Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Forbidden Valley - 8

Thanks to his newfound friends at the pub, Marley is headed up into them thar hills:

Four days later James Marley was staring at the south end of northbound bullocks, as those bullocks made their way up the trail and up into the mountains. Johnny had a friend who knew a local who knew a merchant who was running a bullock caravan up to Srinagar, in the valley of Kashmir. The Pir Panjal range, a sort of branch of the Himalayas, stood between Jammu and the valley. One brief look at his map had told Marley that while it wasn't far away as the crow flies, any journey by foot or hoof would likely prove quite lengthy indeed.

He'd not been proven wrong.  The trails up into the mountains and through the pass wouldn't admit carts, so caravan was of pack bullocks.  After three long days along the trail the view of the buttocks of bullocks had become far to commonplace.  Reaching the mountains had been a welcome relief, not just for the change of scenery, but for the slightly cooler temperatures.  He'd been in India for less than six weeks, but in that time it had gone from comfortably warm to uncomfortably hot.  It didn't help that the sun shone done relentlessly upon them as they made their way north.

And if he'd grown bored with the site of bullocks and their bundles, at least the rest of the scenery was far more interesting.  Human scenery included.  Not that he could do more than stare at most of his companions, watching them go about their business and speak amongst themselves.  Only a few knew much English, and his few dozen words of Hindi were barely adequate to cover the fundamentals.

Still, despite the lack of much meaningful conversation, Marley traveling along with the caravan something of a boon.  He wasn't likely to become lost.  Thanks to some rudimentary bargaining, he'd managed to make a deal for food, so he wasn't left to his own devices on that account.  And the large size of the group would hopefully deter predators.  Including those of the two legged variety.

Marley had heard the professor speak of the Thuggee, the feared cult of brigands who'd once terrorized travelers by the thousands.  They'd been more or less extinguished over a decade ago, but they weren't the only highwaymen known to India.  And hills seemed to breed for brigands, the world over, whether it be highlands of Scotland, the mountains of the Balkans, or here in India.

Still, he wasn't too worried, and he felt the comforting presence of his revolver in its holster.  He hoped he wouldn't need it, not for reasons of mere morals or squeamishness, but because loathe though he was to admit it even privately, he was actually a poor shot.  In part it was his eyesight.  He really should consider eye glasses, he knew, but he feared it would render him too bookish looking.  On the other hand, he was already engaged to to Alice. . .  "Maybe I'll look into glasses when I'm back in England, after the wedding," he said to himself, gazing off at the mountains.

It was clear day, but even if his eyesight had been good, he'd not have been able to make out much detail of the peaks ahead.  For one, the distance was just too far.  For another, the glare from the sun was almost blinding.  Even as summer began to take hold, snow and ice held sway atop the mountains, reflecting the brilliant sun.

copyright (c) The Other Sean

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