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When the first snows begin to fall, my valley is coated in silence. The river crusts over quickly, the slow trickle not enough to keep the top flowing long against the insistence of the ice. The trees are bare already, the bright hues of autumn faded away with the last lingering remnants of warmth. Nothing remains but the white of the snow and the smoke rising from my chimney. My stores are full: venison and rabbit salted and jerked and dried, vegetables wrapped in burlap, jars of preserves lining the wall and herbs dangling from the ceiling to brighten up the dark winter days. This valley is bountiful, and it is all mine. No one disturbs me here.
That’s just how I like it.

It’s not that I hate people, but you can’t hear the flowers when surrounded by the noise of people living. Flowers are peaceful, with a rhythm all their own when they sing. Their songs are honey and colors, scent and softness. Now, when the snow falls and coats the barren trees, the flowers hum only lightly, lost in the dreams of winter. The only noise interrupting them is me and Kit, my hound. He whines as I open the door, watching the snow fall. He hates the cold. It never bothers me. Nothing does these days. My life goes by in a dance of seasons, each drawing inexorably to the next. Winter is the intermission before the symphony of spring.

Near the end of winter, the cherry blossoms play the interlude, coaxing the daffodils from their snow-covered slumber. And every year, they make me cry, for it is another year.. No. It is impossible. The cherry blossoms are far, far from now, and the winter winds sing a lullaby through the trees.
There is little left to do now, but keep chopping wood, so I do. Cracks echo from the walls, a snare drum to the heartbeat of the valley.

My axe pauses, the feeling the stutter stop of another heart coming too close. They don’t know I’m here, they can’t. The ground whimpers at the touch of unfamiliar footfalls, but while I cringe, they are far away still, far enough not to immediately flee. That doesn’t stop my heart from quickening to spring speeds and sending my hands quivering as I flee into my cabin.

The steps come closer, down the mountain trail that soon will be impassable with snow and ice until well after the cherry blossoms fall. At the rate the snow is falling, it won’t be long at all until my valley is safe for the winter. If I had anywhere else to go, I’d hide from this strange interloper, but in this steady snowfall, there’s no other option. I am not a cherry tree, to blossom through the ice.

Finally, the stranger’s steps pause, but they’re too close, practically right outside my cabin. My heart skitters in my chest, the axe clutched in my hand heavy. Could I use it? I’ve never had to, no one in these years has dared to intrude on the witch of the valley.

“I have journeyed to the end of the world for you. Will you open your doors to me?” The voice is no stranger’s, though it has been long indeed since it last caressed my ear.

My heart soars like an eagle, the axe falling carelessly to clatter on the timber floor as I throw open the door to the one person I could ever imagine sharing my valley with, the man I sent away on an impossible quest so long ago for fear of my heart breaking.

He stands with a cherry tree limb in his hands, the flowers bright pink and wrapped in snow. “You sent me to find a cherry branch in blossom before the first snows fell. I searched throughout the world until I found it, though now that the snow has begun to fall, you will have to take my word that this branch had begun to bloom before this morning.”

Trembling, I take the branch and let it sing a symphony of my love. As the song spreads, I feel it grow until the whole valley is in bloom. Cherry trees burst into pink blossoms and cloaked in snow shadow daffodils and violets and roses, all shoving snow aside in a riot of colors in celebration as my heart blossoms open.

If it breaks now, I can regrow it.

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