As they climbed, the mountain seemed to rise more steeply, and after another hour they went over the rim of an escarpment and looked across a narrow plateau to where the rock face tilted backwards in great, overlapping slabs, most of which were split and fissured into a thousand cracks.
They moved on, heads down against the driving snow, and after another hour Hamid grabbed the bridle of Father Kerrigan’s horse and led it into the shelter of some boulders.
“We’ll rest for a while,’ he said.
Janet handed Kerim down to Drummond and slipped from the saddle. She wiped the snow from her face and smiled wanly. It’s cold.’
Too damned cold,’ Drummond said.
Father Kerrigan walked forward stiffly, slapping his arms to restore the circulation. Td better have a look at Kerim.’
. Drummond crouched down in the shelter of the boulders and Father Kerrigan knelt beside him and gently parted the blankets. ‘God bless my soul, but the child’s sleeping.’
‘Is he all right?’ Janet said anxiously. ‘He’s warm enough, isn’t he?’
‘Warmer than any of us in that cocoon.’ The old man sat down against the rocks. ‘Did you bring the contents of my medical bag?’
Janet nodded and slipped her arms through the straps of the military haversack she’d been carrying on her back. She opened it and took out the Thermos flask of tea she had prepared at breakfast
.What was it you wanted?’
“Never mind, I’ll find it for myself.’
The old priest looked grey and haggard and the lines in his face scoured deep into the flesh. He searched through the contents of the haversack and found what he was looking for, a small bottle of red capsules. He slipped a couple into his mouth and Janet passed him tea in the one tin mug that she had brought
Father Kerrigan took a mouthful down and leaned back with a sigh. Hamid said anxiously, ‘Are you all right, Father?’
The old man opened his eyes and grinned. ‘Let’s just say I’m not as young as I was, but the pills Tve taken start acting straight away. I’ll make it The luck of the Irish.’
The mug came round in turn and when it reached Drummond, he swallowed the hot tea gratefully. Hamid produced a couple of cheroots from one of his breast pockets and they lit them and moved away from the others, looking back down the track into the snow.
The old man doesn’t look too good,’ Drummond said. ‘How long till we reach the monastery?’
‘Maybe three hours,’ Hamid said. ‘It afl depends on the state of the track.’
Tve been thinking,’ Drummond said..What guarantee have we got that there will be anyone there when we do reach the place? It could have fallen into disuse years ago. There are ruined monasteries all over the mountains, you know that as well as I do.’
‘At least we’ll find some sort of shelter,’ Hamid said. ‘And that’s something we’re going to need just as soon as we can find it. It’s no use pretending the old man or Janet and the child, for that matter, can stand much of this sort of thing.’
They moved back to the others and Father Kerrigan got to his feet. Whatever he had taken had certainly had a miraculous effect and he smiled, cheeks slightly flushed.
Tm ready when you are.’
Hamid helped him into the saddle, Drummond passed the boy up to Janet and they moved on, skirting the base of the great face of rock slabs.
Over the years, the track had been marked by pilgrims placing their stones on conical cairns which marked quarter-mile intervals and these were still clearly visible in the snow.
An hour later, the track turned into a narrow ravine that slanted up into the rock. It was choked with boulders and loose stones, an indication of years of neglect.
Hamid took the lead, holding Father Kerrigan’s horse by the bridle and Drummond did the same for Janet. He was soon tired and his arm ached with the strain of holding in the unwilling horse. He constantly slipped on the snow, sending loose stones rattling through the maze of boulders below.