STRANGERS WAITING  

The mist still lay low enough to seal all the penitent but imperfect souls close to the winter earth. Including herself, thought fifteen year old Eira Williams for her guilty pleasure in leaving the constraints of home.

Named after the snows that linger like shreds of sail cloth on Capel Ffin, she was now just as pale, just as frozen after a long day on the road, and let Fly the head drover's dog lick her face. He reeked of cow dung but no matter, with his tongue like hot bacon on her cheek and his ribby warmth enough to keep her from death, she gripped his collar as if he was the only rock back in the flooded river Bran.

All she could see were his two front paws, white as ladies' gloves. The rest so blurred that the girl come to work at Castle Ashby House in Northamptonshire couldn't see where her bed for the night and the coat she'd sleep in began. That garment was her father's most prized possession, specially cleaned of straw for the morning the porthmon Moses Richards called to add her to his herd of Pembrokeshire Blacks strung out along by Gallt y Mwyn like lumps of coal and impatient to be off.

"Don't ever be parted from it." Evan Williams warned. "The Saesneg will sell anything my girl."

"Oh Evan, don't." Pleaded Mrs. Williams. "It'll do her good to see the world and get fattened up with the rest of them. Won't it, cariad?"

Eira nodded, aware that Moses' twin kept his piggy eyes on her all the time.

"You forgotten about Non Jenkins then?" The farmer persisted, buttoning up his daughter with the best boars' teeth on the best ' brethyn cartref', rough on her throat but heavy as a shield against his fears, so she could at least smile a farewell to them both and wave once they'd merged into the drizzle.

 

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