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"I'm bored." Yarleda tied off the sinew she was using to repair her coat. "It seems like it's been winter forever."

"It always seems that way by mid-Yushimev." Mirolan sighed, putting her overcoat down. "I'm tired of mending."

"Perhaps we should go hunting." Yarleda said it in a slightly louder voice. She and Mirolan were adults, and technically could go out on their own, even in the middle of winter, but Yarleda was well aware that as young adults she and Mirolan still had a lot to learn. At the very least, if they were going to head out alone, it would be seen as responsible to seek their elders advice. She hoped Ablara or Firl, who were sitting nearby, would hear her, and offer that advice unasked.

Lenar, an older ranger visiting from Itadesh, leaned over to look at her stitches. "Those look nice and tight. It's a good mend. Are your mittens in good shape?"

A merry laugh came from one of the bunks. Ivara leaned out, her lightweight bright scarves fluttering as she moved. "Lenar, stop being an old omiises. "

Lenar laughed fondly at the beautiful young woman, "I thought you were busy with Lenaroth, working on making me a grandchild."

Just then they heard a stomping from the entryway. After a few moments, the fur rug draped over the entryway moved aside, and Amaqor walked in, snow still dusting his dark hair. He looked around to see who was present. Then, without taking time to offer the usual greetings or news from Itakith, he said, "It's time for our icefishing trip to Drum Lake."

Yarleda looked up in surprise. Amaqor must have just arrived in the village. She knew of a Dream Lake, a peaceful, sleepy spot that produced good fishing year round. But she was certain he had said Drum Lake. She had studied all the maps. There was no Drum Lake on any of them.

Lenar broke into a wide smile. "I was hoping this trip was timed right for that. It's been a long time since I was at Drum Lake."

Amaqor nodded. "It's been a couple of years since the--weather was right."

Ablara smiled from her bunk. "You get your wish, Yarleda. Let's get packed, everyone. We'll need tents, food, and everything that's needed for an icefishing expedition."

Yarleda felt a bit bewildered, but wasn't about to complain. Clearly Drum Lake meant something to the older rangers. She grabbed her travel bag, and checked in to make sure everything needed for a winter trip that would last at least overnight was still packed. At the bunk next to hers, Mirolan was doing the same. Everywhere in Nighthawk House the rangers were packing, both the ones who lived there and the guests from Itadesh.

Alvardu set his bag by the entryway, grinning widely. "I'll spread the word to the other rangers that we are mounting an icefishing expedition."

Ablara nodded. Yarleda started tying her bag shut, and the old woman added, "Don't forget your dancing clothes."

Yarleda looked up in surprise. Dancing clothes? But old Ablara had her head down, pointedly focused on her packing. Whatever was going on, Yarleda could tell she would not explain it. She looked hopefully at the other older rangers, but none of them offered an explanation.

Mirolan murmured, "They'll tell us when they want to and not before."


It really wasn't long before all the rangers in Itrelir had piled their gear on snowy-back and headed out. They were headed east and south, into the mountains, as if they were headed to Dream Lake. People were talking, laughing, and flirting, but they carefully avoided talking about where they were going or what would happen there.

Yarleda resigned herself to being patient. At least she was out of the House and out of the village.

The sky was clear and quite cloudless. The air was cold enough that Yarleda envied the men their beards. She reached into a saddle bag and pulled out a silk-wool scarf, wrapping it around her head and shoulders as an extra layer.

Eqar walked up by the unicorn she was riding. She saw he had a stone bead sewn to his mitten. He had a rough cloth in his other hand, and was polishing the bead. He looked up at her and smiled. "Do you dance?"

Yarleda blushed. "Yes," she answered automatically, wondering why he was asking. Eqar knew she enjoyed dancing. When she first started noticing men, she had taken every opportunity to do chores in his vicinity, and to use that time to dance in front of him. At the time, she'd thought he was the handsomest man in the village. She wasn't even an adult then, and he had very properly ignored her efforts.

He held the bead up in the light, angling it so that she could see it was a nice, clear golden color. "Perhaps we can dance together when we get there," he said.

Was he actually flirting with her? Yarleda realized that felt good, though she had gotten over her childish crush long ago. He was still a very attractive man, even if he did have a few gray hairs. "Maybe," she smiled back at him. Perhaps it was time for her to try again to have a child. After Eqar walked away, Yarleda untied her necklace. It was a little awkward working in her gloves, but she had a feeling that once they arrived at their destination she would want the knot gone from the center of her necklace.

While she retied her necklace, Firl urged his snow-unicorn next to hers. "It's a beautiful clear day," he said.

Yarleda smiled at him, noting when she turned her head that Alvardu was flirting with Mirolan. She turned her attention to Firl. He had long, light brown hair and slightly lopsided features, but his smile always got her to smile back, and she had always liked his eyes, which sometimes looked green, though in this light they looked more blue.

Firl reached into a saddlebag and pulled out three snowballs. Smiling at Yarleda, he started to juggle them. When two of them collided overhead, breaking into pieces, some of which fell onto his head, he reached into the saddlebag again and pulled out two more. "I love winter," he said. "There's always snow to play with."

Yarleda wondered how long he'd spent packing the snowballs together. This time of year, the snow was not wet enough to pack well. Had he made the snowballs in the fall and stored them for this trip?

Eventually, Firl took his clowning and crooked grin over to Ablara, and Amagor came to walk next to Yarleda's snow-unicorn. The festive atmosphere was unmistakable. Whatever else might be happening, this was clearly the beginning of a party.

They rode late into the night before setting up a few tents, and everyone rolled quietly into their bedding. Even Ivara and Lenaroth laid down to just sleep. "Get your rest, everyone." Ablara said, while Alvardu checked that all the snowies had a measure of dried grasses. "We'll be on our way as soon as the snowies have rested."

Author's Notes

During the January 2013 Muse Fusion, my brother shared a video on Facebook. I had to share it with Torn World! The reason will be clearer in the next segment of Yarleda's story.

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