In the twilight, Caln hunkered on his thighs perhaps ten feet from the girl, feeding her pieces of beefsteak that she picked off his knife. Usually he had venison, but a brainless young heifer had broken a leg and he had been forced to cut her throat. For the moment, he had rare and precious beef which he cut into pieces from a platter on the ground beside him. He would not give the platter to the girl, but made her stay, dependent on him for each bite. It was a subtle lesson. He would feed her, but only on his terms.
She had pretty eyes, not the usual blue or gray of Westenian girls. There was barely enough to light to see that hers were hazel-green, the color of growing things, and watched him warily.

“You shouldn’t try to go up the cliff in the dark,” he said, feeding her. Although she gave no indication that she could understand him, he was convinced that she did. Why she didn’t answer was another matter. But he was satisfied just to have someone to talk to and he laughed gently at her look of discomfort.

“Yes, I know you live in the cave,” he confirmed. “We all know you’re there, but unless you steal from the other farms, they won’t trouble you. I don’t care if you steal from me. I have enough. But the others are very poor. If they catch you, they’ll abuse you and take you downriver to the town where your people are living. It’s not a nice place. You should stay close to here. Tonight, you may sleep in the barn. I will give you a blanket. You can go when you want to.”

“Or you can sleep in the cabin if you like,” he added, oh, so off-handedly. She gave him such a wry look that he knew then she understood his speech. She understood everything.

“I know men have hurt you,” he admitted. “I wouldn’t hurt you.”

The girl sat with her back against the tree, regarding him steadily. Chica, beefsteak, the offer of a blanket…and a bed. She had finished the steak and she stood up, in a defensive posture.

Caln smiled. “I will bring you a blanket.”

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