“One more thing: the hunters wanted the two of you to join them tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow? What about today?” Rowan asks.
“You should get your house sorted out first. That house is quite rundown, but with Tom working on it, it will make hospitable today.”
“We’ll do that,” he answers. I follow Rowan outside.
“I have to say, I’m quite surprised to see this many kinds of people there are in this village?”
“What do you mean?”
“Your ears are all different.”
“Oh, you mean that? That’s nothing special. We’re all just people. That’s just how it is.”
“So is there a way to tell what kind of ears one’ child will have?”
“Usually, the child shares the same kind of ears as the mother.”
“Usually? Are there exceptions?”
“Yes, sometimes the child has different ears. I’ve heard of cases where the child didn’t even have the ears of either parent.”
That quite mysterious. I wonder how the genetics work out.
“But isn’t it too early to think about children? We have to get our house fixed first.
“Yes, you’re right. Come to think of it,” I state, “since it’s our house, we should plan for your shop in the front. Good thing I wanted to keep the back door! So you can do whatever you fancy to the front.”
“I’m receiving way too much,” he answers.
“No, you’re not. Don’t worry about it — you are my fiancé. It’s just natural for me to support your ambitions.”
“Thanks a lot, Aster. I guess I need to get used to that.”
We arrive at our house. Tom is already waiting for us. He has several planks under his arm.
“Tom, I thought the door wasn’t locked,” Rowan says.
“Yes, it isn’t. I just didn’t want to be alone in the house with that condescending hag. My part for now is just boarding up the small cracks. Ruby is already breaking a hole in the wall in the far back.”
“Just like that?” I ask.
How do you break walls without heavy tools?
“Yes, as much as I dislike her, she received a quite a strong blessing from Therbea,” Tom answers, “while I’d like to say the blessings I received from Aevita and Therbea are just as strong, they just aren’t.”
“I heard you only received Therbea’s rare blessing,” Rowans says.
“Therbea’s rare blessing?” I ask.
“Therbea’s normal blessing is the command over earth. Their rare blessing is control over plants.”
“Isn’t that special?”
“It is special, but there’s hardly any use for it. I can make trees grow faster. The more blessing I insert, the faster it grows.”
“Is there something else you can do? Can you force a tree to grow, but can you while putting more blessing while still keeping the growth at a slower rate?”
“I’ve never tried. But why would I want that?”
“I image the lumber from such a tree to be much more resilient.”
“I… I’ll try that when I have the time. You sure have interesting ideas.”
“I don’t just don’t have the usual common sense or basic knowledge that everyone here has.”
“Like… when is someone considered of age?”
“Officially, you’re of age when you finish your pilgrimage. But people generally treat you like an adult as soon as start your pilgrimage. Since you’re asking, how is it where you are from?”
“Over there, they generally consider you an adult when you turn fourteen.”
It used to be different. I remember from history class, the age of majority shifted around a lot between twelve and twenty-one. The current age limit has only been in place for a few decades.
“So it’s just age? Are there no rituals connected to that?” Rowan asks.
“It’s not exactly connected to becoming of age, but generally there’s something when you finish compulsory education. In my case, I was going on a trip.”
“Compulsory education? You sound like a noble.”
“Me? A noble? I don’t think so. In fact, being a noble sounds like trouble.”
“Well…” Tom adds, “with you having a flying home, people will treat you as a quasi-noble. So you better get used to that trouble. Anyway, are we going in?”
“Oh right, let’s go in.”
We enter the house. From the outside, it doesn’t look as spacious as it is on the inside. At the back, Ruby is turning bricks in the wall to sand using her blessing. I can feel that sensation of a blessing radiating from her hand. After clearing the sand from the hole, she recreates bricks and puts them in a different orientation. Looking at the bricks of the same orientation, they form an arched door frame.
“There you are! I’ve already checked for you. The walls don’t have any notable cracks in them. You only need to fix some windows on the east side.”
“Stop poking your nose into other people’s affairs!”
“Whatever, get to work!”
Tom walks away to inspect the windows. Ruby finishes putting together the door frame.
“The frame is done. I’m about to open the hole in the wall. Can you prepare to move the flying home?”
“Go ahead, moving the shuttle doesn’t take that long.”
Ruby touches the wall again and the portion of the wall under the arched door frames turns to sand. She clears the sand and looks at me with an expecting look.
“Mittens,” I say, “dock the shuttle to the house!”
The shuttle start floating several centimetres over the ground and levitates towards the house. Reversing through the hole in the wall, there’s quite a lot of slack to all directions. The shuttle lands.
“I didn’t expect it to move that precisely!” Ruby says, “can you move it away again, I’ll make the frame a little tighter.”
“Of course, you heard her, Mittens.”
The shuttle moves a bit away from the house. After several minutes, Ruby finishes the adjustments. I have Mittens move the shuttle back in. There’s a gap of the width of about a hand in every direction.
Rowan hands me a ragged blanket, “since nobody will be using these anymore, I thought we could use it to seal the seam.”
“Thanks,” I get a knife and cut the blanket into parts and roll them up. Then I stuff the blanket rolls into the seam. We repeat the process with a second blanket. Just this with these, I cut one of them into halves and stuff the longer one over the gap of the previous layer in the seam. We add a third layer, just like the first one, and we’re done.
“I didn’t expect stuffing the seam would work this well,” Ruby says, “consider me impressed. I know we asked you before, but do you need anything else done?”
“We talked about that on the way here,” Rowan answers, “since I wanted to become a merchant, Aster suggested making the front of the house into a store.”
“Ah, you’d have to re-partition the house for that! Yeah, let’s do it now. Doing it later after you have fully moved in is going to be a bother.”
“Rowan, you decide how it should look, just remember to have a storage behind the storefront,” I say, “I’ll be checking on Tom while you do that.”
I walk to the bedroom, it’s at the back of the house to the east side. Tom notices me walking in and says, “I’m done with boarding up the window. I already have taken the measurements. In a few days, I’ll drop by and install the new window.”
“Thanks. If you allow me to ask this: have you always been on bad terms with Ruby?”
Upon hearing my question, Tom sighs and answers, “we used to get a long, before our pilgrimage. She keeps dropping by making fun of me for taking longer to finish my work! They call us the best in the village, but she acts like I’m not good enough.”
“You think so? If she truly thought you were beneath here, wouldn’t she just ignore you?”
“Ignore me? Why would she do that?”
“It hurts people a lot more if you simply ignore them. Not talking, not greeting, not even reacting. Just acting as if you were thin air. How would you feel about that?”
“That would indeed make me feel more uncomfortable…”
“Maybe she genuinely wants to help. But then I’m just an outsider that’s randomly guessing…”
“I… I’ll think about that. Anyway, do you have preferences about the bed? The one in this room is falling apart, so I’ll have to make a new one.”
“About the beds? I’ll just leave that to you.”
“Alright, I’ll do my best. I should have it ready by tonight.”
“I already had some wood prepared. I just need to cut and join it. It’s barely any work at all.”
Even though it’s several beds, he claims he can make them in such a short time. I don’t think he realizes how fast he actually is.
“I’m looking forward to it.”
I accompany Tom to the front door. The front area has completely changed. If there was the appropriate furniture, I’d say it’s the stereotype of a shop. Rowan looks at me with an expecting look.
“This looks great, Rowan,” I say.
“See? I said he’ll agree with you,” Ruby says.
“So this is going to be a store? I’ll make you some furniture for that!” Tom sounds motivated.
“Thanks, please keep that in mind for later,” Rowan answers, “necessities come first.”
“Now, it’s me who thinks we’re receiving too much,” I add.
“That’s just how things are in this village,” Tom answers, “unless we’re dealing with outsiders, we just help each other instead of dealing with money.”
“I hear you’ll join the hunters tomorrow, just hunt something big,” Ruby adds.
“I’m not making any promises, but I’ll do my best.”
Ruby and Tom leave for their respective workshops.
I get back into the shuttle to synthesize some micro-cameras with microphones. I install one camera at each outside door. Rowan and I end up idling the rest of the day in the shuttle.
A few hours later, it’s getting dark. Mittens informs me Ruby and Tom are approaching the house. Rowan and I open the door for them. They are carrying lots of wood with them. After bringing it into the bedroom, Tom immediately starts assembling the bed. Yes, one large beg. It seems I misunderstood, and Tom went ahead to make that oversized bed for us. Whatever, we’re engaged now, there’s no harm in us sharing a bed. While Tom is busy, Ruby leaves to get something. She doesn’t tell us what it is.
About half an hour later, Tom has finished putting the bed together. Ruby arrives with a large mattress and a pair of blankets and pillows.
“Consider this a housewarming gift from the two of us,” she says.
“Since we’re done here, how about we hit the pub?” Tom suggests.
“OK, let’s go!” Rowan and I answer.
The pub is just a few houses away.
“Good evening!” the bartender greets us, “that’s a rare sight, Ruby and Tom walking in at the same time?”
“Today’s an exception, Nobu. We just finished fixing their house.”
“I see,” Nobu turns to us, “I’m glad to have you in the pub. Rowan already knows this: for villagers, three mugs of ale or mead a night are free. If you want more or something fancier, you have to pay.”
“Alright, I’ll take some mead,” I answer.
“Some mead for me as well,” Rowan orders.
Nobu fills our mugs and puts them on the table in front of us. We toast.
“Three drinks sound quite arbitrary to me,” I state after taking a sip. The mead is quite strong. But with its sweetness, it’s still pleasant to drink.
“From what Granny tells me, it’s because in her generation, they used to have a person that would drink like a fish if they didn’t stop him. I still haven’t found out who she was talking about.”
Upon hearing that, Nobu shifts his gaze away, staring into the far. I guess it’s him. I take another sip.
We sit there speaking with the other guest. We talk about the village, the kingdom we’re currently in, and tomorrow’s hunt. Hunting in winter is quite hard, they say. When we finish our mugs, Nobu takes them and asks if we want anything else.
“Thanks, but I still need to get used to undiluted alcoholic beverages,” I answer, “can I get some watered mead, or juice?”
“Sure,” he answers. Rowan orders another regular mead.
After we finish our drinks, we return to our house to get ready for bed.