Kothran – Memories Under the Snow

Prompt: What he found under the snow.

Night. Cloudless. Bitterly cold. Salt air off the water. The wreck of the Brinehammer lay beached where she’d foundered, nestled among a grave of rocks. The shore lay in view of the mountains, their terminus, as they sloped their way down to the Sea of Ghosts. The water was calm that night, reflecting back an almost unearthly glow from the light of the moons, and the ever shifting colors of the aurora. It was dangerous, that sea, even when calm, like a siren’s voice calling sailors to their doom.

This far from any settlement, the beach was deserted, no night fishermen, or even stargazers. But there was one. With hardly a sound, a light step passed over the gravel, toward the broken hulk. Trained for stealth, and with supple, dark leather to disguise him, he moved like a shadow, pressing himself up against the hull. He strained to hear sounds of life over the whistling of the bitter wind, but caught nothing. This wreck had probably already been picked over by looters, but he wasn’t keen on meeting up with any, even if they were easily dealt with. He was here for another reason, looking for someone. Battle would just complicate things.

Laas Yah Nir,” he whispered, voice so soft he himself could hardly hear it. The dovahzul, dragon-tongue, came so easily to him now. For a moment, his vision went dark, but as sight returned he could see, painted in a red glow, signs of life in the distance. Ghostly shapes slid through the dark, followed soon after by the howl of wolves. There was, however, no signs of the same on the ship itself. At the angle the wreck was laying, it was easy to hoist himself up onto the deck, brine-soaked wood creaking under even his careful steps as he began his search.

He remembered why he’d come.

He’d been traveling north from Whiterun. The roads were always covered in snow, but a particularly heavy fall had blocked the route through the mountain pass, forcing him to travel around. At one point the snow had been so thick he’d had to dismount, afraid his horse would stumble on hidden rocks if he wasn’t careful. It had been painfully slow going, but he never would have found the journal otherwise. His step had landed on something soft, and when he’d stopped he’d found the leather-bound book buried deep under the snow. The freeze had been so hard the pages were brittle and he was afraid of trying to read it. Being the packrat that he was, he’d carefully tucked it into a saddlebag, thinking he’d read it later, after it had thawed and dried. Who knew, it might have some information he could use.

He’d managed to make it to Dawnstar before the sun rose. After renting a room at the inn, he’d sat the book on the hearth to dry while he slept. Another blizzard had rolled in by mid-morning, and he’d taken up the now dry book to read. It turned out to be the journal of a farm girl, written in a neat hand. The beginning was typical; somewhat innocent thoughts on life, complaints about how boring farm work was, and later, mentions of a boy she was sweet on. He didn’t think it was anything interesting but, with little else to do, he kept reading.

Things became darker as the entries went on, trouble at home, mentions of wanting to run away with her paramour. There was a gap, and sorrow when the story picked up again. Her young man had gone away, determined to make his fortunes at sea. She’d waited for him, with no answer, and there were furtive entries speaking of going to find him. The last entry spoke of bartering passage on a carriage headed to Dawnstar, to seek at the docks there for a ship called the Brinehammer. She must have lost the journal on her journey, where he’d found it. When the blizzard let up, he asked around town, to see if anyone knew about the ship, or the girl. She’d been in town but he’d also learned of the wreck, as she must have. He couldn’t help but wonder if she would have gone home after learning that, knowing that she wouldn’t have.

A feeling grew inside him, knowing had to try and find her. The wreck was half a day’s ride from town. He left at dusk, to arrive by moonrise, skirting the beach most of the way to avoid the deeper snow. Would she even be there?

The deck was empty. He made his way below, lighting a small torch. He didn’t fear the dark, or what he might find there. Looters had indeed picked this place over, leaving precious little behind. Because of that, it didn’t take him long to find her. She was curled up in a corner, in what had likely been the captain’s cabin, rime coating her clothes and hair. It only took a quick look to see she was no longer of this world. The evidence of a long dead fire told him the rest; she’d likely holed up here during the blizzard, the fire had gone out, and the cold had taken her. He sighed, and sent a silent prayer to Arkay, wishing her soul safe journey to the afterlife.

This land could be unforgiving, leaving little room for such feelings. He thought of his husband at home. Warm hearth, warm bed, the strength in his arms.  He thought of his children, asleep in their beds, lulled by the deep baritone of his husband’s voice. They were halfway across the province, but he felt an overwhelming desire to be home. He had the strength to hold what he loved, to keep them safe. Perhaps, when the time of strife ended, others with less strength could do the same. Until then, he’d keep fighting for that day.

When morning came, he bundled her up, and took her from that place. He wouldn’t be able to get her all the way home, but he carried her well past the mountains, and the deepest of the snows. He laid her to rest in one of the valleys, at the edge of a lake where flowers would bloom in spring. Though snow would fall here, it would never pile up like it did in the mountains.  He would never again let her memory be buried under the snow.