Heart of Ice and Fire Part 4 of 4

Ice

Welcome back for the last part in the Heart of Ice and Fire story!

If you missed the first three posts, you can find them here and here and here. Or, here’s the quick recap.

Recap: Em traveled to snow troll territory to find a man named Jimmy Wilkes. She presented him with a green debt gem that her mother earned by saving his daughter years earlier. Now, in calling in the debt, Em is asking for a snow troll’s heart to save her mother from the poison she got from being scratched by a troll. The poison is driving her crazy. Mr. Wilkes agreed to help if Em was willing to hunt for a troll with him.

However, when Em agreed, Mr. Wilkes used her as bait and let the troll take off with Em. The troll held Em long enough to show her that she is Wilkes’ daughter changed into a troll by the poison years ago.

Now Em is working, reluctantly, with Wilkes and his daughter to hopefully find a cure for Em’s Mama and Wilkes’s daughter.

Let’s see how this story ends =)

Heart of Ice and Fire Part 4

EmeraldsThey stopped in a cavern filled with ice that glittered white and blue. Wind howled through in a dull roar.

“There,” Wilkes pointed to a hole high in the cavern wall. “Take that gem of yours and explore there.”

“Whaaattt?” As Em asked, Marie picked her up and approached the wall. By stretching onto her tiptoes, the troll could tuck her into the hole Wilkes indicated.

“I’m not a cork for cave walls,” Em protested. The hole didn’t offer much room to move. She lay on her stomach and peeked her head out to glare at Wilkes and Marie. Marie grinned and drool slid down one of her fangs. Beside her, Wilkes grinned too and the resemblance was eerie. “And neither of you are right in the head.”

They chuckled together.

“Not right.” Em shuffled around until she faced into the hole. It was perfectly round, and deep enough that she couldn’t see farther than a foot or two. Mama, what have I gotten into?

Sliding on her stomach, Em moved forward. At her touch, the walls began to glitter the same white and blue of the icy cavern.

“Find the heart in ice and cold,” Wilkes voice trailed up behind her with a singsong kind of chant. “And a young hero, warm heart and bold.”

Em paused both to marvel at the glowing walls and to listen to that chant.

“Trust the debt gem, ruby or green.

Trust both gem and hero, lean.

Return heart from frost to fire,

Save life from poison’s dire.”

The last word echoed and then Wilkes started singing the chant, repeating bits of it over and over again. Marie added to the sound by crooning her own type of song. None of it held any real tune.

“Not right,” Em muttered and scooted farther forward.

Not more than three scoots farther and the end of the tunnel glowed to life. The ice shimmered perfectly smooth and clear except for a tiny divot near the bottom. Within the wall’s cold depths beat an actual heart. Em wished it were a cute little heart like what her Mama would draw on the walls, but its vein covered surface reminded her more of Jimmy Wilkes veined hand than a drawn image.

“Find the heart in ice and cold,” she muttered. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“Been trying to reach that beauty for ages!” Wilkes’ voice bounced around the walls.

Em withdrew the green gem and held the cut part up to the small divot. “Kidding me.” It was a perfect match.

Bleed

Photo courtesy of Sebring’s Snapshots

“Got a problem,” she hollered back to both Wilkes, “what if this thing actually bleeds? I don’t have a way to collect it.”

“Small pocket inside the cloak,” Wilkes hollered back.

Patting around for a moment, Em found the pocket. Inside were wrapped two small vials capped with corks.

“Here goes.” And she inserted the gem into the wall. Instantly, it sucked the gem into the ice. The heart shuddered and beat faster. Fumbling the first bottle, Em withdrew the cork and held it ready beneath the divot.

“Thank my stars,” she whispered as three drops filled the bottle. Fumbling again, she dropped the second bottle. “No, no, no.” Her chilled fingers finally retrieved it and she held it below the divot. Two drops and the flow stopped. Were two drops enough? With her fingernail, she dug at the ice beneath the divot, scrapping away slivers of red ice and trying to fill the bottle. With relief, she held it up to see the ice melt in the warm glass. She carefully capped it and tucked both bottles back into the pocket before flipping around to return to the two Wilkes.

When she peeked her head out of the hole, both looked up at her like children waiting for a gift. Large, dark eyes…er, with one white eye too, stared without blinking. Em fingered the bottles in her pocket, unsure if the second one would work.

Mama willingly chanced her life for Marie. Em held out the totally full bottle and watched the identical grins split their faces. Crazy, but maybe worth it.

***

“How long did he wait for that heart?” Mama asked.

“Years, Mama, years.” Em handed over a plate of ham, bread and cheese for dinner. Mama took it and almost picked up the ham with her fingers. Then, remembering her fork, she opted for it instead.

“That no good, low-life actually knew about the cure all those years and didn’t ask me to help?!”

Em sighed. They’d covered this but Mama still wanted to rehash it.

“You were too big to reach it, Mama.”

“And he couldn’t find someone crazy enough to let a troll lift the…” Mama trailed off. She did that sometimes. Em couldn’t decide if it was the crazy still flowing in Mama’s veins. Perhaps two and a half drops wasn’t totally enough, but Mama didn’t climb the curtains any more. That was good enough. That was more than good enough.

“Crazy enough is right,” Em agreed. “Have you ever smelt a troll?”

Mama burst out laughing, carefree and happy as she forked a piece of ham. Em cringed but then smiled at her Mama. Who cared if her laugh and Marie’s sounded a bit like a troll’s snort. They were happy, and human.

The End

Thank you for stopping by. Hope you enjoyed the story =)

Blessings,

Jennifer

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Heart of Ice and Fire Part 3 of 4

Fire

Welcome back for the next part in the Heart of Ice and Fire story!

If you missed the first two posts, you can find them here and here. Or, here’s the quick recap.

Recap: Em traveled to snow troll territory to find a man named Jimmy Wilkes. She presented him with a green debt gem that her mother earned by saving his daughter years earlier. Now, in calling in the debt, Em is asking for a snow troll’s heart to save her mother from the poison she got from being scratched by a troll. The poison is driving her crazy. Mr. Wilkes has agreed to help if Em is willing to hunt for a troll with him.

However, when Em agreed, Mr. Wilkes used her as bait and let the troll take off with Em. Now Em is being held hostage by the troll in her cave.

Let’s see what happens next =)

Heart of Ice and Fire Part 3

Fire - Globe Hunters StoryFilled with roasted rabbit and pleasantly warm from the fire, Em curled into a ball with her back against a large rock and passed out. It might be unwise to sleep in a troll’s cave, but Em didn’t see an alternative and, well, her day exhausted her. If Ms. Troll was going to enjoy her as a snack, maybe it was better if she didn’t see it coming.

Something jerked her awake. Em’s eyes snapped open only to find the cave in complete darkness. She couldn’t immediately place what startled her but her nerves warned her something was amiss.

A foul wave of air hit her face and Em gave an, “Ugh!” before rolling away from the spot.

Ms. Troll chuckled. Her dark shape leaned over Em’s small rock enclosure. Em couldn’t say how long the troll had hunched there just watching her.

“That’s creepy, you know,” Em scolded.

The dark shape shifted backward like the troll settled to sit on her haunches.

Ms. Troll huffed but it wasn’t an angry sound. Em cocked her head sideways.

“Are you apologizing?” Mama, I’ve gone over the edge. I’m talking troll.

Ms. Troll huffed again.

“You understand me?”

The dark, hulking shoulders rolled in a motion Em could only believe was a shrug.

“You gonna eat me?”

Ms. Troll’s snort came out so powerful that snot hit the floor.

“Ugh!” Em stepped backward out of the range of any more snorts. “Then what you gonna do with me?”

Large claws reached into Em’s enclosure and wrapped snugly around her waist. Em froze. No scratches, no scratches! She chanted in her head. One crazy in the family’s more than enough. But Ms. Troll’s touch was gentle. She set Em down beside the debris of human belongings.

As Em stood uncertainly in the dark, the troll riffled in the ashes of her fire and withdrew a smoldering log. By blowing air through her long fangs, the troll brought the end of the log to life again. In the flickering light, Em scanned the broken pieces of furniture around her.

“I’m not a collector’s item,” she protested.

The troll growled and turned Em around with a claw on her shoulder. With the same claw, she pointed to the remains of a wooden chest. It sat on its side on the floor with the upturned end smashed open. A peek inside showed a few bits of clothing, probably a girl’s considering the lace on the rotted edges, and a small jewelry box engraved on the top with a dancer’s silhouette.

Em stretched on her toes to reach inside and retrieved the box. Ms. Troll squatted beside her, almost trembling with some emotion Em couldn’t guess at.

LocketShe flipped the latch open with a thumb and stared at the contents. A single necklace rested in the bottom, its tarnished silver leaving smudges on the dried out felt lining the box. A locket.

“This,” Em pointed at it, “looks very familiar.”

Ms. Troll crooned deep in her throat, almost as though she were holding back a sob. Em exhaled, sat down and leaned against the troll’s furry leg.

Gently pulling the locket from its home, she popped the latch and flipped it open.

Ms. Troll finally hiccupped her withheld sob. A tear the size of Em’s hand landed on her arm.

“That’s you?” she pointed at the girl in the locket’s picture. A small, dark haired child who held the hand of one Jimmy Wilkes.

Ms. Troll, errr, rather Miss Wilkes touched the picture with one long claw and emitted another hiccupping sob.

Em’s brain finally kicked in.

“That’s you—which means Mama didn’t actually get you safely through troll territory way back when.” Em retrieved the green jewel from her pocket. “Irony indeed,” she muttered. “Is this what happens when the poison’s allowed to run its course?” Em gestured at Miss Wilkes hulking form.

The troll huffed.

“Mama’s going to become like you?”

A croon, deep and sorrowful, was her answer.

“I take it troll’s heart doesn’t actually work?” Em couldn’t imagine Ranger Wilkes not trying everything he could to cure his daughter. He might actually be bold enough to hunt troll alone.

Miss Wilkes only confirmed her suspicion by shaking her shaggy head side to side and slumping her shoulders.

“Then Mama’s crazy is just the beginning.” Em slumped with the troll, letting her shoulders sink into the heavy fur against her back.

Miss Wilkes grunted a negative. When Em didn’t respond, the troll stood and backed away a step, letting Em tumble backwards onto the floor since her leg backrest moved.

“Hey now!” Em protested.

Miss Wilkes scooped her up again without responding. The troll’s long strides took them from the cave out into the bitter night. Instantly the air in Em’s nose started sticking her nose hairs together. A bout of shivering overtook her, so much so that she couldn’t fully voice her protest.

Perhaps noticing the violent shaking in her body, the troll shifted her into the crook of her arm. The heavy stink of troll surrounded Em but she gratefully burrowed into the long white fur. No wonder trolls didn’t mind the cold. They didn’t even feel it. The only not crazy ones to live here.

Moon

Photo courtesy of Sebring’s Snapshots.

With the cold held at bay, Em relaxed with the swaying stride of Miss Wilkes. The sky above was cloudless and filled to overflowing with sparkling points of light. No moon showed its face but there wasn’t a need for one. Em blinked, and sucked in a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. Her reaction wasn’t due to the troll smell. The velvet sky held her gaze. It was so clear she wanted to reach out and touch it. Mama, you’d love this. It’s like a sea of gems.

Gems…Em slid her fingers into her pocket and carefully withdrew the deep green debt gem. Its rough edges stuck out at angles like it was half planned, half cut, and then abandoned in the making. The shape had always fascinated Em but it never made sense to her why someone would only half cut such a beautiful thing.

The swaying stride slowed, and Em tucked the green gem away.

“You have her?” came a voice from near the troll’s feet.

“Wilkes?” Em called. “You stinking liar!”

Miss Wilkes huffed fish breath into Em’s face as she set her down onto the snowpack.

“Uck!”

Jimmy Wilkes grinned from beside the mouth of a cave. It was the only break in an otherwise pure white field of ice. “She’s got a wicked sense of humor, my Marie.”

Em wanted to spit at him, but he held out to her a fur lined cloak and a pair of heavy boots. Reluctantly, she shrugged into the garments and then glared at him from the hood. His one white eye crinkled at the corner as though he appreciated her spunk.

“Follow me,” he said.

“Where?” Em didn’t move.

“You wanted troll’s heart, right?”

Em tilted her head to look up at Marie. “Doesn’t look like that’s happening.”

“Depends,” he shrugged and started into the cave.

After a moment of stubborn silence, Em followed. Marie’s heavy steps brought up the rear.

“You put up with this man?” Em asked her over her shoulder.

Marie harrumphed.

“You have my sympathy.”

To Be Finished Next Thursday…

Thanks for stopping by =) Hope to see you next week!

Blessings,

Jennifer

Heart of Ice and Fire Part 1 of 4

Ice

It’s been some time since I posted a short story. If you know me at all, you know ‘short’ and ‘story’ are hard for me to put together. But sometimes I try.

Due to some things happening in life right now, an adventure just wasn’t plausible, so I figured I’d pull this story out of the mental archives and finish it. It’ll span the next several weeks. Let’s dig in and see what happens =)

Heart of Ice and Fire

Frost covered the edges of the glass window until there was only an oval in which to look through. If Em touched the corner, she’d leave a small fingerprint in the otherwise unbroken edge of the opaque white.

Em tried it and now the tiny ridges of her index finger stared back at her. She ignored the print. If anyone asked, it wasn’t hers.

She stared instead at the people bustling around the street outside the inn, bundled like hunched, furry animals. They were crazy people, every one of them. As the glass attested, even the fire in the hearth wasn’t warm enough to contend with the bitter cold outside.

And these people wandered around in it. A man passed her window, his beard iced over from his breath. Crazy. Certifiably crazy.

“Got parents?”

Em spun in the booth. A woman stood by her table. Her shoulders hosted a wool sweater that about doubled her size.

“Maybe,” Em answered.

“All’s I want to know,” the woman leaned against the table and posted a hand on her outside hip, “is can you pay?”

“Yes.”

“Good. What’ll ya have?”

“Cider.”

The woman lowered her head and looked at Em from the tops of her eyes.

“Not hard cider,” Em said, “just cider.”

“Hmm.” The woman wandered away.

Em shook her head and went back to staring at the crazies outside. Out of everyone on this trip, this woman was the easiest to deal with. Hadn’t even slowed her down that Em didn’t have parents with her. Most Inns insisted to see an adult, like Em could produce one out of her pocket.

Guess she couldn’t blame them too much. Seeing a young girl traveling by herself wasn’t common. And the closer she’d gotten to the mountains, the more suspicious people got. People in general just didn’t travel alone near the mountains.

Em finally joined a small trading party to get to Warren. They didn’t ask why she wanted to go to the last town before Summit Pass, and she hadn’t offered the information. It was the only town within fifty miles of the Pass, and she wasn’t sure she could technically call it a town. Just a group of people hardy enough, and crazy enough, to live in snow troll territory.

Mug of Cider - Set Up Adventure StoryA mug clanked down onto the wooden table. “That all for ya?”

“Where can I find Ranger Wilkes?” Em asked.

The woman snorted. “Ranger Wilkes?”

Em just stared at her in the best imitation of her mother she could muster.

The woman snorted again. “He be crazy, you know?”

Seems to go around. Em raised a brow.

“Try at Zander’s shop. He likes the smell of tobacco.”

Em waited just long enough for the woman to disappear into the back before pulling the mug of cider close and taking a deep sniff of the crisp drink. The warmth of the wooden mug tingled against her chilled fingers.

Mama, this place be crazy, she thought in an imitation of the Inn woman.

***

Zander’s was a smoke shop right on the edge of town. It hunched low, letting the snow slowly creep off its eves in long sheets. Em eyed the icicles edging those sheets and imagined teeth. She shuddered.

A bell tinkled with the door but, because of the dim interior, Em didn’t see the two men sitting in the back of the shop until she made it to the cash register.

“Don’t sell to youngin’s,” one man said past the pipe in his teeth.

“Not looking to buy,” Em answered. “Looking for Ranger Wilkes.”

The other man burst out with a laugh that rocked him forward in his chair. He slapped his knee and rocked backward again.

“I’ll be,” he said, “haven’t heard that name in eons.”

Considering his mass of wrinkles, he might not be lying.

“Ranger Wilkes?” Em asked him.

He sobered. “No Ranger here. Just Jimmy Wilkes.”

Em digested that. Ranger implied honor. Jimmy Wilkes was a complete unknown. She’d come all this way, though; so backing down just wasn’t an option. Her Mama would tan her hide for this venture anyway, may as well make it worth her while.

EmeraldsShe approached on soft feet and held out her hand to show him what she held. A tiny, deep green jewel nestled in her palm.

Wilkes grunted, and then eyed her with different eyes. This close to him, she could see the one white eye and the one brown one. She got the gut queasy feeling he saw her with both.

“Martha’s daughter?” he asked.

“Maybe,” she said.

“What’s she calling me to do?”

Em hesitated. Her Mama didn’t know she’d come. She wasn’t asking Wilkes for anything, not knowingly. But she needed the old man’s help, even if her pride wouldn’t let her ask for it.

“Troll heart,” Em finally answered.

Wilkes froze, the other man let out a low whistle.

“That’s some debt,” he muttered, and then pushed up from his chair and left Em and Wilkes alone. He moved to the register and began unpacking a satchel the trading group brought him.

“She infected?” Wilkes asked.

Em tried to meet his eyes but couldn’t hold that strange gaze for long. She dropped her eyes to her feet. The gem, clutched now tightly in her palm, bit into her flesh.

“She’s not asking,” Wilkes said. Not a question. “You know what she did to earn that gem?”

Em shook her head. It was just below a blood gem. Martha couldn’t have saved Wilkes himself or the gem would’ve been ruby red. Whoever she did save, though, had to have been his family.

“Then you’ve no idea the irony in this.”

Em glanced up through her lashes.

“My daughter,” Wilkes said, tapping a silver necklace with an oval locket around his neck. “She smuggled my daughter through troll territory. Got scratched in the process.”

Em shuddered, and then understanding washed coldly from her head down her spine. Wilkes nodded as he saw the horror overtake her face.

“Yeah,” he said, “I couldn’t turn you down if I wanted to. Martha’s infected because of what she did for me. Surprised she’s lasted all these years without the madness affecting her.”

Em didn’t respond. She hadn’t lasted all these years. Mama raved and tried to climb the curtains on her good days. The only thing that seemed to make her sane was when she taught Em her lessons. A stark, frightening clarity overtook her for those brief hours like she lit a fast burning candle to illuminate the whole areas of her brain.

Wilkes nodded again. “Can’t do this alone,” he said. “You up for hunting troll?”

This was the first hint she’d seen of the crazy the Inn woman spoke of. Her, a thirteen-year-old girl, hunting a troll?

She lifted her chin. “Whatever needs to be done.”

To Be Continued Next Thursday…

Thank you for stopping by. We’ll see you next week =)

Blessings,

Jennifer

Witness Protection

I’m loving the snow on the ground. To me, it just epitomizes this time of year. So, even though I posted this story a while ago, I figured it might be fun to revisit it.

I hope 2015 has kicked off to a fabulous start for everyone=)

Witness Protection

Wind howled around the eves from the time the sun went down to just before it rose. The cabin was solid enough to take the beating but Gwen lay awake listening to the banshee scream.

Then it went still and left her ears ringing. She stretched, groaning as the chill sept into the covers.

Get the fire going. Awe no! I forgot the water. Gwen rubbed her forehead as she slid out of bed. She pulled on her wool socks before touching feet to floor. Even still, the cold bit through to make her toes ache. Donning more layers than just her wool underwear, she even added her cloak after watching her breath cloud around her face.

Then she set to lighting the kindling she’d prepared the night before in the hearth. Sweet warmth built from the small flames. Gwen sighed with an ‘ah’ as she held her hands close. She rubbed her fingers until they turned red and then shoved them into her mittens. Last she wrapped her scarf around the lower portion of her face.

Water. 

Leaving the cabin exposed Gwen to the brutal cold but she’d forgotten to fill the water the day before. Brant left her oatmeal. She needed water to eat. He hadn’t apparently considered how cold the next month would be when he set her up at the cabin.

Making her way to the river was a slow process. The wind pushed the snow into drifts and each step sunk Gwen up to her knees in the crusty white.

Snow was supposed to be powdery. Gwen had always thought so but not here. Here it froze so solid that each step dented in a small crater with a crunch.

Nearing the river, she slowed and tapped the snow ahead with the water bucket. After three taps, the snow slid and was swept away by the river.

She learned her first day at the cabin that the wind shoved the snow-turned-solid-ice into a berm over the river. She’d fallen through the berm into water so frigid it’d taken her a good thirty seconds to convince her lungs to draw breath. Then it’d taken a whole day to warm herself by the fire in the cabin.

She’d used too much wood that day. Now she was rationing it. Curse Brant for not educating her on the dangers of the mountain cold. She would just melt snow for water instead of going to the river but melting snow required more wood. Curse Brant again. One mistake and now she feared freezing before Brant returned for her.

He had to return for her. No one else would look for her here. That was kind of the point. But now she feared being left, forgotten. She was just an asset to Brant, nothing more. If, for some reason, he no longer needed her to testify, would he come back for her? She couldn’t say. She didn’t really know the man.

Drawing water, Gwen set the bucket on the bank beside her and watched the horizon as the sun peeked over.

That was the one thing she loved about this place. Those first rays of sun touched the snow with gentle fingers, making it sparkle, pristine and untouched. It made her heart ache that something so beautiful could exist without being seen by most souls.

She’d never seen it herself until Brant left her here. He’d acted like this place was the most natural, common place in the world. Perhaps, for him, it was. He was, after all, the King’s ranger.

The King tasked him with hiding her, the only witness to the theft of the crown, until the man she’d named as guilty was found. Brant guessed it’d take a month, at most.

Gwen sighed. This was her fourth week. She’d marked out the days on a piece of firewood.

Being a noblewoman, she’d never spent so long with only her thoughts. Her thoughts scared her. Was she always so superficial?

Probably. After a month to consider, she could admit it. At least to herself. Sighing, Gwen started and scrunched her face.

“Not again!” Her breath had frozen to her brows and lashes. It was the one drawback to covering her face with a scarf. If she sat too long, her breath was directed up against her face and froze to any exposed hair.

Picking up the water, which had already formed a fine crust of ice, Gwen rubbed her face with one mittened hand to break the frost from her brows as she retraced her steps to the cabin.

It probably wasn’t much warmer inside but to Gwen it felt like a toasty bath, just lacking steam.

Breaking the crust of ice, she poured water into the kettle and added a piece of wood to the fire. She warmed the water just enough to make the oatmeal bearable and then sat back to eat breakfast.

When she went home, she swore she’d never touch oatmeal again.

***

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGwen added her cloak on top of the bed that night. Two more days. She’d give it two more days. If Brant didn’t return by then, she’d head out on her own.

The wind started its howl just as sleep was pulling her under. She started at the shrieking and then flopped back, groaning. After a month, she should be used to the high keening around the eves. She wasn’t, though. It made her ears ring something fierce every morning after listening to it all night.

Finally a light sleep pulled her under but the howl crept into her unconscious mind.

A banshee chased her through the snow, hissing and spitting as it clawed its way closer. Snow, crusted hard, crunched into deep craters beneath her running feet. Crunch, crunch, crunch, thunk.

Gwen bolted upright.

The door.

She rolled just in time to avoid the man who’d barreled into the cabin.

She knew who he was without seeing his face. She’d never seen another person with ears like his. Floppy lobes due to gauging, which elongated his already long ears. They framed his face like he was part elephant.

She’d described all of that for the King but apparently it hadn’t been enough for here was the thief, not the ranger.

Hitting the floor on hands and knees, Gwen darted for the hearth where a metal poker leaned. She didn’t make it.

The thief caught her ankle and yanked her back. Digging her nails into the wooden floor, she reached, while twisting and kicking, for something to fight with. Her fingers latched onto cold metal.

Swinging with all her strength, Gwen slammed the water bucket against the man’s head. The water sloshed across the floor and the bucket hit with a crunch. Thudding to his knees, the thief groaned. He released her ankle to hold his head. Gwen snatched her cloak from the bed, shoved her boots on and raced out the door as it swung in the wind.

He’ll kill me.

But so would the cold.

As soon as Gwen left the cabin’s walls, the buffet of wind almost knocked her over. It whipped her hair across her face in angry gusts from the east.

Can’t stay exposed.

One hand to the cabin wall, she struggled around to the west side. Stepping into the windbreak from the cabin, she glanced back. Even with the dark and the blowing snow, she could tell her foot prints were gone. One plus to the insane weather.

But the windbreak of the cabin wouldn’t keep her from freezing. Already her fingers were numb to the point she could barely hold her cloak around her shoulders.

She couldn’t wander out from the cabin either. Between the dark and the snow, she’d be lost and dead long before morning.

Bury myself it is then.

She’d heard of people surviving storms by digging snow caves and hiding inside. She’d scoffed at the stories. A snow cave couldn’t possibly be warm enough to keep a body alive, could it?

Hopefully the stories were true. They were her only option unless she wanted to go back and face the thief. She’d broken his nose. She was sure of it, but that hadn’t knocked him out. He’d be after her soon.

Kneeling, Gwen dug into the drift of snow at the corner of the cabin. She used the edges of her cloak to protect her hands but even still, the exertion warmed her and it was enough to tell her hands were taking a beating.

Finally, having a large enough hole to fit her body into, Gwen packed the walls until they were slick and then curled into the small cave.  It wasn’t comfortable or warm but in comparison to the outside, it was protected.

Gwen’s hands throbbed. Folding her cloak and hood tight to her skin, she tucked her hands into her arm pits where her core could keep them bearably warm.

She lay shivering as she tried to gauge how late the night was. How long before morning? She didn’t really have a way to tell although the wind always died down before sunrise. She hoped it’d died down soon.

Something dripped onto her cheek. Gwen frowned and touched the roof of her cave. Her fingers came away wet. The roof was slicked with a fine layer of water from her body heat. As her hands searched, she found a point where the water was collecting. Packing the point smooth, Gwen shifted her cloak some to keep her dry.

Brant gave her the garment when he left her. He said at the time that a water resistant cloak lined with fur could mean life or death out here. She’d chuckled, thinking she wouldn’t be here long enough to need it. Now she could kiss him for it…or stab him for not catching the thief.

Shivering continued to rack her body. She clamped her teeth closed but that only kept her teeth quiet. It didn’t keep her body from shuddering.

Curse men altogether.

It was a man who stole the crown. Then it was a man who ordered her ‘kept safe.’ Then a man who dumped her out here and called it good.

If a woman had been the thief, she would have had the courtesy not to be seen. Or if the Queen decided on ‘safe,’ if would’ve involved joining her ladies-in-waiting, not trudging to a cabin in the middle of no where.

Her thinking wasn’t fair but while she shivered in the night and listened to the wind, she didn’t care.

***

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe wind died down and the silence woke her. It was that time of morning just before the sun rose when the air was brittle with cold and eerily quiet.

Crunch.

Gwen sucked in a breath and held it.

Crunch.

The sound of a slow step in the crusted snow. The thief was up and moving.

Crunch.

He wouldn’t know she stayed by the cabin, would he? Perhaps he thought the night and cold killed her. It should have. Her, a noblewoman, with no knowledge of the frozen mountains.

Crunch.

The sound was way too close. Gwen couldn’t move.

Her cave crumbled as he pulled on her cloak. The thief had the edge of the garment in his hand. He yanked again and Gwen cried out as he reached for her.

Her arms and legs ached, screamed at her as she flailed after being curled in a ball for hours.

He yanked a third time and the cloak slid from her shoulders.

Gwen stood and spun away but had to brace a hand on the wall when her legs protested. Bloody hand prints trailed the wall, leading right to her spot.

She shoved away and tried to run toward the river but her steps sunk her up to her knees until she was crawling and scrambling instead of running.

The thief yelled but she couldn’t, and didn’t really want to, hear his words. He was chasing her. With his longer legs, he was gaining fast.

Seeing the river ahead, Gwen stopped and crouched, turning as the thief reached for her.

She grabbed his extended hand and pulled. Caught off guard, he stumbled. He stepped once, then twice to regain his balance. Gwen braced her legs and shoved him past her.

He stepped onto the ice berm over the river. It held for a second before crumbling and then he disappeared into the river, windmilling his arms on the way down. He bobbed to the surface farther down with his mouth open in a silent shriek.

Gwen could relate to that feeling.

The thief caught on a rock down mid-stream.

“Now I’ve got to fish him out.”

Gwen shrieked and spun.

Brant stood there eyeing her.

“He’s your problem,” she said and then clamped her teeth together. Her body was still shivering. She couldn’t feel her feet and her hands felt like she’d grated them on a wash board. She flexed her fingers and finally figured out why she’d left bloody hand prints. She tore several nails in her struggle with the thief. Probably left grooves in the cabin floor.

“That he is. I’m glad he finally took the bait.”

“Bait? I was bait!” Gwen wanted to scream and yell and maybe hit him but all that came out was a lot of half words. “yo–cruel–why-” She gave up. She was railing at him in her underwear and shivering so hard she couldn’t keep her teeth quiet.

Spinning, she trudged back to the cabin for her clothes. She didn’t offer to help him retrieve the thief.

***

By the time Brant came in, he and the thief were both drenched and shivering with ice forming in their hair.

Gwen had built up the fire to thaw her frozen limbs and the cabin was toasty warm. She found the sled Brant must have hauled in. Half of it was covered with wood. The other half more food stuffs. He would have left her here as long as it took to lure the thief in apparently.

But he brought firewood, for which Gwen could almost forgive him his plans. Almost.

Seeing both men come back crusted with ice cooled her ire even more. They deserved the experience, both of them, and it was satisfying to see, but she didn’t begrudge them the warmth in the cabin either. It wasn’t like she wanted them dead.

The thief now had a crooked nose to add to his elongated ears. He sat in the corner of the cabin with his shoulders slumped and head down.

After a silent breakfast of oatmeal, Gwen helped Brant clean the cabin.

“Time to go,” he announced and then frowned at her. “Where’s the cloak I gave you?”

“Out under the snow,” Gwen announced, “where I spent the night while this man enjoyed the cabin.”

Brant finally had the decency to look sorry. “He was here all night?”

“Duh genius. Your master plan had a few glitches. Although I could kiss you for the cloak. It saved my life.”

He looked flabbergasted. Gwen’s day was looking up. She turned away to go find the cloak. She planned to enjoy one last morning of the sun sparkling off the snow before she returned home.

The End.

Blessings,

Jennifer