Friday, December 31, 2010
The Drache Girl - Chapter 13 Excerpt
The following day the party reached Tsuus. It was a large town on the edge of the river. Staff estimated that there were more than two hundred buildings constructed of wood. Two thirds of them were built on a small rise just off the shore. The others were constructed on stilts above the water. There were thousands of lizardmen here, their bodies painted with red ochre into dozens of designs. Few carried weapons, but those who did had long spears with enormous stone tips and the wooden swords lined with tiny chips of obsidian for which the reptilians were famous.
The seven humans and their three lizzie companions walked through the muddy streets between the wooden buildings, and Staff marveled at their construction. They were as solidly built as many of the homes in Port Dechantagne and looked as though they had stood where they were for dozens of generations. They were pieced together carefully and sealed with mud. Animal skins formed most of the doors, though a few doors were made of wood, attached with leather hinges. Smoke rose from the centers of the roofs. The black and yellow eyes of hundreds of lizardmen followed them as they made their way through the dirt streets.
The group without consciously following a specific course through the wooden buildings of the lizardmen, soon arrived in the center of the town, steered there by the placement of the structures. A group of colorfully painted lizardmen awaited them.
“That’s the chief and his witch doctor,” said Graham, indicating a singularly large and impressive reptilian, standing next to a very old and shrunken looking one.
The large lizardman raised his hand and pressed it to his neck, palm side out. Graham, the shortest person in the party and looking pitifully small beside the huge green-hued creatures did likewise. The chief hissed out a monologue several minutes long, pointing first at the humans and then the three lizardmen who traveled with them and then back again to the humans. Graham replied just as loquaciously, and then turned to inform Staff of the conversation.
“I’m not even going to try to pronounce the chief’s name. He’s given us a pretty standard greeting, though he’s not very happy to see us here. He knows we have suuwasuu.”
“Magic. His witch doctor can detect it. They use the same word for our guns too though. Anyway, he’s not too keen on us being here, but he’s not going to try anything. They still remember Great Suusthek, the Lizzie city-state.”
“They’re still afraid of us?”
“Well, really they’re afraid of Zurfina. Also, they weren’t too friendly with Suusthek anyway. Their king used to demand all kinds of tribute and prisoners. Compared to them, Port Dechantagne is a great neighbor.”
“Tell them we need passage across the river,” said Staff. “Tell them that we are looking for burning black rocks and that it will bring great prosperity to all of them.”
Graham began translating. It was clear that he was having a bit of trouble with concepts like prosperity, but at last he completed his statements to the reptilians and seemed pleased. The chief spoke again, and once again the boy translated.
“Tomorrow we will take you across the swift water. Tonight you will stay in the home of Sanjo’s family.” Of course the chief used Sanjo’s actual name, rather than the pseudonym crafted for him by humans. “If you can pay, we have many workers.”
“Tell the chief I have a present for him,” said Staff.
He dropped his pack from his shoulders and withdrew a small bag which he handed to Graham. The boy shook the bag, obviously full of coins, then stepped over to the chief and handed it to him. The lizardman opened the poke and poured some of the shiny copper pieces inside into his palm. He hissed, nodding his great head.
“He likes that,” said Graham. “They all like pfennigs. How many did you give him?”
“Ten marks worth,” replied Staff.
“That’s a king’s ransom for Lizzies,”
“Let’s hope nobody needs ransoming.”
The party was led to one of the large square wooden buildings. It, like the others around it, was roughly forty feet square, with a sloping roof. The door was an animal skin and there was only a dirt floor. The inside was all one large room and in the center was a stone hearth with a fire. The smoke escaped from a hole in the center of the ceiling. Seven lizardmen, in addition to the three they brought with them, joined the humans around the fire.
“Are these Sanjo’s family then?” Staff asked the boy.
“Not like we think of family. They’re more like roommates. The Lizzies lay eggs in big nests in the woods—lots of them together. When it’s time for the eggs to hatch, they go bring the babies home, but nobody really knows which babies belong to which mother.”
“Savages,” said Femke Kane. “Horrible savages.”
“That’s just the way they do things,” said Graham. “The little lizzies aren’t like our babies. They can run around and stuff.”
“How did you learn so much about them?” asked Miss Jindra.
“I’ve been working with them on the docks for about three years now. They’re just like anybody else. If they find somebody who’ll listen to them, they talk.”
“You know, I didn’t see any little ones when we came into town,” said Mrs. Kane.
“They’re hiding,” said Graham.
“Hiding from who?” wondered Miss Jindra.
“From us,” he replied. “From you mostly. You’re the one with the suuwasuu. I’ve never even seen a baby Lizzie. I’ve only ever talked to one person who has. I hope I get to see one before we leave.”
“I suppose we should eat and rest,” said Staff.
“Do you think we should take turns watching?” asked Mouliets. “They will probably try to kill us in our sleep.”
Graham made a dismissive gesture. “You’re safer here than you would be in Natine.”
Sanjo hissed something.
“We need to eat outside though,” Graham continued. “They don’t eat inside their houses, only sleep.”
“Alright,” said Staff. “Let’s lay down our gear here. We’ll go outside and eat. But we will keep a watch tonight. Kane, Mouliets, Glieberman, and myself—we’ll each take a two hour shift.”
After setting down their gear, they stepped back outside. Sanjo wandered about the area, interacting with other lizardmen, but Cheebie and Mimsie stayed close to the humans.
“They’re not from here,” explained Graham. “Their town is about thirty miles west.”
“Aren’t both towns an awfully long way to walk to work from?” asked Miss Jindra.
“The Lizzies come in and work in town for a week or so at a time. They sleep just outside of the town limits, usually in trees. Then a couple of times a month, they go back and take their money home. Of course there are a bunch of Lizzies that live in Port Dechantagne all the time now, mostly servants.”
“Are they still cordial with the transient lizardmen?” asked Mrs. Kane.
“Are they still friendly with each other—the Lizzies that live in town and those here.”
“Not really. The Lizzies in different towns aren’t too friendly with each other anyway, so the ones that live in Port Dechantagne are in the same boat.”
A lizardman, a stranger, approached the humans with a large joint of meat skewered on a spear. He handed the meat to Staff and hissed out a long explanation, hand in hand with a series of gestures, which Graham translated.
“This is from the chief’s house. It really means we’re safe tonight. They don’t kill anybody they share food with—at least not that same day. They know that we like to cook our food, so they made a fire for us over there.”
The reptilians had prepared a large fire, and had even set up two forked sticks on either side of if, so that the spear with the meat skewered upon it, could be draped across the fire and roasted. It was obviously some kind of dinosaur meat, which only some members of the party had come to enjoy, but after half an hour, the smells coming from it made the mouth of even the most picky human among them water. When they all agreed that the meat looked done, Mouliets pulled out a huge knife and sliced off thin pieces for each of the party members, which they ate with their fingers. Here again, while Sanjo was presumably eating his meat raw among his brethren, both Cheebie and Mimsie ate with the humans, consuming the cooked meat without complaint. As they finished their meal, the daylight was beginning to wane.
Femke Kane, who was sitting between her husband and Graham, leaned over. Staff, who was sitting on the other side of the boy, could clearly hear her.
“Don’t make any sudden moves,” she said. “Just look over Mr. Glieberman’s right shoulder. There. In the doorway of that house.”
The house in question was like any other and like most had an animal skin hanging as a door. This door was pulled partially to one side though, and sticking out of the crack were two small, dark green snouts. They were less than a third the size of an adult lizardman’s face, and the creatures to which they belonged couldn’t have been more than three feet tall. Apparently they were lying down inside the house now, taking advantage of the rare chance to see some of the mammalian invaders to their country.
“Wicked,” said Graham, smiling happily. “They’re so small. They must have just been captured.”