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I: Prologue

The man is lean and pale skinned, wandering through the twilit streets of the hill town, apparently lost. His Levi's and hiking boots mark him out as a westerner — not a climber, maybe a tourist or a middle class drop-out following the hippie trail his dad has told him all about.

He squints at the crowd squeezing into the shabby little mosque, their jellabas the same grubby dun-grey as the streets and buildings. Minutes earlier, the man had heard the muezzin calling out over the roof-tops — to the faithful, not to him.

Soon, the man is alone in the deserted street. Here in the valley, it has grown rapidly dark, whilst the mountain tops burn vividly with the last remnants of the escaping sun. The perspective is quite dizzying: the man can look so far up and still see mountain where there should be sky.

He is still looking up when he senses a presence at his shoulder.

A hand seizes his arm.

"Hey!" he gasps, but the cold line of the blade against his throat stops him from saying or doing anything further.

His arm is twisted up behind his back and he is forced to his knees.

A man appears before him, lets loose a torrent of Kashmiri. The westerner peers up. The man is wearing a drab jellaba, with a fold of the grey material twisted around his head in a kind of turban. There are at least four men now, but the first is clearly their leader. He leans forward and searches the westerner's pockets.

They are empty. No wallet, no papers. Has he left them in his hotel? If they have such a thing as a hotel in a small mountain settlement like this.

The leader of the bandits seizes the westerner's dark hair, yanking his head brutally to one side.

"You American?" he says. "English? German? Hnh?"

"I..." But the westerner stops. He shrugs, as far as the man twisting his arm will let him. "I'm not exactly sure," he says finally. "I think I may be lost."


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