Someone rapped on the door. Alynn didn’t bother looking up from chopping vegetables for soup. “Tarin, will you open the door?” she asked.
Tarin didn’t answer. Alynn glanced up and, not seeing her brother in the house, opened the door herself. It was raining, but that often didn’t stop Tarin from playing outside. Alynn couldn’t blame him. It was raining inside, too.
Fiona was at the door when Alynn opened it, and she pranced inside, shivering and babbling. “How are you gettin’ on, Alynn? Faith, it’s fierce freezin’ outside! I suppose it’s October, and it’s some cold weather we’re due for. Anyway, I’ve brought you some milk. I’m feared it’s got rain in it.”
“No matter,” Alynn said. She smiled and took the pail of milk from Fiona. “Thank you.”
“Not a bother. Mum says you can bring the pail to work tomorrow. Where’s Tarin?”
Alynn shrugged as she dipped out three glasses of milk. “Probably playin’.”
“In this weather?”
Alynn bit her lip. She didn’t want Tarin to come inside with his wee fingers and toes red and swollen. But she didn’t want Tarin to scold her for telling him to stop playing, either.
“You’re right,” she decided. “I should call him in.”
Alynn took her plaid from her shoulder and put it over her head to block the rain. The wind was bitter and the sun was setting, and Tarin was nowhere to be found.
Alynn scanned the yard. She couldn’t see so much as a footprint in the yard. “Perchance he’s with Father,” she said. Surely he couldn't be anywhere else.
Fiona went with Alynn to find Rowan. The girls shivered as the wind whipped through their dresses. Finally, they found Rowan in the tiny smithy their landlord owned, hammering out horseshoes.
Rowan looked up.
"Is somethin' the matter, Alynn?" he asked, his voice sharp. Alynn knew how much he loved making horseshoes, and she almost wished she hadn't interrupted him. But she still couldn't see Tarin.
"Is Tarin with you?" she asked.
"I've not seen him all day. Why?"
Alynn shivered harder. "I lost him," she said. "It's not hard to watch him. I'm sorry, Father, I should have--"
Rowan set the horseshoe aside and took Alynn by the arm. "When's the last time you saw him?" he asked.
"A few hours ago. He was sittin' on the floor, playin' with Monika, and then he...disappeared."
"Stop cryin' and help me look for him," Rowan said. He threw his plaid around his shoulders. "Ye two stay together and look in all the outbuildings. Fiona, have you seen him in town?"
"I haven't, Mr. Rowan. But you can ask my Da. He's been in the shops all day."
"Keep yer head," Rowan told Alynn as he left. Alynn rubbed her face. She hadn't even realized she'd been crying. Suddenly, she was afraid--afraid of everything that could happen to Tarin, afraid of not knowing where he was, afraid of losing him just as she'd lost her mother.
Alynn looked up for a hug from Rowan, but he was already gone.
"You needn't worry, Alynn!" Fiona said cheerfully. "We'll find Tarin and everythin' will be grand again."
"Is he alright?" Alynn asked no one in particular.
"Sure he is. Boys take care of themselves. Come. He's probably lookin' at the horses."
Alynn clamped her mouth shut. Tarin had lived in fourteen houses during his five short years of life, and he'd always been careful not to wander where he wasn't welcome. The girls visited one outbuilding after another, calling Tarin's name and searching high and low for a glimpse of his red hair.
Finally, in the last outbuilding, the girls stopped.
"We can always ask St. Nicole to pray for us," Fiona suggested. "Da says she's the patron saint of lost family members. Or perchance St. Anthony. Or both. Do you want to pray, Alynn?"
Alynn looked around. The rain was pouring. If Tarin was wise, he'd have come back to the house by now. But then again, Rowan had made shelters in the woods that leaked less than the hovel.
Tarin had always loved going camping while the family was between houses. He hadn't been too upset to trade a drafty shelter for a warm house the night they'd moved to Barrigone, but that had been four months ago. Normally, they'd have moved again by now.
Alynn grabbed Fiona's hand and ran. The rain soaked them. Alynn's plaid stuck to her face, and her bare feet ached with wet and cold. Her hair was dripping. She kept blinking raindrops out of her eyes.
"Where are we going?" Fiona asked.
Alynn didn't spare breath to answer. She was running faster than Fiona, dragging her as she ran, hoping and praying but not daring to believe that she was right.
They shot past the hovel and ran into the nearby woods. Twigs and rocks cut Alynn's feet. She looked everywhere, shouting Tarin's name.
Fiona put her hands on her knees, gasping. "Where...where are we...."
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.