For the next few months life on the farm was uneventful for Thort and his family. The work was hard but it was getting easier as they got used to it.
Lem enjoyed playing with the animals and have the run of the farm. He especially enjoyed going out with his father and Styg to mend the boundary fences. Styg and Marza did not seem to mind him being near them so, little by little, Lem lost his painful self-consciousness and let down his guard somewhat. Once one of Styg’s neighbors came up to the fence where he father and Styg were pounding in fence posts. Styg and the neighbor got to talking while Thort continued to work. All of a sudden the neighbor’s eyesight fell on Lem who was sitting in the cart nearby.
“Didn’t know you ran a hotel for Rats, Styg,” the neighbor said off-hand and spit a heavy brown stream of viscous fluid over to his right side. A little of it dribbled thinly from the corner of his lips. “What does the missus have to say about that?”
Thort’s ears were burning. He could have picked that man up and thrown him headfirst into the next sector. His broad back continued working as thought the neighbor weren’t there.
“Well, you know,” Styg answered slowly, “we needed the help around the farm… Both Marza and me are getting on in our months and…”
“How did you both sit in church with us decent folk,” the neighbor asked seriously, “with an abomination in God’s eyes on your property?”
“Well, we don’t get to church as much as we used to,” Styg answered.
“Well, maybe you should,” the neighbor said testily. “Maybe God would look more favorably on your farm.”
Thort thought the neighbor’s words sounded like a veiled threat and wondered whether Styg felt the same or not.
The neighbor touched the brim of his straw hat and walked back down the hill to his fields. Styg waited until the neighbor was well out of earshot and then mumbled to himself, “Damn him. What gives him the right to stick his beak in my affairs?”
Thort stopped working a moment, wiped the sweat from his brow, and looked sympathetically over in Styg’s direction.
“Well, those fence posts aren’t gonna pound themselves into the ground, are they?” Styg said.
By the next month Styg and Thort had mended all the fences along the borders of his property, reshingled the barn and the house, seeded the fallow field, laid down a drip water irrigation system, and pretty much everything else Styg was able to think of.
One evening Thort asked Styg whether he took his family on a short trip to visit a friend. “What friend?” Styg asked suspiciously.
“A guy I met at the general store that day I went to the village to buy supplies,” Thort answered. “His name’s Kivo.”
“Never heard of him,” Styg said. “Where’s he live?”
“Just outside of village 437,” Thort answered.
“But that’s three days walking from here,” Styg said. “How long you gonna be gone?”
“That depends on whether or not you can spare us a drac for our wagon,” Thort said. “With a drac, we can be there and back in three days; otherwise, it’ll take us seven days.”
“Well, it’ll take you seven days then,” Styg drawled, “‘cause you ain’t taking my drac.”
Thort thanked him for giving him the time off. He told Styg they’d leave the next morning after Evanor served them a nice big breakfast and be back ready for work on the morning of the eighth day. Thort went back to the barn to tell Evanor and Lem to pack a few things, they were going to visit Kivo and his family first light tomorrow, and Lem was going to have a friend to play with.
Styg grinned slyly, walking up the stairs. Maybe things were going to work out after all.