I knew we had new neighbors when their son came home with mine on a bright spring afternoon just past Ostara.
“Dad!” my son called to me from the other side of the barn. “Come meet my new friend!” I called for them to come back to where I was splitting wood. David’s new friend was taller than my son. Not surprising given his species. We didn’t see many of his kind on the high plains. For some reason his people preferred forests, which frankly had never made much sense to me. Hooves and tree roots just seemed like a bad combination. The plains seemed much more logical. But what do I know? Everyone has a preference, and there is no accounting for taste.
David introduced his new friend. “Dad, this is Miles, Miles Fastfoot. Miles, this is my dad, Jason Armstrong.” Miles offered his and I took it, looking him in the eye and giving a firm shake.
“So you just moved here?” I asked.
“Yes sir,” the boy replied. “With my mom and dad and my little sister.”
“Will you be farming?” I asked.
“Yes sir,” he said again.
“I should probably come over and introduce myself to your parents. Farming is tough here.” The boy’s eyes slid away and his tail swished.
“Um, sure Mr Armstrong.” Miles replied.
“You guys go socialize for a bit. Let me know when you’re ready to go back, and I’ll saddle up and ride with you.”
“Okay,” he agreed, still looking a bit uncomfortable.
“Come on, Miles,” my son said. “I want to show you the chicken tractors!” The boys ran off, feet and hooves stirring up dust.
I didn’t know what was under that youngster’s skin, but I guessed I would find out. I stuck my head in the house to see if May wanted to come with, but she was in the middle of baking and said she would introduce herself another time.
A couple hours later, me on my saddle horse and David on his typically stubborn pony, we followed Miles back to his new home, David and Miles periodically racing and Miles clearly living up to his last name. I wondered which of his parents was the fast one. Centaurs took each other’s last names based on some system that must have made sense to them, but looked completely random from the outside.
Miles’ dad was big. Like the size of a plough horse. And he glowered when Miles introduced us, offering his hand only slowly, and letting go quickly.
“Mr Armstrong says farming is hard here,” said Miles.
Rogan Fastfoot raised his eye brows and said, “I’m a master gardener, I think we can manage.”
I wanted to ask if he had ever gardened in dry conditions, but I kept my mouth shut. Advice given unasked isn’t appreciated and won’t gain friends. “Well,” I said, “if there’s anything you need to know about the countryside, I’m happy to help. My wife, May, is likely to drop by to say hello at some point.”
Rogan just nodded and scooped his son toward the house. Halfway there he looked over his shoulder. “Nice to meet you,” he said.
The next few months were the usual intense level of activity that is normal for any farm during growing season. This year, David was big enough to help move the cows every day to their new pastures, and since it was not a difficult job, he was soon able to do it himself. He also helped May with the household garden, picking bugs, helping his mother lay a deep layer of leaves, kitchen vegetable scraps, and straw over the bare soil to keep it moist and healthy, and putting in seeds and the vegetable starts.
I saw Miles with him from time to time, helping him move the chicken tractors, and I wondered how his family was doing. May had visited and said that Teema – Rogan’s wife – was shy but very sweet, but they hadn’t really had time to get better acquainted. And May’s growing belly kept her from wanting to travel on horseback. In the lull between when everything was planted and the first harvest, I decided to go see how the centaur family was doing.
When I came upon Rogan, he was in the middle of a plowed field, leaning on a hoe, and looking even more dour than at my last visit. The field was largely bare of plants beyond some tiny shoots of corn. It was just past Litha, and our corn was knee high.
Rogan looked up at me and then back down at the bare dirt. “How in Chiron’s name do you get anything to grow here?” he groaned. I didn’t gloat. I dismounted and picked up a handful of dry soil, looking up at him from my crouch.
“My first year here was horrible,” I said. “May miscarried, nothing was growing. Winter. Well, it could have been worse.” Rogan looked stricken. He had a family to support.
“Miles has told me about your farm,” he said in low tones, looking down and away from me. Then he met my eyes. “Is there anything I can do here?”
I stood. “I don’t know yet, but let’s look at the place and see what you have. If there’s something you can grow that folks around here need, then you can trade. You might have to change how you do some things though,” I added. Rogan straightened his back.
“And how can I repay you for your help?”
I grinned and hoped this proud centaur could take a joke. “I could really used some help plowing the back 40.”
Rogan blinked and then burst out in laughter. “That I can do!” He offered his hand and I gave it a firm shake.
Copyright Sabrina Rosen April 2020