The Wakhan Corridor was actually a safe place compared to the other regions in Afghanistan because it was just a desolate corridor. It was isolated and empty. The Islamic militants would not move in the area, and the American troops would not fly their planes here to bomb targets of no value. Only some 10,000 Tajik people populated the Wakhan Corridor and they were wandering nomads. There was no danger so long as one did not anger them. This was a quiet world.
They progressed smoothly in their return through the Wakhan Corridor as they had experienced it before and were familiar with the terrain and the route; they took much less time. They were through the Wakhan Corridor in five days and entered Afghan territory. The three of them did not meet any trouble in these five days - there was no attack, no surveillance, and they didn’t even run into foul weather.
Night descended and they made camp in an oasis. The area was small and there was a tiny pool with poplar trees and haloxylon trees. Moonlight shone on the trees and the pool, sending up a dappling of reflected light; quiet, mysterious.
After laying out the blankets, the three of them gathered to eat some dry rations and drink some water.
“Not bad. We just passed through this place the last time. I want to take a bath this time.” Szlamy had eaten and drank her fill, and she pulled Xia Lei by the hand, saying enthusiastically, “Xia, come bathe with me. Taking a bath in the middle of a desert is a feeling I guarantee you’d never forget for the rest of your life.”
“You bathe first. I’ll wash up later.” Xia Lei refused. Szlamy was so enthusiastically open that he couldn’t help feeling uncomfortable on her behalf.
“Come on, bathe with me.” Szlamy jiggled Xia Lei’s arm like a pouty little girl. “You can help me chase away the peeping-toms.”
“This is the desert - where are the peeping-toms?” laughed Xia Lei.
“There’re no people but there’re snakes. What if a snake bites me?” Szlamy kept jiggling Xia Lei’s arm. “I’m most afraid of snakes. They’re long, soft and smooth… If one slithers on me… Ah, just the thought of it scares me.”
Xia Lei was speechless.
“What rubbish are you saying? You’re the best at catching snakes in our tribe. You caught 20 snakes last month and roasted 15. The remaining five you put in people’s bed-covers. Must you force me to reveal all these?” said Dayetia slowly.
“Chieftain!” Szlamy stamped her foot huffily.
Dayetia ignored Szlamy’s discontent and said, “Xia, you stand guard here. Szlamy and I will take a bath, then you.”
Xia Lei nodded. “Sure, no problem.”
“Come on Szlamy. You’re afraid of snakes, huh? I’ll bathe with you and help you chase them away,” said Dayetia.
Szlamy pouted. “Chieftain, I want to CATCH a snake. You don’t get it.”
The two White Hun women walked towards the pool, arguing as they went. They were like a pair of quarrelsome sisters.
Xia Lei watched them walk off through a patch of sparse, low haloxylon trees, and strip next to the water before going in. The moonlight was pale and they were too, but the water was blue - it was an exquisite scene. The waves rippled in the water and their curves undulated with the ripples, at times like rolling hills, at at other times like the full moon. Big moons, little moons, dazzling moons. The two bathing women were about 30 metres away from him but to a person like him who could see over 4,000 metres away, they seemed to be bathing right under his nose.
‘Oh boy, Szlamy is asset-heavy indeed. She’s overshadowed her chieftain at such a young age. Impressive. She’s also so naughty… she’ll be a vixen when she’s older, eh?’ Strange thoughts arose in Xia Lei’s head as he admired and compared the two.
If he were to choose one of them to bathe with he would choose Szlamy without hesitation. Dayetia was too scheming and had only the tribe in her heart. Szlamy was much more naive and it was rather relaxing to be with her. Too bad there was no way he would be able to bathe with Szlamy with Dayetia around.
‘I’ve already done my best to foster a good relationship with Dayetia and she’s friendlier than before. My plan should be able to work when we get to the tribe… Wait, that’s not right.’ Xia Lei’s mind spun as he recalled something he’d ignored earlier. ‘I helped the White Hun Tribe get their lost sword of Attila. Szlamy asked to be given as a most precious gift to me and this looks like a joke on the surface but Dayetia’s reaction was calm, cold even. She rejected it right away with no regard for Szlamy’s feelings or mine. She’s been stopping Szlamy from getting intimate with me too… I don’t really want take Szlamy and I’d reject it even if she agreed to it, of course, but she just keeps getting in the way. If Dayetia truly sees me as the most treasured guest of the White Hun Tribe then why would she do that?’
It was simple logic. If Dayetia treated him like the most treasured guest then she would not stop Szlamy from being with him, nor get in their way. She had done so and this showed that she did not trust him at all. How were they to work together if there was no trust?
This straightening out of thoughts made Xia Lei wrinkle his brows. His gaze went again to Dayetia and Szlamy in the water.
The moonlight was soft and pale like the women basking in it.
Dayetia and Szlamy seemed to be arguing about something and their disagreement marred this beautiful picture.
Xia Lei was struck by a thought and his left eye twitched. He focused on their lips.
In the pool, Szlamy hugged her breasts with her hands. Her great assets were given a boost and the sight of it made Xia Lei feel like he’d been struck by a seismic wave. She was pouting and saying in discontent, “Chieftain, Xia is a great person. He’s taken good care of us this whole journey. Remember? He went up against American troops himself when we were attacked by them and let us escape first. Now he’s found our sacred relic, the sword of Attila. We wouldn’t even be able to dream of getting it back without his help. Don’t these two things mean he is our tribe’s most honoured friend, our hero? A beauty for a hero; I want to be with him. Is that so wrong?”
Her words were reasonable, except that last part but it would be out of character for the H-cup baby-faced Szlamy if she did not say it.
Dayetia wrinkled her brows. “Is your head filled only with frivolities like men? Imbecile! I’ve told you that you can have any man but him, and any number too. Anyone but him. Our tribe must not be connected to him.”
“He is a target of the American troops, and I don’t know why. This is Afghanistan. We cannot fight the Americans. If we’re connected to him the tribe may become a target of the Americans too. Do you want that to happen?”
“And you’re still getting him to build us a hydropower station?”
“There will be no hydropower station.”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t ask. Speak less from now on.”
“Will you let those Chinese people go?”
“I shall decide that. Enough questions.”
“All right, I’ll stop asking and stop talking - I’ll be mute from now on! You’re chieftain! Your word is law!” Szlamy submerged herself angrily like an ostrich burying its head in the sand.
Dayetia looked over in Xia Lei’s direction but it was dark and murkiness met her eyes; she could not see Xia Lei. What she didn’t know and could not expect was that Xia Lei could even see the look in her eyes clearly though she could not see him.
Her gaze was hesitant but dark, ruthless.
The look in her eyes made Xia Lei’s heart sink.
This return to Afghanistan had been all smooth-sailing but it was only so on the surface.
Dayetia had no plans to build a hydropower station in the tribe, nor plans to let Tang Yu-Yan, Ning Jing and those experts go. This meant the promise she had made to let him excavate the ancient ruins was probably not going to happen either.
What was this chieftain thinking?
Xia Lei grew nervous, worried and angry.
He had put so much of his blood and sweat into fostering this friendship and he’d been repaid with betrayal!
Dayetia and Szlamy climbed out of the water minutes later. They put on their clothes and returned to camp.
There was not a trace of happiness on Szlamy’s face. She pouted, but was silent. She seemed to be doing as Dayetia had commanded, or maybe it was her sulking.
Dayetia, however, was smiling as she said to Xia Lei, “Xia, we’re done bathing. You can go now. We have to pick up the pace after we leave this place so there won’t be any other chance for you to bathe.”
“All right, I’ll bathe too.” Xia Lei got up and walked towards the pool.
Xia Lei first used his left eye to scan the area around the pool when he got to it. He stripped and entered the water only after confirming that there was no one hidden close by. The water was cool and fairly refreshing. Xia Lei popped his head out of the water and peeked in the direction of the camp. He saw Dayetia take out the set of night-vision equipment Bureau 101 had given to him and use it to look over at the pool.
Xia Lei looked away and dove into the water.
The thermal imaging device allowed one to ‘see’ through walls and see the warm-blooded bodies hidden behind walls but it could not penetrate the cool water to reveal the person underwater.
Xia Lei crouched in the water and used his left eye to look the water and at the camp again.
At that moment, Dayetia took out the sniper rifle he’d modified from his luggage and aimed it in his direction.
‘She wants to kill me!’ Xia Lei was startled and furious at the same time.
She had the sword of Attila and quite a bit of money. Killing him would also help her avoid the threat from the American front. This must be Dayetia’s motive! To burn their bridges after crossing them!
Szlamy suddenly stood from her blankets and grabbed at the sniper rifle in Dayetia’s hands.
“What are you doing, Chieftain?” said Szlamy angrily, “Xia is our tribe’s hero! You can’t do this!”
“I will do anything for the tribe!” Dayetia rebuked angrily, “Get out of the way!”
“I won’t! We White Huns don’t do things like this! What you’re doing is wrong.” Szlamy held on stubbornly, refusing to let go.
Dayetia suddenly slapped Szlamy across her face but Szlamy did not let go. She swept Szlamy to the ground with one foot, then pressed the muzzle of the sniper rifle to her chest. “I’ll kill you!”Previous Chapter Next Chapter