Winter’s Shroud – a fantasy short story

Image by ArtTower via Pixabay.

The snow fell so hard and fast that it obliterated the landscape, leaving an expanse as pale and featureless as a funeral shroud. I pulled my cloak tight, but it wasn’t enough. Warmth and feeling leeched from my flesh. Disoriented, I stared through the falling flakes, seeking any path home.

There was only the white.

Grief spread like ice across my heart. Not just grief for myself, but for what my family would feel at losing me. Grief for their grief, and for the struggles that would follow. Then rushing after it, like an avalanche down a mountainside, came crushing isolation. I was going to die alone.

Adrift in the endless white, my mind slipped numbly from the present. A memory stirred: my first childish experience of grief. A white fox had come limping down the mountain, her fur ragged and her leg broken. I had tried to nurse her back to life, despite my parents’ disapproval, but my love and care came too late. In the end, all that mattered was the comfort of my embrace, warmth and softness as she faded into stillness, and my tears when it was over.

I cried again now. For her. For me. For my family.

Tears hit the snow and froze to gleaming points. They became eyes staring up at me, the centre of a face formed from the white. My fox emerged with slow, uncertain movements, her fur still ragged.

She nudged me with her nose, then limped away through the merciless snow. I couldn’t watch, unwilling to lose her again. She yipped, the child-like sound demanding my attention, and she nodded with her head, pointing purposefully into the pale void.

“I can’t,” I whispered. “Too cold.”

She came back, took a corner of my cloak between her teeth, and tugged.

“What’s the point?” I whispered. “I can’t even feel my feet.”

She tugged again and growled, forcing me to follow. I put one foot in front of the other, dragging my legs through the thigh-deep snow. Step by step, I made a path, and with each step, feeling returned to my toes, warmth filling my body and soul.

I didn’t see the rise until I was on it, white ground parting from the white sky. Houses appeared, their shapes indistinct but familiar. Was that my village, or was it someplace else, standing perfect and forever amid winter’s shroud?

The fox stopped her limping tread. Her shining eyes became tears again, and she melted away.

“Thank you.”

I ran my hand over the place where her fur had been. The cold had left me, and the grief with it. This time, I hadn’t lost her. She had found me. She had brought me home.

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This story was first published in the British Fantasy Society Monthly Bulletin, December 2021. I like it so much, I thought I’d share it here as well. If you’re based in the UK and you want to get more involved with fantasy fandom, or just to meet more like-minded writers and fans, then I totally recommend signing up to the BFS. They do a great job of providing a home for Britain’s fantasy community.

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook, updates on new releases, and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.

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The goldsmith Cualli lives in a land of endless summer, where blood sacrifices hold back the dark of winter. Through her craft, she grants power to priests and soldiers, channelling the magic of Emperor Sun. But what matters to Cualli is not power; it is proving herself as the empire’s finest goldsmith.

Not everyone feels blessed by the empire’s blood-stained faith. Dissent is turning to rebellion and the rebels want Cualli on their side, whether she likes it or not. When the season of sacrifice threatens the lives of her closest friends, Cualli must face a choice: will she fight for change through the illegal magic of silver, or will she bask in her own triumph and the endless golden summer?

Silver and Gold, a novella about friendship, magic, is out now.

Let It Snow…

The snow we saw in Yorkshire a few weeks ago reminded me of why winter features so heavily in fantasy. From Narnia to Westeros to the myth-shrouded Britain of The Dark is Rising, the cold and ice are signs of dark times. The snow transforms the world visually, creating a bright yet unfamiliar version of what we expect. It makes life more difficult. It disrupts our comfortable routines.

Of course, it was even more transformative in the past. In previous centuries, before central heating and road gritters, snow could cut you off for weeks in the freezing cold. Untimely snow killed crops in communities with no fallback plan. If the cold itself didn’t kill you then the consequences could. Of course there would be stories of monsters and saviours wrapped in ice. Winter was a killing time, and people needed ways to get through it.

For most modern Britons, snow is an annoyance, not a threat. It can even be fun. But the struggles of the elderly and the deaths of homeless people remind us that it wasn’t always this way.

Winter is here. It’s a magical, transformative time. But that isn’t always a good thing.