Wicked Winter

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Chapter 14

“Yes, your Majesty,” Foster murmured, and bowed again. He glanced back over his shoulder as he left, and his eyes met mine. Something passed between us - an unnerving feeling that set my stomach rolling like a barrel down a steep hill.

His eyes flicked towards the queen, and I read the message within: Be careful.

A cold hand touched my arm, as light as a feather. I turned, and my mother was smiling at me. She was a few inches shorter than me, but she radiated power. It was so powerful it almost made me queasy, but I snuffed out the roiling feeling, smiling back at her.

Her cool, slender fingers slid down my arm and gripped my hand much to my surprise. “Come.”

She gently pulled me towards a huge opening in the wall, leading out onto a massive terrace that snaked around the side of the castle. I took the time to take her in, her beauty and grace. Pain still throbbed in my leg, but I ignored it. I was actually more scared of what I would see if I lifted my ripped gown to get a peek of the torn skin beneath.

She seemed to be made out of liquid smoke, floating over the ground with fluid elegance. She wore a dress much like my own, made of sparkling silver gems that twinkled and winked in the limited sunlight. It had long sleeves and a turtleneck, complimenting her slender appendages. The queen seemed to be delicate, breakable even, but something in her metallic gaze told me differently. She had old eyes. When she pinned you in her knowing stare, it was almost as if you could feel the weight of time setting on your chest - a suffocating immortality that was somehow trapped within this exquisite woman’s gaze.

Stopping at the edge and placing her hands on the railing, she looked out at the frozen tundra longingly. She patted a place beside her, “Come.”

Tentatively I limped towards her, standing next to her on the terrace. This was my mother, I tried to chant in my mind. I was finally standing next to my mother. The world threatened to sway.

“I’ve been waiting to meet you for a long time,” she whispered as she stared out at the mountains in the distance. I could see the landscape reflected in her eyes. She turned towards me, reaching an hand up and cupping my face. Her touch was cool, almost as cold as the snow billowing in puffs around us. “You have your father’s eyes, you know. And his hair.” Reaching out, she plucked a white strand from behind my ear and began rubbing it between her fingers.

“My father?” I breathed.

She looked up at me, offering a sad smile. “Yes. Your father was very handsome, but I haven’t seen him in years. Though I suppose he’s doing just fine.”

I couldn’t help myself. I knew he wasn’t fae, so why would a faerie queen want to lay with a human? “Who was he?”

Her smile dropped. “That is none of your concern, Neva.”

It was strange, having someone call me my real name, but it sounded right coming from her. And it made so much more sense, coming from her lips. Before I felt as if my name had no meaning.

A gust of wind blew through and tore at our gowns, and one word screamed in my head. Royalty.

I was now royalty - a faerie princess of the Winter Court. If only Maggie could see me now.

She glanced down at my leg, which was still bleeding a deep red. “You’re hurt,” she murmured, bending down to get a better look. My pulse drummed in my throat as she gently pulled the fabric from my wound. I winced as it pulled on clotting blood. “I’m sorry, you know.”

“About what?” I asked, my brows knitting together.

The redcap had done a measure on my leg, tearing through flesh and muscle. A deep red stream still oozed from my wound, puddling around my foot. She nodded towards my leg as she gently prodded the wound with slender fingers. “For your leg, I mean. I hadn’t see human blood in a very long time - we don’t see much color here. I was intrigued. I’d forgotten how beautiful the color red is.”

I tried to swallow around a lump that had formed in my throat. “You told them to attack me?”

Her nose crinkled, and for a moment she reminded me of a teenager, not my mother. “I did no such thing. I merely didn’t stop them. I wouldn’t let anyone actually harm you, Neva. You’re my daughter; you’re blood. Now hold still.” She held out her hand to the light, upturning her wrist. A blue vein gleamed beneath her skin, and in one quick movement, she bit into the soft flesh of her skin.

Bright blue blood welled from the wound, streaming down her forearm. She tilted her wrist, and the blood dripped onto my open wound.

At first there was nothing, I just stared at her with a bewildered look plastered to my face, but then a small burning sensation grew. It was uncomfortable, like an itch I couldn’t reach, and I winced. I watched in fascination as the wound began to stitch itself back together, my flesh fusing back right before my eyes.

She sat back on the balls of her feet, a satisfied look settling on her face. “The power of blood.”

I gaped at her, dumbstruck. I ran my hand down my now healed leg. There was nothing but a faint pink scar in the shape of a crescent moon - the redcaps teeth. But even that was fading.

I looked up, ready to say thank you, but I hadn’t even realized she had turned away from me, her slender form gliding towards a small bench made of polished ice. “I assume you’re wondering why you’re here,” she offered in a small voice.

“I guess,” I said, walking behind her, a little confused. There was no hint of pain. I took a seat on the bench, and I was surprised there was no warmth radiating from her. No signs of life. Her skin glimmered in the light with a pearly luster, and her hair shimmered of silver thread.

At one point in time in my life, the thought of faeries made my blood boil. I wanted every single one of their heads on a spike in front of the Bairfell Palace, their eye’s glazed over with milky white film in death. I wanted to hear their screams, to feel their cobalt blood slick between my fingers. And now? I would be lying if I said the thought of being a royal faerie princess didn’t cause my blood to bubble in my veins with excitement.

She clasp her small hands in her lap, inclining her chin in a proud stature. “I’m dying.”

I froze, staring at her wide-eyed. “What?” How could she be dying? She didn’t look sick; she was frail, yes, but not sickly.

She nodded once, as if to herself for confirmation. She wouldn’t look at me; she just continued to stare longingly out into the jagged ranges of mountains before us. “Yes, I am dying, my sweet girl.”

Despite what she just told me, a tendril of joy caressed my chest - its touch as light as a feather. I was her sweet girl. “I thought you were immortal? Doesn’t that mean you can’t die?”

Her pale lips stretched into a heartbreakingly beautiful smile. How could something so breathtaking, so agonizingly angelic and elegant, just die? I knew immortality wasn’t a fashion trend, but she looked the part. She wore immortality like a favorite sweater - like she was made out of time itself.
“Ironic, is it not? I am Queen Maeve, sovereign of the Unseelie lands and part ruler of Darkness and Air, yet, I am to parish at the hands of my daughter.”

“I’m suppose to kill you?” I whispered, horror gripping my insides. She wasn’t making any sense. I wasn’t killing her, was I?

Her sharp eyes skimmed my terror stricken face, and she chuckled. “Not in the sense you’re thinking, my dear. I started dying the day you were born.” She said the line so callously, I had to go over her words a few times in my mind to actually grasp what she was saying.

My mind spun, and I felt my stomach clench. “Then how?”

“Thousands, if not hundred of thousands of years ago, a council meeting was called between the Courts. You see, many monarchs were having children, but considering they were immortal, they had no desire to give up their crowns. Why would they? They reigned until they met their match in battle, or someone assassinated them, which wasn’t often.” Standing up, she walked over to the terrace once more, and I noticed a small flurry following her like a shadow. Snow descended around her, sticking to her hair, her lashes, but she didn’t seem to mind.

“It was agreed that the rulers of each court was gaining too much power from eternal life, and a curse was placed on each court. From then on, say the Summer Court had been ruled by a king; his bloodline would only produce male heirs. This is the reason we’ve had nothing but queens ruling over our lands.”

“But how does that kill them?” I butted in, my heart pounding. How could I kill my mother that I just met? I didn’t hate her, and I couldn’t even fathom hating someone so much that I was willing to kill them.

I couldn’t see her face, but I could hear the smile in her words. “Patience, my dear one.” With a smooth twirl of her wrist, a white blossom grew on the icy railing of the terrace, it’s white roots twisting around the ice like frozen fingers. She picked the bloom and held it to her nose.

Could a snow flower smell?

She continued. “Not only were all courts cursed to produce same sex heirs, but once the ruler had produced an offspring, their power source is tethered to the child’s. As the child grows stronger every day, the parents grows weaker.”

I was slowly killing my mother, drawing from her power and life essence. “How long?” I breathed, grief gripping my heart. For some strange reason, I felt absolutely heartbroken. I couldn’t lose my mother, not now, not after I’d just met her. There was so much that I wanted to do, so many things I needed to learn.

She sighed, dropping the bloom off the side of the balcony. It fell silently through the sky. “Most younglings take hundreds, if not thousands of years to mature. But you’re part human, Neva. I have till January first. That’s when you’ll reach maturity, age eighteen, take my power, and I’ll cease to exists. You’ll be Queen Neva of the Winter Court.”

I hadn’t even noticed it, but tears had welled in my eyes, and one had slipped onto my cheek. My mother hurried over to me and wiped the tear away with the back of her hand, smiling sadly at me. “Don’t cry, my darling. Queen’s aren’t suppose to cry.”

I wasn’t a queen. How could I be? I was raised in the outskirts of the Village, living on nothing but other’s table scraps and whatever I could get my grubby little hands on. I wasn’t beautiful, not like her. And how could I rule over a land I knew nothing about? I knew little about fae, only what I read about them in books. Also, I wasn’t sure I could do it without Sebastian - a constant support.

Involuntarily, I began to cry; I cried for my family back home; I cried for Sebastian and his broken heart - the one I’d caused; I cried for myself, over everything I had lost and everything I was about to lose. My mother was the only tether I had, whether I really knew her or not. She was family. She was what I had left, and now she was dying?

It felt like a boulder had been set on my chest, causing my breaths to come in ragged gulps that burned on their way down my esophagus. An invisible weight had settled on my shoulders, and it began to crush me, to suffocate me. Everything threatened to crumbled inward, and I wasn’t sure if I was strong enough to support it.

“My sweet, darling girl.” She had wrapped her arms around me now, and I settled into her embrace, ignoring the chill her touch gave me. “I’m not going to truly die,” she whispered into my ear, playing with a stray curl of my platinum hair. She reluctantly let me go and reached for a chain around her neck. She yanked on it gently, and an amulet was pulled from under her dresses neck.

It was the same amulet I’d seen in a book from the library, only a thousand times more beautiful in person. I could almost see each and every individual star in the galaxy, all contained in that small piece of glass.

I sniffed, wiping snot away with the back of my hand. I didn’t mention the dark stain on her dress.

As she held it from her body, I began to sense the shift in power. It was then that I noticed the power didn’t seem to pulse from her, but from the amulet. “What is that?” I reached for it, but she jerked it back, but then smiled sweetly.

“Our greatest ancestor wasn’t like the others, Neva. Her name was Mab,” a gust of wind howled past, “and she was brilliant. Humans, witches, and even the other courts feared her.” She wrapped the silver chain around her fingers. “Mab didn’t want the winter court to become like the others, weak and spineless, so instead of letting herself die, she trapped her power inside this amulet.”

I stared at the small piece of jewelry. It seemed whisper to my soul, coaxing it out of my body like a bird out of it’s useless shell. At that moment looking at the amulet, that’s what my body felt like. Nothing but a shell; lifeless, useless. I felt as if I could leave my cocoon of flesh and bone behind and float off in the wind.

" - ever since then,” Maeve’s voice ripped me from my trance, ” all the queens that have ruled before you are trapped within it’s glass, and all those who rule after you will fall victim to it.”

I found myself saying the same lines Foster had said to me. “You’re not what I thought you were going to be.”

Her ice-like eyes sparkled. “What were you expecting? Fangs, claws, and glowing yellow eyes?”

“Not the yellow eyes,” I confessed, and she tilted her head back to laugh. I almost wanted to sigh at such a beautiful sound. I smiled back at her, feeling my lips stretch around my teeth, though it didn’t quite reach my eyes. How could I be happy when the only thing I had left was going to vanish in a few weeks time?

When she was finished she offered me her hand. My eyes were still puffy from crying, and I could only assume how flushed I looked. I took her hand in my own. She led me back into the Throne room, a soft spoken grin dancing on her lips. Two ogres were waiting for us, their dull eyes glaring down at us under hooded lids. “Find Foster Quinn,” she instructed to one of them, and I was immediately surprised by how much her tone had changed. I looked at her now, and she didn’t look like the frail woman who had witnessed me crying not seconds before. She looked strong, defiant, and I wouldn’t want to get in her way.

“No need,” came a familiar voice. We all turned, and Foster was already striding towards us, his face sharp and tense. His eyes scanned me, taking in everything. They lingered on my torn gown and blood stain. I grabbed the skirt of my dress and shifted it, hoping he could catch a glimpse of the pink, healed skin beneath. Maybe he wouldn’t look so worried.

It had the opposite effect. His jaw clenched so hard I feared his teeth would shatter like fine china. “Your Majesty,” he gritted out, “would you like me to take Princess Neva to her room?”

The queen waved off his proposal like it was an annoying fly buzzing around her head. “No need. I’ll do it.” Foster seemed surprised. “I summoned you because I would like you to inform the kitchen that production needs to be amplified. There’s going to be a party tomorrow.”

“A party?” Foster and I quizzed in sync.

The ogre’s behind us shifted, their massive weight causing the floor to shake. My mother looked at me with a twinkle in her eye. “Why yes, we have a birthday to celebrate.” I couldn’t shake the feeling of unease as she led me from the room arm in arm.

My mother left me at the base of the stairs, instructing me to get cleaned up for dinner, which was a few hours away. My heart skipped a beat as I took the stairs two at a time. The stairs were lined with glowing white candles, and they instantly reminded me of the Academy. For a moment I wondered if anyone had noticed my absence. Certainly not Nicola, who I hadn’t talked to in weeks. A strange seed of longing had been planted in my heart, and I could feel it taking root - gripping me from the inside out. Did anyone notice me missing? Sebastian, Nicola, Twey, Danna, Zafira? Anyone?

With a sigh I let the thought drift through my fingers like a misty cloud. There was no point to holding onto things that were only going to bring me down. Not when my mother needed me now.

When I entered my room the same team of servants were waiting for me. Another warm bath was run, through this time they didn’t wash my hair. The girl with black scales for skin scrubbed the dried blood from under my fingernails, smiling.

“What is it?” I asked, taking my hand back. “Why are you smiling?”

She continued to stare at me with that wicked smile still plastered to her lips. With a blur she reached for my arm, pulling it to her, and continued to scrub my fingers. When I attempted to pull it back for a second time, her sharp black talons pricked my skin. “Ow!”

“You are foolish.”

“Excuse me?” I huffed.

She used a tip of her talons to scrape beneath the nail. “You are different from the others, but you let your differences blind you. Foolish girl.”

Different from the others?

Another faerie took my hair down, brushing through it with a comb made out of crystal. It fell down my back in white waves. ”Cleon!” she hissed, her voice surprisingly rough despite her soft appearance.

Cleon shrugged, the scales on her shoulders gleaming like black opal. “It is true.”

“What’s true?” I asked, my annoyance over-shadowed by curiosity.

The faerie brushing my hair froze, a growl bubbling in her throat. Cleon glanced up with a bored expression. Something passed between them silently, and then Cleon fell silent, scrubbing my hands and arms without another word.

I emerged from my room a good hour later, a new black gown clinging to my hips and curves. It was made out of the softest velvet I’d ever felt, and the bodice was embroidered with blue and silver thread, creating elegant snowflakes that wrapped out my body like metallic snakes. Sapphires and diamonds were woven into a braid that hung down my back in a thick rope, swaying back and forth when I walked. My lips were coated in the same blue substance as early, though this time my eyes were also covered in a layer of fine silvery powder and lined in thick black.

Foster was perched at the bottom of the stairs, wearing a sleek black suit and silver tie. His sword hung on his hip, and he offered me his elbow.

“You seem unusually comfortable, Princess.” Despite his tenseness he still hadn’t shaken, he gave me a small smile.

I gave him a sideways glance, locking my elbow in his. “Is that a bad thing?”

“It’s absolutely terrible.”

Foster lead me through through arching corridors and long twisting hallways until we reached a threshold made out of white wood. Wild ivy clung to the walls, its frosted leaves glimmering a soft bluish-white in the candlelight. I had a soft urge to reach out and stroke the leaves.

Darkness had fallen outside, and I couldn’t wrap my mind around that fact that I’d already spent almost a full day at the Winter Court. I reached out and let my fingers drag on the walls, savoring the soft, velvety feel of the leaves of ivy.

Foster gave me a soft nudge. “Be careful,” he warned.

I gave him a puzzling stare. What was his deal? He was the one that dragged me here to begin with. “What do I have to be careful of?” I asked, a tint of shadow blurring over my words.

Foster’s eyes narrowed into silver slits. “Keep your wits about you, Princess. Things are not as they seem.” A soft coo echoed down the hall, and we both looked up. Foster’s owl was perched on a statue of a nymph, it’s feathers rustled from flight. It’s large black eyes seemed to stare right through me, and I fidgeted.

It shifted its heavy gaze to its owner and gave another hoot, this time louder. Foster turned back to me, his face tense.

“What do you mean, things are not as they seem?” I asked in a hushed whisper, looking over my shoulder to make sure no gnome, redcap, or bogge was eavesdropping.

Foster shook me off his arm and started to backpedal towards his pet. “Now is not the time. I have something I have to take care of, but I will join you in a bit. Don’t drink too much faerie wine, okay, human? I don’t want to have to peel you off the floor in the morning because you were naive and challenged an ogre to a thumb war.” He gave me a wink, a sly grin tugging at the corners of his mouth.

“Foster, wait-” I called, confusion jumbling my thoughts. But it was too late. He’d already turned away from me and jogged down the hall, his owl flanking him. I debated on following him until I heard my name from behind.

I turned, and my mother stood in the doorway, a worried look shinning in her eyes. “Is everything alright?”

I took another look down the hall where Foster had been not a moment before, and sighed. “Everything is fine.”

“Are you sure? I thought I heard you yelling.”

“It wasn’t me,” I lied. “Maybe it was a servant or something.”

I could tell she didn’t by it, but it was the best I had. For some odd reason, I had the urking sensation that I shouldn’t tell her about Foster bailing on dinner.

Her eyes caught the empty air beside me and her brows furrowed. “Where’s General Quinn? He was supposed to escort you to dinner tonight.”

“He did,” I said a little too quickly. When her eyes narrowed ever so slightly, my heart kicked started in my chest. Yeah, lie to your mother the first day you meet her, Eve. Great job. “He just left because he... uh, had spilt something on his tux. He said he would be back in a few minutes.”

“Oh.” I wasn’t sure if faeries had some supper sense of hearing, but if they did, I was screwed. My heart was pounding so hard in my chest I feared it would burst through my ribs. “Well, it’s his fault if he misses the divine brisgein soup the kitchen had prepared for us.” I wasn’t about to ask what brisgein soup was.

The room was dressed in shadows, dark purples and blues cover everything whether it be in flame or fabric. Four large candles burned in the center of the frozen table, blazing with lavender flames.

I was shocked to see soldiers stationed around the table, all dressed in sleek silver jackets with dark blue thread lining the shoulders, neck, and cuffs. They wore silver helmets that glimmered and winked, and carried a large staff of glowing blue ice. Their faces were hard, pale masks of absolute menace. I was afraid if I sneezed one of the spears would go through my eyeball.

They reminded me of the Order’s army with their placid expressions of annoyance. I shrugged off the uneasy feeling that sent my insides quivering and took a seat in the middle of the table. My mother sat at the head of the table, and a faerie with blazing blue hair came up and sat a steaming bowl in front of her. The faerie glided over to me and bowed, and sat the same type of bowl in front of me.

My stomach growled when the delicious aroma of the soup wafted past my nostrils. It was a bright, creamy red, a large contrast to everything in the Winter Court which seemed to be either black, white, blue or silver. Chunks of what looked like potato and carrots floated around in the thick substance, and my mouth watered.

“You look famished,” Maeve observed. She nodded to my bowl. “Go ahead, dig in.”

She didn’t have to tell me twice.

Considering Maggie was always preoccupied with feeding herself and stealing from everyone in the orphanage, I never really learned good table manners. I struggled in the cafeteria with Nicola and Sebastian, and I sure as hell was struggling now. My mother didn’t seem to notice how I held my fork differently, or how I forgot to place my napkin on my lap before I began to dig in.

We didn’t talk much through the first three courses of the meal, not really. She asked me if I thought I was going to like living here, and of course I said yes. I really didn’t think insulting my mother, the queen, would be a good idea. If anything it felt as if we were both waiting for Foster to arrive. It took him a little more than a few minutes, and I could feel my cheeks heat with blush when he took a seat next to me almost a whole half an hour later.

The soldiers squared their shoulders at the sight of their general and saluted him. Foster gave a curt nod in acknowledgment as he pulled out a chair beside me and took a seat.

“Having troubles finding a new suit?” the queen inquired, raising an eyebrow in question.

Foster gave me a look, but then turned back to his queen. “Um, yes. It seems as if my suit collection is declining.”

She took another another bite of her dinner. After the soup, more kitchen servants had glissaded out of the doors and in with bowls of different kinds of white vegetables. I’d become pinkish with my salad; veggies weren’t my favorite, but back in the village I would have scarfed them down with no problem. We were now on the main course, which was what looked like a very large goose, but I wouldn’t count on it. This was the Winter Court.

The queen didn’t look up from her cooked bird when she said, “That’s the same suit as before.”

I swallowed, and stared down at my plate. We were so screwed.

Foster shifted uncomfortably in his seat, but said nothing. A blonde female faerie slithered between us and set a plate in front of him.

Dinner continued on in silence, and I wanted to scream. I could feel the tension in the air like a living thing - I could have reached out and touched it.

When dessert was served, a huge heaping pile of creamy custard pie and classic white cake, Foster finally broke the silence.

“Your majesty, if I may?” My mother nodded. Foster puffed up his chest and continued. “Knavesmire is now in our possession, though the Sages are fighting fiercely to take it from our grasp. My men are currently burning the mine to the ground; Without iron, they have don’t have many weapons that will stand against us.”

The war, they were talking about the war. I chewed slowly.

“Silvermane is next, but if we succeed in destroying the Knavesmire mine the Order won’t have the men or iron to defend it. Do you still wish to continue?”

The queen stopped mid-chew. “Do I wish to continue? What kind of question is that? Of course I want to continue, after everything the Order has taken from me!” Her voice shook the walls, and I shrunk in my seat, wishing I could melt through the floor and away from her angry eyes. “You are to take Knavesmire, Silvermane, Ysellian, Gragoloon, and Firemyrth all by force. You are to destroy every ounce of iron they have, and cripple them!”

“What about prisoners?” Foster asked, his food completely forgotten. He seemed torn, as if he didn’t want an answer, but he couldn’t help himself but ask.

My mother’s eyes took on a frosty appearance, almost completely glazed over in a veil of paranoia. “Kill them all.”

Foster escorted me back to my room, but we didn’t speak. There seemed to be a lot of that going on - silence that is. Two female faeries were waiting on me when I walked through my door, a soft cream nightgown waiting for me on my bed. I waved them away, wanting some time to myself. They nodded and flittered out of the room, shutting the door with a soft click behind them.

With a sigh I flopped onto my bed, untying my braid and running my fingers through the loose waves. It sprawled around my head like ivory tentacles, and I closed my eyes to let my mind wander to better times, to less confusing times.

I let my mind wander to Sebastian, and my chest threatened to cave. I couldn’t get the image of him, sprawled on the ground, my ice spikes in his jacket, staring up at me with horror shining in his topaz eyes, out of my mind. It was branded there, a painful reminder that I was what I was supposed to hate most.

I was part fae, the daughter of the Winter Queen. He was a witch, son of one of the most powerful Sages that ever lived. There was no way anything between us could work, but yet my heart cried out for him, longed for him. All the feelings that I’d suppressed over months had started to bubble to the surface, and they erupted from me in a cry of despair. I wanted Sebastian, I wanted my family... I wanted to be normal. The title of Queen and the crown was enticing, almost to good to be true, but it just wasn’t me.

I never thought the mention of the Knavesmire mine would have stirred something inside of me, but it did. When Foster had said his troops had overrun the mine, my heart squeezed despite my best efforts. And when my mother had ordered him to kill all survivors, I couldn’t breathe. It wasn’t because witches were going to die, no. That didn’t bother me as much as the fact that villagers, people that were just like me once, that sacrificed their lives to put food on the table back home, were going to be brutally slaughtered.

My mother seemed sweet, almost gentle, but she pulsed of power, and that was a deadly concoction. There was something behind her gaze that I hadn’t uncovered, like an actor behind a red curtain, and as terrified of her as I was, I was equally determined to find out what it was.

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