Sunday, July 1, 2012

Crimson Snow

Amera Roberts pulled the covers closer as the frigid air assaulted her lithe body. Her arms and head were exposed by pitifully thin covers, but she had nothing better to use. Her caretakers had left her six days ago on her eighteenth birthday and they had taken everything except her bed and dresser. She had got up for breakfast as usual and to her surprise, she opened the door to a bare room and scribbled note. She still turned the cryptic message over in her mind with anger. Time to worry about the meaning later, but now, she must try to survive with very little wood and an ever dwindling supply of food.

In the dim light of morning, her mind foggy from hunger, she procrastinated whether she should get up to check the fire. In her heart, she feared it must be out already, but she knew her life depended on getting some warmth in the frigid temperatures of early dawn. As her bare feet met the cold stone floor, she cringed at the brief contact before she found her slippers. Her breath painfully expelled white little puffs of air as she dressed herself.

Throwing the blanket over her shoulders, she ran the few steps to the hearth and grabbed the fire poker to scrape around in the ashes to find embers. Her heart began to sink. She had only one more match and wanted to save it for an emergency. Panic filled the empty space in her stomach and just as she dreaded the worst, a tiny, glowing, ruby ember sparked warmly and she let out an audible sigh. Frantic, she hurriedly gathered her basket of pinecones and threw a few on the embers to keep it burning.

Moments later, she laid the oak logs carefully and was rewarded with the crackle of burning wood. If her fire burned out she would have no way to cook her meager allotment of food. If she was really stingy with her rations she could hold out for three more days. It was difficult when she had not been full for almost a week. A dozen potatoes, two cups of meal and half a loaf of bread could only go so far. One day she had given into weakness and consumed an extra cup of tea to stave off her hunger. Today, she was sorry for that extravagance because now her little tea box was empty and she would miss her morning cup.

Amera measured her small cup of meal carefully for porridge and added it to the bowl of hot water from the kettle. Sweetened with the last spoon of honey, she ate her meal in silence and waited for the light of dawn to warm up the room.

She finished the last bite, then dared to look out the front door in case her beloved Spike had returned from a hunt with a tasty rabbit or other small game to eat. He had disappeared the next day after Fran and Gregory Braithworth had vanished and she wondered if he went to look for them. Fran did not have much use for the strange little black-faced dog but Gregory adored him. He took him hunting on his trips to the glen and saved small tidbits from his meal for him. Could he really be gone? The snowstorm had prevented her from looking more for her precious dog that night and now tears stung her eyes as she wondered his fate.

It was over five minutes until she pried the door open partially while the snow trickled in its opening. No sign of her small trusted friend. Now, there must be nearly a foot of snow on the ground and the air smelled of more. She would never see his tracks now if it snowed again. He may be dead by now if he didn’t find a barn or cave to go in. She would die also if she could not get out to gather wood and search for food.

Disheartened, she closed the door and went over by the fire to soak in its warmth and read the message for the tenth time. Carefully, she unfolded the scrap piece of parchment and read the few lines that made her temper boil.
“This, your eighteenth birthday, our agreement is up. You are a burden to us no more. Your time is up Amara. You must face your destiny. Shortly, your husband to be will come for you. Do not run from him because he will find you and you will be sorry you ever ran. The snow will be crimson with your blood.”

 Quickly, she folded the note in her pocket and ran to the closet… Husband to be? They had pledged her hand in marriage without even telling her and that he would kill her if she ran?  What did they mean by arrangement anyway? All these years she stayed here dreaming of a life outside this glen. She had rarely strayed outside the gates of Marneth. Her guardians made sure she never ventured far. They had told her nothing of getting married! She had stayed here to please them to only face this calamity? I think not she pondered angrily!

Through clenched teeth she pulled on old boots left behind by Gregory and wrapped herself as warmly as possible. She had no time to worry about some senile old groom who might come for her. She must go to find wood and food or die here but it would not be without trying.

Bravely, she tramped through the hard crust of white up the hill to the gate.  She headed for a clump of trees with some saplings and felt in her pocket for the small hatchet she always carried with her when she went out alone. These woods always seemed ominous on the other side of the hill. Gregory had often read to her of castles and dragons and other imaginary stuff when she was a wee child. Not that she was afraid now, but she never liked to be alone. She felt safe with Spike, who would bark at anything that moved, but now she was by herself and greeted with silence.

It took an hour to cross the meadow to the small forest of trees laden with fresh snow. She was exhausted by the time she got there and felt the cold creeping into her feet. Anxiously, she looked at the low-lying branches that were too thick for her to cut with so small a hatchet. Down through the trees she saw a clearing with several small cedars. She was sure she could make out a few broken limbs. Painstakingly, she trudged the path and was only a few feet from the trees when she heard the crunch of something coming through the woods behind her. Panic engulfed her as she glanced around to see the culprit of the disturbance. In the distance, she saw an ominous rider on a black horse bursting through the trees.

Amera’s raven tresses fell down from her wool cap as she headed for the cedars to escape the rider. It dawned on her that the horseman might be her mysterious husband to be. That panicked her even more. As she stumbled in the snow, she suddenly remembered the warning Fran had scribbled in her message. “Don’t try to run, because he will find you. The snow will be crimson with your blood.”

The thought fueled her energy and she glanced behind to see he was less than a hundred yards behind. His face was hidden within the hood of his cape. She sucked in large breaths of cold air and struggled to reach a small knoll covered with snowdrifts and rocks. All the while, the fear of not knowing his identity was like a bullet in her chest. Damn them for doing this to her!

As she neared the rocky hill, she stumbled and fell to one knee. Before she could pick herself up to run, a luminous weapon flew overhead and landed in the snow ahead of her. Frozen in shock she suddenly knew who her suitor was!

Crimson Snow~ Coming Soon from Debra Jayne East!