Hanging upside-down over the edge of Perchoff's Drop was turning out to be the bad idea her brother, Radagast, had predicted it would be, but Tylia would sooner throw herself into the broiling mists hundreds of feet below than admit that and give up on retrieving the snow flower.
The currently-budded plant was priceless to mages and difficult to find. So, when she spotted this one about to bloom on a tiny ledge three feet below, she tied their rope around her waist and gave the other end to Radagast to wrap around the trunk of one of the snow-covered pines and then hold on.
No matter how the winds battered her, the jagged rock prodded her gut, or how dizzy she felt from blood rushing to her head, she hung on, metal clippers ready in one hand and the other gripping the outcrop.
Her brother tugged on the rope and shouted in his crackling voice, "Is it done yet? My nose'll freeze off soon!"
Before she could reply a gust of frigid air smacked her face, stealing her breath and throwing snowflakes in her eyes. She blinked them out, unable to rub them away, and by the time she could see again a large black bird had appeared ten feet further down. It perched on a gnarled and nutrition-starved tree that had grown out of the cliff side rock like a determined stray nose hair.
"Shoo!" she called, waving at it to go away. It tilted its head as if amused.
"Don't shake the rope like that!" Radagast shouted, the howling winds consuming many of his words.
"There's a raven!" she shouted over her shoulder, "They're foul luck!"
"What? What about a raven?"
She turned back. The raven had vanished and in its place stood a young man. A gorgeous young man that the branch did not bend under as if he had no weight.
His head was tilted to the right just like the bird's had been, but now silver earrings glinted in his earlobes. Contrasting with his cream-white skin, he wore black from the high collar of his brocade down to the slippers on his feet. Elegant and ethereal defined him. She didn't need to see the way his short-cropped hair shimmered like starlight or the flash of dark, purple light in his slanted eyes to know he wasn't human.
His high cheek bones and rounded chin shifted as his smile grew. He raised an arm and extended a slender finger, pointing at her. Heat spread over her face and, only after she realized he was pointing at something near her, did she manage to strip her gaze from him.
She leaned forward, horrified by the sight of the snow flower well past full bloom, its five petals beginning to wilt, and grabbed the stem. Bending it to the side, she snipped just above the highest leaf and felt relief wash over as the plant did not disintegrate. She had preserved it.
Her triumph did not last though.
A sudden slackness in the rope sent terror through her as her knot came undone. Tylia threw out a hand to grab something, anything, as she fell.
"TYL!" Radagast shrieked.
His voice faded, air rushed around her, and the cliff grew distant. A shriek tore out of her throat and, wild with fear, she blacked out.
Staring into the bucket's water confirmed how ugly she was. Growing up, her father often told her the only pleasant feature on her fat-face were her sky-blue eyes, so like her mother's.
People in the village of Eomora sometimes remarked how her snub-nose gave Tylia a "piggish" look. A few of the nastier village boys "oinked" whenever she passed. Although she had straw-colored hair, it hung flat and limp about her face and refused to grow further than her shoulders.
Understand marriage would never free her and Radagast of this place, Tylia would have to find other means.
"Tyl!" her brother called in a far away voice, his large hands shaking her. "Tyl!"
She snapped awake to find his round face hovering over her. He was so close she could almost count the freckles splattered over the wavy bridge of his nose. Relief and concerned painted his features.
"Gast?" she groaned, trying to sit up. Her head rested in his lap while the rest of her lay on snow.
"Oh thank you, Samer," he said, glancing up at the starry sky. When his gaze returned to her, hot tears dripped from his round cheeks and plopped on her wide forehead. Cradling her, he said in a pained voice, "I thought I lost you."
"What happened?" she said, easing herself to sitting with his help. They were in a grove of trees. "Where are we?"
"On Perchoff's Drop," he answered.
After staring at him for a long pause, it became clear he was not joking. "Impossible," she said, patting at the front of her fur tunic and woolen undershirt, "I fell off it."
"I know. I saw," he shrugged, "But the wind is very strong today. Maybe an air current caught you and threw you up here." He gestured, raising his hands over his head.
She crossed her arms and gave him a very skeptical look. "Truly? You think the wind saved me?"
"Any better ideas?"
As she rubbed at her sloping shoulders and muscular upper arms, she winced and felt bruises. Tylia remembered falling and then a feeling of being caught. And a scent of mint and snow.
"I saw a Craven," she said, "They are as beautiful as the stories say. He floated below me and watched me."
Radagast's round, hazel eyes peered around the forest warily and he stood up, dusting snow off his buckskin coat and helped her to her feet. "Let's hurry away from here before that thing can come back. Maybe it wanted the flower."
"Ah! The flower!" she gasped, glancing around for it. "I lost it!" She slapped a gloved hand against her face.
"Who cares? You nearly died."
"We needed it," she blustered. "We're going to escape this spring, remember?"
"We have four, Tyl. Four!" he repeated, holding up four fingers, "Most are lucky to find on in a decade."
"Two," she reminded, "Think of it as two. He can't know."
"But lying to father," Radagast said, gazing sideways.
"Gast," she said, leaning on him for support while they walked, she grabbed his square chin and forced him to face her, "He. can't. know."
"He does care about us," Radagast insisted and it took all Tylia's strength not to roll her eyes. "He does. Watch. He'll be worried when he hears you almost died."
"Don't bet on it," she remarked.
He slung her arm over his shoulders and they began trudging home. Tylia found herself searching the thick shadows of the trees and their branches, searching for signs of that Craven. His handsome face continued to haunt her.