by Kim Martins
Small footprints led towards a clump of spruce trees, their branches snow-heavy. The tracks were powdery-fresh but disappearing fast as snow buried the landscape. He slid off the saddle, steadied his chestnut mare and squatted beside the tracks, saw how the ice crystals glinted like glass shards under a weak sun.
Something moved in the trees. A familiar flash of red. He knew she was close but he could only hear his own breathing.
I want to talk to you he called out. Tell you about the silver bellies of the salmon as they dart in the water upriver, the white fox I caught in the trap just for you, its fur is so very soft.
You should see the cabin I’m building. We can be together.
He stood in the bone-chilling cold, kicked at the thick snow, willed her to step from the shadows. But he was alone with his old mare, her bit jingling in the stillness.
The first time he’d seen her, months ago, he’d been tracking a lone grey wolf. He’d set some snares high up the mountainside and had followed a trail that led into a small field. There she was in a fur-trimmed red coat, untidy flaxen hair tumbled over her shoulders, her face tilted towards a bleak sky. He drank in the gentle curve of her cheekbones, the milkiness of her skin.
He wanted to pull her towards him, take her in his arms.
He rubbed his tired eyes, imagined that he could see each six-pointed snowflake as it spiralled earthward.
A twig snapped nearby. A scruffy white fox darted into a stand of fir trees.
The girl seemed startled.
Who are you? he’d said.
But she turned and ran after the fox.
Where are you going? he called.
Home, she’d whispered.