Once again, Mynna started to call out to those inside; and once again, she did not. Her village consisted of an inn and three hartwas; seven men, five women, three children. It lay where road to the Great Barrier diverged from the valley of the River of Souls. Caravans stopped there every spring during the brief season of Greengrass, but for nine parts of the year it was barren and empty and turned in on itself. Nothing ever happened during all those months, and Mynna was unwilling to share this event with anyone while she could still keep it for herself.
The stranger advanced across the snow, keeping a slow and steady pace, like a man who feels exhaustion but will not give in to it. Now she saw that he was on snowshoes, crudely hacked from trical limbs and laced to his feet with rawhide. Around his shoulders he hugged the pelt of a red bear. In the stillness that came upon them as the night wind died away, she heard first the shuffling of his snowshoes and then the rasping of his breath.
He topped the last drift and dropped down into the stamped snow of the inn yard. She inclined her head and said, “Where is your kakai?”
He let drop the two bundles that he carried. One struck the flinty snow like a stone; it was frozen meat. He gestured toward it and said, “I ate most of him.”
The voice was harsh with pain, but deep. He let the bearskin slide from his shoulders. It left smears of blood across his tunic and she saw that it was fresh, untanned, just barely flensed. Mynna’s eyes widened at that and she looked more closely at the stranger. He carried neither bow nor lance, only a great knife at his belt. To kill a red bear in the prime of its health with only that — he should have been torn to pieces.
When he had dropped down into the innyard, Mynna had noticed that he was only of her height, and had not looked further. Now she looked again and caught her breath. His face was broad, his eyes black, his beard and hair were thick, coarse and dark. The muscles in his cheeks were like walnuts and the cords of his neck like cables. The breadth of his shoulders was not from layered clothing, for his tunic was thin and threadbare, but was a massing of muscle that would make two of any man in the village.
Like two men in one skin. The quotation from Hean scripture came to her and she made Avert.
The stranger sighed sadly. He said, “I am not the Shambler. I am only a man.”
“What do you want of me and mine?” she asked.
He looked at her with weary and compelling eyes. A shock went through her, followed by a melting readiness. He said, “Shelter,” but her heart heard more, and she knew that whatever she had was his for the taking.
now that’s really all you get