The Dala Horse
by Michael Swanwick
Something terrible had happened. Linnea did not know what it was. But her father had looked pale and worried, and her mother had told her, very fiercely, “Be brave!” and now she had to leave, and it was all the result of that terrible thing.
The three of them lived in a red wooden house with steep black roofs by the edge of the forest. From the window of her attic room, Linnea could see a small lake silver with ice very far away. The design of the house was unchanged from all the way back in the days of the Coffin People, who buried their kind in beautiful polished boxes with metal fittings like nothing anyone made anymore. Uncle Olaf made a living hunting down their coffin-sites and salvaging the metal from them. He wore a necklace of gold rings he had found, tied together with silver wire.
“Don’t go near any roads,” her father had said. “Especially the old ones.” He’d given her a map. “This will help you find your grandmother’s house.”
“No, Far-Mor. My mother. In Godastor.”
Godastor was a small settlement on the other side of the mountain. Linnea had no idea how to get there. But the map would tell her.
Her mother gave her a little knapsack stuffed with food, and a quick hug. She shoved something deep in the pocket of Linnea’s coat and said, “Now go! Before it comes!”
“Good-bye, Mor and Far,” Linnea had said formally, and bowed.
Then she’d left.