This is a fluffy little something which is perhaps a bit premature for the season — but there’s always snow somewhere.
Luca can hear the snow falling. I watch him flinch and shudder where he sits against the headboard, wrapped in the thickest of the quilts with his knees drawn to his chin. Last winter’s snows were not so loud for him – they fostered sleep instead of driving it away – but of course that was when the curse was still new-laid. We still thought it a blessing then. It’s but early in the season now, and there are many snows to come, which I am realizing means many sleepless nights for Luca.
From outside, there’s a soft thump – a snowpile falling free of a demurring branch – and Luca jumps half out of his skin. Leaving my work at the table, I cross the cabin with soft steps. I settle myself on the edge of the bed, and he drops his head onto my shoulder with a leadenness that speaks despair. We sit for a while in what to me is silence, though Luca continues to tremble. The light of the two candles burning on the table is dim from this side of the room, and the air is cold enough to make my fingers stiff. We tried lighting a fire on the night of the first frost, but Luca couldn’t bear the squeaking and snapping of the wood. Candles, he has told me, only sizzle a bit.
Another violent start wracks him, though I can’t hear its source. I kick off my boots and pull my legs up so I can turn to wrap my arms around him. He unfolds a little. “We’ve faced much more fearsome foes,” I murmur. “We’ve bested giants and wyverns and a host of others. We can surely best the snow.” One great mercy of the curse – it enlarges the woodland noises, but not the sound of voices. If it had been otherwise and Luca was forced into solitude, I’m sure I would have long since lost him to madness or a death self-wrought.
He lets out a bitter scrape of a laugh. “It’s ridiculous – I’m ridiculous,” he whispers. “I know, and I know, and I still can’t make it stop.”
“What does it sound like?” I remember how he described the autumn rain as a galloping charge of cavalry, the rolling mists as an hours-long whispered conference heard echoing down a hall.
“Metal on glass,” he says, wincing against my shoulder. “Scraping and clattering, like needles shaken in a jar – and it goes on and on and it just keeps getting heavier on the ground and pressing down on itself so it screeches–”
I press my hands over his ears. I know it doesn’t help – we’ve tried everything. But I can’t stand my helplessness. We’ve shared all our fights from when we were children until now. This is the first time Luca’s had an enemy I can’t help him against. My long-ingrained instinct is to throw myself between him and whatever’s chewing on him, but it’s all inside his head where I can’t get at it to tear it apart. The blades that hang over the lintel are useless now, though they’ve slain monsters of all kinds. All I can do for him is reach for his mind however I can. Words, to start.
“It’s funny, that it would make such a nasty sound,” I say. It’s not funny, not with Luca shaking in my arms. But one makes light of pain to distract from it. “People always speak of snow as being so soft and gentle. I wonder how everyone would feel if they could hear it properly. Do you remember the stories your mam would tell about the children who were left in the forest in the winter?”
Luca nods. “Snow for a blanket,” he mumbles, the words falling in remembered cadence. “Yet it loved them so much that it kept them warm.”
“We tried to sleep in the snow once, didn’t we?”
I nudge him with my elbow, smiling in spite of everything. “We did! Probably after hearing that story for the first time. It was the winter I had the broken arm, remember? We thought the snow would love us like the lost children your mam told us about. Saints, we were stupid kids.”
“We were.” I think I feel him easing a little as he goes on. “You were always the one to lead us into trouble, though, as I remember.”
“You were always the one to follow.”
He laughs – a real laugh, just for a moment. “I’m just too easily bullied, that’s all.”
“Mm. I like to think I’ve been a good influence. You’ve led a very interesting life, and I take credit for that.”
“Interesting…” His smile is audible even to me, and it warms me down to my toes.
“I’ll stand by that word,” I tell him. “Can I remind you just how interesting your life has been? I’ve been there for very nearly all of it, after all. I’m quite qualified to narrate it back to you.”
Luca nods. I start at the beginning of things, with the story of our leaving home. We were thirteen then; before I’ve reached the misadventure which was my fifteenth birthday, Luca has stopped making interjections. He’s sound asleep. Silently I thank all the saints I can name. I don’t dare to move for fear of waking him again – the candles can burn themselves out. I feel the familiar swell of victory. No blood’s been shed, but I’ve won Luca a measure of peace for the time being.
There are stories enough for every winter’s night. They’ll serve as sword, and I’ll wield them as fiercely as I ever did any other weapon. I join Luca in quiescence, carried by the knowledge that I can slay this monster, too.