Image by Eran Fowler

The great white owl wove a path through the dense birch trees, the black slashs in the tree’s bark the only thing that set them apart from the snow that carpeted the forest floor. In a spray of snow, the owl settled onto the shoulder of a figure cloaked in layers of thick grey wool, cooing gently. A withered finger snaked it’s way through the layers, stroking the soft feathers.

“A girl, you say.” The figure spoke softly. “What would bring a child of summer so far?”

The owl cocked it’s head, peering at the woman’s wrinkled face and greying hairs beneath her ash-coloured hood. Sabine chuckled softly.

“Yes yes Meridia, I suppose I should go ask her myself.” She set off with a slow, halting walk, leaning heavily on her twisted walking stick.

Sabine stood at the edge of the clearing, blue eyes scrutinizing the scene carefully. The snow lay thick on the ground all about her, except for this perfect circle of green grass, dotted with small pink flowers. Though snow fell lightly about the circle, any flakes that entered the dome quickly melted, falling like a soft rain on the girl who lay in the center of the circle.

She looked young to Sabine’s eyes, no older than 16 and far too skinny beneath her thin sweater, with pale blonde hair, cut short around her ears. She lay curled up on her side, so still that Sabine worried she might be dead until she saw the gentle rise and fall of her chest. Asleep then, despite the fussing of the large red and blue bird that sat atop her, plucking at her hair with a long, black beak.

Hesitantly, Sabine came a step closer. The bird whirled around at her with fire in its eyes, its head lowered and wings extended. Its wingspan was impressive, covering the girl from head to toe, revealing red and gold wings, patterned with blue designs. Long tail feathers of red and blue wrapped about the girl protectively. Sabine felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up as she read the message clearly. Back off, this girl is mine.

“I don’t mean any harm.” Sabine said softly, coming to a halt. The bird didn’t budge, watching her closely. Sabine continued to talk, keeping her voice soothing. “I just mean to help. Is the girl alright?”

The bird ruffled his feathers at her more, but she thought she saw a glimmer of hesitation in his dark eyes. She edged her way closer still and the bird didn’t move, still glowering at her over the form of the unmoving girl, until Sabine stood at the edge of the circle, careful not to cross the line where the snow made way for grass. A cold wind blew past the old woman, washing over the sleeping girl and the wary bird. The girl shivered violently as the cold reached her bare legs, sending ripples up through the bird’s wings. The bird broke eye contact, peering down at his charge.

“Please let me help.” Sabine whispered. “You can’t hold this spell forever.”

With a look of defeat, the bird folded his wings to his side, stepping off the girl. Sabine bustled her way to the girl’s side. The inside of the circle was warm, like a little pocket of spring, but when she picked up the girl’s hand it was wet and cold as ice. The girl stared up at her face with blank eyes, as green as the grass around her. Sabine smiled calmly at her.

“Hello, my dear. Let’s get you warmed up.”

After a bit of fuss, Sabine had the girl bundled up under her robes, one thin arm over her hunched shoulders. As slowly as the witch arrived, the pair left the springtime glade, following the path of the red bird chasing the white owl.