had died with the first cold breath of autumn. By
midwinter, father had joined her, his heart broken
and his will spent. Then the soldiers came to take
the house, and little Snowdrop walked out into the
cold gray evening, hungry and alone.
weeks, she went around to every home she could
find. Sometimes she would be allowed to spend the
night, sometimes she would be given food. But as
the winter grew darker, food became scarce, and no
one had anything to to spare for a wandering child.
"Go find your family," they would say. Snowdrop had
the trail that left the small village that was the
only place she had ever known. Perhaps somewhere
over the hills, there would be other houses. In
those houses would be kind people, warm beds, and
bread and cream to eat.
afternoon, and the sky was dark and heavy with
clouds. Snow came, small flakes like fairy dust at
first, then larger flakes coming in thick, swirling
waves. Snowdrop was cold and miserable. She knew it
would be dark soon, and she had no place to
path was a large hill, with a shadowy hollow near
its base, under an overhang of black rock. As
Snowdrop approached, she saw that the hollow opened
into a cave. She went inside. It was dark and cold,
but it was dry, and there was no wind inside. She
settled down into a bed of moldering leaves against
the cave wall, and was soon fast asleep.
woke there was light outside. Not the yellow light
of summer that she remembered from happier days,
but the somber half-light of a winter morning. She
sat for awhile, staring out the cave entrance, not
knowing what to do.
time, she heard footsteps outside. A man was
walking toward the cave. "Hello," said Snowdrop.
The man was startled, for he could not see her in
the dark. He stepped inside and stood there for
awhile, to let his eyes get used to the darkness
inside the cave.
you?" he said at last, having found her small shape
sitting on the leaves.
Snowdrop," she said. "Mother and father died," she
added, anticipating the inevitable
The man sat
down on the cave floor near her. "I followed the
footsteps in the snow. Do you live
said. "I don't live anywhere."
said the man. "I was traveling to Welltown, but I
must have taken the wrong way. Here," he said,
"have some food." He handed her a piece of dry
bread and a leather bottle with water in it. She
ate the bread quickly, and took a couple swallows
of the water. "I can't stay here very long," he
said with a sad voice. "I need to try to find my
way again, while it is still light. Let me make a
fire here, so you can stay warm at
watched the man leave the cave and return with some
twigs and dry grass and a small branch that must
have fallen from a tree. With a tinderbox, he
started a fire near the entrance to the cave, and
before long the log was red with flame.
"If get to
Welltown, I will send people to come look for you,"
he said. "You'll be safe and warm here for a little
while." He opened his pack and looked inside. His
face seemed strained. "Here," he said, and gave her
two more pieces of bread. She guessed they were all
left, and it became very quiet. The light faded,
and Snowdrop sat looking at the glowing coals of
the fire, feeling now very hungry and very
In her sleep
that night, she dreamed she saw a beautiful woman,
like her mother, but with hair made of summer
sunshine and eyes like a cloudless summer sky. The
woman smiled at her and said, "Do not let the fire
burn out. Keep it burning through cold and
darkness, until the warm days come again. They will
come, I promise. But you must do your part. You
must keep the fire burning."
woke suddenly and looked at the fire. Nothing
remained but one small coal that still had a spot
or two of red glow along its edges. She crawled
around the dark cave until her hands found the
extra pieces of kindling and the half a branch the
man had left for her to use later. Gently, with
greatest care, she coaxed the fire back to life
from the single coal. She drifted off to sleep
day, though she was weak from hunger and very
tired, she ventured out and gathered more wood. The
next day, she did the same, and melted snow for
water to drink. The pains of hunger overwhelmed
her, and she could hardly lift her arm to put wood
on the fire. I wonder if I will die tonight,
morning, she woke to find herself curled up against
a soft, very warm blanket of wool. Lifting her
head, she gasped. The blanket was no blanket. It
was a sheep - a sheep with soft white wool and a
gentle black face. The sheep opened its eyes and
seemed to smile.
stood up and Snowdrop saw that she was a ewe, and
her belly was swelling with new life. Snowdrop had
often helped her mother milk their goat, and now
she drew milk from the sheep and drank it hungrily.
It was delicious, warm and sweet like cream. The
sheep looked into Snowdrop's eyes, and to the
little girl it seemed the sheep offered her a
kindness greater than anyone in the village had
passed the winter in that cave, living on the ewe's
milk and the water from melted snow. She kept the
fire burning, and she grew a little stronger each
day. She never dreamed of the beautiful woman
again, but she thought of her when the first warm
days came and the buds swelled green on the
branches of the trees again.