Hannah laughed at life. Even in that time when the centre of her was blown away, nothing left but a crater of devastation; in the days after she had stood beside Eb and watched the brothers shovelling in the earth upon Samuel’s box – she laughed still at life’s oddities, and so much that was ridiculous. It kept her sane.

She thought that life had not taught her much; not really. The Old Order Forest Kindred of Believers was her world, and she could imagine no other: but the truth was, while her faith in God shone like the evening star in whatever darkness descended, the rules and traditions had ceased to matter to her long, long ago. Hannah loved the Old Order traditions; she thought they were wise, a well-worn road to peace – a way of white stones that shone reassuringly through the dusk, that you could trust to take you homewards as far as you had the will to walk. But Hannah didn’t care if Flo’s hair was pink – wouldn’t have minded (much) if she’d worn lipstick and a mini-skirt; but she cared very, very much that Eb should be happy.

She understood why he had needed to live alone; she and he – there was a danger of them becoming too important to each other, she knew that. She neither resented nor regretted his moving out. Hannah carried her own loneliness ever with her; it had been rubbed into the fabric of her soul until nothing would ever wash it out, it was fast and immutable, part of her now. She was neither more nor less lonely because of where Eb lived. She let him go his way, and she didn’t interfere; Hannah didn’t clean his cottage or take him pies; she let him be.

But she worried about him at times; wanted to see him settled, loved cooking for him when he came (as he often did) to eat with her. And above all, she wanted to see him married because she of all people had recognised his loneliness: which was gone – and for that, Hannah felt so grateful.

“The thing is, Mooma . . .”

Eb had been deeply relieved that Flo’s pink hair was not an issue for his mother. He had less confidence that the next thing he had to say would go so well.Hannah looked at him as he kept his gaze steadfastly riveted to the table-top, and waited. What was it, on his mind, that he was afraid to say?