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Before I left the lake, I noticed some tall plants growing near the water’s edge with long, flat fronds. An idea popped into my head, and I gathered an armload to take back to my cabin.
I spent the rest of the day and part of the night weaving and shaping, pausing only to eat. In the morning I continued my work, obsessively determined to finish. When I finally did, I held both hats in my hands, a tired smile on my face. I put one on. The frayed edges dangled and bobbed as I moved, but the hat held together and didn’t poke my head.
It was already mid-day by the time I inhaled breakfast and made my way to Davin’s little outdoor work space. I found him bent over his table, cutting strips of hide with a knife. He looked up as I approached, and a smile broke out on his lined face.
“I was beginning to think you’d welched on our deal!” He set his knife aside.
“I was working on something,” I said and produced one of the hats.
“Well, what have we here?” He took the hat and examined it. “Fine workmanship, quite fine.”
He peered up at me, brown eyes studying my face for signs of a joke.
“I-I made it for you,” I stuttered, worrying that maybe he didn’t like it, or had no need for it. Maybe it was a stupid idea to begin with.
He pulled the hat over his thinning hair and dipped his head from side to side. “A fine hat, a fine hat. How could you have known I wanted one?”
“You did?” I grinned and fiddled with the brim of the other hat. “Well, I noticed everyone else had a roof to work under, and you didn’t. So I thought maybe a hat would be nice.”
He nodded, adjusted his hat, and said, “A more considerate person I never did meet. You’ve just made an old man’s day. Tell me, how did you get to be so thoughtful?”
“Um . . .” He might as well have asked me how to leap to the top of a tree.
He reached for my hand and patted it. “Never mind that. How are your new shoes working out for you?”
“Oh, I love them! Thank you, Davin. They’re so comfortable, sometimes I forget I have them on. Except when I kick pinecones, then I notice how much my feet don’t hurt!”
Davin laughed, the sound thin and wheezy. “You better watch it with the kicking, or your toes will start sticking out of the holes.” He laughed again.
I smiled and sat on a stump. “How long have you been making shoes?” This time, it wasn’t an effort to make conversation.
“Oh, not long. Not in the grand scheme of things anyway. I used to be a trader, you know. Back when I was young and handsome. Back before all this tribe domination and raiding nonsense. Those were peaceful times. I’d go from tribe to tribe, trading goods, visiting people. I loved it.”
“All the tribes?” I asked, having trouble imagining the peace he described. “Even the Zurbo tribe?”
His eyes looked far away, wistful. “Especially the Zurbo tribe.”
“Really?” Now his story sounded even less believable.
He eyed me and said, “You better believe it! I loved the ladies, and in my line of work, there was never a lack of them. There was one though . . .” His eyes lost focus and his face seemed years younger as he spoke. “She was magnificent. Raven-black hair, gray eyes like granite that saw right through me. Didn’t fawn all over me like the other girls did. I was handsome, you know.”
I nodded and grinned, eager to hear more of his story. “What happened next?”
“She wouldn’t have me!”
“What?” The story was a lot less romantic than I had imagined.
“She told me I was stubborn, selfish, and a womanizer. And she was right. But get this, she also said that, deep down, I had a good heart. Can you imagine that? All that from just one look at me.”
“I don’t know about that other stuff, but she was right,” I said, glancing down at my shoes. “You do have a good heart. And it’s not that deep down.”
“Hush, girl. If rumors start spreading about me, I’ll know it was you.”
I giggled and asked, “And then what happened?”
“Well, me being the stubborn fool that I am, I kept at it. Brought her things from the other tribes that she’d never seen before. She couldn’t keep them, though. Said captives weren’t allowed.”
I blanched. “She was a captive?”
He tapped my knee. “Don’t look so surprised. Captives had a bit more freedom back then. We talked, I told her sweet things, but I don’t know. I could never read her like she could read me. Then one day she told me I couldn’t see her anymore and that was that.”
“That’s it?” I said, disappointed. “You didn’t keep trying?”
“Of course I did! That’s what it means to be stubborn. But she wouldn’t come to meet me anymore. Never explained why.” Davin’s eyes cast down for a moment. “Then there was a new chieftain and they stopped trading altogether. I wasn’t allowed to visit anymore.”
“So you never saw her again?” I tried not to pout.
“Nope. But I do carry her memory around with me. I stole a kiss once,” he said, eyes sparkling. “We’d been talking, and the moon was full, and the moment was right. I went for it, and she didn’t stop me. Not right away, anyway. It was just a kiss, but still the best night of my life.”