The day the child was born he made new cuirn crosses and hung them at every door in the house and the outhouses to keep away all harm. When the child was laid in the cradle he hung another there above her head. With her blue eyes and her curly hair and her rosy cheeks and a way she had of laughing, there was never a child like Ysbal in the earthly world.
But it was not only her mother and father that thought so. All the people of the roads, when they saw her, thought the same. Now one evening Katriney was rocking the child to sleep when there came a knock at the door. When she opened it, there stood a beggar woman she had never seen before asking for bite and sup. Gorry could never resist praise of Ysbal so he took her over to the cradle where by now the child was asleep and she stood and gazed down at her. Instead she stood a long time at the door, talking about this and that, and asking many a question, always with her eye on the child in the cradle.
Now a day or so after this an old friend of Gorry and Katriney called Robin the Roads, had come to ask for bite and sup, and put his blessing on the child and gone to his bed in the Thie ny Moghtyn, when there came a knock at the door after dark had fallen. Once again a stranger stood there, a man this time, asking for food and shelter. Gorry and Katriney were having their supper so they invited him to come and eat with them.
He was small and dark and all the time he ate, his glance would be darting here and there about the kitchen but it would come to rest always on the cradle where the child was lying. What do you say if we have a match? Each start with a pile of straw and see which of us can finish first? But Gorry seemed not to hear her. He was in a world of his own. Go you to the Thie ny Moghtyn — the house with the candle in the window — and ask Robin the Roads to help us.
Let the pair of you bring in the straw and twisters from the barn while I make room for us here in the kitchen. Be easy! Katriney said no more then but watched as they divided the straw into equal heaps. Each of the men took some in his hands and began playing it out. Robin held the twister for the stranger and Katriney held it for Gorry. At first Gorry kept his eye on his own piece of rope and watched it come from his fingers firm and even and strong as it always did. Usually when he watched the twisting rope he felt quiet and content as if it was a summer day on the mountain and the sun was shining, but tonight he felt angry and uncertain as though the sun had gone down and the world was filled with darkness.
The stranger said nothing, but went on with his work. Only his eyes strayed towards the cradle where the child was sleeping. And Gorry knew then! The child was to be the prize! Stop the both of you! A strange power seemed to have got hold of him. He MUST go on. He MUST beat the stranger. He could not bear to be beaten at this game where he was always champion. Yet though he wanted to win this match more than anything else in the world, it seemed he was working more slowly than he had ever done in his life.
His fingers seemed to have lost all their secret power. Dent, Lester. Dixon, Heather.
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