• "We thank you, young man," Elbert said, and the stranger nodded. "Might we know your name?"

    "Ye may call me Traint Palar, Elder," the young man said. "Any true man would have done the same, given the chance."

    "Would you like to stay for a while?" Elbert asked. "I should think Jenna would like to meet her rescuer."

    "As much as I'd like to, I'm afraid I can't stay very long," Traint said. "I'm on my way to reclaim the lands that were taken from my family."

    "I'm sorry to hear that, son," Elbert said.

    "Perhaps, once I've reclaimed my family's land, I shall return and stay for a spell," the young man said, "if ye'll have me, of course."

    "You will always be welcome here, Traint Palar," the elder said, smiling. "Will you stay for one night, at least?" As much as he wanted to decline, Traint found himself nodding.

    "I suppose one night couldn't hurt," he said. "Thank ye, Elder."

    "You're quite welcome," Elbert said. "Please, feel free to explore the village as you will. You'll find that 'most everyone here is quite friendly." Having said this, the elder nodded once before leaving Traint on his own. The young man watched him go for a moment before turning to see Harper approaching him.

    "Thanks for stepping in like that," Harper said. "My father is a brute that's accustomed to being obeyed and getting what he wants. I would have stepped in, myself, if I weren't afraid of him. I'm Harper, by the way."

    "Ye're the one that carried the girl away?" Train asked.

    "Her name is Jenna," Harper said, nodding. "My father somehow managed to convince her mother to agree to have Jenna marry me this time next year. I don't know how he did it, and honestly, I don't want to know. All I want is for Jenna and myself to be happy, not forced into something we don't want."

    "Ye don't want to marry Jenna?" Traint asked.

    "I've had my eye on a different girl for some time now," Harper said, shaking his head. "Jenna can't stand me, because I like to tease her sometimes. Not to mention the fact that after this, I'm sure she won't want anything to do with my family."

    "Would ye mind taking me to Jenna's home?" Traint asked, and Harper nodded.

    "Of course," he said, beckoning for Traint to follow. "I'm sure she'd like to meet her rescuer." Harper led Traint to Jenna's home and knocked on the door once they'd reached it. Ellie opened the door, smiling when she saw Harper there.

    "Harper, you're just in time," she said. "Jenna woke a few minutes ago. Would you like to see her?"

    "Thank ye kindly, Ellie," Harper said. "I'd like you to meet Traint. He's a friend of mine."

    "Any friend of Harper's is welcome here," Ellie said, stepping to one side. "Please, come inside, both of you." The two young men entered the home, and Ellie closed the door behind them, then beckoned them to sit at the table, where Jenna was sitting.

    "Jenna, you have visitors," Ellie said. The girl looked up, scowling when she saw Harper sitting across from her.

    "What are you doing here?" she growled.

    "Jenna, be nice," Ellie said, setting a tray of sweets on the table. "Harper carried you home after you were kicked by one of the horses."

    "'Kicked by one of the horses'?" Jenna echoed, glaring at Harper. "Is that really what you told my mother?"

    "Jenna, please calm down," Harper said.

    "Why?" Jenna asked, clearly irate. "Why don't you tell Mama what really happened, Harper?"

    "What are you talking about, Jenna?" Ellie asked.

    "He lied to you, Mama," Jenna said. "I wasn't knocked out by a kick from a horse, it was—"

    "My father," Harper said, sighing in defeat. "It was my father that knocked Jenna out, not a horse."

    "Why would Steve do such a thing?" Ellie asked, confused.

    "I think I should answer that," Harper said, as Traint opened his mouth to speak. Harper proceeded to tell the whole story, and by the time he was done, Jenna had run to her bedroom and Ellie sat at the table in silence.

    "I'm sorry for lying to you earlier, Ellie," Harper said. "I'm ashamed of his words and actions, and I hope you can forgive me."

    "There's nothing to forgive you for, Harper," Ellie said. "He isn't the kindest man, as I'm sure you're already well aware. He came to me yesterday, requesting that Jenna marry you, Harper. If I didn't agree, he threatened to tell Elbert that I was the one responsible for Andrew's disappearance."

    "If I may, who is Andrew?" Traint asked.

    "Andrew is Jenna's father," Ellie said.

    "Would ye mind telling us what happened to him?" Traint asked. "To Andrew, I mean. Why would Steve say what he did to Jenna earlier?"

    "Andrew found out that Steve was involved in the black market," Ellie answered. "He confronted Steve and threatened to expose him, and the next day, Andrew was gone. There was no note or anything explaining where he went, but Andrew's bow and quiver were gone, so I assumed he'd just gone hunting."

    "So Steve is blackmailing ye into making Jenna marry Harper?" Traint asked. "Only a coward uses low methods like blackmail to get what they want."

    "Jenna was only five when Andrew disappeared," Ellie said. "She prayed every night that he would return to us, but I fear that he may no longer be with us on this earth." Traint sat in silence for a moment, then looked at Harper.

    "Harper, would ye mind answering a question?" Traint asked, and Harper nodded. "Is there any place ye know of that yer father won't let ye go? Somewhere he could hide something?"

    "Aye, we've got a cellar behind our house that's always locked," Harper said. "I've never been inside it, but I know where the key is, if you'd like to check it out."

    "Aye, I'd like to," Traint said. "I have a feeling that some answers we seek may be found there."

    "Alright, then let's go," Harper said. Traint nodded, and the two of them rose from the table and headed for the cellar behind Harper's house. Harper retrieved the key from a knothole in a nearby tree, then opened the lock and pulled the door open. Almost immediately, a rank, rotten stench hit their noses, making them gag.

    "It smells like something's rotting in here!" Harper said, tying a handkerchief around his nose and mouth as Traint did the same. "Let's go."