In the Lair of the Bloody Handed
Part Three – Greetings
The trip followed the river for only a short distance, but even so they were relieved when the forest began to open up around them and they saw, ahead, along the banks of the river, a small village. Their arms and shoulders burned from the effort of dragging the dead crocodile behind them through the heat of the day.
The cleared area around the village had been planted with crops, while domesticated beasts stood grazing in pens made of logs that were lashed together with vines. A wall of sharpened stakes had been built around the huts of the village. Those huts were simple things, made of logs smeared with mud while thatch covered the roofs. A few people worked in the fields, each dressed in hides similar to the kind that the young woman they followed wore. At their appearance, a small band of men came out of the village, each carrying a spear tipped with stone. Accompanying them were a pair of rather large, stocky cats with a red tinge to their brown fur, their hindquarters speckled with white spots. While not quite the size of lions, they were certainly fearsome creature with powerful, crushing jaws. The men lowered their spears as they closed in.
One stood out from the rest of the men, being much older than them, with grey hair and beard. Instead of a spear, he carried a wooden staff from which hung teeth and claws and feathers. The young woman broke into a run when she saw him, straight into the arms of the old man. She spoke rapidly when she was with him, pointing back towards Nhaqosa’s group. By the end of her speech, the spears began to relax and tensions eased.
The old man stepped forward from the other men and made a motion for Nhaqosa to approach him. As Nhaqosa walked over, the old man handed off his staff to the young woman to hold onto before extending both his hands out towards Nhaqosa. In return the minotaur offered his own hand and the old man took them in a firm grip. He stared hard, up at Nhaqosa. A warm surge flowed up through Nhaqosa’s arms, starting where the old man’s hands gripped him. Then the old man let go, stepped back and nodded.
“My name,” he said in words that were understandable to Nhaqosa, “Is Elder Tolvir. You saved the life of my granddaughter, Ashara, for which I am in your debt, great one.”
“I am Nhaqosa, of the Stonemaul, and these are my companions, who have been with me through much adversity and trial. You have much power, Elder, to allow us to speak together.”
“I have some,” Tolvir admitted. “You are welcome among us, Nhaqosa of the Stonemaul, as are your companions. Tell me, do you come from the lands of the People of Iron? It has been a long time since any of them have ventured into our forests.”
To Nhaqosa it seemed that the human seemed remarkably indifferent to what he looked like, an event that he had not experienced in a long time.
“We do not know of these People of Iron,” he replied. “We have travelled from far, far off places, beyond imagining.”
“You are welcome, still,” Tolvir told him. “Come, we will take you to our village so that you can rest from your journey.”
One of the other village men who had accompanied Tolvir, bearing scars across his left cheek that looked as if they had come from claws, spoke out. “They killed one of the great crocodiles. Can they be trusted?”
“Did we do something wrong in killing it?” Nhaqosa asked. He had not considered it before, but the man’s words left him half worries that they had broken some taboo.
Tolvir laughed. “No, not at all. There are very few that can claim to have killed one of the monsters of the waters. Barlor is merely envious of your prowess. Leave the beast behind and the men will see that it is properly taken care of and prepared.”
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