X is always a problem. Sigh. Anyway, xenial: "of, relating to, or constituting hospitality or relations between host and guest and especially among the ancient Greeks between persons of different cities", so here’s a bit about the hospitality of the nomads.
Adam looked around the camp as they were led in. It was smaller than the camps along the Pilgrim’s Trail, the dull tents making it seem bleak. Bedraggled children peeked out from tents only to be pulled back by anxious parents. They were led into a large tent which seemed like a community centre. A jug of water and three cups were set out on the table they were ushered to and then they were left alone. Adam poured out the water, and they drank thirstily.
A few minutes later, the camp leader approached and introduced himself as Samad.
“What can we do for you, Penance?” he asked as he sat down opposite them.
“How do you know—”
“Suci has been circulating your picture. Your kidnapping has been widely reported and hundreds of men, both nomads and soldiers, have been mobilised to search for you—which was why I was delayed. I had to contact the General coordinating the search to inform him that you have been found.”
“I see. I didn’t know—”
“How did you escape, if I may ask?”
“We ran. Magda—one of our friends—she sacrificed herself for us. She was in no condition to run, so she stayed behind to cause a commotion.” His voice hitched, and he closed his eyes, allowing the loss to flow through him.
“I am sorry,” Samad said quietly. “I was told that the soldiers have retrieved a body yesterday. They were afraid that you had been sold onwards. The slavers arrested were not very forthcoming.”
Adam frowned. “Yesterday? But that was when we escaped.”
“We just missed them,” Tulen said hoarsely. “We must have.”
Samad gave a tiny shrug. “It happens. But you survived, and you are here. For that, we are all thankful.” A woman approached him and whispered in his ear. He nodded and turned to the pilgrims. “Are you hungry?”
Adam’s stomach growled in response. At Samad’s gesture, all kinds of dishes were brought before them.
“Eat, Penance. And you, Tulen. We will continue our discussion after you have satisfied yourself.”
They tucked in with abandon, sating themselves on the warm breads dipped in spicy curries, roasted meats, and grilled vegetables.
After eating, Adam found himself sitting with the chief alone, stretched out in a more comfortable and homey setting. Tulen had fallen asleep while they chatted and ate, so some kind souls had laid her out on a pile of cushions and covered her with a thin blanket.
Samad leaned back and spread his hands. “So as I asked before, what can we do for you, Penance?”
“We need to resupply,” Adam said. “How far is it from here to Suci?”
“It is about four days from here,” the chief replied.
“Four?” Adam groaned. “I thought we would have been nearer.”
“No, you have gone quite far out of your way. It will take you two days at least to rejoin the Pilgrim’s Trail at the fifth encampment and then another two days to complete the journey.”
“Ah, it is what it is,” Adam said resignedly. “The other problem we have is that all our belongings were taken when we were kidnapped by the slavers. We do not have any money to purchase provisions, or to even replace our waterskins.”
The camp leader shook his head. “No, no, we will not accept payment from pilgrims—surely you know that already? Especially from you, Penance. It is an honour to serve you as you serve your God. Besides, the Temple pays us enough to ensure that we are well fed and have all that we need. No, we do not need your money.”
“Thank you, Samad. Thank you so much,” Adam replied.
“Do you need escorts on your journey? We could readily provide those as well.”
Adam almost agreed. It would be wise. Safe. “No, I must decline.”
“It is no big deal. For now, you should join your friend in sleep as we prepare what you will need for your journey.”
He led Adam to another sleeping area and left him there, deep in thought.
That evening, when Adam and Tulen woke up, they found that everything that they would need for the trip ahead had been prepared for them. Samad spent a little time explaining the marks on the trail that would lead them to the intersection with the Pilgrim’s Trail.
“Stick to the trail, Penance and Tulen the pure-hearted,” the camp leader advised as they took their leave.
“We will, Samad. We will,” Adam replied. “Thank you again for your generosity.”
They left the little camp with hearts full of gratitude and packs full of provisions for the journey ahead.
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