The wildest forests could not fathom the trails she walked. Wherever she stepped, frost and life emerged, and the stags of the woods, those flighty kings, would bow their respect to her. She was, after all, their caretaker. When she danced through the treetops, bow in hand, she would imagine the spirals of ice that could twist and carve themselves a new home, and she wondered if the children would scold her for taking away the animal’s homes, or if she would please them with new wonders.
A frost patch gathered around her ankles as she stood and watched life go by, unblinkingly. Where had time gone, she wondered, when she had once loved and ran between these trunks, her lover following keenly behind? Was it that many years since she had fallen into his trap, led astray, banished from her own home? She had won it back, of course. But his lies had ripped her a new portal, and she still wasn’t sure if she enjoyed the fact that she had access to another world because of pain.
Hartencia was whistling near the lake, and she could make out the tavern tune even from this distance. She disliked putting a lock and key on her heirs, so she allowed them to wander Nifand freely, for the most part. How else would they learn the people they would one day look after? Their wants and needs, their pains and sorrows? To be among them was to be one of them, and it was a crucial insight for any ruler to possess. She felt lucky, in that moment, that she had the ability to be that kind of monarch. Her parents would have spat in her face if she had suggested anything outside of cold disdain towards their subjects, and yet here she was – and here they weren’t.
It was one of the reasons they had come here today.
Amadeus was sitting at the foot of the tree, carving a small deer into a branch he had found. She had called him her blizzard child when he was born, for he had not been planned, but arrived in the dead of the night. The people thought, and were mostly right, that she was a seer and a great sorcerer of sorts. She had never told anyone how Amadeus had come to be, and she planned on keeping it that way for as long as possible. While Hartencia was a product of her life with the demi-god, Amadeus was more a gift from the stars during a night of heartache.
She longed to go back in time and right the moment she had laid eyes on that fool, but what would it gain her? Nothing. She would lose her daughter, the strong woman she was becoming. She showed no signs of being anything like her father, and for that she was eternally thankful. She would, one day, tell them about him, but they were too young now to explain the inner workings of being in love and being in lust. Let them be children.
She slid down the tree, landing near Amadeus, who gave her the sweetest smile. They made their way together, his hand in hers, towards where his sister was fishing.
“Nothing yet, lass?”
Hartencia sighed, sticking the rod into the ground. “No. Are we going now?”
She pointed towards a rock face on the lake’s eastern side, and her children looked puzzled at her. They were obedient if nothing else, and so they made their way towards the mountain side quietly, observing their surroundings as they had been taught to do.
Upon reaching it, Seren reached out and touched a spot on the rock. Runes were revealed, lighting up like fireflies carved into the wall. She waited but a moment, and it began to slide away, revealing a tunnel with torches, already lit. Her children’s faces held awe and confusion as they headed inside, the door sealing itself silently behind her. It was not a long walk until they reached the main chamber, and she heard Hartencia gasp.
It was a burial chamber, decorated to the teeth. Murals of sprawling mountains and snowfalls, frost giants, past kings and queens, stretches of people, all laid into the chamber walls in an archaic fashion. The murals spanned from the floor to the ceiling, with two massive statues at the back, carved from heavy iron. Their design was her own, sharp frost giants from the old tales, from where her family was said to have descended from. Even now, they looked terrifying but pleasing, in a way only art could. Her children seemed to agree, in their own way.
“Where are we?” Amadeus asked, his hand squeezing hers tightly. Hartencia had already wandered off, but she knew her daughter was listening.
“This is the resting place of your grandparents.”
Hartencia whistled. They walked towards the great tombs, where more runes and murals of hound hunts and great banquets were etched into the sides. Their names sat carved on plaques of marble.
Hartencia had always been smarter than her age, and sometimes it made Seren worry for her. “Why did you bring us here?”
She gave a long pause, watching her children’s faces in the lantern light.
“Because you need to know that these are the people we will not become.” She turned towards the tombs, walking between them. “They were cruel at worst, dismissive at best. Our people did not lack, but neither did they gain. They were never given the chance to rise, and because of this, we grew stale. I grew stale.”
She turned back and kneeled before them, her hands in each of her children’s.
“Learn from us, from me. Be better than they ever were, than I will ever be. Be kind, look after each other, for no tree grows with stunted sunlight.”
She hugged them tight to her, and prayed.