Historical setting: 6th Century C.E. Somewhere in the Pyrenees
Nic knows my silent prayers are anxious prayers. He assures us both that all the shepherds and all the sheep have only happiness before them by the grace of God. And he mentions also, that our donkey will be in the care of the big white dog and the donkey will serve even these neighbors trotting the wares to market for all the rest of his donkey days. It is happy endings all around. But we both also know the adage of the sour grapes.
We ask this neighbor for his knowledge of the trail before us. Will our mountain crossing soon bring us to Gaul? Are there villages or farms ahead of us? What is the best route for our winter travel?
The farmer’s mate and his eldest daughter come near with an abundance of garden roots in a bag for carrying — a gift for our journey. We’re grateful. Nic takes out coins to pay them but the father says they have no use for Roman coins; they only trade in goods. So even amid Nic’s riches we must receive this as a gift.
“You’re welcome to share in our plenty. But until you reach the Frankish Roman villages of Gaul you will have to trade in goods, not coin. Furs are valued in this season so should you happen upon a fox with a worthy pelt to be traded take it with your blade carefully, not to damage the fur.
“Now the highest of the mountains are behind you with the cliffs and high edges.”
We hear that to be good news. With horses we’ve had to seek longer winding paths around such obstacles.
The farmer continues, “But these seemingly more gentle slopes are also high hills and they will seem to stretch forever to the north, deep into Gaul. This time of the year some of the shepherds with flocks that graze the high pastures in the summer are already at their houses in the valleys and lower reaches so I would suggest if you’re looking for the traveled route where people are, follow the middle or lower paths. The weather may even favor a journey following the river beds.”
“Thank you, friend. This is helpful.”
The horses seem ready to move on now, out of the sheep pastures and on to grasses that are not so sheep-gnawed and more for a horse’s liking. Now as we continue on our way our only day’s destination is a leeward flat place for our tarp and fleeces. But of course, all sorts of hopes and mysteries still may be wintering ahead.
(Continues Tuesday, December 8)