Eres knocked on the door. “May I come in?”
“Yes.” Aaron’s voice came from the other side.
Inside the room there were remnants of a meal on the table. He sat on one of the chairs.
“Did you get some rest?”
“No. Too many questions on my mind.”
“Was the food okay at least?”
“It was fine.”
Eres walked over to one of the empty chairs and sat down. “Would you like to talk here, or see more of the village. In either case, I promise not to yell at you again.”
Aaron gave her a weak smile. “It’s okay. Let’s sit here for now. I am a bit tired, and more sightseeing is likely to raise more questions. I’d like to process what I’ve already seen and heard before dealing with more.”
“Very well. What would you like to talk about?”
“How big is this village?”
Eres felt her mistrust rise again. That was the sort of information that would be useful to someone planning an attack. But she had meant it when she had said she wouldn’t yell at him again. She wanted to get to know this man better, if only to discover whether he was actually a threat. She needed to gain his trust, which meant showing a little trust of her own. “There are several families here. Some single adults as well. Nearly everyone here comes from a family that has been here for generations.”
“Really? How old is this village?”
Eres had to think for a moment. “It was established in the early days after the great calamity. At least that is what I was taught.”
“To have survived so long. It must be quite a story.”
“Indeed. That’s actually why Jonon brought you here. Some among us are worried those stories may disappear. Jonon hoped you might help us saved them.”
“Me? Why? Surely there are some here who can help remember your stories. Why bring in an outsider?”
“That is the Moth’s position, but some others are less certain, believing we need a real storyteller here. Jonon thinks that’s what you are, and by bringing you here, the Moth would have no choice but to accept you.”
“It sounds like a story itself.”
“I suppose it is, but not one the Moth would want me to speak of, so please, let’s change the topic.”
“Of course. I’m sorry.”
“No need to apologize. You couldn’t know.” Eres did feel relieved that he was willing to move on, though. Ara would not want a newcomer to hear that tale.
Aaron was quiet for a few moments, lost in his own thoughts apparently. As someone she had met only today, what might be on his mind was hidden from her. She remained quiet so as not to interrupt, but it did feel awkward to sit in silence with someone she didn’t know.
Eventually, he brought his attention back to her. “Do you have any contact with other villages?”
Grateful that the silence was broken, Eres shook her head. “Not anymore. The last village we had dealings with was destroyed before I was born. To spare us a similar fate, the Moth at that time decided not to seek out others, reasoning that if no one knew about us, no one could attack us.”
“So that’s why your Moth is so resistant to having me here.”
“Indeed. And the Moth isn’t the only one. Many of us have learned to mistrust outsiders. This is part of the reason you must not wander without me. I protect the village from you, and I also protect you from them.”
“May I ask you a question?”
“I don’t see why not.”
“You said you traveled a lot. What is it like in other places?”
“I guess it’s pretty much the same everywhere. People surviving however they can. I haven’t been anywhere as isolated as this before, but suspicions are always high when it comes to someone from elsewhere. I don’t think it is as dangerous as you seem to think it is, but there are dangers. Not everyone means well. Like I said, that’s true everywhere.”
Eres had a hard time believing him. What he said did not fit with what she knew. But he didn’t seem to be lying either.
“I do have one more question myself. I know your Moth is going to decide whether I can stay, but what happens if I don’t want to? As I said, I don’t generally like staying in one place very long.”
Eres stared at him for a long moment, searching for words. “I can’t say for certain. If you don’t want to stay, she may let you leave. Or she may take that as evidence that you are planning to take your knowledge of us to others who will attack us. If so, that would not be good for you.”
“So… What will happen if she doesn’t let me stay?”
She stood. “Try not to worry about it too much. Moth Ara is a reasonable person who just wants to protect her people. Get some rest tonight. Tomorrow I will show you the rest of the village. Okay?”
Aaron nodded dumbly.
“Aaron, look at me.”
He did so.
“Get some rest. I was honest with you. And I am being honest now. That is the worst case. I don’t believe Moth Ara will treat you so harshly. Okay?”
He nodded again, a bit more convincingly this time.
“Good. Now get some sleep. This has been a long day for you. Do you need anything?”
His head had dropped and he appeared to be staring at his hands. “I didn’t ask to come here.”
“I know. Jonon was foolish. And Moth Ara knows that, too. She just wants to be sure the village is safe. I want to be honest with you, but I am sorry I was so blunt. You ought to know what you are facing. Work with me, and I will make sure you get through this.”
“Why help me?”
Eres took a deep breath. “We are a good people, Aaron. I hope you will see that. And I hope you will prove to be a good person, too.”
“How am I supposed to do that?”
“Just let us get to know you. If you’re a good person, we’ll see it.”
Aaron looked uncertain.
“Get some sleep. It won’t do you any good to fret. Good night.”
“Good night,” he muttered after her as she left.