In the morning, when she woke, the river sparkled with the light from the top arc of the sun peaking above the mountains before her. The valley edges seemed to steepen, and the piercing scent of pine and juniper drifted along with the mist from the rushing water. The day passed gently, the bright sun piercing the conifers surrounding her, growing thicker over the slope of an adjoining valley which seemed to be falling into hers. She left the stream for this valley, following it higher into the heart of the mountains.
When she walked in her shadow skin she heard and saw things the girl could not. There were martens in the trees and marmots in the rocks. But it was the growing scent which struck her most. It started as traces, and a ruddy smear of musk upon scarred trunks. The smell grew, and combined the muddy earthen scent with that of hot blood and pine-branch bedding. Over this lay a smattering of smoke, like a fire gone out days past. Overnight, she sheltered in one of these cold pine beds, wrapped in her silver shadow. The next day, she continued on her path, tracking the scent to find who lay behind it, and who’s shadow.
The man she found sat upon a boulder in a glade with a pothole pond beside it. He didn’t look up at her, but the bear who lay at his side stood slowly and walked towards her, towered above her. Her eyes, if level, would only have seen as high as its chin, and its hulking shoulders protruded from its back feet above the top of her head. She reached out to it and cupped its chin in her hand, burying her fingers in its fur. Slowly lowering her eyelids, she moved her palm to his cheek, and when she opened them again, he stood before her, seamlessly changed from the coat of his shadow to the wide shouldered man she had seen on the rock.
When she dropped her hand to her side, he had already started to speak to her. “Where have you been?” he asked, “I had hoped you might follow me, but I’ve only just settled down to wait.”
“Where have I been?” she laughed. “Cold beds and musky trails.”
“They are warm when they’re fresh. But for now, this is yours.” he said through his smile. The silver cloak she was wearing turned to vest and leggings again, and around her shoulders cascaded a thick fur, warm and heavy. She helped him to assemble his bed, and he showed her where to arrange one.
“You’ve had your shadow a long time?” she asked.
“Yes, and I think someone else shaped yours.” he replied. The valley air dusted the pines with small ice crystals as she lay, chilled, in her bed, listening to the thick breaths of the bear beside the boulder.