Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Traveling Companion... or... something

First of all, O relative of mine who has a birthday today, happy birthday!

Second of all, I am now traveling with a llama. I came across a stable yesterday, by the side of whatever road this is, next to a small market and a lemonade stand. The two reptiles that run the stand are trying to get rid of all their remaining lemonade so that they can switch to hot tea and cider for the Winter. They don't see the point of wanting to cool off in the first place, being reptiles, but they make good lemonade anyway.

I'm not one to pass up opportunities like this, so my meals for the last two days have consisted of baked paisley slug and carrots from the market (they're not selling much else that isn't pickled by this time of year), paisley slug stew from the llama stable (it doubles as an inn, so it serves more than hay and salt. Guess where the owner shops), and half-price lemonade. It's been interesting.

There were no llamas staying at the stable when I got there, so - rather than keep lugging my bags around - I stayed overnight. It could be weeks before I find another one. Fortunately, I didn't have to wait long; when I woke up this morning, there was a llama in the stall next to mine. (Doubling as an inn doesn't mean they have any actual rooms.) He was wearing a pair of rather scratched spectacles and chewing some thorny plant as if he wanted to break its bones.

We introduced ourselves. Since I was looking for a llama and he was looking for someone looking for a llama, it was really the only thing to do, but I don't think he enjoyed it much.

His name, he said, was Plack; he didn't care much for people at the moment; the last one whose luggage he carried ran off after a two-month journey without paying him. He had to spend all the money he had left just to stay in the stable last night. He would have skipped the stable altogether, but it's November in the Mountainous Plains, and it was raining. He was not happy. He informed me that I would pay him the full four Loundas before he would carry so much as a sock for me; that my luggage would be padlocked to his carrying harness; and that he would keep the key in his mouth. That way, if I ran off before the trip was over, it would be my problem.

You might think that after being paid, he wouldn't care what I did, but the money is less than half the price to a llama. Customers of llamas are expected to groom them, take care of their traveling equipment, and do more or less anything else that requires hands. In a way, travelers don't hire llamas so much as they trade the use of their hands for the use of the llamas' strength. That's why llamas charge so little. They only need money for stables and repairs to their carrying harnesses.

As if carrying luggage weren't enough, llamas often protect the people they travel with as well. Very few things, no matter how nasty, will mess with a llama. They bite as hard - well, almost as hard - as they kick. Plack wanted to make sure I knew that, especially when he found out I had only a vague idea of a destination and generally just wandered around the countryside.

"You've traveled with llamas before, then?"

"No, actually. I've always carried my own luggage before."

He stared at me, as if luggage were the least of my problems. "What if you get attacked by bandits who've run out of pencils? What if a wild cathomar decides you look like a stupid, edible creature who wouldn't put up a fight?"

"It's never happened before..."

He gave me a disgusted look. "Well, it certainly won't happen while you're with me. Watch this."

With that, he walked over to a tree that was standing innocently nearby.

Fifteen seconds later, it was missing several branches and had four small, round holes straight through its trunk.

I didn't know llamas could spit THAT hard.

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