He would catch sight of a shadowy shape out of the corner of his eye and jump to attention, sure that it was monster which had escaped from one of the caves, only to discover that it was only a stump that he'd seen every day since he'd come to live on the farm when he went to investigate. Or he would trip over a rock that he would swear hadn't been there when it was light out, since he had gone through the unturned areas of the land with a hammer weeks ago to get rid of any large stones. Worst, at one point he pulled up what he thought was a weed only to realize that he'd misjudged his position and had just torn up one of his half-grown carrots.
He wished that he could leave the work he needed to do until the next day when he could see, but he just couldn't bring himself to. It didn't matter that the crops probably wouldn't be any worse for the wear if he left them unwatered for one day, that the weeds wouldn't choke their roots overnight, that the sweet potatoes which needed to be harvested wouldn't rot on the vine in under twelve hours. The farm, the field, were his duty, and the only thing in the world that he had to hang onto with his entire past a mystery to him. He'd let himself be lazy during the day, which meant that he needed to work twice as hard at night to try getting done before it was past midnight.
He was watering his carrots when a quiet voice behind him said, "Wasn't today the Harvest Festival?"
He whirled around, doing his best to hold his watering can like a weapon, but relaxed when he saw Sharron standing on the bridge leading into the wilderness. No wonder he hadn't heard anything; she moved as silently as the ghost the rumors said she was.
"It was," he replied, setting the can on the ground beside him and dusting the dirt of his hands. "I didn't see you at the celebration."
"I prefer to stay by the ruins." She approached him, her eyes flickered down to the watering can, then to the other tools he had leaning against the fence near him. When they returned to him he thought that he saw the faintest trace of curiosity in her usually expressionless face, although it could have been a trick of the moonlight. "I didn't think that anyone worked on the day of the festival."
"I didn't either, which is why I'm paying for it now." he said, with a small laugh.
"That isn't what I mean." In one graceful movement she knelt by his feet and reached out to touch the freshly watered soil, not seeming to care at all that the front of her white dress was being ground into the dirt. "I'm certain that none of the villagers are struggling to complete the work that they would have done today before it gets too late."
"Ah, well," he rubbed the back of his head, trying to think of a way to explain his feelings. "The villagers... none of them are farmers. I mean, Camus has his buffamoos and Neumann has his kokehohos, but monsters will mostly take care of themselves. The crops depend entirely on me. I can't just push that responsibility aside, especially not on a day that's supposed to be all about showing how grateful we are to the world for providing for us."
She looked up at him, and her face was as blank as a mask. "You respect our planet."
"Well, yeah," he said, not really sure how to respond to that statement. Wasn't that true of everyone? It was the whole reason they'd all gathered together that day, after all. He bent down beside her, and reached out to gently stroke a leaf with his fingertip. "I didn't know anything about the world when I first came here back at the beginning of the spring. I mean, I still don't really. But I've seen the way the crops respond when you care for them, and how they cling so hard to life even when the weather isn't on their side. Even the weeds want to flourish more than anything else. It's all amazing, don't you think?"
She stared at him silently for so long that he began feeling the urge to squirm under her gaze. He had no idea what she was searching for in his eyes, but she didn't seem displeased with whatever she found there when she finally broke eye contact with a small nod and rose to her feet. "It's time for me to return to the inn," she said, already starting to walk away. But she paused again with her back to him when her feet hit the path to the village. "I'll tell you this, since you know so little about the world: the people in the village may say that the festival is a time for respecting the harvest, but what they mean is that they want an excuse for a celebration. They are kinder to our world than the people in many places that I've been, but I don't know if there are any among them who truly care about it. Not as you do."
He blinked after her as she started to walk away, then suddenly his wits came back to him and he called after her, "Sharron, wait a minute!" He reached out to carefully remove one of his sweet potatoes from its vine, then shoved himself to his feet and trotted over to her. "This is for you," he said, pushing the potato into her hand. When she held it up to look at it he grinned and said, "You're supposed to give crops to your friends today, right?"
"Friends?" she repeated, and for a moment he wondered if that had been the wrong thing to say. He knew that she tried to keep distance between herself and the people in the villages. Then her lips curved into the slightest hint of a smile. "Then thank you, Raguna. For the potato, and... for what it means."
He only wasted a moment watching her walk silently away, the sweet potato still held in her hand, before turning back to his field. It was the day of the festival, after all, and the harvest wouldn't wait.