A freezing rain fell throughout the hills, the wind howling mournfully through the trees. Most people had already found shelter to ride out the rest of the night in the warmth of their homes. The small daughter of the merchant however, was not huddled near the crackling fire. Instead she hovered by the window, her breath fogging the glass. Her brown eyes squinted through the driving rain at the lone figure in the dark. He was huddled in the corner of his cage which was placed in the middle of the town square. Her father had told her he was to work in the duke's castle when she had asked, also saying he was stubborn and strong but the Duke would put him in his place. She didn't know what that meant but the men around her father had laughed when it was said. The girl was only just nearing her sixth year and she didn't understand why the adults acted the way they did around him. She watched as he curled into a tighter ball, his back to the wind. He had to be cold, the girl thought. She didn't understand why he couldn't come inside, mentioning this to father once before but he had chuckled and said men like that were not allowed in houses like ours. What her father had said, confused her. He didn't look any different than they did. He was wetter but that was it. He even had the same color hair as mother did. Suddenly the girl smiled. Maybe he wasn't allowed in but she could bring him a blanket outside. The girl quickly ran off to her room, careful not to be noticed by her father and the men who had come with the man outside. She had a feeling they wouldn't like her talking to the man. She grabbed a blanket out of the chest by her bed, making sure she didn't grab the one her grandmother had made for her. Her feet barely made a sound as she ran through the kitchen, eying the small loaf of bread on the table. It was just the left over crust from dinner but she grabbed it away, she could always find something else for him if he didn't like crust. She knew she didn't like the crust but mother and father did so maybe he would too. Wrapping her shaw around herself, the girl ran into the driving rain.
Her shoes sunk into the mud puddles as she approached the cage. The man must have heard her footsteps because he looked up at her.
"Here, I brought you some bread and a blanket." She said, just loud enough he could hear her over the wind.
The man smiled and took the bread but he stopped her before she could hand him the blanket.
"Thanks, but I'll stick to the bread for now." The man smiled at her. His voice was gentle, not grumpy. She knew she would be grumpy if she had to stay outside all night in the rain. "Run back inside before your parents miss you."
She shrugged, unsure why he had turned down the blanket. He stopped her again as she turned to leave.
"Oh, and kid. Best not tell anyone you helped me, alright?" He smiled, water running down his face and streaming off his nose and chin.
The girl nodded in understanding. She knew how to keep a secret. Sally had once told her she liked Bobby and she had kept it quiet for a full three days, even when everyone wanted her to tell. Yawning, she hung up her shaw and plopped down on her bed, asleep, not even noticing as the winds picked up and the rain began to pour down in sheets.
The man still sat in the middle of the town square that next morning. Though the rain and stopped, he was still soaked and shivering. People milled in the square, giving him a wide berth. Some of the boys older than her had started throwing rocks at the man until finally the basket weaver had stopped them. The girl was still confused why he hadn't accepted the blanket from her last night. He had been shivering but had still said no. When she was cold mother wrapped her up in blankets, so she knew it worked. He must not have wanted to get her blanket wet, but it wasn't raining now. Smiling, she grabbed the blanket again and ran out the front door, her mother only giving her a quick glance. She slowed to a walk as she approached the iron cage, stopping completely as he looked up to meet her eyes. It had been dark last night and she hadn't been able to clearly see him through the rain, but now that the sun was out she could clearly see the bruises on his arms.
"Hi." She gave him the best smile. Adults always liked it when she smiled.
"Hey." The man mumbled, his hair, though still wet, sticking up on end. It reminded her of father's hair in the morning.
"I brought you the blanket." She smiled as she brought it out from behind her back. "You don't have to worry about getting it wet, now."
She frowned when he shook his head again. "No thanks, the suns out now so I'll be warm in no time."
"Father says your gonna go work in the castle. I've always wanted to go to the castle. Are you excited?" The girl started speaking a mile a minute. "How did you get those bruises? Did you fall? I fall a lot. Mother says I'm clumsy. Are you clumsy?"
"Yeah, kid. I'm clumsy. Now you need to go and play or something before someone sees you." He answered her, his voice still just above a whisper.
"Why? Can't I talk to you? Are you tired? Sometimes I don't want to talk when I'm tired." She continued, twisting her fingers in front of her and hopping from foot to foot.
"It'd just be best-" The man was interrupted by the loud voice behind her.
"Get away from there!" The harsh voice yelled, causing her to jump and spin around. The girl held her hands behind her back as one the men father had been talking to ran up to the them. Father was with him and he quickly scooped her up and carried her a short distance.
"You are not to speak to him. Do you understand?" He told her, bending down to look his daughter in the eye.
"But why, father? He was hungry and cold. Why can't I talk to him?" She asked.
"He is not like us, sweet heart. He is good only for work." He told her, running a finger through her hair.
"So he's going to the castle to work?"
"But, why is he in a cage? Doesn't he want to work?" She asked again, her mind full of questions.
Father sighed. She knew that meant he didn't want to answer but she wanted to know.
"Thats enough questions for now, little one, now come inside and help your mother with the cooking." He stood and took her small hand in his, leading her back to the house. She peered over her shoulders as she stumbled to keep up with her father's long strides. They had let the man out of the cage. He must have fallen again because he was lying on the ground in front of the men. He was really clumsy. Turning, she followed her father into the house.
The small child found herself looking out the same window she had the day before, watching the same man as she had before. This time he was holding onto the bars of his cage to keep himself upright as him and the cage were loaded into the wagon. She had thought he would be excited to being finally going to the castle but for some reason he was frowning. Father had said that when she was old enough she would get to go to the castle and she knew when the time came she would be smiling. For the first time, the girl got the feeling the man didn't want to go. He wanted to be somewhere else.
"Mother?" She asked, not taking her eyes off the man as the cage nearly dropped to the ground when one of the men lost his grip, throwing the man against the bars. "Why does he have to go to the castle? He doesn't want to go." Her Mother put down her spoon looked out the window to see what her daughter was looking at.
"Sometimes, sweet heart. People need to do things they don't want to." She told her daughter softly.
The small child sighed as she turned back to look out the window once more. She accepted her mother's answer. There were loads of time she had to do things she didn't want to. She hated taking out the trash but Father always made her anyways. Maybe working in the castle wouldn't be for very long and he'd get to go back to his home again. A smile brightened her face as she watched him ride away in the cart. Father often let her play once she did her chores. Still smiling she turned and started helping her mother once again with the cooking. He may be sad now but she knew he would be happy again soon.