The shepherd’s death didn’t bother him, exactly — they hadn’t been what you’d call friends, and death had to come to everyone, sooner rather than later — but nevertheless he felt a certain sinking of the gut as they lowered the old man’s body into the ancient sarcophagus. The shepherd had had the dream, the visions, that had led them to this backwater planet, and they’d believed in them enough to follow him; what did it matter that the man died of malaria less than a year into the project?
“What now?” said the artist, head cocked a little to one side, as he wrapped up the perfunctory eulogy. There was water in his weak eyes. “Pack it in, or—?”
He shrugged and turned back toward the potato rick he’d been digging out before, Levi the sheepdog at his heels, After a moment the artist’s uneven footsteps started trailing after him. What else could they do?
He chewed on it in the fields, and in the evening went in and put on the old man’s robes. There was more water in the artist’s eyes when he came out from the kitchen with their sparse supper, but he’s blessedly silent.
He bit out a short, awkward prayer to the gods of the forest and Mother Drau who created the world; it’s all just words, but someone has to say them. Might as well be him.