Rich red stained the pure white, hazel eyelashes shuttered. Blue veins met a crevasse, carved into porcelain white skin, rod droplets escaping their captivity. Icicles formed on fine brown hair and bare toes and fingers were slowly turning blue. Dry lips were cracked revealing fresh pink skin underneath, and they were parted slightly revealing tips of white teeth. A feathery layer of snow covered a thin tunic, as it rose and fell with slowed breathing. The eyelashes fluttered at the coarse sound of gravel and snow being trodden underfoot.
A brown cloaked figure approached and knelt by the motionless body on the freezing ground. A white cloud of mist floated into existence as the stranger breathed out warm air from their lungs. Lifting up their right hand they bit down on the end of one of the fingers of a woollen glove. Moments later their hand was on the cold neck of the injured person, checking for a pulse.
The warmth of the strangers hand felt like fire, burning against the skin on the neck. The injured party gasped quietly, and tried to grab for the heat only to find they couldn’t move their arm. The pain wasn’t so bad though, even though the heat sent tingles through cool veins.
“You’re in a bad way, little one,” a smooth voice spoke quietly. “Try to relax, I’m here to help you.”
Consciousness faded away, even as the stranger was joined by another.
It was a day and a half later, and although consciousness had faded in and out for the patient, they had slept most of the time. The gash on their forehead had been stitched closed and a bandage was wrapped tightly across the brow. No-one had come to visit the patient in this time, except for the couple who had come to the rescue.
Their names were Milna and Colvan Ross, and they ran an orphanage outside the “Winterland Forest”. The closest town was Voldair where they had found their injured patient. After asking around the village, they found out that their patient was one of the local street urchin. The patient had no family and was said to be a ‘sneaky little brat’.
They stood by the patient’s bed, at this point, and were speaking in hushed tones. Colvan was against moving the patient, as they were still unsure of to what extent the injury to the head was. Milna however was insistent that a good meal and comfortable bed would do wonders for the patient and both could be found at the orphanage.
As Colvan stood crossed armed, a frown crinkling his forehead, he glanced across at the patient. The patient was a young female, who they had both guessed was around fifteen years old. Deep blue, almost purple, eyes gazed back at him as he looked across. The gaze was one still cloudy with sleep, but held an obvious spark of curiosity.
“What a beautiful face to wake up to…” the patient spoke, her voice raspy.
“And I have to wake up to it every day,” Milna teased. “How are you feeling, little one?”
“As well as one can be, after being robbed, hit over the head and being left to freeze,” the patient spoke again, closing her eyes suddenly with a wince. “My head feels like it’s about to explode out my temples though.”
“That’s hardly normal,” Colvan stated, reaching out to check her temperature.
“Well, considering she has a large gash in her head and is recovering from a bad concussion, it is hardly unusual,” Milna responded, handing the patient a glass of water.
As she took a sip of water, the patient noticed a tall mirror standing against the wall at the end of the bed. Her eyebrows lifted and after leaning forward a little, shook her head slowly.
“I’m looking better than ever though,” she said, giving a slight smile. “A little pale but otherwise.”
“Milna gave you a warm bath when we got you back here. Didn’t want your wound getting infected,” Colvan replied, shortly.
“Haven’t had a bath in month, at least not since the river froze over. An ice bath is hardly pleasant and more likely to kill you than make you clean.”
Milna and Colvan well believed it, for her clothes were filthy and torn and her skin had taken quite a lot of scrubbing due to all the caked on dirt and dead skin.
“As for my hair, I would never have thought it could look so much like hair rather than a bird’s nest,” she spoke again.
Milna had attempted to brush out the long waves of dark brown locks, which had clustered together into thick knots. It had been to no prevail however and after an hour of frustrated brushing, Milna had pulled out her trusted blade. Its sharp strokes made quick work of the dead hair and left the patient with short waves of newer, untangled hair.
“Since you seem to be up for a chat, why don’t you let us know your name?” Colvan asked, abruptly.
“Of course,” the patient responded. “Tiga Athanar, that’s my name.”
“And what do you do for a living, Miss Athanar?”
“I’m unemployed currently,” Tiga answered, her eyes narrowing. “But I’m awfully good at doing sleight-of-hand tricks. People are always surprised at how easily I can make a coin disappear. The only side effect of that is that they never receive it back. You see, it’s a permanent style of magic.”
“Fascinating…” Colvan replied, shortly.
“So you aren’t afraid that you’ll get caught and put behind bars?” Milna asked seriously.
“No, not really,” Tiga admitted casually. “After all you get free meals in there, but I’m too quick for them all anyway. I’m hardly what you call an ‘easy catch’.”
“Yet we found you half dead in the snow. Obviously someone caught you,” Colvan interjected.
“They got the jump on me, they were thugs from a neighbouring village and there was around eight of them.”
“How horrible! Ganging up on one poor orphan,” Milna said angrily.
“Don’t sympathize with her, Milna. They targeted her because of the stolen money remember,” Colvan warned, shaking his head at her.
Tiga’s eyes widened at this and she sat up quickly, looking around frantically. Milna began to say something but was cut short from a look that Colvan flashed her.
“Where is it? Where did you put it?” Tiga demanded, getting worked up.
“Where is what?” Colvan replied coolly.
“My clothing! Where did you put my trousers and tunic?”
“Oh, those old, smelly things? We did you a favour and threw them out. Don’t worry, you can borrow some of the clothes we made for our children back home.”
“No! Where did you throw them out?”
“Onto the burning pile, why?”
“How long was I asleep for? Have they burnt the pile yet?”
“Yes, last night, it was such a beautiful sight! Everyone gathered around and told stories and sang. Milna actually missed out however, she was too preoccupied with you.”
Tiga cursed and threaded her fingers into her short hair. She hung her head forwards and hugged her knee’s with her forearms. Tiga continued to swear under her breath and dug her fingernails into her scalp. She let out a long sigh and fell backwards onto the pillow, her hair splaying around her pale face. Tiga then let out a short laugh, the laugh of a broken soul, one that had given up.
“I’m pretty sure that I’m curse,” Tiga muttered, staring at the ceiling.
“You’re not cursed, little one. If anything you are blessed to be still alive!” Milna stated, flashing a stern look at Colvan.
Tiga gave a broken laugh once again, and gave Milna a thin smile.
“This town wouldn’t let me leave so easily. Neither death nor money, will ever be able to allow me to leave this wretched place,” Tiga answered, her eyes dull.
“Is that what the money hidden in your clothing was for? To be able leave this town?” Colvan asked, still holding a stern presence.
Tiga sat up with a start once again and grabbed onto Colvan’s arm. Though still unwell her hand was like a clamp and the skin went white underneath it.
“You found the coins! Did you retrieve them from my clothing?” Tiga begged, her eyes hopeful.
“One of the coins fell out when Milna pulled your tunic off. It didn’t take a genius to figure out the rest from then on,” Colvan answered, prying his arm away. “The stitching on the hems were hardly that of a professional seamstress.”
“So what! I’ve never learnt to sew. I hear it’s something a mother’s supposed to teach you,” Tiga replied, but her voice was now more joyful. “So you have the money?”
Colvan signalled to Milna and turned to look out a window at the opposite side of the room. Milna reached into the pocket of her white apron and retrieved a pouch. She placed the pouch in Tiga’s hand and as she did so it clinked slightly. Tiga opened the pouch feverously and grinned happily on seeing that all the coins were accounted for.
“So…” Colvan spoke again. “You planned on leaving town with the amount of money you had saved?
“Yes,” Tiga replied, letting the coins slip over her fingers. “It took me a while but now I’m free to leave.”
“And you think that small amount is enough to allow you to travel and eat for a while?” Colvan asked.
His cynical tone was hard to miss and Tiga glanced across at him frowning.
“You don’t think I can?” Tiga demanded.
“You will get to another town and then you will just find yourself stuck there for another couple of years. In the end you will keep town jumping until you die,” Colvan stated bluntly.
“Maybe you’re right, but if I do manage to get to another town I will be more likely to get work.”
“And what’s wrong with the work around here?”
“I will never be able to get a job here. I’m a street urchin! This town will never hire those of us who are born less fortunate than themselves. It is so pungent with prejudice and status that I’m practically smothered with it.”
Colvan was silent and Milna walked over and placed a hand on his arm. He didn’t respond to the touch and his eyes were serious as he continued his survey of the street.
“They give us no chance, forcing us to steal and beg just to stay alive and then punish us. They punish us for doing what they forced us to resort to,” Tiga continued, her voice passionate and firm.
At this Colvan turned and walked across to the bed. Tiga curled warily but was surprised to find Colvan’s hand outstretched towards her.
“Well said,” Colvan said, a hint of pride in his voice. “I think exactly the same thing…buddy.”
Tiga smiled honestly and placed her pale hand in his.
“Strange,” Tiga thought silently. “It’s almost as if the warmth of his hand, goes straight to my heart.”
“So what do you say, bud? How about we get you out of this town once and for all?” Colvan said, a grin spreading across his face.