All three of them stared at the desiccated limb that her mount’s hoof had exposed.


1312, Five days from Kashgar

JOHANNA HAD GRADUATED to her own camel. Her father, Wu Li, had told her that if she managed to keep her seat from the beginning of Kuche to the city of Kashgar that he would let her off the leading string for the journey home. Shu Ming’s protest had died on her lips when she met Wu Li’s indulgent glance.

Johanna’s camel was young and small, but what she lacked in size and maturity she made up for in energy and a fierce determination to be out in front. At Johanna’s nudge she lengthened her stride to something approaching a canter.

“Johanna,” Wu Li said in a warning voice.

“I’m sorry, father,” Johanna said, with an impish glance over her shoulder. “She wants to run.”

“Wu Li,” Shu Ming said, and he looked at her with an expression warring between guilt and pride. He shrugged, a twinkle in his eye. “She wants to run.”

Shu Ming looked at the receding figure of their daughter. “They both want to run,” she said.

By now three lengths ahead of Deshi the Scout, Johanna was concentrating so hard on keeping her balance while at the same time keeping her back straight that she didn’t see the body until her camel stumbled over it. Her only consolation was that Deshi had not seen it either, although to be fair the rest of the remnants of the other caravan were well buried in the shifting desert sand. Johanna was almost thrown—almost, but luckily not quite.

Nevertheless, Wu Li had seen. He kicked his camel into a trot and arrived at her side at the same time as Deshi the Scout. “All right, daughter?”

All three of them stared at the desiccated limb that her mount’s hoof had exposed.

Merchants on any route of the Silk Road were always under threat of bands of brigands who would much rather take than earn. Ah, but whose bodies were these? –Dana

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