“We’re going camping tonight!”
Alynn McNeil couldn’t help but smile at her little brother’s antics. Tarin skipped beside her, holding her hand. “Will there be wolves like there were last time?” he asked.
“I hope not,” Alynn said.
“Aw,” Tarin mourned. His freckled face fell for a moment, but them he smiled again. “Maybe we’ll get to hear them sing! Da, why do wolves sing to the moon?”
Alynn looked up at her father Rowan, leading their rented horse. His eyes were distant, like they usually were, and his face was blank and expressionless.
“Da,” Alynn repeated. Nothing changed in Rowan’s appearance, so she tugged his sleeve. “Father!”
A spark of life jumped back into Rowan’s eyes for a moment. “What is it, Lynder?” he asked.
“Why do wolves sing at the moon?” Tarin asked again.
“Because—because wolves can’t always be together,” Rowan said. “But when they’re apart, they sing to the moon. When all the wolves, all across Ireland, sing at the same time, it’s like they’re singing together.”
Tarin smiled. Rowan picked him up and carried him on his hip. A journey of two and a half miles was difficult for Tarin to make on his five-year-old legs.
Part of Alynn wished that Rowan could pick her up and carry her, too. But she was eleven, already entrusted with running the McNeil household, and no one with that responsibility should be carried like a toddler.
“Can I ride on the horse?” Alynn asked.
“Me too?” Tarin asked.
Rowan looked at the horse, already laden with all the worldly goods his family possessed. “I don’t think there’s room for ye.”
“But I want to ride the horse,” Tarin said.
“But you can’t.”
Tarin grumbled and buried his face in his father’s royal blue and forest green plaid. Alynn wished she’d have kept her mouth shut.
As Alynn glanced at the forest that surrounded them, she became aware of a noise that was gently lifting itself above the clip-clopping of the horse’s hooves on the path. It sounded like a rumbling, too constant to be thunder, and at times what sounded like a man’s voice.
Suddenly, the rumbling was so close to Alynn she could feel it, and she turned to see the face of an ox, mere inches from her.
Alynn screamed, and Rowan snatched her out of harm’s way. The ox took a few confused steps backwards on the hidden side-path it was on, lowing as it went. A man jumped out of the ox-cart and started shouting at it to calm down.
“We’re fierce sorry, lassie!” the man said as soon as his ox was quiet again. “It’s hard to see anythin’ on these blasted forest paths!”
“No trouble,” Alynn breathed. She was still trembling as she clung to Rowan like a squirrel to a tree.
“Wayfarin’ strangers, are ye?” the man asked. He ran a hand through his hair, a wild cross between blond and brown. “Ye aren’t headin’ to Barrygone, are ye?”
“We are,” Rowan said. He offered his hand for a handshake. “Rowan McNeil.”
“Sure, how are you gettin’ on? Name’s Colum O’Shaughnessy.”
“We’re grand,” replied Rowan, which was the farthest thing from the truth he could have said. “How about yerself?”
“I’m grand, grand.” Colum hopped spryly into his oxcart and smiled. “I’m headin’ for Barrygone myself. I could give yer wee lass and her brother a lift, if they’d like.”
“Yay!” shouted Tarin, sliding down from Rowan’s arms and climbing into the oxcart. “Lynder, it’s full of wool!”
Alynn came around to the back of the oxcart and sat carefully, making Tarin sit down beside her. “You must own a spinnery, Mr. Colum.”
“That I do! You’ve a smart lass, Mr. Rowan!”
“She takes after her mum,” Rowan said. Alynn heard the clip-clopping of the rented horse’s hooves, then a shout from Colum, and the ox cart started moving with a jolt. It bounced over every dip and pebble on the dirt road, and Alynn clung to Tarin for fear he’d fall off.
“Lynder,” Tarin asked, as if he couldn’t feel the bumps, “are we going to stay in Barrygone for a long time, or are we movin’ again?”
Alynn gazed up at the sky. There were a few clouds, but not enough to hide the pure blue of the sky. A sudden beam of light dazed Alynn as the sun peeked out from behind a cloud.
“The sun’s shining,” Alynn said. “That means Jesus is smilin’, and I’d say that’s good luck.”
“Good,” said Tarin, cuddling closer to his sister. “I want to stay here.”
Alynn smiled. She prayed and wished with all her heart that they could stay. Even so, she’d learned never to tell Tarin they’d never move again. Lying was the one sin she didn’t enjoy bringing up in confession.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.