Thomas Part 15

Thomas Part 1

Thomas Part 14

The next day started out uneventfully for Thomas. He worked in his woodshop, met with a few customers, then resumed working. After taking a break for a late midday meal, he heard Pipi and Riporty suddenly begin to bark, barking happily like it was someone they knew and loved. Thomas quickly put his tools down on his workbench and walked out to the front of his woodshop to find Pipi and Riporty eagerly jumping and prancing around his parents! He ran to them, lifting Mary into the air and twirling her around, then happily hugging David. It had been several months since he had seen his parents so he was extremely excited to see them, more so than he would have thought. He invited them to the back of his woodshop where there was a small table and a few chairs. He offered them some water and something to eat, which they gratefully accepted.

Thomas asked them what brought them to his village since it was at least a two-day journey from their home. David and Mary looked at each other, gleefully smiling like two young children who had a secret. Mary could not hold back any longer and excitedly revealed to Thomas that she was with child! Thomas, feeling stunned and shocked, gazed at David for confirmation. David smiled, laughed, clapped him on the back and confirmed it was true; Thomas would be a big brother. Tears came to Mary’s eyes as she told him that she had about another five moons until the baby came. She had not told anyone yet because of past experiences trying to have children. She hoped that she was far enough along so the baby would be born healthy without any problems. David mentioned that he was the first person that they told except for the healer that has been helping them and she was sworn to secrecy.

Still feeling dumbfounded by the news, Thomas hugged Mary and told her how happy he was for her and for their family. He could hardly believe that he would be a brother, it was something he wanted his entire life. Even though there would be a large age gap between them, Thomas was definitely old enough to be the baby’s father, he was thrilled. His excitement for his mother was beyond belief. He decided that he was done with work for the day and asked his parents to join him at his house.

Before heading to Thomas’s house, Mary and David openly admired at all the work that Thomas had done. David was especially pleased and commented that his work had greatly improved, especially in the small intricate details in the animal carvings. Thomas beamed with delight at being praised by his father. He expressed his love for carving and became more adept with each piece he carved. He also revealed that he had some training from an expert wood carver who demonstrated to him several techniques to add detail and a more realistic look to his carvings.

Thomas showed David a couple of chairs that he had struggled with; then asked them how long they would be able to stay. David answered that they would be there for about two days and then needed to head back home. He explained that the healer wanted Mary back home as soon as possible. Thomas then asked his father if he could help him with the chairs, David examined them and stated he would be honored to help.

Mary walked to the house, David and Thomas enjoyed a lively conversation while they unhitched the horses from the wagon they had traveled in, put them in the barn, and gave them grain and water. They walked back to the wagon so David could retrieve a few items and handed Thomas a large rectangular item that was covered in cloth. Thomas glanced at him with curious eyes. David smiling and with a twinkle in his eye told him that he could see what was under the cloth once they were in the house. Thomas instinctively knew it was a painting that his mother created, but had no idea of what it could be.

Mary seated herself on a handcrafted chair that Thomas made out of hickory wood, anxiously awaiting her husband and son. As she waited, she admired the quality of the chair and the other items that Thomas had made.

As soon as Thomas and David entered the house, Thomas set the rectangular bundle upright on the floor; then eagerly asked if he could now remove the cloth cover. David and Mary excitedly told him he could. He pulled off the cloth and stared in amazement at what he saw. It was an exquisite painting of him in his woodshop. It depicted him with an unfinished bow in one hand and a carving tool in his other hand. He was looking forward steadfastly. In the background was a faint image of his beautiful Nara, dressed in a pale white dress with her hands out, appearing as if she were encouraging him to move forward. The painting was framed in a light maple wood that David crafted specifically for it. Thomas appreciatively gazed at the many elaborate details in the painting—carved animals in the background, tools scattered on a tool bench, Pipi and Riporty laying on the floor, Nara’s long beautiful hair flowing behind her, among so many other details. Thomas, with tears flowing down his cheeks, went to Mary and held her in his arms, crying into her shoulders. David joined the hug. Once he regained his composure, he told he mother how much he loved her and expressed as much gratitude as he could for the painting. They examined the painting together and identified many of the small intricate details imbedded in the painting, including Jesus Christ in the top left corner with his hands outstretched to Thomas. The image of Jesus was so subtle, Thomas did not see it at first. Mary disclosed to Thomas that she felt Nara’s hand as she created the painting; ideas of the small intricate details came to her as dew settles on grass in the morning.

After spending several minutes admiring the painting, Thomas retrieved some bread, cheese, and deer jerky for an early evening meal. While they ate, Thomas asked more questions about the baby and how Mary was doing. She reported that she had a couple weeks where she felt sick, but for the most part, she felt good, just tired. After all, she stated, she was not as young as she used to be! They all laughed. Thomas complimented her, stating that she still looked beautiful and did not look a day older than 25. Mary laughed and thanked him for the compliment.

Becoming more somber, Thomas informed his parents that he had some news to share with them. He first talked about Maren and Daniel, only mentioning that her husband had died. Both Mary and David looked at him with hope in their eyes; they wanted him to move on with his life and find someone he could love. They both expressed interest in meeting Maren and Daniel before they left to go home. Thomas mentioned that right now would not be a good time to meet her. He then reluctantly recounted Helki’s visits and the threats made to him, Maren, and her family.

Feeling like he was stabbed in the heart, David expressed remorse in the actions of Helki. David and Mary knew Helki’s parents well and knew they were good people. They were well aware of the problems Helki had created for them and expressed that they had hoped he would have changed as he matured, but declared that it seemed to have worsened.

Thomas recounted the details of how Maren’s husband died. Mary’s face paled as her heart went to Helki’s mother and the grief and pain she must be feeling. She commented that Helki’s mother, even though she attempts to put on a happy face, looks as though she is deeply burdened. Now that Mary had a greater understanding she resolved to spend more time with her once they were back home.

David and Mary expressed deep concern for their son. They suggested that he go back to their village. Thomas mentioned that he considered that but did not feel it would be right to run away from the problem.

About that moment, there was eager barking from Pipi and Riporty and a knock on the door. Thomas opened the door to Micco and Rowtag filling the space with their large bodies. Thomas excitedly welcomed them into the house where he introduced them to his parents. They all shook hands and Thomas invited them to sit on cushions, since he did not have enough chairs for everyone. David and Mary moved their chairs so they were facing Micco and Rowtag.

Micco and Rowtag’s eyes immediately turned to the painting. They carefully and admiringly studied it as Thomas explained some of the details. They turned to Mary looking at her with awe and admiration at her astounding work. Micco expressed the desire to have Mary paint something for him in the near future. Mary replied that she would be happy to create a painting for him.

Micco conveyed his appreciation to David and Mary for raising such an amazing son. He recounted Thomas’s experiences with Satordi and that he knew he could completely trust him. David agreed that Thomas was trustworthy declaring that he was honored to call him his son.

Micco then asked David if Thomas had informed them about the recent happenings and threats. Thomas answered saying that he told them part of the threats, but had not had the chance to finish. Mary expressed concern for Thomas’s safety as well as Maren’s. She added that she looked forward to meeting Maren and Daniel. Micco smiled and told her that he hoped that it would be sooner rather than later. He also mentioned that Daniel was pretty smitten with Thomas and constantly begged to see him again so he could fly. They laughed as Thomas explained how he held Daniel in the air like he was flying. Mary put her hands to her heart and expressed how she longed to meet him.

Thomas spent a few moments informing Micco and Rowtag about his encounter with Helki the previous day. Concern spread over both Micco and Rowtag’s faces as Rowtag explained how a few men, and even women, had been taken against their will to Helki’s community. Mary immediately gasped and asked how Thomas could be protected, and again brought up the possibility of him returning home. Because Helki made a direct threat to Thomas, David asked if that wasn’t enough evidence to arrest him. Rowtag answered that it probably was not, since no one else heard the threat, but reminded Thomas to tell a member of the king’s army next time they stopped by.

As the group discussed the situation, they determined that Thomas’s returning home would not change their situation or the threats. Thomas assured Mary that the king’s army were discretely working with him and Micco’s family to help protect them and to find those who were making the threats. After discussing the situation for several more minutes, Micco and Rowtag announced that they needed to head back home. Before leaving they expressed to David and Mary what a pleasure it was to meet them and that they hoped to see them again in the near future.

After Micco and Rowtag left, Mary, with tears in her eyes, hugged Thomas and made him promise to be careful. Thomas promised her that he would.

(To be continued…)

Thomas Part 14

Thomas Part 1

Thomas Part 13

The next morning, Thomas woke feeling like he had a pit in his stomach. He wondered how he had gotten himself in this web of intrigue. One thing he knew for certain, he wanted to get to know Maren better but did not want to cause any safety concerns for her, her family, or himself.

After eating some bread and cheese, Thomas fed his animals, then followed by Pipi and Riporty, he walked to his woodshop where he resumed work on Marcus’s bow. He was grateful for the diversion that working with wood brought to him. He always felt a deep sense of gratification as he utilized wondrous materials from nature to create works of art.

Later that morning, Pipi and Riporty began eagerly barking; Thomas knew that bark meant someone was approaching his woodshop. He put down the bow he was working on and greeted the visitors. There were three men who were with the kings army. They were dressed in light weight armor and carried swords and shields with them. All three were taller than Thomas with bulging muscles. Two of them had dark hair and eyes and looked like they could be brothers. The other one had short light-colored hair, a lighter complexion with blue eyes. Thomas looked outside and saw three beautiful mares that the soldiers must have rode up on. They were subtly decorated to identify that they belonged to the king’s army.

The lighter-complected of the soldiers informed Thomas that Micco sent them to him to learn about the threat to him and to Maren. Thomas led them to his house to retrieve the note that was sent. They read the note and asked if they could take it with them. He agreed. They asked Thomas to keep an eye out for anyone who may be watching him. Thomas chuckled as he informed them that he usually became so engrossed in his work that he almost became oblivious to his surroundings. He laughingly expressed his gratitude for Pipi and Riporty to let him know when someone approached the woodshop. He proclaimed that he did not even notice that Micco’s sons were watching him; however, he promised that he would pay better attention.

The soldiers assured Thomas that they wanted to capture those who threatened him and have been plundering communities. They remarked that it has been a very difficult process as highly respected members of the communities are secretly part of Helki’s group. Thomas inquired as to why they did not just travel out to the community Helki and his followers built up. One of the darker-complected soldiers responded that various soldiers had been there several times but they could not find any evidence of wrongdoing. They had several soldiers disguised as travelers in many cities, including Thomas’s village, but were not convinced that Helki’s group were not aware of what they were doing.

They informed Thomas that they would leave the village for a few days. They surmised that Thomas could possibly receive another note as someone in Helki’s group was most likely aware that they had been there. They warned Thomas to be careful and advised that it would be best not to see Maren for a few days. He agreed with them and expressed his desire to help them in anyway he could. The fair-complected soldier then showed Thomas a leather band with an identifying mark that all the soldiers carry. The band is to identify actual soldiers in the army. Thomas studied the marking carefully and curiously asked if others could reproduce it. One of the soldiers stated that some have tried but pointed out the leather which has a different look from the processing which is something that only a couple of people know how to do. Thomas had other questions, but chose to wait until another time to pose them.

After their departure, Thomas felt a sudden relief sweep over him with the knowledge that the king’s army was working on capturing Helki and his group.

Later that afternoon, Marcus came by the wood shop. Thomas showed him the bow that was almost complete. Marcus inspected the craftmanship with the wonder of a small child receiving a new toy. He inquired about the visit with the soldiers. Thomas expressed his gratitude that the king was aware of what was happening and attempting to stop all the plundering and threats. He also told Marcus that they agreed it would be best for him not to see Maren for a few days. Marcus concurred and assured him that their family supported that decision. He did say, with a big grin, that Daniel had been asking to see him. Thomas smiled as he remembered holding the young boy in the air, pretending to fly.

The next day, Helki showed up at Thomas’s wood shop. Thomas was not happy to see him and surprised that he came. Helki eagerly greeted him as if everything was fine and as if he had no awareness of the recent threats to Thomas. He asked to see the bow Thomas was currently working on. Thomas let him look at it and Helki admired his fine artistry; then bluntly told Thomas that he wanted to purchase it. Thomas declined stating it was being made for someone else. Helki then asked if Thomas would create a bow for him, pulling several coins out of his pocket, more than Thomas would normally make from a custom bow. He had no desire to do any work for Helki, let alone have anything to do with him. He informed Helki that he was quite busy and would not have time for another few weeks. Helki pulled out a few more coins. Thomas held firm to his decision, not even tempted by the extra coins.

Helki persisted and asked Thomas if he wanted to do some target practice. Thomas thanked Helki for stopping by, declined the offer, then informed him that he needed to get back to work, that he had several deadlines approaching. Lingering, Helki started looking at some of the already finished wood carvings and began asking him about them. Thomas, feeling annoyed with Helki’s persistence, but with some pride in his voice, showed him a few of the animals. Helki admired them and asked if he could purchase one. Thomas took a few coins from him and gave him a beautiful carving of a bear. He thanked him for his purchase and firmly reminded him that he needed to get back to work.

Helki did not take the hint and continued to dawdle. While Thomas was trying to convince Helki to leave, another man rode up to the woodshop. Thomas greeted the  man who appeared to be a few years older than Thomas, with long dark hair and light colored eyes. The young man, Melchior informed Thomas that he was traveling through the city and had heard about his talent and wanted to stop by to meet him and see his work. Thomas showed him the bow he was currently working on and some of the other carvings he had done. Melchior seemed quite impressed and asked if he could custom order a bow. Because Helki was still there and listening to the conversation, he told Melchior that it would be another couple weeks before he could finish the bow, but could take his order now. He gave Thomas his specifications and also ordered a carving of a dog. He said that he would be passing through the village again in about two weeks. Thomas would have liked to guarantee that the work would be done, but was hindered because of the presence of Helki. Melchior turned to Helki and asked if had purchased any of Thomas’s work. Helki showed him the bear carving that he just purchased and said that he had also bought a bow from Thomas about a year ago. He then informed him that he had just offered many coins to purchase another bow to be made immediately, but Thomas did not take the offer. Melchior smiled as he looked at Thomas and declared that he must be really busy to pass up that generous proposition. Thomas asked him if there was anything else that he could do for him, he replied that there was not and went on his way.

Watching Melchior leave, Thomas hoped that he was one of the king’s soldiers trying to distract him from Helki, but after he left, he concluded that he wasn’t. Thomas, again, reminded Helki that he needed to return to his work, said good-bye, and started to walk back into his woodshop. Helki followed and encouraged him to go out to his community, adding the enticement that there would be a place for him there where he could make much more money than he was earning in this village. Thomas looked directly into his eyes and commanded him to leave, emphatically informing him that he did not want any part of the group. He felt tempted to express his annoyance about the threatening note, but thought it would be best not to discuss it at that moment.

Helki walked towards the door strongly implying to Thomas that it would be in his best interest to visit his community. He shrewdly added that it would be in his best interest for himself and for the girl if he came willingly and not by force. At the mention of Maren, Thomas’s heart began to pound so hard, it felt as though it would come out of his chest. He forcefully ordered Helki to leave and not to come back. Helki arrogantly sneered as he departed.

Thomas wanted to run to Maren’s home and let her family know what just occurred but felt constrained, assuming that someone was probably watching him. While talking to Helki and the man that came by, he did remember to look around for anyone that could have been watching, including one of Maren’s brothers, but he saw no one.

Later that day, another tall, well-built man with a light complexion, hair and dark-blue eyes entered Thomas’s woodshop as Pipi and Riporty barked to greet him. He introduced himself as Malachi and quietly informed Thomas that he was part of the king’s army. He then quickly changed the conversation and asked to look at some of his bows. He informed Thomas that he had heard about the quality of his bows from many who owned them. Thomas picked up the bow he was working on for Marcus. Malachi whistled in amazement as he admired the beautiful craftmanship. While inspecting the bow, he discreetly showed Thomas a leather band that was inscribed with the army symbol to assure him that he was who he said he was.

While discussing the bow and perusing some of Thomas’s animal carvings, Malachi asked about the conversation he had with Helki earlier in the day and informed him that the man who visited him while Helki was there, was also part of the king’s army; they had been watching the exchange. Thomas looked at him incredulously and wondered how and where they could have been watching. Malachi just smiled at him, showing his straight white teeth, and said that they learned to be very clandestine.

While talking about the carvings, Thomas gave as many details about the conversation as he could, including the threat made by Helki. Malachi placed an order for a bow, but Thomas explained to him that it would not be ready for another two weeks. Malachi informed him that would be acceptable and that he may stop back before then to see how the bow was coming along and to see how Thomas was doing. They shook hands, Thomas thanked him for the business, then Malachi left the woodshop.

As Thomas scratched Pipi and Riporty’s ears, he reflected on the visits of the day, grateful to know that the king’s army was diligently searching for Helki and his group to again bring peace and order to their village and in hopes that he could see Maren in peace.

(To be continued…)

Thomas Part 13

Thomas Part 1

Thomas Part 12

A couple of hours after Helki left, Maren’s older brother, Rowtag, arrived at Thomas’s wood shop to visit with him. He had a look of intense concern on his face. Thomas kindly greeted him, wondering why the deeply troubled face, but did not think much about it. Rowtag immediately stated the reason for his visit. He reported that he saw Helki at his wood shop and straight out asked Thomas about his relationship with him. Thomas, holding up his hands at the force of Rowtag’s question, assured him that he had no desire to meet with Helki or to even remain friends with him. He quickly explained that they grew up in the same village and had known each other since they were young; however, they were never close friends as Helki had an inclination for trouble. Rowtag affirmed that he did see Thomas order him to leave and that Helki responded with something that he could not hear. Thomas, looking down, revealed exactly what Helki said to him. He expressed that he had no idea how Helki knew that he was with Maren the night before; however, he did not take the threat seriously.

Rowtag then asked Thomas if they could talk for a few minutes. Thomas agreed and invited him to sit on a hand-crafted light oak chair in the back of the wood shop. Rowtag urgently warned Thomas that he needed to take Helki’s threat seriously. It was extremely disturbing to him that somehow Helki knew that his sister was with Thomas, surmising that he had spies in the city. He felt an anguished anxiety knowing that Maren and his family were being watched. He began explaining what happened to Maren’s husband. Although Thomas heard the story from Myron, he listened to Rowtag’s version, learning more details. He then informed him that he had already heard the story from Myron but appreciated hearing it from him. Thomas expressed his shock and anguish and condolences for Maren; then inquired if the man who killed Teetonka was part of Helki’s group. Rowtag grimly answered yes. Thomas stated that he understood why his family was so protective of Maren; it became alarmingly apparent to him that none of them were safe.

Expressing his concerns, Rowtag apologized that Thomas was now involved in their current family affairs and now he knew for a surety that his sister was still being watched. He extended an invitation from his father for Thomas to come to their home after he was done at his wood shop to share in their evening meal and to discuss the situation. Thomas looked surprised that it was Rowtag’s father who invited him; Rowtag informed him that his father felt very strongly that Thomas was a good and honest man.

This time when Thomas approached Maren’s home, Satordi eagerly greeted him, firmly pulling on his rope to try to reach him with his tail wagging wildly. Thomas gave him a small treat that he brought with him, petted and scratched his head, and easily walked to the door with Satordi happily following behind. Maren, with Daniel smiling in her arms, saw the change in Satordi’s reaction from the first meeting, laughed and welcomed Thomas to the family! Micco and Abigail warmly welcomed him into their home where the scents of a delicious meal drifted to his senses. Daniel immediately held out his arms to Thomas, wanting to be held by him. Thomas took Daniel into his hands and lifted him high into the air like he was flying to his utter delight.

After everyone finished eating and most of the eating utensils, pots and pans were cleaned up, the family sat on large individual cushions in a circle in the main sitting room in their home. Micco began by suggesting they have a word of prayer to bring the correct spirit into their home and to have the inspiration needed to appropriately deal with the problems they faced. This surprised Thomas as he was still unsure about the depth of their faith and belief. He observed their prayers before eating, but many people did that, with or without faith. Unexpectedly, Thomas gained a new respect for Micco and the manner in which he led his family. Tocho, the brother just younger than Maren and Marcus was asked to pray. Maren held a squirmy Daniel during the prayer.

After the prayer, Micco recounted some of the problems the village, and other communities, have encountered because of Helki and his group. They had robbed and plundered peoples’ homes and businesses, taken advantage of their wives and daughters, and brought fear into the hearts of many by their threats. He went on to explain that some members of the group, like the man who took advantage of Maren, had been caught and were in various prisons, but the group continued to plague the community. He informed Thomas that members of Helki’s group not only lived in the community he created, but many lived within towns and villages and remained yet unknown to the villagers.

Thomas moaned as he disclosed his concerns about his parents and the village he came from. As far as he knew, there had not been any issues there, but that could have been because it was Helki’s hometown and his parents and family still lived there.

Micco apologized for sending his sons (and not just Rowtag) to secretly watch him. He declared his deep love for his daughter and his undying determination to protect her. He assured Thomas that he sent his sons to watch any man who had an interest in his daughter or that she had an interest in. He also commented on Satordi’s greeting to him and informed him that Satordi knew easily sense those who had complete integrity and those who did not. He explained that even though it seemed that Satordi wanted to eat Thomas the first time he came, he did that with everyone. Once he was able to get acquainted with them, he knew who could be trusted and who could not. There had been a few people that the dog would not let into the house. Abigail proudly proclaimed that Thomas passed the Satordi test and that she and her family completely trusted him.

Thomas felt a bit overwhelmed. Here was a family that he barely knew and were already taking him into their confidence and complete trust. He assured them that he could be trusted and would do all he could to help protect Maren and their family. Rowtag reminded him that he also needed to protect himself, his animals, and his wood shop.

After talking for about an hour, Satordi suddenly started fiercely barking. Maren and Micco ran to the door and went out to see why he was barking. Myron, shouting over Satordi’s barking, asked if Thomas was there and after Maren answered in the affirmative, he instructed them to tell Thomas that he needed to get to his house immediately. Maren calmed Satordi while Micco almost knocked Thomas over as he rushed to go back inside. Micco, with concern in his voice commanded Rowtag and Marcus to go with Thomas.

With the light of a bright, full moon, Thomas straightway sprinted to his home, while Rowtag and Marcus mounted their horses and beat him there. Pipi and Riporty were anxiously barking at the house. Thomas urgently ran into the house to find a note left tacked onto a wall ordering him to stay away from Maren or else they would make sure he would never be able to see her again.

His heart, beating quickly from the run, beat even faster and harder as he read over the words of the message, then showed the message to Marcus. Marcus exclaimed that Thomas had not even spent much time with Maren and who knew that he was at their home that evening. Who in their village was watching them?

Myron soon rode up to the house, dismounted and entered through an open door. Thomas asked him how he knew something was happening at his house. Myron explained that he was riding past Thomas’s house on the way to his home when he heard the dogs fiercely barking. He stopped at a distance to watch for a moment to assure all was satisfactory, when he saw someone trying to secretly leave the house, quickly mounting a horse, and kicking it to send it to a quick gallop to escape. Myron expressed that he did not think the person saw him. He described the man the best he could from the distance he was at; he did not think it was someone that he knew.

Feeling hot anger at the whole situation, Rowtag, towering over Myron, looked him in the eyes and asked how they could be sure he did not have anything to do with the incident. Myron put up his hands and assured him that he was not involved with Helki and his group and he even had a couple animals taken by members of the group. Hearing that, Thomas ran outside to check his animals; they were all there.

With regret, Rowtag apologized to Myron and expressed his deep intense frustrations at the whole situation. He reminded him how members in the village had met together to discuss ways to deal with Helki’s group and they had not made any progress. He felt that there was someone in Helki’s group who had attended the meetings and reported to Helki all the results. Part of his deep frustration was that he did not know who to trust and who not to trust. Thomas laughingly informed him that they could always perform the Satordi test! They all laughed.

Myron asked if there was anything else he could do. Thomas thanked him for taking the time to watch what was happening and informing him about the intruder and let him know there was nothing else he could do for now, so Myron mounted his horse and left. Rowtag looked at Thomas and reminded him to be careful and asked if he wanted company that night. Thomas thanked him for the offer but told him that he thought he would be alright. Rowtag and Marcus said their goodbyes and left.

As Thomas lay in his bed that night, images of Maren kept coming to his mind. He was completely intrigued with her beauty and even more than that, her kind and gentle nature. He sensed the emotional scars from her past, but saw how her tenderness and the support from her family has helped her to heal. How he desired to spend more time with her and get to know her better; he wondered if it was worth risking their lives.

(To be continued…)

Thomas Part 12

Thomas Part 1

Thomas Part 11

Two days after Maren placed the order for her bow, Thomas saw her walk toward his wood shop carrying her son on her back. He saw a tall, broad-shouldered man accompanying her and felt immediate disappointment. He hoped to spend time with Maren and get to know her better. As they came closer, he noticed that the man looked exactly like Maren, with the same long dark hair the same dark eyes. After Maren greeted Thomas, she introduced him to her twin brother, Marcus. Thomas was very pleased, and quite relieved, to meet him and learn that he was her brother.

Thomas brought out Maren’s handcrafted bow. Marcus, with a look of admirable awe, took the bow and thoroughly inspected it, pulled the string, and declared it to be the finest bow he had ever seen. He promptly ordered a bow for himself. Thomas felt tremendous satisfaction that Maren’s brother was impressed with his work.

After placing his order, Marcus invited Thomas to their home for the evening meal. Seeing a surprised look in Thomas’s eyes, he wisely explained that Maren was a widow. Thomas looked at her with understanding and thoughtful eyes. He happily accepted the invitation and asked if he should bring anything. Marcus replied that he did not need to bring anything and then explained how to get to their house. Suddenly, Daniel, still on Maren’s back, began laughing. They all looked at him in amazement, trying to decide what he was laughing at. They could not figure it out and just laughed with him.

As Thomas approached Maren’s house, he was greeted by a large black and brown dog that began angrily barking, showing his teeth, and acting like he wanted to devour Thomas. Thankfully the dog was tied up on a thick long rope tied to a large hickory tree. Thomas immediately stopped and wondered how he would get past the dog and walk to the house. Almost immediately Maren came outside with a tall handsome young man that looked like he could be her younger brother. Maren commanded the dog to come to her. The dog, Satordi, immediately went to Maren and received a small treat. Maren’s brother, Nastas, went to Thomas and led him by the arm to Maren and Satordi. She spoke softly to her dog telling him that Thomas was okay. Nastas explained to Thomas that Maren had some troubles in the past so their father purchased and trained Satordi to help protect her and Daniel. He assured Thomas that Satordi was a fantastic dog and once they got acquainted, he would be treated like one of the family.

After gently yet sternly talking to her dog, Maren ordered Satordi to sit then asked Thomas to come forward. Nastas stayed right beside Thomas, helping to ease his concern. Maren then commanded her dog to shake hands with Thomas. Satordi held up his right paw, Thomas carefully and gently grabbed it as Satordi licked his hand. Nastas told him that he could relax as now the dog accepted him as part of the family. Thomas scratched him behind the ears and Satordi nuzzled his nose into his hands. Thomas smiled at Maren and she commented that Satordi usually does not make friends that quickly. She assured him that was an evidence of his goodness because Satordi can easily sense who is genuine and who just attempts to make a good impression. Thomas seemed pleased with that answer. Maren then gave him a treat to give the dog which made Satordi rapidly wag his tail in pure joy.

Thomas followed Maren and Nastas into the house. He was warmly greeted by Maren’s mother, Abigail, and her father, Micco. By looking at her mother, Thomas instantly knew where Maren received her beauty. Abigail was taller than most women Thomas knew, with long dark hair with a few strands of gray, and dark brown eyes. Micco was well over 6 feet tall, also with long dark hair, but his eyes were lighter than Abigail’s. Micco was very well-built and looked like he could easily out-wrestle a mountain lion or a jaguar.

Then Abigail introduced Thomas to the rest of the family. There were a total of seven children from the ages of 24 to 13. Maren and Marcus were 22 and Nastas was the youngest at age 13. Maren was the only girl in a family of very large boys. Thomas quickly realized that he did not want to get on the wrong side of this family. No wonder the man who took advantage of Maren did not stand a chance. Their large size could appear extremely intimidating if they wanted to.

Their evening meal was delicious. Thomas quickly fit in with the family as they discovered they had been at many competitions together several years earlier. Thomas never competed with any of the sons as they were not bow and arrow competitors. However, Thomas did race against Rowtag, the oldest son. It had been so long ago, neither remember who won that race. They finally agreed that it must have been another boy.

After spending an enjoyable couple hours with Maren and her family, Thomas announced that he needed to depart for his home to take care of his animals. Maren instantly looked at Marcus who gave her a slight nod. Maren, knowing Daniel was already asleep, asked if she could accompany him and help him with his animals. Stunned, Thomas agreed to let her come. Thomas said his goodbyes to everyone, then he and Maren walked out the door, with Marcus following close behind. As Thomas gave both Maren and Marcus quizzical looks, Maren explained that they rarely allow her to go anywhere alone. Her family was overly protective of her and Daniel. Thomas casually mentioned that she was alone when she first came to his wood shop, but Maren quickly informed him that one of her brothers was a short distance away carefully watching her.

As they walked Maren asked Thomas about Nara, already somewhat knowing about her since most people in the village knew his story. Thomas opened up about Nara, more than he had since Nara passed away. He felt an sense of empathy from her unlike any other person was able to give him. He felt a deep understanding and compassion that enlivened his spirit.

Once they arrived at Thomas’s home, Maren followed Thomas as he fed the animals. Thomas continued to talk and open his heart about Nara and his faith, or lack of faith, in God. He had not remembered opening up to anyone like that since Nara’s death. He felt a unique depth of caring and compassion from Maren.

After feeding the animals, Thomas apologized for monopolizing the conversation, but gratefully admitted that it had been therapeutic to open his heart and express feelings that he had kept inside since Nara’s death. He expressed to Maren that he felt that an inner healing took place and felt a bit lighter. He put his arms around her and gave her a hug of gratitude.

After hugging for a short time, Marcus, watching from a distance, suddenly whistled. Maren pulled back, turned around and glared at Marcus with her dark eyes, then smiled and laughed informing Thomas that her over-protective brother signaled to her that it was time to go. Thomas with a big smile waved at Marcus.

Then Thomas asked Maren if he could spend more time with her; he wanted to know her story. Maren replied that she and Marcus would come by his wood shop in the next couple days with an answer. She assured him that she wanted to see him again and that she genuinely enjoyed his hug. Marcus approached Maren, took her by the elbow and led her away.

It took a few hours before Thomas was able to fall asleep as he contemplated the conversation he had with Maren and the awakening feelings that he was experiencing. He felt a deep desire and yearning to discover more about Maren, a desire he had not felt since Nara’s death.

The next morning while Thomas worked in his wood shop, Helki rode up. Pipi and Riporty were in the wood shop with Thomas and after seeing Helki, they growled quiet enough that only Thomas could hear them. Thomas was surprised because usually the dogs eagerly greeted those who came to the wood shop.

After Thomas greeted him, Helki mentioned to him that he had heard that he moved to this new village. Looking around, he expressed admiration for the new wood shop and house. Thomas informed him that so far he was quite happy in the village. After spending a few minutes catching up since they last saw each other, Helki reminded Thomas about his community for those who were unsure about their faith. Thomas thanked him for the information and informed him that he was not interested right now. Helki urgently pressed him, trying to convince him to come just to meet some of the people there. Thomas continued to decline the offer, however Helki maintained his persistence. Finally, Thomas expressed that he needed to get back to work and reluctantly thanked him for the visit and the information. Helki would not take no for an answer and insisted that Thomas visit his community. Finally, Thomas looked him in the eyes and firmly advised him to leave. Helki stated that he would return, that he had not given up on him. As he mounted his horse and started to leave, he turned to Thomas and softly but firmly mentioned that it would be in his best interest for himself, his business, and the girl he saw the previous night to visit his community. At that comment, Thomas commanded Helki to leave and not to return. Helki promised that he would be back.

After Helki was gone, Pipi and Riporty came to Thomas and nuzzled their noses into his hands. Thomas glanced at his dogs, scratched behind their ears, and thanked them for their keen observation; and they were exactly right, Helki was not a good man.

(To be continued…)