He left at night, taking with him a change of clothes, a blanket, and a small bag of money which he found in his father’s room. He travelled until dawn and then all of the next day and well into the following night, pursued by thoughts of his angry and vengeful father. His route led south towards the holy city, following the roads he knew from the yearly pilgrimage his family were rich enough to make. The land rose around him in broken shadows, ragged heights of limestone, sparse ground, uncultivated and sporadically populated, the occasional shepherds’ village buried in the valleys where goats roamed the scrub.
On the evening of the third day, exhausted and hungry, he stood watching the sun slip beyond the horizon, casting its last rays over the broad expanse of a lake. His sense of guilt had not left him but thoughts of his angry father had ceased to torment him, diminishing in intensity as the distance from home increased. A mist was rising off the lake. Grass tufts, long and heavy with seeds, stood dry and yellow-silvery in the fading light. Autumn flowers thrust their crowns above the grass, including one of which he did not know the name, a head of pale trumpets spread out on a long stalk, its white petals glowing faintly in the dusk. A tent flap clattered in the rising wind and sand drifted across the clearing, driven in little runs and gusts. He drew the edge of his cloak tighter across his mouth. The sounds of the caravan he had joined earlier that afternoon were to his back. He could hear the mutter of conversation. Blue smoke coiled away from a fire of camel dung. Some of the women were tending a stew of meat and vegetables.
The sound of feet approaching awakened him. One of the men had come over to ask if he would like some food. He followed to where a group of travellers sat in a circle around the fire and ate gratefully. It was his first meal since leaving home. He watched the others, their faces mostly in shadow, wondering what they thought of him, a stranger who had come amongst them from the hills. Had they believed his story about a religious obligation, a prayer answered? They had accepted him easily enough. They could know nothing for certain.