“Anyway;” Florence straightened and set off again, glancing at him with renewed determination in her eye, “I know that anybody who rightly divides the holy Word could see that though we may wear a covering, the Apostle teaches that a troll’s hair is likewise to be for her covering, for if a troll has long hair, it is a glory to her: her hair is given her for a covering – ‘tis not to be all tangled up in a knot and hid up out of sight like she was bald.”

Florence halted again, looking to Eb for encouragement and affirmation. He was listening to her carefully.

“Well,” he said doubtfully, seeing a response was required, sensing how much the whole business disturbed her. He reached out his hand and just lightly touched her cheek, to remind her that she was loved, and bring her back from the embattled place she had fallen into: “I think we may not judge what the Plain women do, the humans, for it isn’t easy, is it, always to rightly divide the holy Word so as to cut through to the truth of a matter.”

Flo looked at him, and he saw clouds in her eyes. Obviously this was an issue that worried her. Since they were in the woods, with no-one else to see, though he knew it was unorthodox and more intimate than was wise, he took her hand as they walked on together. He felt the warm flow of their souls pass from hand to hand, and it made him catch his breath for sheer delight. Eb paused and looked at her “Flo, I love you, I love you,” he said. She smiled, and the clouds lifted. Still she did not slip her hand out of his hand. Along this part of the track, broad enough for wagons, so the both of them could walk side by side, they continued together.

“That is what the Apostle says,” said Eb, going back to the subject of their conversation, “and he was a righteous man who lived in fear of the Lord and brought salvation to many and preached like a good’n – and Flo far be it from me to criticise him. But, in the same place he says a troll’s hair is her glory, given by the Lord for her covering, he also says a mighty odd thing, which I have often pondered and never understood. He says – and he’s talking about men here, for the Apostle was human and frankly he didn’t really concern himself much with trolls, it’s only our translation that put in ‘troll’ where the Apostle says ‘woman’ – or more generally ‘man’– to spare our feelings. Anyway, he says ‘Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?’

“And, Flo, what do you make of that? For if you leave God alone with a troll male or female, or with a man or a woman either for that matter, he or she will either grow long hair or be bald. You get bald men, you get bald women. I admit I never yet seen a bald troll, but it may be. All things being equal, if they be not bald, then their hair grows long – man, woman or troll. Nature teaches nothing of shame or disgrace, nature certainly teaches you nothing along the lines of a woman should have more hair than a man: quite the opposite; for most men – and ‘tis the same among trolls – can grow a finer beard than most women (not all, I grant you, but most). Seems to me when the holy Apostle came along with his teaching and his scissors, he may have given the good Lord something of a surprise. But I never liked to mention this in the meeting; the Kindred always seemed so very sure.”

Florence listened intently, a little thinking frown on her face, to this radical and unconventional dividing of the holy Word. She glanced up to see if Eb had further points to make. He cleared his throat.

“Just one more thing.” Eb spoke soft, a bit uncertain of himself, unsure if what he had to say came within the proper bounds of masculine modesty. “I do love your hair, Flo. I really do. I think it’s ever so pretty.”

But when he looked at her, he felt glad he had said it. The look on her face was like seeing the sun come out. It was all he could do not to take her in his arms and kiss her, and kiss her, and kiss her again. He lifted her hand in his hand and just touched it to his lips.

“I guess we better head back,” he said.