Snow and smoke filled the dark sky above Sareh as she crept toward warmth. The other families had already gathered. They’d already enjoyed the initial blast of heat when the ‘shovels uncovered the hot springs. Now that the best of it was gone, now that the other families had gone home, she could approach.
The Company had already ringed the pit with the typical chain-link fence. Buzzing lamps filled the area with sterile white light. A guard waited at the gate. She groaned when she it was Pallas.
One side of his mouth twisted up into a grin. “So, the holy woman’s decided to take some time with us commoners, eh?”
Sareh stared down at the ground. “I’m not holy.”
“Yeah, sure, whatever. Papers?”
Sareh handed over her Card with a hand shaking not only from cold. Pallas scanned it. He rubbed his stubbled chin. “Looks like you’re over the limit for heat usage this month.”
“No!” Sareh shook her head. “I can’t be out already! Please! I just want to warm up!” Her gaunt hands clutched each other as she pleaded.
The hulking guard shrugged and rubbed his chin. “You know, I’d be willing to give you some of my allotment.”
Sareh skittered backwards. “No! Not at your price!”
“See? You’re just too holy. Too holy for your own good. And that’ll only get you frozen.”
“Is there a problem here, officer?” A new, smoother voice interrupted the proceedings.
Pallas turned to the new arrival and took off his cap. “No problem, Officiant. This woman’s used her allowance of heat and was trying to barter to get some of mine.”
“I’m sure.” A man in a dark overcoat stepped close. “Put your hat on, officer. I’m not worth the sacrifice of your warmth.” He looked down at the cowering woman. “What’s your name, woman?”
“Ah. I’ve heard of you.”
Sareh couldn’t read the man’s tone. The words hung in the still air. Snow settled around them.
“Officer, you can charge my card for both of us.”
Pallas refrained from grumbling as he scanned the officiant’s card. The new man held a hand out to Sareh. “Right this way. Come get warm.”
Sareh trembled past Pallas to the path down to the hot springs. “I can’t pay you.”
“You already have.”
Sareh glanced up at the officiant.
“I’ve heard of you. You never have enough heat for yourself, from what I understand. And I’ve heard why.”
She refused to meet his eye.
“I approve. I wish everyone donated their heat the way you do. Tonight, let me return the favor. You’ve given your heat allotment to others in need; tonight, I give some of mine to you. Warm up, Sareh, and don’t be afraid. I ask nothing more of you.”
Read more of the world of Snow and Smoke here.
Read the previous story, A Bonus for Barras, here.
Read the next story, Dinner for Danal, here.