To start at the beginning ...
Down the dusty road, boys and girls Ruth's age were darting about, tending to their morning chores. All had a glow of anticipation on their faces, excitement sparking their eyes. As Ruth approached the goat pen, she could hear their bleats. They stood huddled under the roof of their pen, a cloud of vapor hovering over them in the frosty morning. Ruth set to work scooping out grain for the animals, greeting each by name as then nuzzled her hands and skirts.
Her brother, Andrew, rounded the corner, his tall frame bent by the load of straw upon his back. He bent double and let the dry grass tumble off his shoulders into the pen. When he stood, he smiled at his little sister, his dark eyes warm and gentle. “Good morning, Little Ruth,” he said, brushing straw from his cloak. Then he fetched the crock he had left by the gate and settled on the small stool with his back against the fence.
Ruth slipped the rope around the first goat’s head and lead her to where her brother sat. Nudging the grey goat around, she coaxed, “Come on, Esther, you are first.” Andrew milked and Ruth held the stubborn creature still, picking straw out of both Esther and Andrew’s hair. She teased, “You’re as filthy as Esther here. Did you sleep in the hay?” Andrew laughed his deep laugh, but said nothing. Ruth buried her icy hands in the coarse hair of the goat and bowed over her scruffy neck, warming slightly from the heat radiating from the animal. She breathed in the smell of hay and grain, fresh milk and old feed.
After about an hour, they had all the goats milked and fed and the ice in the trough broken into large chunks that floated on the surface of the water. They gathered the several crocks filled with steaming warm goat’s milk and headed back to the house. The sun was over the hill and shined brightly on Ruth’s face, but shared little warmth. They bustled through the door and sighed in the welcome warmth of the fire. Ruth set her crocks down on the floor and dashed to the fire, warming her hands in the delightful heat, while Andrew headed back out into the cold to tend to his other chores.
After a few minutes, when Ruth could feel her fingers again, she turned toward the door just to the right of the fireplace and pushed it open. Stepping over the threshold of their house, she smiled at the sound of voices, strange accents she’d never heard before. Walking through her family’s inn, she found her mother visiting with the man Ruth had seen walking into town. She watched as the man bowed to her mother, thanking her for providing a room for his family for the night. The first guests had arrived.