The chief called out to his people, and in a moment, three young men, adorned in embroidered robes and wrapped in silks, came forward with two camels and a donkey by their sides, each of the animals burdened with saddles and sacks, their humours unaffected and unconcerned, their mouths busily working at a few pieces of wheat, their hooves clopping against the ground, their heads swaying with their languid motions.
“What’s a ca-mel?” said Paudrig, putting his hand on the page where they had stopped and eyeing Brother Ciran expectantly.
“Tis a pack animal from the north what can go daes without eatin’ or drinkin’,” said Ciran. “They’re from the Sahadin an’ were domesticated by the Bizarmin long time ago.”
“The same travelin’ folk in the storae?”
“Aye, lad. They learned to train the camels for ridin’, use their coats for warmth at night an’ for decoratin’ their tents, use their milk and meat when they need, and breed the animals ‘emselves for tradin’.” Ciran leaned closer, and with a grin, he added, in a whisper, “They even use their business for makin’ fires.”
“Whoa…” Paudrig breathed, thinking the mystical and strange creature a wondrous marvel. “Are they fast runners an’ o’?”
“No’ as fast as a horse, lad, but they cover decent ground when they need tae.”
“What’s it look liek?”
“They’re a bit taller than the Westren longhorn, ‘cept they got long legs, knobblae needs, long necks, and they got a hump on their back—sometimes two humps if they come from the northeast—and they got long faces, split hooves, and big eyes.”
Paudrig’s imagination was fired, and the child began fathoming a horrendous beast, standing on long hind legs, rearing up with an immense hump mantling its broad shoulders, its long caprine features ruined with preponderance of large eyes and a dominating brow. The creature stood proudly, with its cloven hands on its hips, and strutted across the leagues of Paudrig’s mind with violent determination. “Can ye draw it, Brother Ciran? Ah wanna see.”
“We can dae better than a drawin’, lad. Here, pull doun tha’ volume o’ Livanese tales form the shelf. There’s a picture o’ ‘em in there.”
With an alacrity that betrayed all the child’s interest, Paudrig fled to the bookshelf and returned to Ciran with a large volume, leather bound with gold trimming and red ribbon marker attached at the spine, the immensity of it weighing down his arms, causing him to widen his stride and struggle with his steps. He heaved the great tome into Ciran’s lap and sunk down, his small chest surging with breath. “Ah got it,” he heaved.
“Tha’s good trainin’ for ye, aye, lad?” Ciran simpered.
“Aye,” Paudrig sighed. He shook out his arms and was instantly sitting on his haunches again. “Show me, Brother Ciran,” he entreated, opening the cover of the mountainous volume.
Ciran browsed his thumb against the edge of the gold-rimmed leaves, and when he came to the pages thicker than most, he stopped, curled his finger under the paper and pulled the book open. The spine bent taut with a soft crepitation, and when the inside page immerged, there was a painting of a line of camels, their riders sitting comfortabley and leaning against their humps, their long limbs in mid-amble, their strange silouhettes marked out by the brushstroke horizon. There were some camels with one hump, some with two, and even a few smaller ones with none at all, and while the riders with their various trappings and weapons and costumes could only be interesting to the child, the camels were somewhat confounding: here was no terrific two-toed monstrosity with serpentine neck and bovine face as Paudrig had conjured; here was a languorous looking thing, sauntering about mightily at its ease, its features disinterested and stupid, its eyes lustrous and endearing, its humps dorsal and sagging, its limbs thin and its wide feet almost comical. Here was disappointment, and Paudrig canted his head and grimaced in grim confusion.
“They look funnae,” said Paudrig, in a disheartened voice.
Ciran could not help a laugh. “No’ how ye imagined, aye, lad?” patting the child’s back.
Paudrig shook his head. “How come they’re smilin’ an’ o’?”
“Well, they got a lot tae smile at. They’re one of the most efficient animals across the continents. They can survive in o’ weathers, in o’ conditions, an’ short o’ no’ bein’ able to haul heavy loads, they can dae almost anaethin’ a horse can. See they got packs here on the back, and rolled up blankets, and saddle, just like a horse.”
Paudrig studied the image with a narrowed glare, and his interests were restored when he observed that one of the riders had a familiar weapon drawn. “Ah see a spear!” he cried, stabbing a finger down at the page.
“Aye, they hunt on the backs o’ ‘em, huntin’ after lizards an’ desert mice.”
“Can camels roar liek bears?”
“No, lad, but they got a special attack sure enough.”
Paudrig listened in silent anticipation.
“They spit at ye.”
The child’s eyes flared in insidious glee. “Dae they spit fire an’ o’?”
“Nae fire, lad,” Ciran laughed. “Nae venom, nae acid neither.”
“Aw,” was Paudrig’s deflated lamentation, and he exhaled with his hand under his chin and his elbow proped against Ciran, thinking how it was that so remarkable a creature could appear so wholly unextraodinary. “Can the camels in the special storae with Damson spit fire?”
“They sure spit, lad, but they’ll be nae fire in it.”
“Dae the travelin’ folk use the camel’s bui-si-ness tae maek fire, liek how ye said?”
Ciran smiled and shook his head. “Well, we’ll see, lad.”