“The clouds have parted. That is good,” her husband softly remarked from the other side of the small fire. “With the skies clearing, the moon will give us enough light to see by.”
She shivered in the cold. “Will it shine long enough for us to get there?”
“More than enough,” he reassured her. “It is the Long Night’s Moon.”
“I have not heard it called that, but I can understand. The nights are longer this time of year.” She shivered. “It is also a Cold Moon.”
Getting up from the rock where he’d been sitting, he went over to fetch the ass. The animal shook its head. It wanted to continue grazing, but it was time to move on. “We need to keep going. It is not much farther.”
“You are certain?” she lightly teased as she eased up onto her feet.
He pointed ahead. “It is over that rise. I have seen the lights in the distance. It will not take us long. When we arrive, I will seek shelter for us at one of the inns.” Turning to her, he caught the spasm of pain crossing her pale features, and he gripped her hand. “Hold on.”
She did, squeezing his fingers until the discomfort subsided. At no time had she ever complained during their long and arduous journey, but he could tell the infant she carried in her belly was giving her trouble. It was nearing her time, which was why he worried if they’d reach the town in time.
After another moment or two, she took a deep breath and released his hand. “We can go now.”
“They are becoming more frequent,” he observed.
Bright spots of sweat glistened on her face as she nodded. “Soon,” she murmured. She did not explain what she meant. She didn’t have to.
He helped her step up onto the rock she’d been sitting on and use it to boost herself up on the back of the little donkey patiently waiting. Despite the small fire they’d used to warm themselves, his wife’s skin was like ice, and his worry for her health intensified, as well as that of the unborn babe.
Once she was settled on the animal’s back, he started to remove his cloak. She saw what he was doing and reached down, placing her hand on his shoulder. “No. Stop. What are you doing?”
“You are chilled. You need to stay warm.”
“I am well,” she firmly argued. “Put your cloak back on. I do not need to have you sicken.” Lowering her voice, she gently added, “I need you and your strength now, more than ever.” Her dark eyes glittered in the moonlight. For several heartbeats, he stared into the purity and beauty of her face. And for the hundredth time, he marveled at the miracle of her love for him, and of his for her.
Nodding, he wrapped himself up again as she pulled her own garments tighter around her.
After kicking dirt over the fire, he gathered up the reins and led the ass back onto the road. The creature obeyed without balking or hesitation.
“Not long,” he repeated to the woman sitting hunched over, her arms cradling her swollen belly. “Then we can rest.”
“I will be glad when we get there.”
He agreed. “It has been a long journey, but it is almost over. Have faith, my love.”
“I do. I always will.”
Smiling, he gave the rope a tug, and they continued on their way toward the small town lying in the distance.
Behind them, a star of immense brightness began rising above the horizon as it followed the young couple to their destination.