Page 5 - Vladimir Bartol ALAMUT
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Fiction SANJE 7 Chapter OneIn mid-spring of the year 1092 a good-sized caravan was wending its way along the old military trail that leads from Samarkand and Bukhara through northern Khorasan and then meanders through the foothills of the Elburz Mountains. It had left Bukhara as the snow started to melt, and had been underway for several weeks. The drivers brandished their whips, shouting hoarsely at the caravan’s draft animals, which were already on the verge of exhaustion. One after the other in a long proces- sion stepped Arabian dromedaries, mules, and two-humped camels from Turkestan, submissively carrying their freight. An armed escort rode short, shaggy horses, glancing in equal measures of boredom and longing at the long chain of mountains that had begun to emerge on the horizon. They were tired of the slow ride and could barely wait to arrive at their destination. They drew closer and closer to the snow-covered cone of Mount Demavend, until it was blocked out by the foothills that absorbed the trail. Fresh mountain air started to blow, reviving the people and live- stock by day. But the nights were ice cold, and both escorts and drivers stood around the campfires, grumbling and rubbing their hands.Fastened between the two humps of one of the camels was a small shelter resembling a cage. From time to time a small hand drew the cur- tain aside from its window, and the face of a frightened little girl looked out. Her large eyes, red from crying, looked at the strangers surrounding her as if seeking an answer to the difficult question that had tormented her for the entire journey: where were they taking her, and what did they plan to do with her? But no one noticed aside from the caravan leader, a stern man of about fifty in a loose Arab cloak and an imposing white turban, who would blink in disapproval when he caught sight of her through the opening. At those moments she would quickly pull the cur- tain shut and retreat inside the cage. Ever since she had been bought from her master in Bukhara, she had been living in a combination of mortal fear and thrilling curiosity about the fate that was awaiting her.One day, as they neared the end of their journey, a band of horse- men raced down the hillside to their right and blocked their path. The animals at the head of the caravan stopped on their own. The leader and escort reached for their heavy, curved sabers and assumed positions

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