The Cold Has a Voice
Runa gasped. “Stig? Boy?” She shook him by the shoulder. “Are you all right?” She put her ear to his chest.
His heartbeat was very faint, like the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings.
She shot to her feet, looking around and wringing her hands. Whatever was she to do? There was no one around to help. “Oh! Help! Someone!”
She spun in a circle, looking in all directions for someone – anyone – to revive the poor, pale boy. “Oh, I wish Nana was here!” She knelt back down and contemplated what to do now.
She had no idea what was wrong with him, so didn’t know what remedy to give him. “Oh, how I wish Nana was here!” Runa wrung her hands and clutched them to her heart. “Oh, Great One, please help me.”
That’s when she remembered the Lindworm tear. She knew it healed poison, and what Stig had described seemed something like a sort of poisoning, even if the monster had never actually touched him. She wondered if it would work on deathly monster stares. She knew of no other way to find out than to just, well, find out, so she took the necklace off and gently placed the milky purple pendant in the pale boy’s mouth.
A moment passed, and Runa was beginning to think it wasn’t going to work. But then, Stig suddenly sat up and pulled the necklace out of his mouth. He looked at it with a puzzled expression. “What is this? And why was it in my mouth?”
Runa clapped her hands happily and hugged the pale boy. “Oh, you’re alive! It worked!”
He pushed her back roughly, and Runa sat back on her bottom and gave him a wounded look. “Stig?”
He grabbed her arm and shoved the necklace in her face. “What is this?” His voice seemed stronger and deeper than it had a moment ago.
“It-it’s a Lindworm tear. It healed you from the monster’s poisonous stare.”
Then the pale boy did something she never expected. He jumped to his feet and threw the necklace as far into the grass as he could. “Good luck finding her without that.”
“No!” Runa watched the necklace fall into the grass helplessly. If she left the path to go get it, she feared she may not find her way back again. But if she didn’t have the necklace and needed it later… “What did you do that for?”
But when she turned back to the pale boy, he was gone. She spun in a circle, searching for him, but he had simply vanished.
She heard a chuckle on the breeze and turned around, back toward the way she had come. There, cloaked in a dark, flowing robe that rippled and whipped much more than the little breeze should have caused, stood a man. He was very thin, not much more than a skeleton, and his head was the head of a wolf. Runa cried out in fear.
“Aren’t you going to retrieve your necklace?”
“I can’t,” Runa replied. “I can’t leave the path.”
The vicious wolf thing snarled at her. “If you don’t, I will gobble you up!” With that, he started after her.
Runa screamed and ran further up the path. But the wolf thing was right on her heels and he swiped at her with one skeletal hand, knocking her down.
“I will gobble you up!” he growled.
So Runa, despite the Old Man’s warnings, left the path. The creature howled out a triumphant laugh. Running through the tall grass, she soon lost site of the creature, though she could still hear him growling and crashing along behind her. She headed to where she thought the necklace had fallen, because she knew she might still need it in her journey ahead.
Assuming, that is, that she escaped the creature first.
A rock caught her foot and she fell to her hands and knees, getting quite scraped up in the process. Her heart was pounding so hard, she felt sure the creature would find her just by the sound and she gulped in big, sobbing breaths as tears of fear and pain stung her eyes. Surely, this was not how she imagined this adventure would turn out.
“Help me, please help me,” she whispered desperately, though she wasn’t quite sure who she was asking.
Just then, she realized that she could no longer hear the creature growling and crashing along behind her. She listened closely for a long time, but, yes, it was definitely quiet now. So she wiped her dirty palms across her face to dry her tears and risked looking over the top of the waving grasses.
There was no sign of the creature. Not anywhere.
A smile lit up her round little face. “Thank you!” she shouted up into the sky. Then she stood up and started walking back the way she came. Up ahead, just to the side of the swath her frantic fleeing had left in the grass, something was twinkling in the sunlight.
As she neared it, she discovered happily that it was her necklace. She had run right past it! She scooped it up gratefully and slipped it over her head, so she wouldn’t likely lose it again any time soon. The milky purple stone was warm from the sun and felt comforting as it hung around her neck.
But her happiness faded as she continued retracing her steps. You see, along with the creature, it seemed that the path, too, had disappeared. Runa couldn’t believe her eyes. “No! No, it can’t be…”
But, of course, it could be and it was. The path was gone, and she had truly lost her way, just as the Old Man had warned. Well, there really wasn’t much else she could do at that point. Runa sank to her knees and started crying.
“Did you forget what I told you, Little One?”
Runa looked up, startled, at the sudden voice. Standing a few feet before her was the Old Man, and he was leaning against his walking stick and looking at her with a mixture of pity and disappointment on his kindly old face. “Oh, Grandfather! I’m so glad to see you!” She jumped up and wrapped her little arms around his middle, which was buried under several layers of clothing.
He laid one warm hand on her shoulder, but then stepped away from her and knelt to face her. “I told you if you needed help, I would know and I would come. I also told you not to leave the path or you might lose your way forever. Why did you not listen?”
Tears poured from Runa’s eyes. “I’m so – so – sorry!” She bawled. “There was a boy – and he was hurt – and then I gave him the tear and he was okay – but he turned mean and threw away the tear – and then he was gone,” she explained between gulping sobs. “And then there was a skinny man with the head of a wolf, and he chased me off the path.”
The Old Man listened quietly, gravely. When she was finished, he gently wrapped his arms around her and shushed her. “It’s all right now, child. You have had your kind heart and trusting nature used against you it seems. It’s one of his favorite tricks.”
Runa sniffed. “Whose favorite trick?”
“I’m afraid you have the unpleasant privilege of meeting the Sorcerer, the Enemy of the Witch and her Young Man.”
“That was him? But, what did he want with me?”
“Did he say anything to you?”
She thought back over her encounter with the creature. “Yes, he said he would gobble me up if I didn’t go after my necklace and leave the path.”
“And what did he say when he was disguised as the boy?”
“You mean Stig was the Sorcerer, too?” Her head felt like it was spinning with all these new revelations swimming around inside it. Then she remembered something. “Just before he threw my necklace into the grass, he said, ‘Good luck finding her without that’.”
The Old Man sighed, closing his eyes. “It is as I feared. He knows you seek the Voice of the Cold,” he looked at her sadly, “he knows you seek the Witch, and he wants to stop you.”