Two

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It was still dark when I woke. The house was eerily quiet. Were Mama and Father asleep? I padded to their room and listened outside their door. No sounds of soft breathing. Utter silence. Trying to press down on my rising panic, I pushed the door open. Their bed was empty. Fear jolted through me. Moving through the house, I called out to them. There was no answer. After returning to my room and putting on a heavy woollen cloak and my stoutest pair of boots, I ran back downstairs and left by the back door.

A thin sliver of moonlight and a few stars broke through the clouded sky. It was dim, but enough to see where I was going. I ran past the kitchen garden and clambered over the wooden fence. I stopped abruptly. Why had I come outside? Roses, a deep red even under moonlight, bloomed on the hill ahead, beyond the broad patch of highgrass. Had they always been there? Pushing through the highgrass seemed to take forever. By the time I came to the roses, the bottom of my cloak was damp with dew.

The rose bush was the most perfect I'd ever seen. It snaked upwards to waist height in a tangle of leaves and briars. Kneeling, I brushed my fingers against the dusky petals. The sweet perfume that filled the air was like nothing I'd ever known. Nightfall, and secrets, it whispered to me. Reaching amongst the thorns, I grasped the stem of the smallest rose and tugged. Tiny spikes of pain shot through my fingertips, but I held on. The rose came away easily. I pressed my bleeding fingers against my palm and brought the rose to face. The petals scattered, snatched away by the breeze.

The clouds parted. Above me the moon rose high and bright, and Søren beckoned to me from the shadows of the forest.

Snow began to fall, soft and shimmering against the darkness of the pines. I descended the hill slowly, my cloak dusting the ground behind me. Within minutes, whiteness lay like an enchantment across the land. When I looked back, the hill behind me became swallowed by a swirling silver mist.

Clad in a magnificent cloak of rich moss green, Søren watched me with solemn eyes, his lips parted in the merest suggestion of a smile.

I stared hard at the hand he extended, as if he were offering me thorns instead of roses. He appeared to be in earnest. As earnest as a fey creature was able to be, at least.

I wasn't aware I'd moved towards him until his hand was on mine; there was only the vague sensation of a bird being enticed into a cage. Firm, cool fingers enclosed mine, and in the forest's hush, the only sound was the pounding of my heart.

"You came to me," he murmured, close to my ear, "My Frida." He let out a long, slow breath.

"How do you know me?" Resenting his claiming me for his own, I spoke more sharply than I'd intended. Even as I did so, I was drawn to him, and yearned for him, almost against my will.

"Have you really forgotten me? Why not be honest with yourself?" He stood so close I couldn't see his expression, but his tone remained cordial.

Pulling away from him, I stared into his eyes, at the eldritch light sparking in their depths. I shivered and drew back a little, and he noticed. Frustration flashed across his features, then the smooth mask fell back in place.

"I suppose it can't be helped. Come, I will show you." He made another of those grand gestures, as if he were offering to escort me to his castle, not a snowy forest at midnight.

"Who are you, really?"

"You're still pretending not to remember?" Søren's voice took on a mocking tone.

"I'm not pretending anything, and I'm not going anywhere until you explain what this is about!"

"My, such a contrast to the shy maiden of this afternoon." He ran an appreciative eye over me. "Not that I'm complaining."

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