In midwinter the mist and frost lay so cold along the ground that lighting the heath and sitting near it until evening is the only way to keep one's body from the damp.
In the morning Janet goes out of the small stone house, after making a fire, to fetch milk, and sees the man on the horse in the mist where the craggy farmland meets the forest.
The man's fat frame gives him an air of discomfort, and his shabby tunic has lost its color. He wears a hooded shawl over his shoulders and head.
The thin horse whose jutting ribs the man sits astride stares with empty eyes at her. She is silent as he slowly approaches her, as though Death himself were riding the horse.
The man smiles. "I expected to find this house empty."
"Why empty, sir?" Janet asks.
"My girl!" he laughs. "These lands were made forfeit over a month ago!"
"These were your husband's lands?" he asks.
"Yes sir." She reflexively looks to the barn, where she cut her husband down from the rafters when late fall had come. So they had heard the cause of death.
"Then they are forfeit to the Crown. My girl I have been sent from the Lord Almoner himself. Were you not told?"
Another man had come to her before, when the winter winds had first started, and had shown her a piece of parchment with the indentation of a name on it.
But she could not read and she did not understand the seriousness of the document,
and had instead concentrated on her want for the man to leave the house -- he had stared at her in a way she was not accustomed to,
his ugly face blankly smiling and seeming to conceal some deeper intent.
"But where will I go?" she asks.
"A husband does not act so rashly with a good wife in the house -- didn't you care for him?"
"He had many debts sir," she tells him.
"And have you honored them?"
"The crop was bad this year sir."
"Then the situation speaks for itself, and I have many errands to run today," the man says. "You will be out of the house by tomorrow, or someone not as kind as myself *will* pay a visit.
" And he turns his horse back toward the mist and forest from which he has come.
In the next week in a village a county over the word went around that a young woman was seeking labor, and that she was of exceptional beauty -- but seemed nearly dead from lack of food.