by L. J. P. T. Krallek
Tsura blinked in the searing light, and looked about. For a moment, the light was too bright and the whole world seemed white and burning. She felt neither heat nor cold, and slowly, she opened her eyes again. As the light subsided, she begin to make out the shape of the land around her. She swayed a moment, her knees giving slightly, as she realized she was standing in the midst of an ancient forest, her thin skirts brushing against small drifts of snow.
Fir trees towered far above her head, glistening in frost and bearing great armfuls of snow on their needled boughs. It was as if it had been winter in the wood for seasons beyond imagination. The snow piled deep around the trees, yet she seemed to be able to walk across it without breaking through the thin crust. Her bare toes felt the ice crystals compact and give slightly to her steps, yet she was not cold.
The whole forest seemed silent and vast, and no breath of wind stirred in its depths. She wandered past the boles of trees, lost and yet certain that she was going the right way. When she searched her mind for the answer to her certainty, she found her focus blurring and she stumbled into the snow, cold and crying with pain. So she stopped trying to find a reason and instead looked about as she walked on, once more unaware of the cold, taking in the trees and snow and bushes. The only splash of color on the dark green and white scene was the occasional pop of red from frozen holly berries which prismed their scarlet hues through layers of ice and frost. She bent down to one cluster and tried to pry the berries from the stem with her fingers, but the stems were like threads of iron and the berries were hard as stones.
Standing tall, she traced her mouth with a single finger, holding her breath until it rushed out of her in a wondering sigh, forming a crystalline cloud in the air around her as she stared long at the holly. Reaching up, she put her hand to the bough of the nearest evergreen. The needles were sharp and unyielding, and she pierced the skin on her fingers. A single drop of blood fell, staining the pure snow with a drop of crimson brighter than a holly berry. She pressed her finger to her palm to staunch the flow of any more blood. The hairs on the back of her neck began to rise and she felt as though she were being watched. She turned slowly in her place.
Only an arms-breadth away from her stood a snow-white buck, with downy antlers dusted with snow. He stood about three heads higher than any deer Tsura had ever seen, and his eyes were pale violet behind frosted lashes. The buck put his head down, brushing her hand with his muzzle, and she stepped towards him. He closed his eyes and she put her clenched hand against his neck. With fluid, quick movements, the buck knelt down and pressed into her knees, causing her to sit upon his broad, sloping shoulders. Swinging her right leg over his back, she leaned forward against his neck as he stood again. She trembled as he began to walk forward through the wood, the branches of trees nodding sagaciously as he carried her past them. Each step was placed with surety and grace, and his hooves did not bruise the surface of the snowy forest floor.
After what seemed to have only been a few moments, though she felt it must have been much longer, he stopped and she slid down his side, still clutching at the stag to keep herself upright. They were near the center of a wide, flat glade rimmed by a nearly perfect circle of firs. She looked up towards the pure, pale blue of the sky and felt herself grow small and faint. The stag nudged her forward a step, and she noticed a tall oak in the middle of the glade. It reached up seemingly to the sky itself, and its trunk bore carved icons – panels of men and women and beasts. She recognized some as depicting stories the Bratroshi had told her, and others seemed to be portraits of those she suspected had been the sources of many faded and nearly forgotten legends. The stag himself appeared in several, each time he was crowned with a garland of holly and was accompanied by a girl who gave her a strange sense of a memory that she needed but couldn’t quite grasp.
Tsura reached out towards him again. His eyes pierced hers, sharp and understanding, and she felt longing wash over her whole body. She felt him amongst her thoughts, silently calling for her to find him again in her dreams, to find his name in her long forgotten and buried memories. The wood shuddered and grew dark around her, and she was left alone again, with the wind howling against her tent, the cold air setting her shivering in the dim light of a single lantern.
L. J. P. T. Krallek was raised in Sterling on the Kenai Peninsula. She writes mostly fiction, with a special interest in fantasy in the style of Tolkien, Lewis, and McKillip. Outside of writing, she also enjoys reading, drinking tea, listening to classical and folk music, and spending time walking through woods, bookstores, and antique shops.