Every good fairytale has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. Funny that I thought this story only had two parts. I was wrong! Also, I am sorry it took two days longer than the promised week to arrive. I’d like to think that good things take time, but procrastination is also a thing that consumes time, with the similar fervour as a kid who has been given a ball of cotton candy! I like cotton candy, a lot. But without any more fuss, here is part two of your fairytale…
The Winter King. Part two. J R Manawa.
The spell was quick to take hold, and virulent to consume every thought and feeling within the young king’s mind. From that moment he would be filled with remorse and heartache for every second that he let his enchantress go, and every moment he was not with her. Whenever they touched he was filled with a wholeness and warmth that he could not describe. His life was suddenly complete, but when she walked away his world fell apart and his heart became a place of empty, icy desire.
Betrothed from the night of the ball, it was only a matter of weeks before they were to be married. The kingdom was in a hive of activity, so happy were the people to see the heart of their king full and happy, finally conquered by this maiden.
No one paused a moment to see the truth of the darkness that was consuming him. Even the king’s advisors had no inkling to the tragedy taking place, for they had not known the vulnerable state of a heart so empty. The physician was the only one to notice a change, the small cut on the palm of the king’s right hand. He treated it and watching it closely, but after several weeks it was still there. It continued to fester, and a dark ring grew around it.
The bride-to-be was graceful and sweet in all company, not often letting go of her fiancé’s hand. She never said much except when they had a moment alone, at the turn of a corridor or in the company of others over the dinner table when everybody else was occupied by other conversations. When they did have these moments, she chose her words wisely, for the king was a prize she intended to keep.
To fill the distorted desires of her own heart, she kept him waiting when she could, and let him go at moments that would cause him the most distress. Her happiness came from knowing his despair at her absence, and knowing that his heart could not survive without her. Just like the king, her own heart was also empty, but consumed by ambition instead of loneliness.
So it was that the week before the wedding she insisted that she must return to her home village in order to obey the maiden rituals that should take place before a girl’s wedding day.
In distress the king begged her not to go, but she was cruel and drunk with the crown of power she had created for herself. She walked away with pleasure, knowing the pain she caused him. Nor did she care to look back.
Watching her carriage depart, his heart screamed within his chest, but he could not cry aloud. He rubbed the palm of his hand absently, for he did not remember how he had been cut, but the wound was a source of constant nagging pain.
Rule of the kingdom had fallen to his advisors since the night of the midsummer ball. At first they excused it with a shrug and a knowing look, but now it became a matter of some concern as the men began to argue amongst themselves regarding trivial matters and the worries in the kingdom at large went unnoticed with no one to tend to them.
Within a day of her departure, the king was bedridden and beside himself. The ice in his heart was spreading and the rot in his wound had begun to seep into his blood. Throughout the night the fever ravaged him, drenching his bed clothes in sweat and causing his body to shudder and convulse with pain.
It was some time after two in the morning that he finally woke from his tortured slumber and turned to the physician, who had sat beside his bed through every sickness since he was a babe.
“Get my horse ready, I will go to her,” he whispered raggedly, falling over his twisted sheets.
“My Lord, it is the thick of night, you cannot possibly–”
“Nevertheless, I shall,” he replied.
No one could contain him, and no one could ride with him because his horse was the purest bred and fastest in all the kingdom. Through the cold and dark night he rode, and the wind against his brow cooled his fever.
The hometown of his enchantress was down in the low lands. He rode down out of the mountains without giving a second thought to the lands he had not seen since he was a small child. At the foot of the mountains he rode into the forest, intending to follow the king’s road down toward her village, but the forest was thick and overrun, the road was not used anymore like it once had been in the days when his family had made their journeys to the summer palace.
Now the road began to break off here and there in many different directions, becoming hardly definable, and the king made his way beneath the fallen branches and overgrown boughs with not much certainty as to where he was headed. Only his confidence that he would find a way in his desperation to see his betrothed kept him moving. All that remained in his mind was the conviction that he could not stop. He needed her, and surely she needed him.
Dawn was bursting through the branches as he rode from the forest, and the sunlight exploded in his eyes such that he had to shield them with the back of his hand. As his sight began to settle, and his steed slowed to a canter, he was able to look on the land below him, and the sight he now saw was not at all what he had anticipated. The perilous road through the forest had been thick, and his perception of direction clearly misconstrued, for he was not in the west. He was miles from the hometown of his fair maiden.
On the shores of the eastern ocean below him lay the resplendent ruins of the hanging gardens and the dormant halls of the summer palace. Suddenly he felt a new pain in his heart. It was no longer the pain of emptiness or the pain of longing for his absent love. It was the pain of memories and the shattering reminder of all that he had lost so long ago.
His fever raged again, the wound in his hand twisted like a knife, and the infection in his arm shot through his veins like fire, but there was nothing that could distract him from the memories he felt. He dismounted from his horse and walked down the hill toward the gardens.
Scent of wild flowers and roses grown unkempt for too long filled his nostrils as he walked beneath the old stone arches and into the heart of the gardens. The flower beds were wild and unruly without the loving hands of his father’s gardeners, but they were not completely overgrown. Yet, he had only left one caretaker to keep watch over the entire palace.
He stayed in the gardens for a time, wandering up the winding paths and absorbing all he saw. The walls were smothered in swathes of vine, and the fountains lay silent. The statues were wrapped in cloth to protect their beautiful marble faces, and moss grew rampant over the seldom trod stones.
But the fish in the ponds were alive and well, they swarmed and circled beneath the surface, a soup of gold, yellow and white. Of course there were birds in the gardens too, flitting in and out between the flowers as they opened in the warmth of the early morning sun.
And there was another creature in the garden.
A flash of blonde caught in the corner of the king’s eye, and the glimpse of a silver dress as the girl disappeared into the labyrinth behind the walls of the hanging garden. He pursued her, quick and eager, curious to confirm if the creature was real or some nymph of his imagination. Suddenly the pain in his hand took him, so ferociously that he cried out in pain and fell to his knees, clutching his arm.
He turned to find a set of liquid amber eyes staring straight into his, with golden tendrils of hair flying as she brought the wooden handle of the spade down on his head with a thump. His eyes rolled back into his head, and darkness took him.