She had a familiar dream.
She dreamed of a summer day when she was still small. Eight years old maybe. She had come by herself to her uncle’s farm to help deliver a calf. At her tender age, she didn’t realize it was just an excuse to let her play.
She was going to help with a birth. That was an important job.
And even better, she was going to get out of the village and go to the city—all by herself!
Of course, she bragged about it to him. She remembered the sulky look that came over his face. He was two years older than her, but he knew nothing of life outside the village. He could hardly imagine a city, let alone the Capital.
True, she was just like him in that respect, but still…
She could no longer remember what started it.
He got angry, they fought, and both ended up in tears. Looking back on it, she thought perhaps she had gone too far, believing she could say whatever she wanted because he was a boy.
Saying too much, hurting him enough that he got really angry. She hadn’t considered that might happen. She was young, after all.
Eventually his older sister came to get him and took him home, leading him by the hand.
The truth was, she had wanted to invite him to go with her.
On the carriage to the next town, she looked back at her village out the window’s curtain.
Her mother and father had come to see her off. He was nowhere to be seen as she waved good-bye to her parents.
As she drifted off in the rumbling carriage, she felt a twinge of regret. She didn’t get a chance to apologize.
When she got back, she would have to make up with him…
Cow Girl’s day started early.
That was because he woke up early, even before the rooster crowed dawn.
The first thing he did on waking was to make a lap of the farm. He never neglected this.
When she asked him about it once, he told her he was looking for footprints. “Goblins move at night,” he’d said. “They go back to their nests by first light, but they always reconnoiter before an attack.” So, he told her, he was checking for footprints, to make sure he didn’t miss a sign of goblins.
When he had finished his first inspection, he made another. This time, he was looking for any damage to the fence. And if he found any, he would take it upon himself to get some stakes and planks and repair it.
Cow Girl woke to the sound of his footsteps going past her window. The cock finally began its morning call.
Hearing that casual, self-possessed walk, she slid her naked body off her straw bed, gave a great stretch and a yawn. Then she pulled some underwear over her voluptuous form before opening the window.
The cool, bracing morning wind blew in.
“Good morning! Up early as always, I see!” Cow Girl rested her vast bosom on the window frame and leaned out, calling to his back as he looked at the fence.
“Yeah,” he said, turning.
He wore dirty armor, leather plate, and a steel helmet; a shield was fastened to his left arm and a sword hung at his waist.
Just like he always looked. Squinting toward the sun, Cow Girl said, “Good weather today. Mr. Sun is so bright!”
“Is Uncle up?”
“Hmm. Well, I’m sure he’ll be awake soon.”
“You must be hungry. Let’s have breakfast. I’ll have it ready in a moment.”
He nodded slowly.
He’s still a man of few words, Cow Girl thought with a smile.
He wasn’t like that when they were small. At least, he shouldn’t have been.
Only the details of the weather changing, they had the same conversation every morning.
But he was an adventurer, and going on adventures was a risky business. If she was talking to him in the morning, it meant he had survived another day, so she wouldn’t object no matter how few words they shared.
Still smiling, Cow Girl squeezed herself into her work clothes and headed lightly toward the kitchen.
They were supposed to take turns preparing meals, but it was Cow Girl who did the actual cooking. In all the years they had lived together, he had hardly ever cooked.
Twice, three times maybe? When I had that cold, I’m sure…
She hadn’t told him the soup he’d made was thin and watery for fear he would get upset.
She did think sometimes that since he got up early anyway, maybe he could make breakfast once in a while. But adventurers led unpredictable lives. There was nothing he could do, so she didn’t nag him about it.
“Morning, Uncle! Breakfast soon, okay?”
“Yes, morning. Smells good today. My stomach’s rumbling.” Her uncle, the farm’s owner, woke up just as he came in from his inspection.
“Good morning, sir.”
“Mm-hm…morning.” Her uncle replied with a short word and a curt nod to his dutiful greeting.
On the table were cheese, bread, and a creamy soup, all made right there on the farm.
He pushed food into the opening of his visor. Cow Girl watched him delightedly.
“Here’s for this month,” he said, as if suddenly remembering something. He produced a leather pouch from the bag at his hip and placed it on the table. It made a heavy sound as he set it down, and through its open mouth, gold coins glittered.
Her uncle looked at it silently, as if reluctant to take it.
One could hardly blame him. The armored man didn’t need to be renting space in the stables on some Podunk farm. He could have been staying in the Royal Suite somewhere.
Finally, her uncle gave a small sigh of surrender and drew the pouch toward him.
“Awfully profitable being an adventurer.”
“Business has been good lately.”
“Is that right? Say, you… Are you…?” Her uncle was normally so good with people, but around this man, he always got tongue-tied. Cow Girl just couldn’t understand it…
With a mixture of fear and resignation, her uncle finally continued:
“…Are you going again today?”
“Yes, sir,” he answered calmly. Always with that same slow nod. “I’ll go to the Guild. Too much work not to.”
“I see.” Her uncle paused. “Don’t get carried away, now.”
Her uncle seemed nonplussed by the man’s even voice as he took a sip of warm milk from his glass.
Their morning chats always ended this way. Cow Girl tried to lighten the mood by saying, with forced cheerfulness, “Well, I’ve got to make some deliveries, so we can go together!”
“Fine.” He nodded, but at this, her uncle’s expression turned even sterner.
“…I mean, in that case, I can take out the cart,” the adventurer quickly amended.
“Oh, Uncle’s just a mother hen,” Cow Girl said. “I’ll be fine. I’m a lot stronger than I look, you know!” She rolled up a sleeve and flexed a bicep for his edification.
True enough, her arms were larger than a city girl’s her age, but she was not what you would call muscular.
“All right.” That was all he said as he finished his breakfast. He left the table without even thanking her for the meal.
“H-hey, wait a minute, slow down!” she said. “I have to get ready, too! Hold on!”
But that, too, was how things always went. Cow Girl wolfed down the rest of her breakfast in a most unladylike way.
She washed down the immense meal—which she needed because of all the work she did—with milk and then took all their dishes to the sink.
“All right, Uncle, we’re off!”
“Come back soon. And safely. Please.”
“It’ll be fine, Uncle. We’ll be together.”
Still seated at the table, her uncle wore a despondent look, as if to say, That’s what I’m worried about. Cow Girl’s uncle was a kind, good-hearted farmer, as she herself well knew. He just didn’t seem to get along with the adventurer. Or rather…her uncle seemed scared of him. Even though there was nothing to be scared of…
…She was pretty sure.
When she got outside, he was already walking down the road beyond the fence. She went to where the cart was kept behind the house, hurriedly but not rushing.
She had loaded the produce the day before, so she had only to pick up the handlebar and push off. As the wheels creaked along, the produce and wine rattled from atop the cart.
He strode along the tree-lined road to town, Cow Girl following behind him, pulling the cart. Each time the load jostled over the gravel, her chest bounced right along with it.
This work was nowhere near difficult enough to be exhausting, but as they went along, she began to sweat a little and breathe a bit harder.
Suddenly, without a word, he slackened his pace. He didn’t stop, of course, but slowed. At the same time, Cow Girl, in a burst of energy, sped up until she was walking at his side.
“…Not at all.” He shook his head as he spared the few words. Perhaps it was his helmet that made the gesture look strangely broad.
“Nah, I’m all right.”
The Adventurers Guild also housed an inn and tavern, and that was where Cow Girl would deliver the produce—that was her job. It was where he would go to get the day’s quest—that was his job.
She couldn’t assist him with his work, so she felt bad somehow getting his help with hers.
“How’s it been going?” she asked over the rumble of the cart, glancing sideways at him.
Not that there was much to see. He wore his helmet from the moment he got up every day. Whatever expression he wore, she couldn’t see it.
“More goblins lately.”
His answers were always short. Short and yet somehow enough. Cow Girl nodded brightly.
“More than usual.”
“So you’re busy?”
“Yeah, you’re out all the time these days.”
“It’s great to have plenty of work, huh?”
“No,” he said, quietly shaking his head. “It isn’t.”
“Why not?” she asked, and he replied:
“I would rather have no goblins.”
“Yeah…,” she said, nodding.
Things would be better with no goblins at all.
The road gradually got better, and they could just make out the buildings on the horizon as the bustle of the city drifted to their ears. Here, as in most towns, the Guild Hall was immediately inside the gate. It was also the biggest building in town, towering over its surroundings, even larger than the Earth Mother Temple with its attached infirmary. Ostensibly, this was because so many people from out of town came for the Guild Hall and would need to find it easily.
Cow Girl, for one, was glad it was easy to find.
The Guild also claimed they wanted to be able to quickly apprehend any ne’er-do-wells who were going around calling themselves adventurers.
Then again, it was hard to tell most adventurers from common thugs at a glance.
She took in all the varieties of outrageous armor worn by the people walking the streets and him with his steel helm, even though they were in the middle of town, and gave a wry smile.
“Hang on, okay? I’m just gonna drop off the delivery.”
Cow Girl quickly left the produce at the service entrance in the back of the building, then exhaled as she wiped the sweat from her forehead. She rang the bell to summon the cook, showed him a tally sheet to confirm she had brought everything as requested, and took his signature. Now all she needed was Guild Girl’s signature, and her delivery would be finished.
“Sorry to keep you waiting.”
“Not at all.”
He was still there when she came out front again, as she’d known he would be.
As they passed through the swinging door of the Guild Hall together, the momentary relief from the sun was swept away by the collective body heat of all the people packed into the building. The Guild Hall was lively as ever.
“I’m gonna go get that signature.”
Outside he had waited for her, but inside they would part ways.
He headed for a row of seats along the wall and settled down in one with authority, as though it was reserved for him. Cow Girl waved lightly to him, then headed for the front desk, where a line of visitors waited. There were adventurers, people filing quests, and hangers-on of every sort. Tradesmen from smiths to pawnbrokers, from merchants to medicine hawkers. It occurred to her that adventuring had more expenses than it seemed.
“So, hey. This troll comes at me, right? But I’m like, Not today! and I slip past him by this much!”
“Oh my, that sounds very tiring. Maybe you should try a Stamina potion.”
Cow Girl saw a spear-wielding adventurer eagerly relating his exploits to the girl at the front desk. His impressively slim body, which seemed composed of almost solid muscle, spoke of his strength. The tag around his neck showed he was a Silver-ranked adventurer.
Cow Girl knew this was the third-highest rank in the Guild hierarchy. She knew because it was his rank, too.
“Stamina potion? Who needs it? Babe, I just faced down a troll with nothing but my spear in my hands. What do you think of that?”
“Oh, I’ve heard how fearsome trolls are…” As she began feeling troubled, reaching for words, Guild Girl’s eyes happened upon him sitting by the wall.
“Oh!” Her face instantly brightened.
“Ugh. Goblin Slayer.” Spearman gave a cluck as he followed Guild Girl’s gaze.
Maybe he had spoken a bit too loudly. The hubbub in the Guild Hall rose as first one visitor, then another looked in his direction.
“I can’t believe he’s Silver rank, too.” An elegant knight was shaking her head in disgust. The scars on her platinum armor bespoke many battles and made her all the more striking. “Who knows if he can even fight anything bigger than a goblin? A ‘specialist’? Heh! They’ll give a Silver rank to anyone these days!”
“Let him be. He never has anything to do with the rest of us, anyway. Who cares what he does?”
A great tank of a warrior gave Knight a dismissive wave of his hand. Was it foolishness or bravery that let him seem so comfortable in his villainous-looking armor? Both he and Knight wore silver tags, so they were no fresh-faced questers, either.
Two boys, though, stood talking in thin leather plate. Each had a dagger, a staff, and a robe.
“Look at him!” one said. “I’ve never seen armor that dirty!”
“Yeah, the two of us have better stuff than him…”
Their equipment was every bit as cheap as his, but “better” in that there wasn’t a scratch on it.
“Stop it,” a female paladin about the boys’ age said reproachfully. “What if he hears you? I’m sure he’s a rookie just like us.” The ridicule in their voices was tinged with relief at finding someone else as pathetic as they were. They showed no sign of noticing the silver tag around his neck.
“Heh-heh-heh…” A spell caster in a pointy hat and a scandalous robe seemed to be enjoying the exchange. She was called a witch and was a Silver-ranked magic user. She hugged her staff seductively and hung back near the wall aloofly from the goings-on.
The whispering spread throughout the room. Those who knew him and those who didn’t, all murmuring together.
And in the middle of it all, he sat quietly in his seat as though oblivious.
He doesn’t care. He’s not acting—he really doesn’t care. So I guess there’s no point in getting angry for him…
Cow Girl held her tongue, but she wasn’t happy.
At that moment, a frown still fixed on her face, she happened to meet Guild Girl’s eyes. Behind her perpetual smile, she had the same look as Cow Girl.
Resignation. Anger. Disgust. And…the recognition that there was nothing she could do.
I know how you feel.
Guild Girl closed her eyes for a second and sighed.
“Excuse me, please. I’ll be right back.”
“Yes, er, ahem, please do… I’ll be waiting. I haven’t finished telling you about my brave exploits—er, making my report yet!”
“Yes, I understand.” Guild Girl disappeared into a back office.
A moment later, she poked her head into the hall. She held a heavy-looking stack of papers with both arms. With many a huff and puff, she brought them over to the corkboard on the wall.
“All right, everyone! It’s time to post the morning quests!” Guild Girl’s voice carried across the hall, silencing the murmurs in the room. Her braids bounced merrily as she waved to get the crowd’s attention.
“Finally!” Eyes sparkling, the adventurers thronged Guild Girl, knocking over chairs in their haste. After all, if they didn’t take on a quest, they wouldn’t eat today. Such was the life of an adventurer. The nature as well as the proffered reward of the quest would influence the adventurers’ reputations. And how much good they contributed to the world—a value common folk referred to simply as “experience points”—would determine their rank. And everyone wanted to move up in rank.
An adventurer’s rank would earn him trust, after all. No one would entrust an important quest to a Porcelain or Obsidian adventurer, no matter how skilled they were.
With Guild Girl looking on, the gathered adventurers squabbled as they pulled quests from the board.
“Porcelain-ranked stuff is so…cheap. I don’t want to spend my whole life chasing rats out of the sewers.”
“Well, not much we can do. Hey, how about this one?”
“Goblin slaying? Nice. Indeed, sounds like a job for some beginners.”
“Oooh, that’s a good one. I want to kill some goblins…”
“No! You heard Guild Girl—we need to start with the sewers!”
“How about dragons? Any dragons? Something martial!”
“Oh, give it up, you haven’t got the gear for it. Stick to rounding up bandits. The pay’s not bad.”
“Hey, I was looking at that quest!”
“Well, I got it first. Guess you’ll have to find another one.”
Spearman from earlier was late to the fray, and he found himself pushed back by the crowd until he fell flat on his butt. He jumped up and flew back into the fracas with a roar.
“Okay, everyone, there’s no need to fight,” Guild Girl said placatingly, the smile still pasted on her face.
“Hmph.” At length, Cow Girl wandered away from Guild Girl. She didn’t want to get caught up in this, and it didn’t look like she would be able to get that signature anytime soon.
Bored, Cow Girl let her gaze drift toward the wall. He was still sitting there.
She had once said, “We’d better hurry or all the work will be gone,” but he had replied, “Goblin slaying isn’t popular.” Farmers posted the jobs, so the rewards were meager, and as they were seen as low-level quests, the more experienced adventurers wouldn’t take them.
So he waited for the reception area to clear out. There was no hurry.
And…he never said it, but Cow Girl thought he was waiting so new adventurers could have their pick of the quests first. Not that she would suggest this to him. He would just say, “Is that so?” like he always did.
“Hmm…” If she was going to be stuck here anyway, maybe she should go wait with him?
She shouldn’t have hesitated.
“Ah…” Someone else approached him before she could.
A young female adventurer. She wore priestess vestments over her delicate frame, the symbol of the Earth Mother hanging from her sounding staff.
“…Hi,” she said shortly, standing in front of him. She looked uncomfortable as she gave a small bow.
“Yeah.” That was all he said. Whatever he might be thinking was hidden inside that helmet. He didn’t seem to notice Priestess was even more flustered by her inability to elicit a proper response from him.
“I bought some equipment. Just like you told me.” She rolled up the sleeves of her vestments. A set of brand-new mail clung to her slender body, the chained links glimmering faintly.
Someone who didn’t know any better might take the scene the wrong way, but his words held no hint of innuendo.
He finally turned toward Priestess, looked her up and down, and nodded.
“The rings are a bit wide, but it will be enough to stop their blades.”
“Mother Superior was very displeased with me. She wanted to know what servant of the Earth Mother would wear armor.”
“She probably doesn’t know much about goblins.”
“It’s not that. It’s a violation of the Precepts…”
“If it will interfere with your miracles, maybe you should switch faiths.”
“My prayers will reach the Earth Mother!”
“Then there’s no problem.”
Priestess puffed out her cheeks angrily. Both of them were silent for a moment.
“Not going to sit?”
“Oh, I-I will! I will sit!”
Blushing, she hurriedly lowered herself into the chair next to him. Her little behind made a cute buhmp as she sat down.
Priestess laid her staff across her knees and clasped her hands, as if trying to shrink into the seat. Apparently, she was quite nervous.
“Hmph.” Cow Girl let out an unconscious grunt, but it wasn’t as though he had never mentioned this girl. She was an adventurer he had been partied with for about a month now. He didn’t actually say that he had found her on her first adventure and taken her under his wing—but Cow Girl had put this together from the bits and pieces she got out of him.
On the one hand, she had always been worried about him out there by himself, so she was glad there was someone with him now. On the other hand…did she have to be so young?
Cow Girl came with him to the Guild Hall every day, but this was the first time she had seen Priestess in person. She was so slim she looked like a strong hug would break her in half. Cow Girl looked down at her own ample body and gave a little sigh.
Priestess never noticed Cow Girl watching her. Instead, still blushing furiously but seeming to have worked up her courage, she opened her mouth.
“A-about the other day…”
The high pitch and quick pace of her words must have been due to nerves, surely.
“I-I think destroying the whole cave with that fire mixture was too…too much!”
“Why is that?” He continued to sound as if none of this surprised him. “We can hardly leave the goblins to themselves there.”
“Y-yes, but what…what about the consequences? What if the whole m-mountain came down?”
“I’m more worried about goblins.”
“I know! I-I’m trying to tell you that shortsightedness is the problem!”
“A-and another thing! I think the way you get rid of…of the smell should be a little…a little more…!” She started leaning off her seat as she talked.
His tone suggested he was growing annoyed. “So, have you learned the times to attack?” Priestess swallowed, caught off guard by the sudden change of subject.
Cow Girl, innocently eavesdropping, giggled to herself.
He hasn’t changed a bit since we were young.
“It’s…early in the morning or in the evening,” Priestess answered, while trying to show with her face that she wasn’t letting him off that easily.
“B-because those are evening and morning for goblins, respectively.”
“Correct. High noon is midnight for them. Their guard is tightest then. Next question: How do you attack a nest?”
“Well…if possible, you build a fire to smoke them out. Because it’s…it’s dangerous…inside the nest.”
“Right. Only enter when you have no time or no other choice. Or when you want to be sure you’ve killed every last one of them.”
He interrogated her as she struggled to come up with answers. “Items?”
“M-mainly potions and torches.”
“Is that all?”
“A-and rope. There’s always a use for rope…I guess.”
“Don’t forget it. Spells and miracles.”
“Y-your items can often substitute for spells and miracles, so you should save your magic for when you need it.”
“Um, you should have…”
“No, you shouldn’t. Take them from the enemy. They have swords, spears, axes, clubs, bows. I don’t need any special tools. I’m a warrior.”
“…Yes, sir.” She nodded like a child who had been scolded by her teacher.
“Change your weapons, change your tactics. Doing the same thing over and over is a good way to get yourself killed.”
“Um, may I…write this down?”
“No. If they took the notes from you, they’d learn from them. You have to know everything by heart.” He spoke calmly while Priestess labored to commit his words to memory. It truly seemed like the back-and-forth between teacher and pupil.
Did he ever talk this much? Cow Girl shifted uneasily as the question rose in her mind.
She couldn’t understand why it left her so restless. She wanted to get that signature as soon as she could and go home.
“All right,” he said, standing suddenly. Looking around, she realized the crowd of adventurers was just shuffling off to their business. There was much to do—prepare equipment, stock up on food and supplies, gather information.
Priestess hurried to keep up with him as he strode toward Guild Girl with hardly a glance at the departing questers.
“Ah…” Cow Girl had missed her chance again. Her voice, like her outstretched hand, hung in the air.
“Oh, Mr. Goblin Slayer! Good morning! How nice to see you again today!” Guild Girl’s voice and face carried all the brightness that Cow Girl’s lacked.
“Why, yes! Not too many today, I’m afraid, but there are three quests involving goblins.” As he stood there calmly, Guild Girl picked out some papers with a practiced hand. She seemed to have prepared them in advance.
“The village by the western mountains has a medium-sized nest. The village by the northern river has a small nest. And there’s a small nest in the southern woods.”
“Yes. They’re all farmers, as usual. I wonder if the goblins are targeting them.”
“Maybe.” He had taken her joking words in dead earnest. “Has anyone else taken on any of these quests?”
“Yes. A group of rookies are in the southern woods. That one is a request from a village near the forest.”
“Beginners,” he murmured. “Who was in their party?”
“Let’s see…,” Guild Girl said. She licked her thumb and began paging through a sheaf of papers.
“One warrior, one wizard, and one paladin. All Porcelain rank.”
“Hmm. That’s fairly well-balanced.”
“They were here earlier… Just three people? They’ll never survive!” Priestess’s panicked squeak contrasted sharply with his measured assessment. “I mean, we had four, and…”
She went pale and trembled slightly. She gripped her sounding staff tightly.
Cow Girl looked away, the uneasy feeling growing sharper within her.
Why hadn’t she realized it sooner?
He meets an adventurer on her first quest…an adventurer…
She should have understood what that meant.
“I tried to explain to them…I really did. But they insisted they’d be fine,” Guild Girl said uncomfortably. She obviously knew Priestess’s story.
But at the end of the day, adventurers were responsible for themselves.
Priestess looked up at him imploringly.
“We can’t leave them! If we don’t help them…”
His answer was immediate. “Go if you want.”
“I’m taking out the mountain nest. At the very least, a hob or a shaman should be there.” Priestess looked at him vacantly. There was no guessing at the expression hidden behind his helm. “In time, that nest will grow, and then things will be worse. I have to nip it in the bud.”
“So…so you’re just going to abandon them?!”
“I don’t know what you think I do,” he replied with a steady shake of his head, “but this nest has to be taken care of. As I said, you can go to the forest if you want.”
“B-but then you’ll face the mountain nest alone, won’t you?!”
“I’ve done it before.”
“Ahhhh!” Priestess said, biting down hard on her lip.
Even from where she stood, Cow Girl could see Priestess shaking. But her face did not suggest fear.
“Of course I’m coming!”
“You heard her.”
“Oh, thank you both so much!” Guild Girl said, bowing her head to them in gratitude. “No other experienced adventurers ever take on goblin quests…”
“Experienced, my foot,” Priestess muttered sullenly, glancing down at her Porcelain tag. She looked like a pouting child.
“Ha-ha-ha… Well, you know… So, both of you are going?”
“Yes,” Priestess said with a grudging nod. “Over my objections!”
He was always prepared, so with the administrative work done, they were set to depart immediately.
They were going to pass by Cow Girl on their way to the door. There was no other way out of the building. What should—or shouldn’t—she say? Confounded, several times she opened her mouth as if to say something.
But in the end, she said nothing.
“I’m on my way.” He was the one who, as always, stopped directly in front of her.
“What? Oh… Yeah.” She gave a sure nod. There was a long pause before she managed to squeeze out two more words: “Be careful.”
“You, too, on the way home.”
Priestess nodded as she went past, and Cow Girl answered with an ambiguous smile.
He never looked back.
Cow Girl went back to the farm on her own, pulling the empty cart, and tended to the animals without a word.
As the sun climbed slowly but surely into the sky, she lunched on a sandwich in the pasture. And when the sun had slipped back toward the horizon, she ate dinner at the table with her uncle. She couldn’t quite taste the food.
After dinner, she went outside. A cool wind born from the night brushed against her cheeks. When she looked up, she could see the whole vast sky with its many stars and two moons.
She didn’t know much about adventurers or goblins. She hadn’t been in her village when goblins attacked it ten years earlier.
She had been at her uncle’s farm, helping with the birth of a calf. At her tender age, she didn’t realize it was just an excuse to let her play.
It was sheer luck she had avoided the catastrophe. Just luck.
She didn’t know what happened to her parents. She remembered burying two empty coffins. She remembered the priest saying something, but all she knew then was that her mother and father were gone.
She remembered being lonely at first, but she no longer felt it.
And there was always the if. If she hadn’t fought with him that day. If she had asked him to come with her…
Maybe things would have been different. Maybe.
“Stay up too late, and you’ll have a hard time tomorrow morning,” a rough voice said over the sound of footsteps in the underbrush.
She turned and saw her uncle, with the same concerned expression he’d worn that morning. “I know. I’ll go to bed in a little while,” she promised, but her uncle shook his head with a frown.
“He has to take care of himself, but so do you. I let him stay here because he pays me, but it would be better if you kept away from him.”
She was silent.
“I know you’re old friends, but sometimes the past is just the past,” he said. “He’s not the same. He’s out of control.”
You should know that.
Cow Girl just smiled at his admonishment. “Maybe. But still…” She looked up at the stars. At the two moons and the road that stretched beneath them. There was still no sign of him.
“I’m going to wait a little longer.”
He didn’t come back that night.
It was noon the next day when he returned. Then he slept until dawn.
The day after that, showing no hint of fatigue, he joined Priestess in venturing to the southern woods. Cow Girl heard later that the rookies never returned from the forest.
That night, she had that familiar dream again.
She never had apologized.