Why had they come – the men on horses?
They must have ridden miles to reach us,
The winter came quickly
that year. Nothing, until I woke
one morning to find the fields slain
by frost, the house quiet, no one risen though the cock had crowed at dawn
to warn us, as he always did.
It was ------- in the year of our Lord.
I knew it was time to rise and dress
but the room was blue, and unless
------ had soundlessly lit the fire
the whole house would be frozen. I lay
and thought of the weeks to come,
no, months, how cut off we were from
the world when deep snow came, as I
knew it surely would. Why had he
brought us here, miles from -------- ?
Each window was on fire, a blaze
of ice fanning out blindly across
the glass in scrolls until the old
house seemed smaller, as if cold
had seeped into its crabbed timbers
to make it groan like an old timer
full of early morning aches and pains.
I heard a noise. The day began.
As if a ghost had breathed its last
outside the house, a freezing mist
hung around for days until we felt
alone, abandoned to a fate
we did not deserve but which lay
in wait for us. We might disappear
before our neighbours were any
the wiser, or care, so far were we
removed from life. Sent out to feed
the hens, I breathed in the boiling cold
until it felt as if my lungs
would burst, so dense the mist which hung
about the place, shrouding the farm
from all that lay beyond the barn,
the world from which the horses came.
A downfield thunder at first,
everything hidden by the mist
until they emerged, three horsemen
riding at breakneck speed to the fence line
where they pulled up short and looked about.
The horses were fine steeds, a chestnut,
a black, and the third a blood bay,
imperious creatures, the way
they stamped the ground with their hooves,
snorting rubbery approvals
of themselves into the frozen air,
their breath serving only to further
cloud and mystify the scene
before me. I carried a pail of grain
to feed the cow, and would have fed
their horses too, but something made
me step back, the way they bridled
under the bit, they way they bared
their teeth as if ready to eschew
any offering I might make. You,
boy, tell your father we are here.
My father came but I could not hear
what passed between the four of them.
Next day he left at dawn, the farm
still lost in mist. He did not return,
and we did not speak of him again,
or hear from again, no word
at all. It was ------- in the year of our Lord.