Omar left for the monastery on the next morning before the camp awakened, traveling with speed up through the mountains away from the tents. The eunuch returned to Kabul with the beautiful but silent bride and the rest of the guard disappeared into the hills and eventually married local girls.’
‘Well, well, poor Akbar, laughed my ginger-haired friend. Soon we were all laughing at the joke.
‘Not at all my friends, not at all. A month later Akbar sent soldiers to look for them. After his search parties found no trace, he decided they had all been eaten by wild beasts or murdered by bandits that roamed the Hindukush and returned to his winter palaces still seeking a bride.
He did hear a rumour that there was a royal elephant in the stable of some jeweller in Kabul, loved by a beautiful boy and his friend a eunuch who told tales of a great emperor’s harem but he never traced the source of the story for, of course, like everything else in Afghanistan things are often not as they seem.’
Rashid stood up and stretched, reaching long fingers behind his neck and clasping them.
‘My friends, you are to see those mountains for yourselves.’
Alf opened his mouth to protest.
‘No, Alf, your lady will be safe too. Mark my word, we leave Kabul soon as Hamid is ready and your newspapers agree. They have already agreed,’ snapped Rashid, his eyes cold. He nodded at the blue burqa in the corner by the stove. As he did a grey boot was quickly withdrawn. Hamid. Friend or foe? For that matter who really was Rashid. The teahouse steamed with secrets. The ancient owner grunted and sucked his pipe, his eyes glazed with a sort of timeless acceptance.
‘Our new visitors won’t be welcoming,’ Rashid spoke from the doorway, his shalwar kames gleaming in the slanting moonlight. An explosion burst into the night, far away.
Rashid picked up the blue kite dropped by the child earlier as he ran through the teahouse and hung it carefully on a peg by the door. The kite’s tail, a sequence of neat knots, fluttered and quivered in the draught.