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         In the morning, they sent the small family off in the direction of the last village they had passed.  For a few minutes, Chess stood silently watching them go, until Ileana came up beside him.
         “It really bothered you to see those kids,” she stated gently.  “Me too.”
         Chess blinked.  “I will never have kids,” he growled, not looking at her.  “I will never give this world another person to torture.”  He pressed his fingers over his right eyebrow, where he had felt an ache since the previous evening.  And then he turned on Sariel.
         “I thought we were going to avoid all people,” he stormed.  “Now they can describe all three of us, if asked – and tell them about a healer, which just might ring a bell with Razor’s men.”
         In answer, Sariel shot him a fiery look and stormed away.
         “Maybe you can talk to her,” he said to Ileana.  “I never even have a clue what she’s thinking.”
         “I have been talking to her,” Ileana replied softly, and then she followed Sariel.

         They did not speak again until that night, after they had eaten and they were all starting to feel a little more relaxed.  And then, unexpectedly, Ileana spoke up.  “I have a story,” she announced.
         Chess looked at her in surprise, and, he noted, so did Sariel.  Neither one of them spoke, though.  They just waited expectantly.  Apparently taking this as an invitation, Ileana began.
         “Once, long ago, when the earth seemed to be dying and civilization seemed to be shrinking… far out in the wilderness, there was a hospital.  People came from far and wide to go there because, at this hospital, there resided a great doctor, who was known throughout the land of men for his good works and his healing powers that seemed to come from the gods themselves.”
         Ileana gazed thoughtfully heavenward for a moment, and then continued.  “Now, it happens that, one day, a woman came to the hospital, drawn by the energy of the great healer.  She did not go there because she was sick, though.  No, she was seeking refuge from people who were chasing her.”
         Chess settled back, listening intently.  He was certain that Ileana had a point to her story, and he was eager to know what it was.  Sariel appeared to be frowning at the fire.
         “Because, you see, this woman was the one that people called a witch,” Ileana explained.  “And she was the same witch who, along with Chess the thief, had helped the…”  She sighed and rolled her eyes at Chess.  “…goddess Lilumei escape from the dragon.
         “Now, Enthirath, the god of water, was already very angry with Lilumei, as we know.  Well, he also became angry with anyone who helped her here on earth.  And so, he inspired the dragon’s army to pursue the witch, as well as the goddess.  And they did.”
         “And what happened then?” Chess asked with an uneasy grin.
         “I would rather hear more about Chess’s imaginary war,” Sariel grumbled.  She threw a twig into the fire and watched sparks fly up.  She was obviously not happy about the story Ileana was telling, but at least, Chess thought gratefully, she did not get up and walk away.
         “What happened,” Ileana said, “was that, after the witch had been at the hospital for a while, Enthirath told the dragon’s army where to find her.  They came right to the door of the hospital and demanded that the doctor let them inside.”  Ileana raised her chin defiantly.  “But the doctor refused, and stood blocking the doorway, although he was unarmed.  ‘This woman that you seek is a guest under my roof,’ he told them.  ‘The laws of hospitality demand that I protect her, and you shall not enter here.’
         “This angered the dragon’s guards, and, striking the doctor a mighty blow, they stormed past him, into the hospital.  The witch had been standing there, right beside the doctor, and now the guards tried to take hold of her.”  Ileana looked at Sariel.  “But they could not: she slipped through their grasp.
         “‘This is some magic,’ they grumbled among themselves.  ‘Remember that she is a witch,’ they told each other, and they started to become fearful.  Their fear made them angry, then, and they struck at her, tried to vent their growing anger at her… but, no matter what they did, they could not hurt her.  She stood free of them, outside of their reach.”

Continued next page...

“Did you hear what the Taliban said?” Tariq asks. “About bin Laden?” ...
The Taliban have announced that they won't relinquish bin Laden because he is a mehman, a guest, who has found sanctuary in Afghanistan and it is against the Pashtunwali code of ethics to turn over a guest. Tariq chuckles bitterly, and Laila hears in his chuckle that he is revolted by this distortion of an honorable Pashtun custom, this misrepresentation of his people's ways.
- A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

         In July of 2005, Time Magazine published an article about an American soldier in Afghanistan who had ended up alone fighting against the enemy. Eventually, he made his way to a nearby village and found help from the people there. A very similar story appears in Sebastian Junger’s book, War, and I think they are probably the same story. However, the important part is the description of the traditional hospitality:
The people of Sabray were obligated to protect Luttrell under an honor code called lokhay warkawal, which holds that anyone who comes to your doorstep begging for help must be cared for no matter what the cost to the community. Taliban forces surrounded the village and threatened to kill everyone in it, but the villagers held out long enough for American forces to arrive.
- War by Sebastian Junger

         It is an idea and an ancient custom that really stands out, so that I recognized it in War a few years after reading the Time article. It is also interesting that the Taliban appear to have used that same custom to justify not turning over Osama bin Laden to the U.S. I have read a similar idea in the writings of others who have ventured into the region as well: if you are once accepted by the leaders of a village or tribe as a guest, you need not fear any danger from them.
         The quote, above, from A Thousand Splendid Suns makes me want to take my blog in two entirely different directions now. I better just start with one...



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