Alynn didn’t want to get out of bed, but she didn’t want to be late to work. In a whole month of working for Colum O’Shaughnessy, she hadn’t been late once. Twice she’d caught herself racing through town as the church bells were tolling the hour of Terce, but every time, she’d ran through the door of the spinnery just as the last note sounded.
And even though she was cold all over and her wrists ached, and she felt as tired as if she hadn’t slept at all, she wasn’t about to be late for the first time.
She shivered as she made the morning stirabout, and she sliced the block of cheese unevenly. She’d take the smallest piece. She wasn’t hungry, anyway.
Rowan came inside with the bucket of wash-water. “There’s more wood in the woodpile outside,” he said. “Is the stirabout ready?”
“Five minutes.” Alynn’s voice was thin and tired, and Rowan seemed to take notice.
“Are you feelin’ alright, Lynder?” he asked.
Rowan took her pink face in his hands. “You should rest today,” he said. “Yer face is warm.”
“I’ve been in the kitchen. Of course it’s warm.”
“I’d still like for you to rest.” Rowan hugged her, and then woke Tarin up. Alynn stirred the stirabout and washed her face. The coolness of the water was wonderful.
As soon as breakfast was over, Alynn took Tarin’s hand and led him groggily through the town to the spinnery. Her wrist ached, and she kept changing her hold on Tarin’s wee hand to make it stop.
“Yer hands are warm, Lynder,” Tarin said.
Alynn said nothing. The church bells were beginning to toll, and she walked a little faster.
“Mind yer manners, Tarin,” Alynn murmured as they reached the spinnery. She sat at her spinning wheel and loaded the distaff. Her fingers didn’t want to work right.
“Morning, Alynn!” Fiona’s bright voice called. Alynn blinked and murmured a “morning” back. Fiona cocked her head and looked at her.
“Are you alright?” she asked.
“Mum, something’s wrong with Alynn!”
Alynn glared at Fiona, but then she felt Kiva’s deliciously cool hand on her forehead. “Go home, dear,” she said. “You should be in bed.”
Alynn slid off the seat of the spinning wheel. She felt too miserable to argue.
“Do you want me to come with you?” Fiona asked. “I can sweep and weed yer garden and—”
“You needn’t do that,” Alynn said, finding a smile somewhere within her. “Thank you.”
Once again, Alynn took Tarin’s hand and led him through the streets. “I can go in the woods and find some milfoil, Lynder,” Tarin said.
“Not by yerself.”
“Please don’t argue.”
The tiny hovel had never seemed more dirty or depressing. Alynn took her yarn and her shepherd’s-knitting hook and sat at the table. She was trying to make a quilt, but her wrists ached with every stitch she took. Tarin fascinated himself with Monika, the rag doll.
Suddenly, the door creaked open.
Alynn looked up, wondering why Rowan was home in the middle of the day, to see Kiva O’Shaughnessy. She stood in the doorway with her two-year-old daughter her hip, quietly staring at the buckets that caught the drips from the roof and the furniture that looked ready to fall apart.
“Good day, Miss Kiva,” Alynn said in a small voice. She began to stand up, but Kiva took her by the hand.
“I’m here to take care of things,” she said. “Go to bed.”
Alynn didn’t know what to say or think, but she gave Kiva a hug and, despite herself, began to cry. “Thank you,” she whispered.
Kiva’s hug was warm and wonderful, and almost as loving as Alynn’s mother’s had been. “What else are neighbors for, dear?”
Soon, Alynn was tucked snugly into Rowan’s big bed, sipping milfoil tea and watching Tarin play carefully with little Ceili. Kiva sat sewing next to a fireplace that had never seemed to glow more cheerfully.
And as Alynn slowly fell asleep, she knew that with neighbors as good as the O’Shaughnessy’s, she didn’t have a thing in the world to worry about.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.