Syrra came streaking through the square, dashing full pelt through the mass of people, not caring who she barged past as she searched desperately for her mother. To her relief she was just where she had been before, kneading the thick pastry needed to make the traditional seeded bread that was eaten at this time of year. Sweaty, panting and covered in mud from her fall, Syrra scrambled to her side and stood, shaking, beneath her mother's alarmed gaze.
"There's someone in the forest Mam," Syrra gasped, trying to get her breath back as she gabbled, "Down by the pastures, just on the other side of the river."
Her mother stepped forward, face caught somewhere between alarm and irritation. Hands on hips she towered over her daughter, lips pursed and thick dark eyebrows furrowed:
"What are you talking about girl?" she said tersely, "I can't understand a word you're saying. Someone in the forest? Nonsense. Your eyes are playing tricks on you. Look at the state of your skirt, I only washed that yesterday! And you've left the blasted bucket behind as well! I ought to box your ears good and proper, that'll teach you to tell fibs."
"But I'm not!" Syrra protested, hands curling into fists at her sides as she stared defiantly back into her mother's stern dark eyes, "I'm not telling fibs! There was someone in the forest, I saw them clear as day! I swear by all the gods and godesses, I am not lying!"
"Don't you use that tone of voice with me!" her mother shouted, baring her teeth threateningly and advancing on Syrra.
By now a small crowd had gathered around the pair, watching the exchange apprehensively. Syrra's mother was known for her sharp tongue and quick temper, and for her extensive use of both. From the expression on her face they half-expected her to slap her daughter then and there. Then, much to their surprise, an old man stepped out of the crowd. He was bent and frail-looking, with weathered brown skin like cracked leather and only a few whisps of white hair clinging to his bald scalp. He was dressed simply in a plain brown tunic and leggings and his tough old feet were bare on the hard ground. His gnarled hands clutched a sturdy stick and he walked with an unsteady limp. However, for all his dogged appearance, the brightness in the man's clear blue eyes and the dignity with which he bore himself, despite the limp, clearly showed that this old man was a respected member of the community. As Syrra's mother bore down on her daughter, one hand raised to slap her, he stepped firmly in between the two and said sternly:
"Enough Cwyn! There is no need for this." He turned to Syrra who was still standing, ashen-faced and glaring at her mother. "You say you saw someone in the forest?"
"I did." said Syrra, lifting her chin defiantly, "And I can show you where too."
The old man nodded, "Very well. Show us the way. I shall see if this really is a trick of the eyes or not."
Nodding respectfully, Syrra turned and began to wind her way back across the marketplace, the old man, Cwyn and a gaggle of curious villagers following after her, all with one thought on their minds.