Okay. Let's try this again.
Alynn woke up to the church bell ringing to Prime, the six-o'clock prayer service. The wooden pew was hard underneath her. Her arm was asleep from using it as a pillow, and her ears were cold. But she'd slept well. Of course she'd slept well; the priest, Father Columba, had invited the McNeils to share his dinner the night before. The soup was thin and the bread didn't have butter, but it was more food than Alynn was used to, and she had enjoyed it.
The ringing of the bell paused, and when it began again, the sound was uneven and even skipped a peal or two. Alynn knew why when Father Columba climbed down the ladder that led to the belfry before helping Tarin down.
"Lynder! Father Columba let me ring the bell!" he cried, running to his sister's arms. Alynn hugged him and made his tousled hair look presentable.
"That's grand," Alynn said. "Did you thank him?"
"Thank you, Father Columba."
"You're welcome, lad," the priest said. "Now, Alynn, would you make us some oatmeal? Tarin can help you."
"Of course, Father." Alynn gathered the plaid she'd used as a blanket, gathered it over her shoulder, and belted it around her waist. Then, taking her brother's hand, she went for the small refectory where they'd eaten the night before.
Rowan was nowhere to be found. Alynn wasn't surprised. He was probably out trying to find a job, or the hovel with the cheapest rent and the leakiest roof and the draftiest walls. Alynn didn't know where he would get his breakfast from, but his absence at the breakfast table was nothing unusual.
After Prime was chanted, the meal was eaten, and the dishes were washed, Alynn approached Father Columba. "What else would you have us do, Father?" she asked.
"In exchange for staying here, I mean."
Father Columba laughed. "Am I an innkeeper, that I should charge for hospitality? Keep your brother out of trouble. You can go explore the town, or stay here--try not to bother me too much, now--"
"Of course. Thank you, Father."
Alynn, however, was unused to having free reign. She slept a bit more while Tarin played with his beloved wooden ox and cart, and then she mended the rip Tarin had sustained in his trousers the day before. When Rowan finally came home, wet with a cold rain and still without a job, every bench in the small church had been wiped clean.
"Are we going wassailing tonight, Da?" Tarin begged, soap on his chin and dirt on his nose. "I want cookies!"
Rowan sighed. "Not tonight, my heart."
Tarin's eyes grew wide, and he hugged Rowan's leg. "Please, Da? I'll give you some of my cookies." When there was no answer, Tarin hugged tighter. "Pleeeease?"
"Yay!" Tarin bounced away to help Alynn and Father Columba make a pot of soup.
After dinner, armed with candles and Rowan's timpan and a legion of songs, Alynn and Tarin went door to door, singing. Sometimes they were invited in for a drink. Sometimes they were given bread or cookies, and some of the wealthier houses gave them coins. Tarin's eyes grew wide as an owl's when he was given a whole penny, and he jumped up and down thanking the generous homeowners.
And when Alynn went to bed that night, full of bread and cookies and milk with even more saved for the next day, she prayed a special prayer of thanks.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.