Perhaps it was the melancholy of the season or perhaps the harsh business of the day – whatever it was that came to disturb his usual demeanor this day caused the young ruler to be outside, riding upon his stead of ghostly white. The giant, elegant elk strode with purpose through the underbrush, picking his way with care. He received no instruction or direction from his rider and so followed a well-hidden game trail.
His rider, meanwhile, paid no attention to his surroundings. No, the King was far too caught up in his own world to notice the subtle quiet of the forest.
But the elk noticed. He stopped, standing statue still, his ears the only movement as they swiveled about, trying to listen for any sign of trouble. When no noise came the elk, he twisted his neck around and nipped warningly at his rider’s leg.
Jerked from his inner thoughts, the King glanced around. “Vaun, what is it?” the young King asked.
Then the quiet found his ear and he stilled, gold eyes glancing here, there – but there was nothing. Nothing stirred beneath the trees, no birds whistled, no leaves rustled.
No animals. No insects. Not even a simple breeze.
“Something… is wrong…”
Slowly, the young King reached for the reigns of his mount, grasping them tightly in his gloved hands. “Home, Vaun…” he murmured into the elk’s ear, his eyes and ears alert for trouble.
The elk moved quickly, rearing and swiveling on his rear hooves. But he did not move fast enough. As Vaun leapt into the air, he shrieked, tumbling into the game trail and falling to his side. The young king did not react fast enough and as his mount tumbled, he was trapped beneath the elk’s great bulk.
But the elk did not respond; an arrow buried to the feathers stuck out of the elk’s breast, feathers of green and brown.
Arrows of Summer.
Golden eyes snapped open and Maer sat straight up with a silent cry. Tears ran freely down his statuesque cheeks, sweat glistening on his skin.
“…Vaun… why am I dreaming of you again…” the white-haired king whispered, slowly wiping away the tears. Dreams of the past brought with it the recollection of pain. With a heavy sigh, the king pulled off the comforter and slipped out of bed. Quiet steps brought him to the wash room where he attempted to wash away the old hurt, the pain, the memories.
But they stayed with him.
“Come inside, my King,” the silky voice of Myra called to him from the doors of the Winter Palace. Too many days she sounded as worried for him as she was for the rest of the Kingdom.
Each of them had reason to worry now; the Summer Kingdom had killed several Winter agents in the past few weeks. All was no longer well between the two Kingdoms.
“Maer, the will arrive when they arrive. You standing outside is not going to make them arrive any faster,” the queen wisely continued, beckoning again to her King. “Come inside. Everyone is gathered for the meeting and we cannot begin without you.”
With one last look past the horizon, Maer nodded and strode through the packed snow, rubbing at his chin. “I don’t get it, Myra. Alric should have been here by now. He’s never late and he always comes when he says he will.”
“Perhaps he just couldn’t make it this time,” Myra offered, taking Maer’s hand as he came within reach.
But Maer shook his head. “Alric would have sent a messenger if he could not make it. He does not… not show… without any word or any sign…”
“He’ll come if he can, my King. Worrying about it does not make a difference.”
“What if he’s in trouble? Alric-”
“Is a fine hunter and can take care of himself,” Myra smiled, shaking her head. “You worry far too much about him.”
Maer sighed and nodded. “I know…”
The doors of the palace closed behind the King and Queen, hand in hand, as they ambled through the halls of the palace toward the throne room. Thoughts raced through his mind as he walked with his queen.
But all thoughts stopped when he glanced at his queen, beautiful and radiant as freshly fallen snow. Silver hair shaped into a braid, beads, feathers, and gold threaded and worked into the beautiful hair. Almond-shaped eyes the color of a late evening sky met the King’s own. A smile that warmed even the coldest night broke across her lips, a sun breaking the horizon.
“What is it?” Myra asked, her silky voice bubbling with a laugh.
“…I just… how did I get so lucky?”
But she shook her head and kissed his lips, a chaste peck. “Maer, I love you. I’m the lucky one.”
When he didn’t respond, merely mirrored her smile, the Queen tugged lightly on his hand. “Come on,” she murmured, just as reluctant as he to ruin this moment, “they’re waiting for us… we’ve made them wait long enough.”
With a nod, the King walked beside, holding her hand tightly.
Slowly, Maer opened his eyes and glared at the empty space beside him. No one shared his bed now.
“… Myra… which god did I anger…” he asked the empty bed, slowly pushing himself up from the mattress, supporting himself with his elbows. “I would give anything… anything… to have you back…”
A knock on the door s of his chambers derailed his thoughts, turning melancholy to anger.
“Is this important?” Though he did not shout or yell, his voice echoed in the mind of the servant on the other side of the doors.
“Important enough to risk your life on that judgment?”
“Y-yes, Sire. The mantle of the Queen, Sire… its chosen.”
Maer was silent for a long moment before he finally moved, slowly, slipping out of the bed. “Who?”
“A young Sidhe, named Mab, Sire.”
“…I will find her and make my judgment.”
A knock on the door caught Maer’s attention and he watched the doors of his study part enough to show a servant. “Sire, Lord Hunter Alric Koenig to see you,” the servant bowed, announcing the young King’s good friend.
“Let him in,” Maer ordered.
The servant moved aside and opened the door fully. Striding in with all the confidence of the world was a young Sidhe, an accomplished hunter, taller than even seven-foot Maer. The mottled brown and green of his armor seemed to move and dance as the hunter glided across the floor. In the crook of his arm he held his matching helmet, a beautiful thing, with stag horns gracefully reaching high. In place of his helmet, his long blue-black hair flowed down his poised back. Dark eyes watched the King, a predator in his own right.
The two predators smiled slowly at each other, old friends and old players of this game.
“Alric… you’re a little late. That’s rather unlike you.”
“If it weren’t for that young pup of a prince, I wouldn’t have been late,” the hunter growled, though his features were relaxed and smiling.
“The Summer Prince is that much of a handful?”
“Oh yes. Your spawn were never this bad. I’ve had to dissuade him from trying to attack you.”
Maer’s features grew dark and clouded at those words. “What do you mean?”
Alric did not respond immediately. He glanced to the closed doors behind him, then around to the window. “There are no listeners?”
“No,” Maer narrowed his eyes, slowly standing. “What threat is there to my Kingdom?”
“… Maer… you must be calm, my friend. The pup can’t do a thing to you, not with his Father keeping him on a tight leash.”
“Alric, you know well and good that tight leashes breed the most dangerous kind of threats.”
With a slow, reluctant nod, Alric conceded the point. “Very true… alright… please do not overreact.” Alric took a slow breath and continued, “The Prince is convinced that the only way for the Sidhe Realm to remain safe and harmonious is to have one kingdom of Sidhe. He is … determined… that one kingdom be ruled by Summer.”
Maer pursed his lips, frowning. “He is unaware of the necessary balance of our Kingdoms… unaware that we maintain harmony by having two Kingdoms…”
Alric nodded, shifting to his left leg. “Indeed. We in Summer have tried to dissuade him, to teach him, to make him understand that both Winter and Summer are needed for balance… but he is not interested in balance. He is only interested in ruling all of the Sidhe. He… he is not what a ruler needs to be. We in Summer are… extremely worried…”
Slowly, the King began to pace around his study, his hands clasped behind him. “Where did he get this notion?”
The hunter was silent for a moment before he heaved a sigh and met Maer’s eyes. “He’s been hanging around fae… wild fae… fools who do not hold allegiance to either Kingdom…”
The King growled at the very word, his hand forming a fist. His voice was deathly quiet as he questioned the hunter, “Why were they allowed near the prince?”
“We were unaware until we caught him with them… he has not been allowed near them since.”
“And so he thinks his ‘friends’ are right and the Kingdoms are wrong…”
Alric nodded, disgust clear on his face. “They have corrupted his view of his duties…”
“Has your King taken steps-”
“Sire!” A servant yelled, bursting into the study. “Sire, forgive the intrusion, but the Queen-!”
Golden eyes full of malice and worry turned to the servant. “What’s happened to Myra?”
“She-… She’s been shot, Sire. An arrow, while she was in the courtyard.”
The King stopped dead in his tracks, his already pale features draining of color. Maer swayed dangerously on his feet, his golden eyes wide with shock, pain – and tears.
As the King started to fall, Alric darted forward and caught the young Sidhe. The hunter practically dragged Maer to a seat, forcing him to sit.
“…w-who… who s-sh-shot… my Myra…?”
The servant hesitated, glancing suspiciously at the hunter. When the silence dragged on, the King’s head snapped up, flecks of red bleeding through his golden irises.
“Who shot my Queen?” the King demanded, his voice a steady, quiet calm.
“I-It was an of Summer. Several guards reported seeing the Prince of Summer… and several fae…”
Quickly, Alric turned to Maer, but before he could council caution, Maer shot up from his seat and strode out of the study. The hunter hurried after the King, but his long legs could not keep pace with the quiet storm that was the King of Winter.
When they reached the courtyard, the Queen lay in a beautiful heap, handmaidens kneeling at her side. But she did not breath; she had long since passed from this world.
As the King strode quietly across the frozen ground, the handmaidens stood and backed off, giving him room. The King sank to his knees at her side, taking her pale hand in his. He bowed his head and bade her a silent farewell; but he refused to cry.
The King finally rose, cradling the Queen in his arms. The arrow fletched with Summer colors lay discarded on the ground. Turning slowly in a circle, his gold-red eyes met everyone’s eyes.
“This is a day of mourning… and this is a day to never be forgotten. Queen Myra is murdered. Her murderer: Prince Gyre of Summer. This day… this day… Winter declares war upon Summer… this day Summer has provoked Winter… and this day, Summer will pay.”
His eyes fell upon Alric last. “You need to leave. Deliver my declaration to King Hyrne. Tell him… the head of Prince Gyre is the only way this will be settled… I am coming for his head…if I am challenged, there will be bloodshed.”
Then the King strode past Alric, carrying the limp body of his beloved Myra. “And warn him… should he shelter any fae, I will kill any who stand in my way of killing them. All fae are my enemy.”
Tears ran down his face as Maer opened his eyes to stare into blissful, dreadful darkness. A winter storm outside clothed everything in a blanket of quiet. A pale hand snaked out from the covers and clutched at the empty side of his bed.