There was, indeed, a young Plainsman waiting for Almonihah outside the Shaman’s hut. The Shaman passed the half-dragon off with another mysterious smile, then hobbled back into the hut. Almonihah’s young guide (who seemed annoyingly awed by the half-dragon) led him to a small hut, then waited outside while the Ranger settled in—which consisted of him setting his pack down and unrolling his bedroll. His guide seemed surprised to see him done so quickly, but once he was sure Almonihah was truly ready, he led the half-dragon to a long, low structure, constructed in much the same fashion as the rest of the village.
Apparently, skipping welcoming ceremonies did not mean skipping the honorary feast for the hero. At least, Almonihah assumed the Plainsmen didn’t gather together for a huge meal in this building every day. It looked like it wasn’t quite ready yet, but the Chief was ready to greet his visitor again.
Almonihah found that he was right about feasts like this being out of the ordinary, but he was only partially right about it being for him. While much mention was made of his actions, he gradually figured out that this feast was traditional when a hunting group returned from a good hunt. So he tried to be polite, and talk without showing too much irritation at how many of them still seemed to view him as some sort of mystical spirit. And at having to be at a feast. Eating was all well and good, but Almonihah didn’t really see the point of eating so much with so many people at the same time.
After eating—and talking until the sun was low—they went out to the large dirt circle in the middle of the village. There was now a large bonfire in the center of the circle, and many of the Plainsmen had already gathered around it. As Almonihah and the group he had come with sat around the perimeter of the circle, he noticed a few of the tribe members coming to the edge of the circle with drums and other objects he assumed were musical instruments.
Then some other Plainsmen came running into the circle. These ones… Almonihah had to struggle not to show some sign of his incredulous disbelief at their costumes. They were dressed in what he could only assume were costumes made to resemble different animals—deer, bison, wolves, lions, griffons, and others—complete with masks. It seemed that their entrance was some kind of a cue, because the musicians started playing, and then the costumed Plainsmen started dancing.
At first, all Almonihah could do was note that they somehow managed to get close to the fire without catching their costumes on fire while he tried to hide his opinion of them. After watching for a little while (and getting control of himself), however, he started to feel like there was something more to the dance. He watched more intently, trying to put his finger on it. It was like… that was it! There was a story to the dance!
Unfortunately, the realization hit him just as the dance was ending. He went over what he remembered, but couldn’t quite put the pieces together. He grunted softly, a bit disappointed.
“You are displeased with the performance?”
Almonihah had to keep himself from jumping at the Shaman’s question. He’d been watching the dance so intently that he’d forgotten that there was someone behind him.
A bit more roughly then he normally would have, the half-dragon admitted, “Just felt like I was just starting t’ understand th’ thing when ‘t ended.”
There was silence for a moment, until Almonihah turned to look at the Shaman and saw him nodding with that irritating smile on his face. “I am glad that you realized there was something to understand.”
Almonihah grunted again. He was getting tired of the Shaman and his infuriatingly mysterious smile.
He was also getting tired of thinking of him as “the Shaman”.
“What’s your name?” Almonihah’s question carried just a bit of an irritated growl.
If the Shaman noted the Ranger’s irritation, he gave no indication of it. “I am called Owl Talon, young Almonihah.”
Almonihah nodded. That seemed to fit—the names he’d gotten from the Plainsmen tended to be animal-related like that.
He jerked his head towards the Chief. “What’s his?”
“Our Chieftain is called Griffon Heart.” Owl Talon paused for a moment, then said, “It is not customary for either of us to be called by our given names, however.”
The Chief had come to the center of the circle while they had been talking. Now he beckoned to the gathering and began to speak.
“Fellow tribesmen, as most of you know, we celebrate this evening not only a successful hunt, but also the rescue of two of our tribesmen by our honored guest, Almonihah Zrathanzon.” He gestured with one hand at the half-dragon, then continued, “Almonihah will be staying with us for a time, and we will extend to him the hospitality of our tribe in acknowledgement of our debt to him for the lives of our brothers.”
Almonihah simply crossed his arms and kept listening. Chief Griffon Heart talked for a fair amount of time, talking about various matters, praising the performers for their skill, and so forth. Towards the end, he mentioned that another hunting party would be leaving after the new moon, which if the Ranger remembered correctly, meant in a couple of weeks. He made a mental note to volunteer to go with them if they were headed towards the forest so he could teach a few of them not to walk into pit plants. Or blood vines. Or packs of fell-wolves.
The half-dragon noticed that people were starting to leave, and that Griffon Heart was walking towards him. He stood up to meet the Chieftain.
“You have been shown where you will stay, Almonihah Zrathanzon?” he asked. When Almonihah nodded, the Plainsman continued, “Then I will leave you to rest. If you wish, I would like to speak with you in the morning.”
Almonihah nodded again. Griffon Heart excused himself, and went off to his home. Looking around, the half-dragon decided he might as well do the same, and went off to the hut he was to sleep in.
There were walls around him. How had he ended up back in that cave? When had Galindakherithan hunted him down again? What…
Then Almonihah remembered. He was in the village of the Griffon Tribe, in the hut they’d given him to sleep in. Now that he was really awake, he could make out the smoke-hole in the roof of the hut, even though it was a cloudy, moonless night. He wasn’t sure how long he’d slept, but it certainly hadn’t been the whole night. Still, he didn’t feel like he could fall asleep again. At least not until his heart stopped beating so fast.
Almonihah exited the hut, pushing aside the animal skin—a deer, if he wasn’t mistaken—that served as the door. All was quiet in the village, except for the quiet movement of a few of the animals the tribe kept. Even more quietly, the Ranger slipped between the homes of the Plainsmen.
When he reached the edge of the village—not really all that far from the center, truth be told—the half-dragon noticed that there were actually a couple of tribesmen keeping watch over the village by night. It made sense—the Central Plains might not be as dangerous as the North Forest, but there were still plenty of things here that wouldn’t mind helping themselves to a chicken… or a human.
Almonihah slipped easily past the sentries. Watchful they might be, but the Ranger had trained to sneak up on creatures much more keen-eared than a human, and on a night like this, remaining unseen hardly took any effort. He remained quiet until he was well away from the village, then stopped to take in a deep breath and let it out slowly.
The night would have been impenetrably dark to human eyes, but Almonihah could see the endless fields of grass extending outwards from him in all directions. In black and white, yes, and not for as far as in the day, but he could see them. Which made made it all the more odd that he’d mistaken his hut for that little room in Galindakherithan’s lair. After spending a few minutes taking in the sight of the plains at night, he had the strange urge to just run. With a shrug, he broke into a trot, and then a steady, ground-eating run.
He didn’t really think about much as he ran. He just enjoyed the feeling of the wind of his passage waving his frill back and forth, the earth beneath his boots, the freedom of being alone on the plains save for the animals, which he avoided without even alerting them to his presence.
His run took him on a wide, lazy circle back to the village. Keeping his sense of direction was something Zrathanzon had trained Almonihah in well. Soon enough, he had to slow down and try to slow his breathing, so as to not alert the sentries.
Again he was back in between the huts of the village. He had come back in from a different direction, however, so that the Shaman’s hut lay between him and ‘his’ hut. As he approached, Almonihah noticed that there was actually a bit of light coming from the hut, and a wisp of smoke rose from the smoke-hole. Cautiously, the half-dragon started to slip past Owl Talon’s doorway.
Just as he was level with it, the tip of a rather familiar staff poked out of the doorway and lifted the animal skin, revealing the old Shaman standing in front of the embers of his fire.
He had that smile again.
“Did you enjoy your run, young dragon?” Owl Talon asked quietly.
Almonihah looked at the old man incredulously. How…?
Recovering a bit, the half-dragon grunted, “Yeah.”
Still smiling, the Shaman nodded and said, “That is good.” Then he stretched, and added, yawning, “Well, these old bones are telling me that I should try to get the rest of the night’s sleep that I woke up from. Rest well, young dragon.”
And with that, Owl Talon went back into his hut.
Still a bit off-balance, Almonihah stood staring at the animal skin that covered the hut’s doorway for a few seconds before he shook himself a bit and went back to his bedroll. Maybe this whole thing was just a dream…
Hmm… I think I may have to split this chapter up more. I’ve still got a lot of stuff that I was going to put in chapter 12 to go, and it’s already several pages long. Well, we’ll see.