I think I was wishing, hoping that summer would last for a long time. I think, well, my whole outlook changed drastically, on the first day that it was simply too cold to bask in the warm sunlight down by the pond.

I had spent the better part of the summer taking care of my chores in the morning, before relaxing by the pond in the afternoon. My chores consisted of taking care of the garden; planting, weeding, watering if necessary, and such. And the garden had yielded a rich harvest already. I went through half of the seeds in that bag my dad gave me, and so stored the rest next to my harvest for next year. Still, there were a lot of oat seeds in that bag. All the oats that sprouted from the garden, I carefully harvested, and stored them underneath a large, weather-worn table in the large room in my house. It was in the center of the room when I came, and so it was in bad shape. I pushed it over to the center of the south wall, opposite the fireplace. I placed a bunch of branches down under there first, and let the leaves dry. Then I started placing oats from the garden there. They would slowly dry out, and by the end of the summer, I had a nice supply. I doubted it would last all winter, but it was better than nothing. The rest of the seeds grew three different flower plants. I had no idea what they were for. I just harvested the entire plants, and placed them in three stacks on the top of that table. They dried out, of course, and could easily stack. By the end of the summer I had three pretty nice stacks of plants and flowers I had no idea what they were, what they were for. They smelled nice, though. Well, my dad had included these seeds in that bag, and he grew up out here I think, and so I didn’t question any of this.

Another chore I put some time into had more to do with coming to terms with my surroundings. I could look at the sun and tell which direction west was. From my front porch, I walked 100 steps west, and placed a rock there. I went back to my porch (I actually started from the back of my house), walked 100 steps east, and put another rock there. I actually used my wagon for this task because I couldn’t easily carry rocks unless they were very small. That was a lot of work for my magic. But 100 steps to the north, south, sast and west, and I put a rock. Then I put a rock that was 100 steps north from west, and then I verified that from walking 100 steps west from north. After a month of scrounging rocks, and walking my meadows, I had a 300 step grid working outward from my house, with rocks at 100 step intervals. The last part of that task was a pile of rocks at each corner; north-west, south-west, north-east and south-east. Well, I doubted anyhorse here would even care, and I didn’t do that to say “hey look, this is all mine.” We horses don’t own the land, we just benefit from it; my dad used to say that a lot. That made no sense in the big city, but out here, where the land stretched on for miles… Like I said, this was how I came to terms with my immediate area. I could easily locate myself, and I always knew where I was when I was around my house. And, I guess… I didn’t need to do this, I just wanted to. I just shrugged when I was done. Maybe it was just something to do. But it was one of the chores I spent time doing that summer.

But that first cool day… The clouds came and went, and the sun was too weak, I guess… It was just a cold day. That one day changed a lot of things in my thinking. And, my neighbor to the west kept her word, and on that cool day, she and her brother brought a huge wagon full of firewood. I hugged everyhorse, of course, this was just amazing. I had her dump the wood pieces near the front porch. They were getting ready to leave, and she said “Remember, you will need to light that fire…” Then she thought a minute, and laughed “Wow, you are a Unicorn, you won’t have any trouble with fire! We have to keep the fire going all winter long; lighting it again is such a pain for us…” Then they were gone.

I stared in disbelief until they were out of sight… I was a Unicorn, that was true… But I didn’t know absolutely any fire spells… At school in the big city, I could barely master moving very light objects. I never even got beyond that… Well, maybe the school magic teacher thought that teaching foals about fire in the big city… I don’t know, but realized that I absolutely needed to master some fire spells. I needed to be able to light a fire to keep me warm or I would probably freeze to death.

I walked into town right then. I should have taken the time to put my coat on, but forgot. I was on a mission, I guess. And, well, it took quite a while for me to find out how to get some information about fire spells. I got back to town ok, thanks to the spire on the castle. But I realized I had to sheepishly admit that I was a Unicorn who didn’t know any fire spells. With each step I took towards town, I increasingly dreaded having to make that simple confession. And the closer I got to that spire, the more ready I was to just turn around, walk home, get my coat on, and hope for the best. Well, I kept going. I found the town ruler’s house again, and went inside. They all smiled, and she asked me what I needed. I broke down, and said “I’m, a Unicorn who doesn’t know any fire spells, and it’s cold…” I am positive I whined when I said that, then I started to cry. I had not planned on doing it quite that way. The Unicorn behind the counter suggested this horse, and tried to explain where I should go. I got lost, and the next Unicorn I found sent me to somehorse else. I was about to give up, and sat down next to the fountain in the center of town and just cried.

Well, the mare, she must have been some important magic teacher, maybe. She was so nice. Still crying, I explained my problem. She smiled, and said “I think I can help you with that.” She wanted me to follow her, so I did… She walked right into that castle! She led me into the library… Wow, I have never seen so many books! But she went through some books, and, using her magic, she quickly wrote out a few fire spells. She said they progressed in difficulty, and also effect, so I could use them to practice. She also added, to the same page, corresponding spells for water. She smiled and said I might need that when working with fire spells. She said to work on a set of fire and water spells together. When I got pretty good on both, I should advance to the next, more difficult, but more powerful set of spells. And she warned me again, fire would spread rapidly in these fields. I mentioned I had a fireplace, and she smiled. “That would be a good place to practice.”

And, while I was there, she had me lift increasingly heavier objects. I quickly ran out of steam with the one spell, the only spell that I knew. She gave me a few different spells for that too, and had me work through each one right then. She said she was actually guaging my magical ability as we worked through them. Just using a different spell, different spells, that made a lot of difference! Nohorse ever told me that the correct spell made so much of a difference. I think just from that hour or so, I made a LOT of progress, well with picking stuff up. She even wrote the new levitation spells (she called them) on the same piece of paper for me. And, she said basically what my mom had thought. My magical pool was deep, it would just take a little more work to develop it. Then she offered to visit with me for an hour maybe, once a month, to help me through that process. Of course, I hugged her. She was very nice, and helped me in a very concrete way. I thanked her a few times.

Well, she led me back out of the castle, and down the steps. It was cold, and getting dark. I hugged her again, then I took off. I guessed at the direction (north), and by the time I thought I was getting closer to my house, it was very dark. I was walking in a meadow, but it was hard to know where I even was. If I had my coat, I just would have found a spot out of the wind, and went to sleep. And I was still using my magic to hold the paper that nice magic teacher gave me. I had already started crying… I wasn’t running, but I was walking pretty fast, really having no idea where I even was… It was getting a lot colder, and the wind was blowing… I was not looking forward to the prospect of freezing out here tonight like this… And I remembered that I spent most of the winter nestled near the fireplace when I was younger. Maybe I didn’t like cold weather then, either. And when I started school, there was usually a few months off during the harshest part of winter. School shut down until it wasn’t freezing cold. And before and after that break, even walking to and from school with a thick coat, I would–

I tripped over a pile of stones… It was one of my piles of stones… It had to be a corner marker though. I could just barely tell what direction was west; it was almost completely dark around the edge of the sky. I walked 100 steps to the west, and found my next rock. I walked 100 steps north and found another rock. Well, I could see my house now. I cried a lot. But I went inside, put that paper in a safe place, put my coat on, and curled up in the corner of my bedroom and tried to get warm. My crying tapered off and I was soon asleep.

The next day, I started practicing fire spells right away. Well, the first thing I did was take one of the smaller pieces of wood from the pile next to the front porch that my nice neighbors had left… Well, I kicked it all the way to the fireplace. That hurt. But, it was too heavy to use my magic. Then, I tried that first fire spell. No matter how hard… I could make a little fire on the bark, but that was it, and it quickly went out… Sort of a dismayed laugh; I didn’t even need the water spells, not yet anyway. And even that simple fire spell felt so draining to me, I don’t know. Maybe I was still tired from that magic lesson yesterday. Well, it was even cold in the morning, and it never warmed up that day. I was cold, and was about to give up. I walked outside, and found a small branch mixed in with the firewood that had just a bunch of dried leaves on it. I kicked that little branch because maybe I was mad… Then I tried to pick it up with my magic. That worked, at least. “Wow, I can pick up a tiny branch with my magic…” I actually said that out loud. Then I thought… Well, I put that branch in the fireplace. I quickly found I could start a tiny leaf on fire. Well, the leaf would burn until it was burned up, and that was it. But it was something. I tried putting a small twig on a leaf. That could start the small twig on fire, but it didn’t burn long or hot. The rest of the afternoon, it was mostly trial and error. Then I realized the fire had to start small, and I had to give it more to burn until some good sized sticks were on fire. I was too chicken to try logs just yet. Besides, I would need to kick them onto the fire, and that didn’t sound like a good idea. Still, that was progress. I like magic, it just doesn’t seem to like me.

Well, I switched to levitation spells, and right away made an important discovery. I guess I was already pretty good at picking stuff up; I just had to use the right spell. I was quickly moving pretty big logs around using the third spell the magic teacher wrote down for me. I spent the rest of that day, until it was too dark, moving a bunch of that pile of wood into my house. Well, the small leaves and branches with small leaves went in a big pile in the corner of my room. I didn’t think I wanted them near the fireplace. Smaller sticks went in one pile on one side of that table, and the larger sticks went in another pile on the other side of that table. All the big pieces of wood went in a nice stack on one side of the front porch. Well, I had barely put a dent in that big pile of wood! When it got dark, I closed my door, and started as big a fire as I dared, starting from a few leaves, then twigs, etc. For a while, it was nice and warm, and I laid down on my belly facing the fire. It warmed this big room up nicely. Maybe I could do this. I guess something popped in the fire, and threw a piece of burning wood out onto the floor, which was also wood. I just froze, and stared at it… I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want my floor to start on fire… And I had not practiced any water spells at all… Then, I remembered how I watered my plants in my garden the first time. And the water bucket was still next to the front door. That worked fine. Ok, so now I needed to make sure I had water in the house when I had a fire going. I just sighed. Just another detail, I guess.

Over the next week maybe, I tried to get as much wood as possible up onto the porch, or inside. I was afraid of keeping too much wood in the house. But I realized that, if it rained, or snowed… But I absolutely needed those small leaves in order to even start a fire. I could use magic to collect those too, and I took every single one I could find from that pile of wood, and added them to the leaf pile in my bedroom. Well, the trees around my house were dropping leaves soon too, and I quickly added a bunch more to my bedroom. I had started putting those dry leaves in a corner in my bedroom. But, I had so many, they were quickly spread all over. That night I realized… Those leaves made a pretty good bed. The floor in that room was dirt, and got cold. But with that nice layer of leaves… With just my coat in, I was very comfortable.

For a few weeks, that’s just what I did. I would sleep in my room on those leaves. When I woke up, first thing, I would start a fire. Once the house was warm, I would then start into my chores. During the fall, that was mostly finish any harvesting from my garden, collect more leaves, move more wood to the porch and inside… I even walked some distance away from my house, with my wagon, and collected a lot more oat plants. I didn’t want to run out of food over the winter. I just added them to what I had under that table.

But all this… I really enjoyed the summer. But as winter marched closer, I realized I was investing so much effort in simply surviving the cold… I… maybe I remember just a little of that from the big city. I think my mom and dad took care of most of that. And it was always easy to buy pieces of black stuff that would burn for hours… But for me… So much of my time now was spent just getting ready for when it was really cold. And, even then… Well, I just felt really vulnerable… I could usually start a fire, or put out something that popped out… I was by myself out here, and I really enjoyed that during the summer. But now… after a thick snow… What happened when I needed… It was scary. It was just me… Maybe that was not such a good idea… Vulnerability… That was certainly a new sensation to me…

————–

1. The Background Music for this entire story is entitled “The Divine” from the “Forever Today” add-on for the original soundtrack for the “Seekers of Adoulin” expansion for Final Fantasy XI, and is copywritten by Square Enix. Players of FFXI will recognize this tune immediately, and this tune is fitting since a lot of this story takes place in the dead of winter. Please purchase this tune, and play it softly in the background while you read each chapter.

2. This story, “CSR Princess” is vol. 14 of the Chronicles of Summer Rain, and is copyright 2017 by Shysage

 

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