A woman spoke to Trinidad from behind, a slight female wearing a niqab. “Is this your first time on the road?”
“Yes. Myself and Riley.” She patted Riley on the back who looked up and stared inquisitively at the woman who had sparkling green and brown eyes that danced when she spoke.
“Well, it’s not as bad as people make it out to be. It can be rough, but if you follow the person in front of you, and pay attention to the spotters, you should be fine. Most of the trip is mental exhaustion.” She said walking up beside Trinidad.
“Well, let’s hope. I doubt my body could take much more physical exhaustion.” She said with a laugh.
“Don’t worry, just put your back into it. It helps to have someone to talk to, to take your mind off your feet.” The woman said. “I’m Anjari.”
“Pleased to meet you, Anjari. My name is Trinidad.” She extended her hand to the woman, who extended hers in response. Her slender fingers were marked by years of painful service, burnt and wrinkled. Compared to Trinidad’s they were the hands of a woman many years her senior. Riley took notice of every line and scar. “You must have traveled this road many times. You seem to have an understanding of the terrain, and what it takes to survive.” Trinidad said.
“I’ve been making these treks now for two years. It’s helped me take my mind off of the loss of my husband. I’ve seen just about everything there is to see. I’ve even been hunted down by the ajnabi. Once, we got separated by a sandstorm, and twelve of us nearly lost our lives. We wandered the desert wastes for three days before finally being found by another trader’s caravan. It’s easy to get lost out there without any landmarks.” Anjari explained. “There are many ways to die in the wastelands, and they grow larger and more oppressive every month. I wonder how long it will be before all the land is consumed by them?”
Trinidad thought about that for a moment. Here was a woman who seemed adept at negotiating the severe environment, even went so far as to encourage her to be unafraid of the monumental task ahead. And yet, even she herself had doubts about the future of humankind. “You used the word “ajnabi.” What does it mean?”
“It means: foreigner.” Anjari said, “We never gave them a proper name, we didn’t think they’d be here that long. Probably thinking that eventually the monarch or the military would save us. The monarch’s dead and the military has disbanded, now we must save ourselves.”
Trinidad deliberated for a moment on telling her about the prophecy she had been given and about her visions. She wasn’t sure if it would comfort her, or scare her away. “I think there is still time for humankind to reverse the damage caused by the ajnabi. Is that how you say it?”
“Yes, very good.” Anjari complimented her.
They continued walking for many kilometers as Anjari regaled her with stories of her family and life. “My son died in my arms.” She lamented.
“I’m so sorry. Is that how you received the burn scars on your hand?” Trinidad asked, recognizing that the scars weren’t from hard labor, but had been created by the electrical discharges from one of the alien weapons.
“Yes.” Anjari replied. “Sadly.” She thought for a moment and then continued, “To have lost my child is bad enough, but to bear the marks of the experience as a constant reminder is almost too much.” Anjari commented painfully. “It looks like the caravan is slowing down up ahead. We must be reaching the first trade post.” Riley and Trinidad had been so caught up in her tale that he hadn’t been paying attention and, as a result, neither had she. They continued on until they reached a hillside. “We’ll rest here for a bit, while the buyers come out to look over our goods.” Anjari said, removing her pack from her shoulders and laying everything out neatly on a rug in front of her. She sat on her knees arranging all the containers of foodstuffs, and the inedibles she carried, as she awaited the buyers.
The wastes they had traveled across had not been as bad as Trinidad expected. It was nighttime after all, which was the best time to travel. It was easy to track the stars as they moved across the sky, and it helped in sheltering them from the aliens who patrolled as much of the Earth as they could. They had stopped next to a hill, it didn’t look like anything at all, and Riley watched as the trade master went in through an opening in the rock face and when he returned he was followed by dozens of men and women and children of all sizes. The flames from their lamps brightened the otherwise moonlit ground, and helped to provide a light for the trader’s wares. They bartered back and forth haggling over a finger of this or a fist of that. Items were packaged in quantities no larger than what could be carried in the palm of the hand, and sold in the same increments. Trinidad sat with Riley, their packs belonging to another trader, and watched the exchange of goods from one hand to the next, and then saw the children running back and forth filling up the canteens and bottles with water from an underground pool. This went on for probably an hour or so before the trade master informed them it was time to leave. He went back inside the cave, and when he emerged, everyone had rolled up their packs and loaded everything back up. With the spotters on the qui vive for alien airships, they were prepared to cover the next stretch of the trade route.
Anjari asked, “Did you remember to refill your water bottle?”
Trinidad said, “Yes, a young boy came up to me and asked for it.”
“Good. I forgot once and had to go for hours without anything to drink. I was too ashamed to ask anyone for some of theirs. Now, I make sure to refill them.” She said, smiling sweetly. They continued on for several more kilometers and Anjari fascinated her with the details of the celestial bodies.
“That one there, the bright one, that’s Sirius. It’s known as the Dog Star.” Anjari explained.
Riley was looking up into the heavens, completely absorbed by the astronomy lesson. << The Dog aspect >> << Yes, Riley, the dog in the sky. >> Trinidad quietly informed him.
“And that one is Procyon. They make up the constellations of Canis Major and Canis Minor and just to the west of them is Orion, the hunter. See the three stars that make up his sword belt?” Anjari pointed up at them.
“You know a lot about the stars. You’re like a wizard.”
“When you spend as much time out here as I have, you tend to learn about them. I haven’t had a home to go back to for so long, the road has become my home, and the stars my family.” Anjari commented wistfully.
The sun began to rise, scattering the heavens with a mottled canopy of crimson and magenta. The caravan reached a stopping point, and the travelers removed their packs and threw out their rugs and blankets to sleep on, being sure to cover themselves completely with their ghillie suits in case the enemy came by overhead as they slept. Even as the sun was reaching its highest point in the sky, Trinidad was experiencing restless sleep, despite her exhaustion. Riley was knocked out, sleeping like a baby. She could feel the heat of the sun beating down on the coverings and hear the wind blowing across the sand. Something didn’t seem right, something in the air felt off, and Trinidad decided to wake Riley so she could see what was happening. “Riley. Riley.” She shook his body, but he just laid there asleep, so she decided to enter his dream and communicate with him psychically. << Riley, will you wake up and look at something for me? >> Riley woke up and poked his tiny head out from beneath the ghillie suit. << A question mark >> “Something doesn’t feel right. Will you look around so I can see?” << A pair of binoculars >> “Yes, Riley, just scan the horizon for me, please.” Riley did as he was asked, his big brown eyes searching around. “There! Go back, look, do you see it?” Riley looked around until he finally saw what looked like a giant yellow and brown wall coming toward them. “Sandstorm!” Trinidad jumped up and began calling out to the others. “Sandstorm! Sandstorm!”
The entire caravan awoke, looking around until they saw it, too. The commotion of everyone moving in unison was powerful. There was nowhere to go, so everyone just hunkered down, holding on to everything they had as the mighty force of the sand and wind blew across them, turning them topsy-turvy. They covered their eyes and mouths and noses as best they could, but somehow the sand attacked them in every sense, getting into every orifice and penetrating every crevice. The sandstorm rushed around them, a giant yellow wall of debris covering them completely with gale force winds. The travelers of the caravan held on to their packs and rugs as best they could, some got away, taking off like mighty kites, but the people stood their ground, holding on to one another tightly, as the winds passed over them. And as quickly as it came, it was gone. The travelers took stock of their store goods, and finding them in good condition, for the most part, counted themselves lucky. Now that everyone was awake, the trade master decided to get a jump on the journey. The sun was almost setting on their right side, as they started making their way south.
“It’s good you caught that storm early, Trinidad! Thanks to you we’re safe.” Anjari congratulated her.
“It’s nothing. It just felt like something was a bit off. Like the air wasn’t behaving right.” Trinidad said.
“Well, whatever it was I’m sure everyone here is grateful!” Anjari thanked her.
The sun had dropped beyond the nadir and cool winds began to blow across the valley. Anjari finally asked Trinidad about where she and Riley came from. “What was the city like?”
“It was pleasant. Very calm and peaceful. Plenty of good food, plenty of people to interact with, social gatherings, potlatches and the like.” Trinidad continued walking in silence for several minutes. “I’ll miss it. But, I’ll be back soon enough.”
“You say that with certainty. If there’s something I’ve learned about this world, it’s that nothing is certain.” Anjari responded.
Trinidad was still unsure about how much she could share with Anjari about her life, but decided that if she was going to do it, now would be as good a time as any. “Anjari, do you believe in fate?”
“Fate? I believe in divine intervention. But, I don’t know if I believe in fate. Do you mean like destiny?” Anjari asked.
“In a way, yes.”
“I don’t know if I believe in that or not. If I did, I’d have to believe that my son and my husband died because something in the stars willed it to be that way, and for some sadistic reason decided to force me to live alone.” Anjari contemplated despondently.
“What if, for the sake of discussion, we say that there was an order to everything, and you could step outside of yourself and see that order, just a glimpse. What if I were to tell you that you could watch the future or the past in much the same way as you watch things happening now? What would you call that?”
“You mean fortune telling?”
Trinidad let out a small giggle, and replied, “In a way, I suppose it’s like that, yes. But, in another more specific way, it’s like dreaming … like having a waking dream that you can’t control. You can watch it take place, as it unfolds before your eyes, but you have no power over what happens, or what direction it takes. And then, for the sake of discussion, what if we were to say that the events from your dream came true. Would you believe in that?”
Anjari stopped suddenly dead in her tracks. “Oh my … you’re her! You’re the witch, I mean, the heretic. Which do you prefer witch or heretic?” She shook her head at such a ridiculous thing to have asked. “Nevermind that … you’re the blind prophet! You were Sovran’s most trusted advisor! You foretold his death! Did you know Vacilly was going to kill him? It’s you isn’t it? You’re her?!?” Anjari looked into Trinidad’s eyes, which stared unfocused back in her direction.
“Yes. I’m me. And, that was a long time ago. I was probably your age then.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t recognize your name. I feel so foolish. Everyone’s heard of you! Can you do it? Can you see the future?” Anjari asked, suddenly interested in prophecy.
“I can indeed. And the past. And the present.” Trinidad said with a knowing grin.
The two of them continued talking all through the night and into the morning. Anjari was totally absorbed in Trinidad’s stories, the tales of her gifts, when she discovered them, how she escaped certain death from the clutches of the Chief Cleric. So utterly consumed by the accounts of her exploits that she barely noticed the growing commotion up ahead as the caravan came to a complete halt.
“I wonder what’s going on up ahead?” Anjari asked.
“I have no idea.” She responded.
Anjari turned to the man traveling behind her and asked him. He hadn’t been paying attention either. Anjari walked up toward the front of the caravan where the trade master was. A few people had crowded together in a knot. Anjari asked one of them, “What’s going on, why are we stopped?” Everyone in the caravan looked on in stunned confusion. Anjari bullied her way through the mass of people, her tiny frame elbowing a path in between them. When she got to Karesh, the trade master, it was apparent something was terribly wrong. “Are you ok? What’s wrong?” She begged him as he looked at her in bewilderment.
“We’re going where the camel leads as all great ones do.” Karesh wasn’t making any sense. He stumbled over his words and became frantically upset at his own voice. He was apoplectic, “Wezert vinhindy garbush. Nup! Sandly, nup sandly! Fluvin.” His eyes rolled into the back of his head and he dropped like a stone to the ground. The trade master had suffered a stroke, but not before he had led his entire caravan almost a hundred kilometers in the wrong direction.
Anjari stood helpless as she looked down at the body of the trade master. He was hemorrhaging internally, a blood clot was pushing on his left hemisphere affecting the language and cognitive functions in his brain and unless they cut out the blockage soon, he would die. But, because they had traveled in the wrong direction for so long, and as he was the only person who knew the way, they were hopelessly lost. They would all die if they didn’t get to their destination soon. Anjari could only think of one thing to do. She ran back to Trinidad, “You have to help him!”
“I can’t do anything for him. He needs a doctor.” She lamented sadly.
“But, can’t you heal him?” She protested.
“I’m not a healer, my abilities only show me what’s going to happen. I can’t do anything to change what will happen.”
“Then, what good are your powers if you can’t change anything?!?” Anjari cried out. “We’re gonna die out here if you don’t do something to save us!”
“I’m sorry, Anjari. There’s nothing I can do. I don’t have magic powers to heal people.” Trinidad said incredibly saddened by the fact that she, and everyone in the caravan, might die.
“Oh, you’re wasting my time.” She stormed off angrily.
Riley watched as she disappeared into the crowd. << An angry face >> “Yes, Riley, she’s upset. I wish there was something I could do to help, but it looks like we’re stuck until we can come up with a solution.”
Some of the traders in the caravan had decided to head out on their own in the hopes that they would find the next trading post, but not knowing what to look for or where to look there wasn’t much hope of them finding it. They could travel south for a day, and still be lost. Trinidad began to become concerned about making it to Solos and meeting up with the people from her visions. << Trinidad with a worried face >> “Yes Riley, I’m worried. The longer we sit here, the greater the chance we will miss meeting the others.”
It had been two days and still no sign of the traders. They had run out of water and the spotters had deserted the caravan. Trinidad had a thought. “Riley, I may be able to help after all.” << A giant question mark >> “I could leave my body and travel the wastes in my noncorporeal form much faster than anyone else could walk them. I could search for the next trading post, and then communicate with you how to get there through our psychic connection, and you could lead the people!” She was almost beside herself with joy at having thought of the idea. “This just might work!” Trinidad laid down and closed her eyes and slipped out of her body traveling through the wastes in search of their next destination.
Trinidad would refer to her traveling through the transcendental world as ‘slipping into the silence.’ Unlike in the physical world moving through the non-physical world wasn’t this laborious exertion of the material body moving through occupied space, but was instead a quiet floating, often leaping and appearing suddenly in an area without the necessity of movement. It was instead a shift of consciousness, from one place to another instantly. Traveling in this way afforded Trinidad the ability to cover a lot of ground in a very short amount of time. And, her connection with Riley meant that she could communicate what she saw back to him regardless of the distance that separated their minds, provided their bodies were in close proximity. Within minutes Trinidad believed she had found the next trading post, and as she came closer she was almost certain of it. One of the traders was so close to it they could have reached out and touched it, were it not hidden so well. Trinidad went into the trading post and saw the people within, confirming her suspicions. She immediately spoke to Riley, << I've found the next trading post >> Riley responded, << A smiling faced Riley clapping joyfully >> and she returned to her body. When she awoke she went to Anjari and explained that she had discovered a way that she could help.
“I found the next trading post, and I can help us all get there. If you just follow Riley he will lead you to it.” Trinidad informed Anjari.
“How? I don’t understand.” Anjari replied.
“I will travel through the non-physical world, and send the directions to Riley telepathically, leading him so everyone else can follow.” She explained. “Someone will have to carry me though, as I do this, because I will not be in control of my physical body.”
Anjari nodded. She knew that Trinidad was a powerful prophet. Her talents were well known. And, despite her frustrations with her before, she knew Trinidad to be a good and decent person and that she wouldn’t offer help unless she knew it was going to be useful.
Trinidad slipped into the non-physical world and rediscovered the trading post, tracing it all the way back to where the caravan was located and, hovering above them, transmitted to Riley the directions. They placed her body, and the body of the trade master, in blankets and picked them up carrying them to the next destination. They traveled across the plains day and night to reach the next post. They had already lost a great deal of travel time, and lacked the spotters needed to protect them, so they all kept their eyes to the sky. Riley led the caravan, his small body fighting dehydration and exhaustion. The travelers offered him berries and rootstock to chew on to keep his strength up. For such a small boy he was doing very well, thanks to Trinidad’s unceasing encouragement. << You're doing so well, Riley! You are truly a special boy! >> << The lion aspect with a red heart >> << That's right, Riley, you're a brave boy! >> << A smiling faced Riley >> It took them a little over a day traveling nonstop to reach the next post, but when they did the people were overjoyed. The trading post had been carved into the side of a mountain that rose from the outskirts of the valley. It was obscured by natural rock formations that made it nearly impossible to locate. At one point it must have been a tunnel through which a train passed, but after so many years the tracks had long since been overgrown. Now, it was nothing more than an enormous man made cave. This time they all entered into the tunnel instead of the buyers coming out. Trinidad aroused from her sleep hungry and drained. When they lowered the blanket that carried the trade master his lifeless body hung limp. He had died sometime during the journey. The traders mourned his passing and were faced with a greater dilemma: Who would lead them now? Trinidad could help in getting them to Solos, but after that they would have to find a new trade master.
“You know, you should give some thought to becoming the new trade master. After all, you’re familiar with celestial navigation, that’s practically like magic to me. You’re assertive and independent, and you know the terrain.” Trinidad suggested to Anjari.
“I don’t think I could do something like that. It’s one thing to help a few people who are stranded, especially when you’ve got supernatural intervention.” She nodded to Trinidad, “But to lead groups of hundreds of people, keeping track of all the changing trade posts and navigating the various routes… that’s a different creature altogether.” Anjari gently protested.
“Well, just something to think about. You’d probably be very good at it. I, for one, would follow you.” Trinidad said. “You followed me.”
That night the traders packed up what was left of their wares, refilled their water bottles and canteens, and struck out for Solos with Trinidad, Anjari and Riley leading the way.