Four sentries paced the raised, shady platform. The sun was at its apex and drenched the day in clinging rays that felt dirty and mean.

One of of the sentries was Tuy. He was a young man with well oiled hair and a clever mind. Tuy was peering through the end of his homemade telescone. It was tapered, cylindrical object with a cured piece of glass affixed inside the large aperture at the end of the cone. Tuy had shaped and perfected the glass with much attention and effort. The device allowed him to see for long distances with extraordinary clarity. He made them in his spare time and was permitted by the Chokton to sell them to traders.

Tuy was peering closely along the horizon when he noticed a cloud of dirt rising into the air. He fixed his gaze on the spot and watched. Like all of his stone worker brethren, he was in no rush to discover the source of this disruption. It would come in its own time and he intended to see it unfold. Above him, a large canvas roof flapped pleasantly in the wind. Presently, another sentry offered him something to drink.

“Tuy, tea?”

“I have seen something,” Tuy replied, indicating that he could not accept the tea.

The other sentry looked out at the horizon. “What is it?”

“I’m not sure. I think it is a person running.”

The other sentry, Phael, whistled to indicate that the remaining sentries should be on alert. They all turned and patiently watched the distant mark in the sand as it slowly moved towards them.

Through his telescone, Tuy suddenly realized what he was seeing.

“It is Airita,” he said solemnly.

“Airita?” Phael repeated. Instinctually, he put his hand on Tuy’s shoulder. Both men’s hearts sank and their guts lurched. Everyone knew that Airita had been on a sacred mission to recover a stone she had found. They had been expecting her to return any day now but this person running through the sand did not have a stone. Nor did they even have their sand sled.

“What could have happened?” Phael continued. “Is she hurt?”

“Doesn’t seem to be” said Tuy tentatively.

“I will call Lai-sen,” Phael resolved. He descended the platform, leaving Tuy to watch the steady approach of a bedraggled Airita who was arriving home under the banner of a broken vow.

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