The sun was slowly beginning to set upon the prairie and Geoffrey was leading them to one of the Native American villages to rest for the night. He assured the other that they were friendly towards white people. He had been a good acquaintance of the people for a long time.
Sarah was eager to see the savages up close, while Ben was apprehensive to be around so many people.
The village was made up of various teepees and dome-shaped homes. Wisps of smoke drifted from the tops, dissolving into the sky. In the dim light, Sarah could make out the moving silhouettes of women and children. She could see in the distance that a party of men were riding back towards the village with the carcass of a few prairie deer in tow.
The habitants of the village didn’t pay much mind to Geoffrey, Sarah and Ben as they were preoccupied by the excitement of seeing their men arrive back home with their supper.
Geoffrey led the travelers closer to the village and a few women took notice. They exclaimed with joy and shouted something strange. Sarah wasn’t sure what it meant, but that’s what they were calling Geoffrey.
“What are they calling you?” she asked.
“They’re calling me ‘the traveler’. It’s a legend they have of a man that goes about slaying monsters.”
Sarah thought it ironic that the natives should think him a monster-slayer while they had someone like Ben in their midst.
He dismounted the horse and a few of the woman embraced him as the children all shouted and hurried forward to greet him. Sarah smiled at the spectacle, watching the half-naked natives grope at Geoffrey’s legs and tugging on his coat, begging for attention.
These natives were very different from the others. They all seemed friendly and even the men were dressed and appeared non-threatening. The only paint on anything was that depicted on the houses. The women were clothed in rich patterned dresses with bead necklaces and long silky hair braided down their backs. The men wore outfits similar to Geoffrey’s and carried guns instead of spears or bows, but still retained their traditional long hair.
Sarah saw in the middle of the camp, a fire was being formed and the bounty from the hut was being skinned and dressed for roasting. The sight of the raw meat reminded her of Ben. She looked behind her as she was stepping down from her horse and saw that he was standing far outside the camp, hands shoved in his pockets and chin down upon his chest.
Geoffrey spoke to the native children and pointed to Sarah. They squealed and rushed upon her. She laughed and greeted them with smiles as they pulled on her hands to draw her deeper into the village.
“What did you say?” she called out to him as they led her away.
“I said that you are my friend and should be welcomed. I might have mentioned something about treats too.” Geoffrey chuckled and watched as Sarah disappeared into the crowd of natives who all admonished upon her with words that she didn’t even understand.
He turned his attention to Ben and waved him over to come closer. Ben saw the gesture, but shook his head in response. The natives around him then looked up to see Ben standing in the shadows of the evening. Smiles faded and women began whispering to one another about the stranger.
Geoffrey sensed their suspicion. “He is also my friend. He is shy, but he is harmless. Show him the same respect that you would to me,” he told them in their native tongue.
They appeared to accept this and carried on greeting Sarah and preparing for the feast. Geoffrey approached Ben like one might approach a wild stallion with the intent to bridal him. Ben’s gaze was diverted elsewhere, but he was all too aware of Geoffrey’s approach. It was hard to ignore the scent of wildflowers and earth, even when they were surrounded by it every day.
“They mean you no harm,” Geoffrey encouraged. He knew that Ben could smell the fatted wild boar that the men were skinning on the other side of the camp. His hunger would drive him closer to the fire soon enough.
Ben didn’t so much as blink at Geoffrey’s words, but continued to stare off across the prairie with his golden eyes.
“Are you expecting company?”
Ben sighed and turned to regard the guide with a restrained look of annoyance. He hated people, especially humans. And he didn’t want to be close to these strangers. Other men of the west had referred to them as savages and Ben was enough of a savage for his own company. He didn’t want to endure anyone else’s, even if they appeared civil now.
Geoffrey clapped him on the back and using some unknown force of will, pushed Ben towards the campfire. His legs did not protest, but his heart was far from enthusiastic. Scents of tanned leather, berry juices, ash and flames, and the pungent aroma of cooking meat assaulted Ben’s senses.
Sarah, however, was having a marvelous time with the children as they marveled at her blonde hair and rambled in their native language. It took little time at all for them to learn words of the other’s culture.
Geoffrey deposited Ben across the fire from Sarah while he wandered away to talk business with a tribal elder sitting outside his tent. Sarah saw the guarded look in Ben’s inhuman eyes and grew worried. Not only for him, but for those around them.
Even though she was assured he was harmless, seeing Ben devour the buffalo carcass was traumatizing to say the least. If she were not wary of him before, she certainly was now.
However, someone else was not as cautious. A small native girl, no more than four years old, departed from Sarah’s group and waddled towards Ben. Without parental guidance, Sarah thought she should have stepped in to warn the child. But sometime compelled her to stay silent and watch.
The little girl came to Ben’s side, but he looked away. He did this to hide his eyes from the little girl and to show her that he was not interested in conversation. He didn’t know the language and he had no patience to try.
The girl was persistent and hurried around to intercept Ben’s line of sight. She stood there and gazed up at the monster with an odd look of fascination and wonder. Ben thought to look away again, but instead gave the child what she wanted and stared back with his golden eyes.
But she didn’t run crying for her mother, nor did she shrink back in fear. Instead, the little girl reached up and pressed her tiny palms against Ben’s temples and held him there. A sliver of fear and awe shot through him as he watched this fearless child examine him with curiosity rather than loathing or terror. No one had ever looked at him in such a way.
She muttered something in her foreign language, but Ben didn’t understand. He ground his teeth and waited for more words, hopefully ones that he would understand. But before the little girl could say anything more, Ben heard a shrill command belting out from some distance away. The little girl gasped and scurried to her mother, knowing she was in trouble.
Ben watched her scamper away, the short shadow dancing on the ground as she went. He glanced towards Sarah who was watching the whole affair with just as much surprise as he felt inside but dared not to reveal to anyone around him. Realizing she had been caught staring, she gave him an assuring smile and turned back to the throng of tiny natives that were trying to teach her their word for “shoe”.