She wrestled with the wind as it blew in blasts of snow and ice. She raised her foot, dug her toe into the ice, and raised her other foot. She had kept count of her steps, to keep her mind from whirling away with the wind; but she had long since lost track of the number. She struggled simply to place one foot in front of the other.
The wind thrashed around her like a wild animal, tearing at her hair and ripping her ragged dress. It brought the girl to her bruised knees. She wondered where her body got the strength to shiver.
There was no cover from the deadly gale anywhere—the frozen land was devoid of even solitary sagebrush.
She rose to one knee and tried to stand up. She hadn’t taken half a step before her feet were in the air and she was flat on her back against the ice.
She curled into a ball. The sight of ice thorns and drifts of snow being blown horizontally across the ground reminded her of the white ashes of her home.
She wondered if what she felt was anything compared to dying.
Prying off the pack frozen to her back, she hunched over it and held it against her chest. She felt her heart beating, racing as if competing with the storm.
All she could think about was the cold; the fire.
A tear ran slowly down her cheek and froze.
She tried to clear her mind; the sky is blue, she thought. She was twirling in the sun, wearing her favorite white dress. She was holding the hands of the two most beautiful people. If she looked up to her right, she would see her father. He would smell like wood shavings and pine needles, and if she looked up to her left, she would see her mother, laughing as the sun reflected off her golden cloak.
She remained on her knees, her eyes closed, as she wrapped her numb fingers around the metal clasps and leather straps on the pack. She held onto them until they thawed enough for her to try to open it. Inside was her mother’s cloak. She opened her eyes and stared at it in wonder.
The cloak had been weaved with golden spider’s silk. There were no seams, and the soft feel of it against one’s skin was only a misguidance, for not even a knife could penetrate the cloth. Along the hood, sleeves, and bottom was a woven geometrical pattern.
She reached into the pack and gingerly pulled the cloak out. Despite the cold, it radiated warmth. Looking to the sky, the wind threatening to pull her away with the ice thorns, she sent up a plea to her mother to be forgiving.
A sliver of ice-encrusted snow struck her face. It wedged itself into the gash stretching from the crown of her head to the dimple on her left cheek. A scream rose into the air.
None heard the cry of anguish as the wind tore it away.
She sobbed, gasping for breath, clutching the cloak to her face. Then the girl held the cloak firmly in her small hands and wrapped it around herself. She lay on the ground before the gates of death.
She was found an hour later outside of a city by a shepherd.
As she had lain on the ground, the last piece of her sanity grasped to her body while she felt her skin glowing warm in the cold, she had known she was going to die.
Her last thought was, Freedom.