The arctic hare applied a white, talcum-like powder to Nin’s fur. The powder stuck to the smaller rabbit, turning his coat a pale white. “You are very lucky,” said the arctic hare. “That temperate fur of yours stuck out like a sore paw. If some bear or fox had found you before I had—”
Nin shivered with cold. “I’m a very foolish rabbit, it seems. Will you teach me the ways of the north?”
The arctic hare stared at Nin for a long minute, assessing him, taking in his stock. “Winter is hard,” she said at last. “There is no room for idleness or weakness here. Every day is a struggle for survival. With two that struggle can be eased, or it can be exacerbated. If you slow me down I will not hesitate to cut you loose. I will not let your weakness be my death.”
“I will earn my keep and more,” said Nin. “I will not be your burden.”
“You must do exactly what I say at all times. You must work hard every day. You must maintain constant vigilance,” said the arctic hare. “Can you do these things?”
“Yes,” replied Nin.
And so the arctic hare took Nin into her burrow. She taught him the ways of the north; how to move stealthily on the open plain, how to locate willow and bark under feet of snow, how to recognize the first subtle signs of an oncoming storm.
Nin proved to be a quick learner and an excellent student. The arctic hare said, “You will run to the bay without leaving the barest mark upon the snow,” and Nin moved like a ghost across the plain.
The arctic hare said, “You will dig a den within ten minutes time,” and Nin sprang headfirst into a snowbank, digging with all his might.
The arctic hare said to Nin: “We will run until we find new territory,” and together they ran until their muscles ached.
And although the arctic hare spoke as if she was delivering commands, Nin knew that they weren’t orders. They were simply facts. Each one carried with it a condition left unsaid: you will do this, or you will die.
It was a long, cold and cruel winter. But Nin survived it.