Wednesday, May 28, 2014


By Myles Buchanan

Drae crawled forward until the oak branch creaked and her hands grew clammy on the lichen. Across the plains, the village Forath was burning. Its usual vague shape on the horizon had become an orange blotch with a messy tail of smog, like a crash-landed star. Though it looked peaceful from a distance, it was easy to imagine frost-wolves skittering over the cobblestones, darklings stalking through the smoking racks of the trees, which collapsed, she imagined, with violent hisses and sparks. She tried to imagine heroics, fury and passion in the hearts of the good, but all she could think was how sudden it must have been, how gruesome and hopeless.

She felt the coldness opening like a flower inside her chest, the plummeting thrum with which the impossible swooped into reality. Crackle, crackle, she thought to herself, thinking of the destroyed children, and wondered if she should jump. It seemed anyway as if the branch was growing weaker beneath her, eager to tip her toward the green shadows below. Evening brought a faint taste of smoke, and the dew began to twinkle tear-like on the leaves.

I didn't hurt anyone on purpose. I couldn't be sure of the silhouette. She knew phrases like these would run through her head ever after, during any first kiss, any peace under a willow tree. She would stay up through many more nights, the coldness spreading to her fingers and toes, scared to go to sleep and not wake up again.


Drae had visited Forath earlier that day to escape her home: the wooded maze where the elves had used to live, at the edge of the oak forest. Drae’s people had slaughtered the elves when she was very young, and it seemed to her that sorrow lingered in the gnarled oak hollows, which had used to be fern-shadowed nooks, glowing with song. Since she turned fourteen it had become easier to imagine: the elves wandering these paths, lighting the oak leaves with the glow of their skin and white hair. Forath had only ever been a smudge on the horizon to Drae, the place where her father sold his black-fletched arrows, but Drae loved thinking about it, imagining that the firelight in the mead hall spread smiles on the faces of kinder men. She’d begged and begged, and her father, sneering, had finally relented. She could come with him.

But when Drae walked through the village, down the cobbled market street that buzzed with laughter and argument, she was certain something terrible was going to happen. Behind all the sound, little trees with tiny leaves and violet buds lined the avenue, glowing urgently in the late afternoon. They stirred and gesticulated in wind that seemed unseasonably cold. The trees were small and strong enough for the toddlers to climb, and Drae stood next to a pair of identical little girls whose blonde hair swished and tangled as they clambered.
“Mora,” one of the girls said, smiling at Drae, and she couldn't tell if that was the girl's name or the tree’s. It seemed like the name of a precious, vulnerable thing, but Drae didn't know what to say in reply. She felt strangely sick, as if suddenly remembering something she had done wrong. She started shivering, and the sky did seem darker—parents were beginning to pry their children from the trees, the vendors were packing up, her toes were beginning to twinge with the feeling.

In the mead hall, Drae held a mug of drinking chocolate to her chest and the shivers receded. The heavy pelts and carpets on the floor were warm from the hearth fire, and the warriors’ laughter didn’t seem to be cruel. Drae looked out at the hills, enjoying their windswept blankness, the way sleet and wind had battered the limbs of the sparse oak trees over to one side. But then she saw the white shiver of a frost-wolf, the hooded silhouette clamped to its back, and the laughing warriors seemed small and helpless. She couldn’t stop thinking about the green caverns of the oak forest, where the elves had walked, clasping hands under the trees, before her father and his people came with swords

“They ride again!” she tried to tell one of the warriors, a big man with a brutal jaw and a scar wedged into his cheek. “The darklings and the frost-wolves, just like they used to. Please!”

“Only stories,” the man said, and seemed to smile. His hand on her shoulder felt heavier and kinder than her father's. “Your only task is to enjoy that drinking chocolate. Leave the wolves and their riders to us. And they are far away now. Easy, easy,” the man said. “It’s all right.”

And because she was sobbing, pressing her eyes into the man’s jerkin, it seemed that his certainty was invulnerable. All was well—it had to be. The hearth fire exhaled a plume of sparks, and Drae clenched her hands, which no longer seemed to be cold. Through the window the hills were barren and calm. Trembling there on her own small feet, Drae thought for moment that this warmth might stay inside her, even under oak leaves that each night glinted with dew. She took a long breath, and imagined that everything outside was colder yet and very far away.

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Myles Buchanan is from Portland, Oregon and has studied English at Kenyon College and Oxford University. His poetry has appeared in NEAT Magazine, Persimmons, and Hika, and his fantasy short stories have appeared on


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