On the third day as he left her hut, Aleenia said, “Don’t trust him.”
It was the first odd thing she had said since she had made him memorise the words. He didn’t know who she meant but it didn’t take long for him to guess. Mid way in his training the village lookout let out a howl meaning that strangers were approaching.
As was the custom, he and three warriors walked out to greet the strangers. There seemed to be five of them, all human but of fairer skin than Ciamon had ever seen. Two people approached his group, one man with greasy hair and an older woman whose skin was almost as white as Aleenia’s.
“Hail Panos, we are travellers from a far off land with wares to trade.”
“Hail Human,” Ciamon replied putting a little too much emphasis on ‘human’. It was considered an insult to great someone by their race instead of their title or name. “What sort of wares could you have for a humble village, such as ourselves?”
“A little of everything.” The strange man replied with a crooked grin. There was something strange about his accent and something even stranger about his scent. He smelled of metal and oil. Ciamon saw that all five of them wore multiple pieces of stone as jewelry, something that the Panos considered gaudy and arrogant.
“You may display your wares here in the merchants square. I will inform the pack that you are here.”
“Thank you, but the sun is bright in this area and we don’t want our silks to fade. Could we set up next to the forest and the fields?” The field were on the other side of the town, surrounded by stone markers, indicating the final resting place of the tribe’s honoured dead. Their crystalized bodies gave off positive magics that helped grow food. To help the pack, even after death, was the greatest honour.
“You can set up here or move on.” Ciamon was being impatient and rude, but there was something not quite right with these Pale Humans.
As was his responsibility, Ciamon placed several guards at the fairground and then went from hut to hut telling his people that there were traders. He kept Aleenia’s hut for last. When he came in he saw the sadness in her mother’s eyes.
“There are traders in the fairgrounds,” He told her.
“I know. Aleenia has been prophesising in her sleep. They’re trouble…” the Shaman was interrupted by Aleenia’s yelling.
“They are buzzards feeding off a dead beast that doesn’t know it’s dead. They are only the first.” Aleenia stopped yelling and fell back into her deep sleep.
Both Ciamon and the Shaman shrugged, not understanding what Aleenia was trying to say. The Shaman had told him once that Seers didn’t go mad from their visions, but from trying to understand them. Aleenia had laughed at her mother then, but hadn’t laughed once her visions became more intense.
“I’ll double the guard on the humans,” he said as he stroked Aleenia’s fur.
The fairgrounds were filled with people when he returned. The humans had set up a dozen booths with everything from exotic food to weapons. He glanced at the weapons and weighed one of the swords. They had intricate metalwork but it wasn’t balanced properly having its centre of gravity near the end of the blade. His father had a blade crafted by a master Tamoran blacksmith. Every part of the blade flowed with attention to craft. This one was created to be pretty and felt cold and unloved.
The big draw for the village was exotic fried dough that strangers called a doughnut, and the clothing. Every stitch of the clothing was perfect and in a perfect line. An Elder pack woman said she’d never seen stiches so perfect and she had studied under a stitch-witch.
Having been with his father and mother at each fair, he knew there was something strange with these humans. Their wares were perfect, yet they cost half as much as other traders would charge. They also didn’t drink and moved with almost military precision. Ciamon was especially confused by the strange metal barrels that were attached to the side of the carts. They smelled strange but he couldn’t recognize the smell.
“How do you get your corn so large?” asked the leader of the pale humans. “Ours never grow more than half the size.”
Thankfully he hadn’t asked Ciamon and hadn’t been looking at him. The man’s voice made Ciamon’s hair puff like a jumpy pup.
The head farmer answered him in the traditional way, “Our crops grow due to the love of our ancestors.” Something inside Ciamon told him that this story shouldn’t be told to the pale man but it was a tradition that all the races knew about. What harm could come of it. “We bury the crystalized bodies of our dead around our gardens. Their souls nourish the earth and keep pests away.”
“Surely you must be kidding the markers are too close together. They can’t mark graves.”
“You must come from very far away mister,” said the farmer. “Don’t your people crystalize and shrink to the size of a large watermelon when they die? Or do you die like animals and let your corpses rot?”
“No no, we crystalize. We just don’t get as small.” The man was lying. It unsettled Ciamon, but if he were going to force them to go away he needed a better reason than being unsettled or a trader lying. Traders lied all the time.