A faint tinkling endlessly echoed across the field, Winter’s harsh breath found it’s way under the girl’s tightly bound hood and through the seams of her woolen breeches. Azalea shielded her eyes against the sun’s glare, but all was blinding white. Shivering, the changeling girl child willed her heavy limbs to take another step.Her thoughts were fuzzy, but clung to a single desire to keep moving across the ice plain.
The soft glass like sound grew louder, a sing song melody emerged and became almost like words spoken from the other side of a closed door. A brilliant flash of blue flickered across the desolate landscape, forming into a butterfly that landed on her nose. It’s eyes reflecting her eyes, in an infinite reciprocating circle. “Free us,” the blue thrummed, “and Spring will come.”
Azalea awakened with a shuddering bolt, “Thank Running Water, the fever has broken,” Juniper whispered, as she gently tucked a sweat heavy lock behind Azalea’s ear.
Time is a human construct, and exists differently in the lands of Santooshka. However, as the denizen’s wood piles dissipated and the larders became bare, they began to feel the weight of this winter.
The keepers of this enchanted vale, listened intently to the little changling’s dream. It seemed familiar to the Ladies, in that nagging way, like a kettle left untended. Azalea’s tale of the ice land, was only an exaggeration of the actual state of the forest. Winter hac seemed to linger, snow stubbornly nestled between the tree trunks, and Beltaine was upon them.
Magnolia and Juniper spent the next week buried in ancient tomes, searching for the answer to the unknown question. Finally, one late afternoon, Juniper’s voice cut through the gloom..
“Here. It is hard to decipher the exact tale, but great gran Hazel transcribed an even older story of a winter that lasted too long.
“Jack Frost imprisoned the Spring Fay in a pool of frozen water, under the earth, behind a frozen wall of ice.”
“Sounds impossible. How will we be able to find such a place?” Magnolia sighed.
Grey Stone’s face scrunched as the words fell into place, “The Waterfall!”
He jumped up excitedly, the young changeling had grown much over the long winter, and he had to duck under the hanging lantern. “Once, when I was out exploring, I chanced upon a small cave behind the falls. I didn’t venture further but the hole was deathly cold, even in the height of summer.”
And what commenced was not unlike a thousand other conversations between mothers and their growing children, a long discussion that went something like this:
Concern. “We will journey to the Falls, it is too dangerous for small changelings.”
“We are grown enough, besides you are too big to get down into the cave.
Resignation. “Fine, but you must dress quite warmly, take the utmost precaution and return home quickly if there is any trouble. And you must take Fox with you, she’s cunning and follows her nose.
The last glance back showed the Keepers of Santooshka framed in the cottage’s doorway. Juniper’s hand on her heart, and Magnolia waving frantically, calling out warnings and advice, until her voice was taken by the wind. GreyStone eyed his changeling sister, she was as heavily dressed as himself. Her eye’s sparked back at him, between the thick wool cap and her hearth infused enchanted scarf.
Fox went first, bounding from rock to rock swishing her tail. It was a morning’s hike to falls, and when they arrived, the changelings paused for a quick bite. The waterfall had indeed completely frozen. Menacing stalactites of ice looked like dagger sharp teeth. Just as Azalea was licking the last of the parsnip pie off her fingers, Fox beckoned them forward and disappeared.
The ice above them cast a blue glow upon the pathway between the long fingers of the falls. But it did not reach down into the cave. It’s entrance was ice rimmed hole that shone like a beacon summing them down to the depths.
An uncharacteristically serious Fox signaled the changelings to stay as she slinked down into the cave. She was gone a short time before she reappeared and bade them to follow.
The cold prickled GreyStone as he squeezed himself through the tunnel, before dropping him a few feet through the air. Azalea quick to follow, and landed on top of him. As the changelings lay sprawled on the cold ground shrouded by the thin ray of light, dislodged ice crystals and sparkling motes danced in the disturbed air.
Azalea untangled herself and tapped on her jar of will-o-wisps. They stirred to life, casting a warm glow upon the cavern floor. Carefully, the changelings followed the white tip of fox’s tail to the far wall. A mighty Oak’s roots grew down the crevasse and encircled a small pool.
Greystone brushed the crystallized ice from the glassy surface, by the light of the will-o-wisp they could make out a rainbow hued orb trapped beneath the ice.
Removing their gloves the children clasped hands, and placed their free hand on the pool. They recited the spell the Ladies had taught them. Each spoken word formed a steam cloud and settled on the frozen surface.
Azalea looked suspiciously at her brother, when slowly the ice began to melt, the colors became an undulating oil slick bubbling to the surface.
They both smiled joyfully when the color exploded like a thousand shards of light through a prism. A cloud of Spring Sprites and Fay filled the small cavern, weaving and bobbing in the confined space, then in an exulting flourish, they flitted up and out. A sole fay with iridescent azure butterfly wings remained, he bowed quite handsomely mid air, swooped upon Azalea and gave her a kiss on the nose. Only to follow his companions leaving a fading blaze of blue.
It was much harder for the two changeling children to get out of the cavern, than it was falling in. By the time they reached the top, both were sweating beneath their layered clothing.
“Look the ice is melting,” Azalea laughed as she shook the droplets from her hair.
As they began to pick their way up from the waterfalls, signs of spring were everywhere. The faded moss on the rocks was a lush green, Spring Beautys and Harbinger of Spring speckled the rocky outcroppings.
It was as if moons were passing as they walked towards home. At first only the red buds were in full bloom, but more trees followed.
Fiddle heads unfurled into full grown ferns. When the cottage roof came into sight, it was as if all of spring was happening at once. As they crested the hill, Magnolia and Juniper came running towards them. They merged into a messy ball of hugs, and kisses, laughter and joy.
Sometimes you must journey through the darkest of places to find the light that you need.