Marcell has lost everyone? Will he be next?
A Plague of Fear
Marcel sat back on his haunches and looked at the city below the walls. The streets were all but empty. No hawkers screamed their chants telling of their wares, no women babbled as they carried parcels, laundry, or babies. The silence was most unnerving.
His parents had succumbed first. They were aged and weak from breaking their backs in the landlord's fields every day from sun up to sun down. Then his elder brothers, then the younger two. Finally his sisters, both so vibrant and pretty, fallen like flowers by the plow. Their bodies ravaged by fever and pain, the swellings under their arms, black pustules that stank and pained. And he, Marcel, was left alive and alone. He missed them all terribly and coughed back a sob.
"Wha's a matter wid you?" Melchior asked.
"No . . nothing, just a cough, that's all."
"Tha's one of da signs, you know, a-coughin' and a-coughin' and ya can't stop . . ."
"I know, Melchior. I know the signs."
Melchior was a large slow witted man. He was one of the carters that shared Marcel's shift. They would have to be back down in the streets within the hour, knocking at doors yelling, "bring out your dead! Bring out your dead!
How Marcel longed for one sure sign of life. It was full summer now, but though the tree leaves were green and the rolling country lanes outside of Paris were in full bloom, the pall of death clouded the sun making every day as dismal as the last.
As he and Melchior descended the rampart stairs, rain began to drizzle down. Soon the diggers would be up to their shins in wet, sopping mud. It had to be done though, the long pits had to be dug to receive the dead.
The priests long ago gave up coming to the graves. There were too many dead. Some of the priests hid behind convent walls, frightened by this sickness that held sway over everyone's life. Abandoning the very sheep they were sent to shepherd. What good could they do hiding away? Marcel held them in contempt. It was alright for him and Melchior and others to administer their services, but not the priests.
Marcel and Melchior passed the new cathedral, all work halted now in a bow to the disease that rolled across Paris laying low the mighty and the meek.
Melchior hummed a tune, the same one he always sang. It was about a comely young girl that sold bread in the market place. There were no more market places, there were no more girls and Marcel wished he would learn another tune. A funeral dirge perhaps.
The pair made their way through dismal, cobblestone lanes that only earlier that year were rowdy and alive. The bordello, tavern and the beggars quarters were here. Now, not one house was inhabited. Marcel remembered how bodies were pulled from the buildings, four, five, six at a time. All of them bloody, swollen and black.
Ahead of them waited their cart; he would carry the bodies out, Melchior would put the body in and they both would tow. At the ditch, they would tip the cart back and watch the crash of bodies into the trench.
Marcel thought about the dead. They were alive that spring; gone now. After a while, the dead looked like piles of wood. There was nothing human about them at all. They still had eyes, mouths, heads, hands and feet, but they were not people. They were nameless; all going down into the pits.
Would he follow? Would he lie in that mud filled hole? Eyes open, staring into the gloom of waste that had become Paris?
The end of their shift. The headman was talking about keeping them later tomorrow, there were more dead than could be counted, he said. Marcel ducked under an archway and stood there. It was the first time he was out of the rain for hours. Melchior went straightaway home. He had been alone before the plague struck. For him, to sit alone for hours on end with no company to talk to was routine. For Marcel, this was a torture he found hard to endure. Rather, he sometimes thought, better to be dead than to have no one.
Marcel shuffled under a canopy formed by a brick abutment that was the base to a bridge leading from one side of the Seine to the other. He huddled there for a moment, shivering even though the air was warm. He did not shudder from a chill, but from the slow creeping hand of death that surrounded all his waking moments.
He had no rooms to go to. There was no one to rent from. He had money, they were paid for their services. It was no easy task to get men to cart away diseased bodies and Marcel had more silver now than he or his family had ever seen. He peeked out from under the arch and watched the rain drops plop into the river. He recalled how he had strolled along this riverside once when his father had brought him to Paris for market. He had picked up stones and skipped them across, tossed decapitated flowers into it and watched as they floated downstream in the wake of the boats that plied the river.
Marcel realized he was hungry. Leaving the shelter of the bridge, he walked down the bank toward a house at which he often ate. The people who lived there were happy to have his silver for a loaf and cheese. He rapped on the door and it opened slowly.
"It is Marcel. I have come for my dinner."
The door opened slowly and he was admitted. Over the cloying stench of unwashed bodies wafted the aroma of fresh baked bread. A welcome relief to the perfume of death.
"Have you cheese, today?" He asked the girl who had let him in. She might be comely if she were cleaned up. She coughed and said, "no, there is none to be had in all of Paris," and she coughed again.
Marcel studied her. Dark circles lined her eyes and she sweated profusely. Marcel took his loaf, handed over the silver coins for the purchase and shook his head as he left. Soon he would be knocking at this door asking for the dead. He knew the signs so very well.
Marcel headed down the Rue de Madeleine to an abandoned house with a solid and spacious garret. This was where he stayed, watching the empty streets below as he munched his loaf. Signs of the former inhabitant filled the room. It had been an artist's studio once. Two large easels, several pallets and numerous pots of paint and brushes littered the apartment. One painting still stood unfinished. It was a portrait of a vibrant young woman holding her child. They were well dressed, rosy cheeked individuals and Marcel frowned at the portrait knowing that they were, by now, either dead or had fled Paris when the contagion had blossomed to its present proportions.
He hated the painting. It put him in mind of days when there was life in the city. He turned the painting so that only the back of the canvass was visible. The ghostly form showed through the back, so he flung a large cloth over the whole of it and hid it from site.
Pulling a tarpaulin from a pile, he spread it out and lay down. Exhausted, he fell off to sleep. Not one sound disturbed him through the night.
Marcel woke slowly. He raised his arm across his eyes to shield them from the bright sunlight that poured in through the high garret windows. Birds chirped in trees and flitted about at his window where he had spread crumbs of his bread the night before. He watched them, smiling. At least the black contagion had not altered the lives of the beasts. They sat watching as the multitudes of humans died. He wanted to foster them, to keep them alive. So, every day he shared his bread with the birds. He had seen the carrion crows pecking at the dead; scavengers that would eat anything. A boy much younger than Marcel was given the task of shooing them away with a straw broom. But, that boy had succumbed to the raging sickness and no one could be found to replace him. Now, the carrion squatted on the dead awaiting burial - feasting.
Marcel shook his head. He wanted desperately to remove the memories of this past year from his brain. He wrapped his remaining bread in an old paint stained cloth and left the garret. He would find Melchior and share the bread with him. Heaven only knew when or what the giant had to eat and Melchior was Marcel's only friend.
Down the Rue de Madeleine, across the bridge and down streets where shuttered houses let in no sunlight or air. Straight out through the gates to the fields he trudged, the morning sun already hot on his back. Melchior's shack was out in the fields. He was not a popular individual, too big, too dumb and quite frightening, he was shunned by the populace he now served.
Marcel knocked at the wooden door, held closed by a loop of hemp rope that attached itself to a plug inside on the door post. He heard the large man lumbering toward the door and the muffled, "who?"
"Marcel, my friend. I have brought you some bread."
The door swung inward and Marcel entered. The smell of fetid water and body waste filled his nostrils. A bedraggled black cat perched atop a makeshift table in the middle of the dirt floor. Marcel watched him pour milk for the cat from a flask.
"Oui, mon ami. Milk. Last week I see a cow wander in my yard. I take her and tether her to milk. She give me milk every day for kitty and me." Melchior ran a huge hand along the cat's back and she purred audibly. Marcel handed Melchior the bread and breaking off a chunk he dunked it into a cup of milk to soften the staleness.
"We do not go de pits today until late." Melchior added as he poured milk for Marcel.
"We can go to de neighbor farm and take apples. No one live there any more. Apples will rot and fall. So, we take them."
Marcell agreed and sipped the warm milk. It felt like velvet in his mouth. He almost forgot how pleasurable such a small thing could be.
They walked together, the giant's stride much longer so that Marcel had to take two steps to Melchior's one. They reached a low stone wall that marked the boundary of the orchard. They lumbered over the top and into the forest of apple trees. Melchior was right, the apples were at their full best. They picked as many as their sack would hold and turned back toward Melchior's shack.
"It is good not to pay for purchase," Melchior said, smiling. Though the constant exposure to the dead was unpleasant, Melchior seemed to take it in stride, always looking at the plus side of this catastrophe.
"Still," he said. "I would love to see women. Some pretty women." And, he began to sing that same song again.
Back at the shack they both ate apples and drank more milk. With their bellies filled, they lay outside on the grass soaking up the sunshine. Marcel rolled onto one side, leaned upon his elbow and said, "you know, Melchior. When we are out here in the country side where the stench of death is not evident, it is easy to believe that what is happening in the city is a dream."
"A dream that pays well," Melchior said. "I am taking my sous and going to Italy. The Black Death will not be there."
"Yes," Marcel said, "and Italian women are so beautiful. Dark and secretive."
"Yes." Melchior answered.
They lay together thus until the angle of the sun told them they should head back to Paris for their evening's work.
The two men passed easily through the city gates, they were well known to the remaining soldiers. They passed to the Cemetery of the Holy Innocents where the victims were interred in long, deep rows. They hooked the ropes of their cart across their shoulders and began their trek into the depths of the city, calling for everyone to bring out their dead.
Body after body was laden on the cart. After which Melchior painted a white X on the door to let the authorities know that the house was steeped in contagion. Then, with the cart filled with bodies they returned to the Cemetery and took another cart out while that one was unloaded. Most of the handlers covered their mouths with cloths in a desperate attempt to shield themselves, but Marcel did not bother. He wanted the sickness, wanted to end his life. Had it not been for the fear of Hell he would have taken it himself months ago.
Bodies were piled into a ditch. Then, lime was poured atop them. The white powder would help to quickly dissolve the flesh and hopefully keep the disease beneath the dirt.
He was weary. Not tired, weary; of death and loneliness. Tired of the constant buzz of flies that accompanied this macabre drama. He decided that he would cast his lot with Melchior and head for Italy. He berated himself for not thinking of such a thing earlier.
Their shift was almost done, the moon rising full and bright over Paris. Marcel sat on a low wall that girded the river, kicking his feet at the stones. He was hungry and thought of the apples and milk at Melchior's shack.
"I will find us some bread," Marcel announced, "and I will meet you back at your house."
The big man nodded in agreement and Marcel strolled off toward the house at which he had purchased his bread the day before. When he reached the door, he noted the large white cross painted there. He stood back and recalled the condition of the girl on the previous day. He drew closer and knocked. No answer. He pushed open the door. The rooms were empty of all human life. He looked about and found two sacks of flower. He hoisted them atop his shoulders and eased the door to the street open. He studied the road from left to right and stepped outside. No one would see him, he knew that. No one really cared.
He made his way back to Melchior's hut and flopped the sacks on the table.
"Flour," Marcel said, "my bakers are all dead."
"Ahh," Melchior answered, "I make us some porridge with some apples."
"There is something to all this looting," Marcel said. He took an apple and bit into it.
"I think I will go into Paris and look around." He told Melchior, "Perhaps I may find something that suits us both."
"What will you find?"
"Oh . . . I do not know, money, food, new clothing. Anything we may need. Why should we carry the dead all day and night for the few sous they give to us? Others in the city have taken what they want, why should I not?"
Marcel took a sack down from a peg on the wall. It was of sturdy burlap, big enough to carry anything he might find and left Melchior's cabin.
Marcel threw the sack over his shoulder and pulled it across his chest. Hooking it under his belt, he wore it, like a cloak. Once inside the gates, he disappeared into the city's depths. The best places to look were the houses of the richer merchants and laborers. If anything was left. He knew that most of the houses were probably looted already, but perhaps some of those newly left would still contain . . . something.
Marcel left the walls of Paris behind and headed deep into the city. Fetid smells of filthy water and refuse permeated the air, mixed with the ever present scent of death and decay. Though he was used to it, he noted that now people had begun to lay where they dropped or were dropped by relatives not wanting to wait for the carts.. He trudged along, the Seine on his right, until he entered a part of the city where the more wealthier houses were situated. He passed in through alley ways and back streets. Marcel tried a door. It was bolted. Most of these richer homes had been secured when the owners left because of the contagion. He walked to the back of the house and looked for an opening; a window or perhaps another entrance. No luck and the only windows at the back were on the second floor.
Slowly he wound his way along, noting the houses that were well constructed. Most of those had been looted long ago, only scraps remaining inside. He came to a house with a wide balcony running around the whole of the upper floor. On the corner of the building a sturdy trellis stood, on which white roses climbed in lovely splendor. Marcel pushed his nose into one of the blossoms inhaling the sweet fragrance. If only this once, he would be able for a moment to escape the awful smells that surrounded him.
He grabbed hold of the trellis, testing it for strength. This house must be newly deserted, he thought, for there was no sign of entry. This is what he had been looking for. Marcel climbed the trellis, hurrying to get up to the second story.
The windows at the second level were barred. He scrambled up the few feet left to the roof. Sliding along the eve top he pulled himself flat on his stomach to the chimney and looked inside. It was wide enough to accommodate his passage so he slid down, through darkness and soot.
Marcel landed with a thump in the fire grate. No wood had been laid and his feet fell flat on the ground. A cloud of grey-black soot and soil surrounded him as he rushed out of the fireplace into a wide room. Everything was still intact.
Now, he decided, I must be swift and not greedy.
The room was filled with items. Rugs, chairs, tables, oil lamps, paintings, statuettes, fine lace doilies, rich draperies and so many things that Marcel's head swam. He must only take what could be carried in his sack, and he must be quick.
Nothing in this front room was of purpose to him. He would look through other rooms. The first room he entered was a child's room. A hobby horse, sets of building blocks, a mechanical doll dressed like a clown, which when wound played notes on a harp, and various lead soldiers littered the floor.
This was a young boy's room, he reasoned. Nothing here was of use, even the clothes that were left behind were of no consequence to Marcel.
The next room was that of the house's masters. A wide, oaken bed, dressing stands, pitchers and chamber pots, draperies, all of the most splendid materials, but, Marcel had no use for them.
An armoire settled against one wall and Marcel sought to open it. It was locked. He used his knife to spring the doors open and found doublets, blouses and hose inside. He took two of each and a pair of boots. He sat down in an embroidered chair and tried the boots on. They did not pinch. They were a bit too large, but that did not matter. He rolled the clothes into orderly bundles and stuffed them into his sack, landing the boots atop the clothing.
What else can I find of use?
In another room were books and a desk, writing implements; pens, paper, ink. Neither he nor Melchior could read or write except for a few passages from the Bible. He saw a crystal dog on the desk. It was all of three inches high and was lifting one paw, frozen in an act of begging.
Smiling, he hefted it in his hand for a moment, then slipped it too into the sack, shoving it down into the rolled clothes for protection.
Marcel walked down the stairs. It was becoming light now and he would have to be quick. At the first level, there was another flight of stairs leading below the house. He knew that this must be the kitchen area where food was prepared for the household. Perhaps they had left some provisions behind.
The kitchen seemed lost in time. Pots still hung on a long rack down the middle of the room. The stone oven and roasting pit had its grate and hanging rack from which hung a well scoured iron cauldron. They had cared about their house when they left, making certain things were clean for their return. Sadly, Marcel considered that if he got in, it was only a matter of time before other, more rough hands would violate this space.
There was no food. Marcel shrugged and looked about for any other thing of use. He took down a small pot, two plates and a sharp knife. He looked about for something to wrap the knife in and noted a pile of rags in the far left corner of the room. He pulled one of the rags away and . . . a girl, not too much older than he, screeched and pulled herself back against the wall.
"What are you doing here? Is this your house?"
She did not answer. She looked at him with wide, fear filled eyes.
"Who are you?"
Still she did not answer.
Her hair was wild and unkempt and dirt smudged her face. The dress she wore bore the signs of long usage, filth and mud caked into the fabric.
"I will not hurt you."
She gulped and said, "is this your house, Monsieur?"
"And . . . if it is?"
"Oh! Please Monsieur, do not call the Prefect . . ." and she began to cry.
"Here now, I will not call the Prefect. I am here as you are here. This is not my house."
The girl's face altered. She raised her chin and looked at Marcel.
"Then you are a looter."
Marcel considered his pack and said, "yes . . . I suppose I have become one."
He reached his hand out to her and she accepted. He raised her to her feet. She was small, thin, probably from a diet of starvation.
"Where is your family?"
"All dead." She answered him flatly, no emotion colored her tone.
"As are mine."
"Come, let us look for food . . . Marcel suggested"
"There is none here. But, I know where some may be gotten." She added the last statement hopefully. "I cannot get into the place alone, someone else is needed to keep watch."
Marcel studied this young woman. She had bright, intelligent blue eyes and what could be luxuriant yellow hair if it were clean. Her waist was small her bones delicate. He thought of her instantly as a little bird adrift on a sea of horror.
"Come along, then sparrow," he said, taking her hand in his. "Upstairs I found clothing left behind. Perhaps there is something for you. What is your name?"
"Cebille," she answered.
"Cebille. Come, let us look."
He led her to the Master's bedroom in which he had found clothes for himself. Inside a chest that had been settled at the foot of the bed he found frocks belonging to a woman. They were soft and lovely and Cebille's eyes glowed at the look of them.
"Which one do you desire? Here is a beauty, yellow and pink. Just the thing."
"I rather like that blue one too. And, oh, look at that beauty in lavender!"
"Only two, we cannot carry more."
She hesitated for a moment, then chose the lavender and the blue. Holding one up close to her body she said, "they are too large for me. But, no matter, I am a seamstress after all."
"A seamstress? Then you can alter clothing? If I help you get food, you must help me with some clothes."
"Yes, I will do that, what clothes?" she questioned as Marcel pulled two extra doublets and blouses out of the wardrobe.
Sun was beginning to twine along the window jamb and Marcel decided that they would leave their finds here, stowed in the kitchen beneath the rags and return after their foray for food.
"Come," he said taking her hand, "let us get what food we need."
He left the house by a small door that led up from the basement to a long alley. He made certain the door was secure. No X had been put on the doors and he hoped that this would ward off looters. They may consider that this house was inhabited and not enter for fear of discovery. So far his luck had held and he did not want it spoiled.
They skirted the heart of the city using alleys and back streets. They came upon a large stone barge moored at the docks on the Seine.
"In here there are barrels of fish. Sacks of grain, and dried fruits. All of the ships have stayed at anchor and none have come in. There is much here."
"How do you know there are foods in there?"
Cebille hung her head. "I was with a band of looters. They raised the tarpaulin to look inside and I saw the bounty. A patrol of soldiers spotted us and we had to scatter. They caught my comrades, but I escaped."
"Well it has gotten too light now to do this. We will have to come back after dark. Come along with me to my lodgings. My friend has some food we can share."
The girl followed behind him, often hesitating at his direction for it was certain that he was intending to leave the city.
At the gate she paused.
"Come, why do you hesitate?"
"I have never been outside these walls."
"Come, don't be afraid. My friend has a cottage nearby. Come . . ." he encouraged and held out his hand.
The gate keeper knew him well and signaled him through. Cebille held back, shaking her head. All she had ever known lay within these walls. The outside was as frightening to her as the Black Death that had swept away all that she knew and loved. She turned and ran off, disappearing into the streets of Paris.
Marcel let his hand fall at his side and left the gates. It was fully light now as he made his way back to Melchior's cabin.
Marcel walked through the streets in darkness. He stumbled over a body pushed up into the shadows and skirted another that lay nearby. Swarms of flies rose to engulf him. Swatting with his hands he evaded the insects and hurriedly changed to the other side of the street. People were beginning to leave their dead wherever they could. The disposal system was breaking down.
He scurried to the next row of shadows and around the back of the house he had left the day before. He and Melchior would begin their journey the next night. He hoped that Cebille was there and she would be ready to leave with him. If not, then that is the way it should be.
Up the trellis, across the roof to the chimney and down into the wide living room. Marcel hurried down the stairs to recover his sack of goods. Softly he called Cebille, searching the house. The girl was not there. Shouldering his sack he took the back exit and headed toward the docks where the barges were.
As he approached the dock, he noted a figure standing half in shadow. Marcel ducked low, lingering in the shade at the corner of a warehouse. The shadowed figure moved a bit and he saw it was Cebille. Hurriedly he came to her, speaking softly he said, "let us take what we need."
Cebille had a sack of her own and they proceeded to open the casks and take salted fish, pork and oranges.
"Now, we must go. You will have to leave the city now, Cebille. That is, if you wish to journey with me to Italy."
"I . . . I am not certain that will be the best."
Marcel took her hand, cool and soft, "what is there here for you, Cebille? Come with me. Do not fear. I will protect you, I swear it."
In the dull light of the only street lamp lit, she looked into his eyes and saw truthfulness.
Cebille shouldered her sack and nodded her head. She followed him.
Marcell took a different route this time. He told her she would have to trust him, even though she feared. She accepted his guidance and he climbed a flight of stairs to the rampart that ran around the city. Very few soldiers manned the walls these days. It was difficult to even imagine anyone having the strength or fortitude to fight.
Marcel grabbed her clammy hand and led her along the rampart. Soon the shadow of a low roofed building entered their view. It was a guardhouse. Inside a stairwell led down and to the other side of the wall. Descending the stairs, Marcel poked his head outside and surveyed the fields bordering the wall. They were steeped in darkness and no one manned the walls on this section. He stepped out, grabbed Cebille by the upper arm and dashed across the field to the narrow road that led out of the city's confines and to the farms beyond.
Shy and quiet to a fault, Cebille sat in Melchior's cottage looking at the two men as they perused the contents of Marcel's sack.
"These tunics and legging are for you, Melchior. Cebille is a seamstress and she will alter these to fit you, that is why I took three of each."
Melchior smiled at the girl. She pulled back from him, frightened by the size of him and his dull witted stare.
"He will not hurt you, Cebille," Marcel explained. "He really is a gentle giant."
Melchior chose a bright red apple and offered it to Cebille. After a moment's hesitation she accepted it, chewing gratefully.
"There now, you see? We will all get along quite nicely helping one another."
Marcell stood at the window of the cabin and looked outside. In the distance the walls of the great city of Paris stood watch over the carnage within. Marcel would not return. Melchior and Cebille and he would head for Italy tonight.
The sun rose and the three were very busy at preparations. Melchior had argued for taking the cow along with them.
"No, Melchior we cannot herd a cow all the way to Italy. It must stay here."
"But, Marcell wid no milking, the cow will die,"
Marcell scratched his head. How could he care for a cow in the face of all this death. Still, he sympathized with the big man.
"Then we will slaughter her."
This suggestion met with a resounding denial from Melchior.
"We cannot take the cow to Italy. She must stay or become meat."
"I will not go."
"Melchior, what ails you? Will you become sentimental at this point and forget all those beautiful Italian women?"
Melchior pulled at his lower lip and considered.
"May we take kitty? She will only eat my scraps, I swear it."
"If you carry her in your sack, yes. But, the cow cannot come."
Cebille was sewing together two shirts to fit Melchior. "Why don't we drive the cow for a ways until we see a neighbor farm. The cow would give us good reason to be on the road in case patrols pass us. We could put her in the yard of a farm. I am certain the people there would love to have milk."
"That is good, Cebille," the big man stated. "We don't need to kill cow, just take her to new home."
Marcel smiled, for he loved Melchior and would see him happy with their decisions.
All day Cebille worked. She made a new tunic for Melchior, sewing three shirts together to broaden the chest and upper arms. He tried it on and Marcel said, "go, dunk yourself in the river and be rid of the stench. We start new lives, we wash the old away."
"Wid our sins . . . " Melchior added. "Like when father Renee dunked me for the Christ."
"Yes, Melchior, like that."
Happily he took up his new tunic and headed for the river. Marcell watched the big man splash about as if he were a child on holiday. He waited for him to ascend the bank and handed him his new tunic and the leggings Cebille had enlarged for him. He looked different. His hair was two shades lighter than Marcel had thought and his pudgy face was reddened by the coldness of the water.
Melchior dressed himself and turned to Marcel. "These are new clothes. I never had any before."
"I will bathe now, watch for my safety my friend."
Plunging into the river, Marcel dove and rose, dove and rose. The water felt good on his skin as he washed away fleas and lice and the stench of many months. He left the river, dressed in his new clothes and ushered Melchior away and to the cabin.
"Cebille, have you finished with your dress?" At her affirmation, Marcel bade her go to the river and bathe. She left the cabin and complied.
Now, it was time to secure their packs for the journey. Here Cebille proved her worth once more. She took two burlap sacks and sewed them into one, adding straps of leather so that the bag could be carried on someone's back. To the last of their sacks she added doubled strips of her old dress to enlarge the bag and added strips of leather to this one as well. It could be carried in the same manner. She fashioned one more sack out of their remaining old clothing adding a loop to be carried by hand. They packed fish, apples, oranges, salted pork, the three pilfered plates and two large knives. With a touch of foresight, Cebille sewed the monies that they owned into their garments. No purse dangling from anyone's belt would give them away.
They started on the road at sun down. Their journey was underway. Italy was more than 900 miles across the Alps and Mont Blanc the highest of mountains on their way. Melchior lit a torch and placed the firebrand at the walls of his cabin. They had taken all that they needed and now they would head off for their dreams.
The cabin's old wood burst into flames as Melchior herded the cow onto the road with a switch. He placed his cat into his sack, closed the top down over her head and shrugged into the straps. With a last look at the place in which he had been born, raised and lived, he joined his compatriots and started off for Italy.