|The Transformation Story Archive||The Visionary Saga|
A Land of Fire and Ice
The frozen wind blew across the barren landscape without hindrance. There were no trees to take shelter behind, no building to enter. The low, rolling hills only served to tunnel the gale between them, blowing dry snow in piles.
A figure moved in the white blur. His blue parka barely discernible in the snow. He struggled for each step, but moved with slow determination. Desperately, he struggled with another figure, an unconscious woman in bright red.
He moved an ice crusted glove to his eyes and tried to wipe away some of the stinging cold. ::Move.:: he'd kept repeating to himself. He knew that their only hope was if he could keep moving forward.
He didn't let himself think of anything else. He didn't want to. The trip had seemed like such an adventure. Three months in Iceland, roaming the outback, seeing the spectacular, unspoiled landscapes. For Rob, a geologist, Iceland was an ideal open laboratory. The volcanic island nation was one of the very few places in the world where you could see what amounted to the floor of the Atlantic without a submarine. He could spend years here and never get bored. For his wife Lori, a photographer, it was a chance to pad out her portfolio with pictures of the unspoiled and dramatic landscape.
None of that mattered much, now. The samples that Rob had so carefully collected over the last six weeks, as well as all of Lori's film and equipment, were still in the mangled remains of their rented Volvo Laplander. They had been caught in this first storm of fall while returning from a series of peat bogs along the nations eastern coast. They were still almost 100 miles outside Reykjavik, and the safety of that small city, when this snowstorm had abruptly started. The Volvo van had been caught by a strong cross wind and been blown off the road into a ditch. While Rob was all right, Lori had been knocked unconscious.
No knowing what else to do, Rob had gathered his wife up and tried to walk down the winding road with her. But Iceland is a sparsely populated land, and 100 miles from the nations tiny capital city, Rob could not see a single house, barn or store. The only sign that man had ever tread on this barren rock were the roadway signs still sticking out of the snow on either side of the two lane road.
Rob was beginning to feel his body sap of strength. The cold, his own panic and simple exhaustion were taking their toll. Then, he saw something that spurred him on. A house.
It wasn't a house in the traditional sense, but they were common enough in Iceland. Build low to the ground and covered in sod roofs, they more resembled small hills. In the early days of this land, they had been commonly used as homes for people, and many of those thousand year old buildings could still be used. Nowadays, though, they were more often used for animal shelters than homes.
Rob didn't care. It was a place to take shelter from the wind and cold, perhaps long enough for help to arrive. He didn't see a farmhouse nearby, but in truth, he couldn't see far. He hoped that he would find animals inside. Where there were animals, there were people.
He struggled some more with Lori's limp body as they approached the slightly oversized door. He didn't bother to pound on the door, he simply pulled on the handle. It opened easily. He and his wife tumbled inside, the driving wind slamming shut the door behind them.
Rob lay on the floor of the barn for a moment before he realized that this place was not only warm, it was lit. He raised his head and looked around. The room was obviously set up for animals, though none were inside at the moment. Several small kerosene lamps hung from pegs around the room, and all were lit.
It looked like whatever farmer owned this place had stepped out for a moment, perhaps to retrieve the animals that he obviously owned.
Rob turned his attention to his wife. He pulled off his own gloves and put a hand to her face. It was cold, but a glimmer of warmth still remained. "Lori! Can you hear me?" he asked repeatedly as he stripped off her jacket and sweater to look for injuries. She had some broken ribs, he could feel those. She had also been bleeding all this time. Her sweater was soaked in blood from a wound on her back near the base of her ribcage.
Even if she was still alive, Rob knew that she was dying. He hugged her and started to sob. "I'm sorry. I tried. I just can't go further. I'm sorry." He sat and cradled his wife for several minutes.
A voice broke him out of his mourning. "How is she, Rob?"
Rob brought his head up abruptly to see a man standing at the other end of the small barn. He turned his head again back to the door he had come through and then looked quickly around the small barn. There didn't seem to be any other doors or access ways.
The man walked over quickly, removing his dark overcoat as he approached. "She's hurt badly, isn't she?"
Rob looked at his wife again and nodded. "She needs to get to a hospital."
The old man pushed the fedora back on his head and looked more carefully at the woman. "She's strong. She just needs a doctor right now, or at least someone who can get through the storm. I know where one is, and I can guide you."
Robs eyes brightened. "Oh, God, thank you!"
The man held up a hand. "Don't thank me yet. This isn't going to be easy. You have to carry her, as I cannot."
Rob thought back to the raging storm outside. He could still hear the wind howl loudly over the low roof of the barn. "How far is it?"
"Too far to walk as you are. I can help, but I must ask you this: Are you willing to trade your life for hers?"
He looked at the old man with wide eyes. "What do you mean? Who are you?"
"I need you to answer the question for me."
Rob looked hard at the old man. Something clicked inside him, something that made him trust this man. Somehow, he knew that he was going to do what ever he could.
If Rob was willing.
He looked back to Lori, still unconscious. "I'll do anything for her."
The man's expression never changed. He quickly removed his own overcoat. "Bundle her back up, and you can cover her with this as well. I'll get a litter to drag her with."
Rob nodded and gently recovered his wife, covering every inch of exposed skin from the elements that they would soon be exposed to again. The man was back momentarily with a small metal litter. The two of them put her on it and strapped her down. The man tied the straps of the litter to Rob. "It will be easier to drag her like this."
As the old man went to open the door, Rob looked at him again. Without his overcoat, he was dressed in a simple dark business suit. Hardly enough against the raging storm outside. He questioned the man about this.
"Don't worry about me...and if you stay close to me, and never lose sight of me, you won't have to worry about her."
Indeed, it was apparent very quickly that this old man was more spry that he looked. Rob initially had a very hard time keeping up with him. By the time they made it back to the road, however, he had gained his stride and was able to stay right behind him.
They walked in silence for a long time. Rob kept himself focused on the back of the man who never wavered in his step, never stumbled, and never slowed. Rob was afraid to turn his head and look back, afraid that he would loose sight of the man in the blowing snow.
It was perhaps an hour before the old man left the road and started up the snow and ice covered field to a small farmhouse. Rob didn't see it at first, but abruptly, it seemed to come out of the gloom, the lights shining out of it's windows like a lighthouse.
The man sped up his pace, and beat Rob to the door by some length. He knocked lightly and the door opened almost instantly, a large man on the other side. Rob heard the pair exchange a few words in Icelandic that he didn't understand and the large man turned back into the house and shouted something before running out into the snow toward Rob.
Rob stopped and turned his head back to his wife. For a long moment, he looked back in confusion. He had trouble reconciling the fact that not only was he dragging his wife on a litter, but apparently so was a small black horse with a sliver mane and tail. He stared at that tail, feeling and seeing it flip back and forth for a moment before he connected it in his mind.
He was a horse.
As the realization hit, he felt a hand on his neck and the calm voice of the old man in his ear. "Calm, Rob. I'll explain when Lori is taken care of."
Despite everything, he felt calm over his body. Somewhere in his mind, he wanted to panic, but he wasn't being allowed. The large Icelandic man took his wife from the litter and carried her into the house as a teenage boy, perhaps fifteen, came out and walked to Rob. Saying something in Icelandic that he didn't understnd, the boy led him into barn on the other side of the house, placed him in a clean stall alone and left food and water for him. Not knowing what else to do, he took a long drink and soon, physically and emotionally exhausted, fell asleep.
He woke to someone rubbing a hand on his elongated head. He opened his eyes to see the old man again. Rob still felt that unnatural calm, but somehow he knew that it was slowly become a part of him. "Lori is well." The man said simply.
Rob closed his eyes and sighed heavily in relief.
"You are lucky. Both of you. You were both going to die last night. I was almost too late to save Lori. I'm afraid that you, in a manner of speaking, didn't survive. There was nothing more that I could do. I'm sorry."
Rob sighed again and lightly rubbed his head against the old mans. He smiled, a sad but true smile. "Do not worry. You two will not be apart for long. There is still a connection, one that even this cannot break."
Then he faded from sight. Rob was briefly startled, and whinnied loudly in surprise. That brought the man from the night before into the barn, who talked in soothing, unfamiliar words for a while, until the startled horse calmed again.
A week passed. Rob had gotten used to being in this body now. He knew what he was, an Icelandic horse. Not large, more the size of a pony, but heavily built and strong. The brief storm had passed, and he was allowed outside in the cold clear air. His heavy black coat shielded him well from the elements.
He was experimenting with running back and forth in the large field when the truck drove up the farm house. It wasn't a vehicle owned by the family that lived here, and it towed a small horse trailer. As he approached, three people got out. One he recognized and he sped up his pace to meet her.
Her head turned to the sound of the muffled hoofbeats and a smile broke across her face. She moved awkwardly toward him. Rob could see one arm in a sling, and he guessed that there were more bandages and stitches below the heavy clothing she wore. He slowed as he approached and lowered his head to her level, and she hugged and nuzzled it, a tear forming in her eye.
"He said that I'd find you here." she sobbed quietly into his ear. "Thank you, Rob."
They stood like that for a long time, under the watchful and bemused eyes of the farmer, his son, the two hands she had hired...
...and one old man.
A Land of Fire and Ice copyright 1996 by Brian Eirik Coe.
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