What winter means to me is layers of clothing, yet rarely warm, heating bills, higher electric bill, scraping ice, shoveling snow, dangerous roads, getting stuck while driving, snow plow costs, etc. Winter is expensive, dangerous, tiring, and just plain miserable. I love my state, but I hate winter.
So I got this idea for a story about my character Cali from Heart of the Winterland that takes place within the first chapter of the book, or so I imagine, where the enchantment is lifted and Cali is thinking clearly and she's now suffering through winter without the spell to keep her happy. I tried to put a humorous twist on it, while showing some of the nasty truths of winter that hopefully people who've experienced that can identify with Cali's day.
“Ouch!” Princess Calisandra popped her stinging fingers in her mouth.
“Ouch!” Princess Calisandra popped her stinging fingers in her mouth.
“Princess! Are you alright?” Cali’s guardian, Voice, darted over and hovered anxiously around her. “Let me see. They might be broken.”
Cali glared at Voice and refused to take her hand from her mouth, even though she now felt rather silly standing there with her mouth full of fingers.
“Don’t be stubborn. You’ve been so cantankerous lately,” Voice scolded.
Finally yanking her fingers out, and shoving them behind her back, Cali waved the orb away. “I’m fine, Voice. I just slammed them in the door.” She snatched the cloak from the hook by the door—the reason she’d come back inside in the first place—and making sure Voice didn’t get a peek at the hidden hand, she backed out the door, this time without pinching her fingers.
Safely outside, Cali turned on the top step and adjusted her cloak hastily. Snow fell from the sky—when didn’t it?—and a sharp wind whipped around the castle.
“Stupid horses. Why can’t Voice just use her magic to feed them?” she muttered to herself as she stomped down the stairs. Switching her tone to match Voice’s she continued, “It is about responsibility, Princess.”
Her boot hit the next step and she slipped. Arms waving in the air as she fought to keep her balance, Cali tumbled backwards and landed on her butt. Pain radiated through her tailbone and rolled onto her stomach, burying her face against the snow-covered step. The same evil step that’d caused her fall.
“I hate this country,” she groused.
The pain settled down to a low thrum, and deciding she’d had quite enough of the steps digging into her face and stomach, she rose and more carefully this time, continued the rest of the way down.
More snow had fallen over night, and the path she’d carefully cleared yesterday was gone, the snow now up to her thighs. She plowed through the powder, feeling it creep into her fur-lined boots.
She’d almost reached the stables when she tripped . . . again. The snow rushed up to greet her and she thrust out her arms to catch herself. Not that it mattered— with how deep the snow was—she still ended up buried.
“Blast it all.” She pushed herself to her knees and reached for whatever had tripped her. A broom. Of course. She’d wondered where that’d gone. Belia, one of the mares, had a habit of confiscating various implements from the stable and leaving them in different locations.
Since she couldn’t exercise all of the horses each day, Cali would open the stall doors and let the horses play out in the courtyard. Most of them thought rolling in the snow and kicking it in the air was more than enough fun, but some, like Belia, thought their time could be better spent.
“Stupid horse,” she muttered, picking the broom and herself up. Snow frosted her entire front and her hood had fallen off. She absentmindedly flipped the hood back up and too late discovered it was full of snow from her most recent fall. Snow plopped onto her head and fell down over her face. She reached up to rub her eyes clear and was rewarded with a soaked mitten that removed the snow, but left a wet streak across her face for all of two seconds before it froze.
She looked back at the castle and saw Voice hovering in the window. The orb darted behind the curtains when she saw Cali glance her way. “Oh, sure, like I didn’t see her there watching,” Cali grumbled. There was no way she could go back now. Whatever dignity she had left needed to be salvaged.
Broom in hand, Cali made it the rest of the way to the stables without incident. She kicked the snow away from the stable door, and pulled it open just enough to squeeze inside. Musty, hay-scented air greeted her, aggravating her nose until she sneezed.
Sniffing from both dust, hay, and the cold, Cali stuck the broom back in its proper corner and glared down the center of the stable where a grey mare poked her head out.
“If I wanted this laying out in the snow, I’d put it there myself,” she said crossly to the horse who tossed her head unremorsefully.
She pulled off her snow-filled mittens and threw them on a pail. Her hands were red from cold and she blew on them to warm them a bit before starting her work.
Cali wandered down the row, opening the stalls one at a time and checking on the horses. The work had its own monotonous rhythm. Stalls needed to be cleaned, horses needed to be checked, food and water replenished, and if all went well, there’d be no disasters. No injuries or illnesses, no horses pushing her into a bucket of water or a pile of manure. Today went well.
She loosed the horses into the courtyard so they could exercise. Normally she liked their antics, but today nothing cheered her up.
One of the colts frolicked past her and kicked snow into her face. She spit it out and glared at the young horse. Totally unconcerned, he went racing back towards his mother.
She brought them back into their stalls after a bit, not wanting to stay out very long. After making sure the broom was in its usual place and the horses were brushed clear of snow and safely tucked into their clean stalls, she backed out of the stable and shut the door.
The snow had covered part of her tracks from earlier and she had to forge a new path. More snow fell into her boots, and the snow that had fallen in her gloves earlier had melted while in the warm stables. Soggy gloves were about as useful as chipmunks in the larder.
At last she stomped up the steps and into the castle. The layers were peeled off one by one. First the semi-frozen mittens that had chunks of wet snow clinging to them. Then the snow-covered cloak, and her boots which resembled blocks of snow. She threw the lot in front of the nearest fireplace and sat down to remove her wet stockings, compliments of the snow that’d invaded her boots and then melted.
She shivered as she rushed to her bedroom. The lower part of her pants were soaked and even though her tunic had escaped most of the weather’s damage, it too lay cold against her skin.
As soon as she reached her room, she began stripping down to her undergarments as she hurried to the adjoining washroom. Voice always had a hot bath drawn to greet her after her stable chores. Sure enough, she bumped the door open with her shoulder—still removing one of her pant legs—and saw the steaming bath.
Leaving her pants to lie in the doorway, she finished undressing and climbed into the tub with much wincing and “Ooh, hot! Hot!”
As she adjusted to the heat, she settled back and washed the ice crystals from her face and gave a sniff. At least the dripping nose would be gone in a few hours, if she was lucky. Sometimes it turned into a full out cold and she was stuffed up and miserable for weeks.
Cali buried her face in her hands. “I’ve got to get out of this country. If the weather doesn’t kill me, I’ll die of boredom.”