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Short Story

Frozen Hearts

By David Slagle

“Mom… can I ask you a question?”


“Mom… can I ask you a question?”

“What’s wrong, Nunu? There’s something crinkling your nose, and I don’t think the elkyr can be blamed… well, this time. No offense, Kona!”

“Haha, elkyr smell like doocicles! But… we always make ‘em pull our carts anyway. I don’t wanna leave, mom. I like that village. I found a warhorn in the mud!”

“Then come close, my little grimaceling, and I will remind you. There is a reason the Notai must leave as the snows settle. An adventure that winter’s mother has entrusted to us.”

“You mean Anivia Anivia?”

“Mhmm. They say she is a phoenix, with icicles instead of feathers—her wings borne on frigid wind, brrrrrr! But we Notai know, it is hope that carries Anivia, and that she is not a guardian of our realm, as the Avarosans say. She is freedom. She is the spirit that fills you as you follow your passion, no matter how mean the world is. Do you know what passion is, Nunu?”

“Is it when the barbarian kisses the warmother?”

“Hmm, sometimes, and sometimes the warmother kisses the barbarian. But if I had to name it, I would call passion… the feeling of one last celebration as winter hits, the warmth inside even better because the first snows are falling. The dancing, the singing, a lyre in my hands, shivering even as I burn with this—this thing I try to name! This is what Anivia has tasked us with carrying across the Freljord. This is what gives her wind on her migration! Some villages see us as untrustworthy traders, others fear us for the ice that announces our arrival, the winter that can mean life or death. But to them all, we bring song, we bring togetherness, we link each village with our spirit. Can you imagine what a gift this is, Nunu? To know what we know because caravan carts have rattled it into our bones. Life is an endless string of opportunity for songs...”

“Like these?”

“Yes, like my song strands. Each string is a song, each knot in the string a note, and each note a place we’ve been while following Anivia. Like this one. This is the droning murmur of pilgrims, gathered beneath the statue of Avarosa at Rakelstake—a frozen lake that glitters like a jewel too massive for anyone to own. But the Avarosans have built a monument beside it, and say they own it anyway. They live their lives as if they are statues. Warmothers, Iceborn, they do not move, they fear the world that exists outside of Avarosa’s shadow. But to others, they have already moved too much…”

“The Winter’s Claw. They hate Avarosinians.”

“Avarosans. But the song binds them together, like this. This is the sound of the chains tying wolfships to Glaserport, and the Winter’s Claw to the past. The old ways. Blood in the snow. They live their lives on shattered ice. They think it is their might that cracks a path to sea, the wolfships prowling through… but it is not strong to cling to chains, and to demand that others carry them as well.”

“I ‘member the wolfships, mom. They were made out of wood. Not wolves! The Winter’s Claw don’t know how to name things.”

“Some things, Nunu, should not be named. Like the Frostguard Citadel, above the Howling Abyss. All those secrets… secrets of my own, of the warmth I have found… They preach there the words of the Three Sisters, but I think secrets are their true faith. How can you rescue someone from something they don’t know? That only this howled dirge remembers, rising from the Abyss. What the Frostguard guard against.”

“Are they heroes, like in the songs? I want to be a hero, too!”

“Listen to these notes, Nunu. They are the fortress at Frosthorn Peak and the crypts beneath. They are quiet. Empty. Whatever the Iceborn fought against has been forgotten. And now, with nothing else to fight, they use their power to rule. Avarosans, Winter’s Claw, Frostguard, they are the same. They use statues, chains, secrets, to push men down onto their knees. But you… When I look out onto the road, I see your future, Nunu. The joy you will bring to so many, as you have brought me. As winter’s mother wills it, and as she sends her winds to carry you, I will send love. You are my heart-song, Nunu. What notes should we add next? Where should love take us?”

“We’re probably going to another village. But this one won’t have warhorns...”

“No, Nunu. There is always more out there, you only need to imagine it! We could travel to a bridge that once spanned the sky! Only it collapsed in a forgotten age, and most of it lies hidden behind the clouds. But, can you hear that? Someone is step, step, stepping along its edge. We could pass into the tombs of creatures who ruled the Freljord before humans, find the mist that freezes in mid-air, giving ancient dreams shape. What is that in front of you, Nunu? Can you catch a dream on your tongue? Or find glacial tunnels that branch, as if tracing the shape of a world-tree that our ancestors destroyed, and buried in ice. All these things you can find, if only you look. You can go anywhere you can imagine.”

“Could we go to the top of the whole wide world, so I could play my warhorn? I bet then even Avarosa would hear it, and she’d come back!”

“We can go there right now, Nunu, if you tell me all about it. What would you see? What is the story in your heart?”

“I know how it starts! Once upon a time, there was a boy named Nunu, and Layka, his mom… and she was beautiful, and they lived in a caravan, and… they were trying to think of where to go next.”

“And what did they decide, Nunu?”

“They decided they could go anywhere together! And so their caravan flew off into the sky when Kona grew wings out of her butt, and flapped harder than Anivia! And the two of them were warm, and safe, even though snow was falling. What’s that feeling, mom? Like a hug, only…”

“It’s home. It’s home, my little hero. And that is where we will always be, no matter where we go. It is how we know, though the cold comes with us, though it can be hard and demand hope… it will never be winter, Nunu, if you love the person beside you.”

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