December 19th, 1262

Winter is quiet this far north.

It's a delicate balance. Too far south, and winter, in the sense that most people know it, never really comes at all; it never gets cold enough for the slowing of life that the snow and frost brings, and if snow ever does fall, it's momentary - a brief, aberrant cause for celebration and panic and even more sound. More often than not, things tend to continue as normal, unchanged except for a shift towards slightly more temperate climes. Too far north, though, and you hit the empty plains and tundras of the deep north, where quiet is a delicacy, rare and meant to be savored; winter is a constant, there, and any break in the noise is but a momentary respite from the endless blizzards and windstorms that continually shape and reshape the world, day after day after day.

Here, though.

Here, winter is quiet. Winter is cold, and winter is long - some years, winter starts in September and ends in May, and over half the year is spent desperately trying to keep warm under a blanket of snow that seems hell-bent on snuffing out every bit of life it can find. Most of the time, it's not quite that bad (what this current winter holds, exactly, remains to be seen) but even when it is, life continues pretty happily - and in towns like Linford, which is quite a few days back now, people have learned to keep their little gasoline-powered generators ready to go at a moments notice. Life continues - not unchanged, but not suspended, not stalled.

Indoors, that is. Because indoors is where heat and electricity and backup generators are, and the outdoors, beautiful as they may be, are not something to be trifled with. Look, but don't touch; admire the outdoors, love the outdoors, but above all, respect the outdoors, because outside is cold and wind and snow that can leave you a frozen husk, hidden from view, unfound until the spring (or summer, as it may be) peels back the last of winter's veil and reveals you to the rest of the world; past the elements, there are always hungry animals on the prowl that wouldn't think twice about taking a bite out of you, no matter how cuddly they might look come the end of winter (and of course, let us not forget the Things In The Woods, hidden and dangerous things that don't care about the cold, things that most people know about without ever having been told, but are still unable to put a name to).

Winter is quiet this far north, because everything with enough sense to do so is staying indoors, away from the winter, making their noise and living their lives where no one else can hear them, and anything without sense is either hibernating, quietly hunting, or dead.

For a moment, though, alongside a frozen over creek in the middle of the woods, by a fallen tree draped across the suspended flow, the quiet is broken by the soft crunch of something moving through the snow. Steadily and slowly, a XXXXXXX is walking through the trees, and a XXXX XX XXXXXXX XX XXX XXXX.

The XXXX is not happy to be here, but she can't really bring herself to be unhappy, either. The campfire she had slept by last night is nearly seven hours back, now, and the next one is quite a few more away; she is cold, and tired, and wants to go home or wake up - whichever will get her out of the cold - but can't really bring herself to care enough to make either of those things happen. She is almost stuck in the in-between state of acceptance that winter tends to bring to children; the sensation that comes after a day out in the snow, before you head back inside to crackers and hot chocolate, where you fall to the ground and stare at the flat gray sky and just sort of say yeah, this is okay.

But things are not really okay. She has accepted this - or at least thinks she has (acceptance of any great life change is not really a one-and-done deal) - but accepting the reality of her situation is not the same thing as making peace with it, and right now, the only thing keeping her from misery is complete and utter apathy.

The XXXX is not happy to be here, either. But her thoughts are, for now, her own.

Neither of them air their grievances. They stay silent, and in the forest, the only noise is that crunching snow.

And then, shortly, they are past the creek, and well out of the view of the fallen tree, and the winter is quiet again.