Trickles of sand crept into the boy’s clothes as he lay peering over the crest of the dune, down at the caravan below. He told himself he could ignore the sand just as he was ignoring the sweat, the heat, his hunger and thirst, his fear.
Less than a mile to the east the caravan would pass through Alssikin, a narrow defile appropriately named for the long thin knife even young boys in his village carried. Only a thousand yards long, Alssikin was the right spot to launch an ambush, were a band of brigands so inclined.
9 Days Earlier
The sand rose and fell in miniature dunes as far as he could see. Unless he looked straight up into the cloudless sky, it was all sand, sand in two-foot dunes.
He turned, just his head, then his upper body, as far as he could, all the way right, all the way left.
Jarring not to see footprints behind him. As a tracker, no trail was out of his experience.
His pack grew heavier as he listened.
The silence, too, grew heavier.
No wind. Not a flutter.
He brushed his right hand on the rough canvas sleeve on his left forearm. Heard the light scratching noise.
He could hear. There just wasn’t anything to hear.
He turned again, this time his whole body, stepping a few degrees at a time in a circle.
On the horizon.
Nothing moved between the sagebrush and ocotillo below him. Now and then a ripple of wind scattered across the brush but any animal venturing out in the heat of the day was too small at this distance for even his sharp eyes.
The sand was hot under his belly as he lay under a creosote bush at the edge of the mesa. Unarmed, because it was not his task to attack or defend, only to watch and report. Three small, smooth stones in his mouth kept his tongue moist with saliva. Should he have to signal his brothers farther north on the trail, his lips and tongue would have to be ready. A dry tongue made ineffective sounds.