The fat snowflakes that drifted on the morning wind still seemed foreign, even after all these years.
Kaia lifted her hand, catching one on her fingertip and watching it melt. She’d grown weary of snow, though she wouldn’t admit it. The landscape in this world was always the same; dark, snowy, gloomy. Even the evergreens appeared dreary after a while, as if they, too, awaited a spring that would never come.
Few of this world’s natives seemed to notice or care. It was rare for anyone to leave their home world, rarer still for someone to be in her situation, where she no longer had a world to return to. She longed for its sun, the salty tang of ocean air, the feeling of warm sand beneath her feet while the blue seas lapped at her toes. Her sun-kissed skin and raven hair were out of place here, but she was grateful; not everyone forced to flee had found a new home.
Not everyone forced to flee had survived.
The stars faded from the sky as rosy pinks filled the horizon. Kaia had been told that other worlds had both day and night, though she found it difficult to imagine. There was no daytime here, just as there had been no nighttime back home. Having both sounded like a fantasy, the sun and moon taking turns traversing the sky, even bringing about a change of seasons. That was how she’d learned about what they called spring, an idea she’d found charming, something she yearned for with every fiber of her being. It heralded summer and the life she’d once known.
But then there was autumn, a dismal time of year where everything withered and died, the world fading into the bitter depths of winter. Thinking of it made her more aware of the cold and, shivering, she pulled the fur-lined hood of her coat tighter. Then she stood, brushing snow from her knees and turning toward the stone palace that loomed out of the icy cliffside.
She didn’t want to spend the rest of her life in the kitchens, but at least the kitchens were warm. It was the only place she ever felt comfortable, able to shed her many layers and warm her skin beside the fire. The work was difficult, but it wasn’t all bad. She was free to stir the coals more than necessary, the dancing embers reminding her of fireflies, filling her head with memories of song-filled nights on the beach.
Already one of her father’s songs stirred in her throat. It was too cold to sing; the frosty air burned enough just breathing to hum, but the melody brought cheer and warmth, things that were sparse here. Kaia started to reach for the door’s latch, pausing when she noticed a fresh heap of snow atop one of the barrels outside. Her friends were few, but they were dear, and they always hid their notes and gifts beneath mounds of snow. The piles were so commonplace that everyone else ignored them, or didn’t notice they existed at all. But to Kaia, the snow was still foreign. She never missed their signs.
Tugging her glove tight, she stepped to the side of the door, digging into the pile of white to see what had been left for her this time. She blinked in surprise when she saw the splash of color, her dark eyebrows climbing her forehead.
Flowering quince, the reddish-pink blossoms covered in ice. The closest thing to spring one could find, and a plant only found growing in the queen’s private garden.
Oh, Gerel, she thought with a sigh, though she couldn’t help smiling. She shook snow from the tiny blossoms, tucking the little twig into her hair as she slipped inside.
He’d get himself in trouble yet.