No one was dead.
Not even the garagran.
It had taken Ean until the afternoon to accept it, and he could tell from Kaim’s body language that his armsman still hadn’t managed to wrap his head around the concept by the time Ean sent him ahead to make final preparations, shortly before they reached the village at sunset.
Of course Trin had pulled alongside Danya from the very start and drawn her into a conversation that lasted the whole way. That was Trin. Most of it sounded like tales of Trin’s adventures in the outside kingdoms, as Danya said little, but Ean could tell his sister was fascinated by the woman, and Danya at least appeared to be listening.
Trin could probably still run Danya through between one breath and the next, even so, but unlike Kaim, she looked like she would regret it at this point.
Ean would too. Now that he believed they were going to make it through the entire day with no fighting, he was thanking Kai profusely for keeping him from doing anything foolish. He had sent word ahead to Isayh to assemble the elders and the owner of the cow for the apology, as well as procure two more cows and begin roasting them for a feast. He had also sent the Tixeries ahead with Kaim to make certain Danya wouldn’t be met by a militia armed with bows and spears.
That would be a disaster.
The leader of the Tixerie squad ran up as soon as they reached Elizabeth’s rest and bowed his head and flared his wings.
“The elders are assembled, your Highness. The townsfolk are mostly peaceful.”
“Mostly?” Ean asked, dismounting so he wouldn’t tower above the tiny man.
“The owner of the lost cow is still distressed. Apparently she was his best breeding cow. He is demanding some kind of punitive action against that ‘horrible monster’.”
“Tell him he can have the cost of a cow in cash and pick out a new breeding cow from the royal herds at no cost. If that doesn’t settle his objections he can speak to me personally.”
The Tixerie nodded and started to go but Ean stopped him.
“If he still looks like causing trouble warn him that if he tries to cause a scene or won’t settle for material compensation I’ll have his name put on the Judge’s List.” Ean held the soldier’s gaze with a severe expression.
The Tixerie nodded and gave a slight smile in return.
“I believe that will settle him, your Highness.”
Ean let him leave, praying silently that he hadn’t been too severe. He didn’t like threatening someone with the Judge’s List, but it existed for a reason. People who were unforgiving toward others on matters that had been fixed had their names remembered on it in case they themselves should ever come up for judgement, so those presiding over their prosecution could give them similar consideration.
It encouraged folk to let go of the small things.
He put the issue aside and turned his attention to the village.
Sara’s Rest spread out before him, all post-and-beam timber with nothing over two stories high but the bell-tower and the signal station. Records listed it as over two-hundred years old, but only showing serious growth in the last twenty, with most of that from immigration. Current population was 437 adults by the census, large enough that his father had given them a basic rail station five years before. Primary exports were beef, tilakko, cowhide and featherdown, with considerable grain and vegetable production as well. Also horn, which was still important despite the new milk plastics, and mepi fabric.
Sara’s Rest was located in the southern foothills outside the old forests of the central river valley, about eighteen ten-felds from the base of the mountains themselves, in a wide grassy dale that ran in three directions instead of two and which had considerable groundwater hiding under the rich black soil. Because of that water the grass stayed green in most of the valley all times of the year except the deep of winter, perfect for supervised grazing of cattle and tilakkos, and the village was very productive, despite their lack of the new electric fencing.
During the lean season the grazing animals were brought into two large, walled, communal paddocks owned jointly by the three largest farming families and leased out to all other farmers for a modest fee. The paddocks kept the animals safe from the big cats, wolves and smaller drax that came down out of the mountains looking for food once all their normal game had become scarce.
But not from garagrans.
He glanced at Danya, then stared when he saw she was laughing at something Trin had said.
Laughing and smiling.
It changed her.
Excepting the scales on her forehead and nose, which at this distance looked like some strange obsidian jewelry, she looked like any other young woman.
A very beautiful young woman.
It seemed impossible that she could turn into a giant, fire-breathing drax that could tear apart an entire city.
History, experience and Trin had assured him otherwise.
Ean waved for someone to take his horse and a young Bortin woman with the markings of a fifth-rank del on her high collar ran up and grabbed the reins. He thanked her and walked toward the town square where people were already gathered.
“Welcome back, your highness,” Isayh called out with his deep voice. Ean spotted him and saw that the massive Shaldan had a giant halberd resting on one shoulder and a longsword strapped to his hip. He had also replaced his brown overalls with a bright set of chain centered by a polished breastplate. A red military collar rose above his gorget and covered his throat all the way to his chin, while a helm crested with red hair covered his head between his horns, but neither showed any rank markings that Ean could pick out.
Isayh approached with long, steady strides, lowered the halberd so that it was point down and bowed with his fist to his chest.
“Weren’t you the one pointing me toward peaceful solutions, elder?” Ean said.
“The armor reminds the others that I know about war firsthand, your highness,” Isayh said. “Puts them at ease. I don’t think I’ll need the axe against that little girl over there, though. I’m glad you brought her back to talk to us.”
He pointed Ean’s attention back to Danya and Ean saw that she was still smiling as Trin lead her toward the square on foot. Trin was still talking.
Ean looked back to Isayh.
“That little girl evaded half the southern army for a day and could still eat us all if she really wanted to,” he said.
Isayh cocked a hairy eyebrow at him then looked around at the roofs of the buildings surrounding the main square. Ean followed the gaze but saw nothing.
“I believe your men would feather her well before she got through her change,” Isayh said.
“Your Shunschild armsman posted two squads of archers on the rooftops.”
Kaim. Ean sighed.
“I told him a few. Archers, not squads. I don’t want to make her feel unwelcome.”
Ean looked at the rooftops again, spotting several of the archers now that he knew what he was looking for. He said a prayer under his breath that Aihay would continue to keep things peaceful and searched for Kaim, but the armsman eluded him.
However, he did see Danya again as she moved in front of him.
Her eyes were on the rooftops, and she wasn’t smiling anymore.