My Dearest Thora,
On the day I learned that you died, I met three strangers from the Summerlands. Some of them saved me from a tatzlwyrm, so I owe them. I’m going to try to help them get home. And they’re going to help me find out what happened to you.
I’m writing this letter to you in my head. I’m doing that because I don’t know how to write the words down on paper; that was your father’s skill, never mine. I have to do it this way, because I might be dead by tomorrow, and even though I can do a lot, near anything I put my mind to, I can’t learn to write in a single night.
I feel like maybe, if we make it through this, Anwen could write the letter for me. And then, if what Father Rolf says is true, I can destroy the letter the same way you — the thing that happened to you. And the letter will reach you in Old Deadeye’s happy hunting grounds, or the land of the faeries, or wherever you went.
Fuck it, if what the four Summerlanders say is true, how would I destroy the letter so it’s just like what happened to you? Fold it into a paper doll and then smash it with a rock?
Well, we’ll come to that if I survive … and if it turns out that you didn’t. I still have hope, little fiery one. If ever a spark was bright enough to survive a Jadwiga’s spells, it’s yours.
It started, for me at least, just six runs out from home, where I thought sure I’d be folding you in my arms. The trade with the mammoth riders had gone not smooth; winter was coming sooner than it ought, they said, and honey and furs harder to come by. But we’d gotten enough to get us by for another season, I think because they were afraid to say no to Anwen. Much as you love her fairie stories, little one, I’ve seen men with full beards and oxen shoulders back down at the sight of the tips of her ears.
We ran into a storm from nowhere, a winter storm, and had to duck back into the eaves of the Hoarwood for shelter. That’s when the tatzylworm lashed out from the tree, carved into Old Spitz — you know, the dog you said smelled funny — and then looped its coils around me before I knew what was what.
I remember struggling with it, but it gots its foul breath on me and I lost all my strength. There were some of Anwen’s arrows, and I thought for sure they’d hit me, but when I saw later, there was one right through the eye, so I guess she had the trick of it all along. There was another one, a man you’d like — Conner, he calls himself. He has a way with the dogs, like you did. And he’s helpful, and kind. And he’s careful with his words, too. He reminds me of your father; maybe some because he’s about the age your father was when he gave me the twins.
Not that I have time to think about things like that. Orm and Mjoli and you … that’s all I can think of now.
There was a strange old man, too, and a curious Hin, though every one I’d met was no curiouser. They said there was a fourth one, a man they feared was taken by one of the fair folk; we looked for him, even got the dogs to sniffing, but nothing worked. It was like the forest just ate him whole. And with some of the stories they say about the fair folk, maybe that’s not far from truth.
When we got back to Waldsby, I thought they’d crowd us for goods and news, like usual, but there was a fight brewing between the Jadwiga Nazhenna’s guards and some high riders from Whitethrone. I learned later that they were arguing over a black horse, or black rider, or both. Seems everyone was looking for it, and it turns out our new friends the Summerlanders had seen it (not that they told anyone that). About then Orm found me, and told me you’d been missing. For a few hours, I thought. No. A day, I thought. No.
There was weeping, and what?ing, and getting tricky Mjoli’s tongue to stop twisting and talk straight for once, and then we found out that maybe you sang a song when the White Witch came calling, and maybe she heard you, and maybe she took you, and maybe — I don’t know, dear heart, and I pray to every god whose name I can remember that it isn’t this way, but I think I know in my mother’s way that it is — maybe she turned you into one of those dolls. Maybe she killed you.
So I decide to travel to the White Witch’s tower to find your fate, and Anwen pledges to come with. Conner and the rest say they’ll come too, because they need to get home and they think the tower will be how they do it. I don’t know if they really believe it. Anwen of course is like a sister to me now and like an aunt to you, and she’d give up her life, strange and elven as it is, for you, I know. Conner I think is doing it to help me more than to get home, even if he’s afraid to say it. Yuri — that’s the old man — just wants to see what’s inside, I think, and Fruvus — that’s the Hin — is much the same. But I’ll take whatever help I can have, whyever they decide to do it.
The tower’s ravens saw us coming, and I thought sure we’d have to climb and kill our way in, but they’re smooth talkers, these Summerlanders, I’ll give them that. Some berk about the Jadwiga’s birthday and cooking a meal and some nonsense, and you could tell the guard wanted nothing more than to put a bolt through the Hin’s eyes — I’ve known men like that, they feel like not-enough of a man for some reason, so they need to hurt littler things than them — but he was more afraid of angering his mistress than he was of us, so he let us in. There was a white wolf there, and by all that’s holy I tell you true, it talked. Could be it was the kind of wolf that did your father in, if the stories are true, and it deserved an ice axe in the skull, that’s true too, but later for it, the Summerlanders decided.
There was a fair amount of withering and worrying in the tower floor, too, and your mom had to say some things to a twisted little man that she’s not proud of, but we figured out how to get from there up to the second story. There was another man there, someone who seemed like he could be reasoned with, until strange old Yuri started burning his books! That’s when the first fighting happened — I don’t think it’ll be the last — and the man in the library died.
But the Summerlanders found their friend Deagnan, who if you ask me is just like every other man in Waldsby, and found some things that might help them if they need to face the Jadwiga, and found a way to get higher in the tower. That’s where we’re going now, as I wait for my turn in the ice portal, composing this letter to you in my silly, maybe soon-to-die head.
But I know this, little Thora. If I find the witch up there, and I find that she did to you what the Summerlanders say, then this is what will happen. First I will put my ice axe through her ribs. I will not pierce her heart, for I do not want her to die yet. I will take the air from her lungs, so she knows what it felt like when I learned you were missing: I could not catch my breath, and I still feel that I cannot. I will let her struggle to breathe with the axe in her lung until I think she can almost not stay awake anymore. Then I will take her fancy blond hair in my hand, and wrap it around my fist three times. The next thing that will happen is that I will drag her skinny body that loves the winter so so much over to the nearest hard bit of ice I can find, and I will slam her head against that ice over, and over, and over, until there’s nothing left in my hand but bloody blond hair attached to a neck, and between the hair and the neck, a bag of flesh and bone mulch and jelly where her head used to be.
And then, if I can die to be with you, still knowing that Orm and Mjoli are safe, then I will do that.