We finally arrive at this huge clearing that must be the ceremonial gathering area. In the middle are two pots spaced out. They’re bigger than the pots for cooking that we have, even bigger than the tub we have. Behind that is a long table big enough to sit a lot of people. He’s explaining more about the ceremonies that they have, among other things, and I’d be lying if I said that I was paying attention. I do a few nods to make it seem like I’m listening, and we keep walking.
Beyond the clearing, the grass becomes a little taller as we walk toward the edge of the forest that touches the lake. Ahead of us are three houses, smaller than the other one that I saw earlier. The one in the middle seems to have a high ceiling, while the ones on either side are about equal in size.
“…be careful because of those pesky foxes getting into our reserves.”
“Huh?” When did we start talking about foxes? How much did I miss? I probably tuned him out from when we left the clearing. I didn’t know I wasn’t listening for that long.
“These are the huts that we use for storage. This one in the middle is where we keep the medicines that your mother gives us. We don’t have to use them too much outside of the colder months, and it’s helped us out a lot if used in time. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way.”
With that, he looks away. Was there someone who didn’t get the medicine in time and died? Looking at his eyes, I can tell that may be the case without asking. It must have been someone close to him for him to react this way.
“Anyway.” He turns back to me and clears his throat. “We don’t usually have incidents, so we don’t need to keep guards over here, but we make sure to put extra provisions in place. Here we keep the weapons that the hunters use.”
“Do you plan to show him every little thing, Tetyh?”
I know that voice instantly. I turn around, and there’s an older, crankier version of the person I hate the most. And that’s saying something, considering I only know like four people. Not too far behind him is someone I thought that I wouldn’t have to see for the rest of the day, or ever. Have I mentioned how much I dislike him?
“Oh, Emerta. I was showing Aderran our storage huts. I thought it would benefit him to see where we keep his mother’s medicines. I also didn’t see the harm in showing him where the weapons were. It’s not like he can get in there anyway. And I was telling him where we keep our reserves and how we need to find new ways to get rid of those annoying foxes that come and dig around here.”
“Seems like we have more than one annoying thing to get rid of,” Maeren says under his breath, but obviously loud enough for me to hear. This is one of the ever-growing reasons why I don’t like him.
Tetyh looks at me and steps in front of me before I can say anything.
“Didn’t you say that you’d be busy all day, Emerta?”
“I am but I wouldn’t be behind if someone weren’t busy this morning showing…him around.” He turns to look at Maeren then cuts his eyes to me. I’m finding it harder to believe that this is Emerta’s version of being halfway nice.
“Well, sorry that our joint decision to have Maeren show Aderran around held you up from your busy schedule. Maybe next time if you have a grievance you can bring it up with Denchi and myself?” the smile on his face is almost terrifying.
Emerta can’t say anything, he keeps opening and closing his mouth, but nothing’s coming out. I look over to Maeren and he’s looking down, his face as red as it was earlier.
“Well,” Emerta finally says, “If you’ll excuse us, I have some lessons to give my son out in the plains.”
He walks past us, going to the hut with the weapons in them. He turns around, looking at me to make sure I don’t see what he’s doing to get into the hut. I’m sure whatever weapons they have, I’ve already used, or Mother has something better.
Meanwhile, Maeren stands there, staring at me. It’s not quite that same look from when I first saw him this morning, but closer to when we were by the lake. I really don’t want to look at him so I look anywhere but him, down at the ground, up at the sky.
The sun is high now and ever so slowly starting to make its way toward the lake. Emerta comes back out of the hut with a bow and arrows and a spear. He throws the spear to Maeren, who almost doesn’t catch it because he’s too busy looking at me. When he almost drops it, I can’t help but laugh. Tetyh manages to cough to cover up his laugh, and Emerta looks like his head will explode. He barely manages to get a “let’s go” out through his tightened lips. Maeren follows behind before he stops next to me.
“Be careful getting back home, little fox.”
I turn to look at him, but he’s already closely following his father.
“Sorry about that. I know that I said that he’s started to treat your mother better and he’ll come to like you. It may take a little longer, I’m afraid. I’m not sure what to say about Maeren, though. I’ll get Denchi to talk to him.”
“It’s okay. I think I’ll be able to handle myself around them even if you all aren’t around. Speaking of, where is Denchi?” He’s the only one that I haven’t seen and he’s one of the main reasons I was able to come here today.
“He may be out with his daughter gathering seeds to transplant here. Oh! I know something that you’d like to see, and it’s on the way there.”
He gives me a grin that I know too well. He’s up to something. I follow him past the huts and into the forest. I’m not sure what he’s so excited to show me, but at this rate anything will be better than dealing with Emerta or Maeren. Did he actually try to threaten me? He better hope his father teaches him something with that spear because he’ll be unpleasantly surprised if he crosses me.
While we walk, I think of what Tetyh told me and the look in his eyes. I still don’t want to ask directly but I’m too curious to pass it up. I attempt another approach.
“Mother mentioned that Denchi’s…wife died. Was Mother’s medicine not able to help her?”
“Ah, that,” he slows down a bit. He taps his chin, looking like he’s choosing his words. “She died before your mother got here. It was when we had little food, and quite a few people started to get sick. We tried to distribute food as best we could, but she cared so about the children and those who had less and sometimes went without.
“Denchi fought against it, but she wanted to make sure everyone else gets what they needed. Even my wife advised her against it. She was such a kind woman to be so young and giving. But in the end, there wasn’t anything we could do. It left him to raise his daughter alone. Her sister offered to move in and help but she was practically a child herself. She was also very kind and caring.”
He fully stops now and looks up. Was? Did something happen to her too? Whoever she was, Tetyh was close to her; I want to know, but I didn’t know that this same sadness connects them.
Tetyh wanted to show me something good and now his face is turned down and he’s gone a while without speaking. I should find some way to lighten the mood, but I’m not sure how. This is a lot to deal with for my first time around other people. My only option is to try and change the subject as best I can.
“So…what is it that you had to show me?”
“Oh!” He finally looks up, a small smile returning to his face. “I was teasing you a bit earlier but it wouldn’t hurt for you to see some of them now. A few of them should still be around here, gathering for the day.”
We cut through the forest where the trees aren’t as dense, walking away from the lake. See who? I’m starting to get anxious. Seeing his men earlier didn’t go as bad as I thought it would, so who is he taking me to see now? After a while of walking, I get my answer.
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