As we walked down the mountainside towards the village, Arelia’s anger returned. I realised that she was going to want to kill or hurt the other humans. Ah well, you couldn’t always win. At least she was going into the village. As we got closer, the sounds increased. Dogs baying, people shouting and chatting, fires crackling. The smells of roasted food and plants were thick in the air. The forest was much nicer. But if Arelia was to trust people, this had to be done. The settlement was a series of wood and mud huts in a circle around a clearing in the middle with a big bonfire in the middle of it. The Chief’s hut was decorated with brightly dyed deerskins and the deer skulls on sticks showed that this clan was the deer clan. On seeing the sticks, and their ghastly burdens, Arelia became furious. “How could they do that? How dare they? Didn’t they have any respect for that poor deer? I’ll kill them! Burn them! Burn them all! Break their legs like they did that poor deer we found!”
I turned and looked at her sternly. “No. They have to eat and they thank The Light One for providing the deer as food. They also thank the deer for dying so they can eat. Besides, deer meat is nice. And the skulls are just their way of showing their closeness to The Light One” I turned my head back round towards the village again as Arelia stopped and fumed behind me. She really did have the temper of a volcano. “They could have buried it and set it on it’s way towards The Light One’s ever lasting peace!” frowned Arelia. “Besides, they could eat plants and then nobody would get hurt!”
I looked at her questionably “What about the plants?”
Arelia laughed, her bad mood dissolving “Plants don’t feel, silly!”
“Actually they do, your DNA is 50% the same as lettuce.”
“and what’s percent?”
“and what is lettuce?”
“a plant – you’re allowed to know that one”
“allowed? What do you mean allowed!? Tell me everything you know!”
I let out a guttural laugh and shook my head at the girl’s sudden angry flare “later, maybe, there’s more important things to be done for now.” By now, we’d reached the edge of the village, currently undetected by the various scout and lookout children employed by the chief to keep them out of the way and to let them feel a sense of achievement and duty when they save the village from the mountain lions – If my mother had left enough alive to be a constant threat that was. Realising where we were, Arelia had stopped and was backing off. I glared at her. Getting my meaning, her confidence returned. Silly girl, thinking that I would let anything happen to her! We walked on, appearing from the rocks like a spark from flint. As we walked into the centre, the chatter stopped. The women backed off from the food they were preparing and walked behind the men, who gripped their spears with white knuckles, contrasting their tanned brown skin and flicked their eyes to and from Arelia and me. The shaman, covered in colourful slashes of dye and deerskins, stood in front of the men confidently, yet oozing fear as he bowed to us. “Welcome, Dragon. Welcome, forest princess.” I could hear the fear in his voice and with it the well disguised awe. A child cried out from behind the line of men and was quickly hushed by its mother. I looked at Arelia and then looked back at the shaman. “Thank you for your welcome, Shaman. But may I ask why your tribe violated a sanctuary by laying a deer trap in it with no peace offering. Blood is on that sanctuary floor. You have killed a beautiful place. My friend here is quite angry about it. She wants me to burn this whole village to the ground.” The shaman paled. Arelia glared hard at him, letting all her anger out in the single gaze. I could feel her power building now that we were together. I felt in the air the dry heat coming and, reaching into her mind, took the fire into myself. She snapped her gaze onto me, feeling I had taken something but not quite sure what. I felt her pain and anger. Realising what she wanted me to do, I turned towards the fire and blew hard, hoping that my flame would come and that she would be satisfied with the fire erupting and not ask for more to burn. With Arelia’s power flowing into me, I needn’t have worried. The fire erupted into white–hot flame before returning to its original strength. I let Arelia’s hidden power flow back through our link and continued, “and I would be quite happy to do that. I’m sure deer hides burn well. And wood is well known for burning excellently. And as you can see, I may yet be small but I can still destroy faster than you can blink.” The shaman paled even more before swiftly apologising and saying that an offering would be made and punishments set for whoever laid the trap and explaining that it had probably been dark when they had set it as all the tribe knew about not violating the sanctuaries. He paused, wanting to know if this was enough. I looked at Arelia. She sighed. “ We are satisfied, “she said, “make sure this never happens again though or, “she smiled mirthlessly,” my dragon will set fire to your village” I realised that I would have to talk to her. I was not her dragon as much as she was my human. She just didn’t understand. I shuddered as I realised that neither of us was ready to fight Scethrog. Certainly not on our own, and, as Arelia and me were the first pair, perhaps not even with all of us for another year. But we had been called now. We would manage. We had to, for the sake of all humans and living beings. I thought on in silence.
Finally, the shaman broke the uncomfortable silence by introducing his chief to us. “May I present Chief Falron…” A tall man in the middle of the line of defenders lowered his spear and all the other warriors followed suit, everyone visibly relaxing. He stepped forwards and I saw the red chief tattoo in the form of a deer on his left cheek and the warrior marks on his right. He was wearing a beautifully decorated deerskin tunic and otter fur trousers “…and his wife Emfelia and children, Learo, Whuna, Eaglon and Truth.” At this, a woman carrying a baby wrapped in furs stepped forwards next to the man with two small children, aged about 4 years each, clinging to her skirt, made out of plant fibres. She curtsied, pointing out that her eldest son Learo was on lookout duty now that he was old enough. I laughed. “Well it seems like he’s slacking then, if he didn’t see us coming!” Around us everyone was returning to what they were doing – the women cooking and preparing the deer or buffalo meat and the men skinning some skins or sharpening tools and working with metal and wood. As I mentioned Learo, the chief frowned. “I will call him and the other watchers. They will be punished for missing your coming. If you were lions we would be dead and if you were Ifacle we would be slaves, worse than dead.” Still frowning, he pulled from his leather belt a large buffalo horn. It was painted with colourful zigzags just like the designs on the hide tents. I saw that the pointed end had been cut off and a reed put in to divide it into two. He blew into the pointed end, hard, and a loud trumpeting sound erupted from it. Arelia jumped back, startled, much to the amusement of the two small children. They immediately started giggling and, feeling less nervous, ran over to Arelia. The two children were about my height right now but when I would be fully grown, then they would be not very big at all in comparison over me as I would be twice Chief Falron’s height and they were only up to his thigh. It would take me only 1 month to become 5 times my height. That was a long time. Usually it would take longer, much longer, but thanks to Arelia, it would take only a month. Fortunately for her, she would continue to grow normally. Growing fast came at a price. By now, the sign of running feet was arriving to Arelia’s ears and mine. That would be the scouts and lookouts. Moments later, the other humans heard it and, detaching themselves from the worried Arelia, the two children ran towards the sound, just as a band of young men came rushing into view, calling out “Learo! Learo!”. The boy at the front rushed up to the two children and wrapped them up in his arms as he continued towards his father.
Stopping abruptly in front of the chief, Learo lowered his younger siblings to the floor and stood to attention before noticing Arelia and me and gasping. The other boys arrived behind their chosen leader and stopped, wary of Arelia and me. “Lookouts two, you’re on duty now. Get out there!” A group of children ran out from a hut and charged up the mountain to the wooden lookout posts, which were hidden to the human eye. “Tell me why you didn’t see these two guests coming.” demanded the chief. Learo looked uncomfortable. One of the other boys stepped forwards. “um…chief…” The chief glared at him, “what?” The boy took a deep breath “it was my fault…sorry sir.” Learo looked even more uncomfortable and Arelia and me could tell that the boy was lying. So, apparently, could the chief because he said “I appreciate you trying to get my son out of trouble but its obvious that it wasn’t your fault – you lot go for now. I’ll talk to you all later.” Then he turned on his son again and continued. “Let’s go inside shall we?” He walked into the brightly decorated hut, his son following him, head hanging down. After his son had gone in, he motioned the shaman and us into the hut. We followed. As we passed under the wooden arch, through the thick mud and skin walls, I heard Arelia gasp in wonder. Hanging all around the small domed room were elegantly dyed and decorated deerskins. There were green flashes and red stripes, blue suns and yellow spots. All in all, it was the most colourful hut I had ever seen. Everywhere you looked there was a rainbow of colours and designs. But most magnificent of all was the deerskin chair that the chief had sat down in. A shiny wooden frame smeared with deer fat and covered in deerskins decorated with twists and swirls in every different colour they could dye it with. In short, it was a work of art. The chief motioned for us to sit down on some smaller, less art like stools. Arelia and I declined and sat on the dry earth floor. The shaman sat down. The boy, Learo, was not offered a place to sit. Instead, he stood with his head bowed in the middle of the floor, next to the dead fire. As the chief glared at his eldest child, I glanced around the room in more detail. Hidden by the decorations were cots for the family, these were made in the same way as the stools – wooden frames with deerskin stretched over them. Also there were weaved baskets and clay pots on wood and mud shelves built into the walls. There was another area built into the hut – presumably a larder – with a deerskin draped over the entrance. I jerked my attention back to the chief and his son.
After a while, the chief spoke. “Well? What’s your excuse Learo?” surprisingly for someone who was obviously angry, he spoke quietly and calmly. Keeping his head bowed, Learo replied, “I don’t have an excuse, father.” There was a hint in his voice that he was close to crying. Obviously he knew that his father was extremely disappointed in him. The chief raised his eyebrows. “Why not? And why can’t my son, who has the linage of over ten generations of chiefs, do a simple job like watching the village?” From where I was lying, I could see the chief’s son biting his lip, tears welling up in his eyes. When he finally spoke, it too was with a very quiet voice that was barely controlled. “I didn’t see them. There is no excuse that I can offer. We were playing lions and warriors. Only Minath and me were watching, and we had to watch over the others too. We didn’t see them…” his voice broke off into a silent sob. I frowned. There was nothing worse than a parent telling you off and not shouting at you, just sounding very disappointed in you. It made you feel that you weren’t good enough to be their child, and for a chief’s son, that was even worse. The chief frowned too. Sensing his son’s discomfort, he stood up and embraced his son. “Just do better next time, ok?” he asked gently. Learo sniffed and nodded. “yes father” he replied in a whisper, “I will not fail you again” The chief smiled and gestured for Learo to go out to his friends. “There will still be punishment Learo!” he reminded him before turning to us. “Well what can I do for you forest princess?” Falron asked Arelia, sitting back in his ornate chair.
Arelia jumped out of her sleep, clearly wondering where we were. I nuzzled and kissed her face, whispering “It’s fine Arelia – we’re in the guest hut in the human village, remember?” She calmed down instantly at my voice and we cast our memories back to last night. When Arelia had been asked what the chief could do for her, I had told the chief about our ‘quest’ to defeat Scethrog and the Ifacle. Then I explained about needing Arelia to meet humans, at which she had blushed, and I told them that she needed training in the fighting methods in more detail. Arelia wasn’t happy that I thought she needed to know more about fighting, as she believed that she was an excellent fighter and knew how to trap food and defend herself from tigers. I had laughed and told her that men were harder to fight than tigers, at which she had shut up, looking very thoughtful. Now she was to train with the warriors, learning to use bows, swords, staffs and slings. I only hoped that it wouldn’t take too long, The Dream had showed me that the white skinned Ifacle were getting closer to The Dark One in his tomb and setting him free. We didn’t have long...