Frost Springs – Part 2
This is part 2 of a fantasy short story. If you haven’t read part 1, or need a refresher, you can start here!
Jnae walked through the door of her cottage and dropped the groceries on the table. It was a small house that she shared with her parents, but it was cozy as her favorite sweater. It was a good life she had here, but she wanted more for herself.
She kissed her mom on the cheek and began helping her in the kitchen. Her mom began heating up a pot of water, while Jnae chopped the cabbage. They worked in silence for a moment, while Jnae braced herself for what she had to say.
“Mom, what was life like before you and dad came to Frost Springs?” she asked.
“Life was good. Your father and I were happy, but not as happy as once we had you in our life,” her mother stopped her work to kiss her on the forehead.
Jnae smiled. “I mean, what’s the world like off of the mountain?”
“Not so cold.” Her mother laughed. “There’s places it never snows, where the sun always shines. And the flowers are beautiful,” she sighed wistfully. “Your father used to bring me flowers every year on our anniversary.”
Jnae hadn’t known that. She decided she’d bring some flowers back for her mother.
“I want to go,” Jnae said, “to the outside world.”
Her mother’s peaceful, reminiscent expression vanished. “You can’t.”
“I can. I didn’t come here to fix an illness like father. I’m healthy.”
“You don’t know that for sure.” Her mother began to shake. “You could have inherited it. That’s why all the babies born here are dipped into the springs.”
Jnae put an arm around her mother. “I’ll be fine, mom. I need to do this.”
Her mother pulled from her embrace, turning angry. “Do you know how lucky you are? Do you know how many people are hurt and dying that would give anything to be able to make it here? How many die trying to climb the mountain?”
“If it is so great to be here, free of pain, then why doesn’t everyone want to live here?” Jnae crossed her arms. ”Maybe they realize that living life on their terms is worth the hurt; that freedom is worth pain.”
“But it may cost you more than that, Jnae. This freedom you speak of may cost you your very life. You may never even get to experience it,” her mom pleaded with her.
“You’re right. I could get to the bottom of the mountain and drop dead. But what if I don’t? What if I spent my whole life trapped here, living in fear, when I was capable of so much more?”
“And your father and I…we mean so little to you?” Her mother’s expression filled with hurt. “You know we cannot leave.”
“Mama, that’s not it at all. I can come back. It doesn’t need to be forever. But I have to live my own life, find my own purpose.” Jnae took her mom’s hands. “I was born into this life. I haven’t had a chance to experience everything that’s out there. I’ve never even seen a flower, or felt a warm summer’s day.”
This gave her mother pause. Frost Springs was perpetually in a state of winter. It could have been the altitude, but some said it was the price of the magic springs.
She examined Jnae’s face. “You’ll be careful? And come back?”
Jnae was ready. Her mom had crammed everything she could in her pack and checked it three times to make sure nothing important was forgotten. Her dad went over the best route down the mountain, and directions to the nearest town. Finally, she hugged them both in a tear-filled goodbye.
Being from the mountain town, the road that was treacherous to outsiders was not difficult for Jnae to navigate. She climbed sure-footedly over boulders and pressed against the mountain when the path narrowed. The springs trickled to an end before she was even halfway down the mountain, but she didn’t stop to heal the exhaustion from her body. What would be the point? It took the entire day, but by dusk she was nearing the bottom. She paused before a boundary marker labeled “Frost Springs”.
Jnae took a deep breath. She could always turn back, but she’d already come this far. She’d just take a step over the boundary. If anything terrible happened, she could return home, surely. How likely was it that she’d immediately die before she could cross back over the boundary? Her mouth felt as dry as her cheeks got in a biting wind.
She stepped one foot forward. Nothing. Then, the other. Jnae shuddered, as aches from old injuries she had forgotten about manifested. Her left knee was throbbing, and she thought about the time she had twisted it when her leg got caught between two boulders. There was a sharp pain in her right forearm. As a child, she had fractured the bone when she tried to brace a fall with her arm. Was the fracture back now, since it had never healed naturally? Not to mention, her muscles felt sore and her joints ached.
Was this how people normally felt after years in a cold mountainous terrain, never taking care of their bodies? Or was there something more that was wrong with her?
Jnae resolved to go on. She was in discomfort, but it was bearable. She had to at least see some of the outside world. She could go back if it got to be too much.
She followed a dirt trail that led away from the mountain, curving through the surrounding hills. Her discomfort worsened, until she decided to rest for a bit. She pulled a snack from her bag and munched on it while she thought. It would be fully dark soon. She had to keep going until she found shelter.
Jnae resumed her walk, but it wasn’t long before she was limping. Her knee was really hurting now. She thought about finding a spot to camp nearby, but she rounded a bend and saw lights in the distance.
Jnae gritted her teeth and limped on. She didn’t know how long she could handle this pain, how long before she had to return home, but she was determined to at least spend a day in the village ahead. She had to get something for her efforts.
As she neared the town, a young man spotted her dragging her nearly useless leg down the road. He rushed to help her.
“Are you alright?” he asked. Concern filled his hazel eyes.
“I’m fine; it’s an old injury. I just need a place to rest.”
“Let me help you.” He pushed his shaggy brown hair from his face, before sliding an arm under her shoulders.
Jnae didn’t object. She leaned against him, as they hobbled down the lane. He took her to a small, quiet inn, settling her gently in a chair. He disappeared, and returned a moment later with a bag of ice. He slid a stool under her leg, wrapped the ice in a towel, and placed the ice on her knee.
“This should help,” he said with a smile. “If you have an old injury, why were you out walking so far? Were you in danger?”
“I…” Jnae wasn’t sure how much to tell this man. “I didn’t realize a long walk would cause so much pain, even if I had a bad knee. Is that normal?”
He laughed. “Yes, that’s quite normal.”
Jnae sighed with relief.
“Wait…are you from Frost Springs?” he asked.
“I am.” Her face flushed. “I didn’t realize people felt this kind of pain from a twisted knee that happened years ago, or that all my muscles would ache by the time I made it here,” she yawned, “or that I could feel so exhausted. My knee is already starting to feel better though.”
He laughed again. “With the ice and some rest, you should feel better by tomorrow. Just don’t go on another hike anytime soon.”
“Really, that’s it? Well, this isn’t so bad,” Jnae replied.
The man extended his hand. “I’m Keldric.”
“Jnae,” she said as she took his hand.
He didn’t drop her hand right away, and his eyes glittered as he said, “You know Jnae, I’ve never met anyone quite like you.”
What did you think of the story? Would you have left Frost Springs? Let us know in the comments!
Thanks so much for reading!
-Clever & WTF