For the longest time he stares out the tiny window into the night where nothing can be discerned until the full moon rises over the reaching fingers of skeletal treetops. Everything is bathed in silver-blue. Torben looks down at the lean-to; he can just see the edge of the bear skin stretched over the tanning rack. In the moonlight it’s paler than he recalled, and it appears as if there are stars at the end of each bristle.
The stone house sits in a small clearing, to the left is a frozen rill, where Torben and Tove must hack at the ice to melt it for drinking and cooking and bathing, for the cottage pipes freeze in winter. To the right is the lean-to and the outdoor privy which is used only when Uther is sitting enthroned on the inside one. Behind is a barn-cum-stable where the jersey cow and two Clydesdale horses share straw with myriad chickens, ducks and geese. The front garden is dotted with rose-beds, the plants blooming all year round due to Uther’s strangely green thumb. The coloured blossoms look like jewels against the blue-white canvas of the snow.
But now Torben’s attention is caught by a hesitant moment at the edge of the clearing. A shape materialises, taking slow steps. At first he thinks it a bear, but the size is too small, the gait too elegant, and the owner walks on two feet, not four. The smudge resolves itself into a woman, her skin dark olive, her hair a blackish-brown running down her back, past her waist, to her ankles where it drags in the snow. She is tall, very tall, and heavy-boned, large around breasts and hips. Her face is gentle, her eyes flash copper. She raises her head and Torben sees how she sniffs at the night air.
She drifts towards the lean-to, her hands reaching out to the cub’s skin. Just before she touches it, she looks up as if sensing Torben’s gaze. His tears have started again and course down his cheeks. He wonders if the woman can see them glinting in the moonlight. Her expression does not change, she merely stares at him for long moments, then helps herself to the fur. She cradles it in her arms and returns to the forest.