Andreli wiped the sweat from his forehead--leaving long streaks of dirt across his tan face. The sun glared down on him. He reared back and let out a loud, exaggerated cough--swatting the dust away from his face. "I'm not sure how much more of this I can take." He rolled up the sleeves of his tunic. "And it is only the first day." He rolled his eyes, marching forward on the stone road. The other travelers, all equally grouchy, jostled around him. They were all trudging along in the same direction. Andreli continued muttering, "I tell you, it is not right for an old man to be traveling all the way to Cyprus just so" and he lowered his voice slightly, "the king can take some more hard-earned money out of my purse."
"You better be careful what you say."
Andreli's eyes snapped up. A young man was glancing around as if worried someone else had heard, but no one looked in their direction.
He looked at Andreli again. "Do you always talk to yourself like that?" There was a hint of amusement in his voice.
Andreli shrugged. "Well," he said, arms swinging by his side, "I will talk to anyone who has a willing ear, but most of the time I am the only one who fits that category."
The young man raised an eyebrow. Andreli was a sight to behold. At four foot five inches, he had to crane his neck to look the young man in the eyes. The top of his bald scalp was covered in freckles, and wiry curls of hair sprouted out from the sides of his head falling like jungle vines down to his waist. A long white beard tickled his kneecaps, and he squinted out at the world with pale gray eyes that whispered of mischief.
"I'm Andreli the Merchant." He held out a wrinkled hand.
The stranger grasped his arm and shook it heartily. "Peace be with you."
"And with you. Where are you headed?" Andreli asked. "Did you just join the caravan?"
The man ducked his head and glanced around the crowded street.
Andreli raised his eyebrows. "Don't worry, I'm not strong enough or quiet enough to be a thief or a Roman spy." He chuckled at himself, then when he still did not get any response he continued, "The secretive type, huh?" He rubbed the top of his head. "Well, that doesn't bother me a bit. I have no secrets myself. I'm going down to Cyprus because of--well, I suppose we all have the same reason for traveling these days. Have you ever seen the streets so full? In any case, I don't think anyone would travel in this heat to visit family, eh?" Andreli winked. "So then, what's your name?"
The stranger's thick eyebrows came together and his forehead wrinkled. "We--I want to be left alone. It's not personal, but it would be best if we kept to ourselves. "
Andreli waved his hand. "Alright, alright, if that's how it's going to be, that's your choice, but I'm no good at keeping to myself. I don't know why you're so worried. You are too young to worry. I learned long ago, it does no good to worry. In my experience, it makes matters worse. What's going to happen is going to happen no matter how much you worry about it. "
The man smiled but remained silent.
Andreli took this as permission to continue. "So who's this 'we' you keep mentioning?" He looked over his shoulder. From what he could tell the man was walking alone.
"I'd rather not say." But the young stranger glanced back at the women who were talking amongst themselves and gathering kindling.
Andreli grunted. "You know, we are going to be on this journey for days. I'm going to find out. I'm like a leech." He shook his head, waving his hand as if to clarify. "A harmless, non-threatening leech."
A grin crept onto the young man's face.
Andreli sighed. "Alright, I understand, Mr. Hush-Hush, if that's how it's going to be, I don't mind doing all the talking around here."
A soft laugh. "I can see that."
"Well, if you won't volunteer any information about yourself, I'll go ahead and tell you every last detail about myself. I'm not bashful about my story." He cleared his throat. "I'm from Bethany--well at least I have been living in Bethany for the last decade. I joined the caravan yesterday. As I said, I'm headed for Cyprus. My father's family traces back there. My mother's family is from Italy, but that is a long story. We moved to Bethany due to my mother's ailment. Well, that and for the figs. My father's family, however, is from Cyprus, so to Cyprus, I must go."
The man was staring at Andreli in amazement.
"What's the matter, Hush? Never seen a man talk before?"
The man chuckled, stroking his short beard. "What did you call me?"
"I called you Hush," Andreli said, a little miffed. "I'm going to have to call you something if we are to travel together."
"Wait, travel togeth--"
"Unless you've, uh, changed your mind and want to tell me your real name?"
The man tilted his head in a quick motion. "You can call me hush." He said with laughter in his eyes. "I kind of like it."
"Well, then, Hush, maybe we just start with the basics."
"What do you mean?"
Andreli kicked a pebble off the road. "Well, for starters, what is your favorite food?"
"Or, maybe, we should keep to ourselves." He said in mock seriousness.
"What? Are you kidding me?" Andreli frowned. "Come on. Favorite food?"
Hush turned his gaze to the sky. "Let's see, I do enjoy Kneidlach."
Andreli looked at him in disgust. "Kneidlach? So, that is your game? You are either not going to talk or you're going to talk about something I've never heard of, is that it?"
Hush shrugged. "It's something my family makes."
"Yeah? Any of your family traveling with you?" Andreli raised his eyebrows forcing his smirk into a frown.
Hush smiled. "Nice try."
Andreli sighed, and his shoulders slunk back down.
Hush ran his tongue over his teeth. "Maybe," he said, "I can get my wife to make you some Kneidlach sometime."
Andeli's face broke into a toothless grin. "Progress, Hush! That's progress." He did a little skip. "Now we're getting somewhere."
Hush chuckled, "How old are you anyway?"
Andreli pursed his lips, eyes dancing. "Now it's my turn to be secretive, aye Hush?"