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39 Part IV

 Artemis trudged in the howling snow, swaying left and right, almost losing her balance and falling to the crisp layers of snowflakes covering the once green fields.

She could hardly keep her eyes open and would often close them until a more vigorous breeze would rouse them suddenly.

With the change of the Snowfall's pressure, she thought it was the right time to search for the fallen wagon, but the storm deceived her. It went back to the freezing chaos it was some hours ago.

She was head to toe in thick winter wear made from sealskin and had many layers underneath. However, the cold seeped into her gloves and boots, numbing her fingers and toes until they stiffened.

She pulled her woollen hat over her reddened ear, and tightened her scarf over her blue-tinged lips. Her teeth chattered as she continued to walk with her brown eyes scanning the glistering paths ahead.

Her lips curved upwards once she saw the large wagon heaped with snow. She couldn't see anyone in sight, but from Rowan's words, Bertha was under it, and her parents were dead.

She approached it, flipped the waggon over, feeling the contraction of her muscles as she did so. She pulled out the young girl buried under the snow.

Bertha's face had gone purple and her lips were shaded to a dull blue. The flakes pelted against her frozen cheeks, clung to eyelashes and her carrottop.

Artemis wrapped her scarf around Bertha, hoping it would be enough to warm her a little. Her parents had become victims to the teeth sinking cold, and there was no way she'd let Bertha also slip away.

Artemis lost sense of time while navigating her way back home. She wondered how long she'd been out in the storm, and when she'd find a sign of progress.

She was lost in the swirling white flakes that cloaked the earth and left it as a giant blank page.

There was nothing to guide her back towards the village. She had no other decision but to continue strolling in the bone chilling breeze that jabbed her like cold fingers and wrapped around her like a shawl woven from the snow itself.

The cold followed her up to the hills, hissing at the fading warmth of her body, stiffening the muscles of her limbs.

All the while the frozen girl was in her arms. Her eyes were closed shut and her body was numb from the frostbite. Artemis was worried about Bertha and also herself. If not for her powers, she'd have been a popsicle a long time ago.

The world was being erased around her, and she'd be with it if she didn't find shelter soon.

***

The landscape went bleak, and the snow was still falling. Clumps of wet flakes drifted down. The air was moist and the pavements were mushy underfoot.

She figured out she was walking In circles because it looked like no progress was made after hours of walking.

The wind that carried her voice faster than she could speak whenever she cried for help. As for her footprints, an onslaught of fresh snow erased them, and she couldn't tell if she'd been to a particular spot before.

Once she saw the crude outline of snow hugged cottages and lamp posts, tears formed at the corner of her eyes. Home?!

She hoped she was in the right village, and in the right place. She got closer, and she opened the oak door to Ma Lari's cottage, the biggest in the entire community.

Her eyes met with smiles of relief on everyone that was worried sick about the four people out in the blizzard.

Ma Lari carried Bertha in her arms and moved her to the fireplace. Artemis moved close to the furnace to warm herself, and a woman close by passed a mug filled with hot tea to her. She gripped tightly unto the thick blanket that was draped around her shoulders, and she folded herself into the smallest ball, tucking her knees close to her chest.

Anna finally woke up after the drowsy effects of the potion. She found herself in the corner of her own cottage. She looked around for Rowan, but he wasn't in the house. She ran swiftly to Ma Lari's house, guessing and hoping he was there.

The moment she spotted her son, she dragged him to a corner and smacked his face hesitantly. She puffed, tears welling in her eyes as she glared down at the boy and her actions turned half of the attention to them.

He looked down at his boots, not wanting to see the pain in his mother's eyes. His hand was on his cheek that hurt from the cold. The next thing that happens is the overflow of tears streaming to his frigid jaw.

Anna's tears fell fast and thick unto her wooly coat. She sat on her heels, her hands traveling from his head to his shoulders, checking for any marks or wound, but she found none.

She couldn't forget about what had happened. She had to put his disobedience to an end, and she had to do it for his sake. She almost lost him to her deceased Master. Her life would be over if such ever happens.

She sniffled as she wiped his tears away. It was her first time hitting him, and she hoped it would be her last. She wouldn't resort to things like that, but he pushed her over the edge that day.

"Ah almost lost ya!" She couldn't control her home ascent, and she couldn't talk normally because of her upsurge of emotions.

"What would ah do if sumtin' bad evher 'appens ta ya. Yo-wr fuh-ather lef' me, an ah don't want ya ta leave me too. Why don't ya evher listen ta me? Why won't ya obey yo-wr mother for once? Ah've nary bee-yn so scared in in maah life. Maah heart was stuck in maah throat. Raindrop god forbid we done died! puh-lease, ah'm beggin' ya, don't evher leave without tellin' me again. Puh-lease, for yo-wr say-uk. If ah evher may-uk a decision everythin' is for yo-wr well-bein. "

English translation :-

"What would I do if something bad ever happens to you. Your father left me, and I don't want you to leave me too. Why don't you ever listen to me? Why won't you obey your mother for once? I've never been so scared in my life. My heart was stuck in my throat. Raindrop God forbid we died! Please, I'm begging you, don't ever leave without telling me again. Please, for your sake. If I ever make a decision everything is for your well-being." Her voice quavered as she spoke.

Rowan leaned close. His tears ran from his unblinking eyes and dropped steadily into her chest.

Anna held him in silence, pattting him slowly as his tears soaked her chest.

"Mama I'm sorry" He pulled away and sniffled into the sleeves of his clothes.

That apology wouldn't change the fact that he would still be punished.

The crying boy turned his gaze back to his friend beside the furnace. He wanted her to blink, to sit up and laugh at him again, like old times. But from what he could see, it didn't look like that would ever happen again.

These last few moments would either pass as a blip in the course of her life, or they would be the final trauma that broke her. Artemis held her hand to Bertha's cold forehead. Her body had to conquer the cold soon or she would perish. Ma Lari's daughter-in-law paced the floor, bringing fresh clothes and boiling water from the washroom, never stopping for even a moment.

The memory of finding Bertha under the waggon surfaced Rowan's mind, and he swallowed hard.

The other children were watching, panic, fear and hopes surging through their minds as they huddled together. Believing their friend would show strength and survive.

Ma Lari stopped with the ointments, the potions and the water. She didn't want to accept that Bertha died long before Artemis brought her home. She thought the mixtures could help, but she was only fooling herself and everyone else.

Before she could declare the little girl dead, the door opened again. A gasp swept the room as the person who entered was perused. Bertha's mother was still alive?!

She pushed her way to the front and looked at her lifeless daughter. From her mouth came a cry from so raw that even the eyes of the surrounding villagers were suddenly wet with tears. She cried as if her brain was being shredded from the inside. Emotional pain flowed out of her every pore.

Her eyes had cried for her first child before Bertha. She wondered why she suffered such misfortune. Her husband was nowhere to be found. And now, history was repeating itself.

Mama Lari attempted to hold her back, to quiet her, even as her own tears fell.

The entire world had vanished for her. There was only enough pain to break her, pain enough to change her beyond recognition. She never thought she'd go through such agony again. This time, she got her depression in ten folds.

From a sobbing villager came a whisper "We expect to bury our parents one day, but never our children." Seeing the corpse of a child was something parents feared the most.