“This is where the sun came down and flattened the valley.” The guide pointed ahead.
You squinted at the wide, unprotected path. Yellow-orange patterns mottled the ground. Sunmarks, you thought, no doubt.
Further evidence had been carelessly left in the form of oppressive heat, which rose straight up in a shimmering trail that led to the offender, looking down on the scene and safe far overhead, out of anyone’s jurisdiction.
I wasn’t with you that day, and was glad. You handle the heat better than me, and even seek it sometimes when the mood strikes.
Do you remember? You once set out to see the damp swamps along some coast — I can’t recall where — then headed instead to the dry desert sands west of Armant on the Nile. You like to follow the better plan no matter when it occurs to you.
But you hadn’t planned now for how hot it would be, how could you? The sun had just recently blazed through, the fiend, and left a blistering valley behind.
Yet past the horizon a blue sky beckoned.
You imagined a land of green fronds, shady palms, maybe some little café tucked under the trees and run by expats who’d tell you the news while serving your drink — a family concoction that involves Pernod and a splash of verve from an unlabeled flask — poured over ice, then sipped while you sat under a lazy fan.
And if not that…
A brief dip in a pond or stream or oasis would serve your material needs. If you could just get through the vale.
What might lurk among the cliffs that guarded the way ahead?
Bandits? There were rumors. Tigers? Not here, not anymore. Bird-People? Bah! What nonsense. No need to dwell on children’s tales.
You hoisted the leather pack, the one your uncle gave you, worn smooth from his days in the service. It enveloped you with confidence.
Time to move forward.