Warnings: mentions of a war, but only as background, no fighting or death
Summary: As Naelinne's people flee to safety, the magic of an old song helps guide the way.
Disclaimer: Work is all from my own imagination. Any resemblance to other characters or situations is coincidental.
Notes: Original work, written for consci_fan_mo. Inspired by an image prompt (below the cut).
Naelinne is so tired she could sit down and cry. By rights, she could easily demand one of the horses and ride, but that would be cruel to those who genuinely needed to ride. A princess is always generous, that's what her mother told her so many times.
She wishes her mother was here, now. The last time they made this journey, Naelinne had been a child. Deserving of riding a horse. Her mother had led the people, then, but this time it falls to Naelinne. The city is once more under siege from an invading army, and those not needed to fight must flee to the caves.
It would happen in depths of winter, Naelinne thinks. It would happen on The Longest Night, when families should be together around the warm fires, warding off the endless darkness. Not split apart, not fighting for their lives, or trudging through snow up to their ankles, chasing a sun that is going far too quickly downwards. It will be worse at night; the cold will be more bitter and they won't be able to find the path. Naelinne remembers the way from when she was a child, but she fears leading them the wrong way and getting them all lost. The caves will support them for days--weeks--but not if they can't get there.
The forest is just ahead, and Naelinne knows it isn't far after that. One of the knights selected to escort them offers her a hand to get through a particularly deep snowdrift, and then she's on the path, which is at least carved out somewhat.
Until they get to the forest. Then it's snow up to their knees, and the path is only marked by the bowing of the trees. She calls for a brief halt, trying not to show that she's worried about finding her way. She leans against a tree, and closes her eyes, hoping for some sort of sign, something to make things a little easier.
Somewhere, in the depths of the procession, music starts up. Just a few voices drifting her way, in a traditional song sung for The Longest Night. The song that asks for the sun to return, and warm up the world. She's heard it a thousand times, and it's never seemed sad to her until now.
The song catches on like a fire hitting kindling, more and more voices join in. It swells triumphantly, and soon there are hundreds of voices singing, and Naelinne is humming along. A sudden wind hits her face, fierce but not bitter. She opens her eyes to find millions and millions of tiny snowflakes blowing in the air around her. Millions and millions of tiny voices singing along to the song. She wonders if she's hallucinating. There have always been stories of spirits in the trees, in the water, in the snow; spirits who love her people and make the rain come to give them food and the trees grow to give them shelter. Just stories, though, she thought. Just children's stories.
The snowflakes swirl and dance and sing, and when they settle at the closing of the song, the path is clear, and defined. It's opened itself up to her.
She looks around to see if anyone but her has seen this; heard it. Only the knight who helped her through the snowdrift, who exchanges a wide eyed look with her.
They make a mutual decision not to speak of it.
Naelinne ends the halt, and once more the people trudge onwards to the caves. She starts up another song, this one a traditional song of thankfulness.
Just in case anyone is listening.