Authors: Siobhan Rowden
“I think he might suit you,” said Attila. “Genghis is fast and courageous.”
Next Attila led out a slightly smaller animal and walked it over to Cam.
“And I think you will connect well with Zogs,” he said. “She is a clever animal who knows exactly what she wants. Climb up and I'll lead you to the start. A race is just about to begin.”
The twins clambered up the side of the pen and mounted their yaks. Bert was at least a head higher than Cam. Neither of them had ever ridden a cow, let alone a yak. They both gripped the animals' shaggy manes tightly, their hearts hammering with excitement.
“Hello down there,” called Bert from his enormous yak. “This beast is going to blow you away.”
“He might be big,” answered Cam, “but Zogs is clever. She will find a way to win.”
“You don't stand a chance. Genghis and I have connected.”
“That's because you both have yak brains,” grinned Cam.
Attila led them through the festival to the start of the race. Bert let go of Genghis's long hair and began waving at the crowds.
“As Lord Curd mounts his trusty steed,” he said, “his loyal fans gather, eager to see a true master of the yak raceâ”
Genghis sneezed and Bert slipped, tumbling forward over the yak's dipped head. The crowd laughed and Cam giggled as Attila picked him up and helped him back on. Bert scowled and held on tightly to Genghis's shaggy mane.
A line of flags marked the start. Attila explained they had to race along the grassy plain towards a star-shaped rock in the distance.
“You must gallop around the rock-star and back towards the start. First across the line of flags will receive the pot of rennet from the fourth stomach. I will be watching you with interest.”
They lined up with the rest of the competitors. They weren't the only children. Two Mongolian boys and a girl of about the same age were crouching over their yaks, focusing on the rock ahead. There were several other people dressed in colourful robes and at the far end three men all in white suits and white sunglasses.
“Look!” cried Cam. “It's the men from the Specialist Cheesemakers Association. They must have got the moose milk.”
“So we're not just racing against each other,” said Bert, “and look who else just turned up.”
Cam turned to see the two Easy Cheesy Doggy Treats men. Their yaks were tiny and it was hard to see where the yak ended and the men in their doggy outfits started. As they lined up next to the children the twins could hear them chanting.
“Moose cheese, moose cheese, moose cheeseâ¦”
A tall man in a yak-hair hat stood at the end of the line and held up a large gong. Cam bent low over Zogs, holding tightly with her hands and knees. She glanced over at Bert, who was sitting up high and holding on with one hand.
The gong donged and the yaks jumped into action.
“YEEHAA!” cried Bert.
He was almost thrown off as Genghis exploded forward, propelling him backwards. Cam closed her eyes and clung to Zogs' thick hair as the yak broke into a run. Her body bounced furiously up and down and she bent lower still, so that her head was resting on Zogs' neck. She could hear the pounding of hooves all around her and briefly opened her eyes to see one of the men in white suits hammer past.
“C'mon, Zogs!” she called, squeezing her knees tighter.
The yak sped up and Cam could see they had left several competitors behind, including both the Easy Cheesy Doggy Treats men and two of the Specialist Cheesemakers. She heard Bert shouting in front of her.
“Ride 'em, yakboy,” he yelled, as they raced up to the rock-star.
One of the other boys in the race reached the rock first, closely followed by the girl and one of the Specialist Cheesemakers. Bert was close on their heels, with Cam just behind him. As Zogs galloped around the bend, Cam began slipping sideways. She gripped tighter with her knees but that just made the yak go faster and she slid down further. Zogs caught up with Genghis. Bert glanced over as they thundered past.
“Hey!” shouted Bert. “You're not allowed to ride them sideways.”
“I am not doing this on purpose!” screamed Cam as they zoomed ahead.
She managed to pull herself up on to Zogs' back again and glanced behind at Bert. Genghis had slowed right down to a trot. Eventually he stopped to eat a particularly large clump of grass. Bert was desperately trying to urge him on.
“What do you think you're doing?” he shouted in frustration. “No wonder you're so beefy!”
Genghis completely ignored him and continued munching.
Cam and Zogs galloped towards the line of flags in the distance. She saw one of the Easy Cheesy Doggy Treats men still heading the other way towards the rock-star. He had given up trying to ride his tiny yak and was now sprinting forward, carrying it on his back. The yak seemed undisturbed and was nibbling on one of his long embroidered ears.
She could see the others ahead of her and dug her knees in even tighter. Zogs pounded towards them, throwing Cam from side to side. She lost her hold and began sliding down again until she was completely under the yak. She gripped the long hair with all her might as the ground beneath flew past.
From her upside-down position she could see Bert and Genghis far behind. Genghis was now following one of the other yaks and was mooing amorously at it.
“This is no time for romance!” yelled Bert.
Cam clung to Zogs' belly like a baby monkey. She didn't know how long she could hold on like this or how far the finish line was. The tighter she gripped, the faster Zogs went, and soon they had overtaken everyone except the Specialist Cheesemaker in white.
“Faster, Zogs!” she shouted. “We can't let him win.”
Zogs seemed to respond, but just as they were level with them, Cam felt the bottle of moose milk in her pocket come loose. But she couldn't let go of the speeding yak, and as they crossed the finish line to great cheers, the bottle fell from her coat and smashed into the hard ground, splashing the precious moose milk everywhere.
Trek to Kazakhstan
Cam had won the yak race. Attila caught hold of Zogs and she let go of the yak's hairy belly and rolled out from under its hooves. He pulled Cam to her feet and held her arm up and shouted something in Mongolian. The surrounding crowd started cheering wildly. The man in white from the Specialist Cheese Association scowled at her as he climbed down from his yak. She had beaten him by a horn. The other competitors came trotting in. Bert was second to last, followed by the Easy Cheesy Doggy Treats man, who was still carrying his yak on his back. One ear of his doggy suit had been completely chewed off.
Attila lifted Cam up and sat her on his shoulders. A woman approached them wearing the Mongolian national costume â a scarlet floor-length tunic with a high collar. It was embroidered with gold and silver braid. Bright blue tassels hung down from her elaborate round hat. She held up a velvet cushion with a small ceramic pot of rennet on top. Cam accepted her prize and the crowd cheered enthusiastically.
“Well done, Cam!” cried Attila, setting her down on her feet. “You have nerves of steel. You've shown that I, Attila, own some of the fastest yaks in Mongolia.”
The crowd started to disperse and Bert came shuffling over with Genghis gently pushing against him.
“OK, OK,” he muttered to the yak. “I shouldn't have called you beefy, but
shouldn't have slowed down. Now I've lost the race to my rotten sister. She's got the rennet and I'm never going to be Lord Curd.”
Genghis mooed sympathetically as Bert looked over at Cam.
“I suppose you want me to congratulate you,” he said. “But there should be a rule about riding a yak upside down. It's just not fair.”
Cam burst out crying. “It doesn't matter,” she wailed. “I lost my moose milk. It's all gone!”
Attila put his enormous tree trunk arm around her. “Are you not happy to win?” he asked.
“I haven't won,” she sobbed. “You don't understand. I can't win the Great Moose Cheese Chase without my milk. I've lost everything â the prize money, the title, our farm, my grandpa's trust â everything!”
“What is this Great Meese Chase Choose?” asked Attila.
Cam was sobbing too hard to speak.
“The Great Moose Cheese Chase,” corrected Bert.
Attila listened closely as Bert told him their whole story, from Cheddar Gorge to Mongolia.
“Moose cheese!” he gasped. “For your queen? Why didn't you tell me before? I feel honoured to be part of such a courageous quest. But surely everything is not lost, Cam. Your brother still has his moose milk and now you have the rennet.”
“Are you saying we should work together?” sniffed Cam.
“Of course! The men in white suits and the men in doggy suits are working as teams. Why aren't you?”
“Because we want to beat each other,” said Bert. “Prove who is the best.”
Attila frowned and shook his head. “Best at what? Everyone has different strengths â use each other's to your advantage. While you are fighting, your cheesy neighbour is winning. Is that what you want?”
The twins shook their heads.
“Do you know how lucky you are?” continued Attila. “Twins have a special connection that begins before birth. You will always have somebody there for you. Family bonds are precious. Use them and you could win. If not, then it will be victory for Mouldy Prim.”
“Primula Mold,” giggled Cam through her tears.
“You sound like our grandpa,” said Bert. “He's always going on about how special twins are.”
“Then maybe you should listen to him. He sounds like a wise man.”
Bert nodded. He always felt a little pang of guilt when he thought about Gramps.
“He would love it if we won this together,” said Cam.
“I know,” agreed Bert. “We really would be âthe incredible Curd twins' then.”
“Shall we do it? For Gramps?”
“OK! Let's give it a go.”
Attila smiled approvingly and watched as Zogs and Genghis nudged against the twins like two enormous cats desperate for a stroke.
“My yaks like you,” he said. “I like you! I want to help with your quest. You may keep all of the rennet. I would only use it for trading. Your need is greater than mine. And if you wish, I can take you to the Kazakhstan border. My tribe is leaving the festival today and travelling west. We are nomadic and never stay longer than a few days in one place.”
“Thank you,” cried Cam.
“But I will take you no further than the border,” said Attila. “I have heard of the deserted salt mines that you talk of. They are haunted by evil spirits and I have no wish to visit.”
“Evil spirits?” repeated Bert. “The Queen never mentioned evil spirits.”
“The salt mine was built on an ancient Kazakh burial ground,” said Attila. “They say the tunnelling disturbed the spirits and they took their revenge. The mine collapsed into the ground over a hundred years ago but some of the shafts still remain. It is a brave person who dares to descend into the mines. I admire your courage.”
“Thanks,” said Cam. She didn't feel very courageous. If someone as big and bold as Attila was too scared to enter the mines, how would they ever manage it?
Attila led the twins and the animals back through the festival towards the yak pen. They saw Mr Zola emerging from the rennet tent. His new moustache was about twice the size of his old one. He had obviously had both sides done, as it now curled round in a thick symmetrical bush, covering his entire upper lip and most of his cheeks. He was studying a small red pot.
“Mr Zola,” called Cam. “I won a yak race. I've got the rennet from the fourth stomach.”
“Good gracious!” said Mr Zola, shoving the pot he was holding in his pocket. “How did you manage to do that? I've just been asking about rennet.”
“You can't buy it,” said Bert. “You have to earn it. Cool moustache, by the way.”
Mr Zola proudly twiddled his new facial hair. “Like it?” he asked.
“Your face looks like it's being swallowed up by a huge, hairy slug,” said Bert.
“Do you mind! This is Monty the second.”
Attila looked Mr Zola up and down. “Who is this man with a hamster on his face?” he asked.
Mr Zola stepped forward. “Gordon Zola â Royal Cheesemaker extraordinaire,” he said with a little flourish. “And this is not a hamster but an intricate hair weave, designed to bring Monty back from the dead.”
Attila frowned and looked at the twins. “Is he crazy?” he asked.
“Completely,” said Bert. “But he
the Royal Cheesemaker. Mr Zola, this is Attila. He's taking us with him to the border of Kazakhstan.”
“Really?” said Mr Zola, turning to Attila. “I'm supposed to be going to Kazakhstan myself but I crashed my hot air balloon and now find myself rather stuck. I don't suppose I could tag along? Urgent business for the Queen of England and all that.”
Attila nodded slowly. “You and your hamster can travel at the rear of the convoy,” he said.
“It's not a hamster, it's aâ”
But Attila had already marched off.
That afternoon the twins watched as Attila and his people packed their tents, food, furniture and children on to the assembled yaks and ponies. There were even some goats and a couple of camels. Mr Zola stood beside them fiddling with his Cheesemaker-Locator.
“So I'm changing your registration back to âCT' for Curd Twins,” he said, irritably. “Not that I need the Cheesemaker-Locator to find you two. I can't seem to get away from you.”
“We're doing you a favour!” Bert pointed out. “We managed to get a ride to Kazakhstan. Find your own way if you don't want to come with us.”
Mr Zola took no notice and wandered off into the jumble of goats and yaks.
The festival seemed to be coming to an end and they were not the only ones getting ready to leave.
“How long does it take to get to the Kazakhstan border?” asked Bert, as Attila marched up and lifted him on to Genghis's broad back.
“We travel overnight to miss the midday sun,” he said. “The adults lead the animals, the children sleep on their backs.”
Mr Zola popped up from behind a large yak. “I hope you don't mean that I have to walk all through the night,” he said.
“You are an adult, no?” asked Attila.
“Of course I am.”
“Then you walk,” said Attila. “You can put your hamster on a yak.”
Cam and Bert couldn't help giggling as Attila walked away and began lifting the waiting children up on to the small ponies.
“Will someone please tell that infernal man that I do not have a hamster!” yelled Mr Zola. “Monty is beginning to feel quite upset.”
Slowly they began to stream out of the festival. Attila was at the front of the convoy. Members of his tribe waved farewell to those left behind. The twins saw Saran waving from her yak-hair tent.
“Goodbye, dear lady,” called Mr Zola. “Thank you for restoring Monty to his former glory.”
Soon the Yak Festival was left far behind and thesun began to sink towards a huge mountain in the distance.
“That is the great mountain, Tavan Bogd,” explained Attila. “It is where Mongolia meets China to the south and Russia to the north. We will trek across the steppe to Kazakhstan.”
“I can't see any steps,” said Bert.
“The steppe is the grassland of Mongolia,” said Attila. “For three thousand years my people have travelled the width and breadth of the steppe. We search for the best campsites and pasture lands for our animals. Our yaks, camels and ponies are very special to us. Every member of this tribe can ride as well as they can walk or run. That is why I am so impressed with your yak skills. But now it is time for you to rest. You have a long journey ahead of you.”
“Not as long as me,” huffed Mr Zola. “Monty may have had a makeover but he still gets very irritable when he's had no sleep.”
The twins bent over their yaks and rested their heads in the deep, long hair.
“How are we supposed to go to sleep while riding a yak?” asked Bert, yawning loudly. “It's impossible.”
“I don't know,” said Cam, “but I do feel exhausted. It's not every day you win a Mongolian yak race. Well done, Zogs. Well done, Genghis.”
She thought that the huge yak mooed back at her, but when she glanced across, she realized that it was just Bert snoring loudly. She smiled and looked round at the flat plains of grassland enclosed by white-tipped mountains. It was very different from home.
thought Cam. She leant forward and snuggled into Zogs, closing her eyes. Even if they did get the salt, Kazakhstan was an awfully long way from Cheddar Gorge.