WINTER'S HEART
by Dalá'Valannía


It is deepest winter in the Hovel Frond forest, cold and icy, when the elf Ashtae'miór of the Diorye'oleal tribe finds a wounded human, whom she brings in her tree home to take care of him. A silent relationship develops between the two, savior and saved, but they do not know yet why destiny has led them to each other... - but they will find out soon...

Prologue


inter brought him to her, cocooned within a chrysalis of ice and snow, and spring took him away with its return of fetid heat and rot.

Soon after he left, she would sometimes sit at the edge of the forest, her hands busy as she untangled and smoothed the threads of her latest creation, and she was never really sure what she was waiting for. Was it for the mortal man with his bright hair and haunted eyes (they were my eyes too, she remembered) that exuded so much pain and dark memories? Or did she sit and wait for the winter to come chill her face into a diamond-mask once more and take away this odd hurting warmth inside her breast that made her restless?

She never came to a satisfactory answer even as her fingers deftly unwound hopelessly snarled skeins of thread.

Her kind loved, of course. But their love, even to each other, was a hard thing, sparse and resentful. She was sure it was not love for the mortal man whom she had found when that particular winter howled its fiercest and coldest, but she knew something had changed when he left and she wondered what it was.

She was not unhappy, not really, but she had lost some of the serenity she had known before she had pulled the mortal man out of the clinging snow with her hands and healed his wounds. In doing so, he had become a story for her.

She had many stories, Ashtae'miór of the Diorye'oleal, some insignificant as a pebble in a desert and some vast as the seas but there had been none that had affected her as much as the mortal man’s tale.

Winters passed and so did springs, and while they did, the elven woman continued to sit and spin and wait.

Ashtae'miór

She first spied the glint of gold hidden beneath the relentlessness expense of white. Intrigued, she walked towards it, her boots barely making an indent of existence on the heavy snow. In the winter forest, there was only the gray of the skies, the blackened boughs of the shredded branches and the ivory of snow to leaven the darkness.

Bending over, she reached out and smoothed away the snow from the goldenness. As the snow crunched and flaked away from her fingers, she realized she had uncovered a man’s head and the gold was his hair, wet and clammy, but which still shone with that luminosity that had caught her eye.

He was not of her race, she discerned immediately. His eyes were shut and his skin was deathly pale except his lips, which was blue-tinged from the cold. He lay with one cheek pressed against the frosted earth and she thought he was dead as she cautiously touched his brow with the tip of a finger, wondering once more at the fragility of mortals. It never ceased to amaze her, combined with a degree of disdain. This vulnerable feebleness of men who bred like rats, indiscriminately seeding the lands with their offspring, and their insatiable appetites to devour everything in their paths.

As she thought, the man’s eyes flickered open and she froze.

He stared up at the elf lady kneeling beside him, his gaze lucid and clear with none of the hysteria of being lost in the Hovel Frond Forest during a snowstorm which had fatally afflicted so many trespassers before. Her people were not kind on trespassers, sending them to their deaths with visions that eventually drove them mad if the cold did not kill them first.

His eyes...they were the same color as hers, cobalt blue like the shimmering scales of the distant frost-dragons. And there was such anguish in them as she had never seen before on another being. It simultaneously baffled the core of ice nestled deep inside her heart and piqued her interest. Despair always did since she felt none and could not comprehend this emotion that drove so many of her brethren and mortals. Furthermore, agony of this magnitude had the power to stun even her.

He exhaled, a quiet sound of dying, as his eyes closed again. He moved no longer.

She regarded him for a moment and contemplated leaving him to die here. He was only a mortal, she did not have much use for them, not needing slaves as some of her people did and she liked the solitude of the forest as she lived alone inside her hollow tree, away from the settlements. What she did need she bartered for with the seamstresses, in exchange for the threads she spun which they desired greatly for the elaborate embroidery stitched on the gowns they made. Her threads were highly sought after, for only she had gleaned the secret of weaving the colors of night and moonlight into tangible strands.

And yet, his eyes were the same blue as hers. She had no mirrors but she sometimes caught her own reflection in the icicles that formed on the boughs and she saw the blue of a summer sky reflected back at her. Nevertheless, she could only see her reflections during winters; the scummy pond surfaces in the summers were too inconstant for her to see clearly.

Ashtae'miór’s pale face with the twisted whorls of black sigils on either side of her cheeks did not change as she dragged the man out from the snow with surprising strength hidden in her slim arms.

He did not struggle and he was still alive. His breaths, soft like the first fall of snow, fell against her neck as she lifted his arm across her shoulder to drag him along.

Even after she had warmed his insensible, chilled body under blankets within her tree abode and life slowly seeped back into him, she could still feel the patches of heat that his breaths had caused, melting the habitual chill of her skin.

When he awoke from the deathlike sleep, he was afraid of her as he told her his name, Derrin Etmere it was, although he was unfailingly civil to her in whatever brief conversations they shared.

Her daily routines were not disturbed as she continued to spin. He did not seem to mind the sound of her spinning and often, he would fall asleep in the same room to the regular whirls of her wheel. They ate in silence. He did not complain of the simple fare she prepared but thanked her politely each time before he started to eat and again, when he was done.

Her walks within the forest did not cease with his arrival and often, when her spinning wearied her, she left her tree and enjoyed the quietness of the night as the stars shone down on the forest with its shorn trees, twisted in the moonlight. The winter’s frost welcomed her like the old friend she was, the air sharp and crisp and still and tiny flakes that fell from the skies glittered like jewels as they rested on her black hair.

She loved winters as much as she hated springs within the forest. Spring in the Hovel Frond was a bleak event of decay when the rot crept back. The bitter winters would, when they came, scoured the festering mold from the trees and purify the thick, fetid air with its sharpness as snow fell from the gray skies. Winters were pleasing to her and she looked forward every year to its coming when autumns fade away.

Unexpectedly, when he recovered some of his strength, he joined her as she walked and he would come along often after that. His presence accompanying these walks annoyed her at first but eventually she grew used to him and sometimes she forgot he was even there.

Like her, he did not talk much and it suited her, for idle prattle was of little value and the speech of the mortals was distasteful to her. She was unwilling to teach him the Styrásh tongue as well.

His candid wonder when he realized that her abode was made inside the hollow of an ancient tree whose width was ten times that of a normal oak pleased her and for the first time, as he complimented her home in that quiet manner of his, she allowed herself a small smile of acknowledgment.

The smile seemed to reassure him and his initial fear of her lessened though it never completely went away.

Nevertheless, as winter’s end approached, the pain in his eyes intensified to something akin to hatred, not directed at her but still inexorably there, a snarl in a thread that could not be unknotted.

She wondered what had befallen him though she would never ask it from him. It was his story and for the moment now, they shared the same tale but eventually, it would become his own story again and she was merely treading, for a brief while, into it.

Subsequently, winter did end and as spring crept in, so did Raínilaról came for her.

Derrin

He woke up sluggishly, opening eyelids heavy like stone. He was no longer bone-cold but pleasantly warm and he felt…rested. Distantly, he could hear an odd whirling sound that he could not make out for what it was but it was rhythmic and strangely soothing.

Rolling his head to one side and opening his eyes, he found that that he was lying down on a bed of sorts, made of soft dried leaves and covered with linen sheets and blankets.

The room he was in was strange to his sight. There was no roof and the emptiness above him seemed to go on up and up and up forever until it was swallowed by darkness. The walls were of a dark, pitted wooden surface and curved into a circle. Looking further, he saw there was a small opening set in at the side of the room, leading to another half-shadowed chamber.

He started to get up and a wave of dizziness came over him. He fought the nausea and struggled to a sitting position.

Someone was in the room with him, he realized belatedly.

It was the woman he had thought was a dying vision, a hallucination of the freezing cold that numbed his senses. She was sitting next to a spinner, the cause of the whirling sound he had heard upon awakening, and the wheel of the apparatus was circling so fast he could hardly see the spokes turning. Her black hair, very long and dark like the underside of a crow’s wing, fell across her face and partially hid her face but he had the impression she was very beautiful, from the pale curve of an exquisitely sculpted cheekbone and the tip of a regal nose.

And she was spinning iridescent, silvery threads out of thin air, skillfully gathering them into an ever-thickening spool, her hands nimble and graceful as she worked.

He stared, fascinated by what she was doing.

As if aware of his gaze, she stopped spinning, the cessation of motion abrupt.

Slowly, she lifted her head from her task and the hair fell back to reveal her features and he was right, she was beautiful, even though her face was marked with strange arcane tattoos that swirled high across her cheeks in an inexplicable style. She was also an elf.

The revelation did not surprise him for he knew of the elven tribe that lived within the Hovel Frond. Everyone did but what surprised him was that she was obviously his rescuer and the Hovel Frond elves were not famed for their kindness and hospitality. Malicious and brutal they were, with hearts as black as the clothing they favored. In fact, it was no secret that they kept slaves, humans captured from Ashmaria, and they shared a common, remote contempt for all races other than their own.

She looked back at him and her eyes were the same deep blue as his own.

How long that moment passed, with neither of them saying anything, he could not gauge. It could have been a mere second or years. That blue gaze caught him unawares like a moth held by a spider.

In all his life lived so far, he had not found another person who had eyes the same shade as him, a dark blue that was almost violet in certain lights, and here was an elf who did. Was it chance then that she had found him and saved him from certain death or was it Seyella’s intervention?

He wanted to thank her. Thanks for saving him although a small part of him had wanted to die, underneath the shroud of snow, but mostly he was relieved he was not dead. There was much he had to do before he could rest. Kairaveth’s screams were still fresh inside his head and he could not rest until he killed those who participated in her violation and murder.

Before he could say anything, the elf rose. She went out of the room and came back with a small wooden bowl. Coming towards him, she held it out, her face set like a mask, betraying no emotions whatsoever.

The smell from the bowl was too enticing for him and he disregarded the notion of poison, reasoning that she would not have saved him only to kill him. The soup was some sort of meat broth and he gobbled it down without any finesse, the wolf inside his belly starved beyond howling by now.

When he was done, she took the bowl from him with long, slender fingers and moved away.

Not sure how his gratitude would be received, he offered his name instead.

“My name is Derrin Etmere,” he told her.

“Names have much power, you should not reveal yours so lightly,” she said, the sound of her voice speaking his language was clear and flat, each word somehow chilling him more than the snow had. “You may stay as long as you wish but keep out of sight. My people do not tolerate your kind lightly.”

He managed to nod his thanks, knowing he had no hope of finding a way out of the forest, not when it was still deepest winter outside. Until then, he would try to regain his strength and he did not doubt that the memories of Kairaveth’s screams would aid to make him strong enough to seek vengeance.

In the days that passed, he learned much of his surroundings. The elf’s home, he found out, was made within the hollow of an immense tree.

He expressed his admiration for her abode and was taken aback when she nodded and a tiny smile lifted the corners of her mouth, so used already to her normally cool countenance. He was reassured though by this chink in her customary mask and his fear abated more, as their walks together grew more frequent. Initially, he went walking with her to hasten the recovery of his strength but found he had a liking for the stillness of the forest night, leavened occasionally by a wolf’s sudden appearance at the edge of the trees or the drawn-out call of an owl.

He could tell she was irritated by his presence initially, though she never said anything to him. Indeed, they seldom spoke to one other on these walks, but gradually the aura of disapproval around her faded away and sometimes, he rather thought she had forgotten about him altogether.

In the chilly dreariness of a winter’s afternoon, the elf in her customary black dress and her blacker hair showed up clearly against the snow but in the night, she blended with the darkness seamlessly and if it was not for the pale, white curve of her cheek, he would have lost sight of her totally as they strode.

And all the while, Kairaveth was never far from his mind. She was with him when he slept, whispered to him as he dreamt and wept softly in his ears when he was awake. The only time she left him alone was when Ashtae'miór spun her threads, the recurring, clacking sounds of the constantly turning wheel apparatus drowning out Kairaveth’s voice. Nonetheless, with his vigor returning so did the overwhelming desire to track down her murderers and make them suffer as she had, before she died.

Then, quite unexpectedly, winter ended and the stubborn shoots of spring emerged from the frozen earth and Derrin knew he had to leave.

Raínilaról

He waited for her with barely reined in patience outside her tree until she came out.

The long season had not dulled her beauty in any way. Instead she seemed to have thrived on the wintriness until it had honed her loveliness to the point of indescribable torment. She resembled her namesake, a diamond mask that was just as knife-like as it was unyielding.

“I have come for your answer, Ashtae'miór,” he said without preamble. He had waited for her for far too long to waste time on niceties.

“And my answer remains the same. I will not wed thee and I never will change my mind.” The look in her blue eyes as she delivered her answer was devoid of anything, not of regret, apology or even scorn. It was as if he did not exist for her, that he was beneath her regard.

A slight flare of his nostrils was the only sign of anger upon his aristocratic face.

“So you would rather exile yourself from your people and turn your back on who you are? Did you not know how the court of Yuriak’ret jeered when you, of the lineage of Sovar and of Saban himself, decided to become a common spinner of threads? How they laughed at me for your embarrassment!”

That day was a humiliation he could hardly bear to remember. The day Ashtae'miór appeared in front of the entire court, in a bloodstained gown, with her hair shamefully shorn to the length of a common Diorye'oleal tradesman or artisan and renounced her status in front of the whole court. She left without waiting for anyone to speak and later, it become known that she had made her new home near the edges of the forest and had become a spinner, one whose social standing was lower even than the seamstresses.

She stared at him coldly. “What care I for your mortification which is of your own making? You do not interest me and you never will.”

Moving forward, goaded beyond measure by her words, he grasped her arm roughly. She did not resist and the iciness in her eyes intensified until it seared through his being. Rapidly, his anger overrode all else and the desire to tear her to pieces was so strong that his own porcelain face tinged with a hint of pink as his icy blood quickened to gather behind his eyes.

“You dare reject me for a mortal?” he sneered and knew he was right when her blue eyes darkened to a dark violet.

“Oh yes, did you think I did not know? I had seen him before when I came here, hoping to speak with you, change your mind from this madness you have embarked on. The remarkable Ashtae'miór indeed. Her famed heart of ice melted at last and by a human dog.”
“I had never thought much of you before, Raínilaról. But now, I think I utterly despise you.”

“As I despise you, Ashtae'miór. You who killed her own brother with her own hands and left us without a ruler.”

Winter was almost over and the warm, fetid stench of the rot that pervaded Hovel Frond was slowly returning but the air around Ashtae'miór suddenly grew cold and hushed as if the season had never left her side.

“They would kill the human dog if they knew he was here though you may be Sorvan’s sister. You know that, Ashtae'miór.” He smiled. “I would have preferred to rule the Diorye'oleal with you by my side but I will settle for the sword. Give it to me and I can still rule and your human needs not die.”

As he released her arm, he expected her to say no or, better still, to beg.

She did none of those things. Instead, she half-closed her eyes, dimming the icy blue for a while, as if actually considering his words and partly shocking him. She really did care that much for a mere man!

Next, a smile broke the thaw of her still face and the smile was beautiful and cold, like the rest of her.

“Follow then,” she said.

He trailed her back into her tree, eagerness pounding inside his veins as the realization that the sword of the mad queen would soon be his to possess and dominance over Diorye'oleal would not be far behind.

In the heart of the tree was the man, sitting on a chair, reading. He stood up at once when Raínilaról entered the chamber behind Ashtae'miór. There was alarm in his eyes but not as much as Raínilaról thought there would have been.

The man glanced quickly at Ashtae'miór but she ignored him as if he did not exist and made her way to an innocuous looking wooden chest on the earthen floor, next to her spinner.

As she lifted the lid, Raínilaról said with some disgusted incredulity, “This is where you have kept it? In a box that is not even locked! You have gone insane!”

“Have I?” She shrugged. “Perhaps.”

She reached over the chest and as she straightened, he could see that the sword in her hands was the color of new-fallen snow all over...or the clean sheen of ancient bones. An ivory-whiteness that ran from the hilt to to the tip that was disturbing and yet the power that emanated from it was undeniable. And it hungered.

Raínilaról felt its craving hit him like an unstoppable wave and that he would be the one to feed that hunger, he had no doubt. With the sword under his power, he could rule over the Diorye'oleal completely and perhaps, even the other tribes one day…

He reached out for the sword and could have sworn the hilt of the weapon almost flew to fit snugly in his palm, as if it knew who its true master was.

Rapt in his concentration and feelings of triumph, he did not notice as Ashtae'miór drew a dagger from inside the same chest.

He did not notice as she walked around him, so softly that the hem of her skirt barely made a noise against the earthen floor.

Neither did he notice when she was finally behind him and placed the edge of the dagger against his throat to draw it across swiftly and efficiently.

However, he noticed when bright pain flared and blood, hot and thick, spilt over from his hand as he futilely tried to clutch the gaping wound shut. Speckles of the liquid splashed onto the sword as it slid from his grasp. Dots of redness that marred the smooth surface but only for a moment as the sword thirstily drank his life into itself and the crimson became ivory pale once more.

His murderer spoke and he heard what she said before the last vestiges of his consciousness descended into an abyss.

“Not for the throne did I use my own hand to kill my brother. I killed him because, like you, he wanted the sword and I could not let him have it,” she told him gently but he just stared at her with total incomprehension, his perfect elven features slack with the shock of pain and fear.

He made a soundless gurgle, unable to believe that he was dying.

The last image he saw before he passed into the dark lands was the sword lying nailsbreadths away and strangely enough, it seemed to be mocking him.

Then he saw no more.

Ashtae'miór

The fear was back in his eyes and she was not surprised. Both of them standing over the corpse of an elf whose throat she had just slit and the blood still fresh on the dagger she held, how could he not be troubled?

In a way, she had murdered Raínilaról to keep the man safe as much as it had been to protect the sword. It did not matter now. Motives were always murky at best, results spoke for themselves. Maybe Raínilaról was right, maybe she did kill her brother for all the wrong reasons. She did not regret but sometimes she wondered.

The man turned haunted eyes upon her.

“You must leave. I cannot protect you any longer,” she said.

“What will happen to you?”

The concern in his voice was evident and she was slightly surprised.

“They will not execute me, if that is what you are asking. There will be…repercussions for Raínilaról’s death but nothing that need concerns you.”

“Who are you?”

Ah, that was the question she had been anticipating all winter and she realized she did not wish to answer it. Not to him at least.

She bent and picked up the bone sword and, as always, the thin whispers rose like the onset of a stormwind from it as soon as she touched it. This was what drove Avásh'aelía hopelessly mad. The unending whimpers and shrieks of the thousands she had killed during the Final Wars, demanding vengeance for their deaths.

She told him a story instead.

“This sword was originally an armor made of bones. It was very beautiful and strong enough to withstand even dragon fire they said. She who fashioned it continued killing thousands upon thousands during the Wars, orcs and humans, and the armor drank in the blood she spilt and the color of it grew whiter as the years passed until it leached everything it touched. When the killing stopped at last, her people exiled her forever. They could not look upon her because she reminded them of a time they would rather forget as it shamed them.

Outcast and homeless, she traveled with another to this place. Saban, whose crimes equaled hers. Here, she relinquished all claims to what she had once been and while she still could, entrusted the armor to the second son of Saban who in turn destroyed the thing, fearing its power. He then bound the restless spirits that dwelled within, into a sword forged from the broken shards. Through the Ages, the descendents of Sovar watch over the sword, fearing but knowing that as long as the Diorye'oleal have possession of it, we will not fall whence we are ever under attack.”

The man’s gaze lowered from her face to her hands.

She nodded. “Yes, this is the sword. Anyone who wields it will have dominance over his enemies. But the price of doing so is high. She who carried it is now insane and will be until the world ends. And she hears them still.”

“Hears what?”

“The voice of every single person she had slewn with her hands.”

“Ghosts?” The mortal seemed morbidly fascinated by her story.

“Perhaps. Or it could be she has infused the armor with so much of her hatred and pain that it has taken an awareness of its own when Sovar forged a sword out of the broken pieces.”

“It’s alive?”

“You ask a lot of questions,” Ashtae'miór said with a note of finality in her voice.

He flushed. “My apologies.”

“The sword calls to you.”

He jerked slightly at her statement and looked away, his face pale.

“It can sense hate. The kind that allows a man to kill another easily. Be careful it does not devour you whole.”

The elf returned the sword into the chest, wrapping the black cloth she wove with her own hands around it, before shutting the lid.

“You…you do not lock the chest?” he asked tentatively.

“Do I need to?”

For the second time, he looked away from her.

“Tomorrow, you must leave. Go onto the path to the northeast of the forest and it will lead you out."

She was about to speak further when they both heard it.

Sounds of footsteps, soft but many, treading outside Ashtae'miór’s tree.

“Stay here,” she ordered. They have arrived faster than she had expected. The shock and sudden abruptness of Raínilaról's death must have been very strong to have alerted those who had the ability to sense the cár'áll of others so quickly.

“No.” Shaking his head adamantly, the man came to her side. “You saved my life, I cannot abandon you to your death. I will share your fate.”

The first indications of anger crossed her face, rippling the dark sigils on her face. “Do as you wish then. I do not care,” she said harshly as she strode out.

There were at least ten of them outside of her tree, gathered in a semi-circle. Wearing black cloaks threaded with silver runes at the hem, they were silent as graves as they gazed out from the shadowy recesses of the hoods.

Ashtae'miór felt the man’s presence behind her, just as silent but determined and trusting, as she stared scornfully at those before her.

Finally, one broke free and stood a few steps away from the circle.

“Where is the body?” That one asked.

“Derrin,” it was the first time she ever called the man by his name “, bring the corpse that is fouling my home out. Please,” she added the last word with a touch of maliciousness and got her reaction when the cloaked elf before her stiffened in disapproval because she would deign to ask a favor from a mere human.

The man looked unsure for a minute before going back inside.

“We have chosen Tardorid as the next ruler and Yuriak’ret will forever be barred to you.”

So, this was to be her punishment for killing Raínilaról. Exiled from her rightful status as the eldest daughter of the precedent ruler and sister to the short-lived and ill-fated Sorvan.

She remembered Tardorid vaguely. A distant cousin and a second-son, yes. The blood of Sovar and Saban ran in him too, though not as strong as hers and her brother, but enough to make him eligible for the rule of the Bent Throne. He would make an adequate sovereign, she supposed. Succession has ceased to matter to her, a long time ago.

Derrin came out, huffing a little, as he dragged Raínilaról’s body to where the circle was. He laid the corpse carefully on the icy earth and backed away as another two of the cloaked elves came forth. The blood had cooled from the body and the gaping wound across his throat had stopped seeping. Raínilaról looked as though he was merely sleeping.

They lifted the elf’s body easily and one heaved it over his shoulder.

One by one the other elves turned and left, walking in a straight line, until only the first one and the only one who had spoken, remained.

Already, Ashtae'miór could smell the familiar stench of rot creeping back into the forest and she quietly mourned the passing of winter as she always did.

“Is it safe?” The elf asked with a certain amount of tension. He did not say what ‘it’ was but she knew. Oh, she knew.

She smiled mirthlessly. Here was the true reason why she had been spared death for killing Sorvan and then, Raínilaról. The sword could not be wrested away by force but had to pass down willingly to the next Keeper. And they all feared Avásh'aelía’s accursed madness. That, like a catching disease, it would descend upon them if they had possession of the sword.

“Yes,” was all she said and returned inside her tree where winter’s breath still reigned fierce and pure within.

Epilogue

Here was where the man’s story, as she knew it, ended. He left the next morning before she awoke. And he took the sword with him as she knew he would. Whether or not he would use it to exact blood-price on those he seeked...that was beyond the realm of the narrative. When he walked the path out of the forest, he had also walked out of her tale.

That was when she started to sit and wait at the edges of the forest. In the very beginning, she was not sure what she was waiting for, her eyes sometimes drawn to the horizon as if searching for something.

It was some time before she realised why that was and by then, she was so used to the waiting that the knowledge did not trouble her much anymore. It was very simple and she had almost laughed at how absurdly human she had become.

She missed him. In her own, limited way, she missed his silent presence on her walks and the occasional conversations they shared.

It would be many years later when the sword returned to her but came back it did, eventually. And when she held it in her hands once more, she knew he was dead. The man who had eyes like hers. She did not cry but she finally understood sorrow for what it was and the understanding was bitter like poison.

This time, she did not keep the sword inside the chest but kept it hid deep in a secret place where it could do no more hurt unto others.

She continued to spin and her walks grew longer when the moon threw its jagged shards of silver across the snow. She still sat at the edge of the forest when each new spring arrived, where the air was fresher and less foul. No one sought her out and it was better that way.

Then, one day, the girl came.

Her hands were untangling another knotty skein of thread when the girl reached towards where she was sitting. Hesitatingly, like some small, wild animal, and spoke.

“Pardon but I am seeking Ashtae'miór of the Diorye'oleal."

She glanced up. The girl looked exhausted and the marks of a long and hard journey was evident in her dusty clothing and scuffed boots. She had long, silver hair, bound back by a leather thong, and her eyes...

Her eyes were the same colour as that long-ago mortal man. The shimmering scales of distant frost-dragons.

Her silence and regard must have unnerved the girl but she continued speaking.

“Avásh'aelía told me… I’m here for the sword.”

She was not lying. Having guarded the sword for so long, she could sense the taint of the mad Queen on the girl.

This was the beginning of a new tale then and possibly, it could be her last. The deep coldness encased around her heart, that had been there since he died, thawed a little and she could feel…feel something dangerous, yet welcomed in a way, coursing through her icy veins.

“My name is Katya Ileri.” The silver-haired girl offered her name guilelessly.

She had never told Derrin her name. She wished she had now.

“I am Ashtae'miór,” she replied. "And I think I have been waiting for you."

Winter had arrived once more.

Story written by Dalá'Valannía View Profile