‘Cousins are the children of your parents’ brothers and sisters,’ Omago explained. ‘Wasn’t that what you meant when you said “branch of the family”?’
‘It does sort of fit, now that you mention it. I’ll have to remember that.’
‘Do you ever have a chance to talk with them?’
‘I don’t talk in my sleep, Omago. Actually, about the only thing I know about my cousin is his name - and that’s probably only because there’s a waterfall up in the mountains that’s named after him. You have heard of “the Falls of Vash”, haven’t you?’
‘I’ve heard about them, but I’ve never seen them. Did your cousin make them, maybe?’
‘I couldn’t really say, boy. When I woke up this last time, the people around here didn’t speak any too well, so about all I could get from them was the name.’ Veltan paused and looked speculatively into Omago’s young face. ‘I think maybe that’s about as much as I should tell you for right now. After you’ve had some time to get used to what I’ve told you today, you can come by and ask more questions if you really want to.’
‘It might take a little while,’ Omago admitted. ‘Maybe I should be a little more careful with these questions of mine. The answers are kind of scary.’
‘You’ll get used to them in time, boy. Curiosity’s a good thing, really, but you have to be a little careful when you turn it loose.’
‘I noticed that,’ Omago agreed.
‘I thought I noticed you noticing,’ Veltan said with no hint of a smile.
As Omago matured, the local farmers became aware of his familiarity with Veltan, and they thought that it might just be sort of convenient. It was much easier for them to look Omago up and tell him about things than it would be to go up to Veltan’s house on the hill and tell him in person. Veltan didn’t really wave his divinity around, but still—
In time, it became almost like a tradition. During the course of almost every day, two or three local farmers would approach Omago and tell him things they thought Veltan should know about, and as evening approached, Omago would trudge up the hill to Veltan’s peculiar house and pass those things on to the local god.
Omago didn’t really think of Veltan as a god. It seemed that he was more a friend than some distant divinity. In time, he even came to enjey those daily conversations. It was a rather nice way to conclude each day, and he’d stop by Veltan’s house every evening, even when he had nothing to report.
The seasons turned in their stately march, and it seemed to Omago that the farmland near Veltan’s grand house moved in rhythm with those seasons. He’d heard that there were towns and villages farther to the south, but it had always seemed to him that cramming people together all in one place was just a bit ridiculous. His father’s farm covered many acres of land spread out over the gently rolling hills, and every crop had its proper place - wheat to the west and south, vegetables to the north, and the orchard close in just to the east of the well-shaded house. Some of the neighboring farmers seemed to think that shade-trees were just a waste of time and space - up until about midsummer, when it turned hot and the sun beat down on them.
The houses stood far apart in this region, each of the thatch-roofed homes standing in the approximate center of each farmer’s land. That seemed most practical to Omago. Daylight was a time for work, not for walking.
By the time he’d reached his twenty-first birthday, Omago had come to know all the local farmers very well, and he passed his assessments on to Veltan along with whatever those farmers had told him.
‘I wouldn’t really take anything Selga comes up with too seriously, Veltan,’ he said one evening.
‘Selga’s got a sort of a problem. He isn’t very tall, and people tend to overlook him. He really wants to be noticed, so he comes by almost every day to tell me about something - anything - that he wants me to pass on to you. All I have to do to make him feel good is to pretend that I think what he just said was terribly important and that I’ll pass it on to you the first chance I get, and assure him that I’ll tell you that he was the one who brought it to my attention.’
‘That’s sad,’ Veltan sighed.
Omago shrugged. ‘Everybody’s got problems of some kind, Veltan. It’s nothing to get all weepy about. People come, and then they go. You know that, don’t you?’
‘You can be a very cruel person sometimes, Omago.’
‘I don’t make the rules, Veltan. All I do is follow them.’
‘How’s your father been lately?’
That startled Omago. No matter how hard he tried to conceal things from Veltan, his friend always saw right through him. ‘He’s not getting any better, I’m afraid,’ he replied sadly. ‘Sometimes he can’t even remember his own name. He keeps asking for mother, though. I don’t think he remembers that she died last year.’
‘I’m sorry, Omago,’ Veltan said with great sincerity. ‘I wish there was something I could do to help him.’
‘I don’t really think you should, Veltan. I think father’s getting very tired, and if we keep him here, it’ll just make him more sad. Why don’t we just let him go? I think that might be the kindest thing we can do for him.’
The following spring Omago was in his orchard when a vibrant woman’s voice came from just behind him. ‘Why are you doing that?’
Omago, startled, spun around quickly.
‘I’m sorry,’ the woman apologized. ‘I didn’t mean to frighten you. Why are you picking all those little green apples?’ She was quite tall, she had long, dark auburn hair, soft green eyes, and she wore a blue linen dress.
Omago smiled. ‘Apple trees always seem to get carried away in the spring,’ he explained. ‘They want to have lots and lots of puppies. If I don’t thin out the baby apples in the spring, there won’t be any of them much bigger than acorns when they ripen. I’ve tried to explain that to my trees, but they just won’t listen. It’s awfully hard to get a tree’s attention, particularly in the spring-time.’
‘You’re Omago, aren’t you?’
‘That’s what they call me.’
‘You’re quite a bit younger than I thought you’d be. You are the same Omago people come to when they want to let Veltan know what’s happening, aren’t you?’