by Shadow Buffalo-walker
2012-13 NEBADOR Writing Contest, first place
audio (7MB) narrated by Bethany Ford, the voice of Buna in the audiobooks
This story takes place after Buna and Misa bid farewell to Ilika and the others near the swamp in Book Three: Selection.
Misa and I didn't mind walking to the capital city with Neti and Toli. I knew our paths would go different ways very soon. Neti kept saying things about us all sticking together. I could tell Misa didn't like the idea, and I didn't like it either. My guts told me we should split up right then, but I didn't say anything just to be nice to Neti. Then Toli got all dorky at the city gate and it cost us more to get in because of it. I should have listened to my guts.
By the time we got to the marketplace, I was glad Neti wanted to get a room at the inn before doing anything else. Toli was like a little puppy and did everything she said. Misa and I waved good-bye. When they were gone, we both laughed our heads off and took Tera to a stable. The bakery still had some tarts so we got a bunch and sat down on a log to eat our dinner.
"Boots!" Misa said. "I'm gonna get boots!"
We stayed at the witch's house for three days and Misa got her boots. I'm glad we didn't stay any longer because the religious orders were getting weird. I kept seeing things I could spend my money on, but then I thought about how I had to drag everything around while I looked for Noni. I could either buy stuff, and a wagon, and horses to pull it, or I could look for Noni. I decided to look for Noni.
We visited the old shack and the corral. I think Tera remembered it, but didn't like it when I put her inside and closed the gate. She was glad when we left the next day.
Farmer Keni sold us bread and cheese. Kora remembered me, and said she was happy there and had forgotten all about reading and writing and stuff. While we were there a boy came down the road, and they ran up to the goat pen together. Misa smiled. I think she likes boys.
After that we went into the hills and all the way down to the hot springs. I showed Misa the little camp by the stream, and the sandy place where Noni camped once, but we didn't find Noni anywhere. Misa loved the hot springs, and so did I. She asked if we could stay there forever. A part of me almost wanted to say yes.
We traveled north to Lumber Town, and some other little towns. Misa asked everywhere about her parents, but never found them. Lumber Town had one little store made of new logs and boards, but no inn yet. No one was trying to rebuild her old burned house.
Winter was coming and snow started falling around Lumber Town so we headed south. We visited the house with good people where all the refugees had gone, and they gave us dinner after we carried firewood, but all the people we remembered were gone.
At the little fishing village called Fish, we had fish stew one more time, and camped in the trees, but didn't go onto the beach south of there. I told Misa why it was so dangerous. She shrugged and wanted to go that way, and if we didn't have Tera, I probably would have said ok. I remembered how hard it was to keep Tera under control when she was scared.
On the road south, I saw some sheep for sale by an old shepherd who was gonna live with his son. It was really tempting. I asked if he knew Noni, and he did, but hadn't seen her in months.
When we got to Port Town, I told Misa about all the thieves, and she spotted them as soon as we walked into town. I was glad I hadn't bought any new clothes, and Misa's boots already looked old, so they didn't bother us.
We stayed with the baker all winter. Misa and Kit were like two peas in a pod, and she didn't care that he could hardly talk. He could laugh and play, and that was all that mattered. He showed her his mother's grave. After he curled up to take a nap, I pulled Misa away and showed her the cave by the beach.
I asked all around Port Town if anyone had seen Noni. One sheep shearer remembered her, but hadn't seen her since last spring.
All winter we worked for the baker, and on our days off we walked to little towns and farms and asked about Noni. Sometimes people knew her, but hadn't seen her in a long time.
The next summer we walked all over the kingdom, except the mountains where Noni couldn't go with her wagon and flock. No one in the eastern part of the kingdom knew her, and thought it was weird that a girl would be a shepherdess without a man. One person in the middle of the kingdom remembered her, but hadn't seen her in years.
Even in the western part, people were starting to forget her. I figured out that no one had seen her since about when I first met her. I started to wonder if maybe she was just a spirit that had floated away into the clouds after me and Ilika's other students had said good-bye and gone down to the hot springs. That now seemed a long time ago.
Misa was getting very tired of looking. She kept talking about Port Town, and the baker and his family, and Kit, and the hot springs.
I sighed and felt in my guts that it was time to let go of Noni.
We returned to Port Town, bought a wagon, twelve sheep, and lots of boards and nails. Misa asked Kit if he wanted to join us. He was confused for a while, but said yes when we told him we were gonna stay near Port Town and visit it often.
We took everything up the green valley and built a little house by the hot springs. The sheep loved the grass and started having babies.
I had forgotten all about Noni when one day, in the middle of summer, a shepherd's wagon pulled by a donkey came wobbling along the trail to the hot springs followed by ninety-three sheep.