She drew the silk cloth tighter around her body. Her bare feet could hardly feel the snow burning them. She would freeze solid out here. In the spring, they'd find her body, perfectly preserved like a statue carved from a block of ice. Poor pretty thing, they'd say. Must've gotten lost. And even when they found out who she was--if they ever did--they wouldn't suspect that her stepmother had snatched her from her bed in the middle of the night and abandoned her in the mountains.
She appreciated the rani's clever sense of punishment even as she cursed the woman. The queen could have killed her stepdaughter in a myriad of ways. She could have slashed the pretty face, broken the slender body. But this way, the girl's looks would be perfectly preserved, the looks that had drawn suitors from all corners of India. The looks that had captured the fascination of one rajah in particular. The same rajah that the rani wanted to take as her own lover.
Several small brown birds perched on a snow-laden bush next to her. She reached out a hand. One of the birds tilted its head, considering her offer, then hopped into her palm. Its tiny claws pricked her skin. Slowly, she closed her hand around the bird and brought the warm body up to her cheek.
"Hello, little one," she whispered.
"Talking to birds," said a voice behind her. "What an odd girl."
"Very odd," said another voice. She whirled around.
©S.L. Stevens 2011