In the distant reflection, I see that child with red cheeks and soggy mittens giving Winter their all. Soon they’ll go inside and run the cold water that’s hot to the touch.
And I wonder, do they know that this will be their last youthful romp? Will they ever again feel the call of that bright crisp world?
I’ve looked into those green eyes now visited by crows. They look back, and I turn away, knowing they’ll haunt me like Winter’s veil.
I’ve heard a few things, the beating Winter’s cold hard heart; The biting lash of bitter Boreas harsh breath; The crack of breaking boughs shouldering such weighty burdens. Winter seeps into you; It’s cold knights try to crack and break you.
I’ve stood, this trunk of mine, too often taking root. Forgetting that my limbs are meant to move.
I’ve remembered that eager moment when darting out the door, ill-attired, not wanting to miss a volley.
Can I rip these shodden roots from their planted place? And walk amongst the crystaline field?
To once more don the gambeson and sally forth? To pull grieves and gauntlets up and woolen helmet down?
This is Winter, and it has come. To greet it, one must prepare. No more soggy mittens nor going alone out that door.
I rally my companions, lazing and drowsing on the wooden floor. Always armoured in their suits of fur, they rise and charge the door. As I don my armour, they eagerly await.
I draw open the door, and we sally forth from our fortress. We take to the trail.
The older one, eight winters now, cloaked in black, follows a few steps behind; She’s the rearguard. The younger, a veteran of six winters, takes the van—his white and grey a camouflage perfect for this day’s work.
My boots sink deep into soft powdery snow. Up to my shins, I must change my stride.
My companions adapt, galloping as waves across the snowy surface; they dive up then arch back down, carried forward by bursts from their hind legs.
They move as spirits free of earthly fetters. This is their domain; Their Elysium.
The younger one lowers his head and, like an owl, takes silent flight. He’s eager for a chase. “Oh,” with vaporous breath, I mutter, “the game’s afoot.”
It’s hard to know if it is his ears or nose that guide him. But he’s got a lead on a poor sojourning field worker, caught between one sanctuary and another. This pilgrim travels the season’s tunnels, hidden from Montu and Moloch’s hovering gaze.
I hope my companion doesn’t catch and shake them down for the food he thinks they have. We’re not brigands here but stewards of this land. Yet in Winter, I know the rules; food is scarce for those of the field.
Pacing around, it seems my companion’s lost the trail. That humble worker must have gone to ground.
Quick to the next venture, he again takes the lead. I look back; my other companion has kept the pace and kept us safe.
Where my lead bounds, I stomp and trod. My feet sink deep, packing down a later path. My hope is to make it easier for my shadow to keep pace.
You won’t hear her ever complain as her arthritic knee clenches; a reminder of the injury of two summers past.
I, myself, walk a bit slower these days. I feel the rub of my crusted bandages that patched the work of last week’s chiurgeon’s blade.
None of us are all that young, and we dare not tarry. I know that this is a land where Death oft visits.
Forward, we check the usual haunts. The small pile of autumn’s kindling, now home to humble vole or mouse. Next, the mound of fieldstone once turned by the plough. Perhaps a possum, too far north, huddles in the rocky hearth; Seeking warmth for their naked tail.
We stop at each proud vigilant oak, still clothed in last season’s fading fashions. I whisper as I ask what they might have seen. Their silence tells me all I need to know.
We must patrol and survey the land.
I approach a youthful sentinel, stern and gray standing proud with fresh wounds from last evening’s sparing with the horned lords that travel between the Seelie realm.
I look around, and find he crowned forest lord’s trail. There, like spears piercing opal flesh, the tracks tell of his travels.
We follow for a bit but know they have entered their day’s sacred hollow. My companions, whom I know would follow me to the end, ask in silent code, “Where now?”
I look and quickly point with a jutting nose. “Home,” I say without saying.
Heading back, by a different way, I spot fine prints upon the snow; Easy to miss were it not for the nearby speck of color. Cautious, I approach and see a spot of red caught within a thin orange gossamer halo; It is a frozen reminder that Bast prowls these lands.
I look around a bit more, and amongst the brush see a grim reminder of last night’s seen; Where an agent of Bast burst in and dragged a bloodied silent worker to a grisly feast.
This is Winter. Alive yet surrounded by Death.
Pressing on, we climb the last small hill, our hearts now beating harder, having answered Winter’s challenge.
No trumpets report our return. In silence, I doff my armour and seek the warming hearth. To pour a flagon of hot spiced cider.
I settle once more, lifting my feet to rest on the nearby ottoman. I glance over at my companions now drowsing by ember’s warm glow.
The land we share is a bit more as it should be.
I look down at the glass in hand. There is no reflection to be found. No haunting visions. Just the warm embrace of coming in from the cold.
I raise my glass. To remembering waterproof mittens and proper attire! And to evening fire! And lest we forget, to journeys; both true and make-believe.