As the sun was cresting the hills in the east, Cadmus threw open the flap of his tent and stepped yawning into the chilly air. He blew steam from his mouth and stretched his arms back behind his head, hearing his back pop twice. He took his gold-rimmed aviators from his breast pocket and flicked them open, set them on his nose. With a hand at his brow he looked down into the green Panjshir Valley and grinned like he usually did when he saw that view, or any view like it. The grass at his feet was brittle with a bit of frost. It was getting into winter and especially up here in the hills it would be very cold soon.
Breakfast was Afghan naan-e bread and a few sips of black coffee. The rest of the coffee he put in a thermos in his rucksack. He went to their makeshift stable and got his horse Ameera. He petted her nose and fed and watered her, then saddled her and drew her out into the morning by her reigns.
His father was waiting there with a smile, arms crossed. “Early start, for you.”
“It’s a long ride and I wanna get there before it’s too hot.”
“Better go then. You’ll still find a way to be late, you know. A pretty stream to rest beside. Or a pretty girl to rest beside.”
Cadmus lifted his eyebrows. “Is that a prediction? Please tell me that’s a prediction.”
Father chuckled and clapped Cadmus’ shoulder. He had a Kalashnikov with a folding stock slung over his shoulder on a worn strap. He shrugged it off and held it out for Cadmus.
Cadmus lifted an eyebrow. “I figured a pistol and machete would be alright.” He looked at the assault rifle. “…But since you went to the trouble of loading it for me…” He took the gun from his father and stuck it through a strap on Ameera’s saddle. Then he mounted up and gave a jaunty salute before heading off, whistling along his way.
He moved along the rumpled crest of the hills for a few miles before descending into the valley. Ameera scuffled over the loose pebbles and dust of the slope before they broke down into the green belt surrounding the river, where they moved over flat fields of greenish grass, under scant trees.
As usual, he wondered which of Father’s words he should be paying the most attention to. He thought back to their conversation as he often did, scouring it. Trying to pick out any twinge of expression, any emphasis on a word that would tell him what the future held. He had tried to ask Father directly a few times, in his younger days, and been turned away with barely a word. So he was left to discuss it with his brother Cilix. Cilix would always shake his head and purse his long mournful lips, saying that trying to decipher meaning from it was pointless.
“If you knew beforehand it would defeat the purpose, Cadmus.” Cilix would say, or something like that. “He does tell you what you need to know. He does change your future. But not in such a way that you can perceive it beforehand.”
And of course Cilix was right. Cadmus sighed, drinking from his canteen. But still he wanted to know. He couldn’t just not think about it. Knowing each of father’s words could hold some hint about the future. He carried on riding, pouting as he went. The pretty stream had come to pass. But there were a lot of pretty streams around here. Now if the pretty girl came to pass as well… why then, he knew that Father was looking out for him. But he was almost certain that had been a joke.
As he rounded a bend in the path, he saw a long crooked finger of black smoke rising above the valley floor. It lay almost directly where he figured the village ought to be. Jaw clenched, he urged Ameera forwards into a trot. He reached down to pull out the Kalashnikov rifle. He chambered a round, then smiled drily.
His father had told him the future. It just hadn’t been in words.