Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Frozen Heart

The frozen mist hung low over the valley, the harbor clogged by sheets of ice that were too brittle to move across, but too thick to sail through. The guardsmen were nervous, as the mist had descended on the city two days ago, and not one person had come to the gates since then. There were no sounds of birds, or of trickling water, or even of a peasant begging for entry. No, the guards of the wall were faced with absolute silence.

Sven walked up to Gunther, both dressed in their boiled leather jerkins and cloaks, holding simple wooden shields and spears. “Anything yet?”
Gunther shook his head, gazing out over the frosty fog. “No signs of anything. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen!”
Sven would have responded in kind, saying how he’d never seen anything like it before. Really, he would have. But the clink of metal on stone caught his attention, forcing him to look out over the parapets at the four pronged piece of metal that had latched to the stonework, the frost covering the bare metal, and the chain that it was connected to. Before he could even call out a warning, a hundred other metal hooks joined their brother, latching onto the side of the walls, growing taut as something began to scale the walls.
“To arms!” Sven cried, turning in towards the village, fumbling with a small animal horn at his side. Pulling it to his mouth, he blew into it long and loud, signaling that the city was under attack, and that the men were to arm themselves and ready for combat.
Sven turned to tell Gunther to begin unhooking the grappling hooks, but he was too late. Standing over Gunther’s bloody corpse was a wraith of a man, shrouded in icy clothes and tattered armor, wielding a rusted sword sheathed in crystallized ice and blood, steam rising from the blade from the warm blood spilled upon it. Behind this creature another one climbed up the chain, this one wielding a hammer, a great section of his upper body having rotted away only to be replaced by ice.
Heat…” The ghoul growled, stepping over Gunther’s body with a crunch of ice in it’s step. “Death to heat.”
Sven did all that he could to parry the creatures powerful swings, cursing his lazy training schedule and general sloth the last few years, knowing that it would most likely be what ended him today.
Sitting atop Ursa, Ambrosia petted his matted fur as she watched her soldiers advance on her former home, her two personal guard remaining by her side as her legion trudged onward. The large ghoul with ice shards for a beard and the intelligent wraith with the horned helm, which she had yet to name, stood by her side.
Well, by Ursa’s side. The bear was large, even by the normal standards of the Germanic mountains. The bear drooled icicles which broke every few moments as it opened and closed its diseased maw, the glassy eyes staring into oblivion as it awaited instruction from Ambrosia. The horned wraith turned and, with a graceful bow, spoke up in a hoarse whisper.
“Perhaps now would be a good time for cover? A small storm perhaps, to grant your troops a measure of protection?”
Ambrosia stared at the mass of half-frozen corpses climbing the walls, some using the grappling hooks, some merely climbing the stone. Looking around at the snow piled high, Ambrosia gave a wicked smile as she got an idea.
Holding her hands up, she began to work her fell magic into the very air around her, a swirling storm of freezing energy radiating out from her hands. Both Icebeard and Horns watched in abject wonder as she unleashed the fury of winter against those that had wronged her.
Sitting in the small keep that marked the seat of power for the small kingdom, Queen Anne sat on her throne, wrapped in warmer garments that still showed her status above the common people. Her daughters stood beside her as her general explained how the city was under siege by the frozen dead.
“The priests and bishops that tried to rebuke them in God’s name have been slain, the streets running into a red slush from their freezing blood. The monsters butcher anyone they come across, slaying man, woman and child. They’ve even taken to the stables and slaughtered the horses and mares within. We’ve fallen back to the castle with our remaining defenders, bringing in as many civilians as we could. The creatures fight with unrelenting force, our weapons merely knocking ice from their frozen forms.”
“General Shade, do what you can to see this city saved. You have my full confidence that you will be able to hold back and repulse these intruders.”
“Yes my Queen,” the General said, rising from his crouched position before her. Turning, he motioned for his soldiers to leave the throne room with him, leaving the royal family to themselves.
“Is it Ambrosia?” One of the girls asked, her platinum blonde hair in twin braids shining in the candle light.
“Why would she do this Sara, this has to be the work of the devil, right mother.” The other sister, an older girl with short cropped black hair said.
The Queen rose from her seat, walking down the steps of the dais. “Yes to both of you. Ambrosia is a witch most foul, and is guilty of assassination. She killed your father before running from justice.”
“Ambrosia killed Daddy…” Sara said, half hiding behind the throne as her mother walked to the windows showing the growing snowstorm billowing outside.
“That… that… that little witch! She’s the reason we’re all suffering for this! Mother, you must stop her!” Beatrice, the older sister, said, fists clenched at her sides.
“We will my dear. God will prevail, and we will have justice.”
Genral Shade stood on the battlements, staring down as the snow whipped past his face. With the portcullis closed, the advancing forces had been stalled, for now. But without any means of taking on the large number of dead, the supplies within the castle would soon become limited. Shade scowled as he thought of what a siege could do to this situation.
A sharp cry from high ahead caught his attention. A hawk, circling high above, was slowly descending, a small tattered bit of cloth strapped to its leg. Holding his arm out, he winced as the heavy bird landed on his arm, jostling him from his stance. Looking at the bird, his eyes widened.
What had once been an elegant hawk was now a half rotted bird of prey, thin sheets of ice in place of feathers granting it the ability of flight. The beak was a complete carving from ice, and one of the eyes was frozen over; the creature was more ice than flesh and bone!
Taking the cloth from the birds leg, he recognized it as a banner that had flown at the city gates, or at least a strip of said banner. Scrawled in crystallizing blood was a message, directed to him, with an offer from the enemy commander. He had one day to make a decision if he wanted his soldiers and the civilians to survive; light the bonfire at the highest peak and open the portcullis and allow a select few agents into the castle to retrieve what they wanted, and the soldiers and innocents could walk free. Refuse, and they would starve them out and slowly take the castle apart, stone by stone.
“Ambrosia…” Shade whispered, looking out over the snow covered roofs of the buildings. He’d always taken a liking to the young girl, taught her reading and arithmetic. Now, she stood as an enemy commander with an impossible demand for him to consider.
He tossed the cloth over the battlements and threw the hawk high into the air, allowing it to take flight once more.
General Shade had a lot to think about as he stared out into the dense mist, listening to the howls of the frozen damned.
Queen Anne wasn’t so much surprised as offended when the soldiers invaded her personal sanctum. Armed and ready for combat, they drug the aging queen, along with her daughters, from their beds and out into the frigid mist. The courtyard of the castle, which had been home to the survivors of the original invasion yesterday, was no empty. The only soul within sight was a fair skinned girl with white hair, sitting astride a partially frozen bear. Flanked by two soldiers of ice and flesh with particular gleams in their eyes, they stood by as her personal guard as the soldiers dragged the protesting Queen and her daughters out to three wooden poles that had been driven into the courtyard. Dressed in scant night clothes, she began to feel winter’s bite all too suddenly as the wind picked up, a flurry of snow whipping over her as the soldiers tied her to one of the stakes.
“You!” She spit, glaring at Ambrosia, who sat impassively atop the great bear. “Who are you to come to my kingdom and do this? You witch!”
Ambrosia drew herself up, staring down at her mother. “I am the firstborn daughter of the Lord and Lady of this land, making me first in line for the crown. When you tried to have me executed, then left me for dead in the wilderness, you committed treason. As such you’ll be given the harshest of punishments: freezing at the stake.”
“You murdered your father!” The Queen shrieked along with the wind that whipped around her, miniature funnels of freezing wind blasting her at her position at the stake, her hands tied behind her by the traitorous guards.
General Shade walked out from behind the bear, looking as haggard as ever. His eyes held dark rings beneath them, and his character was entirely too morose. The Queen raged at seeing him standing at the witches side, though her rage was short lived. Slowly, her blood began to run cold, then freeze. Tiny ice chips within her blood stream sliced her veins, causing bruises to appear all over her body as a thin layer of rime formed over her clothes. Looking to her left, she saw her youngest daughter already frozen beneath a sheet of ice, her pale skin blue with blackened veins standing starkly against her skin.
Hanging her head to let out a rattling breath, the Queen closed her eyes and shed a single tear. If only the Lord had granted us the strength to best this evil… I only pray that someone comes to remove her from her new seat of power.
And with that, the Queen’s struggling flicker of life was snuffed out.
General Shade looked up at Ambrosia, guilt clearly written on his face. “And you’ll keep your end of the deal?”
She reached down to caress the side of his helmet, smiling as ice began to grow along the iron. “Only if you do as I’ve asked. Spend the next ten years traveling, spreading word that this kingdom is a kingdom for witches, and I will grant you the same immortality that my soldiers wear like a cloak.”
“You swear on your title as Lady of this land?” General Shade asked, looking over as the few soldiers he’d kept behind brought over a horse for him.
Ambrosia smiled a sardonic smile. “But of course Shade. I’ve always been a woman of my word, haven’t I?”

General Shade hoisted himself atop his horse, looking Ambrosia in the eye as he slowly set off at a trot, followed by his men. Even as he passed by the lowered portcullis and through the icy streets of the town, through the open gates of the city, he could feel her gaze upon him. And he doubted he would ever find a way to get away from her gaze, until his dying days.

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