the familiar boundaries of europe were yet undreamed of, when this story commences.
the sun had not yet risen when a young woman, scarcely more than a child, emerged from a tiny hut sheltered among towering trees on the southern slope of a mountain in what is now southern central france.
a river was barely visible in the distance - the allier? the garonne? to the girl, it was "the river" as the mountainside was "the earth" , the sky was "heaven" and the rain was "the rain".
heaven, earth, the river, the rain, and her flock - all she knew except when she drove the flock to the base of the mountain, to the little village, once a year, when the sheep were ready to be shorn.
since the death of the old woman, three - or was it four? - trips to the village ago - she had not seen another human on the mountain.
occasionally, when she drove the flock down to the river, she would see what appeared to be another human in the distance.
so it was with some surprise that she heard a voice behind her on the morning our story commences. she had not caught the words of the speaker, being unprepared for them. she turned and saw a tall man - the tallest she had ever seen - wrapped in a black cloak and standing in the shadow of the wide and ancient tree whose southernmost boughs sheltered her hut.