The Snow

The Snow

A Story by Treo LeGigeo
"

A story of loss and love within the winter, within the seasons and within time itself.

"

If you spent your whole life travelling the world, tasting exotic foods, drinking foreign wine and living in extraordinary places, you would never come across a place quite like Aeveryn. To the traders that pass with their loaded carts or the road-weary travellers who stop in for a night, it seems nothing more than another of those ordinary little settlements that spring up around the place, big enough to thrive and grow but small enough that everyone to know everyone else and every new arrival founds themselves friends of the whole town within days. But what held Aeveryn apart, were its stories. Every town has them, but for Aeveryn it was different. Starting from a single raconteur, one could spread in a single day, and by the end of the week every child will have heard it with rapt attention and every adult be reciting it with their own vivacious retelling. Instead of slowly fading away into dusty memory, each tale would stay alive and so, generations later, parents would still repeat to their sons or daughters the enchanting words whose origins had long been forgotten. Most towns have gossip or rumour; Aeveryn had its stories. And the favourite of its residents was always that of the Winter Maiden.


There was a woman, so the story told, with the skin as white as a feather from an angel's wing, eyes as blue as a clear morning sky, and hair as black as a soaring raven's beak. A woman who lived, not on top of the earth or over the ocean, but in the seasons. A woman who travelled, as they say, throughout the realm, visiting towns and villages under the guise of the ice and frost, coming with the end of autumn, and leaving with the blossoming of spring.

A woman who dwelt within the winter.



* * *


"Are you ready?"

The young man turned from where he was saddling his horse, head twisting around at the familiar voice.


"Almost, mother. Most of the hunting party has left already"

The old woman moved closer, a soft smile on her lips. "After you returned, you've been so distant. It's so nice to see you out again."

"It's a nice change from the battles.”


He returned the smile wanly, a lukewarm attempt at light-heartedness. In a town like Aeveryn where wild animals were the worst weapons ever got turned against, no one really understood.


"I know you've seen and done things the rest of us we can barely imagine, but when I look at you, Ajeus, I still just see my little boy. The one I chased after barefoot in the rain, cooked little sweetcakes for after dinner, told my stories to at night." She leaned in to press a soft kiss against her son's cheek, running her fingers through the coarse brown hair that was only just growing back after months of being shaved back with flints. “I know you aren't the same as you were before you went away, but the whole town is so happy that you started to live again.”

Ajeus looked over the woman who had raised him, expression deepening into sincere fondness. He bent over to pick up his bow and quiver from where he'd left them on the floor, strapping both on his back before taking the reins and turning toward the door of the stables.


"I know, mother."


Take care, Ajeus.”

He gave the reins a light tug, leading out the blonde mare that he had received as a gift upon his return two months earlier. He stepped into the cool air with a slight shiver, his horse whinnying softly as her hooves kicked up a cloud of flakes. This time of year the snow was still light, the weather not yet cold enough to warrant wearing anything over his tunic, but he knew from many warm memories of winters spend curled up with hot soup and blankets in front of the fire that the temperature would be dropping drastically over the next two weeks or so. He made his way over the thin layer of white the short distance to the gathering place beside the forest.

"Ajeus." A tall rider was standing beside a lean black stallion near the edge of the trees, beckoning with a small smile and a very slight hesitancy.

"Tarhne," Ajeus greeted, leading his mare over to greet the older man. "Still the town's best hunter, eh?" he said, injecting a little light-heartedness into his voice.

Tarne's smile widened. "It's good to finally see you with us, little cousin, finally turn all those pretend games we used to play into reality."

Ajeus grinned back. “Thank you,” he said softly. “I owe so much thanks to everyone here for their kindness, taking me in again.”


You're one of us, Ajeus. No matter whose army dragged you off. You're always one of us.”


Ajeus turned away, smile fading as he looked over the other riders. There were a few men gathered near the stables, a few more closer to the trees, and if he craned his neck he could see a young nervous-looking man just approaching, on his first coming-of-age hunt it seemed. Simple men, in an uncomplicated world. But that was the thing, he wasn't really one of them, not anymore. He could never be a small town man anymore.


"So, when are we leaving?"

"We're waiting on Delton and Steiche," Tarhne informed his childhood friend and protégé. mentally checking off the riders. "They're breaking in some young ones today, I suspect it's taking some extra time to get them ready."

They waited in silence for several minutes before the faint sound of hooves on soft snow was heard. The two horse trainers trotted up--newly trained it seemed for Ajeus didn't recognised them from before he left--on a pair of stout palominos, alerting the gathering into action. The riders mounted, forming into two lines before the entrance to the forest. He took his place at the front beside his cousin, who flashed him a reassuring smile before giving the forward signal.

They maintained a steady pace through the trees, Ajeus half focused on controlling his breathing and half overcome with wonder. He had played around the edge of the forest as a child, but he had never been in this deep before. The trees were alive, even at this time of year, with the song of birds and chirping of insects and scuffling of small animals. There was something amazingly beautiful in nature, its innocence, purity. It was almost enough to keep at bay the images that suddenly flashed before him, of another place, another time as he lead the men through the woods, bedraggled and half dead from exhaustion. The road seemed endless, the ground littered with splashes of blood from those who had passed before them. The commander, the man who had held them and forced them against masses of innocents, was long dead. A few of the men had already deserted, never to be seen again, but the rest stayed together with the knowledge that leaving alone at this stage would be lost to suicide.


Do we have a bearing?”


It was the second in command, who had fallen prey to an infection from the last conflict and now sat slumped in the saddle of a horse that Ajeus was leading.


We passed a town, some days ago, I remember. Maybe they can help us.”


The weak man coughed, raising a hand to wipe the red dribbling out of the corner of his mouth.


The horses have barely slept in days. Even if we don't find it soon we're going to have to halt.”


The order was soft, but it jerked Ajeus up abruptly. It took a few seconds for him to sag back into his saddle, ignoring Tarhne's questioning look and turning in the direction of everyone else's gaze. Through the trees a large brown shape was just barely visible, grazing in what appeared to be a small clearing. Tarhne cast a glance around, exchanged a few nods with the others, then dismounted silently.


The hunter took his bow and and arrows from where they hang from the saddle, weaving around the trees, skilled steps undetectable to the majestic creature. He paused behind the trunk of a thick oak, assessing his vantage points before drawing back the string and letting the arrow fly through the hanging leaves. A soft curse was let out it missed by inches, clipping off a low branch just by the animal's hide. Startled, it sprang into action, graceful neck jolting up, racing through the undergrowth.


Before he knew, before he could even fathom the thought, Ajeus's own bow was off his back and in his hands. The arrow notched itself to the string for the barest of moments before it was cutting through the air, spearing through flesh and bone.


The others stared, some in shock and others in admiration, as Ajeus lowered his arms, slowly relaxing muscles snapped tense by instinct. Tarhne took a few steps around to animal that now lay unmoving on the forest floor, arrow through its skull--not a hunt for a beast, but a kill shot for a man.


It's a buck,” he said rather lamely, for the lack of having anything else with which to break the strained silence.


They seemed to work, regardless. Several of the other men dismounted to tend to the catch, while others began to urge their horses forward once more. But Ajeus stayed still, frozen in his saddle.


Hey,” came his cousin's kind voice again, closer now. “That was a good shot.” There was no reply.“Come on, let's continue. The others will take care of it.”


Ajeus let his eyes fall shut as Tarhne moved away to remount, taking a few deep breaths.


You guys go ahead. I'll catch up. Just, give me a second.”


A few worried glances were cast, but Tarhne gave a stiff nod and the riders began to peel away. The three than had stayed behind were frowning at him from beside the dead animals' side, and he threw them an insincere smile before kicking his horse and putting some distance between them. He lead the mare at a slow walk, keeping well behind the main party. Somehow, the forest didn't seem so beautiful anymore.


There was a soft rustle from the side, a pad of heavy paws, and with that Ajeus was back on full alert. A white creature stepped out onto the path, black spots dotting its thick fur. He vaguely recognised it as resembling a creature he had heard about during one of his treks--a tiger it was called, and a vicious predator though one not seen in these parts. He only got a glimpse of it before it leapt.


Battle-honed senses pulled his horse back violently and it reared upwards, just about throwing him if it weren't for the vicious grip of his thighs. But instead of pouncing it streaked across the path, disappearing into the depth of the forest.


Later, Ajeus would think up reasons why he took followed. The creature was rare, most definitely expensive. Every child was told stories of a single reckless man abandoning the hunting party to return triumphant hours later. It would be a good way to earn back the goodwill of the village.


But really, all he knew at the time was the rushing of blood through his temples, the terrible thrill of the chase. Throwing himself forward into his saddle, he pushed his horse into a flat out sprint. The forest sped past, mere flashes of white fur streaking before him. He could feel the mare's muscles flexing underneath him as strong as the frantic beating of his adrenaline driven heart. His right hand still clutched his bow, fingers gripping almost painfully. He plastered himself against the mare's neck and reached back for an arrow with his left.

A guttural cry of triumph escaped his throat as the trees fell away, finally allowing him an unimpeded shot. Ajeus found himself racing out into an open plain and, to his slight dismay, the sound of gushing water. A part of him almost hesitated as a wide river flowed out before him, but the passing confusion fled as the object of his pursuit climbing, dripping wet, out on the opposite bank.


He'd never known that there was a river in the forest, but there was only a second of thought before he dug his heels into his horse's side, driving it down into the water. It was chilly, but not freezing, and the current gave his horse no trouble in the crossing. Cold air bit at him as he clambered out of the water, but it was just another sting that he'd learned to ignore.


Shaking the few droplets from his eyes, Ajeus clenched his jaw in sudden determination as he saw that the clearing extended a good distance from the river, the creature in the clear before him. He shook out the damp feathers of his arrow and notched it to his bow, raising both and lining up the shot to the beat of his pounding pulse.


But at that moment, the beast stopped. It pulled itself to a halt, turning to face its pursuer before he had a chance to pull in the reins, swiping out with a massive paw and bearing its gleaming teeth. The mare screamed, hooves digging into the hard earth, pitching itself on its side in a roll.


Ajeus felt a sharp pain in his neck as he hit the ground, then, nothing.


* * *


He came into consciousness slowly, becoming aware of a pounding headache and a thudding pain in all of his limbs.

"You're awake."


The voice was female, high pitched and lilting.


"Open your eyes slowly, it'll hurt, but you'll get used to the light."


Ajeus obeyed, groaning as the even soft winter light glared into his sore eyes. Bit by bit, his vision fell into focused. He was in a small room of what looked like a homey wooden cottage, a fire burning in the fireplace and a slow drift of soft snow flakes visible through a slightly foggy window. He was lying on a narrow bed in the corner, covered in downy blankets.

"Drink this."


He turned his head as the voice spoke again, wincing as the action pulled at stiff muscles. A woman sat beside him on a low wooden stool, wearing a light green robe that accentuated the long black hair which fell around her face. Her skin was pale, so pale it looked as if she had never seen the sun, her lips a deep blood red and her eyes a piecing aquamarine. Ajeus couldn't help but gape, her complexion so unlike any he had seen before, even the exotic travellers he sometimes saw coming through Aeveryn. She was holding out a mug toward him, filled to the brim with broth.


No, thank you,” he replied firmly with a slight grimace. His throat felt like he'd inhaled a pile of brick dust and every action was fifty times more effort than it should be, but it was nothing entirely new. The woman sighed softly.


Here,” she lifted the mug to her own lips and took a small sip. “If I was going to hurt you, I wouldn't have saved you.”


He hesitated for a moment longer before conceding.


You've already had some, anyway. You probably don't remember, your fever was very high,” she said as she helped him pour the broth down his throat. It was warm, but not hot, and deliciously spiced. Ajeus drank fervently.


"Who are you?" he asked finally as she lowered the now empty mug, attempting to sit up further despite his already drooping eyelids. "Where am I?"

The woman just smiled softly and pressed him back onto the bed. "You are tired, sleep now and I will answer your questions later."

Ajeus opened his mouth to protest, only to find himself slurring the words into his pillow as he faded back into unconsciousness.

* * *

The second time Ajeus woke it was to his own shivering. The sky was dark, the fireplace in dull embers, and the steely grip of cold in his bones.

"Hello?" He called out, trying to stop his teeth from chattering. "Is anyone there?"

Silence. He tried to pull the blankets tighter around himself, but his stiff limbs wouldn't obey. Ajeus forced himself to swallow, once, twice, ignoring the protesting soreness of his throat from screams and howls of the previous days' battle. The burnt-out shack was dark except for a single candle in the corner, flickering in the icy breeze that weaved through the crumbling timber walls. There were thirteen of them curled on the floor under moulded and near-useless scraps of cloth, and all merely thankful they wouldn't have to sleep outside that night.


There was a boy beside him, not even yet of age, short blonde hair crusted with blood and tan skin greyed with dirt and grime. Ajeus gently eased off his coat.


Here.”


He draped it over the small, shaking body. The boy scrabbled at it with a ghostly white hand.


Th-thank, you sir.”


Ajeus.”


What?”


My name is Ajeus.”


Oh.”


There were several silent moment before he spoke again.


What's your name?”


Resly, s"Ajeus.”


Goodnight, Resly.”


Goodnight.”


Ajeus let his eyes slip shut, rearrange himself as comfortably as he could on the hard ground. But just as he felt himself slip into blessed oblivion, the soft sound of a boot on snow broke through the howl of the wind.


The entire group was wrenched to attention with a second, men sat up and reaching for their weapons, eyes glued to the entrance to the shack as the steps moved closer and the door flew open in a gust of wind and a flurry of snow.


"I'm sorry about the cold, the firewood ran out," the woman said hastily, closing the door and dumping an armful of wood onto the floor. She threw a few handfuls of kindling into the grate, quickly stocking the fire back to life.

"Would you like more soup?" she asked, kneeling now beside a large pot suspended over the reawakened flames. It took several seconds for Ajeus to collect himself enough to nod.

"My name is Vienne,” his host said as she pressed another fragrant cup against his parched lips. “This is my cottage. I found you in the forest, unconscious. Your clothes were frozen solid, I had to thaw them out."

"I went through the river," he told the woman"Vienne. "My horse threw me."

"Yes, I thought I saw some tracks leading away. Your horse must have run off, unfortunately," Vienne replied. "It was a bad fall, your fever ran for five days, and your injuries kept you asleep for four more."

"Nine days?" Ajeus let out a exclamation, then promptly fell back coughing. "I don't think I've thanked you enough," he managed to get out between hacks.

Vienne pulled the blankets further up, tucking them around him.“Thank luck, not me, I only happened upon you because I was searching for Sierra.”

"Sierra?"

"Yes, a lovely beast, my snow leopard."

"What's a snow leopard?"

Vienne laughed softly, standing up and walking to the door. She pulled it open, making Ajeus wince at the blast of cold, then must have made some kind of signal he missed because a second later he was gaping as a familiar shape appeared in a midst of a swirl of snowflakes. "It's yours?"

"She," Vienne corrected, reaching out a hand to stroke the creature on the head. "And mine, yes. Snow leopards are magnificent creatures, aren't they?"

"I've never seen one before, or heard of one," Ajeus replied, staring at the creature. Now that he could see it closer up, he saw it was in fact quite magnificent. "It-she was, I was chasing her. I didn't realise, I'm sorry."

"There is no need to be," Vienne said, patting the leopard one last time and shutting the door. "Sierra's far too intelligent to ever allow you a clear shot of her. And don't be afraid, she's harmless. I'm sure she didn't mean to startle your horse that badly." She pulled the latch shut. "Go to sleep now, we shall see how you are in the morning."

"What about you? I am taking your bed, surely.”

"I have a feather mattress near the fireplace in the kitchen," she gestured toward the next room. "It is very comfortable and probably warmer. You need not concern yourself about me, just rest. It will most likely be another week before strong enough to get out of bed."

"Another week? But I must get back home!"

"I am afraid that will not be possible. The river has frozen over, it's too wide to cross and the ice is too thin to walk over. You will not be able to return until the spring."

"But is there any way to contact Aeveryn? Any way at all?"

Vienne shook her head. "There's nothing we can do now, you will just have to stay this winter here and hope they assume the best." She turned to walk through the doorway to the kitchen. "Do not be troubled, I will be sure to take care of you. Goodnight."

"Goodnight," Ajeus whispered, letting himself melt into the soft mattress. A thousand thoughts spun around in his head, from his mother's no doubt frantic cries when the party returned without him, to the echoes of his initial awaking panic. But in the warmth of the bed, with the soothing crackle of the flames in the fireplace and the soft sound of falling snow, he found himself drifting into a calm and dreamless sleep inside the cottage in which he would be spending the winter.

* * *

For Ajeus, the following days spent in recovery passed in a blur of warm blankets, hot soup, and draining sleep. It was indeed a week before he was able to stand, and then it was only for a few minutes of shaky walking over the timber floor before his knees buckled and forced him back into the bed. Distaste for any form of weakness born of desperation and survival pushed him almost to re-injury, forcing his still-frail body to exercise until exhaustion finally took him down.

After several days of Ajeus pacing frustratedly around the cottage just barely short of whittling the fire logs into arrows, Vienne gave in to his pleas for a breath of the open air. It truly was a wonder, for outside Vienne was never alone but forever accompanied by her many animal friends. Birds chirped brightly as they repeatedly circled her head before landing on her shoulder, dogs barked merrily as they chased after her on the white dusted ground, and Sierra and her mate prowled the perimeters, white coats shining in the sunlight. And when it snowed the tiny flakes sparkled and gleamed as they floated down from the sky to settle on feather, fur, and woollen coat, captivating the ex-soldier as he stood in the pristine untouched nature and saw, for the first time, the world's full unveiling. The forest was beautiful, the animals were beautiful, and the strange woman who, despite Ajeus's prodding questions, would reveal nothing about her identity or her past, was foreign, mysterious, enigmatic, but doubtless beautiful. And the winter was only just beginning.


Another week or so passed before Ajeus was helping Vienne out around the cottage, sweeping the snow from the doorway, wiping the windows down from frost, and various other work that didn't tire him too quickly. He spent his days determinedly stretching his weakened muscles and rebuilding his strength, and in the evenings when he lay ensconced in the warmth of a borrowed bed and allowed himself to be totally honest with his thoughts, he'd admit that he above all he was glad to be of at least some use to the woman to whom he owed his accommodation, welfare, and life.

As time progressed further, the two began to rapidly hoarding fuel for the fireplace. During the season's climax, the human occupants of the cottage found themselves curled together on the hearth-rug among piles of logs and branches, as well as the few birds, dogs, and other creatures not brave enough to venture into nature's fury. The windows had glazed over opaque, but defrosting them would be a pointless venture as there was nothing to see but a huge cloud of white, a maelstrom of swirling crystals as the blizzard raged outside unhindered. Ajeus spent the stormy days with his extraordinary host, conversing softly to the crackle of the fire and the howling of the winds. He made light-hearted anecdotes, regaled the stories he'd been told as a child, and the deepest days of the winter found him recounting his weeks on the field of battle, the fear, the terror, and the way his eyes were opened to a world he'd never be able to forget. During all this the animals that Vienne still refused to explain looked on quietly, observing the exchange, the banter, and the growing curiosity.

The fierce winds raged for many days before finally dying down to a much needed respite, and the next week was spent in rather tedious routine. While Ajeus had eagerly offered his assistance, Vienne flatly refused letting him outside for long periods of time. He busied himself with other work as she worked at the solid layer of ice that had crusted over the windows, chipping away with surprising strength and skill. He cleared away the snow that had found its way through the gap under the door, packed up the nest that had built up in front of the fireplace, and wondered when exactly everything had began feeling so natural.

By the time the cold season was beginning to wane and the snow falls were becoming more and more infrequent, Ajeus had all but fully recovered from his accident and was delighted to reach the end of what had been a particularly vicious winter. He'd never felt excitement like that before over the promise of the rebirth of nature, the reawakening of the animals. Vienne was strangely unenthusiastic, which only served to heighten Ajeus's interest in his exotic, reserved, and frankly stunning saviour. He spent his nights on the bed or feather mattress that he now alternated with Vienne, thoughts more often than not wandering to the woman in the next room. His mind churned with ideas, possibilities, as he lay in the heat of dying flames while outside, tiny crystal snowflakes glittered in the light of a bright shining moon as they made their way down to a white covered forest floor for the final times of that year.

On the eve of the third month of the winter, Ajeus realised he was in love.

* * *

It was on a clear sunny afternoon of the season's last days that Vienne grabbed her cloak and left to return at sunset with those final fateful words on her lips.

"The river is clear."

Ajeus tensed, spinning around from where he had been idly drawing patterns in the melting snow.


"What?"

"The ice has thawed, you can journey back in the morning."

"No."

Vienne raised her eyebrows. "No?"

"I'm not going back. Or at least, I'll go back and let them know that I'm going away again. I'm coming back here, with you"

"Ajeus, surely you jest. You must return. They're waiting for you, your family your friends, everything. Your life is in Avereyn, it's all you know! Please son, you can't leave us!”


I don't have a choice mother. I won't be able to hide. They said all the young men.”


They? Who is they? Some band of riders and a bully who calls himself the king of this land, trying to take away our boys for a war we've never heard of? You can't let them take you away, Ajeus, you're no warrior.”


No, I'm not.” He finished tying his boots and stood, wrapping his arms around the weeping woman. “But I can learn, and I love you. You, mother, and everyone else in that I grew up with. You can't stop them from taking me, you'll only get hurt trying.”


His mother cried harder. “Come back, my boy. Come back to us.”


That, at least, he did. And he was the only one of the sons that left that day to keep that promise. And when he returned three years later, actions and images burned into his mind that would never fade away, the town was the same. But he isn't like it used to be. I've changed, Vienne. Yes, my life was in Avereyn, but I'll never be a village man again. Not after what I've seen and done.” He walked forward, raising a hand to gently stroke over her cheek and through her thick hair, "They don't understand."


Vienne froze at the touch. “Neither do I,” she whispered.


But you do. With you, it doesn't matter. You don't expect me to live a simple life in a simple town, expect me to be the same little boy that they remember me as. I've seen the world, not all of it, but enough to know that Avereyn is so far from it.”


And so am I.”


No, not anymore. You are my world, Vienne. I love you.”

Ajeus was expecting shock or surprise, at best a smile and at worst a stuttering retreat and apology. But not this. Vienne's eyes widened and she pulled looked up into his eyes, staring at him with an expression he could not interpret. "No," she gasped. "You do not mean that."

"But I do. These past months here, I've been free. With the trees and the animals, and being myself.” He gently took one of her hands in his. "I love you, Vienne, and I could I never take you away from here when I could hardly leave myself. Please, let me stay with you."

Vienne stared down at their entwined hands for several moments before pulling away sharply and turning around, walking away from him. She took a deep, shuddering breath. "You do not know me, Ajeus. No one knows me."

"Then let me know."

She let out a humourless laugh. "If only you would believe me."

"I will," Ajeus said, walking toward her again, "I promise."

Vienne spun around quickly to look at him. "Would you believe me if I told you that I was enchanted? Bewitched?"

"Bewitched?"

"Yes."


Ajeus tried to step towards her, but Vienne only moved back once more. She cast her eyes away, gazing up at the sky.


"I was born on the twelfth hour of midwinter day, the strongest hour of the day of the Winter God and for it I was blessed with a gift. A gift of emotion. It allowed me to feel every emotion keenly, more keenly than any other human, and to never feel that emotion die. At first it served me well, shaping me as caring daughter, a kind friend, and later a loving wife. But then everything changed when bandits burned my home and killed my husband. They took me too, used me, then cast me away."


She stopped, looking at him again.


"That was when I realised that my gift was not a gift, but a curse. Now, I feel my pain, my heartbreak, more keenly than any other, and I will never be free of sorrow."


Vienne crouched down, gathering a handful of the sparse white flakes into the hand. Then she stood again and held her arm out, letting them swirl to the ground with a soft sigh.


"That's why I'm here. The animals, the trees, the winter, I make them my friends, they understand." She let the handful fall back onto the ground. "Do you not see? You cannot love me, I am not of your world. Now that the snow is melting, I must leave."

"The snow?"

The woman's lips curved into a sad smile.


"The snow numbs the pain, and there is no greater pain in the world than that of unfulfilled love. There is no other way for me to live, but in the snow."

There was silence for some moments, the weight of the confession hanging in the air. Then Ajeus moved forward.


I don't care about your past. I love you for who you are, as you are. Please, just tell me, Vienne. Tell me if you love me too."

There was no reply. Instead, Vienne simply stood there on the frost dusted ground, gazing into Ajeus's eyes. Neither of them moved. Slowly, Ajeus began to lean down, bringing their lips together. But their mouths barely brushed against each other before Vienne abruptly pulled back.


"Go to sleep, Ajeus. I will have a horse prepared for you in the morning."


Her tone was emotionless, but her eyes were blazing. She whirled around and walked off into the forest.

Ajeus stood there in shock for several seconds before his body spurred into action. He ran, but she was nowhere to be seen. He weaved between the trees, calling out her name, but with the encroaching night and the dimming light the search was fruitless. After an hour of futile searching, he finally gave up and returned to the cottage, climbing into the same bed he had woken up in all those weeks ago, and drifting into a troubled sleep.

* * *


A high pitched whinny rang through the air of the cool bright morning, instantly rousing Ajeus from his restless slumber. He took one look at his surroundings, and gasped.

The room was completely bare. The fireplace was empty and pristine, the small potted plants that usually adorned its windowsills gone, the pots and spoons heaped on top of the mantelpiece vanished in the night. Rushing into the kitchen, Ajeus found the bench top clear of the remains of yesterday's lunch that he had left out, and the pantry devoid of anything but dust. Frantic, he raced through the rest of the cottage. The food supply, the tool cupboard, and both closets were bare. It was all empty.

The whinny rang out again before he could lose himself in worry. He walked toward the direction of the sound with a frown on his face, pushing open the door and shivering in his thin night clothes as he stepped out onto the brown dirt now almost completely bare of snow.

Near the edge of the trees there stood a majestic pure white stallion. Sensing his presence, it turned and walked toward him without even a summon, revealing itself to be untethered but fully saddled and bridled. It stopped before Ajeus, and surprise turned into confusion as he opened the saddlebag to find a black cloak, the clothes he had been wearing when he left on the hunt so long ago, and a pouch full of dried food. Breakast, her realised.


Ajeus looked back at the empty cottage, then at the ready horse, and sighed. There wasn't much of a choice. Donning the cloak, he mounted the stallion and reached into the pouch. Before he even urged the horse to move, it began to walk by itself, breaking into a steady trot as it reached the trees, turning this way through the forest.

It wasn't long before the rush of water met his ears and he quickly straightened up as the trees thinned out approaching the river bank. The stallion began to pick up speed, reaching the water at a full gallop. Wet splashes stung his eyes and soaked his clothes, and Ajeus found himself shivering as he emerged on the other side.

As his clothes slowly dried in the spring air and the trees began to seem more and more familiar, a dull ache began to build in Ajeus's chest. Without even realising, he'd begun to heal that winter, the scabs of love forming over the open wounds of war. He cast a glance over his shoulder, even though nothing was visible except rows upon rows of budding trees. He would miss the deep forest, he would miss the animals, and he would miss Vienne. One day, he promised himself, I will return. One day, I will find you again.

The first person who saw him was Tierjaim, the stable master's wife.

"Ajeus? Oh gods, Ajeus! Everyone, Ajeus is back!" The middle aged woman dropped her broom and scrambled out of the stable, rushing out the door and crying out the good news to the town.

The next few hours were a flurry of desperately relieved smiles and repeated assurances that it was alright, he was well, he was unharmed. It wasn't until every woman had patted his cheeks and tearfully kissed his forehead, every man slapped him on the back, every child had run around him and tugged at his legs, that the town finally let him alone with his family.

“Thank god you are back. Your mother has been out of her mind.”

"I'm sorry, Tarhne." Ajeus, returning the man's bone crushing embrace with equal fervour. “I would have contacted if I could.”

"What happened? Where were you? Did someone find you?"

Ajeus extricated himself from his cousin's grip at the old woman's voice. He looked over at his mother, then at Tarhne, his gaze wandering back and forth between his only family before dropping down to stare at the ground. He nodded lightly. "I was with her," he whispered in a barely audible voice.

"With who?"

"The Winter Maiden. She saved me."

"Ajeus," Tarhne began carefully, "I know you always loved that story, but that's all it is. The Winter Maiden isn't real."

"But she is," Ajeus insisted. "She has a cottage in the forest on the other side of the river. She took me there after my horse threw me. I couldn't return until after the winter because the river froze over and the ice was too thin to cross."

No one replied. Slowly, the two older villagers turned to look at each other, exchanging a glance before Ajeus's mother stood and took his arm.

"Perhaps you should get some rest now, Ajeus.”

"But I don't need rest."

His mother began pulling and ushering him to his room.

"I'm fine, really! What is it, do you not believe me?"

They tucked him in to his old childhood bed, pulling up the quilt despite his protest. Tarhne hesitated on his way out of the room, looking back over his shoulder. "The forest has been explored and charted many times, Ajeus," he said softly. "There is no river."

* * *

Ajeus awoke from a fitful sleep to the sound of angry voices. He quickly grabbed a robe that had been left out for him and made his way to the door of his mother's cottage, eyes widening as he took in the scene.


The streets were crowded, with men, women, and children all gathered around in a tempestuous discussion.

"...What is this? This is not right..."

"...Why must nature torture us..."

But Ajeus hardly heard any of it as he stared in wonder at the thick cover of white that lay atop everything from the winding streets and sloping rooftops to the shrubs and trees, gaping at the midwinter landscape that adorned the early spring day.

"...It can't be, the winter is over..."

"...This is isn't possible, how could it...”

The snow numbs the pain, and there is no greater pain in the world than that of unfulfilled love.

"..The cold will not pass! This is a calamity, a disaster..."

unfulfilled love...

"It's not a disaster," he said softly, gazing at the mesmerising beauty of the world's snowy blanket as it shone in the morning sunlight. "It's a confession."


* * *


If you spent your whole life travelling the world, tasting exotic foods, drinking foreign wine and living in extraordinary places, you would never come across a place quite like Aeveryn. To the traders that pass with their loaded carts or the road-weary travellers who stop in for a night, it seems nothing more than another of those ordinary little settlements that spring up around the place, big enough to thrive and grow but small enough that everyone to know everyone else and every new arrival founds themselves friends of the whole town within days. But what held Aeveryn apart, was its legend. Every town has one, but Aeveryn's was different. It was not a tale of horror, murder, and the undead, nor was it a tale of journeys, adventure, and discovery. Instead, it was a romance.

Aeveryn was the witness, so this legend told, to a love that was unlike any other. A love that was founded on grief and heartbreak, on blood and hatred, yet built on all the joys of nature. A love that brought together two souls who no longer belonged, two hearts who thought they would never be whole. A love that knew no boundaries, of past, of world, of time.

A love as eternal as the snow.

© 2013 Treo LeGigeo


Author's Note

Treo LeGigeo
A bit of experimenting in this story. Feedback is greatly appreciated.

My Review

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Featured Review

I would say it was the right length for it. Reading it on paper, it sounds a bit stale in places, but if you read it aloud, it reads pretty well, its a much more lively piece once vocalised.

I read it more as Medieval story telling rather than fantasy-most fantasy tends to take it's cue from the dragon dwelling England of the middle ages, so I guess it makes sense to read it that way.

Dialogue was a bit stiff in places; at the start, the mother said how long it had been since he was boy-that in itself is alright, but maybe rewording or adding it to the narrative instead.

But that little niggle aside, I really enjoyed it. Don't know if you've thought of this, but how about a collection of tales from this place? An anthology or sorts? You've probably done this/thought of it, so if you have, just ignore me!

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 8 Years Ago


2 of 2 people found this review constructive.




Reviews

This is quite a beautiful tale! Great story line and characters.

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 6 Years Ago


This was beautiful! I loved the whole plot and story behind this. I loved it! Great job. :)

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 6 Years Ago


I love this! It was full of amazing descriptions and imagery, not to mention emotion and storyline. I love the characters and how you introduced and closed the story, by describing the town and its stories. I also loved the end of the actual story of Ajeus:
" 'It's not a disaster,' he said softly, gazing at the mesmerising beauty of the world's snowy blanket as it shone in the morning sunlight. 'It's a confession.' "
So this is a wonderful story and I love it. Nicely written.

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 7 Years Ago


This piece is pretty awesome!!! I loved how you described in few places!

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 7 Years Ago


Wow. Like really, Wow. this is amazing! I'm glad I took the time to read this! Keep writing!

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 8 Years Ago


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I read this story yesterday but forgot to leave a review, the timing for this story was absolutely perfect, I enjoyed it, so romantic and emotive it totally caught my eye, very well written!

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 8 Years Ago


I have a hard time reading long peices- on Writerscafe anyways. But I read the beginning, skimmed through the middle- and finished with reading the last few paragraphs. I thought you did very well with bringing the story to life and giving the character's personality. The plot was also well done as was the way it was written. I liked that it was creative, the ideas brand new. A girl cursed to feel emotion so deeply and the pain varying with the seasons. Amazing. A few grammar mistakes and a bit long but otherwise very nice!

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 8 Years Ago


I'm so very sorry, I cant review long stories, but I loved the picture :o)

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 8 Years Ago


I like it :D Alot alot alot :D Read our story, Love, Lust, Loss and Lies that is being released a chapter at the time. Chapter 1 & 2 out at the moment chapter 3 is on the way :) http://www.writerscafe.org/writing/Lozza_Tyler/663118/

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 8 Years Ago


Really well written, but one thing does partly impede flow - you tend to repeat words too much. I have the same problem myself; the only cure is rigorous editing.


This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 8 Years Ago



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1974 Views
24 Reviews
Shelved in 5 Libraries
Added on December 1, 2010
Last Updated on June 23, 2013
Tags: Fairytale, love, winter, snow, heartbreak, hunt, animals

Author

Treo LeGigeo
Treo LeGigeo

Sydney, NSW, Australia



About
I'm from Australia, so some people may find that I spell things differently. I love writing and have had a couple of publications of short stories and novellas under a pseudonym. I started .. more..

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