The slow warmth of the fire pit spread through the one story room. Tendrils of smoke wound its way along thick, dark wooden beams that braced the gently arched rooftop and out small, concealed holes. Smoke drifted lazily through the holes but not the warmth. Rich, dark stone formed the foundation of the room and supported the wooden walls that began where the stone stopped a few feet off the floor. Rough woven linen and furs had been laid out around the long room to surround the fire pit. Empty hooks and pegs – normally used for weapons – adorned two of the walls in between narrow shuttered windows. The back wall was covered by a rough linen tapestry alive with a multicolored array of mosaic patterns in an abstract shape of a gigantic eagle in flight. Hunter paced the length of the stone long house like a caged wolf. His coat had long since been tossed aside onto the furs, leaving the captain to pace and storm about in his rolled-up shirtsleeves, vest, trousers and dark leather boots.
Moira looked up from her place by the fire where she sat examining the broken pieces of the opti-telegraphic. “Pacin’ the room will nae solve much. Ye’ll be stewin’ up into a temper.”
Hunter scowled toward the wooden door at the front of the long house. “A margin of length too late for that.”
“Indeed. We’ve been in their village for at least two hours, most of that they’ve been treating him.”
“Ah’m sure they’re doin’ what they can. William said they be havin’ somethin’ about treatin’ strangers with respect.”
William shrugged from where he sat on the far side of the fire near Angela and Miles. “It ’twas what they said.” The young man paused, then blushed a little and mumbled. “Least wise it sounded like it.”
Moira smiled at William to reassure him. “Ah nae think ye be wrong about it. Ah spied more’n one bullet wound on a few a’ their own. Look ta be treated well enough and they were walkin’ about. Ah’d also be thinkin’ that if they wanted ta do us ill, they’d leave us out in the snow.”
Hunter sighed and turned away from the door that had not opened on its own despite his worst scowl. “Point well taken. So, found any inspiration with the opti-telegraphic?”
“The bullet tore the casing open near the key lock itself. Outside a’ that, we be havin’ two gears bent, one locknut’s missin’ and a secondary windin’ spring got itself caught on one o’ the bent gears and stretched outta shape. I’m more’n a little surprised it didn’t break. Quite a mess really.”
“Do what you can with it. If the contraption has at least some life left, try and get a message out. Something the Griffin could track on to find their way here.”
Moira nodded briefly. “Very well Cap’n. Right away.”
Angela looked up from the fire. “Cap’n? Sirrah?”
“Will the pirates find us?”
Hunter hesitated a moment. “I don’t know for certain my dear, but I hope not. They should believe we were buried by their avalanche. Provided they don’t go to ground and check beneath the trees, they won’t find what really happened to us.”
“But what if they do?”
“We’ll deal with that when it comes then. No worries now.”
Behind them, at the front of the room, the door opened with a slight creak of protest. Through the doorway stepped a Yeti warrior. He was shed of the coat of mottled white fur from before. Instead, he wore thick linen tunics, trousers and a brightly-colored woolen vest. He still still bore the angry red bruise where Captain Hunter had punched the tribesman across the face in the fight on the mountainside. The Yeti warrior gestured towards Hunter with his bow and then pointed out the doorway.
“I take it we are to go with you? In that case, I’ll want one of my crew along.” Hunter replied and pointed towards William Falke, then himself, then to the doorway. The Yeti looked at both men and nodded once then stepped back from the doorway then looked expectantly towards the two men.
William grabbed his woolen coat and slipped it on quickly. “I think he’s wanting us to go first.”
Captain Hunter scooped up his own coat and slipped it on in anticipation of the chill outside. “I suspect you are correct William. We’d best oblige.”
Outside the door, William and Hunter were met by a second and third Yeti warrior. The two guards looked the two airship sailors over once then turned to walk away. A firm push from the Yeti warrior behind them encouraged Hunter and William to step lively to catch up.
The path the Yeti guards took led them to another stone and wooden building much like all the others in the village. The difference in this one was that it was much older and longer with its rear stone walls flush up against the foot of a rocky rise.
The front two guards stepped to either side of the main door. The Yeti that trailed behind stepped around Hunter and William. Without so much as a look, the warrior opened the door and slipped inside the building.
William fidgeted nervously. “Place has an important look to it.”
Hunter’s eyes were not focused on the building, but on the rise of rocks that both supported the village and gave it a natural commanding view of the area. The only place the Yeti were blinded to any view was where a natural rock shelter arched just slightly over the north-eastern corner of the village. That north-eastern corner where the two men stood.
“Most likely a village elder or person of some importance.” The captain nodded, mostly in reaction to his own thoughts. “They are quite well-defended here. That overhang covers a large portion of this part of their village. See the scoring on the rocks there?”
“Lightning drake if I ever saw it. But this wouldn’t help against fast-moving pilots with a few hand bombs to toss down. If I had to guess, the pirates push the locals back up in here, then come in force on the ground when the Yeti have lost the high ground advantage. Penned in, they cannot mount much defense as their natural defense is used to contain them.”
William whistled low while the scene the captain described played out in his mind. “I see what ya sayin’ Cap’n. It’d be over a’fore anything really started.”
At that moment, the Yeti warrior opened the door wide, gestured to William and Hunter then pointed to inside the building.
Hunter glanced at William. “I do believe we have been summoned.”
Beyond the door, the room was not much different than the one than the one which sheltered the Brass Griffin‘s crew. Tight, fitted stones rose from the floor to meet dark, stained wood three feet off the ground. Above the ceiling was the same interlocked collection of smooth cut wood, except here there were small multi-colored cuts of linen. Each bit of cloth was no larger than four inches square, hung from the rafters. Furs and a few hide-covered stools were settled around the room. Most notably were the three older men seated near the large fire pit in the middle of the room. They were dressed modestly in long linen shirts, trousers and ankle high moccasins. Four Yeti warriors stood silently and alert at the corners.
The Yeti warrior that led Hunter and William spoke quietly with a tone of respect to the three older men. Not to say any of the three were feeble. Despite their obvious age, each still bore a well-muscled frame with a clear steady gaze. The oldest of the three nodded in reply to the young warrior whom nodded in return and retreated from the room.
A long moment of silence fell around the room while the three Yeti elders stared at Hunter and William. Unsure of what – if anything – to say, the pair returned the silence with some of their own. William shifted his weight and leaned over to Hunter after a moment.
“Chatty bunch ain’t they Cap’n?”
“Indeed,” was the captain’s reply. However his mind was elsewhere. It was something about the decor or perhaps the demeanor of the three older gentlemen that reminded Hunter of a diplomat or admiral he knew from years ago. These were men of importance to the Yeti.
Finally the oldest of the three nodded once and gestured towards a set of furs on the far side of the fire.
Hunter exchanged a look with William who shrugged. “Wants us ta sit, Cap’n … I think.”
Once seated on the furs, Captain Hunter cleared his throat. “Before anything else, I wish to offer my thanks for the assistance to my wounded man.”
The three elders exchanged a look. William gave a nervous smile then – with the occasional stumbling and stuttering over unfamiliar words – provided a translation. One of the elders, the youngest of the three with only some gray shot through his coal dark hair, lifted a wooden cup of some hot, dark liquid and sipped at it before he replied.
“Toka sni. Takuwe niye lel?”
Immediately another of the elders looked shocked at his companions’ question. He barked a fast, harsh reply. This set off a storm of conversation among the two younger of the three tribal leaders. The oldest sat calmly and drank his own drink as if nothing had happened.
Hunter tried his best to follow what he thought was an argument, but eventually gave up. “Will, what are they saying?”
William’s eyes darted between the two arguing men, desperate to follow the rapid exchange. “Ah think the one asked us somethin’ pretty blunt, but ah don’ know the words. The other one there? He’s got his boiler in a burn cause he’s thinkin’ the first was rude. Ah get the thought that they’re supposed ta be polite ta strangers. Like what ah said before about them wantin’ ta treat strangers with respect.”
“Good for us then in a way, it confirms we won’t be harmed soon. What about now?”
“They’re just talkin’ too fast for me Cap’n. Ah don’ know some of those words … Ah’m learnin’ as fast as ah can suss ’em out.”
Hunter was about to say something himself when the last elder spoke.
Immediately the other two Yeti fell silent. Hunter himself had paused but quickly recovered.
“William, tell them if you would …”
“Silence … please.”
Hunter stopped in mid-sentence at the graveled voice. The elder, who had been quiet through everything, spoke. He was careful with his words, as they were obviously not his native language, but words he had an acceptable command of, at least.
“The boy … does not have to speak for you. I know some of your words.”
William sat back in surprise. Hunter checked his own comment before he said it and instead cleared his throat.
“Well that puts a new spin on things. If I may, your grasp of them is quite good, Sirrah.”
“Your people have come to here before. One stayed some time. A man of learning.” The elder sipped his drink then set his cup down. “I am called Utawah.”
“I am Anthony Hunter. This is one of my crew, William Falke.”
William inclined his head in greeting. “Sirrah.”
Utawah watched them both a moment before he replied. “Good meeting. I must be … forward. My companions wish to know when will your people stop attacking?”
William’s mouth fell open. “Tain’t us! We been shot up and shot at and chased about like rabbits!”
Hunter waved William quiet. “Utawah, it has been none of my people that have harmed yours. Myself and my crew are recent visitors, Sirrah. We have no reason to cause injury.”
The chieftain leaned forward, the light of the fire cast lurid shadows along his weathered face. “So say you. My people suffer many burns and cuts. Some have lost arms and fingers with your attacks. We just want it to stop. We will give you what we can, but know we will fight you.”
Hunter shook his head. “Utawah, those vile creatures are not of my crew. My own country would have dealings with them if they knew what they were about. This I assure you.” At the elder’s unconvinced look, Hunter paused and took a different approach. “Very well, if we were one group and the same, why would we be here if we could simply attack you again as you say we already have?”
“This we do not know. That is why you and your followers have been brought here. We are curious as to why.”
Sitting quietly next to Hunter, William had managed to restrain himself for as long as he could. “Because we tain’t with ’em!”
“Cap’n, sorry for the disrespect, but they tain’t payin’ attention!” William returned his frantic look to Utawah. “If’n we were in with them pirates, why’d we drag one o’ our own over the snow and ice when he’s so bad hurt? Why’d them pirates in the steambats try and bury us in half the bloody mountain?”
Utawah smiled slightly, “I agree with what you say. It is my companions that are more … suspicious. I will relay your words.”
Hunter sat forward. “Utawah, if you would, please relay this. We are being hounded by the same men that hunt your people. They seek two children in our care for reasons I believe are quite dire. I fear for the children’s safety more than I do ours. The longer we argue, the longer we wait, the closer they come to finding us again. This time, they will find your village, if they have not anticipated that we would find our way here already. We can help you.”
Utawah paused. “If we return your weapons to you.”
Hunter nodded. “Indeed and trust us with them. I understand that asks a great deal. If that is too much, then do what you will with us but hide the children. At least that… if nothing else.”
Utawah stared unblinking at Hunter in silence. Then the elder chief turned to the other two and spoke rapidly in their own dialect.
Embarrassed, William leaned over to Hunter and whispered. “Cap’n I …”
“Think nothing of it. I was caught in the moment myself.”
“Think we convinced ’em?”
“I dearly hope so, William. For all our sakes.”
William sat bolt upright as if stuck with a needle. “Cap’n …”
Hunter’s attention was riveted on the conversation across the fire from them. “Hm? What is it?”
The explosion outside shattered the front door, the adjacent section of wall next to it and rained debris through the room.