Book of Days: September 22, Fading Light

In the blue night frost haze, it was impossible to see what moved within the forest. The cleared area around the perimeter of the settlement shone with moonlight reflecting off the snow, but beneath the trees beyond there were shadows untouched by the light. The haze flittered through the shadows, catching a stray moonbeam here and again, making it look as though it were alive and moving, making it impossible to tell what was a trick of the eye and what was the alive and moving shadows themselves.

The shadows do not like the light. Nia repeated the words to herself over and over, sometimes even muttering them allowed until one of the other sentries glanced her way. Her breath puffed out in front of her, not a thing of ethereal beauty like the haze, but something thick and slow and mortal. If the shadows chose to cross the open space, if they left the cover of the trees, they would move as fast as light, its equal and its opposite, and it would catch them all before they had a chance to scream. It was only the moonlight keeping them from the walls tonight, bright and full enough the torches had been ordered extinguished to conserve the fuel.

No other winter in memory had the lights doused while the sun still slept beneath the horizon. Nia and the other sentries had pleaded for them to remain, but the Magistrate had pointed to the clear sky above, the blue moon fat and luminous, and said there was no need for the torches to compete with the blessed light they were granted.

But the sentries knew the skies were as fickle as the haze, and that a clear night could cover over in clouds and storms between one breath and the next. If that should happen, if the sky should darken before the torches could be re-lit, then the shadows would cross the open space unchallenged, and the settlement would fall. Nia shifted her glance from the blue haze between the trees to the moon above, then to the darkness of the sky surrounding it, hoping what she saw was merely the blanket of the night and not a cover of clouds sneaking in around the bright edges. 

Fuel was scarce. This, at least, was not a lie. But whose fault was that? The magistrate had been responsible for obtaining what they needed and had failed them all. If they survived the winter, they must ask for a new one. There would be a candidate in the trade caravan as always, though until the previous thaw, they’d never needed to replace one. But then the old magistrate died, this one had taken over, and now fuel was so scarce they must douse the torches in the middle of the night.

It wasn’t right they should all suffer for the folly of one. But then, perhaps that was the point. They none of them had paid attention, did not check and did not correct. They had grown complacent under the care of the previous magistrate and did not know it was in their best interests to watch one. If they survived the winter, they would not make that mistake a second time.

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by | Sep 22, 2021

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