He stopped in front of a clearing and dismounted from his camel. He dipped his fingers into a small pouch hanging from his waist and dusted the camel’s tongue with salt. He nodded to Daiwik, who ordered the men to begin setting up camp.
One of the strangers approached Barun and nodded. “What goods are you transporting?”
Barun unwrapped his turban and held it in his hands. A breeze ruffled his matted hair. His eyes shone a deep blue. “Incense.”
“And what else?”
“It’s a wonder you even bother to make the journey at all!”
“The monasteries are waiting for us.”
“Are you a religious man?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Which monastery will you be stopping at?”
“We are expected at Bamyan.”
“I see your men take an interest in our conversation. You see, I am an adventurer. Me and my men have heard of a great treasure buried near the monastery. We will be traveling in the same direction. Perhaps we can provide you protection.”
“No one will rob us. We only carry incense.”
“Incense is still a vital good of the road. It can be resold elsewhere.”
“These are donations.”
“Donations? You travel so far just to deliver donations? But how will you afford to return home?”
“The monasteries will help us. We have done this route for many years and have never faced adversity. Even the bandits know us.”
“The bandits are fools. Stealing donations would be more of a boon to them. When you are all settled, please join us by the fire. We have much to discuss.”
Barun nodded and watched him rejoin his comrades.
“Who was that man?” Daiwik asked, appearing by his side.
“An adventurer. He has invited us to dinner.”
“He must be looking for the treasure.”
“Maybe it would serve him well to look for it.”
“Why? We spent years searching. We became half-starved fools and shamed our families into poverty. We found nothing.”
Barun turned to watch the sun stretch its arms in a final farewell.
“We found our faith.”
Michelle Ong’s writing has appeared in Arabesques Review, Oriental Tales Magazine, and JustSayGo.