The Ropemaker

The Ropemaker by Peter Dickinson

Book: The Ropemaker by Peter Dickinson Read Free Book Online
Authors: Peter Dickinson
Tags: Fiction
she doesn’t panic or throw one of her tantrums. She’d have the stall to bits, and maybe hurt herself badly, or fall in the river. She might even have us all in.”
    “They told us she was the quietest horse in the Valley.”
    “That was Tiddykin. She went lame. This is Calico. Look out!”
    Too late. Derril had incautiously reached out to pat Calico’s cheek, and Calico had taken her chance to show him her feelings. He swore, and sucked at his hand. Tilja heard Silon laugh from his post at the stern sweep.
    “See what you mean,” Derril muttered. “Come along aft now, and we’ll show you and your gran how to handle a raft. Lay off for the moment, will you, Alnor, so we can give the ladies a bit of practice.”
    Tilja didn’t understand what he was talking about. As far as she could see, Alnor had been sitting on his pack near the front of the raft, with his head bowed, while Tahl squatted beside him gazing ahead and once or twice making some brief remark. But now Alnor raised a hand to show he’d understood, and Tahl turned and grinned to Tilja and then made himself comfortable among the baggage.
    By the time she was back at the stern the raft, which had been riding true in the center of the current, had begun to turn its prow toward the left bank.
    “See there,” said Derril, as the cousins pulled gently on their sweeps to straighten it. “You didn’t think she’d been staying straight of her own, did you? She’s a lovely little job, this raft, easy as easy, though I say it myself, but left to herself she’ll want to slew, one way or t’other. So far Alnor’s been keeping her right for us, chatting away to the current, telling it what he wants of it.”
    Tilja stared, at Derril, at Alnor, at the quietly moving river.
Magic!
she thought.
Real magic, here in the Valley!
It didn’t seem the same as Anja and Ma listening to the cedars, or Alnor and Tahl to their mill stream. That seemed almost ordinary by comparison. But now Alnor had actually been using his strange power to make something happen in the real world. It was amazing.
    “Can you do that too?” asked Tilja.
    “Wish I could, but there never seems to be more than just one up at Northbeck has the knack of it. I daresay young Tahl will be doing it when he starts rafting, but the rest of us have to steer the hard way. And looks like that’s what you’ll be doing, once you’re into the forest.
    “Now, which of you’s going to watch ahead and do the steering? How’s your eyes, ma’am, if you’ll pardon my asking?”
    “You’ll be lucky if yours are half as good, my age,” snapped Meena. “You see what you make of it, girl.”
    “Right, ma’am, if you take that sweep there, and the lassie takes this one . . .”
    Tilja took the sweep two-handed and put her back against the rail, the way Derril had. She was now facing the right bank, but looking to her left, she could see past Calico’s stall, all the way down the river to the next bend. Meena was behind her, facing the same way, so that she could watch what Tilja was up to and do the same. Derril stood beside Tilja with one hand on the end of her sweep, gradually letting her take over as she got the hang of it.
    She’d never tried anything like this before, but almost at once her hands, wrists and arms seemed to know exactly what they were supposed to do. It was very much easier than managing Calico in traces. The trick was to keep making constant little adjustments so that the raft stayed straight, and then it actually seemed to want to keep in the center of the current, even on the bends. It wasn’t very hard work, but it meant paying constant attention, mile after mile after mile.
    When he thought she and Meena had done enough Derril let her rest, and Alnor took over, while Silon led her up to the front of the raft and showed her, as they rounded each bend, what to watch out for ahead. And then back to the sweeps for another lesson. So they floated on all day, Meena and Tilja

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