Wintertale (A Short Story)

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Snow had fallen, snow on snow

Snow on snow

In the bleak mid-winter

Long ago

— In the Bleak Midwinter (Traditional Carol)

~ ~ ~

Dusk fell, and with it his restraint. He had to go—no matter the cost.

Kendric left the lonely woods and strode out across the moor. His long black hair was tied back at the nape of his neck, and a threadbare coat of midnight blue hung from his shoulders; little comfort against the unforgiving chill of this crisp winter night, but he could bear it—for love.

White clouds of mist swirled up from the cold hollows he wandered through as he crossed the moor, the heather touched with frost. His way was lit only by the sky's silver-grey waning light, and here and there the touch of a will o' the wisp or other fae lights in the growing shadows. The faerie lights glimmered through the winter-bare trees and shone through the white mist on the moor, as though the stars themselves had come down upon the earth.

More lights appeared ahead—the evening star hung directly above the old mansion on the moor, its dark bulk black against the darkening sky. Golden light filled the windows, brighter in the darkness, like the sun looking out of the windows of Night.

He drew nearer and stopped just outside, watching through the nearest window. Figures moved within, dancing, and strains of music came softly to his ears—the low half-melancholy purr of a violin, a harp like a tinkling brook, the distant strains of the pipes.

Kendric stood alone outside in the darkness as the snow began to fall, watching the scene inside the place he had long known.

A place from which he was forever barred.

"With the face I call my own, at least," he murmured.

From within his threadbare coat, he took out a black mask like a raven's face and pulled it over the top half of his face. He slipped inside the mansion through a side door.

Music enveloped him, along with a crowd of dancers in masks, through whom he pushed his way unobtrusively, brushing past the Steward of the house and other faces he knew behind their masks. The midwinter ball was well underway. Ladies' full gowns twirled around the floor, and men's dark coat-tails flew as they danced and spun their ladies about in the light of a thousand candles.

One lady was more radiant than them all, at least to Kendric's eye. She wore a dress like snow, lacy, glistening, pristinely white. Fair hair piled in abundance atop her head, like a mound of sunshine, tendrils escaping to frame the white mask like a swan which graced her gently smiling face.

With one purpose, he approached her, and in the heartbeat between two melodies, he whisked her away from her last partner who stepped away, and they were off into the next dance.

Laughing, she tilted her head to look up into his masked face. For a moment, she did not know him; the next, recognition brought a gasp which stole her laughter away. She mouthed his name, but no sound came to her lips as she stared into his smiling eyes.

Kendric gave a quiet nod. "Vanessa," he murmured in acknowledgment as they continued to dance.

She tensed in his arms, worry creasing her brow, and threw a look over her shoulder—but no one seemed to pay them particular heed.

"How have you come here? Did no one see you arrive?" she whispered.

Kendric shook his head. "No one; unless the stars above or the stones of this house would tell of it."

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