Trevung voiced his displeasure to Gervung. “What is this place? It is little more than a shed.”
Gervung drawled back, “It is a roof over our heads. It is dry. We have more food to eat than we’ve ever had before. People treat us with respect.”
“No they don’t. They only pretend to respect us.”
Gervung turned to his younger brother with narrowed eyes, “Name one person who hasn’t treated you with the respect due a schoolmaster?”
“Schoolmasters are not as respected as the poorest and most ignorant bully who owns land.” Trevung shot back.
“Name one person who has treated you in such a way.” Gervung demanded thinking his brother was just being an ungrateful adolescent.
Trevung mumbled something.
“What was that? I didn’t hear you. Did you say nobody?” Gervung taunted.
“I said Elwa’s papa.” Trevung shouted back with veins standing out in his neck. Trevung continued in a quieter voice. “And have you seen how they treat Devola because she has no papa for her baby?”
Gervung raised his eyebrows and ignored the painful subject of Devola. “Elwa?” Gervung blinked. “Elwa has been flirting with you shamelessly, and now, her papa complained to you?”
Gervung showed surprising wisdom for a man barely out of his teens himself. “Elwa is trouble. She isn’t interested in school. She only comes to school to pursue you. If her papa warned you off, you might be wise to listen to the papa. He may know his daughter better than you do. There are many young women who would be a better match for you. Take your time and look them all over. That is what I will do once I am settled here.”
“Are we staying here and teaching school then?” Trevung wasn’t sure he liked this idea.
“Do you have a better idea? Most people here are nice. We have nobody in the city. My father won’t see me, and we don’t know who yours is. We are fortunate to be here. Forget Elwa.” Gervung wanted to add something about forgetting the poor orphaned Devola too, but remembering his own unmarried mother he couldn’t force out the words.
Unknown to the brothers, Rue S’TO overheard this conversation as he walked home from visiting his father. Later, when the lamp was out, and he was in bed with Sabrina, he told her the whole story.
Sabrina concluded, “Yes, I’ve seen Elwa pursuing Trevung, and K’TO, and Jaun. I will teach tomorrow and speak to her. Gervung is right she is trouble.”
The following morning, Sabrina appeared early to walk to the school with Gervung. “Trevung, I’ll teach. Rue wants you to go with him today.”
Trevung didn’t need to be told a second time that Rue wanted him. He admired Rue who had adventures like chasing off wild dogs, building dams, pulling logs, and hunting. Trevung happily danced off to help Rue. Trevung’s day proved to be more interesting than he thought possible.
Rue led Trevung across the valley and up to a little knoll. “This is where the farmers think to build a house for the schoolmaster, but your brother may want a wife to cook for him. You will want to live close by. Our laws permit you to claim all the land that you can walk around in a day. Nobody has claimed the land to the west of here. Do you want to start at that rock and walk out a claim?” Rue pointed out a rock outcropping near the pass at the end of the valley.
Trevung could only nod at this offer, so the two men set off to scramble down to the creek, along the creek then back up the side of the valley, then just as the sun set, they returned to the rock Rue had pointed out in the morning. They made marks on trees or stacked stones as they passed to indicate that the land was claimed.
Rue talked as they went. “This isn’t the best farm land, but you have income from teaching. This is also the only place with so many trees. You can trade trees for the things you need. Beans will grow along the river.” As the day progressed, Rue subtly changed from pointing out the uses of the land to talk of other things. “Those flowers smell nice. Women like pretty flowers.”
The men walked on. Rue commented, “I’d build my house here. The breezes are healthier up off the valley floor and the land is level enough for a house with a fence. Of course, you won’t need a fence just now, but a woman owns and controls whatever is inside her fence.” Rue snorted and winked at Trevung, “Of course those fences tend to move outward over the years. I don’t remember where our fence was when I first married, but I’m certain it was not so close to my step-mama’s house.”
When the men came to a small ravine, Trevung asked, “Is there any use for this place? Should we cross or stay on this side?”
“What do you think?”
“Devola said something about her papa building a dam to catch water for drinking in a ravine. It served as a barrier to the mountain men. She said that when it went dry, the mountain men crossed, killed her family and gave her the baby.”
Rue heard Trevung’s sniff and caught the sparkle of water in his eyes before Truvung turned his head away.
“Let’s cross then. A basin of water is good. We are not so much in danger of having our lands taken as the mountain valley folk. It is a shame about Devola’s family. They were good people. Hau and I went to fight in the raid on them. We couldn’t do anything about her lands, but we stopped the forward progress of those brutes. She’s done well to work for others, and is trying to learn. She’s too young to be a mother and without family, but that is her lot in life. I’d like to see her settled well.” Rue hoped that Trevung would take the hint as to where he should look for a good woman.
The next day, Marina went with Gervung to teach school while Papa S’TO, Rue, Hau and a couple men who were eager to skip school, climbed the hill to Trevung’s claim. All day they cut trees. By the end of the day, a small hut stood in a clearing.
Rue winked at Hau when he noticed Trevung stacking the trimmed branches in a circle around the house to build a fence.
Trevung returned to teaching the next day. That evening he laughed to Rue, “Elwa’s papa does not think I am so bad. He gave me permission to visit his daughter.”
Rue’s heart sank.
Trevung kept to his teaching returning to his own hut at night. He promised to continue teaching until the mountain valley people returned home and Gervung would have only a few small children and their mamas for students. He didn’t say anything more about women, so Rue worried that he might choose poorly.
The day came when the rains stopped, the fields dried out and the mountain valley people prepared to return home.
Truvung visited the mountain valley camp. He noticed when Elwa stopped her packing and looked toward him. He walked on until he found Devola packing her employer’s belongings to leave. He took Devola’s hand and explained, “The mountain valley is too far for you to walk carrying a baby, and it is too far for your son to walk. Come to my house, and I will be a Papa for your boy.”
Devola’s face lit up at this awkward proposal. She placed her son in Trevung’s arm and took his free hand to let him lead her to her new home.