"It was nearly a year later when the others arrived—twenty of them. We saw them coming and debated our options. We didn't want the events of before to repeat themselves. It was horrible watching a man burn to death, so we went quickly to the beach and removed all the celabub leaves before they landed. In retrospect, we should have left them there, then they would have burned." There was malice in his tone. It quite took us aback.
"They landed on the beach, and our forefathers, eager not to startle them, left them to their own devices for a day. It had been a very hard journey for them and they needed to rest. It would have been rude to impose upon them when they were so unprepared for company.
"As before, they lit a fire and camped on the edge of the woods. They appeared to sleep well that evening and the following day, our people went to greet them. A party of twelve of our most important dignitaries left our village, passed through the forests and approached the bipedals on the sand—that's what we call you, by the way: bipedals.
"With arms open and bearing gifts of flowers, the party emerged from the trees. With smiles and pleasantries prepared, they did not expect what happened next. The bipedals drew their weapons and let loose a hail of arrows. Yes, your kind, without word or reason, slaughtered the party in just a matter of seconds, and then it got worse. Having massacred our party, you—the bipedals, I mean …" He paused, visibly upset by what he was about to say, "… took their bodies … and skinned them." He gulped hard. "And then … they roasted their bodies … and consumed them."
My hand slapped over my mouth in shock and horror. I felt physically sick.
"Only one escaped to tell the tale."
It took a few moments for us to digest the horror of what had happened to the Mairne. In retrospect, I suspect that the bipedals, sick with hunger, shot the first animals they saw as a source of food. Undoubtedly, they had no idea that the cats were the sentient natives of the island. If they had, I'm sure things would have been different. But they weren't different. This was the way it was.
"What happened next?" I ventured. "We know that the Dirrians never left the island."
"Of course they didn't," replied Arunga. "We did the only thing a nation can do when war is waged upon them. We fought back.
"We waited until they ventured into the forests. They would be more vulnerable among the trees where their arrows would be less effective. Once there, five hundred Mairne descended upon them." He smiled triumphantly. "A seething mass of claws and teeth, they didn't stand a chance. In the time it takes to sing a single lullaby, all twenty of them were slain and then, as they had done to us, the Mairne ate their carcasses."
We were silent for a moment.
"And stuck their heads on pikes in the forest," added Al.
"Yes, as a warning to those that follow."
"But you have not harmed us," pointed out Rutter.
"No, because you are not like the others. You have been respectful, curious and kind. It became apparent to me that your intentions were not like the others. We may even have approached you earlier if it hadn't been for—" and he turned his eyes to Traeth.
"Oh, but Traeth's a good man. We were childhood friends. He's not like other Dirrians!"
As the words left my mouth, I knew it was wrong and began beating myself up about it. Traeth was different, but he didn't want to be. My demeanour must have shown my instant regret because Traeth placed a reassuring hand on mine—something else a Dirrian wouldn't do.
"It's okay," he said. "In this instance, I'm glad to be different."