1 The traveller

In the late evening, dark clouds are covering the sky and no light can pass through them. The snows falls heavily and the wind blows the four corners of the house. Meryl is trying to lit the fire as per usual, her wet twigs are giving her hard time setting it in the chimney. She's hoping Oswald, her son, won't delay dinner any further.

'It's nearly pitch black outside! He's too young to work this hard, I can't help but bother about his health, he has always been so fragile...' She worryingly thought.

Waiting for the water to boil, they'll have a piece of bread and cheese to accompany their herb soup, Meryl was aware of the dire situation her family is in. She's hoping her husband will come back soon, ever since winter had started, the few pieces of wool they managed to harvest were too little to suffice. Their lack of supplies may not be able to sustain two people for the whole winter, let alone the soon three of them.

Meryl rubbed her belly, she was now seven months pregnant. Her round belly moved from time to time and, with her husband enrolled for another war near the frontiers, she wasn't able to herd her sheep nor her goats.

She was looking at her reflection in the water, before it started to boil. She stared at her dark brown eyes, her curly long hair covering her shoulders and her naturally red lips. She thought.

'Maybe I can find another husband if I use my beauty. We are not even sure of Victor's return, war kills way too much people... I wish those territory conflicts and violence never existed! This land stretches farther sight and everyone can share it.'

She could hear bells ringing from afar. Outside, it was snowing and the white carpet that covered their roof made it creak with each gust of wind, the ominous presence of its weight threatened the rotten wood of the house.

On her night gown, few stains of ashes she caught while standing too close to the fire plenty of times, she loved the warmth of the red embers, she loved its color and their consuming spectacle.

Half an hour passed until Oswald entered the house.

"Mother!" He shouted. Someone was standing behind him, wearing a long cloak with a hood hiding his face. He had a goatee that almost touched his torso and a slight smile hanging on his face.

"This man is lost, he seeks shelter for the night, he's lucky to have found our house, the little light you managed to lit has guided him here."

The woman stood up abruptly to welcome both boys.

The man let go of his wet coat, revealing an alluring blond man in his late twenties. He looked plain, too energetic to have walked all day under the terrible weather and too charming to be a simple peasant. His leather vest was tightly tied to his muscular torso and a thick amount of hair covered his forearms.

"I'm Stan, nice to meet you." The man said with a strange accent. His voice was deep and his tone calm.

With a hand on Oswald's head, he rubbed the snow off and slightly bowed to thank their hospitality.

To Meryl's, a man's presence was a blessing, indeed, a rise in masculine presence was on her wish list. She had round curves, a protuberant chest and a beauty that would've make any other woman consumed with jealousy. Within the past months, the fair amount of fat that filled her hips adjusted her silhouette to fit a pregnant woman. She kindly asked the man the reason of his trip.

"Oh, I was ordered to deliver an important letter to the royals up in the north, alas my horse died this morning and I had to walk a little before finding your house." He shoved his hand in his leather backpack to show a thin rolled paper with a red wax seal keeping it closed.

"It seems we have more war ahead I'm afraid... Their ruler, Ferdinand the second, has been deeply angered and is ready to face our country, I won't delay my stay here, don't worry milady."

"Your presence is not bothering us at all, in the contrary would you land us a hand tomorrow morning before your departure? We have to move the main door of the barn, Oswald alone won't suffice to relocate it. Its hinges broke recently, it is half open all night and our sheep have more chances to-"

"Mother, about that." Oswald interrupted her. "I found one of our sheep dead this morning, he was near eastern border of our land and he was a bloody mess."

Meryl held her hands together and replied. "Oh great mother of misfortune why are you sill tailing us? Cold is the least of our worries now that the wolves are back."

Stan combed his hair backward, his smile still hanging on his face.

Both hosts noticed the strange marks on the man's forehead. Two vertical crosses, longer on their top were on both sides of his head.

"What's this?" The adolescent asked while pointing at it.

"It's cultural, it is called the cross of saint Peter, you'll recognise anyone from my place with this sign, it's very popular."

Meryl and Oswald nodded. None of them went to the village, which was kilometers away, more than once a month. Their education was frail and their ability to survive was only thanks to their herd. Their job warmed more than a city worth of people each year, but the proliferation of lice and fleas made the quality of their product lesser each year.

None of them knew what was Christianity's brand, nor did they knew how to read. The amount of knowledge they had never excelled sheep matters.

She suddenly felt her unborn child moving, she hurried its big brother to come and touch her belly. "He is impatient to know you, once he's out, you'll have to take care of him." She said. With Stan's missive, she lost hopes to find her husband in time for her to give birth safely.

She thought, thinking about the dangers of miscarriage. 'Maybe I should wait in the village downhill to give birth, I could walk there when I am about to give birth. Or...'

Under Stan's tender gaze, she couldn't help but blurt out. "Are you single?" Which made both boys giggle in embarrassment.

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