The outrider sees yellow dust rising up in a cloud, then swirling down into the pass. One thousand feet below, and a century and a half away in time, back during the Raj. There is always plenty of time. And though they are small, like ants, he takes note of the number of riders. Only twenty. This morning would be as easy as a smile on a beggar.
"The fools. The Sultan's daughter their only precious cargo, and they have but twenty riders! He'll have the heads of any that survive."
He stands up on his stirrups lifting his butt from the saddle. His sweating fingers push dirt between the cracks of ivory inlaid flowers on the worried rosewood stock. His anxious silver-mounted rifle hasn't been fired all day. Like a circling hawk, he peers closer. To him it's a game. For fun, he opens a small silver filigree box in his vest pocket, and removes a small sliver of green jellied hashish with his fingernail, then places it under his tongue. It's taste is bitter-sweet.
"There is her planiquin, it must be her. The sides are purple silk, a royal color, and shade her face from the sun. It is said she has a face as fair as the moon," he whispers to his horse.
Dust devils of sand force small particles of the Hindu Kush to circle around all four of his hoofs.
"But I'll decide that for myself."
Hajji unwraps his green turban and the end falls free. It waves wildly like the wind.
His men steady their steeds and ready their rifles. They too have witnessed the dust made by the Sultan's ants. Their leader is pleased. Sitting most of the morning has made his men restless. The relentless sun scorches the earth with reckless abandon.
"The promise of gold and jewels will now be their focus. Not the sun. That, and the wine kegs they carry on a cart."
"Strong drink is forbidden," says one.
"Stinking forbidden anyway," replies another.
"Forget forbidden," declares the third.
"Gold and jewels for my men, the Sultan's fair daughter for myself, to ransom or not. I may decide to enjoy her company in private."
There will be no witnesses because,
"Take no prisoners," is his only order, "except for the girl."
Carefully, secretly, and in silence, they creep their way down into the canyon to the ambush, taking the path that no one knows. And though the day is hot, the wind blows deadly cold, and erases their tracks as if by decree. Fate hovers like a falcon, determined to give all living things their portion of chaos, then falls like Agamemnon's one thousand steel-tipped arrows fell on the walls of Troy.
No one can escape it, not even a Sultan's daughter. If only because it asks no quarter.
An account of a hill-tribe outrider done up in soap-opera dramatics. By any other name, a tease. Gee, this was fun!