Continued from here.
Maggie ran, her feet hardly seeming to touch the snow that lay thick on the ground. She didn’t run in any particular direction, just away from the village and deeper into the mountains where the only sound was the night hunting owls and the shift and slump of snow slipping from branches. Finally, she knew not how far away, she threw herself against the twisted trunk of an oak tree and slumped beneath it pressing her hot, embarrassed face into the cold snow.
“You’re a foolish girl, Maggie Lynwood.” She said into the snow. “Falling for that harpie’s tricks!” She pounded her fists into the snow and sat up, shaking the flakes from her face and leaning against the trunk.
Two sparrows looked down her her, their heads tilted. She held her hands out at them and they flittered down. She hadn’t seen them much since she’d come to Falun, assuming that Odnar’s mother wouldn’t like having birds flying through the house. Some people thought a sparrow in the house was bad luck.
She rubbed their heads and down their wings. They chipped at her and then turned abruptly and fluttered back up to the trees. Maggie heard it, too, the sound of feet approaching.
Now Maggie, unlike the sisters, was quite at home in the woods in winter, so they cannot be blamed if they walked right past her without seeing her. Nor can they be blamed if they did not hear her on silent feet whisking through the woods after them, listening.
“Where could she have gone?” Petronella asked. She looked around, as if doubting that the trail ended at the oak tree, though in the snow it was obvious that it did.
Dagmar stomped through the snow and looked behind the Oak and peered up into the branches where the two sparrows chittered down at her. Maggie, so light on her feet that now her toes didn’t so much as scrape the snow, slipped from one tree to the next, staying out of sight. “Maybe we missed a place where she turned?”
“We have to find her,” said Solveig, “and finish this quick before someone catches us out.”
“Nobody is going to catch us.” Petronella said, tossing her hair. “It’ll look like an accident.”
“She went into a tunnel and didn’t know there was a snake there. She doesn’t know our ways. She wouldn’t know the markings.” Dagmar said, though she sounded more as if she were trying to reassure herself that this was true.
“And won’t we all look so pretty and sorrowful when we carry her back. Mr. Tenk will need proper comforting.” Petronella smiled at Dagmar.
Maggie slipped a dagger from her garland and stepped around the tree and called out, “Sweet maids a’milking run to your home, no good will come of hunting a girl in her forest.”
The three sisters, turned, startled. Maggie smiled and raised her dagger, “Now which of ye will pay the price for being three vain, proud, and scheming girls?”
You’re a fine one to speak of being a vain, proud, scheming girl!” Petronella said hotly. “All who see you can tell you’re leading both our dear uncle and Mr. Tenk on! And when it’s clear you favor Mr. Tenk over Uncle Odnar!”
“You daft silly girls! Favor Tenk?” Maggie laughed, the two birds above her twittering a reply at the sound.
“Aye! You seek his favor while teasing our poor uncle!” Dagmar shouted, almost stamping her foot.
Maggie tossed her dagger from one hand to the next, considering each girl in turn. “Were I to marry Tenk it would be me death within the span o’ a year, d’ye ken nothing of the wooded ways?”
The two older girls harumphed, disbelieving, but Dagmar seemed to hesitate. “Is that true? Why?”
“On account o’…” Maggie’s mouth moved but no sound came out. She tilted her head, curiously and tried to speak again before chuckling. “S’not me secret to tell, it seems.”
Dagmar turned to her sisters. “I believe her.”
Petronella and Solveig snorted in disgust. “You always were a stupid girl, Dagmar.” Petronella hissed. “We can take care of her on our own then.”
The two advanced on Maggie.
Odnar and Tenk, each on shaggy ponies, burst into the little clearing where Maggie and the two ladies danced around each other. On their appearance Solveig startled, looking up at them, and caught a rough hook to her right eye from Maggie’s balled-up fist that made her yelp and fall flat-out on her back in the snow.
Petronella took advantage of Maggie’s attention being on the other sister to leap on Maggie’s back and drag her, wrestling, down into the snow.
Odnar and Tenk were both shouting for them to stop, but their voices were drowned by the shrieks of dismay coming from Dagmar and the whining wail that Solveig was producing as she clutched her bruised eye.
Maggie got the upperhand, pinning Petronella face-down in the snow. She grabbed hold of Petronella’s long, shining braid and wrapped it around her wrist, yanking up hard on the woman’s head. She raised her dagger. Tenk shouted, “Maggie, no!” But it was too late, she sliced the blade home, both girls screaming in horror at the sight.