Catching the Wind(9)

By: Melanie Dobson

“Are you hungry?” Dietmar asked.

Brigitte shook her head.

“You must be thirsty then.” They’d turned away from a stream yesterday and had yet to find more water.

“A little.”

“We’ll find our way home. One day.”

The fading light caught the blue in her eyes and made them shimmer. “As long as we’re together—”

He reached for her hand and gently squeezed it. “I’m not leaving you.”

The cowbells rang again, their song melding with the breeze, and he scoured the mantle of dark shadows and tall pine trees beside them. A knight may fight with sword and shield, but his greatest duty was to fear God and live by honor. To defend the weak and keep the faith.

“We need some milk,” Dietmar said, guiding her toward the melody of bells.

She followed him into the shadows, the pine needles snagging their stained clothing and matted hair. He’d never milked a cow in his life, but how hard could it be? They’d been subsisting on river water and berries and the sausages from Brigitte’s house. Sausages they’d finished three days ago. Milk would give them the strength to continue until he found more food.

A parade of light broke through the trees, and on the other side, a dozen tan-and-white cows grazed in a circular pasture before them. Two of the cows glanced up at the children, curious, but then they bowed their heads to return to their feast.

His stomach rumbled from hunger, and he eyed Brigitte’s tin. Would she let him use it to catch the milk?

Before he asked, she pointed toward a pail hanging on a post. Quickly he retrieved it and walked toward a lone cow near the trees. Kneeling beside the animal, he eyed the swollen udder and then tugged on the teat.

Nothing happened. The cow didn’t even look back.

Brigitte stepped up beside him, an unruly-looking halo bunched on the top of her head. “You’re pulling too hard.”

He glanced up. “Have you ever milked a cow?”

Her chin inched up. “A princess would never milk her own cow.”

“Then it’s good I’m not a princess,” he tried to joke, but she didn’t smile.

He tried milking again, lighter this time, and a few drops of liquid dripped into the bucket. Brigitte clapped her hands.

Someone called from across the pasture. Turning, he saw a man running toward them, a wiry fellow with blotched skin, waving a straw hat over his head. He shouted something again in a language Dietmar didn’t understand.

Dietmar sprang to his feet, ready to sprint, but he didn’t run. He couldn’t leave Brigitte behind.

In seconds the man was beside them, studying their mud-spattered clothing and wild hair. Dietmar stood tall, and Brigitte stepped in quietly behind him. He was prepared to defend her. Prepared to do whatever he must.

Instead of reprimanding them, the man simply asked a question, this time in German. “Are you hungry?”

Dietmar didn’t reply.

A stone farmhouse stood beyond the pasture, its sloping roof made of thatch. Smoke puffed out of the chimney and clouded in the orange-tinted sky. He could see the fence around a large garden, the dark leaves ready to harvest. Perhaps they could buy some food from the man.

The farmer pointed back toward the house. “My wife is making a rabbit stew for dinner.”

Dietmar didn’t see ridicule in the man’s eyes, like he’d seen with Heinz. Only curiosity and perhaps compassion.

“You can sleep in our attic tonight.”

The stew would strengthen Brigitte—strengthen both of them—as would rest in a safe place. If this house was safe.

“We will eat some stew,” Dietmar said.

Brigitte took his hand, and they followed the farmer to the house.

Inside, the man’s wife was bent over a copper pot on the stove, a worn apron with a patchwork of colors tied around her wide girth. Dietmar’s mouth watered as the spicy aroma from the pot permeated the room. He’d once thought he couldn’t eat rabbit, but he had no qualms about eating one now.

The woman’s forehead was creased with wrinkles, and sweat trickled down the sides of her graying hair. She spoke to the man in the foreign language as she tugged on the fraying edge of her apron. Dietmar knew some English from his mother, but he didn’t recognize any of the woman’s words. Perhaps it was Dutch.