The first few days were difficult. It had been raining, so the road was muddy and rough. There were a lot of hills, and the road would wind around some, and go up and over others. Samuel had to pay close attention to where he was walking, so that he would not step into a hole or trip on a stone. He did not dare stumble, as he carried his lady on his back. Although she never complained, Samuel could feel how miserable she was during this journey. Even so, every once in a while she would rub Samuel’s neck and whisper encouraging words, especially when he was struggling up a wet, steep slope. Master Joseph stayed close by their side, often speaking with the new lady, asking how she was doing.
At night they camped along the road. Master Joseph would set up a small shelter, draped with heavy camel’s hair mats, and the new lady would pull out dried loaves of bread, a skein of fragrant oil, and a satchel of crushed herbs. They would eat quietly, too exhausted to speak much, while Samuel grazed on whatever he found on the side of the road. The next morning they would rise early, eat some more bread, and start again on the road.
The initial group of travelers which they left with had long since moved on ahead of them. The master let Samuel keep at a slow pace, trying to ease the discomfort of his lady. But they still did not travel alone. There were many on the road with them, going in both directions. Eventually everyone would pass them by, however.
After several wet days of travel, the road finally left the hills and dropped down into a dry valley which followed along a river. At first Samuel thought the situation was preferable to the muddy sludge he had just left behind, but he began to change his mind as his back became drenched in sweat and his nostrils filled with the dust kicked up by other travelers.
They stopped frequently by the river to collect water and rest. His lady would dip her feet into the cool water and sigh, rubbing her swollen belly.
Although the days were warm, the evenings were still quite cool. Samuel would stand close to the tent and hear his master and lady’s voices murmuring inside. He would not hear their voices for long, however, as they would soon drop off to sleep.
On the first night in the valley, long after the voices in the tent were hushed in sleep, Samuel lay on the packed, dry earth and looked up at the moon. It seemed that there were a million stars in the dark sky. It made Samuel feel very small as he saw the vast expanse of heavens.
Suddenly he heard a rustling in the brush close to their camp. The tent was situated next to a thicket of trees and shrubs, which were very dark. The soft light from the moon did not illuminate much beyond the edge of their camp, as the thicket was so dense.
The hairs on the back of Samuel’s neck stood on end as he heard more rustling and a low growl. He had heard other pack animals speak of the dangerous beasts in the forest along this stretch of road. He could not imagine what was crouching just beyond the edge of the thicket, ready to pounce.
A soft murmuring came from the tent. It was his new lady, speaking in her sleep. He heard the shifting of mats and blankets as she repositioned herself, trying to get comfortable on the hard ground.
Whatever was in that thicket, Samuel knew that he could not let it near their camp and his lady. He stood up and started pawing at the ground, snorting and shaking his head from side to side. He paced back and forth, pawing at the earth again and again, and snorting in short bursts. Finally he stopped and stood, staring into the darkness of the woods.
All was silent.
Samuel stood guard all night. There were no more rustles coming from the thicket, but he stayed attentive anyway, until the pale blue light of morning crept up from the horizon and his master awoke.