the chasm.
“That was kind of dirty,” Boon said with a grin.
“You teach a kid to swim by pushing him in the lake,” Dodger said. “Same principle.”
Lelanea snorted. “Remind me to warn your children to steer clear of bodies of water. And large canyons.”
“Who’s next?” Dodger asked.
Lelanea and Boon looked to one another, neither of them eager to take the plunge.