They were traveling northward along the river, against the current, so they stayed close to the riverbank to avoid the strongest flow in the center. The boatman was a powerfully muscled man with a black mustache and no beard. He wore nothing more than a loincloth and a turban as he worked; any more clothing would have hampered his efforts. He knew the vagaries of the river well, however, and poled efficiently to propel the small boat along its way. Occasionally he could be heard humming to himself, but otherwise he did not speak as the craft moved upriver.
Daybreak found them still on the river, leaving the gentle plains behind them and starting up into the Tirghiz Mountains that were the river’s source. The waters became more uncertain here, the current faster and more treacherous, and b