I arrived at the village mid morning, having left my camp at sunrise. It wasn’t an easy walk. The terrain in the forest undulates even more than in Carlika, and the recent rain on the leafy floor made it slippery. I would probably have made quicker progress if I hadn't spent so much time taking in my surroundings. The animal life here within the Veil is astounding and almost every plant is new to me.
A group of children met me outside the village. They were playing some game, involving running in and out of the trees (the seemed unhindered by the slippery ground). When they saw me, they all stopped at once, their mouths open. I must have seemed like a giant to them, for the Arrakeshi people are small in stature. Eventually, one of the older children came forward and asked if he could help me. They led me then, to the village and introduced me to the Chief Elder. Quite a crowd built up around me as we walked to his cottage. A stranger in the village, especially a Carlikan visitor, is obviously quite an event.
The Chief Elder, a man approaching fifty years of age, whose formal name is Kattanbek, welcomed me into his cottage. His wife, Megda, served me a tea, a strange concoction made with camomile and other herbs I couldn’t recognise, as well as some quite bitter tasting biscuits which she told me were made with almond flour. The two were not at all awkward about welcoming a stranger, explaining to me that anyone whom Arrakesh allows within the Veil is considered a friend and offered due hospitality, though they can be sent on their way if they don't obey the rules of the village. The explanation was given very politely, but the implication was clear.
There is nothing about Kattanbek to show his status as Chief Elder, but he has a tattoo at his wrist, a stylised bear design which I haven’t seen on others. He also has a tattoo below his throat, an eagle-like creature, but I noticed this design on others too, later in the day, so I can only presume it is a mark of the tribe, a totem of some kind. His wife, however, had a tattoo of different design. I will ask them about it at a later date.
Kattanbek’s cottage, which from what I could see is typical of the housing in the village, is small, constructed of slabs of roughly hewn wood, with a shingled roof. It consists of two rooms; a living area, sparsely furnished, with a stone fireplace on which the cooking is done; and a sleeping area. Bed rolls, thin leather mattresses stuffed with what smells like pine needles and lavender, are stored in one corner along with fur coverings. The living area has a floor of flat stones, but the other room has a dirt floor, cleanly swept. At the far end of the cottage is a stone byre. Most of the cottages seem to have a small vegetable garden and a few have goats tethered nearby.
I am to sleep here tonight and other accommodation will be found for me in days to come. Kattanbek, or Kattan as he's usually called by young and old alike, seems keen to talk with me of the places he visited on his ‘sharesh’ as a youth and Megda promises me the best roast rabbit I have ever tasted. They are a most hospitable people.