"The gardens are an indication of wealth, land inside the walls is expensive. The large village square is an indication of the status and well-being of the village as a whole. Mozany Gungwa has never had to sell plots of the commons to get through a bad stretch." Ice pointed at a bench and Dog set his chest down with a grunt. He'd been lectured about this part, and he and Zizi had had fun buying it all . . .
And there was Zizi tugging an old woman forward. Short and broad with the antique bronze complexion of a Tree, and the bright shining eyes she'd passed on to her granddaughter.
"Muby, this is Arfy Withione Hijr Alcairo. Dog, may I present my Grandmother, my Muby, Kunaya Bobnify."
Muby's eyes twinkled. "Arfy? I akashamisika sei murume akauya nezita rakadai . . . I vondered about 'Dog.' Now I know."
Dog could feel his face flush. Glanced at Ice. "Someone started it and it stuck."
Ice just grinned. "I refuse to believe I was the first."
"Muko an musikanzwa. Murue. Iye zveeno watova murefu."
Zizi nodded. "Muby says the naughty boy is even taller. I think it's more broader."
Ice sniffed. "You are a lot taller than when we met."
Dog grinned. Looked back at the chest and forced an expression of dismay. "Zizi, I bought this chest to hold your goods, but it is full. Will you and your Muby help me empty it?"
Razor sharp broad hunting arrows in bright steel. Three for every hunter, including the older teenagers. Folding knives, dozens, kitchen knives, silk scarves, spices. Something for everyone. Mostly small, so it would fit and could be carried. With a levitation spell.
The three little bottles of that wine, given to three childless women had them eyeing the men hanging around.
I think there will be more marriages in the village, real soon. Dog glanced at Rumakova, her eyes on Ridhe. Four at least.
For the headman, a custom made titanium boar spearhead. Five feet, from vicious tip to the cross bar. No haft. Dog apologized for the lack. "We have no proper Bobnify on the One World, and I would use no lesser wood."
The Chief nodded. Solemn, apart from the twinkle in his eye at the mock modesty of the custom.
And left over . . . "Muby, could you find a use for such a silly thing?" A shining copper fondue set.
Muby tapped her chin thoughtfully. "Could be, could be."
Then more detailed introductions. Rumakova's three infamous brothers were Mabiko (Festive), Mafuta (Fat), and Kurumidza (Hurry). As the names actually fit, Dog decided they must be adult names. Although Mafuta had a whole lot of muscles under not very much fat.
Bhuruu, Rumakova's mother was a dignified woman of advanced years. Blue eyes to match her name, she must have found a strong Halfer to marry, to have four children.
Or perhaps a Halfer father who lacked the fifth insertion. Assuming the research is right about that being where the selection effect genes are located.
He mentally kicked himself for falling into analytic mode, and got back to being social.
Two middle-aged men who turned out to be Zizi's uncles. Kunonoka (Slow) and Vakashinga (Brave). Apparently confirmed bachelors.
Dog eased back to Ice and kept his voice low. "Is it polite to ask how many ex-wives they have?"
"Not them. Don't look at the big stump in the middle of the square. An old sycamore, starting to die. Zizi's mother, Mia, spoke to the villiage Elders about it being time to cut it down and plant a new one. As she walked away, a huge limb broke off and fell. Killing her."
"Ah, and even her brothers were shunned?"
"Yep. Divorced with insultingly small parting gifts. They left for the city, and worked there for a decade before they returned with enough trade items to buy a lot and build a house for themselves. And still cannot find wives, not even second daughters who won't inherit their mothers' houses."
"The three childless women are eyeing them. Maybe they'll get lucky."
"I hope so. I love this place and it hurts to see so many elderly, and so few children. So . . . why don't we take a little walk?"
With bows, of course.
"Since this isn't the official wedding hunt, I could have brought a gun."
Ice laughed. "The more you impress them before hand, the more slack you'll get on the official hunt. While in theory you're supposed to feed the entire village from that one hunt, just a bite each will suffice if you've been regularly bringing in game."
Dog sighed. "With three arrows. Why three?"
"I think it's something in the human psyche. Look at all the stories. Three wise men. Three tasks. Three battles. Here the Mitzumo, the Forest Spirits always have three arrows."
"Ah. Yes, in Zizi's story about her Mitzumo, you walked out of the forest with three arrows. Really?"
"Pure accident that was how many I had left. But it fit a little girl's need for someone to save her and her grandmother. But the myth is why a hopeful husband has to prove he can support his wife, by feeding the village with just three arrows."
They walked between fields of ripening wheat on one side and an orchard of on the other.
Dog took a deep breath redolent of ripening peaches. The afternoon sun hot on his back. "I see why you like this place."
"Yeah. When I get homesick, it's right here, and days like this, that I'm missing." Ice glanced his way. "Does it remind you of your home?"
Dog shook his head. "No horses and cows. But then I lived in the suburbs, so I mostly saw them when we were on vacation." Speaking of people who have trouble leaving the job behind—months later. "And I still think you're an Earther spy."
Ice laughed and led the way into the forest.
"We generally walk in a kilometer or two or so, then go up wind. Thins out the deer population that wants to raid the fields." Ice sighed. "I really need to get back here and teach magic lessons. I've got all the Comet Fall fertilization and anti-pest spells from Wolfson. Now I need to pass them on to the people who need them."
"Oh . . . how about one-way pipes and hot pipes? Have you gotten those?"
"One. Way? No, damn it. If they can do what the name implies . . . do you know them?"
"Yeah. I'll show you. Are there many Trees with power? Here? How about lessons tonight?"
"Good plan . . ." Ice froze. Held up a hand. :: Have you used magic to locate game? ::
:: I haven't gone hunting for . . . well, since I started college. Let me see if I can . . . :: Dog choked faintly. :: My range is huge! ::
:: Did a bit of growing up since then? :: Ice was clearly amused. :: How about those yearling bucks over there? ::
:: Yeah. ::
Dog followed Ice's lead as he angled upwind, getting slower as he approached a small gully. The deer were on the far side, and Ice stopped at the edge of the brush that lined the gully.
Forty meters. No problem. Funny how Oners use the same spells aiming guns as I learned as a kid, with a bow and arrow.
Dog stepped silently to the side. Nocked an arrow. :: I'll take the one on this side. ::
:: And, go! ::
Both deer dropped. They scrambled down the gully, across the little stream and eyed their victims.
"Tender and juicy. Not as much fat as they'd have in the fall, but quiet nice." Ice grinned. "Now I'm sure you know what to do now."
Dog tried for dignity. "Certainly. I checked out all sorts of vids on grid. So let's do them."
And I'll bet I know more than you! But I'd better not show it.
"And these are nice little deer, but I wish we had friends along to help carry them."
Ice tsked, as he quickly finished gutting his deer and heaved it up to let the blood drain out of the body cavity. "Fifty kilograms each. Maybe thirty five of it meat. And we're barely three kilometers from home. You do remember the levitation spells, right?"
"Yes. Holding them for a three kilometer trek through dense forest? We'll see." Dog finished his own and hoisted it up.
Ice looked over the edge of the gully. "Getting them down will be easy, and I just might let you help me get mine up the far side."