The Young Daughter of the Goddess 6

Reeds were growing thickly all around. Beneath the sporadically visible water surface lay trees that had died decades ago. The intertwined branches formed a foothold, allowing them to walk through the reeds, but the moss-covered trees were slippery. A single misstep could result in more than just wet clothes.

“The baby…”

“Keep going.”

Tina hesitated, wanting to ask more, but Metion was focused on pushing through the reeds. He had wrapped the baby in cloth and secured it with a larger piece of fabric around his shoulders and neck. Despite his broad shoulders, it seemed uncomfortable, yet the baby managed to endure. Moreover, the baby wasn’t asleep. From earlier, its tiny hands had been wriggling.

Still, Tina did not press further. She worried Metion might harm the baby. Even if he had no reason to harm them, he might throw the baby into the water if she made unreasonable demands.

Eventually, they arrived at an abandoned watermill. Metion climbed up first and extended his hand to help Tina. Once on solid ground, she felt slightly relieved. The watermill was open at both ends, but the interior was quite spacious, with dense reeds blocking the opposite side. Metion sat against one wall, and Tina squatted down as well. Although the swamp was almost still, it felt as if the ground was slowly rippling. Perhaps it was because they had gone nearly an entire day and night without eating. Tina closed her eyes, feeling dizzy, then looked at Metion again. Metion was just in the process of taking the baby off his back and cradling it. He then held the baby under its arms, lifted it up to look at its face, and said.

“Your mother said you’re a girl.”

Suddenly, the baby burst into tears. Tina tried to stand up but managed only to press her knees to the ground and awkwardly looked at Metion. Metion glanced at her.

“You look like you might start crying too.”

“The baby must be hungry. Please…”

Tina clenched her teeth nervously until Metion stood up holding the baby. But the baby was handed over to her, wrapped in a bundle of cloth. As Metion stepped back and sat down again, Tina sighed and muttered.

“Anir, thank you.”

“I gave you the baby. Why are you thanking Anir instead of me?”

In her haste to nurse, Tina didn’t catch whether Metion was joking or being sarcastic. The baby quieted once it began to suckle. For a long time, only the sound of the baby’s breathing could be heard. Metion leaned against the wall, looking up at the ceiling. Through the gaps in the half-rotted beams, the sky was visible. It was morning, but the day was overcast, and the surroundings were dim.

Tina muttered Anir’s name under her breath. Anir was the goddess of artists. The goddess was said to love only those with talent, regardless of their social status. Even the lowest in Epherium, such as a dancer, was loved by the goddess if their dance was beautiful. No other god in Epherium would place someone considered mud or dust before those dressed in fine clothes and crowned with laurels. Except for the mad goddess Anir.

Anir, the goddess of the lowly, dancers, jesters, and minstrels, must have been with Tina last night. With hands scarred from boldly handling earth and stones, she would have guided her young daughter. Otherwise, how could Tina have rushed into the café where Metion was sitting?

The baby, having eaten its fill, dozed off, limbs limp. Tina changed the baby’s diaper using scrap cloth Metion had brought before straightening her back. She glanced at Metion as she tidied her clothes, a blush spreading across her face. A lady of nobility would not expose her breasts in front of a man, especially one who wasn’t a relative. With her concern for the baby alleviated, she remembered she was not a dancer. Metion spoke.

“Do you feel a bit more at ease now?”

Tina, without responding, hugged the sleeping baby. Metion laughed.

“Do you think holding the baby will prevent me from taking it back?”

“Why do you want the baby?”

“Well, let’s put it this way. Isn’t it easier to take a carrot than to prepare a rope, cart, and whip to steal a horse?”

Tina pondered briefly before speaking.

“Are you saying the baby is a carrot, and I’m the horse? Then what you want is…”

“That’s one way to put it,” Metion interrupted, and Tina said no more. Metion continued.

When Metion stopped talking, Tina didn’t continue either. Metion spoke again.

“I plan to take you to Pyroas, the land of sunflowers. A friend of mine lives there and owns a lot of land. He will give me a small farm. It’s better if it’s small enough to manage easily. We will build a house, buy horses, and get a mule. We can plant watermelons on the farm, which should be profitable. I’ve heard that watermelon farming is successful there. Or maybe figs would be good too.”

Tina blinked up at Metion, not understanding a word he was saying.

“When Jin grows up, we should get a pony. Let’s ride together to the neighboring farms. I heard neighbors share things easily there. We can share our watermelons and get wheat from them. Making watermelon jerky would be good too. I like watermelon jerky. By the way, can you bake bread?”

The more she listened, the more nonsensical it sounded. Tina widened her eyes and shook her head.

“Oh dear. Then ask the neighbors to teach you. By the way, I know how to make rocking horses. If the neighbor has boys, they won’t be able to resist visiting our house. Jin will be proud to lend them his rocking horse.”

“Excuse me, what exactly are you talking about right now…?”

Metion shrugged.

“I’m planning for the future.”

“But I…”

“Why? Don’t you want to be a farmwife? Would you rather remain the emperor’s favorite?”

He knew. He knew who she and the baby were, yet he had brought them here. Tina’s lips trembled as she asked.

“Are you an enemy of the emperor?”

“An enemy? I am a subject of Epherium. His Majesty the King is the father of all subjects.”

“Then are you His Majesty’s vassal?”

“Vassal… Well, my family does serve His Majesty.”

“Then why…”

“Why? Why didn’t I send you back to His Majesty and instead brought you here? Well, I’m curious about that too. But one thing is certain. I didn’t intend to harm you. Quite the opposite.”

When she fled from the man with the axe, the streets of the royal city were a maze, and the baby in her arms was crying loudly. She walked among the crowds, nursing the baby under a beggar’s cloak. She couldn’t contact anyone, and she couldn’t trust the guards at the gate. How could she know if one of them was a spy for the queen?

Returning to the streets after so long was frightening. The darkness was a trap, and the light was a snare. Those who looked at her all had the eyes of informants. Had she tried to hide, she would have been caught. The pursuers first searched warehouses and barns where people might hide. From the age of seven, she had learned to dance, and whenever she couldn’t bear the beatings and ran away, she was always found in such places. Despite staggering from exhaustion and hunger, she walked only in crowded places. Amid the crowds, her mismatched clothes and loose hair didn’t draw much attention. She picked up fallen apples at the market and discarded her beautiful sandals that got in the way, walking barefoot. For the first time, she was grateful for the calluses on her feet.

She walked all day without rest, but as night fell again, the number of passersby dwindled. There was nowhere left to hide. If she hadn’t met Metion at the café last night, she might now be a head severed by an axe and stuffed into some sack. And the baby too…

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