Friday, December 1, 2006


The wind off of the lake attacked Alena’s black hair, tangling the ends into a long rope down her back. She pulled her cloak more tightly around her neck, the wolf fur tickling her bare skin. The leggings she had taken from her dead husband’s trunk kept the wind off of her legs and gave her a warmth she had never known when standing by the water in winter.

“I need to begin somewhere,” she said. Her words blew away before she could hear them. She looked out onto the lake’s surface. All she saw was a deep black. The moon had passed over the mountain peaks a while ago now. It was deep in the middle of the night. The entire village lay in their beds, no doubt sound asleep with untroubled dreams. She had the decisions to make that would affect them all, but they trusted her to do what was best for them all. She had done well over the last three moons, on her own, after the early death of the man that had ruled the village for fifteen years. She wished she knew why a strong man who had only lived thirty three years would die quietly in his sleep. It made no sense that she could see. But his death had ended two wonderful years of marriage and a secure and happy life.

Now, she had to make a choice. She had inherited a small but rich village and its resources. Since she and Konrad did not have any children that she could hold the property for until they reached their majority, Roman law required that she remarry to hold her property. Celtic law allowed her to inherit and even though Roman law usually did not allow this, the governor of the Noricum region liked to keep the peace by giving in to certain native customs, up to a point. If she took a new husband before the anniversary of her husband’s death, she could continue to minister her holdings. She just needed to marry someone of her same social class or higher, so anyone she already knew was out of the question.

She spent the last three moons organizing the village and assuring everyone she would take care of them. She was glad she already had a good relationship with everyone. She knew most of the village people by name from the times she ministered to their ailments or gave them salves or teas to help them through their bodily distress. She had even delivered several of their children. It didn’t take them long to fall in love with each other.

Konrad had brought her to them two years ago when she was sixteen. Both of her parents had died somewhere in Asia Minor. Konrad brought her the news, telling her the details so quietly that she had to ask him to speak up. His gentleness surprised her in a man so large. He spent the entire spring and summer in the inn near her home.

Towards the end of the summer, Wolfram showed up at her door announcing that Alena’s father had promised her to him in marriage. No one believed him, but he was insistent, coming to her daily and trying to badger her into marrying him. A large estate was at stake. Wolfram owned the holdings next to the one owned by Alena’s parents and he wanted to extend his wealth. He told Alena flat out that he wanted Crabapple Farm and made no attempt to woo her to his wishes. He was used to getting what he wanted, by persuasion, stealth or just taking it.

Alena quietly told Wolfram no every time he asked her to marry him. She told him no every time he told her she would marry him. The last time she told him no, he had grabbed her arms and shook her, whipping her head backwards and forwards, all the time screaming at her, that she would succumb to his wishes. His dark hair hung over his enraged filled eyes adding to his crazed look.

Next thing he knew, Wolfram found himself lying on the floor, a huge bruise blossoming on his jaw. Konrad stood over him, quietly telling Wolfram that if Wolfram ever touched Alena again, Konrad would kill him. Wolfram crawled out of Alena’s life that night and she hadn’t seen him again.

That same day, Konrad offered to marry her, with no strings attached. She would continue to own her parents property and could install overseers of her own choosing. And he would not impose himself on her physically. She need only join him in his village and they would return twice a year to visit her holdings. She had agreed.

By the time they had reached his village of Deepshade, she trusted him completely. When winter was over and spring blossomed in the mountains she was deeply in love with Konrad and they had become husband and wife in all things. They had returned to her holdings for her seventeenth birthday and found them flourishing, quiet and stable.

They only saw Wolfram once from far off. He stood looking down at them from his hill that overlooked her house. He stared down at them and she felt she could feel his hatred rolling down the sides of the hill like a boulder trembling towards them. But he left her and her property alone and she thought of him no more. She and Konrad returned to Deepshade, content and happy, to pass another year.
With one moon left until her eighteenth birthday, they made plans to travel again. Konrad spent his days supervising the packing as they intended to travel the region so Alena could see some of the world.

He traveled out across the lake to reach Juvavum twice before their trip was to begin, to gather supplies they would need for their journey. He had ordered them new wardrobes on his first supply excursion along with the covered wagon she was to travel in. On his second trip, he went to check on his orders and to stage them in the city.

They would leave Deepshade by boat, as usual and pick up horses on the other side of the lake and continue to the city. They would then overnight in Juvavum, and leave from there with their entire caravan. They would not see the village perched above the edge of the lake with the Alps at its back for a whole year.

Konrad had come back from the second trip to the city over the mountain top. He said he needed to check on the salt mines before they left for so long a trip. He had seemed very quiet to her that night. She had asked him if all had gone well and he said it did. Nothing unusual or out of the ordinary had occurred. But she did not believe him. He ate a particularly light evening meal and only drank well water, instead of his usual bowl of beer.

They went to bed shortly after all was dark, with each village light extinguished and all of the fires damped. She whispered her love for him and he answered with his everlasting adoration, then he rolled over and was soon snoring. In the morning, he was dead.

She was stunned. She walked out of the house and into the square and stood there quietly until one of the village woman placed a shawl across her shoulders. Then, she collapsed to her knees and began to sob. One of the men went into her house and came back to the center with the news that Konrad was dead and cold in his bed.

And so Alena’s lovely world ended. Now, people expected her to take Konrad’s place in their lives. She was expected to make decisions for the benefit of several hundred people. A girl of eighteen who always had some one else take care of her was going to protect over two hundred people here and another seventy people at Crabapple Farm.

Her mourning of Konrad in the moon span following his death was genuine. She cleaned his body and clothed it for viewing. She did this alone, whispering to him the entire time, thanking him for the life they had shared and the love he had given her. She scrubbed the trestle table in their hall and waxed it until the wood glowed in the warmth of all of her polishing. She draped it with her best tapestry then called his closest friends to carry Konrad from his bed to the table.

On the third day following his death, he was ready for viewing. Everyone from the village came to view him. They passed through his hall in a single line, each touching him and saying their goodbyes. The men thanked him for his kind and wise rulership. Many women and children cried quietly, knowing that he had called each of them by name.

Over the next few days, outsiders braved the lake crossing to pay their respects. The Roman Governor, Victorius, arrived on day six after Konrad’s death. His visit caused an uproar, putting the village in a panic. He was unexpected and a suitable place for him to spend the night had to be found. Normally, he would stay at Konrad’s house, but it was inappropriate for him to sleep in the house of the dead. Only immediate family was permitted to remain with a dead person. Victorius ended up recrossing the lake before night came and after telling Alena that she must marry again before Konrad’s death day anniversary if she was to keep her holdings together.

On the seventh day, Alena rested. She sat at Konrad’s shoulder holding his cold hand. She laid her head on the table next to him and slept. She dreamt of herself with white hair and five young children gathered around her knees looking up at her as she told them stories of the places she had seen in her life. She awoke the next morning when Balder the Druid touched her arm.

He had come for Konrad’s body. It was now time to start the dismemberment process to remove Konrad’s head from his body. His body was be taken into the mountains on a wooden gurney and burned on a bonfire. Balder the Druid then took Konrad’s head, peeled back the skin, scraped off the flesh, removed the internal contents and placed his skull in the sun to bleach. This process took an entire moon’s cycle.

Over this past month, Alena had painted Konrad’s skull with spirals and circles and leaves, flowers and power animals. Today, she had placed his finished skull in the charnel house to rest with his ancestors. And now her life must continue. Today was the last day permitted for open mourning. At sunrise tomorrow, she would be required to come out into the light of day and begin again. Life must go on.

She would now have nine months in which to find a suitable husband. A husband she could stand in her bed, a husband that would deal fairly with the people and a husband that Victorius would approve.

She had no idea where to begin to look for a husband. Perhaps she would ask the advice of Balder and some of the village elders. That made sense to her. Balder in particular had been out in the world in his younger years before settling into a life of spirituality here in the quiet recesses of their little world. With this decision made, she walked the path from the edge of the lake to her empty house and her empty bed.

In the morning, the house was abuzz with voices. A fire burned in Alena’s fire place in her room. The smell of roasting meat reached her nostrils and she felt hunger for the first time in many months. She rose up from under her pelts, pulling back her unruly and tangled hair. She needed a bath. She needed food. She needed to get moving again. As she had these thoughts, Marta entered her room with a steaming bowl of stew. The round, red cheeked woman smiled at Alena showing her a mouth with missing front teeth.

Leni, Marta’s twelve year old daughter, followed her mother into the room pulling the copper bath tub. She dropped the end of the tub with a clang and giggled. Marta pulled a stool next to Alena’s bed and put the bowl of stew on it. She then pushed Alena forward in her bed and grabbed the pillows. She fluffed up the down pillows and stacked them behind Alena’s back and pressed Alena’s shoulders into them. Alena sat herself up straighter just in time to take the bowl from Marta.

As Alena spooned venison, potatoes and carrots into her mouth, Marta and Leni carried buckets of hot water into the room and poured them into the cooper kettle. By the time Alena was done eating, the tub was full. She put the bowl down, pulled back the covers and stepped onto fresh pelts on the floor. She wondered how she had managed to sleep through all of the changes that had taken placed in the house this morning.

Alena patted across the room, pulled her nightdress over her head and climbed into the tub. Marta came back into the room with lavender and rosemary sprigs, which she tossed in the water. Leni came in with more wood for the fire. Marta piled the wood in the fire place and stoked the fire until it was blazing. Then, she shoed Leni from the room and closed the door behind them.


Alena leaned back in the water, resting her head on the back of the tub. She took deep breaths of the steamy scented water and relaxed. After a half hour, Marta came back with the light lavender soap that Alena made. Marta began soaping a cloth and washing Alena’s back. She then placed her hand on the top of Alena’s head and dunked her under the water. Alena came up sputtering and laughing. Marta lathered up Alena’s hair and dunked her again. Leni came back in with fresh warm water and rinsed Alena’s hair.

Alena stood and Marta rapped her in a clean soft woolen towel. She had Alena lean over the tub so the water could be rung from her hair and then her hair was wrapped in a smaller wool towel.

“Get yourself back in bed and relax while we clean up this mess, mistress.” Marta was very bossy.

“When I am done with this I will come back to comb out that rat’s nest in your hair.”

Leni giggled as she scooped buckets of dirty water from the tub and carried them from the room.

“Marta, I can comb my own hair.”

“You will do as you are told. When your strength is back, you can do for yourself again.” Marta gave Alena a sharp look. “You have lost too much weight. You will never get a good husband if you do not have any meat on your bones.”

“Yes, I suppose you are right, Marta.” Alena did as she was told and got back into bed.

“You need to be healthy for yourself, mistress.” Marta took the towel from Alena’s hair and took the towel Alena had worn. She pulled the bed pelts up to Alena’s chin and smiled at Alena. “Konrad would not have wanted you to waste away. That would not honor his memory.”

“I understand, Marta. I will not do myself any harm.” Alena leaned back into the feather pillows and closed her eyes. When she next opened them, all signs of her bath were gone from the room. She must have dozed. Marta was back with broth and a chunk of bread slathered in butter.

Alena got out of bed, put on a fresh nightdress and sat on the stool Marta had placed by the quietly burning fire. As Alena ate her bread and drank her broth, Marta gently combed out her hair. Alena felt barely a tug on her scalp; Marta was so easy on her. After getting all on the tangles out and smoothing the strands, Alena turned her back to the fire so her hair could finish drying.

While Alena sat by the fire, Marta and Leni stripped the bed, taking all of the bedding out side to air. With the bed empty, they covered the leather mattress cradle with fresh rosemary and pine needles. The room began to smell of the fresh woods. Alena was beginning to feel alive again. A clean body, a full stomach and the duties of everyday life were reviving her.

After Leni had braided Alena’s long black hair into two thick ropes, Alena changed into clothes. Marta pronounced Alena fit to be seen in public again. Alena laughed at Marta’s audacity and understood that she was trying to get her to feel slightly normal again. It was working.

Alena left her private room for the main hall. She loved this room. While it was quite small by comparison to other halls, even the one at the Crabapple Farm, it was bright with light from windows cover in glass that most other halls could not boast. The people who occupied the room were happy and jolly, laughing at each others’ jokes and helping each other with their work.

When Alena walked into the room, the people stopped what they were doing and turned to smile at her. She walked slowly around the room, checking what each person was doing. They showed her their work, pointing out details and explaining why they did certain things. After speaking to everyone present, she went out into the central town courtyard.

This was the central part of town which was shared by all because this was the one spot in their small surrounded town where the sun shown longest and strongest. In the very center of the town circle, a forward thinking person had placed a round bench generations before. It was used by people wishing to gather in sun rays and soak up the noon time warmth. Alena took advantage of the empty seat, knowing the town had left it so for her first day back to them. She sat there until the sun took its afternoon trip over the mountains at the back of the town.

The sun sent red and orange dancing lights across the water’s surface as it left for the day. And like blowing out a candle, the sun was gone in a breath. Even in summer, when the sun went down it got cold since the town sat right on top of the lake.

Alena silently thanked the town for this gentle re-emergence back to the everyday. But she knew it was over when she saw Balder and two men and two women approach her from their houses. She rose to greet them and walked silently with them back to her house. It was time to talk and plan and they knew she needed their help.
Alena sat at the head of the table. Balder the Druid sat to her right. He had left his tools at home and had dressed in a simple undyed woolen floor length tunic. The hem was unfinished and he had no embroidery anywhere on his clothing. He had pulled his long blonde hair back and tied it in a bundle at the nape of his neck. The one gray streak that ran from scalp to tips was barely noticeable in the light of the room. If it weren’t for the tattoos on his face, hands and wrists, he would look almost normally. Well, except for the wild look in his eyes. If you didn’t know him, he’d be quite scary, which Alena supposed was the point for a Druid priest. He never smiled, he just quietly stared. Until he had something he felt he must say. Then, he spoke in a low rumbling voice that vibrated through your chest and made you hang on his every word. His wisdom was well tried and found to be true. Alena was glad he was here.

Next to Balder sat Helmut and his wife, Ulrike. They were the oldest people in the village and older than anyone else’s Alena knew anywhere. Helmut was seventy two and Ulrike was seventy. They both had been born in this village. Helmut had left the village at the age of sixteen, to travel and make a fortune. This was not very unusual. But Ulrike had left right behind him because she could not live without Helmut. She was fourteen, dressed like a boy and stayed one step behind Helmut during the three years he was seeking his treasure. In a port city in Asia Minor, when Helmut was nineteen and Ulrike was seventeen, he discovered her when she could no longer hide her womanhood. Helmut rescued Ulrike from a group of men who had discovered her, too. He killed all five men, married Ulrike to her hearts delight and brought her back to Deepshade. They had been here ever since.

On Alena’s left sat Ebba and her twin brother Detlef. Ebba and Detlef oversaw the running of the saltmines and they did it so well that their village was permitted special privileges because the mines were so profitable. Unlike many people in the world, especially anyone working on a farm, the people of Deepshade only worked five days a week instead of the more normal six or seven days a week. This was all due to the efficiency of jovial Ebba and the friendly Detlef and they were loved and admired by the townspeople for their abilities. And they were both married to devoted partners who took care of the home fires in their communal home.

Alena looked around the table and felt she was armed with a smart group of advisors. Marta brought each of them an earthenware bowl of beer and placed a platter of cheese in the middle of the table. She then went of to the fires to leave them some privacy.

“I have no idea where to begin with this venture.” Alena knew these people would prefer to deal with this in a direct manner. Marriage for someone like her was a business matter. She had been lucky to fall in love with Konrad, but that didn’t happen often for people of property. She just hoped that whoever she ended up marrying wouldn’t disgust her too much.

“We have nine months in which to execute this project,” said Ebba. “That’s long enough to grow a child. Surely we can manage to find you a suitable husband.” Ebba grinned as she said this.

Detlef laughed.

“You are skinny but not too homely.” Detlef laughed again and was joined by Ebba. “I think we could find someone that would be willing to take you.”

Alena grinned back at them.

“Yes, but where will we find this person and how will we get him here?” Alena asked.

“We will, quite simply, send out messengers with messages,” said Balder. He took a sip of his beer. He looked at each of them in turn, nodding at each of them.

“That is quite simple and I see nothing wrong with the basic idea,” said Helmut.

“A very simple plan,” said Ulrike. “The question now is who do we send the messages to?”

“Perhaps we could write a general message that says we have a wench who is not too homely looking to marry and if you are interested in her riches, show up at Deepshade on All Hallow’s Eve.” Detlef got an elbow in the ribs from Ebba.

“Well, it could say something like that. And we could write it on many parchments but not put on any names. Then, we pick a few trusted messengers that will go out in the world and look for men that fit what we want.” It seemed that Detlef had already thought about this despite his silliness.

They all looked at Alena. So far she thought they made sense.

“That sounds like a sensible idea,” she said.

“A couple of months of traveling around the area should yield a good selection of candidates for us to choose from,” continued Detlef.

“You mean for Alena to choose from don’t you, Detlef?” asked Ebba.

“Well, yes, for Alena to choose from but I think we should help.”

“I would definitely need your help to choose.” She smiled at them. “I couldn’t imagine being married to anyone other than Konrad, so I will need your help to pick a partner.”

“What we would need to do is make a list of what we are and are not looking for in a man to come into our lives.” Ulrike, despite her romantic teenage years, was very practical. She had helped her children choose their mates and she had done quite well for all ten of her children.

“Excellent idea, my dearest,” said Helmut. “I suggest we all go home now and think about what kind of traits we want. Alena has done enough for her first day back with us.”

“She needs to rest some more to get those roses back in her cheeks.” They all stood as one, which caused them all to laugh, even Balder.

“You will come back here tomorrow night for the evening meal,” said Alena. “After we have eaten, we will make a list and start to write the messages.”

“Agreed,” said Detlef.

“Get back to be and have a snack. Fatten yourself up for the fall slaughter.” Ebba laughed heartily at her own joke, joined by her brother. Helmut and Ulrike shook their heads as they left holding hands.

Balder waited until Ebba and Detlef had gone, too, before he spoke to Alena.

“I know you understand how important your marriage will be to the entire town,” he said. He looked Alena in the eyes and did not look away or blink for several heartbeats.

Alena felt like she had stopped breathing while he stared into her. She thought he was about to say something very profound. Instead, he took her hands in both of his and gave them a squeeze. Then he left, too.

Alena looked around the room. It felt very empty right now. All of the servants except Marta had bedded down a while ago. Marta came over to Alena and ushered her into Alena’s room. Marta helped Alena remove her clothes and put her nightgown on. The bed had been remade. A bowl of milk sat on the stool next to the bed. Alena crawled under the covers and drank the warm milk. Alena felt relaxed and comfortable. She lay back on the down pillows and was soon fast asleep.


The messages had been written, the qualifications defined and the messengers sent on their way. The final preparations had finished out a full week of seven days. Alena, Balder, Helmut, Ulrike, Ebba and Detlef had taken care to consider the needs of everyone at both Deepshade and Crabapple Farm. Alena was grateful they had considered her feels a great deal in the matter.

The messages were all the same:

We are seeking an unmarried man of elevated station to marry a woman of equal rank, just past the age of eighteen, with the holdings of Deepshade and Crabapple Farm. The marriage must take place by the next Harvest Moon. The management of the two holdings is to remain in the hands of the young woman and this will be part of the marriage contract. The qualified man must be at least eighteen years of age and no more than thirty five year of age, of able body and mind, with property of his own and with no previous issue. Interested parties should arrive at Deepshade on Midsummer’s Night.

They wrote out fifteen copies, five for each of three messengers. They chose three brothers for this mission, Karl, Gebhardt and Gisbert. Each man was in his early twenties, the descendants of one of the town’s founding families and with great stakes in the outcome of the process.

Gebhardt and Gisbert were fishermen. Their boats would be commandeered by younger cousins eager for the opportunity to prove themselves capable. Karl was a hunter and the town’s woodsman. He could get away at this time of year without too much ill effects on the town and his duties. The woods took care of themselves at the end of winter.
The town’s best horses were readied and provisioned for a month long trip. Each man would also go with a pack mule carrying leathers bags of Deepshade’s finest salt to be given to prospective grooms as gifts.

Gebhardt was sent east where he would encounter families that have had a greater Roman influence on the native peoples. He would find men who were Romanized Celts. This was also the territory where Victorius had his governor’s seat in the town of Noricum, the center of the district. Here they might find someone both suitable to the town and the governor. Victorius would after all have to approve the union. And if they did not choose a man from this area at least it appeared that they tried to find one.

Gisbert was sent west into the more Celtic areas, where he would meet people with more in common with the people of Deepshade and Crabapple Farm. These would be people that were more used to women who ran and managed their own property and whose customs would be most similar to their own.

Karl was sent south below the Alps. He was already known to these people from his hunting and trading trips in that direction. He knew of several men who might be interested in forging relations to the north and while these men were fully as dark of hair as Alena herself, Celtic blood ran deep in their veins. They might be Roman by law but they souls remained wild.

Now all that remained was the wait for the return of the messengers and their reports of who might be interested in their proposal. Now life must go on and daily chores attended to.
The Moon of Winds was on the wane and the village expected the return of Karl, Gebhardt and Gisbert any day now. Everyone was anxious for their return to find out who had been interested in their offer. This had been a mild winter, so travel was not as difficult as usual. Balder the Druid said the weather was auspicious for a good outcome.

Gisbert was the first to arrive back in town. He rode down the mountainside with a big grin on his face. The back of his pack mule was laden with packages. He was greeted by one and all with great cheers when he announced that all of his scrolls were accepted by five very eligible men who were quite eager to vie for Alena’s hand in marriage. All of the men knew of Crabapple Farm and Deepshade. Several had known Alena’s parents.

Gisbert was unpacked, bathed and well fed before he was called to Alena’s hall to report to the town’s council. He explained that he was well received throughout the region and he was able to find five men that qualified for the plan without difficulties. He was wined and dined by each appropriate household. He delivered the gifts of salt to each agreeable man who accepted with obvious delight. Each declared the quality of the salt the best they had seen and knew what a precious gift it was. They each gave Gisbert small tokens of their intent to bring back to the village and promised to arrive at Deepshade in time for the Midsummer Bonfires.

Gisbert listed the name of each man he had given a parchment to and described the locations of their holdings and the extent of their wealth.

Balder the Druid noted the details in their village records and the group thanked Gisbert for his efforts and good luck in completing his task so quickly and so well.

Two days later, Gebhardt rode into town after the sun had dropped below the mountain peaks. No one was in the village center to greet him as everyone was at their evening meals. He stabled his horse and mule, removed their packs, blankets and harnesses and brushed them down before seeking someone to announce his arrival to.

As his own house was dark, he assumed none of his brothers had returned before him. Their house was next to Detlef and Ebba’s family home, so he knocked on their door. It was answered by one of the many children that ran amuck in the household. It was a young girl who giggled as she ran from him. She fell into Ebba’s lap, tugging on her mother’s skirts. Ebba patted the girl on her head as she glanced at the open door.

Ebba waved Gisbert into the room and called loudly to the masses that he had arrived on their doorstep. Gisbert saw that Gebhardt was seated at their trestle eating from a deep wheat bread trencher. The brothers smiled at each other as Detlef’s wife, Cordula, ushered Gisbert in and sat him at table next to his brother. She placed a trencher filled with venison stew in front of him and one and all encouraged him to eat before speaking of his travels.

While Gisbert ate and drank his fill of beer, several of the men and women went along with Gebhardt to stoke the fires in the brothers’ home and prepare a bath for Gisbert. Some others had gone to various other homes to pass the word that Gisbert had returned. The excitement of his return spread quickly and it was announced that all had gone well, but as the hour was late, he would make a full report on the morrow.

Gisbert was permitted to sleep late the next morning and was called to a meeting for the noontime meal. He gave a similar report to the one given by Gebhardt. He gave gifts; he received gifts and was well received. The difference in his report was that Governor Victorius put forth two candidates chosen by him. Gisbert met both of the men and found neither of them wanting, which was a happy development as they did not wish to alienate the governor. Another five men’s names and their locations and gifts were added to Balder’s list and tally.

The entire town was particularly eager for the return of Karl. Everyone was very excited by the excellent outcome so far. Spring was waking in the area. Small blooms were poking their heads through the dark brown earth. Crocus, Catchfly and Phlox were making themselves known all along the edges of the mountain paths and pastures. Several young animals had been seen frolicking in the woods with anxious mothers looking on. Promise was everywhere in the air.

Men began going back into the mines to prepare for the new year’s digs. Tools were brought out of their hay beds and polished. Wagon wheels were inspected and wagon beds checked for their stability. Oil supplies were checked and lanterns cleaned of their winter debris.

Women cleaned out fireplaces, careful to keep the embers from the Winter Solstice fires burning. The ashes from the fireplaces were placed in the communal storehouse to be used later in the season to make the new batches of soap and to add to the urine to bleach the wool fabrics that would be made after the first goat shearing of the spring.

Fur pelts and down pillows and mattresses were placed out on bushes and fences to be aired and beaten and brushed. Dirty rushes were swept from houses and added to the pile that would be used for the fires of Beltane as kindling. The streets were also swept of debris and everything began to look fresh and cheerful.

It was mid-April and a full week and a half since Gisbert’s return when Karl finally entered the village. He came by boat across the lake and he came empty handed and with a gross red welt on his cheek. He looked tired and worn. His clothes were dirty and ripped in several places. The town’s people gathered around him and several men helped him home.

Alena was called to minister to his wounds after he had bathed. Cordula brought him bread and cheese and his brothers poured him several bowls of beer before anyone asked him to tell his story.

The council sat around him in his own hall, with his brothers next to him and several other friends there too. It was a crowded group, but a concerned one. Each person present waited patiently for Karl to begin. He was not known for excessive talking so it took him a while to begin. He cleared his throat several times and seemed too embarrassed to begin.

Alena leaned forward and touched one of Karl’s hands.

“Karl, how is it you came by your injuries?” she asked in a quiet voice.

Karl looked into Alena’s eyes then looked down at his hands.

“I was attacked the day before I was to enter Juvavum as I rode on the main rode.”

There were gasps from several people.

“Who would attack you there, in the open?” asked Detlef. A scowl crossed his normally happy brow. He looked quite ferocious.

“I passed a section where the trees came close to the roadside.” Karl cleared his throat again and took another gulp of beer. He rubbed his neck where a bruise could be seen.

“From both sides, I was jumped by four men on foot, dressed plain and their faces covered by scarves.” He shifted in his seat. “A fifth man stood off to the side and watched as the others pulled men from my horse and beat me.”

“This attack sounds planned,” said Helmut.

“It seemed so. When I woke, I lay in the road and the horse and mule were gone. There was no sign of my attackers.”

“These injuries you have here are all from this attack?” asked Ulrike.

“It seems so. I have no clear memory of receiving them all, for which I am grateful.” Karl grinned a bit, and then grimaced as the pain in his cheek affected him. “After slowly rising from the ground bit by bit, I managed to walk into the city to a friend’s house. He bade me to stay the night and had me make a report with the magistrate. He sent out patrols to search for the bandits. A group of thieves so close to town made everyone uneasy.”

“Was no sign of them found?” asked Ebba.

“None.” Karl shook his head. “I felt I needed to come back here the next day and let you all know I had lost everything except the promises of three men to come for the suit in the summer.”

“Another three prospects?” asked Alena.

“Yes and very eager to meet you, they are.” Karl smiled at her.

“We will take their names and other information tomorrow,” said Balder. “You are to get to bed and rest. None of the other things matter.” He rose to leave and everyone else followed him out of the house.

There was plenty for everyone to talk about in front of their evening fires as Karl slept and recovered from his ordeals. Some in the village wondered why all of a sudden a band of outlaws showed up in the area and attacked only Karl. They thought it mighty convenient that it should happen now at this time. There had been no attacks of this sort in the area for many years.


The next day, the group met for the third time to hear and review the report made by Karl. He told them that he found three men willing to consider having a wife that would continue to own and manage her own property. He found all other men that fit their criteria unwilling to consider her financial autonomy. They had become too Roman in their thinking. But the three who had agreed seemed very eager and agreed to meet at Deepshade at the appointed time. They had presented Karl with rich gifts to bring back to Alena. He was sorely upset to have lost them to brigands on the road.

Balder made note of the new names and their estates and their gifts. Even though the articles were lost to thieves, they must still be acknowledged and thanks sent for all items given. Karl left to attend to his duties and catch up on his work. He promised to bring back news of the berry fields in the upland pastures. Many huckleberry and boysenberries would be needed for the coming guests.

The council now began their plans for the Midsummer festivities. They would need to find lodging for the prospective grooms and any retinue they might bring. Helmut and Ulrike agreed to cross the lake and speak to their counterparts in the town of Zell on the Lake. While Zell also lay near the lake as Deepshade did, Zell was a much larger town because it did not sit between the lake and steep mountains. The people of Zell would be happy for the additional and unexpected trade.

The next two months passed quickly. When tank you messages were sent to the thirteen men who had shown their interest, a request was made that each of them would send word ahead of when they would arrive. Each responded in agreement.
In the first week of June, the messengers began to arrive. The town received notices from each of the thirteen men. Seven days before the Moon of Horses rose in the night sky, the men began to arrive. It had been planned that none would be presented to Alena until all had arrived and they could meet her together. Each of the men came with only a few retainers and no family, but bearing more gifts.

Three days before the full moon, all of the men had arrived and were installed in homes in Zell. Helmut and Ulrike went to Zell to greet each of them on the first day of their arrival. After all of them had arrived, Balder the Druid went to Zell and brought all of the men together in the hall of Zell’s mayor, Count Radulf. Balder looked the men over and spoke to each in turn. He came back to Deepshade and announced that all of the men fit their requisites.

Preparations for the Midsummer Eve celebrations were complete. The thirteen men were rowed across the lake followed by many people from Zell, who would join in the festivities this year. Everyone gathered in Deepshade’s town center, milling about, waiting for the processions to begin.

Alena came out of her house, clothed in a fine, soft woolen dress, embroidered in greens and blues, with a curdle of fine silver around her waist. Seppel, the silversmith of Deepshade had spent the past two months making the fine scroll work. Alena’s hair and head were covered in a veil and was led by Marta and Marta’s sister Sascka, because Alena could not see through her headdress. Balder the Druid led the way, followed by Alena and her help maids and then the thirteen grooms and the rest of the people came behind in order of their age and importance. The procession went up the narrow town walkways to the mountain paths that led to the meadows above the town where the celebrations would take place.

It was mid-day by the time the entire group made it to their destination. Tables and benches had been set all around a central fire pit where several boar and deer had been roasting on spits since before sunrise. Fresh fruit and vegetables were piled in baskets on the tables. Barrels of beer and mead dotted the countryside.

Alena was led to the table at the head of the field and sat at the place of honor. She was flanked by Helmut and Ulrike on her left and Detlef and Ebba on her right. Balder was circling the bonfire site saying his prayers. The men who hand come to seek Alena’s hand were seated together at one table. A group of musicians and jugglers were entertaining the masses by strolling through the crowds. People were laughing and dancing, drinking and eating and everyone was having a great time, but still looking in Alena’s direction for when the important event would take place.

After everyone had their fill of the roast meats and drunk plenty for a jolly disposition, Balder called for everyone’s attention. He stood in front of Alena and announced the reason for their meeting here together beyond the normal Midsummer holiday. He called the men forward and asked them to line up as he had directed them previously. The men lined up in front of Alena and presented themselves as a fine group.

Balder began on the left and introduced each man to Alena, calling out each man’s name and home town. Each man bowed as he was introduced. After calling out the name and town of the last man, Balder asked Alena to rise. She stood at her chair. Balder shouted out her name and the names of her parents along with the place of her birth. Then Marta and Sascka removed Alena’s veil and several of the men gasped and murmured their approval of Alena’s appearance. It was clear to all that none of the men had expected her to be so comely.

Now, Balder brought his bag of runes forward to the men and asked each to reach inside and draw one out. The order of the runes that each man drew would be the order in which the men would first meet with Alena and they would begin to get to know each other. It was also the order in which they would meet with the council to answer the group’s questions and it would be the time for each man to ask his own questions.

Once each man had chosen his rune and the symbol written in Balder records, the festivities continued. Alena was the first to jump through the bonfire and then she was escorted back down the path to her house while those who wished to stay continued the party on through the night. Alena was glad she didn’t have to participate. She was exhausted and longed only for her bed.

Marta helped her remove her finery and Sascka packed it away to be used on her wedding day. Alena crawled into bed. Marta brought her a dish of chamomile tea. Alena sipped at the drink and began to feel drowsy. She finished the tea, placed the dish on her bedside stool and lay down into her pillows.

Soon she was fast asleep and dreaming of an army of suitors. She felt herself suffocating under the gifts and their attentions. She woke in the middle of the night shivering. She had kicked her blankets from her bed in her distress. Alena got up and went out to the guarderobe to relief herself. She could still see the fires at the top of the mountain burning large and bright even from this far away. Alena smiled at the town’s exuberance. Many marriages would be renewed tonight. She could not think of any new alliances that would be made. Very few of the younger people were ready to make a commitment this year. She felt sure most were celebrating on her behalf, hoping she would make a suitable and happy match.

Alena went back to bed and slept the night through with no more nightmares. She thought she remembered dreaming of a man she did not recognize, but the visions were wisps of thought that circled around her head like wood smoke. Despite waking in the night and her dreams, Alena felt refreshed in the morning. She felt ready to meet each of the men in turn and getting to know them a little bit.

She was to meet with each man for two hours for the first time, three men a day until she had seen them all. They were all hoping that after these five days were concluded that they would be able to narrow the field of prospects down to a more manageable size. Between Alena’s opinions and likes, the answers the men would give to the village elders and the wants of the men themselves, they all felt that a few of the men would be going home on their own within the week. Only those truly interested would remain.

Alena determined to dress simply and to arrange her hair in a common manner. She wanted the men to pay more attention to her and not to her appearance. She also decided to ask each of the men the same ten questions to make it easier for her to compare them. When she felt ready, she came out of her room to see how the meeting area was set up.

Two chairs were set in front of the fireplace where a small fire was burning to keep the chill at bay. A third chair was placed behind the one she would be sitting in. Balder would occupy this chair during each of the meeting to act as chaperone and to recall the conversations later to the other council members. A thick bear skin carpet covered the floor under the chairs. Bear was becoming quite rare in the mountains and the surrounding areas. The men would be impressed by the extravagance of placing the skin on the floor.

Marta had placed bread and butter on the table with a pot of clover honey. Alena sat at the table and broke her fast. She washed down the meal with milk tea. Marta remarked on how hearty Alena’s appetite was and she wondered allowed if Alena was as hungry for a new husband. Everyone laughed including Alena. She felt good to be surrounding by these people who accepted her so well. They would all be present during the meetings, too, although they would be pretending not to pay attention to what was being said and how the couple got along.

After finishing her meal, Alena took her seat by the fire and waited for the first man who could be her next husband to arrive. She did not have long to wait. Shortly after settling into her chair, there came a knock at the door. Everyone stopped what they were doing and watched as Balder open the door.
The first man Alena met with was named Alan. He was twenty years old but looked even younger. His blonde hair grew long down his back and curled like a little girl’s hair. He had sweet pink lips, rosy cheeks and soft blue eyes that were round and open. He smiled at Alena from the time Marta had let him through the door and ushered him to his seat. He wore soft pink breaches and a tunic in the same pink color. He reminded Alena of new blossoms in spring time. His body was slight and feminine. Alena had a hard time picturing Alan doing any physical labor. Without even speaking to him, Alena crossed him off of her list of candidates. He would be at home in royal house but wouldn’t stand a chance on a farm or as a salt mine manager.

Alena spent a half hour with Alan and at the end of that time he realized they would be better off without each other. He told Alena he was the youngest of five sons and needed to find a place in the world but he thought a warmer place would suit him better. He was a sweet boy who told her riddles and jokes and he even sang her a love song he had written as a tribute and a way to sway her into his affections. He left practically skipping out the door like a carefree young girl in pigtails.

Alena now had a spare hour and a half in which she did some sewing on her wedding clothes. She was working on her shoes. They were made of soft kid leather that was smooth and flexible. The shoes would not be much use for walking but they would feel luxurious and look beautiful. She had finished cutting the pieces out and was in the process of embroidering the top pieces. She was using thread that had sat in berry dyes for four days so that the reds were very deep red and the blues rich and thick. She lost track of time in stitching the patterns of flowers and spirals.

Before she knew it, the next man on the list had arrived. She jumped when he pounded heartily on the door, opened it himself and called in a booming hello. He came striding in, big and jolly, with a face full of reddish brown hair, beard and mustache, bushy eyes brows and a full head of kinky hair all meeting in one unending mat of fur. His eyes were a soft brown, the color of mushrooms. He looked like he enjoyed his meat and bread and washed it down with many horns of mead. His nose was red and bulbous also attesting to his love of drink.

He towered over her when he strode to the fire place and staggered slightly before flopping into the chair. He introduced himself as Craig from Westfarm Rivers. He pronounced her appearance as good for breeding, noting that she seemed a strong girl. He needed a hard working woman to raise his two young sons as their mother had died giving birth to the second of the two. When Alena said that prospective candidates were not permitted to have current issue, he laughed it off as being a nonsense rule that couldn’t possibly apply to him. He called for a dish of beer just as Balder came with Detlef to escort him away and explain why Craig was no longer in the running as a possibility.

Since this interview did not take very long either, Marta set the table for a leisurely and unexpectedly long midday meal. Every one sat down together to enjoy roast venison, carrots, turnips, and onions followed by an apple strudel with warm clotted cream. They had plenty of time to enjoy themselves and eat in peace. Most midday meals were rushed to get back to work to finish the day’s chores, but this week was a special situation and the normal work schedule was suspended for a while.

After a quite happy meal, Alena went back to stitching on her shoes. She was now edging them in red and blue, alternating the colors to make stripes along the tops. She took her time to make each stitch the exact same length and width. People would be able to tell the care with which she had made them.


When the sun was half way to setting for the day, the third man she was to talk with that day arrived. He knocked on the door with confidence and waited for it to be opened by Marta. Alena heard Marta gasp and she looked to see why Marta had made that sound. When she looked towards the door, Alena drew in her breath too. The man at the door blocked the light from the sun that normally shone in the doorway. He filled the space like a well built statue, the light of the sun causing shades where his well defined muscles dipped and rippled. He ducked so his head would not hit the top of the door jam.

Everyone stopped what they were doing to watch him. He said something to Marta that caused her to blush and to stammer some sort of response. Marta escorted him to the chair opposite Alena and asked him if he wished for some beer. He declined and thanked Marta for her offer. He then turned to Alena and asked her if he might be seated. She said yes and felt the urge to giggle.

This was Dierk of Iron Pines Hills, one of the most promising of the group. Dierk was twenty two, six foot two inches tall and broad and full of working muscles. His tunic, made of fine spun wool, fit tight across his shoulders and chest flaring out at his hips and thighs. His leggings were dyed a soft green, like the color of moss. His boots were sturdy thick leather that was worn comfortable from long use. His eyes were blue, his hair blonde, thick and smooth, tied back neatly at his neck. His face was shaved smooth, without the customary mustache.

When he spoke, his voice was deep, low and confident. He began by asking Alena about herself. He wanted to know about her life at Crabapple Farm growing up and about her parents. He seemed genuinely sorry for the loss of her mother and father and then for the loss of her husband, Konrad. He asked matter of fact information about the farm and she spent much time talking about the animals, produce and people that made up the property of that holding. He smiled when she laughed over the baby animals she had helped to deliver and her delight in how the stumbled and tumbled as they tried to walk.

Dierk asked about the town and asked her about her fellow townspeople. He asked particular questions about the number of houses and the people who occupied them. He asked about the fishermen and what they caught and how many boats they had. He wanted to know about the smithies and the carpenters. He marveled at how such as seemly small town could pack so much into such a small area. He listened intently as she explained how the houses were stack one upon another up the mountain side from the edge of the water. And he seemed fascinated by the operations of the saltmines. He commented that they seemed a very efficient and hard working bunch of people. He pronounced himself very impressed.

Their two hours had passed with Alena doing almost all of the talking. She had not asked any of her questions. Instead of knowing something about Dierk, she had told him her whole life’s story and all of the small details of both Deepshade and Crabapple Farm.

Dierk smiled at Alena as he rose to leave. He took her hand in his and squeezed it gently. She stood to walk him to the door. She felt comfortable next to him. As he left and walked down to the boats to cross the lake to the town of Zell, he looked back and smiled at Alena, his white, even teeth flashing in the setting sun.

When Balder the Druid came to hear about her meetings, she realized she didn’t have much to report. Two of the men were already scratched off of the list. Their gifts would be returned and they would be sent on their way. Dierk seemed promising but Alena realized she didn’t know anything new about him. She liked the way he looked and moved. He would be able to handle any hard work but she didn’t know if he would be wiling to do that work. He made her feel special by asking her question and listening to everything she said, but she realized this could be a ploy to divert attention off of him self for some reason.

They decided they would put Dierk down for another meeting where Alena would be sure to ask all of the questions. She could not afford to allow her desires to get in the way of common sense. This was a business matter and had to be handled in the proper way.

Alena would learn from this meeting and be more conscious of her behavior in the next interviews. Balder did not tell Alena of the meeting the council had with the men they met today. They did not want to influence her thinking or her opinions. They would wait to see which men she chose as final candidates before giving their opinions.
Alena decided to take a stroll around the town before the evening meal. She felt stiff with sitting all day long. A walk would help her sleep better and get rid of some of the pent up energy she had been storing now for several days, She was used to working and all of this idleness was wearing on her. She walked briskly, swinging her arms back and forth, clapping her hands in front of her and behind her. The air was cool and invigorating. She felt the blood in her cheeks and began to feel hungry. She was glad to get back home, have a light meal and then go to bed. Tomorrow, there were three more men to meet.

Alena dreamt about Dierk. She had gone to Crabapple Farm to check on the harvest. On the road to the farm, her caravan had been attacked by masked bandits and she was carried off into the woods. They had bound and gagged her and slung her over the back of a horse in front of one of the riders. They rode through the woods for several hours, branches from the trees whipping at her back, arms and legs. Her chest and stomach were sore and bruised from the bouncing stride of the horse. She whimpered occasionally and she got a smack on the head for each of her outbursts.

By the time they stopped for the night, she fell to the ground in a pile and didn’t move, even when a piece of bread was placed in front of her. She lay still, trying not to cry out from her aches and wondered what had happened to all of the people that had been with her. Were they all dead? Was anyone able to send for help? What was going to happen to her?

Suddenly the forest was alive with the noise of men shouting and horses neighing. Torches flickered into the clearing, highlighting vignettes of drama. Swords clashed against each other and men yelled with pain when the swords struck flesh. Alena raised her head to see two men fighting fiercely by the camp fire. One of the men backed the other through the fire kicking up sparks and knocking burning logs into the brush. At one point, the fire flared up and Alena could see that the unmasked man was Dierk.

Alena felt a great surge of excitement that he had come to her rescue. He fought fiercely and Alena cheered him silently on. She willed his sword to connect with the dastardly coward who had stolen her and wasn’t even brave enough to show his face. Dierk pushed against his opponent forcing him to the ground and into the fire and coals. The man screamed in agony as his clothes burst into fire. The mask began to burn away from his face and Alena woke with a start when she saw her captor was Wolfram.

Alena shook all over and pulled her furs more tightly around her. She couldn’t imagine why now she would be having nightmares of Wolfram kidnapping her. She had not seen him in months. She told herself she was being silly and concentrated on the part of the dream where Dierk was rescuing her. Soon she was back to sleep and having happy thoughts.

The next morning, she had a vague sense of unease left over from the night but she was not sure why. She couldn’t quite remember her dreams, but she thought they had been good ones, so why the funny feelings. She felt a bit tired, too. Her nightgown was twisted around her body and her covers were all disarranged, a few even on the floor. She must have had a restless night’s sleep. There was no time to dwell on it, though. She had to get up and get moving. She had another day of interviews ahead of her.

Alena rinsed her face in the cold water in her wash bowl and scrub her skin dry. That helped her feel invigorated. She pulled all of her pelts back onto the bed and straightened them up. Marta came in and told her to stop cleaning up. Alena said she needed something useful to do.

“I need something useful to do.”

“You have your wedding clothes to finish.”

“That’s sitting down. I need to do something where I move and get some exercise.”

“Fine. I guess it wouldn’t hurt. It would save me some steps, so, if you want, you go right ahead.”

Alena went around the room, putting things in their place and even dusting off furniture. She made the bed. She restocked the fireplace with logs from the wood pile and went out to the back, in her nightdress, to get more wood for the pile in her room. Then she washed herself up again, dressed for the day, then took her wash basin out and dumped the water. She put the wash bowl back in her room after rinsing it out.

Then she undid the braids in her hair and tried to comb out the tangles. Time was running short, so Marta had her daughter Leni go over to Alena and finish combing Alena’s hair. After getting it all straight, Leni braided it back into one long braid. Leni went and fetched bread and butter for Alena to break her fast. After eating, it was time to wait for the first man of the day to arrive.

There was a knock at the door. When Marta opened it, Balder the Druid stood in the doorway all by himself. He came into the room, walked over to Alena and sat in the chair opposite her. He looked at the fire for a few minutes. Alena watched him with curiosity wondering why he was there alone. She waited patiently for him to speak. He cleared his throat and then looked her in the eyes.

“This morning, when I went to get Elsin, the man you were to meet with at this time, I knocked on his room door and received no answer.” Balder continued to look Alena in the eyes.

She felt quite disconcerted. He wasn’t blinking and seemed like he was trying to tell her something without putting it into words that he had to voice out loud. She couldn’t imagine what was going on and why she felt very afraid. Suddenly, memories of her nightmare came flooding back to her mind and she remembered being kidnapped by Wolfram. She shivered despite sitting so close to a burning fire. Balder nodded to Alena, like he was agreeing to the feelings flowing through her.

“I tried the door and it would not open. I went down to the innkeeper to see if there was a key to the door of Elson’s room. The innkeeper said none of his doors had locks so we were worried as to why the door would not open.” Balder stood up. “The innkeeper, his man and I went back upstairs to try the door again. Brian, the innkeeper, knocked on the door and got no answer either. We listened and heard no sounds. Brian pushed on the door and it did not budge. He stood back a moment and scratched his head. He pushed on the door again, this time at the top of the door. It moved in a bit at the top. He then pushed at the bottom of the door and it did not move.” Balder relayed the conversation as if they were there hearing it for the first time.

“There seems to be something blocking the door at the bottom,” Brian said. He shrugged at Balder and motioned for his man to join him at the door. “Help me push on the bottom of the door,” he told his man. The two men bent down and put their shoulders to the door. They shoved the door and it began to move. They could feel whatever was blocking the door move back as the door opened. After getting the door open enough to allow someone to walk through, they straightened up and all three men looked at the red smear on the floor. They looked at each other and looked at the floor. No one was eager to find out what this meant. It couldn’t be good.

Brian and his man were about to step into the room. Balder held them back by grabbing their sleeves.

“We should get the magistrate before we go any further,” said Balder. “This obviously is blood. If it is the blood of Elsin, we may need the magistrate to see everything from the beginning. It may be important that we let him see the room first. It may need to be explained officially.”

Brian thought Balder made sense. Brian sent, Joda, his man, to fetch Tomas the magistrate of Zell. Brian and Balder waited patiently in the hall, trying not to look at the blood on the floor. The men did not speak to each other. They had no idea what to say and did not want to think about what this could mean. They did not have long to wait before Tomas arrived.


Tomas was a tall man and with long limbs that looked less strong than they were. People that did not know him were fooled by his lanky appearance. They were often fooled by his smiling face, too. Tomas was normally very friendly and jovial until you did something that disturbed his peace. Then he was no nonsense and all business and many a man has found himself spending the night in the ice house over night for making Tomas work.
Tomas came up the stairs, looked at both Balder and Brian and said a curt hello. Balder motioned to the door and to the floor. Tomas walked up to the door slowly and looking all around the area before getting too close.

“Can you two please move back down the hall a few paces?” Tomas waited for them to move out of his way. Then, he searched the floor, looked at the walls on both sides of the door and the wall over the door. Only then did he look down at the floor just inside the room.

“This is definitely blood. It is dry in some places but slightly wet in spots. There is a larger, deeper amount just in front of the doorway where it then smeared back into the room.” Tomas stepped into the room by stepping over the blood stains. The other three men stayed where they were in the hall. Tomas closed the door. For a few minutes all was quiet and then they could hear Tomas moving around the room. He was very quiet but they could hear the floor boards creak as he moved around.

The sun shifted to shine in the window that was in this hallway. The light shone in as a shaft that highlighted the dust moats dancing in the air. The sounds of the town were much louder with people in the streets calling to each other. There was laughter that made its way up the stairs. A woman in the first floor hall giggled loudly and the sound grated on their nerves and seemed very out of place.

Balder began to recite the creation story to pass the time. He didn’t know what Brian and Joda were thinking to help pass the time for them, but Balder was almost done repeating his story in his mind when the door to the room was opened slowly by Tomas.

“This is not something we are used to seeing here in Zell,” he said. “Before I let you in, I must tell you that there are two dead bodies in that room. Both of them are men. I will need to see if you can tell me who they are.”

“There should only be one man in that room,” said Brian. “I only let the room to one man. I only rented the room to Elsin.”

“You will need to look to see if one of the two men is this Elsin you speak of.”

“I’m not going in there.” Brian backed away from the doorway.

“I need you to try to tell me who these men are, Brian,” said Tomas.

“No.” Brian began to shake slightly.

Balder watched Brian and say a fear in his face.

“I can see if I know them,” said Balder. “I have met Elsin and I may recognize the other man.”

“That should do.” Tomas stepped to the door and placed his hand on it but did not push it open yet. “Brian, have your man get together two stretchers and three other men to help carry the bodies to the icehouse.”

Brian nodded and he and Joda left to complete their errands.

“When we go inside, try not to step in the blood,” Tomas told Balder. “There is a lot all over the room. Be careful how you move throughout the room. Watch your tunic. You may want to gather it together to keep it out of the mess.”

Tomas pushed open the door and entered the room. Balder followed him in. Balder stepped over the blood by the door and then was amazed at the blood all over the rest of the room. There was blood on the floor, the walls and the sparse furniture. It looked like a slaughter house. Balder looked beg=hind the door and he saw that it was Elsin. He saw that Elsin’s body was naked and cut and stabbed in many places. His face had been slashed about ten times in many directions. Balder had never seen anything like it. From the door area where Elsin lay in a piled up heap, pushed together by the opening of the door, a line of blood trailed back to the bed where Balder could see a bloody mess laid across it.

He walked closer to the bed and saw that this too was a man and he was also unclothed. He lay face down in the bed. His upper body was on the bed but his legs trailed onto the floor. The man’s brown hair was caked in blood but Balder could not see any marks on this man’s back, just blood.

Tomas turned this body over and Balder gasped. This man was Vix, another of the men that Alena was to meet with but not until the last day. He was the thirteenth man on the list. This was not what caused Balder’s surprise though. Now Balder could see where all of the blood had come from. Vix’s penis had been ripped off and stuffed in his mouth. He had also been stabbed in the chest several times, but Balder could not tell which injuries had come first.

“What do you say about these men? Do you know them?”

“Yes, the man by the door is Elsin, who rented this room.” Balder took a deep breath. “This man here is Vix from Land’s End.”

“So, he is another of the men in your contest?”

“It is not really a contest, but yes, he is one of the thirteen.”

“I have looked around the room and have discovered several things and have not found others which I would have thought to have found.”

“What did you not find, Tomas?”

“There is no knife in the room.”

“But there must be one. Where would it be?”

“I think there must have been another person in this room who took the knife with him. I think this was also the person who killed both Elsin and Vix.”

“What would make you say that?”

“Elsin and Vix were lovers. They did not have a fight. Their clothes were placed neatly in a pile together on that back stool in the back of the room. Their clothes are together, not in separate piles. That shows me a certain kind of closeness.”

Balder looked to the spot that Tomas indicated.

“That makes sense.”

“Their being lovers does not disturb you?”

“No, I do not find it unusual. Maybe around here, but these men were not from around here. Do you think they knew each other before coming here?”

“That is something we will look into. But I think I can safely say that Vix was attacked first based on the kind of wounds he had. Elsin looks like he was stabbed and killed trying to save or protect Vix. He moved towards the bed where Vix was killed and then he moved towards the door after he received his wounds.”

“With so much going on here, I am surprised no one else in the inn heard anything.”

“This is another thing that we must find out.” Tomas picked up the clothes of both of the men and the bag that was on the floor by the stool. “Do you know where Vix had his rooms?”

“I believe he had a room with Master Blacksmith. I think there was some sort of relationship there.”

“I will go speak with him.”

“What do you think happened here?”

“I think someone came in here and killed them both and I think he was angry when he did it.”

Alena was amazed at Balder’s story. She sat in her chair by her warm fire in her secure hall and wondered how two big men could be murdered in an inn across the lake. She couldn’t get her mind around it all. And it looked like Balder was having a hard time comprehending it also.

“Do you think this could have anything to do with the attack on Karl?” asked Alena.

Balder looked at her startled and wary.

“What would make you think that?”

“It just seems odd that all of these attacks are happening now, when nothing has happened before.”

“I think it must be a coincidence. They are very different kind of attacks after all.”

“I guess you are right. They are very different.”

“Yes, these attacks in Zell seem very personal, like the attack was against these men in particular, where the attack on Karl was a group of bandits for profit.”

“I see what you mean, now that you explain them.”

Alena and Balder sat in silence for a while. Then, Balder coughed.

“What am I thinking?” said Alena. “Marta, please bring us two bowls of beer.”

“It is awful early, ma’am.” Marta scowled her disapproval at the early hour for libations.

“Normally, I would agree, but these are special circumstances. Please, just bring us some, Marta.”

Marta brought over the drinks and noticed blood on Balder’s tunic as she set the bowls down on the table near them.

“Sir, you have blood on your shirt. Are you hurt?”

“Not I, Marta. I am perfectly fine, but there are others who have not fared as well.”

“Marta, I will speak to you later and explain.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Marta moved off back to her work.

“What do we do now?” asked Alena.

“We must go on. There is nothing we can d for these men and the living must live.” Balder drank his beer in one long gulp. “You have several hours before the next man is to arrive. Do you need something to help you through the rest of the day?”

“No, I am fine. I may just go for a walk though, to refresh my self.”

“You do that. I will go to the council and tell them what has happened.” Balder rose to go. He stumbled over his own feet in his preoccupation of thought, bumping into the table and knocking the bowl to the ground where it shattered into many pieces.

Marta and Leni rushed over to clean up. Balder stuttered his apologies to them all and left. He seemed more upset now than when he had first come to tell her about his morning activities.

While the women cleaned up Balder’s mess, Alena told them briefly and without too much detail about the deaths of Elsin and Vix. Leni gasped at all of the appropriate places but Marta said nothing until Alena was done. Then, Marta stood, fists on hips and head cocked to one side. She thought for a minute.

“That’s four out of five men gone from the list. Sort of narrowing the field, I guess.”

“What do you mean, Marta?” Alena was shocked.

“Right now there is only one man in the running. I wonder if anything will happen to knock more of them off of the list.”

“Don’t be silly. Who would kill those men just so they couldn’t place their suit before me?” Alena shivered and remembered her nightmare.


Alena did not feel more refreshed and invigorated from her walk. She sat down in her chair, after removing her light cloak and hanging it on its peg. She tried to finish the embroidery on her wedding shoes but a great sense of listless enveloped her. She found herself staring off into space several times with now clear thoughts in her mind. She finally gave up pretending to be busy and just sat there waiting for the next person to arrive.

Felix arrived early and in such an exuberant mood that he put everyone on edge. He burst through the door unannounced and sat himself down in front of Alena without introductions. He immediately called for wine and was told by Marta in a stern tone (that he missed) that there was no wine to be had.

“No wine?” He jumped to his feet and began pacing about the room. “We certainly will need to change that. A good household should come equipped with the best of everything. Madam, how can you allow such neglect?”

“Sir,” Alena replied, “wine does not travel to our little outpost very well and we do not have the room to store it if it did.” She motioned him back to his seat. “As I am sure you noticed we certainly have no room to grow our own here.”

“Yes, now I understand.” He plopped into the chair.

“We have an excellent beer. I think you will it quite nice.” Alena directed Marta to pass Felix a bowl of beer.

Felix looked at the ceramic bowl from several angles before drinking. It was clear he found the accommodations lacking. He grimaced after sipping the beer and pronounced it fair but said he had always found beer too heavy for his taste.

Alena chuckled to herself. Felix was a big man in height and girth. It was clear from looking at him that he ate and drank well beyond his needs. His face was florid and the redness extended to his ear lobes which stuck out like the handles of a pot. His hair was the color and texture of straw and was cut in some many layers that it stuck out in many places and at very odd angles. His weight did not prevent him from bouncing around the room. He had a manic sort of energy that caused him to stand up at inappropriate times and then fall into the chair as if exhaustion had taken over for a brief moment. His speech was as erratic as his behavior and soon everyone within eye and ear shot were rubbing at the headaches they were acquiring. His clothes were very expensive but did not fit him well. They pulled in some spots and hung loosely in others. They looked as if they had been made for someone else who had tossed them to Felix without even wearing them once.

“I can tell you, this place needs a good cleaning up,” Felix announced to the room on one of his energy highs.

“I beg your pardon,” said Alena. She felt like she could barely contain her temper.

“This town, the town across the lake: they need cleaning up. I can tell you I would not put up with all of these people getting killed under my watch.” He banged his fist on the fire place mantel. “I would do away with men fornicating together. And unmarried people fornicating would be stopped, too.” He pounded his fist again. “I will instigate inspections of the inns by the magistrate to keep people in their own rooms. I’ll be buggered if I would allow these shenanigans could go on while I’m around.”

He went on to decry the behavior of Elsin and Vix in great detail. He spoke as if he knew of their relationship and he was an intimate acquaintance of both men yet he claimed not to have known they were lovers. He gave details of the death scene that were in direct contradiction to what Balder had told Alena. According to Felix, both men were found in the bed together, entwined in a lovers’ embrace and they were both stabbed in the back.

Alena did her best to look like she was listening, but she was reaching the end of her tolerance levels. She reminded herself that the council had suggested she never say or do anything to anger or embarrass any of the men as it would reflect badly on them all. If any of them needed discipline, control or chastising, she was to leave it to Balder in particular or one of the other council members. She should always appear open, friendly and impartial. She had agreed to this plan in the beginning not knowing how hard it would be to remain genial to such an oaf.

Just when she thought she could take this baboon no longer, Detlef arrived to take Felix away for a hunt. As soon as Felix saw Detlef, he forgot all about Alena and even walked away from her in the middle of a sentence he was speaking. He linked his arm with Detlef and he began chattering about what kind of animals he preferred to kill. Detlef looked back at Alena and winked as he escorted Felix out of the door.

Everyone in the room let out a collective sigh of relief and began chattering like Felix, a few mimicking his speech patterns and conversation while the others laughed heartily.

“I think he would make a fine husband,” said Alena. “He will watch our every move and chastise our behavior and then go out and kill all of our animals.” This announcement received more laughter. “Wine, wine, bring me wine,” she mimicked. She spun around and clapped her hands. On turning around she saw there in the doorway, Felix had returned for his cap. His face was a deep red and his eyes were narrowed in anger. The room became completely still.

Detlef pulled Felix back out of the door forcefully. It took him several tugs before Felix would move. He finally allowed himself to be dragged out of the house, but he remained long enough for Alena to know that she had created an enemy. He might not be very bright, she thought to herself, but he seemed like he could be quite dangerous. She had no doubts that he would broadcast his complaint loud and clear throughout the region.

Alena felt bad that she had gotten caught performing such childish behavior and setting such a poor example for her people. Yet, she couldn’t feel too bad; the man really was a fool. The question would be how dangerous a fool would he turn out to be?

All they could do now was wait and see. Hopefully, Detlef would be able to undo the damage she had caused. A few dead animals and a great deal of beer might be enough to at least convince Felix not to say anything bad about her and the towns. Alena was sure they had lost another one, though, which was good because she would never have been able to stomach Felix.

Six of the thirteen men had been initially addressed: two were dead, two were uninterested, one was intolerable and one was a good possibility. She wondered what the other seven would bring. She had one more man to meet today and several hours before she had to do so. Alena decided she needed a nap to try and get rid of the headache that threatened to take over her brain.

She asked Marta to make her a cup of chamomile tea with honey and bring it in to her. Alena went to her room, shut the door and stripped down to her chemise. She got into bed, propping her pillows up so se could sit. She wound her hair up and tied it to the top of her head with a ribbon of cloth. Marta came in with her tea and gave it to her. Alena sat sipping the tea for a few minutes then put the cup on the stool by her bed, laid her head back and fell sound asleep.

Before she knew it, Marta was in Alena’s room and shaking her awake. Alena woke slowly. She did not feel rested. While she did not remember having any dreams, she felt like her sleep was disturbed none the less.

Marta had brought in fresh cold water to help Alena revive herself. Alena slashed the water on her face, neck and chest. The brisk, wetness woke her up quickly. She put on a fresh chemise, put her gown back on and let her braids back down. She pinched her cheeks to get some color back into them and went back out into the communal hall. She sat down and picked up her embroidery just as a knock came to the door. Alena took a deep, steadying breath and nodded to Marta to open the door.

Leni dropped a ceramic bowl. One of the men cursed under his breath. Marta stood at the door with her mouth hanging open.

In the threshold of the door stood the most beautiful man any of them had ever seen. He was also a man that none of them recognized. He also had a slave’s torque around his neck. He stood in the door way, waiting, obviously used to this kind of reaction. A quirky, wry smile barely curled his lips. He waited patiently to be asked in. Finally Marta came to her senses and asked his business.

He spoke so quietly that his responses could not be heard by any one else in the room. Marta giggled. She turned around to Alena, cheeks pink, hand on her chest.

“He is come from his master to say that Georg, his master, will be a few minutes late. Georg has sent this man to tell us a story until Georg can arrive.”

“Pray, Marta, let the man enter the house,” said Alena.

Marta giggled again. She showed the slave to the chair by Alena and motioned for him to sit. He arched an eyebrow at her and she blushed.

“I do not think it would be fitting for me to sit in the lady’s presence,” he said.

Alena nodded.

“What is your name?” she asked him.

“You may call me Greydere.” He stood quietly in front of Alena, looking serenely in her eyes in a way that was very direct for a slave. “Do you wish me to tell you a story?”
“I think we could all use some distraction,” Alena said. “What kind of story will you tell us?”

“One filled with love and tragedy and comedy, of course.” Greydere stood quite still by the fireplace mantel, poised as if he were on stage. His long arms hung comfortably by his sides, his hands large but with fine even fingers ending in clean, manicured nails. His gaze took in the entire room, eyes moving slowly from person to person, mesmerizing each one until he or she had stopped moving and paid attention to him intently.

Greydere had black hair that curled around his face and at the nape of his neck, reminding Alena of the dark indigo of a raven’s wings. His eyes that held everyone entranced glittered with a cornflower blue surrounded by long black eye lashes. When he spoke, his well defined lips moved slowly and deliberately over clean white even teeth.

“Once upon a time, long before our fathers and their fathers walked the earth a giant lived within the depths of these mountains.”

The people of the hall moved closer to the fire to hear Greydere’s story. The younger ones sat on the floor and men pulled up stools for the women.

“The giant slept quietly in his den below the earth until one day when a brash young boy stumbled upon his bed.

The boy, whose name was Jared, did not know a giant slept in the caverns into which Jared had gone seeking his fortune. Jared simply searched for a treasure to bring his family out of poverty and to marry the girl he loved.

Jared packed his sack, carried with him extra arrows and flint knives and packed his fire starting coals in a pouch lined with moss. He also put extra fur liners for his leather boots in his sack along with a fur cape to line his cloth cape. He had leather covering that he could put over top of himself to keep out the rain and damp. A spare pair of leggings and two spare shirts completed his clothing supplies. He would need to keep his food supplies limited because of their weight and the space they would take up. He would have to trust his hunting and gathering abilities to keep himself fed. He would carry dried venison with him for those times, like in the caves, when he thought he might not find food. He would take some willow bark for pain, and chamomile as an antiseptic just in case he got hurt. A double thick wool cloth would serve as a blanket and an added cape if it got really cold. With these items packed, rolled and tied to his sack, he felt ready to go on his journey.


His family stood around him at daybreak on the day he left. His mother, Falicia, old beyond her years from worry, hard work and child bearing, cried and moaned about her first born leaving her to go seek his fortune. While she hoped he would come back rich, she did not believe in a golden treasure; she only knew hard work.

Next to his mother stood his father, Pontid, crippled from a fall five years ago, hunched over crutches under each arm pit, his knees pointing in, his feet pointing out in opposite directions. He had a defeated and sad look permanently on his face, depressed that his wife and children had to keep him clothed and fed. Jared’s father had tried to kill himself three times over the last five years and had so far been unsuccessful, but he kept trying and had to be watched carefully. Jared was afraid that at some point, his mother would be too tired and exhausted to keep watch. He feared this was what his father waited for, too. Jared’s father looked Jared in the eyes and gave him a nod. Jared walked up to him and gave him a hug.

“Hold on until I get back,” Jared told his father. “It will be better, you’ll see. Do it for me.” Jared looked his father deep in the eyes, but did not get the reassurance he wanted. His father just nodded at him, again. “I will take that as your promise,” said Jared.

Jared had five brothers and two sisters. The oldest, a boy, Stebin, took after their dark father, already showing signs of a beard and with black hair and black eyes, was two years younger than Jared at fourteen and the youngest, a girl, blonde and blue eyed like their mother, named Lucia, was five. These two along with the other boys, Greco, thirteen, Donid, ten, Halbert, eight and Kenid, six and the oldest girl, Catin at eleven, stood around Jared alternating between complete silence and all of them talking at once. Jared hugged each in turn, even Stubin who wanted to leave it at a manly punch on the shoulder.

“Take care of each other and our parents,” Jared said. “I expect you to do your chores everyday without complaint and when I return, we will hire others to do the work for us.” Jared’s brothers and sisters cheered loudly at this announcement.

“We will keep the home fires burning,” said Catin. She gave Jared one of her beautiful impish grins. She took after their father in hair and eyes, both black as coal, but her skin was fair and white like their mother’s. Both of Jared’s sisters, though very different in appearance, were the most beautiful girls in the region. Jared wanted to find his treasure before his sisters’ beauty faded and died they way his mother’s had.

“We will maintain the old homestead,” said Stubin. He gave Jared a double thumbs up and grinned. Stubin had brooding good looks that radiated vitality and strength and lit up a room when he smiled. Stubin told the best jokes and always kept everyone one laughing. Jared wanted to make sure that his brother never lost his sense of humor.

Each of the children were very fetching in appearance and with money behind them, they would all be able to marry up in station, thus ensuring the prosperity of the family for generations to come. Jared himself was a more contrasting combination of his parents in both looks and temperament. He had black hair, smooth and deep as raven’s wings, like his father, along with his father’s intelligence and daring. He had his mother’s crystal blue eyes and her pixyish humor that kept everyone going even in their darkest times.

Jared was well satisfied that his brothers and sisters would work hard as always while he was gone. They were in good spirits and he hoped it was enough to counteract the dull and down faces of his parents. He promised himself he would not be gone long, so that he could get back and make all of their lives easier.

Last for “fare thee wells” was Jared’s betrothed, Rosamund. Jared and Rosamund had been friends since they were toddlers and totally inseparable their whole lives. They were the exact same age, born the same year on the same day, May first. At sixteen, Rosamund was old to be yet unwed, but no one would dream of separating Jared and Rosamund. Rosamund had thick blonde hair but she had green eyes and no one knew where the green eyes had come from. Jared always told Rosamund that she was especially bless by the Oak Gods, for green was their favorite color. Rosamund was raised by a family totally unrelated to her. No one knew who her father was. Her mother had stumbled into town one day, pregnant and already in labor. She had fallen against the first door she had come to. The good wife Sossa and her good husband Harolt opened the door to see Rosamund’s mother in agony. They carried her into their home, placed her to bed and Sossa, a midwife, helped pull Rosamund into the world while her mother died. They never knew the name of Rosamund’s mother as the only sounds she uttered were birthing screams. Sossa and Harolt, never having children of their own, buried Rosamund’s mother, had a naming ceremony for the baby girl they now found themselves with, calling her Rosamund after the Rose Moon shining that May first and raised the girl as their own. Rosamund’s mother had brown eyes.

Sossa had delivered Felicia of her first born boy three hours before Rosamund came into the world, thus making Jared older than Rosamund, a fact of which he reminded her whenever he felt the need to boss Rosamund around. Of course, she never listened to Jared, as she was head strong and determined and more often than not, right. When Jared told Rosamund that he wanted to marry her and that he needed to seek his fortune before he could do so, Rosamund told him he would be successful beyond his wildest dreams. Rosamund’s positive, encouraging outlook on life was one of the things Jared loved most about her. She gave him the courage to want to go out and slay dragons. She also believed in all of his wildest dreams making him feel like a god.

She stood bravely in front of him, on the day of his leaving, a smile on her face and tears in her eyes. They just looked at each other for many minutes, memorizing their faces for the days and nights ahead when they would be alone.

They recited their usual sayings of goodbye.

“I will not be gone long,” said Jared.

“I will think of you until I see your face again,” replied Rosamund.

“I will dream of you until you are once again before me.”

“It is almost next time.”

Then they fell into each other’s embrace and held each other for a long while, not speaking.

Jared broke away from Rosamund and turned away from her before he changed his mind and decided not to leave. They had never been apart except for at night to go to their separate homes. He knew he was going to be very lonely without her. He wanted her to come with him and she wanted to come also, but they decided that since she was with child it would be best for her to stay home. At least he knew that if he did not come back, he would live on in his child, but he did not want his child to be fatherless and poor. He needed to find the fabled treasure.

He walked away from his family, waving to them as they waved and cheered him on his way. He kept looking back at them until he rounded the bend in the path that led up the mountain. Then, he faced forwarded and strode on with a determined step.

The sun was on its way to mid-day, but with two more hours to go. The day was clear and bright with little wind. Just enough of a breeze blew to keep him cool when the sun got too hot for him. He had only his shirt on right now. He wouldn’t put on any of his other close until dark and when he got further up into the mountains.

For a while, he sang and whistled a tune his mother hang sung to him as a child. Then he just listened to the birds twittering and small animals scampering through the brush. When the sun was directly overhead, Jared sat on a fallen tree trunk and sipped some of the water from the bladder he carried at his waste. At this time, he did not need to take care of his water. He knew there were several streams on the way to the opening of the caves. Right now he only need carry enough to get him up to the peaks. Before going into the caves he would fill the bladder he drank from now plus the other two that were empty right now.

From this resting point Jared looked down the mountain and he could see the tops of the village huts and houses. He could see his family’s hut on the edge of the marsh. Rosamund’s house was three houses in from his. There were twelve other homes in their village of Thorntown. He missed the village already.

Jared got up and started moving again before he had a change of heart. He started telling himself about the treasure again. Gold coins, gold and silver chains, torques and platters, uncut gems, some the size of his fist all waited for the soul brave enough to go and get it. He remembered the day the traveling story teller came to them. He told them many exciting tales and Jared listened carefully and enjoyed them. But when the man told of the treasure Jared really paid attention. When the tales were done for the evening, Jared went to the man whose name was Beando, and Jared asked Beando to tell him the treasure story again. Beando obliged, adding more details than when he originally told the story.

Beando told Jared the treasure was hidden in these very mountains that rose up from Jared’s village. They were deep in a cavern, across a saline lake, placed there by a king of long ago and then forgotten when the king died before he could retrieve his treasure. Beando told Jared that the cave entrance was at the base of the very last peak of the mountain just before the snow glaciers, where the trees stop growing and only scrub grass covered the rocks. After entering the cave, all one needed to do was to follow the single small stream that led down the natural stairs within the cave until the stream became the lake. Once someone swam across the freezing cold salt lake within the caverns, the treasure would be sitting on the other side when they got out of the water. Getting the treasure back would be easier than reaching it as it sat in the boat the old king used to put it there. And once back across the lake the boat acted as a sledge to get the treasure back down the mountain.

Jared had asked Beando why Beando had not gone after the treasure. Beando said he had no need for such riches and just as soon would leave it for a young man who had a future and big dreams. Jared told Beando, that he, Jared, was just such a man. Beando said he thought Jared just might be the one to do it. Jared wanted to know why no one else had gone looking for the treasure and Beando told him no one else believed the story. Beando also told Jared that for a silver piece now, Beando would tell Jared a special secret that would make retrieving the treasure easier. Jared thought a silver piece invested now was well worth a huge treasure for the future, so Jared ran home and got his savings and gave the silver piece to Beando. Beando leaned into Jared and whispered into Jared’s ear. Jared’s eyes were wide with astonishment and wanted to ask Beando what the secret meant. Beando told Jared he could not explain, but when the time came, Jared would know what it meant. And Beando reminded Jared to keep the secret a secret or its power would vanish when Jared needed it most.

So, Jared kept his secret but made plans to go after the treasure. At first, every one thought he was crazy. The only person that believed in him was Rosamund. The others still thought he was crazy but they became resigned to his going as he gathered the things he would need for his trip. Now here he was on his way to the last mountain peak. It would take him three days to get to the top.

He was passing the spot where the blueberries grew. There were still many on the bushes, so he stopped and ate his fill. When he had eaten enough for now he picked more to go with whatever meat he caught for the night. He filled one of his empty pouches then began walking again. This part of the mountain was fairly easy going. The path was well worn as this was the same way the shepherds went for summer pastures. They had already come down as snows were threatening to fall in the mountains.

Jared would camp at the first alpine hut tonight. It would still be light enough by the time he got there for him to place one the traps always kept there and to look for wood for a fire. By the time he got a good fire going, he should have something caught to eat. A nice mountain hare would make a great roast to go with his blueberries.

Jared was thinking himself into a good hunger so he picked up his pace. He reached the hut in record time and with plenty of daylight left. Jared placed his pack in the hut. He took one of the small game traps that hung on a hook from the hut’s wall. Jared went out into the bush and using some of the blueberries as bait, he set the trap. Then he went to the woods on the other side of the clearing to look for fire wood. There was plenty of wood to be had lying all over. Jared made four trips to get wood so that he’d have enough to cook his food and keep himself warm all night, plus there would be extra for the hut’s stores. He would burn plenty of wood tonight and stay very comfortable because he did not know how many comfortable nights he would have on this journey.

After getting a good fire roaring in the pit, Jared went back to check his trap and he had a big fat hare in the noose. Jared cut the rabbit down and took it to the stream that ran behind the hut. There he skinned the animal and skewered it on a branch. He took the hare back to the fire and put it on the spit. While the rabbit roasted, he went back and cleaned the hare’s skin then stretched it on one of the frames he found leaning on the side of the hut. He checked his fire and his roast, went back to the creek to clean his tools and himself and then went back to the hut. By this time it was dark so he sat by his fire waiting for the rabbit to finish cooking.

Jared didn’t have long to wait for his dinner. He took the rabbit off of the fire and pulled it apart. He enjoyed his fill of the hare with his blueberries for afters. He had plenty of both to break his fast in the morning. He covered the outside fire pit with dirt to put out the fire. He brought the remainder of his food inside the hut, closed the door and hooked the rope latch over the peg on the door frame.

Jared hung his leftover food from the rafters. He added wood to the gently glowing coals in the fire pit. He laid his leather cape over the relatively fresh straw in the sleeping corner, laid himself down and covered himself with his woolen cape. He was asleep as soon as he closed his eyes.