Later that evening, the village council called a Meet in the hall. Since the events of that morning the village had been abuzz with talk, mostly about the nature of their mysterious new guest, who himself had been scarcely seen since rescuing Peshu. Syrra followed her mother into the hall, taking her place beside her on one of the rough benches at the edge of the long rectangular building. The torches flickered in their brackets, casting twisting shadows against the dark wooden walls and illuminating the faces of the villagers in a strange fiery light.
Finally a man got to his feet. Syrra recognised him as Aidan the blacksmith, head of the council and one of the most influential men in the village:
"Welcome friends," he boomed, "it is an honour to call you all together this night. I'm sure you are all aware of the reason for this meeting, so I won't waste my breath explaining it. What I ask you, is what do we make of the whole situation? And also of our new friend."
"It's a miracle!" came a woman's voice. "If he hadn't arrived when he did Peshu would have been crushed to death. We ought to thank him for it!"
Cries of assent rose from others around the hall. Then, Father Michael got to his feet, the torchlight casting dark shadows across the hollows of his bony face:
"All is not as it seems," he said, his voice high and nasal. "How do we know we are not harbouring some sinner or outlaw? We know nothing about this man, or where he came from. Do we want to run the risk?"
"Nonsense!" cried Cwyn, the suddeness of her outburst making Syrra jump. "How can we judge the poor fellow like this when all he's done so far is to help us?"
"We cannot afford to be simple Cwyn." replied Father Michael haughtily. "We must think of our own safety before anything else."
"And what about simple hospitality?" retorted Cwyn, leaping to her feet. "What are we supposed to do, throw him out on his ear like some low-life thief? Doesn't that damned book of yours say anything about kindness to strangers?"
"How dare you woman!" Father Michael's eyes widened in shock. "How dare you insult the Holy Book? Your sinful ways will bring you nothing but woe!"
"Enough!" Aidan's voice rang out. "Bickering will not get us anywhere. Mistress Cwyn, Father Michael, if you would please resume your seats."
Father Michael sniffed and sat back down. Cwyn glared at him for a few moments longer, hands balled into white-knuckled fists and looking as if she would like nothing more than to throttle the priest there and then. However, with an irritable snarl, she resumed her seat beside her daughter. Once both parties were settled, Aidan spoke again:
"It seems to me that we have reached a disagreement." he said. "We will have to cast a vote. Those in favour of Cwyn's notion, raise your hand."
A large majority of the hall raised their hands. Aidan performed a quick count.
"And those who favour Father Michael's decision?"
Only half a dozen or so hands were raised, Father Michael's among them. Syrra shifted nervously in her seat, feeling the tension in the air increasing. Aidan nodded:
"It is decided. We will offer our guest our hospitality for as long as he deigns to stay with us. Now," he said, clapping his hands and grinning, "enough of this. Let's start the celebrations!"
Cries of delight erupted from the assembled people and Syrra felt the tension in the air dissipate instantly. She smiled, however much they disagreed on things, the villagers could all come together if a good festival was involved. However, as she looked around, she spotted Father Michael sitting in his chair, scowling vehemently and muttering under his breath. Syrra stuck her tongue out at him, trust that old bag to stir up trouble, she thought. Then, turning away from the priest, she followed her mother out into the square where the first lamps were just being lit and where the dancing would soon begin.