Followed by Fros

Followed by Fros

Charlie N. Holmberg


I have known cold.

I have known the cold that freezes to the bones, to the spirit itself. The cold that stills the heart and crystallizes the blood. The kind of cold that even fire fears, that can turn a woman to glass.

I have seen Death.

The cold lured him to me. I saw him near my home, his dark hair rippling over one shoulder like thick forest smoke as he stooped over the bed of the quarryman’s only son. I saw his amber eyes as he tilted the rim of his wide-brimmed hat to greet me. I saw him kneel in the snow before me with his arms wide and heard him whisper, “Come with me.”

I have known cold, the chills with which even the deepest winters cannot compare. I have lived it, breathed it, and lost by it. I have known cold, for it dwelled in the deepest hollows of my soul.

And the day I broke Mordan’s heart, it devoured me.


The first bite of honey taffy melted in my mouth. I savored its sweetness, spiced lightly with cinnamon imported from the Southlands beyond Zareed—strange, savage lands with strange people and stranger customs, but nothing in the Northlands could compare to their intense, exotic spices. Merchants only delivered the candies in the early spring, and their first shipment had arrived that morning. Together, Ashlen and I had bought nearly half a case. My satchel bulged with paper-wrapped taffies to the point where I had to switch the strap from shoulder to shoulder every quarter mile, the bag weighed on me so.

“My pa will be so angry if he finds out!” Ashlen laughed, covering her mouth to hide half-chewed taffy. Her plain, mouse-brown hair bobbed about her shoulders as she spoke. “I’m supposed to be saving for that writing desk.”

“This is a once-, maybe twice-a-year opportunity,” I insisted, resting my hand on the satchel. “We could hardly let it pass us by.” I didn’t tell her that I had more than enough in my allowance to cover her share. If Ashlen needed a writing desk, her father could put in more hours at the mill.

Ashlen unwrapped another candy. “I could die eating these.”

I poked her in the stomach. “And you would die fat, too!”

We laughed, and I hooked my arm through hers as we followed the dirt path ahead of us. It wound from the mercantile on the west edge of Euwan, past the mill and my father’s turnery, clear to Heaven’s Tear—the great crystal lake that hugged the town’s east side, and the only thing that put us on Iyoden’s map.

My world was so small then. Euwan was an ordinary town full of ordinary people, and I believed myself an oyster pearl among them. But I was about to spark a chain of events that would shatter the perfectly ordinary shell I lived in—events that would undoubtedly change my life, in its entirety, forever.

My father’s turnery came into view, the tar between its shingles glimmering in the afternoon sun. At two stories, it was the second largest building in Euwan, though still the most impressive, in my opinion. The sounds of saws and sandpaper echoed from beyond its door, left open to encourage a breeze. My father had been a wainwright for some twenty years, and his wagons were the sturdiest and most reliable that could be found anywhere within two days’ distance, and likely even farther. For a moment I considered saying hello, but spying my father’s single employee outside, I instantly thought better of it.

Mordan was bent over a barrel of water, washing sawdust from his face and hands. Unlike most, Mordan hadn’t been raised in Euwan—he had merely walked in during fall harvest, on foot, carrying a filthy cloth bag of his immediate necessities. His sudden appearance had been the talk of the town for weeks, making him something of an outcast. Much to my dismay, my father was a charitable sort, and he hadn’t hesitated to hire the newcomer. The community mostly accepted him after that.

Mordan, twenty-five years in age, was a slender man, though broad in the shoulders, with sandy hair that wavered somewhere between chestnut and wheat. He had a narrow, almost feminine face, with a long nose and pale blue eyes. I didn’t notice much about him beyond that. At that time I only noticed that he existed and that he was a problem. I quickly stepped to Ashlen’s other side, using her body as a shield.

“What?” she asked.

“Shh! Talk to me,” I said, quickening my pace. I kept my head down, letting my blond hair act as a curtain between myself and the turnery. It was natural for a man to take notice of his employer’s family, perhaps, but Mordan’s interests toward me had grown more ardent over the last year, to the point where I could hardly stand on the same side of town as him without some attempt at conversation on his part. Even my blatant regard for other boys in his presence—whether real or feigned—hadn’t discouraged him.

I thought I had escaped unseen when he called out my name, his chin still dripping with water: “Smitha!”

My stomach soured. I pretended not to hear and jerked Ashlen forward when she started to turn her head, but Mordan persisted in his calls. Begrudgingly I slowed my walk and glanced back at him, but I didn’t offer a smile.

He wiped himself with a towel, which he tucked into the back pocket of his slacks, and jogged toward us.

“I’m surprised to see you out so late,” he said, nodding to Ashlen. “I thought school ended at the fifteenth hour.”

“Yes, but lessons cease at age sixteen,” I said. Only a dunce wouldn’t know that. “I finished last year. I only go now to pursue my personal endeavors and to tutor Ashlen.” My personal endeavors included theatre and the study of language, the latter of which I found fascinating, especially older tongues. I planned to use my knowledge to become a playwright, translating ancient tales and peculiar Southlander fables into performances that would charm the most elite of audiences. My tutoring of Ashlen was more a chance for chatter and games than actual studying, but so long as she pulled passing grades, none would be the wiser.

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