I made myself as small as possible as I huddled in the cave’s corner. The cold seeped through my shift, and I shivered as goosebumps crawled over my skin. I hadn’t eaten in two days. Those were the least of my worries. The angry frost giant blocking the exit was far worse.
His size prevented some wind from whipping across the opening, howling as it twisted through the snowy mountains. It was the only positive piece of my situation I could cling to. I didn’t have the answers he wanted from me. No matter how many times he asked, I couldn’t help him. He didn’t believe me.
Things were so out of control. Cold, confused, and angry I tried to work through what I could have done, how I might have avoided this captivity. Nothing came to mind. She’d tricked me. Now I would die rather than her. How had it come this far? Why had I been so naïve?
While the giant continued to keep his back to me, seeming to enjoy the swirling sleet and freezing temperatures, I had time to relive the memories, over and over.
“Come now young one, hurry. We’ll be on our way in two shakes, and you must look your best,” Atta cooed as she rushed around my room packing my things.
“I don’t understand why I have to attend this wedding. I haven’t seen my cousin, Pirreah since we were babes. Why would she insist that I come?” I sat on my familiar cushioned stool in front of the table that held all my brushes. Atta usually cared for my long tresses, making the russet color shine and feel silky before she plaited it down my back. I had to pull my hair to the side to avoid sitting on it these days, but I took pride in it. What I didn’t love was caring for it myself.
“From what I’ve heard, the ceremony will be a grand affair, unlike we’ve seen for many generations. It is a privilege for you to go. Now hurry and dress, I’ll finish your hair after.”
“Why is she marrying a giant, anyway?” I asked as I stepped behind my changing screen.
“The elves and giants have made peace, and your uncle was key in the negotiations. He and the frost king became so close they agreed to marry their children as proof of a peaceful future. You know this.”
It was true, I’d heard the explanation, but it still didn’t make any sense to me. When I stepped out from behind the screen Atta beamed a brilliant smile and sighed. “Kattorah, you are so grown up. It’s hard to see sometimes behind all that dirt you wallow in while running through the forest. In that dress, you look so much like your mother.”
She hurried over and tied the belt around my waist, letting the ends hang at my hip. Thoughts of my mother made my eyes sting. She’d died two years before, yet my emotions were still too raw to process. I shook off the memories that tried to surface and focused once again on why I was being forced to leave my home in Alfheim, to go to Niflheim where it was deathly cold and ruled by frost giants.
“They invited few. Only those of the royal blood may attend. Since your father is not royal by birth, it is a privilege for you to represent your mother’s line. You must take advantage of the situation. Now, listen.” She spun my shoulders to face her. “There may be eligible young males, and it would do you good to behave with manners. Perhaps even allow one to court you.” She raised her brows to her hairline and twisted her mouth to the side.
It bothered Atta that I spent so much of my time with Micah, foraging and caring for the groves. We’d been friends since we were small, but he wasn’t royal. He was the youngling of a farmer. My mother had understood our friendship and allowed me freedom.
But my father had insisted on raising me in the style of my mother’s noble sire. We lived in a manor on his estate, and I knew what he expected of me. Perhaps that’s what made me seek friendship outside of the manor walls. With someone who didn’t care if I climbed trees or crawled on the ground searching for just the right crocus blossom among the leaves.
Atta sat me down on my cushion again to style my hair. In the mirror, I saw all the trunks ready for the wagons. “Why am I bringing so much? Will the trip take that long? I thought it was only for the wedding and then we’d be back. It looks like I’m the one preparing a trousseau.”
“Well, if you take a liking to a beau . . . I thought I should prepare you.” Atta tried to hide the smirk that crossed her face, but I swatted at her arm.
“You’re terrible. I feel bad the paccai will have to pull a laden cart all the way there and back for no reason.”
When Atta deemed me sufficiently fussed and trussed, she pulled me into a hug. Her strong arms clasped around my shoulders as if we would never see each other again. Then she pushed me toward the door, but not before I noticed the silver lining her eyes.
“We’ll see each other in no time,” I said, shaking my head and grinning at the woman who knew me better than anyone. I couldn’t imagine my life without her.
“Take care of yourself, loved one.” I heard her say as I strode down the hall to find my father.