Acacia lay on her back in the snow, heavy snowflakes and a grey sky filled her vision. Had she fallen asleep? She could not remember and it did not matter. The pain in her leg was almost gone and she was drowsy. “No,” she murmured and rolled onto her side. Pain swamped the teenager, allowing her to refocus. Grunting with extreme effort, she pulled herself forward a few feet. She twisted onto her back again, gritting her teeth as her shattered leg fell in line. She breathed heavily with the effort of crawling home. Fat snowflakes drifted from the sky, and her eyes went to the darker outline of the rock face she had fallen from.
Edmund and the other boys had ambushed her in the woods again. She had managed to lose her tracks within theirs and hidden on the ice-cold face of the mountain. She had known they wanted to fight. If they had caught her, they would have bloodied her. They always did. What Edmund could not do on his own, he sought to do with their numbers.
She licked her cracked lips, collecting the snowflakes. It didn’t matter now. They had succeeded in ridding the village of her for good this time. Acacia knew she would never crawl the three miles home.
Forcing the truth from her mind, she pulled the mitten from her right hand and put it on backwards on the left. She had lost its mate in the fall, and was forced to switch hands when the cold became too much. The girl prepared to pull herself forward again, when a dark shape blotted out the grey sky. She heard snuffling, and then felt something warm against her cheek.
A man’s voice drifted over her. “Out of the way, Templar. That’s a good boy. You found her.” The man settled beside her and her throat constricted as she realized she had been discovered. Warm tears ran unbidden across her frozen cheeks. The man leaned over her and wiped the snowflakes from her face. “It’s alright, girl, I’m a friend. I’m going to lift you. I’m afraid this will hurt.”
Acacia did not reply, though she felt his hands slide under her legs and back. When the man lifted, searing pain caused her to cry out. Darkness descended, dulling the agony. Vaguely she discerned a sharp whistle and the command for the dog to come before she surrendered to the all-encompassing blackness.
* * * *
Acacia opened her eyes. She felt warmth. She was surprised when she did not recognize her surroundings. She took in the walls of the modest log cabin. Above her, a darkened window told her that it was night outside. From beside the bed came a whine, and she looked into the kind eyes of a black lab. The dog nuzzled her hand with his nose and licked her fingers.
The sound of a chair scraping over the floorboards turned her attention to a figure as he stood from beside a table. He came to her and placed a hand on her forehead. With his back to the fireplace, she could not make out his features. His touch was gentle. “Can you drink?” he asked. She nodded and he went to the fire before returning with a mug. “This will help with the pain.” He held her head up while she drank.
Acacia awoke the next morning, her eyes focusing on the heavy snow falling past the window. Beside her, the dog looked as if he had not moved. Glancing to the table she watched the man as he sewed a pair of trousers. She could see by the light of day that he was young, most likely in his twenties. Feeling her eyes on him he looked up. He watched her for a moment and then set the pants down. “Are you hungry?” he asked.
“Yes,” she replied.
The man once again went to the fireplace and a pot set before it. He ladled a thick stew into a bowl and brought it to her. He helped her to sit up and then sat beside her on the edge of the bed. “Your leg was shattered,” he said, watching her. “I have done what I can for it, but I think you might have a limp from now on.”
The girl accepted the bowl and a spoon, her eyes never leaving his face. “You saved me,” she said. “I feel like I know you from somewhere.”
The man sighed and rested a hand on the dog’s head. “Our stories are intertwined, Acacia,” he said at last. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you when you fell from that ledge the other night.” He looked into her oddly colored eyes, one blue and the other brown.
“You could not have known,” she said, an involuntary frown creasing her brow.
“Not for certain, no,” he agreed, “but I should have been prepared.”
“I don’t understand,” replied Acacia.
The man stood. “Eat,” he said softly. “I have much to tell you. This storm is going nowhere and it will be some days before we can dig ourselves out.”