Thort dragged the wagon up the pebbled path to the side of the barn. Evanor and Lem walked expectantly beside him. Thort left the wagon and opened the big wooden doors. The drac growled and the gorm howled inside. He felt along the inner wall in the dark until he found the light switch. A single naked light bulb hanged down from the end of an electric cord draped over the rafters.
A tall ladder leaned against a hayloft. Thort climbed up the ladder and looked around the hayloft. He called down to Lem and Evanor to climb up the ladder and join him. Lem went first and climbed up gingerly with Evanor close behind him. When Evanor reached the top she surveyed the hayloft. She looked long at the far corner where a few bales of hay were stacked. She told Thort, “Over there’ll do just fine.” She told him how she wanted the bales stacked for a modicum of comfort and privacy. Lem tested his new bed and smiled at the wide roof.
Thort went out to the wagon to bring up their clothes and food. He noticed a coiled hose attached to a water spigot. Thort turned the handle of the spigot and the hose jumped and sputtered water. He put the open end of the hose to his mouth and tasted the water flowing past his parched lips. It was sweet and fresh. He called up to Evanor and told her there was fresh drinking water. She called down to him, “Good, you can wash yourself with it. You stink!”
“Can’t we eat first?” Lem pleaded.
“No,” Evanor folded her arms to show there was no budging her, “and you’re first to bathe.”
Lem climbed down the ladder and walked over to Thort. He jiggled the end of the hose at Lem. He took off his clothes and put them in a pile where they wouldn’t get wet. Thort turned the water spigot and sprayed Lem who shivered and gleamed in the cold water. Thort took off his clothes and laid them beside Lem’s pile. “Now you spray me,” Thort said and pulled a mock-frightened face at Lem who turned on the water and sprayed his father. Thort danced around so that the water hit him all over his massive body and made yelping noises, much to his son’s inordinate pleasure.
Evanor threw down clean clothes for Lem and Thort. They dressed while their bodies were still wet. She climbed down with her clean clothes folded over her arm. Thort and Lem went outside to wait for her to finish, and look up at the night sky. They could smell the aroma of gorm stew wafting over from the kitchen at the back of the house across the yard from them. Evanor took off her clothes and walked barefoot over the straw floor to the hose. She let the water flow cold over her from head to toe. She promised herself she’d do a good washing later when she had the chance. Maybe Styg’s missus had a piece of soap to lend her.
Evanor came out of the barn with her wet hair pulled back into a respectable bun. She looked fresh and pretty, and Thort told her so. She dismissed the compliment with a small smile and the three of them walked up the pebble path to the kitchen. Thort knocked on the flimsy back door.
Styg’s wife came to the door and opened it. Evanor and Lem entered first, followed by Thort. Evanor said, “I’m Evanor and this is our son Lem. Say hello Lem…”
Lem said, “Hello ma’am.”
There was an uncomfortable silence and Thort said, “I’m Thort,” extending his hand into the empty air.
“You’re late… It won’t be tolerated again,” Styg’s wife said bitterly. “You’ll sit here at the table in the kitchen. My husband eats in the dining room. He finished eating an hour ago and went up to bed. He’ll wake you up an hour before first dawn. You both’ll have fifteen minutes to be ready for work. Styg’ll give your man his chores and I’ll give you your chores,” she said to Evanor, ignoring Thort and his proffered hand. “Well, sit down already…”
The three of them sat down at the table in the kitchen. Styg’s wife ladled gorm stew into three bowls and set them on the table, along with a loaf of bread, two cups of water for Evanor and Thort, and a cup of milk for Lem. “Eat as much as you want tonight… There’s seconds and thirds if you want… I won’t be so generous tomorrow.”
“Thank you ma’am,” each of them mumbled.
“Don’t thank me,” Styg’s wife said, “thank the Lord.”
“We do that in our hearts, ma’am,” Thort said although his heart could never thank a Lord who would call his little boy an abomination, but they were too hungry for him to tell that woman how he felt.
They finished their food without a word. Thort and Evanor rose from their chairs. Lem gave one last longing glance at the stew pot and rose with his parents. They nodded as they filed past Styg’s wife through the backdoor.
It seemed to Thort that no sooner had he closed his eyes to go to sleep, Styg entered the barn, turned on the light bulb, and called for Thort to get up, “There’s work to be done … Wake up yer missus!”
Since they’d slept in their clothes, Thort and Evanor were ready in five minutes. Evanor rushed out the barn door to the kitchen, while Thort walked over to one of the gorm stalls where Styg was hunched over mixing food and medicine for the pups. When Styg and Thort left the barn, Thort turned off the light so as not to disturb Lem’s sleep, but the weak light of the first dawn was beginning to invade the chinks in the roof and walls of the barn.
Lem woke up and looked around himself in the curious barn. He sat up on the bale of hay and reached over for a piece of bread from his mother’s bread bag. He took a bite from the bread and munched on it thoughtfully. He drank a little from the water bag and put it back where he got it. Lem leaned over the edge of the hayloft and gazed at the stalls below him. He climbed down the ladder carefully and walked over to the stall with the gorm puppies. He opened the gate to the stall and slipped inside, careful not to let them escape. Lem sat down with his back against the wall and pet the puppies, letting them nip at his fingers and crawl over him.
The world was a good and innocent place at this moment, Lem thought to himself. Why could it never last?
Styg had Thort working out in the field mending the fence and the gates that had fallen into disrepair. He also had Thort climb up to the roof tops of the barn and the house to tar over holes, replace worn shingles, and clear out the clogged gutters.
Styg’s wife had Elanor make the beds and sweep the rooms and stairs. She also had her baking bread. After Elanor finished baking the second loaf of bread she begged the missus to let her check on Lem to see that he’s alright. Styg’s wife agreed begrudgingly and Evanor hurried out of the kitchen down the path to the barn. She opened the doors of the barn letting daylight stream into the dark interior. She went straight to the ladder and climbed up to the hayloft. My God, Lem was nowhere to be found, she panicked inside. My baby, where are you?
Evanor looked down the ladder, over in the direction of the stalls, and saw Lem in one of the stalls playing with the gorm pups. She climbed back down the ladder and leaned over the stall gate to watch Lem play with the pups.
Lem looked up at his mother with a smile.