Snow was the great purification. All of the dark places of the land dotted with coated trees were blanketed by mother snows cold hand. The earth was softer in winter, in white. It was sleeping soundly beneath the coverlets where only wolves, rabbits and deer went tuttering by leaving their trails and magic.
The girl’s cheeks had long turned chill-burnt red, polished and bright as two crisp autumn apples. They burned in the pale of her skin in the moonlight. In some other time, her lips as red as hearts and her hair as dark as raven’s wings might have stirred a poem. But the eerie mingling of fear and desire glass coating her brown eyes made her seem a mad, mad straw creature than a beauty.
The snow was deep and it bit to the knee, sometimes keeping her stuck in place. Frostbite tingled, a small sting at first and now a sharp bite in her feet; fingers. Her mittens had been swiped by a lashing pine, a boot kept by unforgiving drift. Her dress cold and wet.
These things and the dangers they might have possessed did not matter however. Only the white doe mattered. Only the creature that must have been sent by god himself—for who else would send such a thing?—mattered. She must follow it. All the legends spoke of the white deer, the white harts, the white doe. Her cold-sludge blood pulsed a little warmer with each reminder of what a mythical creature that led her.
Sleek as a promise ribbon of white twixt two lovers, the doe’s legs were twindle-sticks of delicate bones; knees and joints and velvety fur. Her hooves made no impression (or seemed as such) in the glittering piles of white. Her breath barreled at a patient rate from the wide question of her rib bones. Like the snow, the creature glistened. Like the ravens cawing above, her eyes, dark in the night were often turned on long neck to look behind her to watch the woman struggling to follow. Where the human sank, the deer floated.
”I’m coming,” the dark haired girl gasped. Finally, all that she had wanted and waited for was so near. A way out. A path home. All the things she'd done...all the blood on my hands. It was worth it.
The doe turned her head away, dropping it low a moment, giving it a small shake after. It was a strangely human motion that she had no time to think of it as the animal moved forward again. Through a copse of trees into a clearing of untouched white, shivering with the tiny lights of fresh, thick snow.
Here, the doe stopped.
Here, the woman stopped.
Her heart filled with little robins, bright baubles of summer and sweetness. She was close. Close to everything. Close to the end.
The dark-haired girl with lips so red stepped forward with trembling excitement.
The doe watched with sadness.
When the water rushed over her head and into her mouth the cold of it rattled a scream that turned into a mouthful of freezing liquid. Everything good died in the raven-haired girls heart; rage remained. She tried to scream that she had been tricked! That the white doe must have been a lie! A horrible lie and the devils creature. Through the broken ice a fist clawed desperate to grab hold of anything—
—and was caught by a tiny pale hand. Not a child’s palm by no means, but not a hand meant to be holding the weight of the woman she did now, head above the water.
In shock, the dark-haired girl felt her mouth open, but no cursing came.
Before her was a girl of white, white, whitest hair as thin as spun clouds and long as story tellers tongues. She wore a belted tunic in humble brown and her eyes were little whirling galaxies of violets and stars.
“So many times you are told that the choices are always yours. We can only show you the paths, mo leanbh. Do you never understand until it is too late? We only show you the path.
”Where you take it and how is your choice. Your consequences.” Sadness rippled across the girls’ face, skin as white as the doe the dark haired beauty chased before. And for some reason, the sadness made the girl feel as if the world had done everything wrong.
“We can only show you. We cannot save you from the paths you choose,” the girl said quietly.
And the dark haired woman in the ice screamed as the white hand let her go.