Hair releases such a stringent, unmistakable smell when it burns. The nostrils recoil. They know that that smell means something is terribly wrong in the world.
The hairs on the back of your arms curl from heat. Her hair had never curled properly; gravity drew the heavy locks straight within the hour. Hot stones, burning irons. How silly they had been to wish to curl the hair on their heads when they should have been grateful to have hair there at all. How silly, when within the week, they would learn that even such tiny hairs as those on the back of one’s arms can curl under the right circumstances.
Freida stood in the window. The young woman leaned out to reach for Cwen, but Cwen could do nothing but look up and fear that if her friend leaned much further, she’d fall to her death. But then the blonde locks caught. The flames spread through her hair quickly. Detached, somehow knowing the thought was broken, Cwen recalled the oils they had mixed to smooth their hair the day before. Flames soon consumed her friend, but instead of running away from the window as she should have, Freida stayed. She stayed and lowered her arm to point at Cwen as the roar of the flames devouring the house roared around her.
Before Cwen could scream, a sharp, stabbing pain shot through her back straight through her. Her lung refused to expand so that she could gasp. A heavy hand fell on her shoulder as the dirk in her back twisted and as if time slowed, she looked back to see the cold smile of her father before she felt her body flying into the oven of a house…
Her true gasp awoke her and the smell of burning hair caused Cwen to bolt upright in her bedroll and grasp for her hair. Her jagged breathing tore her throat as she looked around wildly to gain a bearing in this world, this waking world where the smell of burning hair was real.
Unable to shake the dream, she flung her arm out to reach for the candlestick on the bedside table, only she was not in her tiny closet room in Riverwide, she was in the Trollshaws a hundred leagues away from her childhood home. The movement made the burns on her arms shoot venomous reminders to her brain and the day before came back to her.
The wood trolls.
Oendir’s necklace and three words carved into a tree.
She reached to her neck to feel for the black cord that kept the coin, Oendir’s good luck charm, safely attached to her. She traced the length down to the metal and it was warm against her skin. Closing her fist around it tightly, she squeezed her eyes shut and slowly counted to ten.
Bemá, give me strength to find him. Watch over him, your servant. Help him find peace, please.
Quietly in the dark, she searched for the pot of salve that would cool the heat of her wounds.
She told herself it was not real, the dream, and it wasn’t. Her father had not stabbed her nor had he thrown her into a burning house. She lost her hair in the stables, not from watching Freida burn. That was years ago and only the stress of the bridge crossing and the fire must have brought them back. It had been some time since she had drifted back.
Slathered with medicine, stinking of witch hazel and burnt hair, Cwen laid down.
It was a long time before exhaustion closed her eyes.