He quickly brushed the snow away from the woman's face, wondering if she was dead. He pulled off his glove. He was warming to fine fury; he would have no problem with the cold. What manner of men had charge of this slender beauty, that she was left here to die? He touched her cheek, then her forehead. Cold. Cold and hard as marble.
He leaned over her, lifted her head, and tried to see if her breath fanned his cheek. The hard, wind-driven pellets of sleet, mixed now with the blowing snow, stung his uncovered nose and lips.
He couldn't tell anything. He paused for a second, then vented his frustration with one sharp curse word. He could put his hand down her dress, but to touch a young woman in certain places, even with her permission, was considered a particularly vile offense. He was hesitant, not wishing to dishonor her family even if she was a corpse.
Then he spat out another curse, this one directed at himself. If she wasn't already dead, she might easily die while he stood over her dithering about the proprieties. He pushed his hand down her dress, feeling for the heart where the throbbing can most easily be felt, on the left chest below the breast. He was rewarded by warmth and a slow but steady throbbing.
[The witch, Britta] leaned forward, examining Pony's face. 'I think we are required in this life to engage the world. What that means in its particulars for you, I cannot say. I think that you must listen to the world, embrace its direction.'
'Listening is the one thing I can do.' Pony was relieved.
Britta smiled. 'But you don't listen to all the world. There are other things you shut out. Like carnivores. You hear only prey animals, those who run to live.'
Devastation lodged like rocks in Pony's lungs. 'I think that may be changing.'
Britta raised her brows.
Pony swallowed. 'I heard ... a carnivore some time ago. A hawk. I know it is some strange perversion of the Gift. It has not happened again, thank the Mothers.' But hadn't it? Hadn't she heard carnivores whispering in the background when she reached out to Dun Mare?
Britta searched Pony's face. 'Perhaps it should happen again. We must listen even to the things that frighten us, Epona.'
the 870s AD
He had drawn close enough now to observe what manner of creatures they were who bobbed and peered and pointed excitedly about the little church, and along the churchyard wall. It did not please him. The black eyes, like small plums embedded in the hard dough of his face, turned dusky red, like smouldering coals. Deliberately he wheeled his horse to their side of the road, leaving the opposite verge, which was wider, and mounting the grass on the near side, and that solely in order to wave the miserable rabble back to their kennels. And his manner of waving was with the full lash of the riding-whip he carried. Doubtful if he ever used it on his horse, blood-stock of this quality being valuable and appreciated, but for clearing his path of lepers it would serve. The tight mouth opened wide to order imperiously: 'Out of my way, vermin! Take your contagion out of my sight!'
They shrank and drew back in humble haste out of reach, if not out of sight. All but one. Half a head taller than his fellows, one lean, cloaked figure stood his ground, whether out of inability to move quickly, or want of understanding, or in mute defiance. He remained erect, intently gazing through the eye-slot in the veil that covered his face.