Disclaimer: Voltron is the property of World Events Productions. The idea/planet/customs was borrowed from C.J. Cherryh's Chanur books. Translation: She inspired the work, it's her fault.
Jofan smiled when she saw her husband and daughter coming down the stairwell together. Lufy was the youngest of her three daughters, the youngest of all Ijono's children. So far, at least. He doted on her constantly, she, his favorite, of all. She loved him so, for all his humility, his wit and giant's grace. He was two heads taller than she, twice as broad of shoulder. But so gentle. The first time he'd held little cub Rhean in his arms, he'd been so careful and so gentle. Rhean had been barely the length of his forearm, then. And now here he was with Lufy, the baby of the family. Jofan smiled.
"Hai, husband." She said. He grinned broadly at her.
"Hai, Jofi. Lufy here told me you found an outsider."
"He's awake, mum. You told me to come and get you, when he woke up."
"Aye, Lufy. We'd best go, yai? Husband, why don't you come, to? Introduce y'self to the boy."
"Yao, Jofi. Fine idea." Jofan smiled at her husband's response, and led the way back up the stairs again, to see the human.
At first, Keith was not sure what to make of the small party invading his little room. The smallest he recognized as Lufy, the first he recalled seeing somewhere vaguely, and the tall one...he stiffened. The largest of the three looked almost exactly like the alien who'd attacked them. The only differences were the color of breeches and the look in it's eyes. Not attacker. Friend. He guessed 'he', if human and Hanuuuri physiology was comparable.
"Kai'ta," Lufy's little voice, "Kai'ta, this is my mother, Ker Jofan Munur," she gestured to the woman in green and gold breeches, and tunic of green. Her fur was a pretty bronze color. "And my father, Na Ijono Huran," she gestured now to the tall man, in breeches of blue, belted in white. His fur was a rich gold-red-brown, with a stripe of black running from between the eyes straight down his back. He looked decidedly docile and conservative. Keith smiled at both of them.
"I am Keith," he said, "Kai'ta." God, he'd called himself by an alien name. When had he ever done that?
"Welcome, Kai'ta. To Huran holding." Na Ijono bowed slightly at the waist, then held out a paw. Keith sat up more, reaching out to take it. The heavy paw dwarfed his own pale, bare hand. It was like shaking a gloved hand. Jofan nodded in her own greeting. Ijono looked to both the women, to Keith, and said that he'd better leave, clan business. Keith looked at him, with a smile, as he left, trying his best to be friendly. When he was gone, Jofan knelt by him, nostrils twitching, pupils dialated. She was indeed intensely curious about him, as human he was. He shivered. The woman laid a paw on his bare arm, then drew back suddenly. Keith knew it was because of how cold he must feel to her.
"Kai'ta, why are you here? We've seen no human ships land here in a long time...why now? Where did you come from-from the exile lands?"
"We-" he paused, wondering if it was wise to continue. Finally he decided it could do no harm, now. "We-came from a planet called Arus. We were sent to explore...find out what was here..."
"Why didn't you see the station?" Jofan asked, ears slanted back in disbelief.
"We-we did-officials tried to raise us, but we couldn't understand them-"
"Gods rot them-they'll never learn basic."
Keith continued, "And-they shot us down."
"Us? Kai'ta, what is this?" Lufy wrinkled her nose.
"He's-mum, he's got other scents on him. Humans. Hanuuuri, not us."
"Gods rot-I should have noticed. Kai'ta, please continue."
"Well-we were walking, trying to find a town, or people or somebody, and we were attacked. By a-a Hanuuuri. Big, red-brown. Looked almost exactly like Na Ijono."
Lufy gasped, Jofan stared at him. Whites of eyes showed, ears pressed flat against skulls.
"Oh, gods-be-feathered---That's Ferrau!"
Keith frowned, "Ferrau? Who's he?"
"Who's-who's Ferrau? Lad, Ferrau Huran's one of the gods-be meanest, nastiest, biggest slagging fool males in clan or in exile! He's Ijono's brother, he is, and the two couldn't be less alike. I ain't surprised, him attacking a group like you-how many of you were there, gods know?"
"We-there were three of us."
"Gods look on you, you human son. What happened then?"
"Well-Ferrau, or whoever, he attacked Lance first. Went right for him. He didn't have time to react, he was clocked on the head, knocked flat back. Didn't move after that. And Sven, well, Sven ran in to try and help him...and Ferrau was on him. Just so much blood-and screaming-and, God, God-I couldn't do anything for either of them. I don't remember much-he must've hit me, too. I got away...and now here I am."
Jofan and Lufy lowered their ears, in devout sympathy.
"Migods, lad. You're lucky you made it as far as you did."
"Ya-Kai'ta, that's some tale." Keith nodded miserably.
"Look, lad, we'll leave you be in a minute, just a few more questions, yairi?"
Keith too 'yairi' to be the Hanuuuri version of 'okay'. He nodded.
"Lad-first of all, what were their names? If anyone else found either, that'd be the first thing."
"L-Lance and S-Sven."
"Anything real noticeable about them?" Lufy, ears slung in one direction questioningly.
"Well--I dunno-Lance has this odd necklace of his...red stone. And Sven...well, Sven you'd know. Stern. Quiet. Gentle."
Lufy's ears flicked in the other direction. Jofan's nostrils flared and shrank. She spoke again.
"Aye, lad. Gods look on you...we'll find them, no tails on it."
Keith smiled wanly in response. "If you feel up to it, lad, you can get up and wander about-if y'like."
"Luck t'ya Kai'ta. Gods look on you," Jofan stood and left, flicking an ear to Lufy as well.
"I will, mum-" Lufy replied, and Keith was reminded of his own childhood. She stood and looked down at him, hands shoved in her pockets. Just looked for a bit, then left, with a backward flick of her ears in acknowledgement. Keith rolled over on his side. He was tired...oh, well. He'd nap for a while. Then get up, wander around a bit. That'd be nice...
When he woke up again, the shadows in his room were long. He flipped over onto his back, blinking sleep from his eyes. Keith sat up, looked around. He was alone, the room silent but for his breathing and the soft sound of birds outside. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed, pulling himself up with a hand on the bed. He limped over to the window, leaning on the sill. He had to admit, it provided an excellent view of the fields in the holding. He could see beyond the inner walls to the mountains beyond, which the setting sun had dyed the color of fire. It was lovely, unclouded by the smog and grit of urban Earth, where he'd grown up. The wood of the sill was cool against his bare chest, and the boards under his feet were worn from use. He turned back in the direction of the bed, realizing that he was indeed cold. There was an old chest of drawers against one lime-blue-green wall, and Keith decided to check it out.
It contained several pairs of breeches, an old shirt or two. No socks or shoes, which he supposed this species must not need. He chose a pair of deep blue breeches, belted in gold, striped down the sides with white. Keith pulled them on, happy to be at least semi-clothed again. Neither of the shirts were big enough for him, unfortunately.
'Though, this bandage pretty much qualifies, doesn't it?' Keith thought with a small smile. He limped to the door, turned the knob and found it unlocked. He peered into the hallway, hearing voices coming from the direction of the stairwell. Two or three were powerful bass growls, two more were richer and higher in tone, a few were high-pitched and childish giggles. He limped down the hall, one hand on the wall, careful and curious at once. He held the bannister with both hands in making his way down the stairs, which he guessed had been built for persons about Na Ijono's size. When he reached the bottom, his bare feet found comfort on a carpeted and be-rugged floor. He followed the voices, at last coming to a large, ancient, and absolutely magnificent hall. The ceiling was 40 or 50 feet in height, the room itself was maybe 25 yards long. The double door in which he stood was about 10 feet, probably to accommodate the massive height and build of the clan males. Each door was ornately carved with a sylized cat chasing a stylized horse-ish beast. Inside the room, the floor was carpeted as well he found. At one end there was a fire. In the center, several adults sat in a circle of chairs and couches, and little cubs played on the floor nearby. The walls were dark wood, covered in tapestries depicting old lords, hunts, battles and victories. It was nearly overwhelming, 'Like a castle...my god, it is a castle.' Keith thought as he limped across the room. Unfortunately, he didn't look where he was going and bumped into a couch. Luckily for him, the occupant, an old gray nosed male, was benign and forgiving. He leaned over and pulled Keith up.
"Hai, Ijono, is this the lad you told us about?"
The man-cat Keith knew as Ijono nodded with a grin.
"Aye, 'tis. Kai'ta, don't be scared of him."
"C'mon, lad, sit down." The gray-nose offered the space beside him. Keith accepted, happy to rest his leg. A woman, Jofan, Keith knew, motioned to him to get his attention.
"Kai'ta," she said in a soft tone, "This is Kohan Munur," she motioned to the man sitting next to her, burly and sullen-looking. But he smiled. "And you know Rhean," she gestured to the aforementioned, "The man you're sitting next to is Hallan Raufy, and the cubs are Jiri, Nasvet, and Kara." Hallan nodded to him, and the cubs looked at him wide eyed. Kara appeared to be the oldest and boldest of the three cubs, since he walked right up to him, looking up defiantly. Keith smiled wanly, holding out his hand. Kara took it, sniffed it, shook it. He then smiled, nodded, and went back to playing with his sister and brother.
"Hallan says his son, Kura, and his wife found a human in the exile lands." Ijono rumbled, an ear flicked off the side.
This caught Keith's attention. "R-really?" he was barely able to control his excitement. He glance in Hallan's direction, "Did they s-say w-what he l-looked like?"
Hallan chuckled. "Easy, lad. Yes...said his mane was brownish, his eyes weren't like any they'd ever seen, dark and green-brown."
Keith grinned, "T-that sounds like Lance," he said.
"He was also wearing something around his neck, a red gem on a string." Keith's eyes lit up fully and his grin broadened.
"That's Lance! T-that's h-him!" He looked around at the others, who seemed amused by his enthusiastic reaction. Hallan smiled gently at him.
"Good, very good. But-unfortunately, there is some bad news," Keith frowned, Hallan sighed, "They said he was hit in the head, and he'll need medical attention, more than they can provide." Rhean's ears perked,
"Wait-why don't we call Fa? She'll be more than willing to work on him, I'll bet."
"I agree," Jofan said, with a set nod, "If the lad needs help, Fa's the one to call. She knows more about humans that I'd flick an ear at."
"So it's settled? I shall call my son, and he and his wife will bring the human here. From here, you can call Faha, so she can help him."
"Sounds like a plan, Na Hallan."
Keith felt happier than he ever remembered being in his whole life. Almost without thinking, he hugged Na Hallan. But he was surprised, and a little awed, when he realized that his arms couldn't fit around the old Hanuuuri's massive bulk. Hallan smiled dotingly at him, as if he were a child, and pried him off carefully. Keith flushed at his foolish actions. The cubs on the floor watched him, curious and, it seemed, amazed at an outsider's breach of common decorum. It wasn't common-was nearly unheard of-for someone outside of a clan to hug a clan lord. Actually, even within the clan it was fairly rare, excepting wives or husbands, of course.
Kohan broke the ensuing silence with a mighty yawn.
Ijono flicked an ear in Kohan's direction. "The sun is high, kesvi, I think it is time for lunch, eh?"
Keith realized he was indeed hungry. His stomach growled incessantly at him. The other Hanuuuri sounded their agreement. The three cubs were loudest. Ijono stood first, followed by the other two lords, then Rhean and her mother. The cubs stood last, and Keith took it this was a form of tradition. The highest ranking were first, going down to the lowest. He followed the group, the cubs bouncing along beside him. Keith decided it would be a good idea to ask the young ones about the rules of the household.
When they reached the dining hall, the rest of the family was with them. Keith was awed. This was some family. Aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins…fur of many colors, even an albino somewhere in the mix. The table itself was massive, to accommodate such a great family, and every sect seemed to have their own area. Young ones here, cousins there-Na Ijono was, of course, seated at the head of the table, flanked by Hallan, and Jofan. He was alerted to a tugged on his arm. He looked down to see a large-eyed little cub looking up at him expectantly.
"C'mon." she said, "F'wow me." She tugged on his arm, and he complied duly. She sat him down near the middle of the table. There were no individual chairs except for those of the lord and lady of the house. It was one long bench. On his right was Anfy, whom he recognized. She acknowledged him with a friendly smile. To his left was the cub, and next to her, Lufy. Rhean sat across from them. He recognized Kara and the other two from the hall next to her.
Oince everyone was seated, Na Ijono stood and gave what Keith assumed was a prayer, in the Hanuuuri tongue.
"Esli." Everyone chorused at the end. Keith rightly guessed it to be the equivalent of "amen".
The food was amazing, he had to admit. Meat and fruit-few vegetables, if any. Of course, this was a carnivorous species. Anfy encouraged him to try things. Different meats-some sort of fowl, this a beast of burden maybe.
"Anfy," he said, washing down something with a thick drink-milk?
"Asi, Kai'ta?" She spoke with some words of Hanuuuri laced among basic.
"Can you tell me anything about the clan? Rules of the house? Because-well, I don't really know…" he flushed, feeling silly. Anfy smiled at him.
"Sure. Start with rank. Heads of clan are highest-ranking. His or her mate-or mates--is just below them in authority, though not by much. Then the lord's sisters, then his or her brothers. Next are the ones who married into the clan to one of the aunts or uncles. Kids are lowest-ranking, traditionally, but the truth is, all the adults really dote on us most of the time." Keith chuckled. "Let's see-rules of house. Every house has a set of rules, set by tradition in the Sevet-the Sevet is the Holy book, just so y'know."
"Well, supposedly, each god or goddess gave a command dictating to their field of expertise. The most important of these are the High Laws."
"What are they?"
"They are on a plaque in the front hall-I can show them to you later, if you like. To tell you the truth, I've not yet memorized them."
"Thanks-a lot. What else do I need to know?"
"Well-don't travel into another clan's land without permission unless they're an ally of your clan. Don't contradict your Clan lord or lady, and do what they say…uh…what else? Take care of those younger than you, teach them what you know…honor your elders…don't make anyone really angry-I don't think you'll have a problem with that, you seem like a real sweetie to me." Keith blushed heavily, and took another drink from his large glass to hide his shame.
"Oh, don't be like that. You're cute, for an outsider. Well-mannered, it looks like."
"Y-you r-really think s-so?"
"Oh, yeah." She stopped suddenly, then laughed, "Aw, listen to me, I sound like Fa!" Keith looked at her a little strangely. She explained quickly that Faha was rather-indiscriminate-in her tastes, full of life and lacking the reserve of most adult Hanuuuri. Keith smiled, now getting the joke.
When lunch was over, Keith followed Anfy to the front hall, where she showed him an old plaque. It was carved of stone, and written in what Anfy called Old Hanuuuri. It read like this:
So sayeth the Lords of all creation, those who created thine people set forth these commands by which thou shalt live:
1 Honor thy gods, who gave you life and breath, honor no other.
2 Honor they clan lord of lady, for they are what standeth between you and invasion.
3 Treat those around as you wish to be treated.
4 Keep thine children, for they are the future keepers of this land.
4 Thou shalt not kill another, except in challenge, or in defense of thyself or thy laws.
5 Thou shalt not steal, except in most desperate need
6 Be loyal to thine clan, as you were born from them. Equally, be loyal to the Hanu, for it is of their blood thou springs.
7 Thou shalt not spite the names of thine Gods and Lords.
8 Courage is a virtue, not a neccesity.
9 Thou shalt not be blasphemous.
10 Thou shalt honor thine ally, for one day thou may need a favor in return.
11 Thou shalt be content with thine blessings as thou has them.
12 Keep true to thine word, for it may save thine life. Honor and keep these laws, as from the river you sprung as did thine forefathers, as their blood flows through thine veins, as long as your clan's blood lives on.
She translated for him, and they did indeed sound like the Ten Commandments, only there were more than ten. Keith counted twelve, and it seemed as well that most of them had to do with honor or clan. Clan seemed to be something held very highly by these people. Clan and family. He wished Lance were here, he wished Sven were here, so he might be able to talk with them. Talk with them as humans. Suddenly he felt very, very lonely. For now, all he could do was wait. According to Hallan, it would be a couple of days before-what was it-Kura, his wife, and Lance would get here. It seemed so long. He tried not to think about it.
In the days since his arrival, the young human had improved greatly. When they'd first brought him back here, he'd been unconscious and unable to move. Now, he could move his arms and legs somewhat, and could even sit up with help. But, he said it still pained him to do so. Kura felt ambivalent about their journey to Ijono's holding. It would be dangerous, for they had to travel a good distance over the Exile-lands, and any one of the exiles might pick up their scent and attack. Though, Gifeny had her guns, and Kura had his own sword. The exiles were armed only with sticks, claws, and teeth. Not to mention, none of them were especially intelligent. But they were strong, and easily provoked into berserker rage. Too easily, in fact. Lance's strange scent might drive them mad with curiosity.
Kura flicked his ears about, a troubled look crossing his face. He glanced to the other side of the room, where Gifeny was helping Lance regain his limb-use. The human was wincing in pain, but seemed nonetheless determined to follow up on his goal of sitting up without Gifeny's help. His biggest problem was, however, the fact that he still could not walk. Thus, it was even more dangerous to make the journey. Gifeny had suggested they hide his scent with some sort of strong cologne or perfume, something which she had a good deal of. Kura had flicked an ear. It might work, but even so, such a scent would still be strange to exiles. And, besides, cologne usually meant rich Hanuuuri, and rich Hanuuuri meant good game. Kura shivered in distaste. Neither he nor Gifeny were at all wealthy.
One other solution that could work was to make Lance smell like a Hanuuuri. Kura had suggested this, and Gifeny had joked that the only way they could do that effectively was to bed him. And, gods knew, that was not a good idea in the least. But, it was plausible-if Lance were to sleep between he and his wife, the scent of their sweat and fur might just mingle enough with his to make him smell like a Hanuuuri.
Might. But they could try it, as he had told his wife. They had suggested this to Lance, and he agreed, though he seemed a bit reluctant to sleep in a bed with wedded strangers. Not to mention that they weren't even of his own species. So, tonight, (since tomorrow they would leave), Lance would sleep in their bed, between them. And in the morning, they would leave on the chesvani, Lance riding in front of Gifeny. He glanced back at Lance and his wife. Lance seemed to have achieved his goal, and now was lying back against the pillow, breathing shallowly. Gifeny laid a hand on his arm to calm him. Lance gulped hard, smiled at her, then at Kura himself. Kura gave him an ears-flat grin in return. Maybe things would turn out alright?
That was the first thing he felt.
It was also the only thing he recalled before now.
Sven groaned softly, blinking in the darkness. Stars shone in a black-velvet sky above him. There was no moon. He tried to move first one arm, then the other. The first didn't move. Thankfully, the second did. Sven tried to sit up, wincing slightly at pain in his gut, and a sticky, ripping sensation as his clothes shifted on his skin. Blood.
He could smell it easily, being covered in it. Quite literally covered, actually. He tried to stand, but a stab of pain in his skull and a wave of dizziness forced him down again. He wondered, vaguely, where he was. And what had happened to him.
And where was-
Where was Lance? And Keith? He blinked, turning his head carefully.
They weren't with him. What the hell had happened to him?
Sven made a noise low in his throat. He was alone, in a strange place, and reeking of blood and God only knew what else. What the hell was going to happen now? Surely, some animal would scent it and- The thought cut off as Sven heard a snapping sound behind him, like a footfall on a twig. There were indeed footsteps...but the gait seemed not to be that of a bipedal creature. 'Oh, God...' Sven thought, 'I'm go-ink to die...' But not-the footsteps-pawsteps, really, paused.
There was a snuffling sound behind him. A low whine. And-words?
"S'uatu...?" A question. So it knew he was awake. The pawsteps came closer, and Sven opened found himself staring into the broad, tawny face of-
Had he been able to run, he would've, but all he could do was lie there and whimper softly. The creature lowered its-her?-head, bumping her muzzle gently into his forehead. Sven blinked. This was not something he'd expected.
"S'uatu hu'maaan? Numaru?" Yes, words. Spoken from a lion's muzzle.
But in a language he did not understand.
"I-I-I'm human." He said. He knew it sounded foolish, but what else could he say? One of those words had sounded enough like 'human', and it was a question.
"Aja." Again, she spoke. The lion-or, lioness-moved around to lie on her side next to him. She was indeed quadrupedal, quite certainly a feline of some sort. "You're a human, so I see." She nodded, licked her jaws. The voice, somehow, seemed more to be in his head than his ears. But what did it matter? She didn't seem to likely to kill him. And the voice was quite pleasant, a rich and amiable alto.
"Who are yew?" he said, still stuttering, pain flaring up in his belly as he spoke. He winced, though instinctively he was quick to hide it from the lioness.
"I am Koje. Young human, you're hurt. Can you walk?"
"K-Koje..." he paused, trying the name out. Fortunately, his accent did not mangle it as it did most names. "N-no, I-I don't tink so." Koje lifted her head back, glancing at the stars for a minute, then looked back at him, stretching her head over, and giving him a friendly lick. Her tongue on his face was broad, and rough as well, and he knew that any blood that had been on his cheek would now be gone.
"Then, little one, we shall find another way." She stood, and got a firm hold on his collar with her teeth. Her very sharp teeth, at that. Sven closed his eyes, and Koje mumbled reassurance through her mouthful of bloody cloth. She tugged him gently into a sitting position, and kept him there by standing behind him.
"Now, d'you think you can get on my back, little one?" Little one indeed, it seemed. Sven saw-or rather felt-now that his head barely came halfway up her foreleg. This Koje was huge! He turned, reaching up and grasping across her broad back, then pulling himself up and over as if she were simply an undersized horse. Koje turned her head and gave him a very feline smile.
"Good. And we shall be on our way."
This Sven pondered for a long time as they traversed the plain at a steady pace, sometimes trotting and sometimes just walking. Eventually, Sven fell asleep.