The Camel.

The Camel.

© Beverly Taff 2021

List of Characters

Kalim Young Camel herder.
Ishmael bin Adam Kalim’s father.
Fatima Kalim’s mother.
Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. Three wise men.
Jesus, Mary & Joseph The first Christian family.
Joanne Girl from my previous story ‘The Lamb’

The Camel.

“Shhhhh! Calm yourself now Kalisha.” Kalim whispered to the Cow camel as she struggled and pushed to bear her calf.

It was to little avail. Even though Kalim’s seven-year-old hands had successfully parted the calf from his elderly mother, the effort had proved to have been too much for the forty-year-old matriarch of the herd. Kalim had gently hugged the new-born calf and rubbed it down to help the cow to lick it clean but after just a single suckling of the precious colostrum, the elderly cow had settled one last time to her knees never again to rise.

The tearful Kalim was encumbered of a new-born orphaned camel.

“Do you think you can raise him? You are only seven years old my son,” his father smiled indulgently.”

“I nursed the puppies when old Sheba died, Kalim pleaded,- and there were seven of them.”

“Camels are much more difficult my son, they are stronger, more wilful and very dangerous if they are not castrated.”

“Please father, I want to race him. His mother was a good racer before I was born and his father is one of the best racers in all the land. The Sheik could see that; and he knew I had a good rapport with his beast, that’s why he invited me to ride him. It’s a pity the Sheik’s camel Jotta had to be gelded after attacking and killing that calf.

If the sheiks boss camel-herder had been less cruel he wouldn’t have enraged that mighty bull camel. I believe I will win with my camel who is Jotta’s last calf. He will be strong and fast like Jotta.. Thank you father, I will call my camel Zut!”

Ishmael bin Adam smiled indulgently. His youngest son might have been undersized and somewhat girlish but on the back of a camel he had proven himself to be the bravest of the brave and an excellent camel-racer; indeed the family were rather proud of their youngest son who had recently won a regionally important race at the tender age of seven where all the other young riders were aged nine to eleven.

The other competitors had protested that it was because he was so small and light but the local temple could attest to Kalim’s age and that he was eligible to race. The priest’s word was the final word.

Just because a child was small for his age, did not disqualify him from racing. Besides, had not the Sheik seen the boy’s gift?

The prize money had proven to be a welcome lift to the family’s circumstances especially as Kalim had readily given the prize money to his mother for her to dispense among the family. She had done it wisely and Kalim’s father was bound to admit he could not have done it better. This in itself was a demonstration that Kalim was living in a kindly family with thoughtful and caring parents.

It was Kalim’s skill with the camels that led the family to turn a blind eye to his small size and preference to always be helping his mother. Often his several sisters would giggle and tease him about his girlish ways and spending too much time in his mother’s tent.

“Leave your younger brother alone!” Fatima scolded her daughters. “He may be small but he helps me with the heavy pots and he’s nimble afoot in the kitchen. Would that you would pay as much heed to the work.”

Kalim’s brothers just wagged their heads and turned to their various tasks attending to the herd. Their brother might be small and effeminate but there was no doubting his skill and bravery with camel racing.

Additionally, it pleased them to bet on their brother and then watch the youngster beat his older competitors. Furthermore, the brothers could not be accused of introducing a ringer for all the village knew of Kalim’s racing skills. Many a camel caravaner had reason to rue his bluster and swagger when betting against the boy and his camel.

Another reason that Kalim’s brothers indulged him was because when there was a problem with the herd, or one of the camels was proving to be a problem, their younger brother would invariably appear from their mother’s tent and step boldly amongst the herd to bring peace and calm to the squabbling beasts.

Even when the mighty bull camels, with their powerful jaws and mighty necks, fought amongst themselves, it was only little Kalim that could step between them and calm them. The older brothers knew this but it did not make them jealous, for his uncanny gift had brought respect and status to their family as the ‘go-to’ people to solve any camel-herding ills.

This had made their village a frequent stop-over for the Camel caravans who traded across the land. If they had a problem with one their animals they would call into the village. Consequently the village had become prosperous as other business ensued from the camel caravan’s callings..

This, plus Kalim’s now proven camel-racing skills and his naturally pleasant nature had won the hearts of everybody in the clan and the village grew to love their special if somewhat effeminate son.

It was those skills that had led Kalim to be attending the birth that day and persuaded his father to allow Kalim to keep the orphaned calf after the much-loved old matriarch camel had died.

ooo000ooo

After three years of caring and nurturing the boy calf, Kalim had developed an excellent relationship with his camel named Zut and the animal would follow him everywhere that Kalim went. It sometimes raised great roars of laughter when Zut the camel stuck his head into Fatima’s tent of an early morning and surprised the mother as he sought out his best friend Kalim.
Fatima would occasionally squeak with surprise then scold the camel softly but affectionately.

“He’s not here Zut! He’s gone to the well to fetch water. If you hurry, you’ll catch him and you’ll get some extra water. Go on, be a good boy and don’t steal Mr Hamood’s dates.

Fatima knew that Zut would often loiter hopefully by Mr Hamood’s palm grove and often received a bunch of dates. Mr Hamood loved to bet on the camels and Zut had brought him several handsome wins since Kalim had started to ride him at the races. For this pleasure and a reward, Mr Hamood always tossed Zut a frond of palm dates when he saw him.

Because Zut treated Fatima courteously and obediently he was allowed to accompany Fatima when she went shopping. It wasn’t often that a woman of the village could lead a young bull camel around the village while she placed her shopping in his saddle bags. But of course, Fatima was the much-respected matriarch of the camel herding clan, and Kalim’s mother; so everybody knew Zut for he had become almost a village pet.

During Kalim’s eleventh year, the winter of that year showed every sign of being a hard one. Snows came early to the Judean mountains and when a strange star appeared in the west , the villagers became fearful deeming it to be some ill omen. Soon after the star appeared, the last Caravan of the season arrived at the village and with them were three wealthy merchants.

The merchants had joined the caravan because it was bound for Judea but when the winter snows had appeared early on mountain-tops the Caravan had decided to take a longer route through the lowlands to the south. Now the three merchants needed to diverge from the caravan to continue on the original route to where the star set each evening.

The elders of the village cautioned the three travellers with the same advice that the Caravaners had offered. It was unwise to go up into the western Judean mountains during winter because of the dangers from bandits, beasts and of course the bitter winter snows.

“Better you stay in the village until the spring arrives gentlemen. Then, join our caravan when our village sends its own annual trading expedition to the lands of Judea.”

“But gentlemen,” the three travellers replied, “we must be about the town of Bethlehem in the land of Judea on or soon after the winter solstice. There are important events to be and we must be there to attend and pay our homages.”

“But sirs, we implore you, the road is hard and dangerous, tarry awhile until the season warms again.”

“Sorry gentlemen,” the oldest merchant revealed. “Our duty is set in the stars and we must follow that star which points to the west each evening. Is there nobody who can be our guide.”

The villagers were reluctant to release a single man for the winter had already proved to be harsh and all hands were needed to quickly gather in the remaining harvest before the weather destroyed the remaining crops and prevented any work. They truly wanted to help the merchants who had been generous with their monies when paying for their travelling needs.

Ishmael bin Adam met with his wife Fatima and wondered.

Our youngest son Kalim is little use at the farm work and you have plenty of supplies in store for the winter. He has travelled that road thrice with his uncle Benjamin and once with me. He could be an excellent guide and those merchants are offering excellent money.

“He’s still only a young boy Ishmael.” Fatima fretted.

“He’s eleven now my beloved, most of the village boys are about their apprenticeships.”

“Yes but Kalim is so small and delicate and a great help to me. Besides; that road is truly perilous during the best of weather. Just look at those snow-capped peaks!”

“He knows the road well my dear. When he travelled with me he demonstrated an acute knowledge and showed he had learned all that my brother Benjamin had shown him. The boy is capable my darling and we all know he is an excellent cameleer. His pet camel Zut will not run away, they are joined like mortar and stone.”

Reluctantly Fatima acceded to Ishmael’s request and explained.

“You can ask him, but if he is afraid or uncertain, do not force him. That boy is precious to me, he makes my work here much easier.”

“He is truly an asset to the whole family darling but I believe this journey will be the making of him.”

“Alright, alright,” Fatima responded slightly irritably, “but do not force him!”

Ishmael bin Adam immediately approached Kalim where he was grooming and watering Zut who, by now, was in his fifth year and starting to show his male musculature. Ordinarily, Ishmael would have shown considerable circumspection when approaching such a powerful and obviously untethered male bull camel.

Zut was large and powerful and invariably won in the camel races when he was allowed to enter. His reputation had spread far and wide and indeed, Zut was now earning Kalim more from stud fees than from racing. Consequently the boy devoted himself to his ‘pet.’

“By the gods my son, you have a magical way with that animal. How do you do it?”

“I’m kind to him daddy; like mummy is kind to me. I never have to strike him or shout except to call across the fields.”

“We’ve all noticed that my son, I have a suggestion for you, if you think you’re up to it.”

“What is it?”

“The three wealthy merchants down at the inn.”

“Yes. They’re trying to get to Bethlehem.”

“Exactly and they’re looking for a guide.”

Kalim’s eyes widened with anticipation.

“Are you suggesting I volunteer?”

“Are you up to it son?”

Kalim did not jump at the offer, instead he stood thoughtfully as he made a show of deep contemplation. Finally he laid out his one important condition.

“I have to ride Zut. I know caravaners don’t normally include a bull amongst their trains but I know Zut will protect me and stay by me. He will also protect the other camels from wild beasts, even the lions.”

“Yes, I’ve seen what a camel can do. Are you certain you can handle him even on those mountain trails.”

“He’s been with me each of the four times before, twice as a trailing calf then as a spare mount then the last time as my only mount. He is always willing and I never have to beat him like the other cameleers. I never would anyway and I never overload him. That’s why we are good friends.”

“Yes, the whole village has noticed, he only lets you and your mother ride him.”

“Mummy’s kind to him as well and she always gives him treats.”

“Very well then, you have mine and your mother’s permission. You had better go and speak to her then prepare for the journey. Those merchants are leaving in the morning.”

Kalim's father smiled as he watched his son's barely hidden impatience as he rushed to speak with his mother Fatima.

ooo000ooo

At dawn Kalim met the wealthy merchants accompanied by his father and Uncle Benjamin who assure the merchants that the boy, though young, was an accomplished cameleer and knew the route well.

Though they had doubts, they agreed to hire the boy with the provision that they would pay when he brought them back safely. They also declared that they were well armed and skilled with arms.

“I should hope you are gentlemen,” Ishmael bin Adam responded. “My son is not a warrior but he is certainly capable as a guide and a cameleer.”

Under these terms the four travellers set off.

Each day, the road got progressively rougher as they gradually ascended into the Hills of Judea and soon they were beset by cruel snowstorms and freezing nights. Fortunately, Kalim had been well equipped by his Uncle Benjamin, and the first night amongst the snows he made the travellers gather their camels together.

“They will not do that my boy. The older merchant Balthasar declared; they like to be free to move even if tethered.”

“They’ll not survive the cold or the snow if they are not collected and warming each other. You will notice I have brought the large blanket. We will gather the four camels together and sleep within their circle, altogether under the big sheet.”

“Are you serious boy. How can you get the camels to co-operate.”

“Trust me sirs, you shall see.”

And to their amazement they did ‘see’!

With a few soft words and a couple of treats from Kalim, Zut the bull camel coaxed, bullied and herded the three cow camels into a close-knit square with room enough inside for the four humans to sleep.

Being small and effeminate, Kalim had already learned of unwanted interest and approaches by men so he knew to pick his place close to Zut’s mighty forelegs were any unwanted approaches would suffer unduly from Zut’s vicious teeth.

On studying the boy’s obvious affinity to the bull camel, the merchants knew that even if they had been somehow interested unduly in the boy, it would be ‘woe betide’ them if they dared. Kalim was safe spooned close to Zut’s forelegs.

The four of them woke in the morning warm and dry having slept under oiled cloth close to the bellies of the camels. Furthermore, the camels were grateful for the heavy sheet and the following night proved more than keen to sleep that way. It was remarkable how Jut could keep the peace amongst the squabbling cows.

The following morning, they reached a high, narrow pass where the snow began to fall very heavily. Then, to cap it all, a leopard decided to take his chances with the smallest camel in the caravan. The Camel screeched with fear and threw her rider into the deep snow as the leopard sprung from the rocky shelf. The force of the leopard’s attack knocked the camel over though fortunately not onto the floored rider.

Pandemonium and terror erupted amongst the merchants and despite their previous claims, their so-called swordsmanship proved futile against the leopard.

Fortunately for the caravaners, Zut was a bull camel and made of much sterner stuff than the three cows that he had come to regard as his own harem.

As Kalim reached for his long pole that he used to test suspicious snow gullies and drifts, Zut thundered forwards and slammed against the cow camel as the leopard tried to claw over the cow’s hump. Zut’s impact plus the painful stab of Kalim’s pole cause the leopard to lose if’s grip of the empty saddle and snarl ferociously as it slipped to the ground into the same snowdrift where the fallen merchant was struggling to get back on his feet.

The man wailed in terror as the furious leopard stumbled towards him through the deep snow, determined to have something to show for its attack. Once again, Zut proved his pricelessness as he reared up and plunged his hooves down onto the leopard and broke its pelvis with one mighty kick. Even Kalim, with all his camel racing skill, was nearly thrown by the force, speed and fury of Zut’s attack, but the battle was already won. The leopard’s mangled body lay crumpled in the snow.

“Are you alright?” Balthasar called to Gaspar.

“Dammit, I think so Your highness. No bones broken but I’ve got some nasty bloody gashes.”

“I’ve got some bandages and ointment for that, Kalim declared as he slid easily down off Zut’s neck.”

As he landed waist deep in the snow, Melchior cried out.

“Your Camel’s bolted Gaspar. We’ll never catch her in this snow. ------ Damn, damn, damn!”

On seeing the terrified cow camel plunging away in terror through the snow, Kalim quickly spoke into Zut’s ear.

“Catch her boy!”

Without more ado, Zut went bull dozing through the snow and quickly trapped the stampeding cow out of sight behind another rocky corner.

“We’ve bloody lost them now; we’ll never find them in this.” Melchior Cursed.

“You treat your friend,” Kalim advised, “I’ll get my camel, - and Gaspar’s.”

The two uninjured merchants were finishing treating their companion when Kalim returned on foot leading the cow camel by her reins, while Zut simple plodded contentedly behind and unbridled. What amazed them was that the bull camel was calmer and more obedient to the boy than the terrified cow.

“Have you finished with the ointment?” Kalim asked.

Melchior handed back the amphora and grinned.

“This stuff stinks young Kalim but it works. Gaspar’s arm is already pain free. What is it?”

“I use it for all injuries. I stops pain and infection. My mother and I make it in her kitchen.”

As Kalim spoke he took the amphora and rubbed some of the ointment onto the injured cow’s gashes. The merchants laughed as they watched the cow quickly calm down and stop wailing.

After the chaos was ended, the Merchants were gathered around a fire while Kalim skinned the dead leopard then hung the skin to dry. The merchants watched and nodded appreciatively as Balthasar spoke.

“You have looked after us well boy. When we reach Judea we will recommend you to the caravaners guild.”

“I am happy with my camels and my skills in caring for them. The village want me to continue as their veterinarian for all the many Caravans that come calling now.”

“Do you work with your mother all the time boy?” Balthasar asked.

Kalim nodded as he ate his bread.

“I prefer her company to that of my brothers and she teaches me well with potions and medicines.”

The merchants glanced at each other thoughtfully.

ooo000ooo

Two days later the four travellers had reached the plains of Judea and they marvelled that they had survived the rigours of the mountains thanks to one young boy and his camel.

“Your father was right young man; you are a credit to your people. I will sleep well tonight in my proper bed at the inn before visiting the new-born tomorrow.”

Kalim acknowledged the merchant’s thanks then asked quietly.

“Thank you for the compliment but one thing puzzles me.”

“Go on boy.”

“Well during the leopard attack, you asked Gaspar if he had any broken bones and when he replied he called you ‘Your Highness.’ Are you a prince?”

Balthasar smiled softly before confirming.

“Well, it’s no matter now, for we are safe in the town. Yes, we are all princes and soon we reveal ourselves to a child who is about to be born here. The child’s destiny is writ amongst the stars and that newly lit star of the east is a testament to his future.”

“Is this baby a king.”

“Yes of sorts, but not as a child like you would understand. After we have paid our homage and told his parents we must pay our respects to their king and then repair again to our kingdom. You will be our guide home I hope.”

“Of course, my father contracted it and we are honest traders.”

“I am glad to hear it. Now, when the child is born we will introduce you to him. You deserve that courtesy after saving our venture.”

“Thank you, I would like that and I like babies.”

“Do you indeed! Now that is strange for a boy of your years.”

“Well, I must away and see to Zut. The people here are afraid of a stranger’s bull camel being so close amongst them. So I must stay with him all the time. Even sleep with him in the stables.”

“You can sleep in the inn if you want.”

“Thank you but no. I sleep in the hay above Zut’s stall where he can smell me and I can watch over him. Bethlehem already knows that Zut is a valuable racing camel and I have to protect him from thieves.”

So they parted with agreements to meet the following day.

ooo000ooo

The following morning Kalim met again with the ‘merchants’ in the town square of Bethlehem. He could see that the merchants were excited and he asked them what was afoot.

“The child was born in the night. Come, we are hastening to visit the boy.”

Kalim was bound to stay as their guide so he stayed with them as they repaired directly to the inn and then the stable behind the inn.

“How did you know to come here?” Kalim asked.

“Gaspar is the wisest among us and he read the signs exactly right. This child might have been born in this stable but he’s destined for great things.”

From his seat high up on Zut, Kalim found a clear space to tether the four camels in the stable yard. Then he followed the three ‘merchants; to the stable door. From there he watched the merchants enter and bow before the manger where the child lay. Next they presented their gifts, then they talked at length with the parents until Balthasar stood.

He motioned to Kalim to enter the stable and Kalim cautiously crept forward to Balthasar until he introduced the boy to the parents of the baby.

Dear lady, might I present to you the remarkable child who enabled us to get here in time. We were attacked by a beast in the snows of the mountains and he drove the animal off.

The lady smiled graciously then softly called the boy forward.

“Thank you for saving these princes, who have acknowledged my baby’s birth right. I see you have gentle ways about you though; would you like to hold my baby?”

Kalim almost feinted with delight. He absolutely loved babies and here was a chance to nurse a baby that was destined for kingship according to the three travellers.

“I am sorry I do not have a gift for the baby,” Kalim apologised as he held the new-born babe in his arms. “I am only the guide to see the princes safely through the mountains.”

As the three merchants continued talking, some shepherds appeared at the door and the Father Joseph explained to the princely merchants.

“These shepherds had a young son who managed to get us this stable for my wife to give birth.”

The man Joseph turned to the old shepherd and asked.

“Where is your kindly son, the one who pleaded with the innkeeper?”

“He; well you were right! Your beautiful baby does work miracles. My son is now my daughter and my sons rejoice for the boy has become a sister to them and a comforting daughter to me. We have come to thank you for this wonderous thing and my daughter is here to thank the babe.
I also thank these wise men who enlightened me about the change in my youngest son Jonathon last night as your baby slept.”

At these words a beautiful, graceful girl stepped from behind her shepherding father stepped lightly towards Kalim. She smiled at Kalim and reached out for the baby.

Then she whispered to the Kalim.

“I see by the way you hold the baby that you are like me. Let the baby take your finger and you will be made whole.”

“But I am unworthy, I have strange thoughts and womanly ways.”

“Worry not Kalim. I used to be Jonathon but this beautiful child changed me last night with just one touch. I sense you are like me. Let the baby touch you flesh to flesh. Hold his finger in those delicate hands you have. I can see in your eyes you are like me. Here take the child’s finger.”

Nervously Kalim extended his hand and reached for the child as the child’s mother Mary smiled encouragement while the three princes and shepherds watched.

The child smiled then gurgled softly as he reached out and squeezed Kalim’s extended finger.

Immediately, Kalim felt a tingle ascend his arm then plunge to his groin.

As the sensations overtook him he had to sit on the straw while his stomach churned and his chest ached.

Joanne could easily recognise the boy's uncertainty so she handed the baby back to the mother Mary and moved to hug the frightened boy.

Eventually, the writhing serpent in Kalim’s abdomen calmed down and Kalim felt nervously to his secret parts.

“They are gone,” he whimpered fearfully. “can it really be so?” He begged of Joanne.”

Joanne reassured him as she turned to the merchants.

“Please take this message to Kalim’s parents. You know that Kalim has womanly ways well that was because Kalim has a womanly nature. Now she is a woman in all respects and her name will be Kalima. Do not fear for your guide though, she will lead you safely through the mountains and back to your lands to the east.”

“But first we must pay our respects to the King in Jerusalem." Balthasar protested. "Royal princes cannot visit another’s kingdom without exchanging respects.”

“Then do so, Kalima explained. My uncle Benjamin has also led me through the Judean Mountains from my village to Jerusalem so I can still be your guide.”

“Truly these are wonderous miracles!” Balthasar exclaimed as he went to his camel and took some cloths.

He returned to the manger where the two girls were still delighting with the mother and her baby then he explained.

“These garments were meant as a gift to the king’s daughter but you must be presentable if you are to meet with the king and we cannot leave a young girl unprotected in Jerusalem. Please accept these gifts.”

Kalima’s eyes widened with pure delight as she slipped behind the stall and donned the garments. When she re-emerged, some male eyes widened with lust but Kalima was blind to the risk. Instead she went out to her Camel Zut who turned uncomprehendingly before eventually recognising the softened voice and delicately altered scent of his erstwhile friend.

Nevertheless, Zut approached the beautiful girl uncertainly and sniffed for several moments before concluding that this strange maid was yet still his lifetime companion. After ensuring that Zut was still hers to own and control, Kalima easily mounted her friend and looked down confidently from her lofty steed.

“If Zut recognises me and accepts me, then all my family will recognise me and accept me. Let us prepare for Jerusalem then next the long road home.”

The end.

Author's note. Readers should read my earlier story 'The Lamb'. This connects to the girl and her help offered to Kalim. It explains the miracle. There might be some 'fundamentalist' bigots who consider this story to be blasphemous but as a dyed in the wool atheist; I to say to them think again.



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