My answer came from an unlikely place.
“Mika Food is a very sad food. She broke. She needs to put down her roots, lift up her leaves, and let the light heal her.”
I… don’t think I’ve ever heard something quite so profound from this dryad’s mouth. While I choose an appropriate response, I stare in wonder.
“Mika will be traveling with my caravan, under my protection, while she… ‘lets the light heal her,’” the Arbitrator interposes, “I will care for her personally.”
“Can we say goodbye?” I inquire. Despite everything, I truly feel that she is a friend, and only wish her well.
“The girls already have. You may not. She felt so cornered by your treatment of her that this town seemed a better place to be. Think about that.”
Those are some tough words to swallow. I only ever meant her well. “Can you at least tell her that I wish her well? And… I think of her as a friend… and I’m sorry she felt that I wasn’t her friend…” I feel a bit empty with those words alone, but I suppose it will have to do. They definitely don’t transmit the feelings of regret I have in making her feel that way. I honestly just thought that we were always having fun.
“I am the Arbitrator of Gaia, it’s my job to help other both integrate into other cultures successfully, as well as understand them. She will understand that you meant nothing but the best.”
I… Don’t know why, but that broke something in me. “Thank… Thank you…” I croak out before my throat tightens up and I can’t talk.
Dubhe comes over and hugs me. She really is fluffy, soft, and comfortable. I stand there like a pole before finally giving into the comfort and relaxing into her hug.
And I cry. I really don’t want to, and I really didn’t want to cause all of this. I really didn’t want to cry.
Then that idiot Lilia comes over saying, “oh, I get his tears, yum, such good food…”
Dubhe tries to push her away with one arm but gave up rather quickly. Turns out you can’t stop determined vines. So I end up being consoled by two very not human girls. Well, consoled by one… tasted by the other? Definitely a strange sight, thinking about it.
“Okay.” I finally shimmey out while gently pushing them off me. I take a deep breath. “Sorry.”
“You can trust me.” With that, the Arbitrator shows us out of the building, and then the town.
At the gate, Glen stands just outside, nodding to us. As we exited, he hands me a metal spear, some hemp-like clothes, and a bag that appeared to have some metal cooking supplies. The man is impossibly hard to understand, but I think he says something about not carrying around the dead. I suppose that makes sense. Wearing bearskins made of bearfolk when going to visit them might not be a good idea.
I thank him, and his wife before coming to a stop at the front of the gate.
“Uh…” I look around. I don’t want to wander aimlessly and I have no idea where the Ursine Library is located.
“Darling? Your wife will guide you. Just listen to what we tell you, and you’ll be fine.” Putting one clawed hand on her chest, the other on her hip, and puffing out her meager chest, she makes a grand gesture.
It was so perfectly planned, I can’t help but laugh. “Okay, ‘my wife,’ you can have this victory, where to?” I had been married before in my past life. I am just hoping this time it will be better. I just need to remember that the little things aren’t worth fighting over. Honestly? Not knowing where to go is a little thing. She can have this win.
Dubhe looks around with some uncertainty for several seconds, before motioning Lilia over. The two whisper back and forth for a few minutes before Glen calls out.
He points in a direction and claims, “north.”
Dubhe looks, nods, and points to what would then be west?
Maybe I should have won this one.
What have I gotten myself into? No. Goddess, what have you done with my life?
Thanks for the support! I am in your care! Next week is a short-ish epilogue, and and author’s note. If it works out, I will also post the prologue to the next ‘book’ as it were. Thanks for reading! Epilogue sets the stage for the next book, and is somewhat lewd. I don’t think you will expect what results from it though.