“Castle Dragonfalls” ser Hiver of the Ever Frozen Barley-fields announced when they emerged from the magic circle.
He sounds a bit anxious, châtelaine Printemps thought. A bit like one of my younger brothers when he wants to show me a particular well-built sandcastle. No reason to be boorish.
“Well,” she said, “that seems to be exactly the right kind of fortress for a dark lord.”
Ser Hiver nodded. “I sent my gaunts and trollkins all over the empire to sniff out the bones of a thousand dead dragons!” He spread his arms and his eyes shone with honest enthusiasm. “I plundered their still smoldering funeral pyres and enslaved a tribe of dwarfs to polish their teeth until they shone!” He offered her his arm. “Shall we, milady?”
Not much that can happen to me, she thought. Not while I have half a dozen baleful spells quivering on the tip of my tongue. And we both agreed to a truce during Saint Dismas. From sunrise to sunrise not a single sword will be unsheathed, no arrow fired.
So she hooked her arm in his and said: “Lead on!”
Ser Hiver lifted his left hand and the waterfalls instantly froze. A bridge of translucent ice now led to a gate.
Good trick, she thought. I have to remember the way he moved his fingers and that word he intoned soundlessly. Good that my grandmother insisted that I learned to read lips. Thumb up, ring finger down, and make a circle with your little finger. And the word was Y-trumbhuirt.
Both were accomplished spell-casters and their boots grew skate blades almost in the same heartbeat. Ser Hiver’s skates were gleaming black metal, she noticed, probably made from the iron that falls from the sky, leaving a glowing tail of sparks. Hers were oreichalkos, of course, forged from the mountain copper that is only found on far Atlantis.
I felt somehow right to skate hand in hand across the gleaming rink. There was a lock of hair that he swept from his eyes but which always fell back. On his left cheek, the dark lord had tattooed a snowflake so delicate you could only see it from up close. His dark mantle was a lustrous satin, the kind you wanted to touch and caress.
His snake-dog ran in front of them and she heard his diamond nails scratch across the ice, hauling him on like so many ice-picks.
The gate was a set with teeth the size of tombstones and it opened with a sad groan.
They finally halted in a dining hall with a floor of black ice: the kind that only grows on a lake when it is so cold a hawk fall from the air, stiffly frozen, to break into a thousand pieces when she hits.
It wasn’t cold at all, though. Flames leaped in a fireplace, and they weren’t any dire winter magic, no false northern light but nice and warm.
He handed her a bowl with steaming chocolatl.
“Our families,” he said, “they have been feuding for maybe five hundred years and why should we be as stupid? We don’t even know how the whole sorry thing started.”
“I rule the Summerlands,” she said, “and you would bring eternal winter, blighting my apple orchards and paint ice flowers on the frozen eyes of my subjects.”
“Ice flowers are nice,” he said, “but couldn’t we agree to a kind of border? A no-man’s-land where winter and summer fluctuate without ever advancing in our territories?”
“It is a nice thought,” she said and he must have thought that a kind of signal because suddenly he was kissing her.
His lips weren’t winter lips, not cold at all, and she kissed him back.
The bed was wide enough for a dozen sleepers and the cushions stuffed with eiderdown, the blankets polar bear pelts. You could sleep there extremely comfortably, but they had better things to do.
She woke early in the morning and studied his face. He seemed very young for a dark lord, too young to lead an army of ferocious trolls and living whirlwinds. He probably didn’t eat babies after all.
The chatelaine’s ears were as alert as a bat’s. A hundred miles distant she heard a church bell ring, announcing the end of Saint Dismas day. The chatelaine reached for the needle-thin dagger she had hidden in her braid, drove it into his throat. No, not into, it snapped off when it touched his skin. He must have bathed in dragon blood, she thought. His skin was as hard as iron.
His eyes snapped open and they were an icy, actinic blue. He rolled away and when he jumped up a sword materialized in his left hand. He swung it, leaving swirling snowflakes in the wake of his weapon.
The chatelaine though had turned into a gray hawk and aimed for one of the open windows.
Three wing-beats and she was up in the sky. She grabbed a sunray, bent it into a circle, and flew away through the magic gate.
She landed on the lawn of the Magnolia Palace where her flowers eternally bloomed and turned back into a woman.
Such a strange and horrible idea, she thought. End the war and spit on all those centuries of heroic struggle and sacrifice. He must be a man without a shred of honor!
But she still felt the imprint of his lips on hers and her hand suddenly seemed very empty now she was no longer holding his.Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in