Wicked Winter

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Chapter 13

The first thing I noticed when I woke, was how cold it was. The undeniable chill seemed to seep through my clothes like water, through my pores and into my core. It was enough to make me shiver.

My eyes fluttered open, though not without difficulty; my lashes had gotten frozen together.

The world was a hazy cloud of whites and silvers, at first. Light blinded me, making it impossible to see, but once my eyes adjusted to the shine of the world, I went rigid.

I lay in the middle of a large canopy bed with silver drapes cascading down each one of the four poles. The thread that made up the shroud seemed to sparkle with a metallic intensity, as if silver had been melted down and sewn into the silk. I gaped as the cloth began to ripple like disturbed water in the breeze.

Sitting up with a groan, I swiveled my gaze. I fisted my fingers in the quilt beneath me, savoring the softness of the smooth material. The framework of the bed was made out of an opaque, frosted ice - bending and bowing to create intricate designs as delicate as a dragonflies wings. The poles that held up the heavy drapes were also cropped out of ice, reaching towards the ceiling like frosted fingers. I extended a trembling hand out, tracing a frozen curve with the tip of my finger. Surprisingly, my breath was calm, and my heart didn’t race like I expected it too.

Fresh morning light poured through two open double doors to my right, bringing flurries of snow and ice with it. I wasn’t in my normal black attire, but dressed in a cream lace gown that was as thin as human hair. I slipped out from beneath the quilt, setting my bare feet onto the ground. The floor itself was made out of more cloudy yet polished ice. It was beautiful, as if billows of smoke had been captured within its icy clutches, holding it there forever.

I crept across the floor towards the glass doors, mesmerized by how they reflected light in ribbons of rainbows that danced across the diamond-like walls of my room. I stared at the fractured light for a moment, in awe of its crystalline beauty, before finally turning towards the landscape outside the doors, past the balcony and beyond.

My breath seemed to be whisked away by invisible hands as I stared out at the grand display in front of me. Ranges of jagged mountains littered the region, capped with snow and blistering cold. A deep canyon ran down the side of the icy palace, so pitted the shadows seemed to swallow whatever light came in contact with it. Past the broken, uneven mountains was nothing but a sheet of white - a blanket of snow that reached as far as the horizon.

Fingers curled around my shoulders, and a soft breath whispered past my ear, rustling my hair and making me jump.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Foster asked, his fractured eyes gleaming. I hadn’t even heard him come in. Sneaky faeries.

“Yeah, beautiful,” I breathed back, though not because of the beauty of the land. He was so close I could feel every nerve ending on my body come alive in response to him.

He seemed to purr. “Go out onto the balcony and look down.” His hands slipped from my shoulder and onto the small of my back, nudging me forward. I ignored the tendril of electricity that coiled around my spine from his touch.

I did as he said, taking a tentative step out into the open air. The howling wind tossed my loose hair around my head like a platinum halo, causing me to tuck it behind my ears in annoyance.

The balcony wasn’t huge, at least not compared to the rest of the castle from what I could see. It would’ve been larger than the small shack I shared with the other orphans in the Village, though, but not quite as large as my tent with Sebastian in the training grounds.

Sebastian...

Was he looking for me, or did he finally come to the conclusion that I wasn’t worth his time; that Danna had more to offer? My heart skipped a beat, ramming into my throat. I struggled to swallow, tears threatening to spill.

“We don’t have all day, Princess. People are waiting.”

My shoulders sagged, and I glanced behind me to give him a puzzling stare, and he grinned back, wiggling his eyebrows. Something inside of me longed to reach out and cup his face, to pull him closer and...

I physically and mentally shook myself, and Foster’s lazy smirk stretched even further at my discomfort. “Waiting on us?” I asked when I trusted my voice again.

He shooed me towards the edge of the terrace. “I’ll explain later. Just look over the balcony.”

Suppressing an eye roll, I shuffled over to the icy railing, avoiding the icicles in fear they’d poke me and perhaps even draw blood. Placing my abdomen on the railing, I bent over and took a peek. My stomach quivered inside of me. I hated heights. God did I hate heights.

“It just goes down forever,” I gasped when I could finally find my voice, which had burrowed deep inside of me as if scared it would topple out past my lips and fall down, down, down.

He lifted an eyebrow. “Do you not know where you are?”

“Over the Great Mountain?”

The elf tilted his head back and laughed, placing a hand on the hilt of a sword I hadn’t even noticed him carrying. “Not over, my darling little pet. On The Great Mountain. Though here our home is called the Palas an Gheimhridh, residence of all royal and High Fae.”

Royal and High Fae...

“I’m in the Winter Court?”

He smirked, his diamond eyes twinkling like stars. “The one and only.”

Now my breath came in ragged gulps. I was in the Winter Court, home to royal faeries. My mother was the queen of all winter fae.

“How did I get here?” I whirled on him. When he told me he’d come for me, I didn’t quite have this in mind. I just imagined he’d get me out of that damn witch school and back to my family. Stupid, stupid.

Foster turned his back on me, his grey tunic stretched tight over his lean shoulders and arms. For a moment I allowed myself to indulge in wondering what they felt like, bare, under my fingers. He glided over to the crystalline bed, careful not to touch the small ice cycles dangling from the frame. “I brought you here, of course.”

"Why?”

He snorted. “I told you your mother was Maeve, Queen of the Winter Court, and you wonder why I brought you here? Come now, Princess. Don’t you have a brain, or is that foul human blood pumping through your veins potent enough to dilute your fae common sense?”

I scowled at him. “I’m not stupid, Foster.” It was the first time I’d actually spoken his name, and it repulsed me by how much I liked it. I could tell by the spark in his eyes, the muscle that feathered in his jaw, it had some affect on him too. “I just want to know why I’m needed here. Why, after nearly eighteen years does the queen,” I cleared my throat, “my mother, need me now?”

The grin fell off his face and practically shattered like cheap china on the ground. His face turned into a hard, unyielding mask. “You will see soon enough. Queen Maeve is currently preoccupied but she’s very excited to meet you. Until then, you are to get dressed, eat something, and I will be waiting for you when you’re ready for me to escort you throughout the grounds.” He gave a curt bow, and his platinum hair caught the light. Without another word, he disappeared through the door I assumed he came in.

I tried to get a peek of the hallway outside my room, but not a split second after Foster left me alone, pondering how I was to get dressed and eat, a mob of creatures poured in. Some where more humanoid than others - the only reflectance of their fae roots were their large eyes, pointed ears, and wildly colored hair. The others though, made me cringe back. One girl in particular made my skin crawl. Her mouth was an array of black fangs that gleamed when she smiled, and her skin was nothing but onyx scales. Her flesh was pulled so tightly around her I feared it would rip, sending guts and gore spilling onto the ice like slippery soap.

The band of servants ushered me towards the other side of a room where a wall divider stood, made out of white wood covered in frosted ivy. I inched around it, surprised to see a cauldron of steaming water sitting, waiting for me. I stripped without the servants telling me too, and slipped into the warm water.

I loved the cold, but the warm water was absolute bliss. I could feel the tightness in my muscles subsiding. The girl with the scales of midnight approached me from behind, dunking my hair in the water and washing my scalp with her sharp claws. I watched her face as she worked, and she offered me another terrifying smile, wickedness gleaming in her emerald eyes.

When my fingers began to prune and all the warmth had leaked from my bath, I reluctantly exited the tub, wrapping a towel around my shoulders. A servant with bluish-white skin ushered me towards a large mirror hanging on the opposite wall. When she sat me down in front of it, I caught a glimpse of my reflection for a second time and yelped. I still wasn’t used to the crazy purplish eyes, white lashes and sharp angles that now made up my face. The servants jumped at my sudden outburst and narrowed their eyes in annoyance.

They left my face alone, apart from adding a tacky, blue colored gloss to my lips that tasted of blueberries. My hair, on the other hand, was secured to my head in silver pins encrusted with sapphires. Braids of hair twisted around each other to form a thick platinum rope with small white flowers woven within that cascaded down my spine. I reached behind me and tugged on the braid. I could strangle someone with this, I teased internally.

Next came the dress, which was - much to my liking - a sleek silver gown that clung to my curves like liquid starlight. It pooled around my feet in waves, rippling and shimmering when I moved. It was strapless, complimenting the smooth curves of my pale shoulders and neck.

After months in the Witch’s Academy, I’d finally gotten rid of the frame years of starvation had gladly given me; filling out into a body I was proud of - a woman’s body. The curve of my waist was now soft, and I could no longer count how many ribs I had, so that was a plus. My breasts were actually larger than a handful now.

I was no longer the small street rat that was struggling to bring enough food home for seven children. I was no longer the small girl who could wield the power of ice - an oddity. I was now - and thankfully looked the part - the Princess of the Winter Court.

I listened to it now, the hum of my magic simmering in my veins. Despite the cold, I felt surprisingly warm - as if I had my very own sun resonating heat in my chest like a bright and powerful beacon. For the first time in my life, I felt powerful, like I could take on the world if it came knocking.

Something did come knocking.

The servants jolted when Foster joined us in the room, some of their eyes narrowing, but they curtsied none the less. “I’ll take her from here,” he commanded, his voice not the smooth, teasing tone I was used to, but a sharp bark. The band of fae nodded curtly and scurried from the room, some of them quite literally with their tail between their legs.

I could feel his gaze on me, my skin searing where his eyes touched my exposed flesh. His stare seemed weighed, as if he dragged it down my body with great force, lingering here and there. “You look like a winter princess.”

Blush bloomed in my cheeks, turning my normally translucent skin a beaming scarlet. “Um, thanks.”

He held out a pale hand. Tentatively I placed my fingers in his open palm, marvelling at how different yet similar the shades of our skin were. We were both deathly white, the pigment in our skin close to the color of snow. But where my skin had a shadow of blush beneath, he had none. His skin was pale, this was true, but almost like a corpse - with a blue undertone.

I briefly thought back to the faerie I’d seen in my village, the one with the white cloak and hair like an inky waterfall. She was murdered right before my eyes, and as I watched her die, cobalt blood had poured from the gaping wound on her chest. Blue blood.

Fairies must have blue blood.

“Come now, sweetheart.”

I jolted at the nickname, ripped from my vivid memory and into the present. Sebastian also called me sweetheart, and something about Foster using the name made my stomach ache, to churn like a writhing pile of aggravated snakes. “Don’t call me that,” I snapped, though I didn’t mean to sound so snippy.

The elves eyebrows reached his hairline. “Would you prefer me to call you my pet, or a dense human?”

As terrible as those names were, it seemed to fit more coming from his mouth than sweetheart. It just didn’t sound right if it wasn’t coming from Sebastian’s lips. “Anything but sweetheart.” My voice had dropped to a whisper, and realization hit his features.

He nodded, as if to himself. “Ah, I knew there was something going on between you and that witch.”

This surprised me. “Sebastian? How do you know about that?”

“I know a lot of things,” he said matter-of-factly, as if that should’ve been an obvious answer. He led me towards the door he had come in, and my heart jump started in my chest.

“What if she doesn’t like me?” I asked, my fingers tightening around his.

Foster gave me a stern look, his white brows pinching together. “Don’t give her a reason too,” he said sincerely.

There was something about his words that calmed me. Maybe it was the candor behind his eyes, or the subliminal messages I got from his tone.

He led me from the room.

My room was on a landing, and a few more doors sat further down the hall. A sweeping staircase was directly to my left, flowing down at least three stories until you reached a grand Buttery, a place where all fae in the grounds could come together and gossip, getting drunk on faerie wine. Large windows allow sunlight to pour into the room, illuminating everything in rainbows of colors. A mesmerizing chandelier twinkled above.

“There’s beauty here in the Winter Court, but also cruelty. Don’t forget that, Eve.”

I was about to ask him what he meant, but at that moment I got a glimpse of a creature behind the bar, serving drinks. It snarled at the sight of me, it’s warty, slimy skin catching the light. I nodded in respect as we passed, though it did nothing but hiss and bare a mouthful of jagged fangs in my direction.

“Sneaky little bastards, those goblins are,” mused Foster as he sweeped me from the Buttery into a magnificent hall.

The hall was crawling with all sorts of nightmarish creatures. Thin, sulking bogeys that slithered across the ground like lanky spiders. Snarling and hissing redcaps that wore blue and silver vests, embroidered with black thread. A woman with glass for skin and eyes that glimmered like silver coins. They hissed and sputtered at the sight of me, but kept their distance once they caught a glimpse of the elven knife hooked to my elbow.

“Why do they seem scared of you?” I asked when my curiosity had finally gotten the best of me.

He gave me a sideways glance, his shoulders tight and straight. In this light I could see the proud and cruel features of his face, the timeless shadow that clung to him, weighing down on him. Though of what, I couldn’t tell. “I am a knight. They have every right to be frightened of me,” he informed me with arrogant callousness. “I’ve killed more than I’ve showed mercy, and I assume that my reputation precedes me.”

I looked at him. He looked only a few years older than I, so the thought of him slaughtering countless numbers of people in so little years was staggering. There was no possible way. “How old are you?” I asked as he led me further and further into the core of the icy palace.

He kept his eyes trained ahead, glaring at a too curious boggart that had wandered too close. The small leathery creature clucked its tongue and clicked its claws together before scampering away into another room. “Old enough.”

I knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere, so I kept my mouth shut the rest of the way, though where we were going was still a mystery. I followed him through many rooms, all crawling with more and more winter fae, and I couldn’t help but draw nearer to Foster, his warmth a gentle security.

It was funny how a month or two ago the thought of him touching me made my skin crawl. Now, I drew him closer.

We finally reached a door that was closed, and Foster had to let my arm go to open it. I had to fight the urge to cling to him like a child to its mother. The door opened with a groan, and a gust of wind tore through the corridor, upturning stay peices of artwork and pushing over small, unfortunate fae.

Beyond lay a court yard of everything white; a world without color. Ivy crept up the towering walls looming above, spilling into seas of bushes and trees that all bore the same lackness of color. Three steps lead down into a spiraling path of compacted snow that twisted throughout the garden.
Foster let go of my arm for a second time, allowing me to take in the beauty by myself, undisturbed. “These are the White Gardens. Gardening is one of the queen’s favorite hobbies, but given we have no visible or fertile soil, she’s settled on creating her own breeds of plants.”

“She made these plants?” I whispered, and at first I thought he didn’t hear me over the wind.

“Everything you see before you is a mutation of the original breed, their DNA changed by the queen’s magic,” he explained. He continued forward and plucked a white rose from its bush. The stem was white, the thorns were white. He bowed at the waist, holding out the rose; an offering. A smirk tugged at the corner of his mouth as I blushed, taking the rose.

A grunt came from behind, and I turned, only to come face to face with a monster from my nightmares. It towered over us, casting us in a dark shadow. It had thick, pale skin covered in wrinkles and warts and a huge skull. Tusk’s as thick as my arms protruded from its bottom jaw, dripping with saliva. Small, beady eyes glared down at me from under hooded eyelids. “No pick!” it grunted and snatched the rose from my grip. I screamed and darted behind Foster, who was glaring up at the large creature.

“You stupid, ignorant buffoon!” he snapped. “You ogres are all the same, aren’t you?” he seemed to say to himself under his breath. With a flick of his wrist and a blare of white light, the ogre’s hand began to become entrapped in ice. The monster gave a dopey shout of alarm and dropped the rose. Foster walked forward and picked it up, brushing snow from its ivory petals.

The ogre glared at Foster, cradling his now thawing hand to his chest, and stuck out a fat tongue in our direction. As terrifying as the creature seemed, I still felt bad for it. “Was that necessary?” I asked, a sharpness to my tone.

“Would you prefer him to crush such a perfect bloom?” he motioned towards the rose. I stroked the velvety petals.

“You didn’t have to hurt him,” I grumbled.

Foster laughed. “I didn’t hurt him. You could drop a hundred pounds of rocks on that twit of a faerie and he’d come out smiling. Plus, you have to be strict with ogres. They can get extremely aggressive.” It was huge and ugly, but I couldn’t imagine the ogre becoming aggressive. Foster pointed to another ogre tending to a small white apple tree across the garden. “Why do you think they have those around their ankles?”

I shifted my eyes down. Each ogre had large ankle bracelets made of thick strips of iron. I hadn’t noticed them before, but now that I had, I could pick out the rattle of metal chains floating through the breeze like a corrupt lullaby.

“Won’t the iron kill them?”

Foster shook his head. “Not yet. We rotate them from iron to steel. If we keep the iron on them too long, it’ll seep into their blood and poison them.”

I glared at him. “How could you do that to one of your own kind?”

This time Foster actually tilted his head back and laughed, a beautiful sound that sung to some primal part inside me. I shifted uncomfortably. “He may be fae, Eve, but he is not one of my kind. I am elf, he is ogre. Besides the land we live on and the queen we serve, there are no similarities.”

I didn’t know how to respond to such arrogance, so instead I just said, “Let’s get on with the tour.”

Foster showed me many things, my favorite being the Glass Lake. Past the gardens and down a weathered path, lay a patch of untouched snow. Or at least what I thought was untouched snow. I was about to continue walking where the path dropped off, but a stern hand on my elbow stopped me. “Do you wish to die?” Foster asked, though I could see by the twinkle in his eyes, he was only teasing. When I gave no response, he picked a fractured piece of ice from the path. With a graceful arc, Foster threw the piece over his head and let it soar. At first I thought he was stupid. What was the rock going to do? But when the “snow” ate the rock and began to ripple, I stood dumbstruck.

Foster smirked at my shocked expression. “This is the Glass Lake,” he told me. “This is what ties us to the Autumn Court. There’s a canal that feeds from here and into the River of Time, which then bleeds into Autumn territory.”

“Why is it called the Glass Lake?” I bent down and touched the smooth surface.

“It reflects light, distorting it in such a way you can’t even tell it’s there - like glass or a mirror.” He picked up another piece of debris and flung it with a flick of his wrist. The piece of rock soared through the air before plummeting into the glassy liquid.

“It’s absolutely beautiful,” I breathed, touching the water once more. When I brought my hand back, it wasn’t wet like I expected it to be. The liquid below was like liquid silk.

Foster snorted. “Did you forget about my little lesson already?”

I shot a look at him. “No. With beauty comes cruelty,” I repeated, scrunching my nose. “I may be part human, but I’m not stupid.”

He sighed. “Yes, so you’ve told me.” Foster turned on his heel and began taking the march back up to the castle. I took the time to appreciate the view. I’d only been here an hour, yes, but it already felt more like home than the damn Witch Academy. The Palas an Gheimhridh was bigger than anything I’d ever seen, even towering over some of the medium sized mountains surrounding it. The highest tower, centered on top, stretched so high I lost it in the grey haze clouds.

Foster cleared his throat. “I’d get away from the water’s edge, Princess. Kelpies are known to reside in these waters, and they have a taste for human flesh.”

I scurried after him, glancing over my shoulder the entire way. Luckily no horse like creature crept from the depths.

We had just passed through the White Gardens a second time, when a small goblin hobbled in our direction. There was a sharp zing of a blade being unsheathed, and before I knew it Foster had his frosty blade positioned over the goblin’s jugular. The monster swallowed.

“You dare?” Foster hissed between his white teeth, his eyes as hard as diamond. I wasn’t sure I liked this warrior side of him... So cold, so ruthless.

The goblin smiled, a disgusting display of yellow fangs and foul smelling breath. “The queen sends for you, General Quinn. You are wanted in the Throne Room.”

My heart started to pump in my chest. “Already?” I asked.

The goblins red eyes pinned me in a vicious glare. “Yes, Princess,” it spat. “And when she doesn’t claim you as her own, I will feast on you. I will slurp the marrow from your bones, I will suck the blood from your veins! Your flesh will -”

I didn’t hear the rest of the goblin’s horrific threat, for Foster had whisked me away, though my stomach still churned. He was in a hurry, his strides at least twice my own. His steely grip on my arm actually hurt.

“Why wouldn’t she accept me as her own?” I asked.

Foster stared straight ahead, his Adam’s apple bobbing. “There have been rumors that the legendary Lost Princess had been nothing but a rumor, a lie started by the nobles at court to cease all panic in the wilds of our lands.”

I wanted to ask more, but when I opened my mouth to speak, he shot me a sharp look, and I knew the conversation was over.

We twisted down spirling halls, turned around corners and briefly passed through multiple rooms before coming to two huge double doors. They were crafted from the same smokey ice as my floor in my room. Two ogres flanked either door, wearing vests of silver and blue. They had spears in their hands, their gaze locked straight ahead, the same iron bracelet wrapped around their ankles.

Foster released my arm and turned on me. By the shudder in his breath, I could tell he was nervous. “Don’t look at anyone but the queen,” he commanded, his voice low and dangerous. “There are fairies at this court that would love to watch your blood spill, so don’t talk to anyone. And finally, for the grace of the ancient gods, don’t speak. I will do the talking, is this understood?”

I gulped, nodding.

“Good.” He nodded towards the ogres who grunted feebly in response and opened the doors.
And I thought the halls were crowded with despicable faeries.

The Throne Room was a vast area of open, dimly lit space. Though there were windows, the sun was rising from the east. The sun wouldn’t reach the Throne Room until late evening. It was no different from the other rooms, the floors and walls all chipped and carved from huge blocks of frosted ice. Large ice cycles dangled dangerously above, looming like wicked fingers, as if taunting me, daring me to stand beneath them.

I couldn’t find the queen, and against Foster’s orders, my eyes wander towards the darkest corners of the room.

Creatures clung to the walls, littered the floor, all snarling and howling in my direction. The mass was so compacted of hissing and growling fae, it looked like a sea of creepy, crawly bugs. Something flew through the air with a soft hiss and landed beside me with a thud. My eyes followed, and with horror I realized it was a spear made out of spiny wood.

A growl rumbled in Foster’s throat as he glared at the pulsing crowd, unsheathing his sword and pushing me behind him. It was if the whole nation of Tir Na Nog had somehow packed into the room.

A pack of redcaps snickered as they scampered towards us, clicking their claws. “Food,” they whispered in union, their greedy voices melting together in a hum. My throat went dry and my stomach threatened to crawl straight out past my lips. They stared at me with murderous excitement, their fangs flashing in the dim light.

The redcaps began to swarm around us, and the crowd of fae around them began to hoot in encouragement, scratching their claws down pillars of ice and exposing teeth. They surged towards us, but when Foster would leapt forward, bringing his sword down in deadly archs, they’d scamper back with laughter. They were taunting us, testing for our weaknesses, and I couldn’t move.

Some redcaps revealed silver and bronze daggers that winked at me in the light of the room, deadly and terrifying. They waved them at me, snickering, before surging forward again like a pack of hungry, crazed piranhas.

They kept getting closer and closer with every advancement, and all I could think about was where was the queen? We’d come into the Throne Room to meet her, and instead I was about to be eaten alive - my body dismembered and probably thrown into the crowd like bloody mementos.

They were so close now, their numbers nearly doubled. Some actually snapped their teeth in my direction, catching the fabric of my gown with their jagged fangs. The ripping of fabric being torn floated in the air, and bile rose in my throat. They were so close. Dangerously close.

I couldn’t find my magic, panic threatening to overthrow me into a spiral of confusion and fear. I searched deep down, trying to ignite the small flame in my chest, but it was as if all the magic I had felt pulsing in my veins moments before had evaporated right through my skin.

Foster was far from me now, hacking down redcaps like cornstalks, their blue blood creating a fine baby blue haze in the room.

I wasn’t paying attention, focusing more on bringing my power to the surface than the tiny monsters circling us like sharks. Suddenly something pierced my leg, sending red hot waves of agony surging towards my brain. I shrieked and shook my leg, desperate to dislodge the redcap’s teeth from my flesh. It snarled and bit down harder, evoking another scream to tear past my lips.

Frantic, I actually reached out and grabbed the faeries ear with my hand, digging my fingernails into its leathery skin and pulling. The redcap popped off like a leach, a fine spray of crimson coating its lips.

It was about to lunge for me again, the taste of my blood driving it into a crazed state, when a booming clap echoed throughout the room, causing everyone to freeze. It was enough that the deadly ice cycles above swayed on their perches.

Everyone turned, and in walked a woman that made me want to sag to my knees in envy.

She stood with all the arrogance of a queen, her face baring fierce and cruel features that were heartbreakingly beautiful. Her hair was a mixture between silver and blue, different hints catching the light and sparkling like melted coins. It spilled down her back in a waterfall of metallic ink, and her eyes were a chilling grey, a great contrast to her hollow cheeks and pale lips. Her lashes were thick and white, and I feared that if she blinked them, a gust of wind would tear through the land and flatten everything it touched.

She seemed to float over the ground as she made her way towards me, and the crowd split in two to make way for her. The clink of metal filled the room as Unseelie fae fell to the ground in respect for their queen.

She was their queen, no doubt in my mind.

She was my mother.

Two ogres flanked her, their dumb faces lacking intelligence. Only their eyes sparked with a fierce anger, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was directed towards me.

“Neva.” My knees began to shake at the sound of her voice, and if it wasn’t for Foster supporting me, I would have melted and pooled at her feet. He stood tall at my side, his face showing no sign of arrogance or mischief - only a cold soldier remained, his expression fierce enough to make me shiver.

Maeve’s eyes bore into me, and I felt as if she was stripping me - tearing me apart to get a look at my soul. I gasped.

Foster bowed at the waist, his sword now hangly comfortably on his hip. I attempted to curtsy, but grimaced when a wave of fire climbed up my leg. “Your Majesty,” he murmured, his voice cool and lacking of affection. I was beginning to believe Foster didn’t have too high of feelings for the Queen of the Winter Court.

The queen’s bitter eyes slid from me to Foster. She inclined her jaw. “General,” she acknowledged.
Her sharp eyes fell to me again. “Neva,” she breathed my name once more, and my head began to spin. My knees knocked together and my palms began to sweat.

Her gaze shifted again to the crowd behind us - to the remaining redcaps who snickered and clicked their small black talons. “Out!” Her order punched through the room, sending all fae scampering and running towards the doors. After a few moments of chaos, only the queen, Foster and I remind.

“General Quinn,” she said, her voice as soft as a cloud’s mist, kissing my ears, “would you mind giving me some alone time with my daughter?”

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