Will and Little John picked their way up the vertical climb through the rocks, brambles, and vines, and between the trees that managed to keep a foothold. The sun was setting in the west and cast long shadows across the mountainside. When they came to a flat rock sheltered by an angular boulder at its side, they decided they had gone far enough for the day, sat down and looked behind them. The wide Tennessee River snaked down from the north, flowing toward the base of the mountain, and abruptly turned west to flow between the mountains to their left. They could see all the way down to the landing in the distance, where men were trying to herd some balky, mixed breed cattle onto the ferry for the trip across the river, but they could only imagine the herding calls and the words they were using. Still farther upriver one of the great barges sat tied to moorings at the riverside, and it looked like some of the housing structures built so recently atop it were already being dismantled after the decision not to depart by boat.
“Those cows don’t want to cross the river any more than our people do,” Will said.
“Can’t blame ‘em. They aren’t used to feeling the world rock underneath their feet either. But it sure is a pretty view from up here.”
They sat quietly for a while, then pulled out some of the hard bread and dried meat they had packed to chew on, and rolled out their bedding as the darkness continued to descend. Only a few strands of high cirrus clouds reflected the changing red hues of the sunset before the sky itself began to darken into deeper blue and finally black.
The evening was still hot, and the rocks radiated stored heat from the summer sun, but soon Little John was complaining of the chill and wrapped himself tighter into his blanket.
“It’s not a bit cold, Lil’ John,” Will said, but when he held his hand to Little John’s forehead, he could feel the fever that was bringing on the chills. “You caught somethin’. We didn’t get away soon enough, I’m fraid.” The shivering continued, until finally Will lay down beside Little John and held his own blanket around him, until his shaking subsided, and they had both fallen asleep, exhausted from the long day’s travel. A few times in the night Little John’s rasping and coughing brought them both awake again, but not for long, and sometime in the night Little John’s fever broke and he was drenched in sweat as if he had been running in the midday sun.