A race of caravan riders that live in the hills between the lost Persian Cities of the marshlands and the mountain kingdom of the Druzh a race of murderous thieves call the winds and sands to their vile service.
We were in between a long stretch of marshes, where the villagers fled from us as if we were slavers. We wandered the huts built among the ruins and listened to the caravan driver tell stories of the great cities of Persia in the marshlands, and the kings and palaces and intrigues there.
I expect he was mostly lying to entertain his guests.
We rode donkeys. Do not snicker at me. A horse is a fine animal here in Genoa, but on the long plains and heat among the Persus, the horses do not have the stamina of a sturdy donkey. Camels are more useful than donkeys. Still, we were lucky that we were on donkeys and not camels. Much of the caravan rode camels. We rode donkeys at my father’s insistence. He told me that donkeys were faster than camels in a sprint, though they would never charge into a battle like a camel would. Donkeys were too smart for that. This is, also, why my father insisted upon donkeys. We were not warriors in this strange land. Donkeys would carry us safely away from danger.
We rode donkeys. The afternoon air was thick with mosquitoes and biting flies and gnats. The trail cut over a ridge along a line of hills. In the little valleys between the hills grass as tall as men concealed stinking mudpits
The caravan driver led fifty camels and thirty donkeys along the ridges above the filthy marshes. He had lit torches burning carried by his slaves all around us, but it did little to dissipate the press of mosquitoes and bugs.
I rode between my uncle and my father. We talked very little here because each time we opened our mouths we risked a swarm of gnats and flies. We kept our faces wrapped in cloth and wished we could cover our eyes completely and trust our donkeys to take us with the caravan. I think my Uncle did just that. My father would never do such a thing. He was terrified of the roukh of this region. He watched the skies more than he watched the world around us for banditry.
The caravan driver assured us that there would be bandits here. My father had happily paid a higher fee to move our belongings towards the front of the caravan.
I had expected the bandits to come on horseback over the hills, waving swords and spears and shouting like the wicked devils they are.
The caravan driver knew better. He watched the clouds.
Caravan drivers are a strange breed. They are thin. They are fat. They are young. They are old. They are many things. I cannot remember what this caravan driver looked like. I remember only two things about him. First, that he told all sorts of lies about court intrigues. Second, that when the sky turned black, and the drums in the distance pounded, he was smiling at them.
He shouted this, in Tartar, at anyone who was close enough to hear him: “Now, we run!”
He kicked his donkey. The donkey ignored the first kick. The second kick did nothing, as well.
Then, the bugs disappeared into the marshes like they had never been there.
The donkeys noticed this. They kicked into a loping, fearful canter.
I pulled the scarf from my face. I looked to the hills for signs of raiders. I saw none. I couldn’t look over my shoulder easily on the running donkey’s back.
The donkeys ran faster. I stood up in my saddle.
My father glared straight ahead, at the caravan driver’s back.
“What is happening, father?” I shouted.
“Just ride,” he shouted, “We are close to the front!”
“What is it?!”
Uncle Maffeo shouted at me. “They have sent living winds!”
A dust storm from the look of it, though it didn’t really look like a dust storm, was behind us. A storm of arms and hands made of swirling sand filled the sky behind us. The stragglers of the caravan already felt the sands grabbing at their heels.
Yes, as a matter of fact, I have been reading a lot about Marco Polo…