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.
This caravan, he knew, carried the most precious cargo he could imagine. His father, brothers, and uncles were all depending on him to bring word of its arrival. He could make the run to where they, too, lay ignoring sand, sun, and sweat, in far less time than the slow caravan would creep through the same hot mile.
When the last camel rider’s back was past, he slid backward down the slope until his head was below the crest, then turned and plunged down to the trail below, running with all his might, the discomforts of his long wait forgotten.
In six minutes he would warn his father of the caravan’s approach. They would pass into Alssikin ten minutes later.
He ignored the pain in his chest, ignored the hot stony ground under his feet.
Every labored breath brought him closer to his father.
It was vital that his family protect this caravan, as they had protected so many others over the years. Vital, in the literal sense of the word this time, because the caravan brought the medicines his mother and sister needed if they were to survive the night.
Every labored breath reminded him that any breath might be their last.
He ignored the pain.