The wind ruffled the lengths of blond silken hair that caressed his shoulders and chest, as the mass slid down, draping over his back and the brown fur stole that he’d wrapped himself in. His pale skin was goose-bumped in places, but he really wasn’t that cold, despite now wearing a shirt underneath. His bare chest showed hard nipples with the bite that was in the air, his breath coming out in little puffs of white mist. But no, he really wasn’t cold. Mainly because of the protection afforded him by the Mask.
He wore the Mask of the Eye, a metal framework that resembled an eye at its center, and provided a relatively unobstructed view for the wearer. The wire frame was stylized and created to go from the forehead to the chin, and from temple to temple. The metal did not grow cool, or gather moisture or frost. In fact, it felt warm.
He observed the wilderness around him carefully, looking for certain signs that he had been followed. So far, he had not. He smiled at that. He reached up and tugged on the necklace draped around his throat, pulling on it gently. As he toyed with it, its lengths brushed against the goosebumps on his skin in a strange, but appealing way.
The sunlight was partly obscured by the clouds, but when it broke through, it made the frost and snow covering the surrounding forest glitter like little gems had been imbedded in the snowbanks. The lake before him was coated in ice, as well, and it had even gotten thick enough to walk on, though he doubted anyone should really bet their life on it holding, not until deep winter descended, and there had been sustained cold temperatures. As it was, only a child or someone of his own stature could brave the icy surface, until it thicken to a more significant depth.
He walked along the game trail that wound its way around the lake, and as he did, his eyes alighted on a patch of dewberries, that had somehow remained unharmed by the recent snow and frost. He glanced around, at the overhanging fir trees and the close shrubs that were nearby. They seemed to shelter the robust little dewberry bush. His eyes sparkled in delight at the find, since it had been some time since he had been able to acquire any of the rare fruit. The berries were not very good to eat, but they had certain properties and uses; one was to make a medication, another a potent sedative, and they had applications as a recreational substance. The final use, that he knew of, was for pure vanity as a form of make-up.
He opened the small pouch at his belt, and extracted a rolled up empty sack. He shook it out, unfurling it from its compact state, and proceeded to pick every berry he could find on that little bush, and stuff it in the bag.
It turned out to be quite a harvest, as he filled the little bag with the dark blue little treasures. His fingertips tingled with the slight narcotic effect that the berry juice had on the body, and when he had finally plucked the last of the berries he could see, he closed up the sack, and tied its drawstring tightly closed.
As he stood up, he shivered a little, tugging the fur stole around him, thinking that despite the protection of the Mask, he should have dressed a little more warmly. Or maybe it was the dewberry juices on his fingertips. They were stained blue on the tips, and he ran his fingers through a snowbank, and gripped some snow, and tried to scrub the juice off the surface of his skin.
Of course, he knew that, had he walked through the castle in fur coats and thick boots, the overbearing guard staff would have surrounded him like they usually did and prevented him from going anywhere. Being a prince was difficult sometimes, despite all of the luxuries.
He wandered along the path to the far side of the lake, and came upon the small abandoned Huntsman’s cabin, which was a sturdy little cottage made of rough-hewn logs, fitted together expertly and caulked with a mixture of plant matter, clay, and some other substance to make the whole a cozy little house to protect against the winter weather.
He strode over to the cottage, noting that there were twigs and branches and vines snaking around the roof and walls, and a single large branch had fallen in front of the cozy little front porch, to partially block entrance to the home. The windows were shuttered, and the front door was made of a surprisingly well made door bound with leather and steel bands, and seemed to be shut, with a lock fitted into its structure. He was curious, so he climbed his way over the branch blocking the way, and then stepped up onto the porch. The place looked abandoned, so he didn’t bother knocking. Instead, he pushed on the door to see if it would open.
The door resisted a moment, then stubbornly scraped on the wooden floor, as it was pushed back and back, until there was room to squeeze his skinny body through the opening. It was surprisingly much warmer inside, though by no means was it ‘warm’ in comparison to his chambers at the castle. But when he stood inside, he heard a low growl, and there was the glitter of a wolf’s eyes in the back of the building.
The prince’s eyes got very large, and a panic and thrill tingled through him, as his breathing got rapid and his heart started to pound in his chest. He gasped and backpedaled towards the door, but a moment later the power of the Mask flared and his vision cleared of the dim light and shadows. It showed that the wolf eyes was actually a stuffed wolf, and the growl was the scraping of branches on the roof and sides of the cabin, and not a wild animal’s growl.
The prince laughed, his face red as a tomato, at the momentary thrill, and as his heart stopped fluttering, he calmed. He caught his reflection in a cracked mirror on the wall. Though it was smudged and fractured, he thought he looked rather fetching in the reflection, and even in the dim light. His cheeks were flushed, his lips were pink and he had a vitality about him that was rather fetching.
He sighed with the experience, before deciding that there wasn’t anything in this little hut but old memories and cobwebs. After one last look, he slipped back out into the chill air, and pulled the door shut.
His path took him back to the edge of the lake, where he saw a patch of ice that was rather clear and almost mirror like, as the sun snuck from behind a bank of clouds.
A thought came to him, as he approached the edge of the ice. He stooped down and took out a berry from his pouch, and slowly removed his Mask. He set it aside for the moment, and then took the berry, and gently crushed it between his fingertips, and then dabbed the bruised and weeping berry’s flesh against his eyelids and over his lips. There was a tingle, and that feel of a narcotic thrill, a gentle buzz, slightly euphoric, that seemed to come over him in a few moments, and he let out a soft sigh of delight.
He dropped the used berry into the edge of the lake, and rubbed his fingers through the frost-covered grass at the edge, and got most of the tingling juice off his fingertips, but the effect on his eyes and lips were like that of makeup, and he looked down at the ice, leaning over wondering if he would see his reflection in the ice.
And he did. He grinned at himself. But as he admired his visage, he shivered as the chill wind whipped through his long mane and the cold started to bite at him once more. He quickly slipped the mask back on, and glanced down again at the mirror-like surface of the ice. He thought he looked even more delightful, and as the Mask protected him again from the cold, he sighed with relief, the air puffed with the white mist of his breath. He turned his head this way and that, and said, “My gods, I feel so good, and I look soooo… mmmmmmm.”
With that, the prince slowly rose from his position, and brushed off his knees, scattering the remnants of ice and loose bracken that mixed with the snow.
Giving one last look to the quiet little area, he thought he would have to come back here, when the weather was more hospitable, or when he wanted to slip the guards, and he could always hang out in that little cabin, build a fire, and stay for a while, if he had food and drink and the comforts of a blanket.
He set off on the pathway to take him back to the castle, as the thought of food and drink made his stomach rumble with want. And, later that evening, he had a young troubadour that was supposed to perform for him in a private audience. With his cache of berries, he could make that audience perhaps a bit more interesting – for the both of them. That made him smile even more.
Whistling a little tune, he sauntered back towards the castle.
Story By: Dehrynn Shepherd
Eyeshadow & Lipstick- Zibska ~ Anina & Nahia (ULTRA)