“You haven’t seen anything peculiar in these parts?” Bryna asked.
“Apart from a pair of women with their children wandering about the woods aimlessly?” The first hunter asked, straight-faced.
Jane was up on the horse with the two children, holding them close. Following the hunters, they marched through the woods, over old trodden snow.
“Any strange lights?” The old woman asked again.
The hunter shook his head. “Nothing o’ that sort. And at least one of us is somewhat awake during the night to keep the fire goin’. I’m amazed at ya’ both being able to make it out in this cold without furs and kindling.”
“It’s amazing what you might go through for the lives of little ones.”
“I’d rather mine be safe at home,” The man snorted. “We’re almost there.”
The village was only an hour or so on foot from the point where the women had run across the hunters. They met the road proper not far from the sight of the wooden structures of civilization. There were few tracks marking in the old snow of the path, but among the buildings, the marching of boots had dirtied the lot of it. The brief moments of clear skies those past couple of days then had then turned the remainder to slush and puddles of mud.
Jane looked about, then shook James away from her chest, his arms wrapped around her waist under her outer coverings. “We’re here,” she said tiredly. “We can get warm, and get some food in us.”
The little boy sat up and rubbed his eyes. He cast his gaze to the sky and blinked into the sun, hoping that the glow would disappear. “Where?”
“The village your papa always visits.”
Jane shook her head and rubbed at the little boy’s hair, shielding his eyes from the sun. “He should be coming this way sooner or later, after his leg gets all better. Remember?”
“That’s not something I could know. But he will be back, back with Lewis. For now… I could go for some meat.”
Bryna took up the reins of the horse and led them along. “Those men said there is an inn up this way,” she said, finger pointed along the road. “Let’s hope that nobody else had the idea of taking an extended journey through the worst of winter.”
The innkeeper was a woman slightly older than Jane. “William O’Malley?” she repeated when asked. “Certainly, he’s stayed here a couple times this year while coming by for supplies. He was building a homestead out there in the woods. How’s he holding up?”
“As well as God allows.”
The room was cramped with only two beds, both only wide enough for a single person, but at the very least the children didn’t require much space to begin with. The room and board were paid out for a week using the little bit of coin that Jane had taken from their home. The weight of the old stocking holding the coins had dwindled those past few months as William had bought supplies for working the land. With the stay, it was left nearly empty.
The women and the children bathed in a basin beside the warmth of the room’s hearth and took in the dried meats and steaming potatoes and warmed ale that they had purchased to finally fill their stomachs.
“What if it takes longer than a week for them to get back to us?” Jane asked, watching as James played with his little sister, crawling around between the beds.
“We may just have to be on the move again…”
“No.” The mother insisted, shaking her head. “I can’t go through that again. Perhaps… I can somehow get word to my father to finance our stay. Although… that’s the same journey out to Manchester and back.”
“Jane,” Bryna sighed, attempting to talk sense into the woman. “We’re here in a safe place. We pushed through the worst. At the very least, it doesn’t look like snow for the time being. The sun has been out. Surely if we can follow one light, we can follow another. If it comes to it, we may just have to head back home and deal with the ruins- seal up the wall and the ceiling.”