Alyssa trudged through the trails, with the buckets in her hands, her shoulders screaming at the heavy weight. She breaked for a brief moment, setting aside the water buckets and breathing in and out the clean autumn air. Alone, the trees were tall and wide above her, casting a shadowy umbrella above her head. Once more she started, gritting her teeth as she continued on, dry leaves crunching beneath her leathered boots.
Winter was nearing. Frightening the prospect was, the sky pale with clouds hung above her as heavier ones lurked on the horizon. Snow would coat the ground soon, the season was already breathing down their neck with chilled winds from the North.
It was not long that she made her way from the stream, through the ways of quiet woodland, and into the open, where from her ledge on the slight hill, she could see the small house and barn nestled in the grasses. No longer surrounded by the comforting trees, she felt lonely and exposed, and the dark eyes of Horatio filled her head.
She attempted to shake them off, shivering at the memory of his touch against her skin, his cool lips against hers. Alyssa could not help but feel tears tug at her eyes, but she shook them away, brushing aside the temptation to cry again. Tightening her jaw, she hurried to the house, kicking open the door and entering the warmth of the house.
Alyssa set the buckets by the flames of the large maw of the fireplace in an attempt to warm them, briefly taking a moment to stir the stew which hung in the cauldron cooking in the fireplace. Marie hobbled into the room, her eyes tired and worn, the bulge about her stomach seeming to increase by the day. “How is Mother?” Alyssa inquired.
“Not any better,” Marie gave a great heave as she sat down at the kitchen table, resting her hand on her pregnant belly. “Have you seen Ella out there?”
“No,” Alyssa looked up to her sister, worried. “I thought she was in here.”
Marie shook her head, looking about the house. “I don’t know how we’re going to make it through winter.”
“We will,” she said in response, though she felt the same anxiety. “Has there been no news from Father or Andrew as of late?”
“Nothing,” Marie hid her eyes in her palms. Her voice was breaking. “It has been a fortnight and we have heard nothing!”
Alyssa rushed to her side, taking her elder sibling into an embrace. “I am sure they are fine,” she cooed to her, rocking her back and forth as Marie cried freely into her shoulder. “I will ride into town today and see if there has been any news of them.”
Marie sniffed, pulling away slightly, “No, we haven’t the time. We must preserve the squash and organize the jams.” She pushed herself to a standing position, with Alyssa holding her arm. “We are wasting our time; we must get to work!” Rubbing her eyes on her smock, Marie continued to walk to the sink to get started. Looking at her sister, Alyssa was unsure of how they were to make it through the season.