Monday, 29th May 2023 - 15:09:47 pm

They walked along the trail for about fifteen minutes before they came to a cultivated field. Across the field, a hundred meters away, was the village. It was surrounded by plowed fields. Off to the right the ground fell away. Kincaid could see flooded rice paddies there. There were women working in the fields and the paddies.

The trail crossed the fields on a dyke only wide enough for a cart or a jeep. The dyke was cut twice by narrow irrigation channels bridged with loose boards. The women in the fields stopped work to watch them pass by. Several called out to them. Hao seemed to know them all. He waved and chatted as they walked. They stopped twice while Hao talked to women near the trail.

At the edge of the village they were net by a six foot tall red haired man. He was dressed in the loin cloth that the Rhade wore. His facial features were Asian except for the nose which was a bit large and slightly hooked. His skin was as dark as the Rhade and his body was just as muscular.

The man did not seem pleased to see Hao and Kincaid. He spoke to Hao in a low voice but there was no mistaking the unfriendly tone. Hao answered him in kind. The man said something else, pointing at Kincaid. Hao dropped his bag and seemed to be challenging him. They would have been eyeball to eyeball except Hao was a head shorter.

Kincaid switched his bag to his left hand and positioned himself to end a fight quickly if one should start.

Hao noticed the movement. "Don't kill him," he said to Kincaid.

The redheaded men turned abruptly and walked back into the village.

"He knew you were not Rhade," Hao explained.

"What did I do wrong? How did he know?"

Hao shrugged. "You've been Rhade for only a few hours. It takes practice. You couldn't fool everybody."

"I look a hell of a lot more Rhade than him. What the hell is he?"

"He is Rhade. His name is Quon. His father was French. There are many like him here."

"With red hair?"

"No, not many with red hair. There are many who had French fathers. Now we have some that had American fathers. They are all Rhade."

"If it's going to cause a problem with me being here, maybe we should leave."

"Nah. It's no problem. They all would have found out pretty soon. We couldn't fool them all for long." Hao laughed. "The girls you sleep with will brag."

"What was he so mad about?"

"He's afraid Charlie will find out you're here and come looking for you.

Some children were gathering around them. They looked on silently. More were coming.

"Come on," Hao said, "we'll go talk to the village chief."

They walked side by side for the first time that day.

"Is he right?" Kincaid asked. "Will Charlie come looking for me?"

"Yes," Hao replied without hesitation, "if they find out you're here."

The children followed them as they walked through the village.

"Do you think they'll find out I'm here."

"Yes," Hao replied, again without hesitation.

The houses of the village were built three or four feet off the ground on wooden stilts. The floor and frames were of wood while the walls and roof were women branches and leaves. Each building was no more than one medium sized, rectangular room. There were fifty or more structures in the village.

Bare breasted women looked at them curiously from some of the doorways as they passed. By the time they reached the center of the village more than two dozen children were on their heels. All the children were very young. Some were carrying smaller children. Kincaid guessed the older kids were working in the fields.

At the center of the village was a structure about three times the size of the others. Hao climbed the ladder at the doorway and entered. Kincaid followed him.

It took a couple of minutes for his eyes to adjust to the darkness inside. The only light came from the open doorway and two small windows. It was one large room inside without furniture. It looked like a meeting hall. There were two men there. Kincaid recognized Quon, the tall redheaded one. The other was staring at him coldly. He was about five feet five inches tall and stoutly built. His nose was wide and flat. His face was badly pockmarked from small pox. Both men were wearing long knives. Both looked like they could use them well and might at any moment.

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