> Serial Fiction: The Girl in the Way

Serial Fiction: The Girl in the Way

by Lincoln Sayger

Sad Girl by chuotanhls; Girl in the Way title image

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If this is your first time reading The Girl in the Way, click here to start from the beginning.


29. The Girl is Surprised

Aless stood up and said, "Electra Grocerwidow, this has gone on long enough. You have heard all that we have. The girl herself admits that she has no place with any master in this village. She will have to be exiled. Surely, you admit to this?"

Electra squared her shoulders and said firmly, "Eldest Aless, your words have been heard, and I listen to your wisdom, but she has said things that are not true, though I do not doubt she is unaware of her errors.

"After all, she has been completely forthright on this seat of examination. Because of her errors, your conclusion is completely incorrect."

Several of the leaders gasped. Although her tone and words were respectful, her statement was out of the ordinary respect. Everyone was quiet until Mimos asked, "Electra-ku, what did she say that was inaccurate?"

Elga lifted her head a little. She could hardly believe what she was hearing. Her grandmother was standing up to the eldest, and an eldest used the ku ending on her name, a show of great respect from an elder to a younger.

Electra said, "She did a trial with one other master. That master has not rendered a verdict in this assembly."

Laress rose from his seat as though it were scalding hot and said, "We have heard from all the leaders!"

Electra said, "You have not heard from me."

Laress was indignant, letting his lips form a sneer. He asked scornfully, "You?"

But Ima was nodding in recognition and said, "Let her speak. Electra, stop being dramatic. Tell your position to those younger than me."

Electra said, "Elders and leaders, before I married Aryus Grocer and took over the storehouse of our village's produce, I was Almodar's master explorer, and I never resigned that position, though none of the children have sought to apprentice to me in many, many years."

Elga's mouth dropped open and hung that way for a full hundred heartbeats as a stir of voices rolled through the room. Electra headed a profession and didn't tell her? Elga felt hurt at the secret her grandmother had kept her entire life.

Mimos held up her hands until the room quieted. Then, she said, "Then, let us hear your verdict for the village assembly."

Electra said, "I will render my verdict when I have done an examination of her professional skills. It will not take long," she looked at Laress to quiet him, as he had been on the point of standing again to object, "happily, for she has done a trial already that will demonstrate her well enough. Laress-se has attested to the performance of this trial."

Laress glowered for a moment before the sense of this occurred to him. He leaned back in his chair.

Electra said, "Elga, answer these questions."

Elga straightened in her chair, determined to give thoughtful answers.

"What did you do when you left my house on Tyday?"

Elga decided to be thorough. She said, "I went to the edge of the forest. It took me a long time to gather the courage to enter that place unknown to me. Once I did, I found satisfaction in finding each landmark and turning to the next one. I saw plants and animals I recognized and was pleased with how much I didn't even realize I knew.

"When it got dark, I made a pile of stones and marked a tree to ensure I could start in the correct direction in the morning. I reached the meadow about two hours after daybreak."

"How many plants did you identify on the way there?"

Elga thought back, visualizing the plants to help her remember, then said, "I saw 15 plants I recognized: blackberry, creepfruit, wisteria, purrescarc, kingfoil, beauty berry, wild pumpkin, scrub oak, turkey oak, pine, smilax, nettle, false dandelion, puffball, and near mint. I also saw lizards, birds, and a small furyy critter that I didn't see clearly."

"What happened at the meadow?"

Elga realized these were the same questions she'd answered a few days earlier, and she was glad she was giving them more thought and answering them more seriously. She said, "I looked around the place and found a soft spot to sit. It was a large patch of near mint with some oxalis and footsoft growing in its midst. I sat down and considered my next job and the questions the eldest might have for me. I decided I wanted to make candles. And I thought about how my attitude toward the forest had changed. Then, I went over my answers, rehearsing them until I was comfortable. Not that I remembered them when I had to face the questions. Everything I practiced left my head. But I did try to come up with concise ones that were respectful. I honor our village even though I don't follow the Six Gods."

Elga remembered the next question, so she continued: "After that, I followed my next instructions to the stone arch bench. The wayfinder you loaned me made following these instructions easy."

Electra smiled faintly and asked, "What happened next?"

"I sat on the bench and ordered the world within my thoughts. You may not agree with my conclusions, but you don't have to. They're mine. I realize I can't judge reality for anyone else, but every person has the choice to decide for himself what he believes, and because no one can judge for another, every man and woman must decide this for himself. I did what I must do. I am here because others do not think I have that choice, but I defend that choice for everyone here. But that isn't what you asked. When I knew what I believed to be a correct count, I opened my next instructions. They contained no landmarks. I had to find my way to the edge of the forest. I thought of three ways to find my way out: Run until I came out, climb to see which way was closest, or draw a map and chart my path, then look at the edge closest. I chose the last, and I was off by only a little."

Electra asked, "Did you use the wayfinder the whole time?"

"I did not, master explorer. The next set of instructions after that one forbid it, so I used the position of Bosona and the landmarks in the instructions to find an orchard to the anor of the village."

"How did you come home from there?"

Elga smiled at that. She said, "I again drew out my path. Then, choosing a place I knew I could cross the river, where I knew I would not have to recross it twice more, I set my heading. When I got to the river and crossed, I headed straight for your house. This took me back through the forest, but I knew how to manage that, now."

As Elga described these answers, the tension of the day started to leave her shoulders, and she grew ever so slightly more comfortable with her grandmother's questions, the people watching her, and the events of the recent days. She was able to do much more now than she had been last year. This could be okay.

Electra asked, "What did you like most about this?"

"The sense of accomplishment that I could navigate through the woods on my own. I'd been afraid of the unknowns in the forest for so long, and I went in and came out without getting lost."

"What skills did you use on this outing?"

"I used orienteering, plane geometry, herbalism, trailmarking, logic, cartography, celestial navigation, civic navigation, reading, sociology, and camping."

Electra said, "You are all witnesses of my thorough examination of this candidate for explorer apprentice. You can plainly see that my decisions are not based solely on nepotism or familial affection. This candidate is a fine one, able to answer questions candidly and report comprehensively and comprehensibly. As all gathered are witness of these facts, I, Electra Bethany Oswald Chessmean, elder of Almodar and village master of explorers, state before you all that Elgafrida Daughterkeid Sonkhab is a fit apprentice and has a place in my guild. She is fit to travel the world and bring back to this village both reports and exotic wares for our benefit.

"So, Elga, what have you decided? Will you apprentice to me?"

This question was not part of the ordinary apprenticeship process, but Elga had never formally applied to this. The eldest had sort of asked it on her behalf as part of the survey of masters, but Elga had not made the request. So the choice was hers last rather than the master explorer's. She thought about it for a long moment. Did she really want to be an explorer instead of a pariah? She didn't have to take the position. She now knew that she was capable of travelling on her own, and she could travel to a distant village to take up another trade. She could go to a place where herding was split between those caring for the animals and those managing meat supply and herd size. She could go elsewhere and try thatching again. She could become a chandler where her beliefs were not known. Or even a trade her village was too small to support, like those found in the large towns. But she could also follow her grandmother in exploration. The choice was hers, and she was not limited to a bad one and a worse.

So, what did she want? What was her place? Did she want one of those other choices over the horizon? Or did she want to be a member of this village, if only nominally? As her grandmother waited, she realized that she did want the life of an explorer. Though other trades were interesting to her, none of them had made her feel as good as the trial in the woods had.

Elga said, "Master Explorer, I will be your apprentice."

Laress rose and said, "So, girl, you have found a place. But I say you are still disruptive. Therefore, I propose to the eldest that your first trip must be for three years, and you must leave within one full day."

Mimos said, "That is acceptable."

The other eldest nodded slightly, but Ima shook her head. She said, "If Electra deems her worthy of the rank of journeyman, which she is not required to do before two full moons are seen by her sworn apprentice, the maximum required journey is for one full year.

"Electra Explorer, this is our judgment: Elga's first trip must be no less than one year, and we strongly recommend to you preparation for journeyman status as quickly as is practicable. Do you accept this judgment?"

Electra said sourly, "Ima-se, if I were any other master, she would be permitted to carry out her trade here; she would not have to leave, at all." She softened her tone and continued, "But I will prepare her and send her out at the first opportunity. I accept this judgment on her behalf."

Elga didn't like this ruling, and if it had been given an hour previous, she would have argued against it. But Electra was now her master. She had made the choice in front of witnesses, even if she hadn't formally sworn it, yet. So she had to accept it as her master had chosen. She had finally found her place in the village outside of the village. She would no longer be in the way. And she suddenly found in her heart that this path pleased her just fine.


30. The Girl and the Master

Elga followed her grandmother's slow pace up the path to her house. The two of them had been the first to leave the council and the only ones for several minutes after. Some apprentices stayed with their own parents, but with the time constraints, they had both felt Prentice Elga should stay at Electra Explorer's house, and they had headed in that direction without needing to discuss it.

As they went, Electra pointed to plants Elga knew well from years of walking this trail, but she told Elga things about them she had never known. When they came into view of the cabin, Electra pointed to the flag line, which had a number of flags strung along it, faintly visible by the light of Sonaoum, now almost full. Elga's mother would have said it meant that Bosona slept lightly tonight, but Elga wondered now why the big moongot bigger and smaller. She dragged her attention back to the flags, asking, "What do they mean, Master Electra?"

Electra said, "I feel silly for setting them this evening. I think you can barely see them, but the three at the top are your name. See? Elf, Lu, Gi: Elga.

"Then, ME, PLEASURE, HONOR, YOU: I am proud of you. Make sense?"

Elga felt a glow in her belly. Mama Electra had put these up not knowing how the meeting would go. She said, "Yes, Mama, but how do you know this?"

"My master taught me. I taught your mother. It's how I let her know I'm in fair health and how she knew where you were when you went into the woods. I knew you'd be scared, but she didn't need to be. I will teach you, too."

They went into the house and lit lamps. Electra showed her the flags for the 24 letters of the alphabet, along with those for common words.

Electra said, "It is more common in Akoba than around here, but there is a place on the anor road with a watchtower, and it has a set of flags. It is outside the village, so if you have word for me, you can leave it there, and I will see it."

Then, Electra put the flags away and began telling her about the best way to approach a strange village, the first questions she advised Elga to ask strangers, and things to look for in people's faces when dealing with them.

Electra asked, "Do you recall a few days ago, how you took the count of your own words?"

"Yes, Master Electra," Elga said. She had to make an effort to remember to call her by her title instead of her family name.

Electra said, "You can use this same method to weigh the words of others. You should always think about the count with merchants, for they certainly do. And usually for the words of those you eat with, It's the difference between accurate information and wild rumors.

"I think the best town for you to visit first is Hartsel. It's about two or three days' travel from here."

She told Elga what she could remember about the town, but after a short time, she said it was time to sleep.

In the morning, Electra led Elga out into the hills to teach her, and they gathered food using some of the information in the lesson. She also showed Elga a number of useful knots: one for keeping a line taut, one for lifting something without constricting it, one for dragging logs, and a few others. Elga picked them up quickly, but she hoped she could remember them when she needed them. She taught Elga how to cleanse water for drinking, how to build and tend a fire, and how to bind a wound. Elga drank up the knowledge like a dry sponge, eagerly trying to memorize every detail.

After noon, Electra taught her about blazing, making traps, and skinning. She talked about plants that were useful to travelers, stones that could do more than hold down the edge of a sheet, and how listening to animals could tell you when someone else was near. They talked about ways to build shelters, how to conduct negotiations in a market or in rural places, and different ways to coordinate movements with others. Electra also told her some tricks for determining directions without a wayfinder.

After dinner, the pair sat at the table, listening to the sounds of the night outside. Finally, Elga said, "Mama Electra, I would like to hear about your master. Who was it? How did you learn so many things? Did it take long?"

Electra sighed and said, "My master was an explorer who came through my little town when I was still a girl. He spent a few months in that area, making maps for his village. His name was Tares, and I followed him around as much as I was able. The way he moved through the wild places like he knew every rock and tree fascinated me. Just before he finished his work in the area, I had my first river time, and I went into the river as you did. But when I came out, there was only one master I wanted to try: Tares. He taught me many of the same things I'm teaching you, and more. When he left my town, I went with him as his apprentice. When we had seen a few more towns together, I found that my fascination with him went beyond what he could teach me about the trade of exploring. I soon told him this, and he taught me a lot about love. We were married, and we traveled together for many years. We saw all of the five lands. But a few years after we had visited the fifth land, we came to an unfriendly town, up in the loden parts. Tares was killed by a merchant who didn't like what Tares wanted to trade for his furs. He broke a bottle over Tares's head and then shoved it into his stomach. We managed to get away, but his wounds were too severe, and he died in the forest. I traveled by myself, after that. One day, I came to Almodar, and the first person I met was your Papa, Aryus Grocer. I decided to explore the region around this village, and I spent a couple of years training three explorers. When their training was complete, I married Aryus. I didn't have any other apprentice explorers, and it was several years before another asked for the training. Since that one left, none have taken up the work until you. You saw how the elders had mostly forgotten that I ever was the Master Explorer of Almodar. Zemoi! Listen to the way I'm going on. Let's get back to your training."

So, they talked more about plants and paths and people and places until it was time to go to bed.


31. The Girl Who Watched

The next morning, Electra and Elga again went into the hills to gather food and talk about different plants. Electra kept dropping information here and there until they had finished eating breakfast.

Elga put her palms over her eyes and flopped onto her back, saying, "Mama Electra, I can't hold another piece of information! Save me! I'm drowning."

Electra smiled down at her and said, "I want you to take in and hold one more piece of information."

Elga said, "I just said I couldn't!"

Electra said, "You can, and you must."

Elga sat up and looked intently at her, then said, "Yes, Master Electra."

Electra nodded and said, "It is far less important to remember all the answers than it is to remember how to find them."

"Through trials and notes?"

"No," said Electra. "You find things in a reference. It can be notes, but it can also be something like this."

Elga leaned forward and watched her grandmother bring a large book out of her knapsack.

"What is it?" Elga asked.

"It's an explorer's journal. I spent months copying my notes and those of my master into the first third of this book. I started it after my last apprentice gained journeyman status. There are things in here that will help you, and I've organized it based on situations and topics. You'll find almost everything I've taught you in these pages, along with other things I will not have time to tell you. Refer to it frequently, and you will both remember more and be able to find what you can't memorize. I will give you ink and a pen to write in it, so that you can record your own observations and experiments and maps in the last part of it. The pages are weather resistant, and the cover seals around it to keep out water, as well. Keep it close, and keep it safe."

Elga received it from her grandmother's hand and held it close to her chest, tears welling in her eyes.

"Now," Electra said, "Tell me something that I taught you since the council. Something you did not know before."

Elga said, "Something I didn't already know... If you don't put lots of blankets under you, you'll get cold more easily. Put one blanket on top, and the rest under you, when it is cold outside.

Electra said, "Very good."

As they walked back to the house, Electra pointed to the clouds and told Elga about the different types of clouds she would see in the sky and what they meant about the weather. When she closed the hatch behind them at the end of their walk, she motioned for Elga to sit down at the table.

As Elga watched, she pulled a bag out of the bench by the window and reached into it. She put three items from it onto the table, then quickly snatched them away. Elga looked up at her face.

"Tell me what I put out," Electra said.

"It was a green bead and two other things I didn't see very well."

"A short wooden dowel and a metal washer."

Elga asked, "How was I supposed to see that?"

"By paying attention."

Elga furrowed her brow and frowned. Electra pulled five items from the bag and put them on the table, then swept them away. Elga looked up at her.

Electra said, "I'm sure you can tell me better what was there, this time."

"A glass bead, a flat disc, a bronze ring, and a frilly square of cloth. I didn't see the last item."

"A blue jack."

Elga looked down at the table. Electra smiled at her and waited until she looked back up before pulling a handful of varied items out and placing it on the table in a mess. After a moment, she swept the things into her hand and put it under the table.

"A red bead, a twisted silver wire--" she began, but Electra interrupted, "Were there more blue things or yellow?"

Elga stopped and thought, then said, "Blue?"

Electra lifted her hand and showed the items. There were two blue and two yellow. She said, "The same number."

Elga groaned and said, "I'll do better. What is the importance of this, Master Explorer?"

"Observation is the importance. You will be safer, better fed, and better negotiating, if you are able to look at a room and spot all its details, or look around a forest and spot the plants and animals that can feed you or harm you before making your next move."

Elga nodded and said, "Thank you, Master."

Electra continued the observation game until Elga could answer correctly two out of five rounds and come close on another. Finally, she said, "I think you are as ready as I can make you in a week. The rest, you will have to gain from reading your journal and writing in it. I have a special task for you, tomorrow."

Elga took a deep breath and said, "Yes, Electra-dona. What is it?"

Electra smiled and said, "I will tell you in the morning. You don't need to worry. It will not be beyond your skills or harmful to you in any way. You trust me, don't you?"

Elga said, "Yes, Mama. I trust you."

Electra reached out and stroked Elga's cheek and brushed her hair back behind her ear. And for a few moments, she was nothing more than Elga's grandmother; there was no council telling her her granddaughter had to leave town; Electra was not the master explorer giving her apprentice firm guidance and harsh lessons or tasks; Elga wasn't having to face unpleasant tasks of weighty responsibility; and there was no wide world waiting to devour her present self and spit out someone different in her place or swallow her up to be unaccounted in the village forever. She was just a young woman who had a place in the village and at her grandmother's hearth.

Elga sighed with deep contentment.

Electra smiled and let a few tears roll silently down her cheeks.

Elga nuzzled her grandmother's hand.

Electra reached up and stroked her granddaughter's hair.

Elga smiled and said, "I should try to get some sleep so I'll be ready for tomorrow's lessons."

Electra said with mock sternness, "You'll need your sleep. I have harder things for you tomorrow. So hard, I don't know how you'll sleep, anticipating them."

Elga giggled and swept out of the room, but Electra let the merry mischief fade from her eyes and said to herself, "Tomorrow's tasks may be harder than all the ones I have given you before."


32. The Girl and the List

Elga stood beside the field just outside town, her hand resting lightly on the top rail of the fence.

Her grandmother had told her that she would be packing her pack, today. But first, "I have a few items I want you to pick up in town."

Elga closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and looked down at the envelope in her hand. She had to get supplies, so she might as well open it and look at the list. The village wasn't going to get any less daunting by standing here. She unfolded the list and looked at the first item. She would just take it one thing at a time, and she'd get through this. Dried deer meat from the hunter. She could do that. She hadn't had much interaction with Ryne, and she didn't think he had any special dislike for her. She set off toward his house.

Ryne's hatch was natural wood from the area, a brownish cream color, with a leaf motif around the inner half of the circle, each leaf painted green. Elga didn't think it matched the tan bricks and gray mortar of the house. The colors weren't displeasing together, but it felt like a plant in a metal pot. Still, she lifted the leaf-shaped knocker and smacked it down a few times.

Ryne opened the hatch and looked down at her with a curious expression before beaming at her and saying, "Elgafrida! I didn't expect you. What can I do for you?"

"Master Ryne-se, do you have any venison ready for travel?" she said.

"Yes, I still have some of the last batch. How much would you like?"

She told him, and he told her the price. She counted out gemstones as he measured out the meat. While he was doing this, he kept up a stream of thoughts about the recent and coming events in the village. He said he was proud of her and of the fact that the village had an explorer after so many years, that he was disappointed in the council's decision to send her off so soon, and that he had some advice for her.

"You're an explorer, but also a trader. Make sure what you take to trade isn't something they make where you're going. It's less about prices and making a deal. It's more about finding a need and filling it."

She thanked him for the meat and the advice and bid him take care.

He said, "You take care, yourself. We're all going to be watching for word from you, and I wish you'd come tell me about your adventures first, when you return. Nizen, for now."

As he shut the hatch behind her, she stopped and looked at her list. And scratched her head.

She had expected a list of specific supplies she would need, but the second item didn't seem very specific, at all: Obtain something you want from the one who has it.

How was she supposed to do that?

She thought first that she would go back and ask, but that was not the way an apprentice explorer should think. She needed to be self-reliant, if she could. What did it seem to mean? Someone has what I want. I need to get it from them. I need to figure out what I want that someone else has. It has to be something that I want, and someone specific has to have it. It's not just a thing I want. It's a specific item. It's not something I can buy, because it is being held by someone. It's a task that will not be easy. This is something that is not correct, and I must make it correct.

Or my grandmother is having a laugh at my expense. She'll listen to my tale of overcoming a conflict with someone in the village and say, "Oh, Elga. I only wanted you to pick something as a goal and reach it by figuring out how to get it. Silly girl!"

But if I go back to her and say I picked out a necklace at the artisans' guild and bought it, she may say, "Oh, Elga. I wanted you to think hard about what you were leaving behind and decide what you wanted to take with you, face the problem of talking to others about your wishes, and grow from this. Silly girl!"

If I'm going to be a silly girl, I'm going to do it while taking the path that leads to growth. If I'm wrong, and she thinks I'm silly, at least I won't think I wasted the task on a bauble I won't care about in a month.

Setting her jaw, she thought about the task. It should be something that was out of place if she didn't have it. Something that she wanted because it belonged to her. Something that required her to show she was worth being an explorer.

She realized it could be something that was easy now but hadn't been a week ago. And she knew what it would be.

A half hour later, she stood in front of Reado Baker's house, where she had finally caught up with Kela, Lio, and Tura. In her hand, she held a branch, and the three children looked at her as though expecting her to hit them with it.

She said, "Tura, I want you to come with me."

Kela and Lio looked at Tura and jogged off to return to their game. Tura stepped a little closer to Elga and stuck out his chin. Elga nodded and led him toward Jirako Booker's house. When they arrived, she said, "I have fulfilled your task. I want my figurine."

She handed him the branch, and he looked at it, then looked up at her.

She said, "May I please have the figurine?"

The puzzlement on his face finally cleared, and he set the branch on the side of the road and said, "Sure, Elga. I thought you'd get it back the next time, but you never played Four Fates with us again."

With that, he ran into Jirako's house and came back after a thousand heartbeats with the three-inch tall carved bird in his hand. It was a stout bird with wings half extended, stooping on a tiny furry rodent. He placed it carefully in her hand and said, "I'm sorry. I knew that it was precious to you, and I knew I asked too much for it."

Tura turned and ran away, calling without turning back, "Nizen, Elga!"

Elga let her shoulders slump and then took a deep breath and let it out. This task had been both easier and harder than she'd imagined, in different ways. She opened her list again and looked at the next item: Find someone who wants something you have.

That completely baffled her. She didn't know of anyone who had expressed a desire for anything she had. She decided she would have to come back to that one. The next item was no easier: Tell someone something you have to tell them but haven't. This was hard because it didn't baffle her, at all. She had more than one person she hadn't told things they ought to know. She headed toward the inwid meadows.

"Master Shep— I mean, Virgil-ku," she said. "I think you should know that I think you are very kind and an honorable man. I appreciate what you have tried to do for me. If things had been different, I think we could have been close friends. And now that I see we are not too far apart in age, I might have even, in ten years or so, considered becoming your wife—"

No. She shook her head to clear it. That was too cruel and embarassing. She was glad he hadn't been where he could hear when she'd said it. She was leaving. If she married, it would probably be someone in another village. She couldn't leave things worse than if she said nothing. She thought about other people in the village and changed where here steps were leading.

And she banged on the clouds and sky hatch with a smile on her face. This time, she knew her words would make things better, not worse.

"Ansa-ku," she said, when the hatch opened to reveal the master weaver, "I admire your water blankets. I admire the way you honor your apprentices by making their early efforts into something beautiful. And I appreciate that you didn't make me sound awful when you rejected me at the meeting. That means much to me."

"Elga-ku," Ansa said, "you will be great explorer."

After that, the woman just smiled at her. Finally, Elga nodded and gave her another smile before turning to go.

Again skipping the item about having something someone wanted, she went to the next item: Tell your parents some parting words. She could say these to her mother without much problem, but her father would be a bit harder. She went to her mother first.

She knocked on the hatch as any stranger would, a little confused at the feeling that had prevented her from walking straight into her own house. When her mother opened it, she said, “Ma, I’ll be leaving the village soon. I wanted to say a word of parting to you.”

“You’ve been leaving this village for months, Elga.”

That wasn’t fair. She said, “No, Ma, I haven’t. I’ve been a villager all my life. I only recently found that the questions everyone should ask themselves would lead me to oppose the beliefs this village holds more dearly than makes sense.”

Her mother threw up her hands and said, “I don’t understand why you had to stand by your fancies, but at least my crazy mother gave you a way to save face.”

Elga’s anger boiled up. Her mother almost always did this to her. Anything she didn’t like was suddenly difficult to understand, as though any thinking person would have acted differently. Elga didn’t scream, though she wanted to. Instead, she kept her voice round and said, “You don’t understand because you don’t want to, Mother. You don’t want to understand; you only want to be angry, and so you find the disagreement and cling to it like soil in a pot. You water it until it’s tall and bushy. Then you point to it and say that it’s not your fault; the other person planted it. Mother, I’ve been a good daughter. You just can’t see that because I have stopped doing exactly what you want.”

Segna stood in stunned silence for a long moment. Then, she said tightly, “May the six gods keep you safe on your journeys and bring you safely home with more sense.”

Elga stared at Segna. Had she not heard a word Elga spoke? Suddenly too tired to go on arguing, Elga said, “I’ll just get my things and be on the way.”

Segna smiled, though her eyes didn’t look happy, and said, “Go ahead.”

Elga said, "Nizen, Segna."

Segna said nothing.

Elga went to the room that has been hers, picked up the few things she has chosen to keep, put her clothes in a sack, and left her home. She hadn't meant for the conversation to go the way it had, and she wiped at her cheeks, though no tears had trickled down them.

Now, the hard part. Elga almost laughed. Talking to her mother has been the easy part? Her father had been— distant, was the only word she could think of— for the last couple of years. Had Elga gotten used to it so quickly? She pushed that thought aside and made her way toward the middle of the village. She found him at his grocer’s shop, as she had expected. He sat today in a chair at the back of the front room, and she saw him as soon as she opened the hatch.

“Alwa, Pa,” she said as soon as she came through it. Her father kept gazing in the general direction of the hatch. Or perhaps at nothing, or at something only he could see. She walked up to his chair. He didn’t turn to her.

She said, “Pa, I have become an apprentice to the village explorer. I’ll be leaving town, soon.”

He didn’t look at her, but he said, “You found a job. It sometimes takes a while.”

There was no excitement in his voice, and no anger, and no sadness. It wasn’t empty of emotion, but it had no hint of interest. He spoke as if simply commenting on an observed fact.

Elga said, “Do you remember when I told you about the water ceremony? How everyone welcomed me into the village?”

“I remember,” he said, as though answering a question from the shirer or the council.

“Most of them seem to have withdrawn their welcome,” she said. “So I must leave as soon as the head explorer, my grandmother, your wife’s mother, says I’m ready.”

He said, “People can be very intolerant of those who don’t share their beliefs.”

Elga had tried, using words she thought might touch his emotions, but he’d responded with the same tone anyone would have used to comment on the fact that rain sometimes prevented a walk in the meadows. She sighed. She always tried to talk to him, when she could, but he never came near to her. He never hugged her, anymore. He never got angry. He never showed concern for anything. She wondered what had happened to change him into this person who was not flat but not caring.

“Pa, I still love you. No matter what.”

“Accepted,” he said.

Elga bit her lip. This was not going even as well as she has thought it would. He hadn’t spoken against her at the council. He hasn’t been there. Should she take that as comfort that he hadn’t rejected her, taking little interest in anything, or as an indication that he did reject her, not caring enough to come see her trial? She didn’t have any way to sort out what she was feeling, much less what he was.

She tried something else. She said, “I don’t know what happened to cause this distance between us, but I’m not angry with you. I don’t hold any blame against you. You are my father, and I love you.”

He said, “You are my daughter.” He said it matter-of-factly, not feebly or proudly.

Elga said, “I am very sad that I have to leave you, and that you do not say you love me anymore. I am very sad that we do not laugh and roll on the ground as we did when I was a baby.”

He said, again in that same tone, "You are a grown woman, now."

"No, Pa," she said. "I am only a little girl."

"You will do well on the road," he said.

Elga sniffed and blinked to keep the tears from flowing. She said, "I will, because I must. Nizen, Pa."

"Nizen, Elga," he said.

Elga turned and walked out, sure that he did not care if she stayed or went. But after the hatch closed, he sighed and let his gaze fall on the little pin in his shirt that she had given him after his fortieth winter. And tears rolled down his cheeks.


33. The Girl on the Edge

Elga stood outside the chandler's yard for the second time in a week.

She had again skipped over the item on her list about finding someone who wanted something she had. But standing here, she wondered if that one might be easier to do next. None of this would get easier by delaying it, though. She stepped into the yard and made her way over to the shelf where Itari stood, arranging newly finished candles.

"Itari-se," she said, "I would like to buy some candles."

Itari turned to her smoothly and said, "Elga-dona, what can I get for you?"

Elga gaped at her.

She had occasionally heard a tradesman or merchant address the village chief or the shirer as though they were his master, but she had never heard one speak this way to an apprentice. Was Itari mocking her? She certainly sounded genuine, but how could that be, since Elga knew Itari despised her? She couldn't make herself sure of it, either way, so she said, "I need to get a dozen plain tapers, two lavender pillars, and three lemon balm pillars."

"Of course," Itari said. "Would you be interested in a few mint tealights?"

Elga looked at her warily and said, "I think that might be useful. Yes."

Itari gathered tapers and pillars into two bundles and wrapped them in rag sheets, then put these in a cloth sack with a handful of the tealights. She held the bag out to Elga and said, "Three ruby exats, then."

Elga counted out the small gems into her hand and took the bag gingerly. Itari thanked her and turned back to her tasks as Elga sidled out of the yard, eyes wide.

She hurried down the way toward the tanner's shop. The tanners made leather from hides, of course, but they also handled the village's rope and yarn making. She spoke to the apprentice and bought ropes and cords in weights and lengths she could use for making a shelter, tying up bundles for carrying, and pulling herself up an incline, if needed. Her grandmother had supplied the words to use, but as the apprentice brought each length out, she knew what its use would be from her recenbt practical training. She coiled them carefully, paid the man, and carried them on her shoulders back to her grandmother's house.

Only when she got there did she remember she had not found someone who wanted something she had. She set the assembled gear she had brought on the step in front of the hatch and sat down with her chin on her hand and let out a long breath. Should she go back to town or ask her grandmother for help?

Elga suddenly felt too tired to think about it. So, she gathered her parcels, stood up, and went through the hatch.

Electra said, "Alwa. A fine return. I didn't expect you until later."

Elga said, "I have returned."

Electra smiled and said, "And how did you fare?"

"Some things were very hard. Others were easy. And a few were seriously confusing."

Electra picked over the things Elga had placed on the table and checked them off against the list. Elga pulled the carved bird figurine from her pocket and set it beside the other things. Electra asked, "The thing you wanted?"

Elga said, "Yes, Electra-dona."

"I see everything else. How did it go with your parents?"

Elga shifted her feet and said, "Pa did not care."

"He did not show any care."

Elga stopped, then said, "Pa did not show if he cared. Ma was angry, and I made her angrier by telling her she was wrong."

Electra nodded gravely. Then she asked, "What did you give up?"

Elga said, "My thoughts."

Electra scowled.

"Elga, people rarely want our thoughts. We give them because it makes them informed, not because they want them."

Elga blushed. Then she said, "Itari-se wanted my gems. I wonder if that's why she treated me like an important visitor when I was buying candles."

Electra said, "You are trying to distract me."

Elga let out her breath in a huff and then said, "I don't know what anyone wants from me, Master Explorer. I have never been told, as Tura heard from me, of something anyone wanted that I have. How do I know what people want?"

"Perhaps they tell you in other ways. Perhaps, for example, Itari wants your respect, even though she was hasty and unfair before. Perhaps that is the meaning of her behavior today. Or perhaps she wanted your gems, as you seem to think, and hid her true feelings to try to get more of them. Or perhaps, she wants to be rid of you and is making your exit smooth. Or perhaps, she wants to support you, now that you fit into a comfortable place in her understanding of the village."

"That is a large number of possibilities, Master Explorer! How do I know which one it is?" How do I know what they want?"

Electra smiled and said, "Usually, you only know if you spend more time in a place, watch for confirmations and refutations of your identified possibilities. And sometimes, you just don't know. But you go forward, trying to use the information available in the best way possible to reach a favorable conclusion to your negotiations. Much of exploring is similar to being a merchant. After all, we rarely stumble on things that will provide food and lodging on their own, so we must borrow a little from the merchants, a little from the minstrels, and a tiny bit from the beggars. If we don't do well enough with those skills, we might cease to be explorers and stray into being bandits. We don't want that, so learn these skills thoroughly.

"I'm disappointed you didn't find someone, but there isn't time to go back and do it over. We must pack your backpack and prepare for tomorrow. You are as ready as I can make you in the time we had. And as I promised, I am sending you out as soon as may be done. Tomorrow, it will be practicable for me to declare you ready for journey status.

"I would like to put it off and train you more, but you are a quick learner, and I know that, with your book and the skills I have taught you these few days, you are able to survive and thrive in the dangers of both the wild places and the places of men.

"Now, come. I have things to teach you about properly loading your pack."


34. The Girl on the Way

Elga stood on the way that led out of town to the anor. Most of the town was about their business elsewhere. Electra, Virgil, Ansa, Zeray, Ima, Prika, and Mimos were the only ones who had come with her as she walked to the edge of town.

She rolled her shoulders to resettle her pack and turned to the small group.

She said, "Thank you for seeing me off. I will do my best to make you all proud of me in my travels."

Ima said, "Nizen, Elga. Be safe on your journeys."

Ansa said nothing, but when Elga looked at her, she smiled warmly at her.

Zeray said, "Elga, I made you a wreath of blessings, one for each of the gods. Wear it while you sleep, and it will protect you. I'll see you in a year and a day, and I expect you to tell me all your adventures."

Elga took the wreath without saying anything and turned to Mimos.

Mimos said, "Be on your way. The daylight will be spent before you get far."

Elga nodded respectfully to the elder. She turned to Prika Mayor.

Elga said, "Thank you for coming, Chief."

Prika said, "Go with the honor of Almodar." Then she gave Mimos a sour look before turning to Elga again with a smile.

Elga turned to Virgil. Should she give him a parting kiss? Just an embrace? No. That would be as cruel and awkward as telling him of her esteem. She touched hands in a customary parting and said, "Thank you."

He said, "Take care of yourself. I look forward to hearing about your travels when you return."

She smiled and stepped closer to her grandmother. Electra took her into an embrace and whispered, "Remember what I told you. You are able to thrive in the wilds and in the towns of men. Trust in the skills and words I have given you. I am already proud of you. Travel safely."

Elga said, "Thank you Mama. Master explorer, honored leaders of Almodar, I am leaving on my Explorer's Journey. I will conduct myself in a way to bring honor and profit to the town of Almodar, and whenever I return, I will bring news of the wider world and such items as I may to be useful to the town. Live well, in my absence."

With that, she turned and walked along the way from town.

She passed the statue of Ganis and barely looked at it. She passed the path into the orchard, where she had spoken to Camar Grover, and she slowed a little. This was the farthest she had ever been from her home. Every step she took from here on would be new ground, land she had never visited. She hadn't left town when she'd left the little group on the way. She was about to leave it now. But in the time it took her to think these things, she had crossed the boundary. She was already out of town. She was already on new land that her feet had never touched before. And she was completely alone, outside of earshot of anyone who had ever met her for the first time in her entire life.

She kept walking, resuming her previous pace. This was her task, given to her by her profession master, and she would not let fear or uncertainty keep her from doing it. Near the time when Bosona was directly overhead, she reached the tower her mother's mother had mentioned. She immediately spotted the chest at the tower's base that contained the flags, and she stood in front of it for a long time, thinking about what message to hoist. She didn't want to leave a message that sounded sad, or uncertain, or confrontational. In the end, after a lot of heartbeats, she hoisted flags that said her name, followed by ones that meant she had started her journey and made progress speedily.

Once she'd done that, she set out again, walking steadily up and down the low hills along the way. When Bosona slipped behind the trees, she stepped off the road and found a safe place to bed down. She gathered materials and made a comfortable pallet. The weather didn't smell like rain, so she didn't set up a rain fly, looking up at the stars as she drifted into drowsiness.

She missed her cot. She missed her mother. She missed her room with all the little things she treasured. She had been alone in the dark woods near town, but that had been ground her grandmother had already explored, and she had had a list of landmarks. Out here, she was all alone. Anything could happen.

She sat up with a start, alerted by some noise. A man was watching her from the trees down the slope from her. She moved quickly to a crouching position and picked up her knife. The man slipped away through the trees, his scaley skin glistening in the light from Zego. Elga took a few quixck steps into the trees, but he was gone.

She looked around, but she couldn't see him. Instead, she saw, some distance away, a woman about her mother's age. Almost before she saw the woman's face, the woman turned and walked heavily away, her belly swaying a little in front of her. Elga walked quickly toward her, but she slipped behind the trees and could not be found when Elga reached the last place she had seen her.

Elga leaned against a tree and covered her face.

She looked up when she heard a yelp like a large dog who had been stepped on by a large herd animal. She quickly ran to see what she had heard, but after many steps, she was lost and could not see any animals. A shadow passed behind a tree, and she rushed quickly to the spot.

As she rounded the tree, she was suddenly confronted by a flaming eye. Next to the eye, she saw a stone-colored dog, a cloudy manlike figure, a woman with four arms, the fish man, and the woman she had seen before. The cloudy figure stepped up to her and said, "We will have revenge for your actions against us!"

Elga backed away, terrified, but she said firmly, "You're not real. You're dead."

The fish man said, "We'll show you how real we are!"

They rushed at her. Elga stepped back again, but they would be too fast to outrun, so she stood and put her arms in front of her. She said, "You're a lie!"

Elga sat up with a start. Her pack was next to her, right where she'd left it before falling asleep. It had all been a dream. She was going to let out an exasperated sigh, but she froze as a noise reached her ears.

Slowly turning toward the sound, Elga saw a large, hairy, not quite man-like beast lumbering through the forest. A breeze brought a musky scent to her nose, like the goats but deeper, uglier, and more sour. She sat still and watched the creature move away slowly. When it was far enough away that she couldn't hear its grunting and steps, she took a deep breath and pulled out her knife.

She wasn't sure how much help it would be against a pelimog, but she sat gripping it for a long time and watching the dark forest around her. She would not sleep tonight.


35. The Girl and the Fresh Start

Elga awoke with a start. The knife was on the ground in front of her, and she was on her side, halfway on and halfway off her pallet. She wondered how long her all-night vigil had lasted before she fell asleep. Some explorer she was. She felt well-rested, so it probably hadn't been long before she'd nodded off— if she had been awake at all. No, that wasn't right. She'd taken her knife out, so that part hadn't been a dream.

She took the wreath off the strap that held it onto the side of her pack and slung it as far away into the woods as she could throw it. She didn't need blessings from gods that weren't real.

That done, she put her knife away and dismantled her pallet. That done, she looked around and spotted some berries she recognized and added a few handfuls of them to her breakfast of nuts and bread. Then, she hoisted her pack, settled it across her shoulders, and returned to the road.

Bosona was not high off the horizon, and she thought about the road ahead as she walked. She heard the songbirds in the trees and remembered the things her grandmother had told her about what you could learn about the surrounding activity by how birds stopped, or changed, their songs. Judging from what she heard, there was no danger nearby, and she kept up a brisk but unhurried pace. Whenever she saw edible plants in the forest to one side, she paused and collected some of them, being sure not to disturb the parts that would bring future growth, nor to take all of the fruit and leave none for other travellers. By the time the shadows were small, she had gathered a respectable feast for one person, and she sat under the trees to eat until she was full.

Shortly after she rose from her meal, she came to the edge of the forest and followed the road through an enormous meadow filled with short grasses and bunches of tall flowering stalks with white petals and the occasional sprawling carpet of near mint and footsoft. There were fewer birds, but she saw small furry things scampering among the leaves of the low bushes that sprouted here and there across the gently rolling ground, as well as many brown and green lizards that stood still whenever she got close, trying not to catch her eye and slipping suddenly under the foliage when they thought it was safe.

As she walked along, she wondered where her path would lead. Where would she end up? What would she eat? Would she be able to make enough money in trade to feed herself?

Her first towns, she’d have news of only her own village. What should she say about her people? What could she say about their beliefs? Would everyone think the way they did about the clouds, the land, and the water?

She thought about the monsters of the wilderness, and about the wild men said to roam the unnamed places between towns. Would she encounter any of them, and how would she get away?

She started watching the sides of the path for likely places she might hide. But then she started to wonder if one of these places might be hiding a wild man or a monster. For a few hundred heartbeats, she became very frightened and shied away from these. Then, she realized she was being skittish and slowing her progress over these fears, and she thought of striding onward boldly. And right into ignoring a real danger when something jumped out at her, running blindly as she was, she thought.

So she stopped and stood for a moment. She couldn’t run along, but she couldn’t timidly walk in fear of hidden danger. She started forward at her earlier pace, but she kept her eyes moving, aware of both the horizon and the potential hiding places. She didn’t shy away from them but stayed ready to run to them out from them, or fight, if needed.

Before long, she was able to keep her awareness on all of this without focusing on it, and she began to relax.

Though the trees remained few and far between as she continued across the meadow, the ground rose and fell gently, causing the road ahead to slip in and out of view. Although she was wary for ambushers, she noticed buzzing and fluttering insects moving lazily above the hollow places and decided that they might be disturbed if something were there. Still, she remained alert and kept her hand close to her knife. Eventually, she saw a dark green smudge ahead that quickly lifted above the horizon to become the tops of trees.

As she reentered the forest, she noted with some amusement that she felt more safe here than in the open meadow. However, the road became rough and uneven here, interrupted by roots and rocks and having less of a maintained appearance than what she had found previously. Her grandmother had told her about this, how roads sometimes became rougher in the area about halfway between towns, particularly if it was hard to reach. She was glad to be on foot, though. It would have been worse on a horse or in a wheeled vehicle here.

She followed the road through the trees until the light overhead dimmed and slipped away. She found a place to sleep and prepared her bed before darkness surrounded her, and she even had time to make a survey of her immediate area and gather a little bit of food before bedding down. This time, when she lay down, she did not have dreams of strange persons. Instead, she dreamt of her family, the villagers, and the places she had played as a child.

Elga was playing in the way outside their house when her father came in from work. He lifted her up and squeezed her tightly to his chest, filling her with the joy of being loved, before opening his arms to let her out to a comfortable distance for speaking quietly.

“And did you have a pleasant day, Frida?” he asked.

“I did, Pa! I followed Ma into the brambles and put six handfuls of berries in her basket!”

“Six! That’s amazing. Did you get poked by the bramble?” he asked.

“No, Pa! I was real careful!” she said.

He smiled and said, “That’s my smart girl.”

She rubbed her nose against the end of his, and he put her on the ground and walked beside her into the house. He met her mother and kissed her. She asked him about his day, and he told a funny story about one of the customers. They sat down and had dinner. He talked about the things he thought would happen in Almodar in the next year. Elga smiled at her parents and lifted a fork of delicious food to her mouth.

And on she dreamt, of other times and other conversations, all of them pleasant and homey. But all of these dreams slipped away into forgotten realms as she slept peacefully on.


36. The Woman in the Girl

Elga woke with the first morning light and cleared her bedding away before eating a bit of her bread with a little fruit paste she made from her dried stores and the last of the berries she had picked the day before. She washed this down with a deep draught from her canteen.

She settled her pack and started walking. She hadn't often felt much like a woman, since coming out of the water, but today, she did. She didn't know why this morning, or the night before, felt different. She didn't know why she felt more capable now. Surely one night without fears or uncertainty didn't mean she'd grown up. But there was still something there, something that had changed. She felt there truly was a woman inside her breast, a capable woman who knew what to do in the situations she faced. She was on her way, and she knew where to put her feet. That was all she needed, right now.

Elga stepped out of the forest into a strange place. The forest definitely ended, right there around the road, but after perhaps twenty feet on either side, the grass and weeds were swallowed up by trees again. It was like the forest continued everywhere but on the road. And then she felt like a little girl again, wondering at something very simple. The forest did continue, but the road had been cleared to either side by the town beyond. Figuring this out made her feel strangely mature again. But perhaps that was natural. She was an explorer. Her ability to feed herself would depend on the ability to observe things and figure out what was at first puzzling.

She walked on.

Bosona had risen to the top of the sky and begun to fall again before she reached the end of the road canyon in the forest, and she came out of the trees for real. The road came out of the edge of the trees at an angle, and the trees continued on one side but fell away sharply on the other. This time, the road stretched out on a meandering path down a wide slope, as the land fell gently but clearly away in all directions beyond the forest. She could see farther away than she could from her grandmother's house. And there was no sign of a village anywhere. But the road did not go out into this great expanse. It actually went down for some way and then turned slightly to the suben, where it crossed a little stream and then went behind the trees. She started down the hill.

Bosona sank in the sky, as she continued walking. The road began to look more and more like a town road, kept in good repair and edged neatly. As she neared the bridge, she noticed that the land on the other side was surrounded by hedges, broken by a path leading to a home or other destination within the enclosure. Another path led into the trees some distance beyond the first. As she did not see anyone, she continued down the road, past open ground that no one had yet claimed. In spite of these signs of intervention, the area still felt wild and open. She did not know how far it was to the town, but it did not feel close. She paused and consulted her journal, but though there was a rough map of the road, she hadn't kept close track of how far she had come since the last landmark, so judging the distances was difficult. She told herself she needed to be more observant and put her journal back in her pack.

Bosona was near the trees, now, but she kept walking. She knew she would have to stop soon, but she hoped to reach the town before stopping for the night. She had just decided she needed to spend her remaining light preparing a place to sleep when she saw the first light in the village of Hartsel. It was still a distance off, but she felt confident that she could make it there before the light failed.

Keeping her awareness wide, she rushed toward the buildings that she could now make out clearly.

When she reached the first one, the last rays of light were sliding off the tops of the roofs, and the villagers were lighting the lamps on the main streets. One of these looked at her with an appraising look, and she said, "Alwa. Can you tell me where I can get a room?"

The man, a little taller than her with a few more stones' weight and slightly darker skin, said, "Four hatches on, there's a public house that lets rooms out."

"Thank you, dono," Elga said.

Elga counted the hatches as she passed them and came to a building with a larger hatch and a sign hanging from a metal bracket beside and a little above it. The sign depicted a mug and a cot, and below these, were the words: Berpe Public Hospitality. She pulled open the hatch and went inside.

The room was poorly lit, but she could make out most of its details. Three rings of candles hung from the ceiling and provided what light there was. Eight tables filled most of the floor, and a serving boy carried a tray of food to one of these. Each of the tables was at least half full, and the crowd gave off a distinct hum from all the voices mixing in varied conversations.

It was the most strangers she had ever been around.

For a long moment, she wanted to run back out into the road and find somewhere quieter. What if no one here liked her well enough to give her a fair trade? What if one of them took a dislike to her and attacked her? What if one of these was a wild man of the wilderness, come in to find victims of his bloodthirsty frenzy? Elga pushed back the terror and looked around.

Barely controlling her breathing, she gazed at each person, gathering as many details as her mind would hold, before lifting her leaden feet and moving forward into the room. She had to find the master of the house and arrange a room before she passed out of consciousness and tumbled to the floor. She located him, finally, and headed straight for him.

"Alwa, Host Erpe?"

He nodded, and she went on, dry-mouthed, saying, "I am Elga Explorer of Almodar. I am come to seek and share news."

Erpe smiled broadly and said, "What news from Almodar? Is Abek still shirer? Does Ima still sit with the eldest?"

Elga took a deep breath and started to tell what she remembered since the last minstrel had passed through. It was difficult, but she managed not to stumble over anything. She felt she must look foolish and naive to this man, but she managed to get through the recitation and ask about things her grandmother had told her, and about what the minstrels had mentioned about this area. Perhaps, with a year's practice, she could learn to do this without looking foolish, as she was certain she did to this experienced innkeeper. One day, she would no longer be a girl but a woman.

She hoped it would be soon.


Erpe Host stood behind the long table in his public house and dried the heavy mugs he favored for customer use. He felt happy about the day's events, and he wondered what would happen next.

A slim figure in a hooded cloak pulled the hatch open and stepped inside. When she pulled back her hood, he saw that it was a young woman with wavy, mouse-brown hair and almond irises, a thick nose, and flattened ears. She stood by the entry for a long moment, scanning the crowd. He wondered if she was seeking a specific person, but when she finished taking everything in, she didn't look disappointed or pleased. Instead, she glanced quickly around and locked her gaze on him before striding over with clear purpose.

"Alwa," she said calmly and firmly, "Host Erpe?"

Erpe nodded, wondering if she wanted him specifically or just the host of this place, and she went on, introducing herself as Elga of Almodar, an explorer.

Erpe was delighted and asked after some of the people he'd been told of by minstrels. She answered confidently and clearly, and he wondered how many years she had been exploring. This must have been her fourth or fifth outing, he thought.

She finished her news and asked of happenings in and around Hartsel. He told her what he knew, and her wise almond eyes made notes on his cheeks and forehead. When he had finished, she asked appropriate qestions about the events, and about the market in town for various items. At the end of this recitation, she asked for a meal and a room, and he took the money.

As she walked away to find an open spot at a table, he turned to his serving boy and said, "She's an expert explorer. I wonder where she traveled before, since we haven't seen her here."

The boy said, "Maybe she stopped on the other edge of town last time."

"That must be it," Erpe said.

He went into the kitchen to prepare a special dessert. Such a guest could bring more travelers, if she liked his hospitality.

The End of Girl in the Way

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