Eb loved Harold’s deep voice: in fact, he loved Harold. For the whole of Eb's life, Harold had been the Servant of the Light of this gathering of the Old Order Forest Kindred of Believers. Eb couldn’t imagine anybody else holding that trust, or administering its duties with such strength and kindness.

“I want to get married,” Eb answered.

He clasped his hands on the table in front of him, clasped them tight together. He felt suddenly immensely shy, and glanced quickly at Harold, hoping that his simple statement would suffice to get the conversation started.

Harold waited a moment longer, but felt Eb’s anxiety, saw the whiteness of the knuckles in his clasped hands. He put out his own hand, and just rested it a moment on Eb’s hands. “Peace:” he repeated his greeting; it found Eb, who relaxed a fraction.

“Have you – is there – do you have anyone in particular in mind?” Harold asked. He had thought Eb must be lonely, living all by himself in the cottage on the edge of the wood; but everyone knew Eb was a man of sober life, not one to spend his hours hanging around the Sisters. There had been no sign or rumour of a courtship developing. There had been no word of anyone planting extra celery for a Spring wedding.

“Florence,” said Eb.
The Servant of the Light gave no sign of surprise; but Eb felt the momentary stillness of the unexpected as Harold took this in.

“You want to marry Florence?” (obviously this was so, but Harold thought a little extra illumination on the matter might be helpful)

“Yes,” said Eb.

Florence came as a welcome guest to Harold's house. He knew her as Dorcas’ cousin, and he knew Dorcas had come from the Quiet Way – indeed he had met her family at the time of her marriage to Silas, and had some idea therefore of Florence’s connections. Even so, he felt he knew Florence herself hardly at all. In previous visits she had stayed in her cousin’s house, and even now that she was under his roof, Harold saw little of her, because in the evenings Dorcas needed her for the evening meal and the little ones’ bedtime stories. He also couldn’t really think many opportunities had passed for Florence to be in Eb’s company. Frankly, Harold felt slightly bewildered by this request.

"Eb – brother – " the Servant picked his words cautiously. With all his heart it would rejoice him to see Eb settled with a helpmeet of his own – not least because the Kindred was short an Elder, and after leaving a year’s peace for the couple to become one and make their home together, there could be nobody he would rather propose to the Kindred than Brother Ebenezer Stilleschuyler. Yet marriage must never be merely expedient; Harold thought there were some questions he must ask, without letting his mind run too far down the track of helpful possibilities. He looked Eb in the eye, wisdom to wisdom they saw each other.

The Servant searched Eb’s eyes by the Light vested in him, and he saw Eb’s simplicity, his steadiness; saw his quiet mind and trustworthy soul. Then he saw also something new; heart’s longing – not the hot desire of a troll who wants his own way and means to get it, but an unproclaimed undisguisable yearning. ‘Please let me have this,’ said the the soul in Eb’s eyes to the soul of the Servant of the Light: yet notwithstanding, there truly were questions to be asked. Marriage is a holy thing among the Old Order Forest Kindred of Believers, and not to be frivolously undertaken.

"Since how long has thee known this troll, Eb?" asked the Servant, his voice gentle, slipping into the old way of address that he knew would speak deep to Eb’s soul.

Eb looked steadfastly back at him.

"A week and three days ago, right after snack-time in the afternoon," he replied.

The Servant’s kindly face creased in a smile. " ‘Tis exact," he conceded, "but not very long."

Eb nodded. "I know."

"Thee know well her family?" the Servant enquired. "Has she been raised under the Light? Is she familiar with the ways of righteousness and the word of truth? Has she been taught faith?"

Eb considered these questions. He did not answer at once. The Servant waited.

"Her family are all Quiet Way folk from Arundel County," came the eventual reply. "I have never set eyes on them. But a troll that’s not raised right won’t dress as modest and neat as Florence. She’s cousin to Dorcas Lightfoot, as you know. I think a troll like Dorcas won’t ask another to be with her in the moment a child comes bearing new Light into the world, unless she feels comfortable that chosen other can be trusted with what’s sacred. The time of birth is a place where earth and heaven open to each other; Dorcas will have advisedly made her choice of witness to the passageway through."

Eb stopped. He wasn’t accustomed to speaking at such length. Most days of the week he said things like ‘Whoa, easy’ (to his team of plough horses), or ‘I’ll make a mortice and tenon joint for that and it’ll hold up good.’ This felt more demanding. He was aware he’d left something big unsaid. The Servant waited patiently while Eb searched his heart; and then he found what he wanted to say.

"There is something –" and now suddenly he heard how this was going to sound in the ears of another. He recognised that he was going to sound as daft as a teenager struck silly with infatuation; and his face burned, but still he pressed on.

"There is something in the way she smiles; so bright, so sweet. She has such gladness about her…eagerness. It lifts my heart, it calls me out to laugh in delight when she smiles at me. I can’t help loving her. And I don’t believe my heart would deceive me; I don’t think she’d rejoice me so if she wasn’t good."

The Servant of the Light was regarding him with a certain degree of amusement; but Eb held his gaze steady in return. Stubborn might almost be a better word than steady, the Servant thought. He still had questions.

"Brother Eb, you must know how that sounds."

Eb nodded.

"Can she cook? Will she keep your house neat? Can she tend the fowls? Will she wisely handle the things of this world in trading and keeping account? What of her seamstress skills? Can she make and mend? How is she with little ones? Brother, have you looked to these matters? Marriage is a lengthy business, and the pair of you will do many a thing more than look into each other’s eyes and smile."