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"What do you mean by that?"

I held my tongue for a moment. She was defaced, like the statue, but that wasn't what I meant. "She is a goddess. A temperamental goddess."

"I do not want to hear of such things. It offends Amaya to speak of other gods."

"Everything seems to offend Amaya," I said. "One must wonder why She suffers our existence."

"It is not our place to question," she said, finally coming to a stop on a gentle slope, near the water's edge. "This will do."

I nodded my assent, and set down my sack. It was a clear night, and a shelter would probably not be necessary. I settled down, carefully unpacking a few items, as Amina took the horse down to the water's edge to drink. My water skin was full. I imagined that Amina must have filled it when she wet down the rag she had used on my head earlier.

I carefully unpacked my shaving kit on a flat rock. How long had it been since I had admired this treasure? There could not be another one for miles upon miles. Perhaps there were proper barbers in some of the big cities to the east. In a place like Dardun, however, the idea was laughable.

I patiently sharpened my razor against a leather strap--back and forth, back and forth. The sun sank away behind the trees, his rosy fire dimming, dimming, and then gone. Amina didn't seem to want to return to me. She was sitting now, at the edge of the water, the horse at her side.

I splashed some water from the water skin on my beard, lamenting the lack of a proper soap cake. Steeling myself for an unpleasant experience, I carefully set about shaving off my beard. The process was agonising, but I knew I'd be happier when it was gone.

When my beard was no more, I used my boot to mix my whiskers with the leaves and dirt, so that no one would find them. I was fairly certain no one would come this way, but one could never be too careful. I staunched the bleeding on a couple of nicks along my jawline with the white styptic powder from my kit.

I cleaned my razor carefully, and set it aside. I then retrieved my polished bone comb from my bag. It would be a fine present for Amina, I thought, were I not about to take away her reason for needing it. I sighed heavily. I couldn't procrastinate any longer.

"Amina!" I called out. She glanced back, and even from this distance, in the dim light, I could see her expression darken as she turned to see me. She rose, and approached, the horse in tow.

"What have you done?"

"What does it look like?" I asked, fully expecting the hailstorm that was about to strike me. "Tie off the horse, and sit down."

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