The Red Cloak, the Snow Witch, and the Wolf — Part Five

Dark and warm. It was dark and warm and quiet inside the wolf. Well, mostly quiet. There was the steady pounding of his heart, a thrum-thrum-thrum that she could feel down to her marrow. But that was a comforting sound. And it was so warm that she stopped shivering. And the dark helped to ease the pain from her head.

She sighed, content.

Perhaps she could just stay here.

She frowned.

No, she couldn’t do that. Emlia. The other Red Cloaks. They had a duty. She had a duty. The Snow Witch. Yes, that was it. She had to —

Bright, suddenly, and cold.

She slid out of the wolf’s mouth, past his sharp teeth, and plopped onto the ground with an ungainly splutch.

She looked around, bewildered.

The wolf stood behind her, panting hard. Razor-thin cuts bled along his hips and shoulders, and one cut across his snout. His legs shook and he collapsed, his once bright eyes grown dull.

“Wolf!” She stretched out a hand, but he whined and kicked his head, pointing.

She turned. Before her lay Summer’s Grove. It was a perfect circle, filled with roses and sunflowers and hyacinths. But the flowers drooped, their petals darkened by frost. Six statues marked the perimeter of the Grove. The tattered remains of red cloaks hung from their shoulders, and each bore a different weapon: sword, dagger, axe, bow and arrow, spear, mace. All pointed at the center of the garden. A seventh statue stood there, his glowing shield raised high, a perpetual miniature sun. And, at his feet, the crystal dais, the Witch smiling softly in her sleep.

Klya stumbled to her feet. Numb hands reached into her bag, hunting for the apple.

The Witch inhaled, long and deep.

Klya found the apple. She tossed the bag aside, and ran, fell, climbed to her feet, ran again. Past the outer statues, through the field of roses and sunflowers and hyacinths. She squinted against the brightness of the shield, felt its heat against her skin.

The Witch’s eyelids twitched.

She was a beautiful horror. Hair like the night sky: deepest black, sprinkled with ice crystals that even the shield could not melt. Too white skin, paler even than the Cutting Trees. Lips redder than the roses that grew all around her.

Klya lunged forward.

She grabbed the Witch’s chin, pulled her mouth open, and shoved the apple between her teeth. Clamping the Witch’s jaw shut again, Klya watched, holding her breath, as the apple’s juices bubbled up between the Witch’s lips and rolled down her chin.

The Witch gurgled, eyes jumping beneath her closed lids. Her fingers twitched. Her breath hitched, and then slowed. Slowed. 

A soft sigh, and the Witch was smiling again.

Klya still held her breath. She carefully leaned away and backed up a step, then another. Only when she was halfway across the garden again did she dare to exhale. It came out as a sob of relief. A second sob followed as the flowers around her straightened, the frost fading from their petals.  

“Red Cloak …?”

Klya turned, her feet still clumsy. She was suddenly aware of every bruise, every bump, every cut on her body. She ached. She was dirty and exhausted. She wanted only to sleep.


Another sob, but this one turned into a semi-hysterical laugh.

Steps weaving, she passed the statues and collapsed next to the wolf. She realized that he way next to one of the red marker stones; the end of the path, leading directly to Summer’s Grove. 

He studied her, his head resting on one paw. The other foreleg stuck out at an odd angle, a deep cut seeping blood onto the cold ground.

“It will be sunrise soon. There is already a brightness to the eastern horizon.”

She nodded. “If you will permit me, wolf, I shall stop and rest for a moment. Then I will find some wood and make a fire, and treat our wounds, and rest again, and then perhaps catch us a couple of slow rabbits to eat. And I shall tell you what the lore says … about the twenty who faced the Witch in battle, and the ten who survived, and the seven who chose to remain behind to stand guard.” She paused. “And the three who returned home and who wrote in the lore book that they were guided, at least part of the way, by a white wolf with a dark arrow over his heart.”

His eyebrows twitched. His snout twitched.

“I would rather hear about the tortoise and the hare,” he said.

Klya smiled. “That tale, too, wolf. That tale, too.”


[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. A complete list of her published poems and short stories can be found there.]