The Cold Has a Voice
Runa slept fitfully that night, her dreams filled with images of evil sorcerers, the man whose body was broken for love and a heartbroken witch frozen in her grief and disbelief. Toward dawn, the Old Man’s words moved through her mind, dispersing the disturbing thoughts and images. “Do not be afraid, Little One. We shall meet again…”
She woke, feeling stiff and sore from the cold and hard ground, yet somehow at peace. She knew, just knew, that she would not only find her father, but would somehow bring this peace to the lady whose voice she could hear on the cold Winter wind. Eventyr could be warm and beautiful for more than a few months, and they could grow more food than she had ever dreamed possible, and maybe the dwindling fish supply would replenish as well. It would be a new era for her world, and one she longed to see.
Once she had risen and completed her early morning routine to get ready for the day, she hitched her bag up on her shoulder and set off down the hillock toward where she had seen the narrow path the night before. In the morning light, the track was easier to see, though it was still not clearly defined in the rocky, grassy terrain. It was uneven and narrow, but she diligently stayed within its borders, not wanting to stray from her course as the Old Man had warned.
About midday, she stopped for a short rest, sitting on a low boulder on the edge of the path. Scared that she might lose sight of it while she ate, she stretched down one thin leg and touched the rocky ground of the path with her foot. She took the time to eat some of the fruit Nana had packed for her, but didn’t tarry long.
When she set off again, she soon spotted a figure coming up the path toward her, coming from the direction of the cliffs. “Now who could this be?” Runa wondered out loud. Then another thought stopped her in her tracks: what if not everyone she met on her journey was as nice as the Old Man? She didn’t really know how to defend herself, especially against anyone very much larger than herself. What would she do?
It was too late to hide or run, she’d surely already been seen. She scanned the ground around her feet and picked up the largest rock she could find. It wouldn’t do much good, but it was better than nothing.
The figure drew closer and she let out a sigh of relief. It was a boy, not much older than she, and very thin and pale. In fact, he looked quite ill. “Oh, no,” Runa cried, seeing how he weaved and stumbled. She dropped the rock and trotted toward him, calling out, “You there! Are you quite all right? Do you need any help?”
The pale boy looked up and such a look of relief spread over his features, which were very pointy and thin, that her heart twinged inside her chest. “Oh, yes, please! You have no idea how happy I am to see you.”
Runa reached him just as he toppled forward. She managed to catch him, and helped him sit down, right there in the middle of the path. “What happened to you? It must have been terrible!”
He shuddered. “It was. It was worse than terrible, it was ghastly!”
“Well, go on. I can’t try to help you if I don’t know what’s wrong with you.”
“I was visiting the Fall of Tears. I have an auntie who lives nearby, you see, and I always visit the falls on my way home. The Fossegrimen there was giving me my latest lute lesson, he’s such a nice fellow, when all of a sudden a monster attacked!”
“What sort of monster?” Now, Runa had not just been sitting idly by listening to the pale boy prattling on far too much for someone who seemed on the verge of collapse. She had also been looking for any signs of injury or illness to explain his weakness. So far, she’d found nothing, which was strange, but not unheard of.
“Terrible! Ghastly! Words cannot describe!” He began moaning pitifully and clutching his stick-like arms around his tummy.
“Try,” Runa urged, “for I have remedies with me, but need to know what ails you to know which one to use.”
He looked a bit startled by her matter-of-fact reaction, but quickly resumed his pitiful moaning. “It’s too late for me! Oh, dear! Oh, poor, pitiful, Stig! To die so young! The horror!” He grabbed her arm suddenly. “Please tell me you aren’t going anywhere near the Fall of Tears! Oh, please – you mustn’t end up like poor old me! Ahh!”
The pale boy, Stig, as he called himself, near fainted away. “I have to. Now sit up and drink this.” She handed him her water tin.
He grabbed the water tin. “No! You can’t go there! The monster, he’s hideous and dangerous! He’s bigger than a house, with- with long, vicious claws and dripping fangs and…and glowing yellow eyes.”
“And what, exactly, did this monster do?” She felt Stig was overreacting just a bit too much, as she could find nothing wrong with him, and she was starting to lose her patience.
“One look in those terrible, ghastly eyes and I knew I wouldn’t live to see another day.” His expression looked genuinely terrified, and Runa began to wonder, just a little, if he might really be telling the truth.
“My blood has gone cold, my skin feels like it’s burning, my head is dizzy and my heart is faint. Please, dear girl, turn back while you can. Do not follow this path or it will lead you to your deeeaaathhhhh…” he spoke this last word in a gurgling sigh, then collapsed, spilling her water tin all over the ground.