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First Things First

We walked a different way across the fields and over the little hill down to the river today. The house isn’t very big, and it nestles in a dip near a forest, but it’s not visible from the river and we don’t want to start wearing a track across the ground that might lead anyone here.

No-one used to care, there was no reason to. It seems like we’ve always lived in our own little world where we bothered no-one, and no-one bothered us, but since Ayla saw the old man we’ve started to be extra careful.

It must have been over a month ago.

She was out making a trip to fetch water, and was crouching on the bank to fill the bucket, when she saw something on the water upstream. Things do float down the river sometimes, we’ve seen all sorts of things drift by, but she had thought this looked wrong so she’d picked up the bucket and hid in the trees.

The river flows slowly here. It’s an old river, so it’s broad, and tends to meander in big wide loops across the countryside. We live near the outer edge of one of the loops, so you can see both up and down the river for a long way in both directions. It’s a peaceful place to go and just sit when you have nothing in particular to do, and these days it seems we sit there more and more often.

When the object got nearer she saw that it was a raft made of tree trunks tied together with rope. On it was a rough shelter, made of tarpaulin, or frayed cloth, on some type of frame. As it floated slowly by she noticed that it was being steered by an old man, with grey hair and an untidy beard. He was using a long stick as a rudder, and was staring aimlessly along the river.

It was many years since Ayla had seen an old man.

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Your bookshop can order you the smaller-format Author’s Edition paperback 978-0-9957298-4-1. They will be able to get it through Gardners.