It had been winter forever.
For as long as he could remember, the bitter cold had tormented him, nursing a dark and violent mood. “There is no quiet quite like the stillness of freshly fallen snow” he thought, as he sat there shivering, surrounded by white silence, and cursing the gods.
He cursed the sky for being deceitfully blue, and the horizon for being close enough to see but too far away to touch. He cursed the sun for having the nerve to shine but not the courage to offer heat, and the moon for reflecting the sun’s light but declining to illuminate the darkness. He cursed the air for sending the wind that bit at his cheeks, turned his skin to ash and cracked his lips.
He cursed the seasons for their distortion of time: the summer that ended too quickly, the autumn that never was, the seemingly interminable winter, and the spring, which simply refused to arrive. He cursed the earth he trod with frostbitten toes for not having the fortitude to withstand becoming permafrost, and the waters which, not unlike his heart, had lost all fluidity and become hard and rigid; unyielding.
Most of all he cursed the gods of fortune, fate’s cruel jesters. The expletives he hurled at them felled birds in flight and made the trees ears bleed. “What kind of gods grant prayers and then rescind them?” he howled into the ether. To have found–and subsequently lost–his treasure seemed to him a cosmic injustice. Sitting and scowling amidst the cacophony of colliding snowflakes, he swore he could hear the gods laughing at him.
The only thing that brought him any comfort was her.
The puma had come to him by accident, finding him out of her own need; her winter had gone on far longer than his. She wandered into his cave, having been invisible for so long she’d forgotten that even things that can’t be seen can be felt, and heard. He saw her footprints in the snow, and felt the warm exhalations of her breath hanging in the air, and offered her shelter in his caverns. There were old enchantments at work about her: powerful ancient things; binding agents.
“I can’t return what’s been stolen from you” he said, “and I can’t break hexes not of my own creation. But I can cast new spells.”
So he burned incense, chanted incantations, and offered prayers to gods he no longer believed in. And then, he gently kissed her eyes.
The transformation was subtle, but instantaneous. The light of the world shone into her eyes, assaulting her age-old fortifications of ice and snow with bright yellow beams of actuality. The lies that had impaired her vision for so many years melted away, ending the long winter inside her. She could see, truly see, for the first time in eons; maybe ever, and what she saw gazing back at her from the pools of his eyes, was glorious. Had she always been this powerful, this lithe, this… beautiful? She marveled at herself, not entirely convinced the magnificent reflection staring back at her was her own.
But nothing could have prepared her for the first time she truly saw him.
There was something both sacred and arcane about him, but faded. His once brilliant plumage had turned to grey, and his wings had atrophied from lack of use. His wounds, though old, still oozed as if fresh, and his breathing was shallow, and labored. His pain was viscous and palpable, and the cold or his anguish–or some combination thereof–had worn crevices into the granite of his face. “You’ve got magic inside your fingertips” she purred, “but you choose to sequester yourself in these caves, cursing the gods and awaiting divine intervention. Have you forgotten you can fly?”
With that she bound his wounds in words of silk and linen, and brushed his feathers, soothing him with her whispers. “Silly creature” she chided, “you curse the gods because you think they played you false? Maybe next time you petition deities, you’ll ask for the treasure you can keep, instead of the one you can find.” He shared his magic with her, she shared her warmth with him, and together they settled in for a long winter’s nap.
When he awoke she was gone; her need having long since been fulfilled.
For many months he basked in the incandescence of her afterglow; her scent reminding him of every ardent embrace. When he had satiated himself with the remembrance of her, he rose; his wings resplendent in the sunshine, his scars clearly visible but his wounds healed; the granite of his face having been worn smooth like marble by the softness of her caress. His power had returned; in truth it had never left. She’d reminded him of all he was, and yet would be, and he was eager to express gratitude. So he flew to the top of the mountain where earth touched sky, turned his eyes toward heaven, bent his knees, and thanked the gods.
He thanked the sky for giving him heights to which he could ascend, and the horizon for giving him perspective. He thanked the sun, great luminary, for melting the infernal snow (in his own due time), and the full moon simply for her beauty. He thanked the crisp air that filled his lungs with every breath and kept his wings aloft, and the seasons for their dichotomy; although he’d forgotten what heat felt like on his skin, he knew that he had never ached for summer so badly, thanks to the endless winter. He thanked the earth for being solid beneath his feet, and the waters which had finally begun to melt–not unlike the icicles of his heart.
But most of all he thanked the gods of fortune, fate’s fickle jokesters. He praised them with all of his heart for having granted him the great fortune of having the puma wander into his caverns. “I humble myself before your wisdom” he said, “and ask only that you grant me the providence to laugh with you.”
Standing at the precipice of the world, he spread his wings, cast himself into the sky, and soared. He knew his treasure awaited him; he knew he would find it in good time, and this time for good. He was waiting for spring no longer.
© Jackie Summers 2012
Photo–Aviluff Deviant Art
Editor: Kate Bartolotta.