The night was cold and clear, the moon gleaming on the ice that graced every pavingstone, and the man with the black dog didn't seem to mind that he was out walking several hours later than any sane person would be. He wore an odd smile and walked with his face turned to the ice-hazed stars, around each one a glittering halo. His breath formed a drifting crown above his greying head, and his steps were silent in the sky wanting snow.

He thought of Marguerite, his sister, and of Alaine her husband, whom he didn't think much of at all. And of Ted his younger brother, whose wife Constance was beautiful but stupid. How unfortunate she should have been named for a virtue, he often thought - had she not been called after faithfulness he would have seduced her long ago, but as it was he could not bring himself to. It wasn't right to woo a woman away from her christened name, even if she did have hair like the fair dawn itself and eyes the color of a budding leaf, even if her own husband cared nothing for her. No, now that's not equitable, he chastened himself - Ted was a good lord, as good as he could be, but he was slow, like his wife, and unemotional. He couldn't love, not really, not fully, and through no fault of his own. John sighed and looked down at his dog. She walked with her head down, sniffing the ice though surely there was nothing to be scented, her black hair so shaggy and matted it was a wonder the mutt could see at all. Teresa, he'd named it, after his own wife, five years dead this month. And as faithful an animal as ever lived, he thought with a smile. "You're a good dog, aren't you, Terese?" he said. The dog looked up at its name, and he patted its head. "Come, you old hound, let's get home before we both freeze to death like your bitch of namesake did."

That, of course, was unfair, he knew. Teresa had been a good enough woman herself, hard-working and obedient, but unaffectionate. Ah, Lord, why couldn't she have ended up with my slow cold brother and that flower of a creature he owns with me? Your ways are indeed mysterious...

They arrived at his home then, the crumbling whitewash showing the stained plaster beneath, rats living in the thatching. Teresa had kept it clean, that at least could be said for her, and since she died he'd never seemed to get around to keeping the place up as she had. He did miss her, it was true, especially on nights like this when his bed was cold and the house dark and lonely but for the black dog and the three nameless cats and the countless vermin in the walls. He missed the fire, the calloused gentleness of her touch on his arm. He thought again of Constance. But no - this wasn't getting him anywhere. He lit a candle and scooped a few coals from the remnant of the fire into a footwarmer and carried it into his bedroom. Terese trotted after him, hoping for food. "Sorry, old girl, no treats tonight," he told her as he climbed under the blankets. The brass pan with the coal inside would keep his aging feet warm; the candle on the bedside would warm the shadows; the dog who had hopped up and curled atop the covers at his toes would warm his heart, and the book he thumbed through his mind.