“Do you hear it?” Madra whispered in my ear. We stood by the edge of a chilled lake. I knew my breath was fogging in the frozen air, but the usual lines of silver and gray vibrated around in my head. My broken eyes could not see, but the rest of my body compensated. Stones slid underfoot as I heard the woman’s voice move away from me. I followed.
“You’ve come to the Whispering Wood, boy. Have you heard of it?” she said, her voice lingering in the air as if held by the coming winter.
“I haven’t Madras,” I said, willing her to cut to the chase. My companions waited for me on the other side, doubtless worried about me.
And how could they not be? I thought, holding back a smile, Me, a blind fool, volunteered to walk into a haunted wood with naught but my pack and stick.
I pushed the conversation forward with a question.
“Why is it called the whispering wood, Madras?” I tried to control my voice, masking anxiety with feigned interest.
“Ah, an excellent question. One that I cannot begin to answer here and now.” She spoke, her voice moving further away. I could hear her feet moving against wet stones.
“What must I do to find that answer?” I said, fear pricking at my skin along with the cold.
There was a pregnant pause, and I could tell she had her eyes upon me.
And then she was there as if someone had picked her up and thrown her body at my feet.
I could feel her cold breath on my skin as she whispered, “you must ask the right questions.”
Silence had filled the clearing. Where birdsong and dripping water had been a constant in the world, now silence reigned.
A person’s breath shouldn’t be cold, I thought, feeling the silence upon my living flesh. My pulse hammered in arms and temple. The thump of my heart was as the sound of tumbling stones.
“Madras,” I asked, feeling her touch my chest, “are you alive?”
A hiss escaped her lips, and for a moment the lines of my vision, or what was left of it shifted, capturing the outline of a woman clad in naught but a blowing white and silver shift.
“Come, Jorn of the North, and I will show you,” she said, pausing for a moment, “everything.”
I took up my staff and followed.