Chief Dupa gave me an odd look this morning; it seemed he knew my intentions. But he did not stop me when I proceeded outside, dressed for sunning on the rocks.
It was a sunny morning, making my limbs loose and pace slow; it would have been nice to spend it sunning. I carried my gride, of course; it would be particularly shameful to be taken weaponless should the Ironheads ride out to war again. It would have been hard for them to catch me unawares, gride or no, on the flat plains and gentle roll of hills. The clanking of their armor and steps of their blocky horses carries far across the waving grass. Still, there was no reason to take needless chances.
I reached the village outskirts after some walking. I thought it would have taken longer, but the spirits' breath was firmly at my back as it danced across the grass. Maybe they'd known how tempting the broad rocks had been.
Now I needed to find a place to hide my weapon, because the villagers would be scared. The peace was shaky, and an armed warrior at their village entrance would no doubt upset farmers even more than it would upset lizards. Treaty negotiations have going slowly, due somehow to that council the Zexen warriors always talk about. I suppose they must be a bit like our own elders. For proud people like us and the Zexens, it must be frustrating to be too old to fight or lead. We listen to their advice, and their stories, but they usually do not make the decisions for the tribe - age does not always bring wisdom. Perhaps the humans haven't learned this yet.
I hid my weapon in a stand of grass while I was still human-sight-distance away, and approached empty-handed. It's funny that humans think nakedness is only about clothes. But we both agree that you shouldn't be naked outside.
They didn't approach me as I walked into the village. A human in clothes that hid his or her legs gathered some children and brought them inside. Another human with a beard hiding most of his face took up a pitchfork and demanded to know why a monster like me was there.
His words stung, and if another of my clan had been there I know he would have laughed at me, because I didn't respond as a proud warrior. I already knew that humans weren't very good with manners, and proving myself better than they wouldn't allow me to do what I'd set out to do. And I wasn't sure I should have that much pride.
I can move debris and pound nails, I told him instead. I can chop wood and carry things. I can hold up beams and pull down burned buildings.
Somewhere amidst the insults he told me my kind was responsible for those burned buildings.
I can dig holes, I replied calmly. I can smell out water if your well was fouled.
He said all the holes had been dug, and my kind had done a good job of making bodies to fill them. His wife was down there, thanks to me.
I nodded. That is why I'm here. The past can't be changed, but the future can be.
He stared at me, mouth hanging open. It took me a moment to realize he was surprised, not laughing at me. I glanced around the town while he searched for words. The children inside had their noses pressed to window-glass; a few other people who had surrounded us while we were talking lowered their axes and shovels and brooms.
Finally, another human walked forward. She had probably been fat before, but now she wasn't; her clothes hung loosely and her face sagged. Humans mostly look the same, but I thought maybe before that she might have looked a bit like Luce. I wanted to like her because of that.
We accept your help. We'll have someone watch you, and you won't be allowed to touch tools.
They watched me closely all day; they seemed to expect me to attack them suddenly. Sometimes I was kicked from behind or had things dropped on my feet. There was no one to see me, to jeer at me for taking abuse without comment. I reminded myself that this was to restore my pride, and so did nothing in return.
A human as short as our Flame Champion looked up at me from chopping wood. I'd seen that look before, on Chief Lucia's face when the Ironheads came to Great Hollow after burning Karaya. It was anger, but cold and haunted, not hot and wild like the Ironheads when their old captain fell. He looked at me, and then at his axe.
The hardest thing I've ever done was stand there without moving, knowing the human facing me was about to try to take my life. A warrior does not, a warrior should not, simply let the enemy take his life. But the boy was not a warrior. Neither was anyone else in his village. Neither were the Karayans who'd been ambushed in their own village the day of the failed treaty. And we were angry that our chief had been killed and our own home attacked. But reprisals do not bring back the dead. The dead might ask for vengeance, but that should be taken against the ones who downed them. It was wrong for the Ironhead warriors to kill non-warriors at Karaya. We accused them of being dishonorable when we thought they'd murdered Chief Zeppon, when they killed those who didn't fight.
But that day in the human village, it had been we who had no honor. I kept my claws at my sides, hoping they didn't shake.
He raised the axe to swing, but then looked into my eyes with his own haunted ones. I wondered what he saw in mine. Whatever it was, he dropped his gaze and turned the axe's swing to neatly split a fat log. He continued to watch me with mistrust for the rest of the day. Each time he lifted the axe when looking at me, he lifted it as if it were heavier than it had been, and then turned away.
The humans' petty abuses continued, kicking and spitting, but after seeing the boy it was easier to bear. I hope they didn't notice my tail slapping the ground in irritation. It's difficult to remain that impassive.
As the sun began to set I asked if I could come again tomorrow. They looked surprised, but the female who looked like Luce said I could, and then the human with the beard agreed. Then I was surprised.
I took a dustbath on the way to the Great Hollow so it would be thought I'd been out exercising. When I arrived home, everyone was buzzing with news: the Ironheads had finally settled on a treaty. There was to be another meeting with them to rest the grides, this time at the castle with the difficult name.
A friend of mine talked loudly about how they would only betray us again. He had a short memory; he'd made a close friend of an Ironhead soldier. The soldier had died in the battle for the ceremonial site. Maybe my friend blamed the ironheads for that, too.
I reminded him of that human soldier, but my friend only spat and said that associating with humans out of necessity was one thing, but otherwise it was weak and dishonorable.
I said nothing, because I knew he was wrong.