Winter was not kind to Rossa, but then again when is winter in the forest ever gentle?
She fell into a routine, a sort of knot she could hang from, dangling on the rope of her determination secured to a hook of her sorrow. She would wake up first thing in the morning and help the Woodsman by preparing him a breakfast with whatever provisions they still retained.
He had been saving up for him alone, and adding another mouth to feed was proving difficult.
Luckily, not all animals in the woods had turned into bloodthirsty beasts, and Rossa had begun to learn where to strike and how.
She left him with a bowl of beans, smashed potatoes and for herself she took just a slice of bread and salami.
The Woodsman, after living with him for so many weeks and into months, had begun to lose the patina of mystery that was part of the reason why she found him so interesting and so intriguing.
On the other hand, living so close made her pick up his smell, his presence, his sweat and his dedication, and all these made her head swoon a little. She could never go back to the innocent, naïve girl who had conversed with the voice on her way back to grandma’s house.
And thanks the Spirits for that, she thought as she picked up her silver spear. She pointed it at the trees in a challenge.
Nothing and nobody replied, but she did not need to see them to understand that the things that lived there had listened and understood.
Feeling a little better with herself, Rossa put on her cloak, thicker boots and she walked through the snow. There had been a storm for the past three days and a thick layer of snow hid everything.
This was a boon, to be sure, because it made it easier to notice where most of the Eerie were going: she watched a set of strange footprints, looking like two sets of people carrying a third one in their midst. Probably the belly of the cursed beast scraped the snow on the ground.
But there were other threats, of course. She spotted one right as she slashed with her spear. She pierced something small and black, feeling the impact up to her shoulder.
It was a small beast, something in-between an animal and Eerie, a deformed squirrel which blackened skin smoked with coarse fumes as the silver did its work on its cursed flesh.
She tossed it aside and proceeded.
She had laid a few traps around grandma’s old house. Maybe she did catch up something.
As she reached the house the smell immediately stung her nose: it was a too-sweet scent of overripe peaches.
“So you show yourself once again,” she said, looking around.
“I was never really gone,” replied the voice of her grandma, distorted by months of degradation.
The thing that was still wearing her skin sat atop her house, keeping a clear distance from the protective circles she kept coming back to draw every week.
“Perhaps something you should think about,” said Rossa. She aimed her spear at the thing. her grandma’s body was still wearing the clothes she had been found in, but her flesh had bloated and fissured, spilling beyond the containment of her bones like a raging river. What remained of her head was now a twisted thing that was quickly developing too many branch-like horns to keep its once-human skin painted on.
“Ahhh, now that is a funny expression, isn’t it?” The thing laughed, and she heard something else mixed with the voice of the woman’s corpse, a caw like a raven. “The child guiding the elderly! The world is truly upside down.”
Rossa would have wanted nothing more than to actually turn its world upside down by the means of tearing its head apart from the body and letting it dangle off her arm, but she knew that the thing was too far away for her reach.
And if she tried to throw her spear, she might miss.
She’d be without a weapon.
What a loathsome situation.
“I am looking forward to our conversations,” the Fae grinned, showing how her grandma’s flat teeth were being replaced by needle-like ones. “As soon as spring comes, and then the summer after. And next winter, of course! Ah, we are going to do this for the longest time, you and I!”
The Fae laughed again and jumped off the house. It disappeared in a bout of snow. Rossa’s grip on her spear tightened, but she did not give chase.
It was most likely a trap. She had survived so far only thanks to her wit, the Woodsman’s support and a lot of luck, but she couldn’t bring the fight to them just with her spear and whatever rage animated her muscles.
“I need to find a way.” She crouched over the nearest trap. It had caught a rabbit and thanks to the recent snow its meat was still fresh and unspoiled. She passed her hands over its soft furry, feeling just like the Fae must be with her.
She was caught in the same trap. If she did not do anything to stop or to change this, the Fae and Eerie would lay siege to her until the Fae got over his mirth.
And then he’s just command the Eerie to overwhelm them. She could rebuke the assaults on the Woodsman’s hut because she was prepared, and she had gotten better, but…
Her eyes followed the array of bloodied lines she had spread all around the house and then she bit her lip, thinking.
It wouldn’t be, perhaps, what her grandma would have wanted from her, but she had certainly learned about forgotten and forbidden spells in-between those books of hers.
The one she had used to protect the city had forced her to live forever outside of it, an outcast of her own making.
Rossa’s hand reached for the flayed skin ringing her wrists.
She had found far worse recipes than that.
She unhooked the frozen rabbit from her trap.
“Perhaps there is a better way, hm? Even through a world of pain.”
But it was better than stuck, for sure.
Rossa’s lips curved in a grin.
Author’s Notes: Thanks for reading.