The man sat at the crossroads, legs crossed, his hands at his knees, palms-up, like the Fenidae when they pray. He was dark of skin and eye, his hair falling to his waist in rough braids shot through with grey and festooned with beads and feathers. His beard was tangled, full against his chest, woven through with plaited cords.
He wore a loose robe, gold in color, that had seen rain and sun and dirt and blood.
His face was turned to the morning sun; it should have left him blind. I stood some ways away, observing him. He did not move or speak. He merely waited at the crossroads.
I waited and I watched. The sun rose; the day grew hot. Sweat dripped from my face. The man sat.
Eventually, he spoke. “You may as well come talk with me,” he said. “The sun rises high, and you look weary. I have been sitting here for a very long time, and will not be leaving soon.”
I adjusted my khalaat, testing its edge with my thumb. I did not move, nor did I speak.
The man smiled. “I see that the Nara’ae people are as rude now as when I was a boy. I do not take offense. I ask a second time; come and talk with me. I offer refreshments; food, and drink cool to the parched throat.” He gestured with an arm, his first movement since I had seen him. To his right sat a rug, covered in sweetmeats and fruit, with clay wine-jugs, condensation glistening on their sides. The smell of fresh-baked bread reached my nose, and my stomach groaned.
I did not move, nor did I speak. I felt the sun, hot on my face; my armor scorched my shoulders, its weight growing as the day dragged on. My khalaat scraped my leg.
The man gestured with his other arm. “I ask a third time; come and talk with me. If my companionship is not to your liking, perhaps others may entice you.” To his left was a woman, then another, one dark of eye and skin and the other light. They danced and swayed; the music of the gourd-pipe and the goatskin-drum and the dzendze filled the air. Behind them were two young boys, one dark of eye and skin and the other light. The boys sang to the music, and their voices were as those of the spirit-folk.
I did not move, nor did I speak. I felt my heart call out to the dancers, to the singers, Come away, O! Come away!
But they heard me not, and they did not come.
The man stood, moving like water. “I ask a final time; come and talk with me.” His arms made no movement, and his eyes made no promise. The food and the drink and the women and the boys and the music faded away.
I did not meet his eyes. I strode toward him, and the sun beat down on my face, and my armor was hot upon my shoulders, and my khalaat burned my hand as its edge sang through his neck.
I was past the man already as his head rolled from his shoulders and fell to the ground; I never heard his body fall. There was only a whisper, as if a garment had dropped from a height.
I did not look back, to see if the teeth that smiled at me had sharpened points, or if the forehead dry in a sun-maddened day sprouted horns. I walked on, and I turned neither to the right or the left.
For I have lived long, and I know well the creatures that are found at crossroads.