THE RIVERS HAVE FROZEN • by Rosalie Kempthorne

Hekl walked the long way up to Stolen Mount. Snow was thick on the ground today, a mist of it playing in the air. He sunk his head back into a fur-backed hood as he rested for a moment on the path. The air had a smoky taste, and a fruity one — tantalizing, orange or grapefruit — a promise of that summer that was still a half year’s cycle away.

He rubbed some life back into his hands, beneath oversized sheepskin mittens, then pushed himself on up to the top of the ridge. He knelt there, looking out over a vista of snow, into which the sunrise was still in the process of melting. Purple hills crouched beyond it; and tiny black lines that up close would turn out to be fences; little blocks of coal that were actually roofs.

Hekl blinked. Had he just seen that? A slight smear of colour in the shadow of the hills. Nearly invisible to anybody else. Hekl was different, though. Blessed. His FarSeeing eyes went back further than his grandfather’s grandfather. When he focused them in on something, it rushed towards him, glaring into focus.

And so.

He stilled the panic that wanted to erupt from his gut and through his throat. He scanned the horizon one more time; then bolted for the village.

Forsaking even his mother, he went straight for the cottage of Tolfig Oxhand, barging in without knocking, without the tiny bow expected of younger to older.

“Lad, what’s wrong?”

“The rivers have frozen!”

“You’ll not be wrong. You see better than even your father did. Go quickly, alert the town.”

It was astonishing just how quickly the village could be roused. Four words did it. And suddenly each family had their livestock gathered, their valuables on their backs, ready to flee. A constant hum of nervousness ran through them as they gathered. Eyes peering out into the horizon, not seeing anything as yet.

Hekl made sure his mother was ready, helped her pack, convinced her of what was too much to carry. Dragged and badgered her out into the cold. Surely, she must know she couldn’t stay.

He glanced behind him every few seconds, blessed and cursed with eyes that saw further and clearer than his neighbours. He — perhaps alone — could see them walking across the ice, flowing like red-and-black lava, like spilled silk. They were honey-smooth, and he’d heard, up close, that there was an eerie beauty about them, a weaving together of darkness and light, a melody playing in their silver-white eyes. Hypnotic. Soothing. Until they showed their teeth. Until they feasted.

In the distance, in the purple hills, he watched as Castle Halfont blushed to life. The old stone slowly filling with sunset colours, the cracks between stones beginning to glow. It woke as they woke.

“Come,” his mother took him by the arm.

No time to waste, no dallying — since their walking pace was rumoured to be as fast as galloping horses.

“…into the caves…” he could hear somebody saying. Hekl dared one backwards glance, then hurried away with the rest of his people.

Rosalie Kempthorne has no idea what it takes to write a good Author Bio, and all her previous attempts have so far come to nothing. She has somewhat better luck writing stories. You can read more of her short stories on 365 Tomorrows, ABC Tales, Flash Frontier, or on her website:

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