My father was in his study when I got back. I could hear his teeth chattering as he mumbled his words back to himself. I greeted him and asked if he needed anything. He needed tea; he’d forgotten to drink his old cup and it had frozen solid. I put a teapot on to boil.
Then I walked over to where my old room was. The door was encrusted with ice, little tree-branching jewels clutching its surface tight. It had been the solid brown of wood, before, but the ice had lightened it a shade or two. I used a rag to touch the doorknob without burning my hands, then tried to open it. The rag just slipped around the doorknob. I grimaced, then stuffed the rag in a pocket and activated the sticky-fingers charm. Then I grabbed the doorknob.
The cold burned, channeled through the metal to my hands in a way that made me want to scream and flinch away from it. Instead, I began to wrestle with the doorknob, trying to force it to move so I could open the door.
It wouldn’t budge. I let go, hands red and burning from the contact. The teapot whistled. I poured my dad a new cup of tea, then placed it on a coaster that was now stuck to his writing desk. I still had about half a pot of boiling water left.
I poured it over the doorknob. A little splashed against my shoes, but the nice solid material kept the heat from roasting my feet. Then I tried the sticky-fingers charm again, and the knob turned. I kept the pot of boiling water with me. If nothing else, the steam would be a decent bit of warmth in there.
Slamming into the door with my shoulder two or three times opened it just enough for me to slip inside.
Inside was my old room, petrified. I stepped carefully as I entered, trying not to slip. The air bit into my skin, gnawing at me, forcing numbness into my fingers and toes and nose and ears. My bed was still as death, still a mess from when I had slept in it last, every ridge and wrinkle in its rumpled mass held perfectly still. My little dresser was sealed shut, the clothes inside held in a static prison, stored away eternally. And on top of my dresser were all my little childhood treasures, now unsalvageable permanent fixtures.
There was the rainbow-colored stone that I had found in an alleyway, discarded by someone, happened upon by chance. There was the iron tree statue, given to me by Katrine on the last day I saw her alive. There was the broken pet-collar I had kept, in case I ever happened upon the long-lost Lethe. And sitting at the end of the row of treasures was the block of amber.
A little honey-colored stone, inside which the little two-winged creature would move no more. It would never shift, or flap its wings, instead staying in this one little moment for the rest of eternity. I looked up, and around at my room, and shivered. This wasn’t a good place to linger in.
It was frozen fast to the dresser. I wrestled with it for a moment, ignoring the pain in my hands, then I gave up and poured boiling water over it until it came loose. My own little block of amber. After the charm she cast on me, I thought it might make her happy enough to save my home. How many people knew what amber was, after all?
I escaped my room with no unfortunate slipping, and warmed myself up by making a quick dinner and going to bed and nestling myself under the covers. I was thoroughly exhausted after so much charm-work, and I needed sleep. It was sweet and dreamless, and by the time I woke up again the cold had left me.
A crowd had been spilled across the marketplace. It rippled, offers radiating into the center like little waves. Words, numerous enough to be incoherent, rose up from the crowd like steam off my father’s tea. I clambered up a nearby building to get a better view.
Sure enough, at the center of the commotion, sitting on a small rug that none in the crowd dared step on, was Flare. Every so often she would look directly at someone, and shake her head, and the crowd would just expel them, sending them spinning off dejectedly into the marketplace.
And, from here, I could see what they were bringing. Money, food, jewelry, books, precious precious things. A whole sea of offerings to get Flare to save the town, and none of it appealed to her.
I climbed back down, but I could feel my heart beginning to pound. What if she didn’t want my little piece of amber? What would I do then? There was no charm I knew to just make things exist, there was no charm I knew to convince someone of something, my charms only did simple things, little things, practical things. If she didn’t want the amber, I didn’t know what I would do.
I started trying to push my way into the crowd, but I was just a teen. These were adults, many of them forge-workers, huge and burly and able to bat me out of the way without a second thought. The crowd’s ripples and flows were so hard to see up close, becoming just a miserable awful jumble of noise that I couldn’t navigate.
Then I spotted an opening, and without thinking I dove into it, and then I was squeezed tight in the crowd’s hold, helpless against its whims and eddies and whorls. It was a mad dance, and one I had little to no control over. All I could do was try, and push and make for the witch at the eye of the storm.
It took a lot of time, and a lot of bruises from elbows and knees, but finally I made it to the front. I caught my breath, just for a moment, and Flare’s eyes locked on me.
Wordlessly, I held up the amber.
She took it, and turned it over in her hands, and I could feel hope suddenly burst inside my chest, that maybe things would work out, that my home would be saved. She placed it back in my hands. She shook her head. The crowd expelled me.
My father found me sitting on the front step of the house, crying.