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Heart of Ice

by Yin Twig
illustrated by Riba

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/325958.html)

Louisa, Queen of the Northlands, sat by the open window of the tallest tower of Castle North and gazed moodily at the snowy city. The wind rustled in her hair, pushing the thickly falling snow into the small enclosure. She was often there these days, as far away as she could get from him.

Perched on the stone ledge she placed a candle beside her, which sputtered in the powerful winds. Out of a box, she pulled a letter written on scented paper, sealed with a kiss. This, she held over the candle and watched the flames take the corner and then slowly envelop the rest of the lie-drenched epistle.

To my darling Louisa.

He was in love with the butler. She’d known that he was, ever since their wedding dream. But worse, she’d caught him in the act, hidden away in the broom closet of their chambers. The butler and his erect manhood each in a deep back-bend, the butler’s legs wrapped around the King’s torso. The King sheathed to the hilt in the butler’s backside, his arms supporting the man’s waist. Both of them screaming pleasure.

She would have done a backbend for him, if he’d asked. But instead they made love as if it were a chore, and rarely at that. So she pulled out another letter and set it aflame, watching as the red cinders briefly mixed with the falling snow, forming a beautiful, swirling dance until they burned themselves out.

For a second, she fancied that she might be like the letter, showing such promise and then burning out in a blaze of glory. It was beautiful to think, as the wind howled in her ear.

The candle lasted through another four letters. Then the wind surged and the candle let go a wisp of smoke and stopped burning.

She frowned for a moment. Then she concentrated and pulled the wind from deep inside her soul. She laughed as it came forth and danced for her, pulling the letters from her hands and shredding them in a fury of turbulence.

The baby kicked, startling her, and the shreds of paper fell to the floor of the tower now. The wind was gone, now just air.

“Hello, my little love,” Louisa said, rubbing her belly. “Did I startle you? Worry not, sweet one, I am not angry you but at your father, who burned my heart with his false promises of love. I pray every day to the gods that you’ll be stronger than me. I pray that you’ll have a heart of ice strong enough to freeze anyone who would try to burn it.”

Three months later, and the baby was born cold and unmoving, his face blue.

“I’ve not seen anything like this before. It’s as if he were frozen through,” the midwife said. “I’m sorry, my Queen.” Louisa did not answer. She stared at her hands, biting her lip, refusing to cry in front of the sour midwife.

The silence didn’t become the detestable woman, for she continued: “Maybe the next one will fare better, when you stop dragging your fool body up to that cold tower every night to freeze yourself stiff.”

“But I prayed,” Louisa said softly to herself. “I prayed to the gods.”

“The gods are cruel,” the midwife said. “They’ll not spare you from—”

They both jumped at the noise of a tiny cough. It was followed by a scream.

“He’s alive?” the midwife said.

“He’s alive!” Louisa leapt out of bed and grabbed the bundle in her arms and held him close to her chest. He was as cold as the walls of the tower and as white as the snow. He never warmed up.

She named him Elsen.

***

It was dark. It was cold. It was drizzling. In the Northlands, it was a very auspicious day for a wedding.

“Well my lads,” said Pauli, the oldest and wisest person in the Northlands. “It’s now the most important time of this propitious occasion. It is the moment when you consummate the true love that has brought us all here today.” He swept his crooked fingers towards the edge of the dais on which they all three stood, pointing towards the pile of sodden furs. The furs rested on an even higher wooden frame, set so as to be visible to all of the hundreds of onlookers. This, the royal marriage bed.

Prince Elsen, the young heir of the Northlands, brushed his dripping hair out of his eyes and beamed. “Come, my love, let us show my beloved people what it is to love truly!”

Prince Charleston of the Southlands cast his almost-husband a dour look. “Your beloved people are daft to have arranged an outdoor wedding during your hurricane season,” he said.

Elsen threw his head back and laughed. “Northerners are hardy, my love, and you’ll be a Northerner too just as soon as we are truly married!” With that, he swept Charleston off his feet and carried him up the ten steps to the top of the frame. He laid him down in the furs, which made a moist squelching sound.

Charleston made the face of someone who had just fallen through the latrine.

“Oh, do not be like that,” Elsen said.

“Wet fur is vile,” Charleston said. “You lie on it if you’re so keen.” He grabbed Elsen by the arms and dragged him down to the furs, rolling so that it was now Charleston on top. Elsen just smiled and stared up at the grey sky, feeling the cold drizzle on his face like a blessing.

“What a perfect day to get married,” Elsen said. “If only it had snowed.”

“You are insane,” Charleston said. “Take off your trousers. Let us be done with this.”

“Oh, you are so romantic,” Elsen said earnestly. His hands shaking from excitement, he un-clipped the tiny hooks that lined the front of his wool jacket. Then he loosened the clasps on his suspenders, so he could pull them away from the top of his wool breeches. Ten more buttons undone and he had his breeches around his ankles, his swollen member feeling every droplet of rain that fell on it. “Are you ready yet, my love? I’ve never been more ready. We’ve waited so long.”

“Aye, four years,” Charleston said. He had his breeches open, his penis in his right hand, rubbing it like he was trying to get feeling back into it.

“And you love me, so there is nothing to fear from our wedding dream,” Elsen said.

“Most certainly,” Charleston said, not meeting Elsen’s gaze. Of course, Elsen realized, Charleston would be more focused on the matter at hand. The crowd grew ever more restless as the daylight grew dimmer. Charleston’s fevered rubbing stopped and he pulled his hand away, now revealing his manhood in its full pride. “Here goes nothing.”

“It will not be nothing,” Elsen breathed. “It will be everything.”

There wasn’t any more foreplay. Charleston grabbed Elsen’s ankles and forced his legs back into his body, curling Elsen in on himself, his knees nearly at his chin. Charleston shuffled in closer, wedging his knees under Elsen’s back. Elsen felt the pressure of Charleston’s manhood straining against his posterior.

For a moment, it was like a war, a blockade against a spear, neither yielding. Charleston took a deep breath and then, his right hand guiding his member, he pressed again harder still. The blockade broke and Elsen felt what must only be the tip but felt like a mountain inside him. Charleston pressed inwards still, and Elsen was consumed with the sensation and the strange warmth. Elsen squeezed his muscles around Charleston’s phallus and heard him gasp.

“Oh, Charleston,” Elsen said, and he squirmed up to his elbows, searching for the gaze of his lover.

Elsen’s blue eyes met Charleston’s amber eyes. Thunder cracked. The world went dark. Their minds synchronized and were laid bare to each other in the Northlands tradition of the wedding dream.

***

To an observer, the wedding dream lasts for exactly the length of the coming of the top man, barely the length of a breath.

For those inside of it, what is short seems longer and much that was hidden is revealed.

“You said you loved me!” Elsen’s thought spoke. He now knew differently.

“You would not have married me otherwise,” Charleston said, who could not hide what was true.

“You lied!” Elsen said.

“Yet we are still married.” Charleston’s gloat was palpable.

“But I love you!” Elsen said.

“Yet I do not love you.”

Elsen screamed until the dream exploded. He woke and he was still screaming as he came. As, his come hit the air like a firework of ice shards, Elsen screamed with pain and humiliation and grief.

As if through cotton wool, Elsen heard someone else scream. Queen Louisa of the Northlands turned pale, ran up to the bed, and grabbed Elsen under the arms, pulling him away from Charleston’s now-unwelcome penetration.

Elsen felt the tearing as he was rudely disengaged. He felt something cold trickling down the back of his leg.

He steeled himself look at Charleston, his lawfully wedded husband, to meet his eye.

“He’s been turned to ice!” Louisa said. “Ye gods, what has happened?”

Elsen looked. There was Charleston, encased in ice. No, now he seemed like he was carved out of the ice itself, dense and thick and turning the air to smoke all around him with his intense cold. He stared down at Elsen with his cold, cruel eyes.

“Did he not love you, my son?” Louisa said. Elsen didn’t answer her, which seemed to be answer enough. She pulled him close against her shoulder and held him as he tried to sob. No tears came; it was as though his heart were numb.

Elsen still loved Charleston. He felt as though he always would.

What had been drizzle turned to driving snow, a blizzard.

***

Illustrated by Riba

***

Eighteen failed marriages and a hundred and fifty years later, King Elsen reclined on a pile of furs on the throne of the Northlands Castle, which was now called the Ice Castle. Elsen had overseen the addition, carved all out of blocks of ice which never melted. Spring hadn’t come since his first wedding.

Pauleen was his advisor. She wasn’t the oldest person in the Northlands because Elsen was older than everyone else, though his youthful countenance belied his age.

“Relations remain frosty with the Southland Kingdom,” Pauleen said.

“That is a statement of the obvious,” Elsen said. “Do you also bring news of the colour of the sky?”

“They are threatening war,” Pauleen continued as though Elsen hadn’t spoken. “They say that the Northlands are expanding with every day that the spring does not come.”

“I can do nothing about the weather,” Elsen said.

Pauleen looked at him through her eyebrows. “They wish for you to meet with the Southland King at his court in Castle South.”

“At the southernmost tip of this Island, a journey of two months in each direction,” Elsen said. “That is an absurd request. I owe them no such favour. I will not go.”

“They still remember the murder of the Southland Prince, my King,” Pauleen said. “They know that you still keep the obscene figure of the murdered prince in your garden along with all of the other indecent statues of your failed husbands.”

“Oh, that garden. I had quite forgotten about it,” Elsen said.

“I saw you there not two hours ago,” Pauleen said. “You sat on a bench and stared at that statue. What was the name of the young man?”

“I cannot remember,” Elsen said. “It has been wiped from my mind.”

“I do wish you would be truthful with me, your Majesty,” Pauleen said. “It is quite troublesome when you persist in telling me falsehoods.”

“I should think you would already know; it is a matter of public record.”

“Which is why it is unbelievable that you should ever forget it,” Pauleen said. “Perhaps it is a sign that you have hidden away inside this castle too long. It has been over a century since you last travelled. It might be good for you to see the sights and meet new people in the countryside. Perhaps you might find the one who loves you.”

Elsen snorted. “What do you care about me finding someone who loves me?”

“There is a rumour that spring will come when you marry your true love.”

Elsen snorted again. “I’ll never find my true love in the Southlands.”

“Well, you have not found your true love in the Northlands.”

“Mayhap I will go. My garden could always use another statue,” Elsen said.

That evening, when the moon lit the gardens with a bluish tinge, King Elsen crouched in front of Prince Charleston. He took Charleston’s face in his hands and he kissed his icy brow.

“I will be gone on a journey, my love, but I will return,” Elsen said.

The statue, of course, did not say anything at all.

***

“I am Jameston, King of the Southlands. I hope your travels were painless.” The man could have been formed from the frozen mould of Charleston, back at the Ice Castle in the Northlands. He met them just outside the castle walls in a golden cape that highlighted his ruddy brown hair. Maybe there was love to be found in the Southlands, or at least a night of passion.

“I am Elsen, King of the Northlands,” Elsen said. “Alas, my travels were not painless. Almost every day of the journey we encountered brigands who attacked the caravan.”

“Yet it seems that you survived,” Jameston said, his mouth pinched.

“I am difficult to kill,” Elsen said.

“Nevertheless, you and your retainers must be exhausted. I offer you lodging inside the castle,” Jameston said. “We have chambers prepared.”

“I have brought all I need in my caravan,” Elsen said. “I will stay with it until the negotiations are completed. There are so many brigands that I would fear for its safety otherwise.”

Jameston’s left eyebrow twitched. “I see,” he said. “Yet you understand how dangerous it would be to have your caravan outside the castle walls. Please come into the courtyard.”

Elsen nodded to his horseman, and it was not long before the mass of wagons had lumbered through the thick, red castle gates and into the great cobblestone courtyard within. Here it never snowed or froze, and so the walls were covered with giant murals of happy people and cavorting animals.

Yet for all of the festive surroundings it was still ominous when the castle gates closed behind them with a resounding noise that shook the ground. Elsen felt the hair on the back of his neck prickling. Surely there could be no brigands inside the castle walls.

“Ready!”

Elsen turned on his heel, searching for the source of the disembodied voice, but what he saw was more troubling. A great mass of archers rose from their hiding places along the walls of the castle. As one cohesive organism, they readied their weapons.

“Take Aim!”

What was it about the Southlands? Did everyone want him dead? Surely that King would put a stop to all this nonsense soon.

“Fire!”

Now Elsen identified the source of the voice showcasing the commands. He cursed himself for not realizing it sooner. His eyes met Jameston’s, who now stood atop the stone wall, pointing his archers toward Elsen.

It was a trap.

The man who could have been Charleston’s double had betrayed him again, and it stung as much as it had on the day of that accursed wedding. But it was worse now, played out on a larger scale with the lives of his subjects on the line. The cold feeling in his heart was an old friend, and he called it up now.

He might die. He probably would die. But so would they, and it would be worth the sacrifice. Elsen gave himself over to the cold.

Elsen woke up on his back, staring upwards gently falling snow. For a moment he imagined that he was home, fallen asleep curled up in the garden beside his love. It was not to be. He propped himself to his elbow and saw the full force of the devastation.

There were the festive stone walls, but they were cracked and fallen. There was a giant wooden door, painted red, but it was made of ice and was starting to melt. And here and there were the fallen archers, steaming with cold as they melted into the Southland soil.

“Northlanders! To me!” Elsen summoned the surviving and the wounded, and they beat a hasty retreat out of the accursed Southlands as fast as what horses that remained could drag them. The weather smiled upon them, and it snowed for the entire journey, keeping the brigands at bay.

In the Northlands, they sang about the bravery of King Elsen against the overwhelming force of the evil Southlanders.

In the Southlands they called it the South Castle Massacre, and they called it the Winter of Death. It was the coldest winter that the Southlands had ever faced and most perished in the bitter cold. Those who survived communed together and told stories of the desolation. Together, they made a collective memory, which became seared in consciousness of the nation until their rage singed the very soil of their nation and burned away their water.

***

“There’s going to be a wedding!” A woman’s voice from deep within a pile of furs spoke to another pile of furs.

“A wedding! There will be a wedding!” From deep within the furs came the voice of a man.

“King Elsen is getting married again.”

“Aye, I hope it sticks this time.”

Sumner stomped through the frigid streets surrounding the Ice Castle, carved out of the ice that surrounded every building. He had heard that deep under the ice were other buildings, built on rock and earth, but these days, all of the buildings lived under thick snowy layers, the walls thick to prevent any heat from getting out. He wore no coat; his rage warmed him enough.

The wind whistled around the city, much like Sumner’s home in the Southlands, but it was a vicious wind, a cold one that turned Sumner’s cheeks pink and made him angrier. He spoke to no one, afraid to give himself away. He could hear the excited voices of the Northlands people.

“Are you going to the wedding?”

“Of course I’m going! Everyone’s going to be there! I’ve got a new coat to show off. Are you going?”

“Of course! It’s freezing cold and blizzarding; what an auspicious day for a wedding.”

In spite of the temperatures, cold enough to instantly freeze a hot cup of tea thrown in the air, the citizens were out in droves.

So, there was a wedding to be had. The King was having a wedding, and it was going to be the place to be. Especially for Sumner, because he was going to be the one to kill King Elsen, like King Elsen had killed the Southlands.

***

“I’m sorry for your loss, my King,” said Paulotte, the wise one. He trotted after Elsen like he was afraid his King would shatter like the icy statue he dragged after him.

“What did you expect?” Elsen said. “I am fearsome and unlovable.” The ice in his heart dulled the pain.

“My King, you do yourself poorly,” Paulotte said.

“I will not speak of it anymore,” Elsen said. “You can leave me. I have work to do getting this one settled into the garden.”

“Where will you put it? The garden is full to bursting.”

“Leave me,” Elsen said. The sky over the icy dome was dark; Elsen didn’t need to look up to know that another blizzard was sweeping through, paying homage to his dark mood.

He listened as Paulotte’s footsteps faded into the distance. He set to work in the garden, pushing statues aside, rearranging them so that everyone could have a good location. They had all been people once; they deserved a decent resting place. As he moved each cumbersome figure, he found himself remembering the moment when he’d dared to hope that they loved him for something more than riches, or fame, or just a burning desire to make the winter go away.

It was the little things that alerted Elsen to the presence of an intruder. It was the crackle of feet on long packed snow, as it groaned beneath the unwelcome weight. It was the slight shadowing of the moonlight on Charleston’s face.

Elsen turned, and as he turned he saw the figure of a man from the Southlands. His sun-baked skin was dark against the white snow, his features masked with insatiable range. It was as if he rage of all of his ancestors held into one body, the art of the Southlanders.

Elsen ran towards him, eager for a fight and the possibility of the release of death. It had been how many hundred years? He couldn’t remember any more.

They met as wrestlers, hands at the ready, twitching and waiting for one to make a move.

“You may as well tell me your name so that I can make a proper headstone for your corpse,” Elsen said.

The Southlander spit over his shoulder, and Elsen heard it sizzle as it hit the ground. “I am Sumner, the avenger of the Southlands. You would do well to fear me.”

“You will have to try harder than that. Who taught you how to fight, a rock? You just stand there.”

Sumner the Southlander growled and lunged, just as Elsen expected. With a few fluid motions he had him falling stomach-first to the ground. The Southerner kept rolling where he was thrown and Elsen barely stopped him from rising to his feet by throwing his body down on the attacker. Sumner gasped as the wind left his lungs. Quickly—it had to be quickly because the position was a risky one—Elsen straddled Sumner. His hands clasped Sumner’s windpipe and his legs pinned Sumner’s hands at his sides. Though it wasn’t an ideal wrestling hold, it was what he needed to be able to complete the rest of his work.

Elsen didn’t have much time; he needed to draw forth the cold. It was not very far away, closer than usual today, when he dared to hope against all reason for love. Yet something was stopping the cold, thwarting it.

Elsen smelled burning and felt the cold recede into his core. All at once Sumner shifted his weight, and threw Elsen off-balance, sending him to the ground. Sumner was quick to straddle Elsen, reversing their positions. Curiously, he wasn’t using a hold move that could hold Elsen down. It was as if he had a power such as Elsen’s ability to freeze people with simply by touch.

And that face, oh, the gorgeous face. The stranger’s eyes mirrored the Southlander Kings of old, burning amber set in a ring of rage.

His face a mask of concentration, Sumner lunged forward and grabbed Elsen’s face with bruising force. Elsen felt a curious sensation. It was as familiar as the cold, yet it was somehow opposite. Sumner was too distracted to prevent Elsen from freeing his hands, so Elsen clasped them around Sumner’s face and called forth the cold. In so doing, he realized that what he was feeling from Sumner was heat. He felt Sumner’s heat moving through his body.

It started at his face and moved down his neck to the tips of his finger tips and toes. In that moment, Elsen remembered what it was to feel alive, and then he remembered what it was like to come.

“Oh!” Elsen said as his seed moistened Sumner’s chest.

“Oh!” Sumner said as he too released his seed.

Startled, he leapt away from Elsen and into the waiting arms of an Ice Castle guard, summoned by the sounds of the scuffle.

“You, sir, are under arrest for—”

Sumner turned on his heel and planted his hand on the man’s face. The guard screamed as he was consumed by flames from within, the plume of heat melting through the wall, through which Sumner fled.

Elsen stared at what was left of the guard, a dirty puddle freezing back into the ground. He retreated to his rooms, shaken.

That night, he dreamed of Sumner. That night, it rained.

***

“You cannot keep trying to kill me,” King Elsen said as he lay, arms and legs wrapped around the naked Southlander, their seed moistening the snow of the garden, exhausted from another thwarted assassination attempt. Sumner had by now burned through Elsen’s entire wardrobe. “I am impossible to kill.”

“No one is impossible to kill. I shall stop trying when you are dead,” Sumner wheezed. “I will not rest until I have avenged your butchery.”

“It is not butchery to kill in self-defence,” Elsen said.

“I will not be fooled by your lies, you the butcher of South Castle. You, with your garden of murder trophies.”

“Do you burn everyone that you touch?” Elsen said. He felt Sumner’s taut back muscles stiffen under his bare chest.

“What?”

“I saw what you did to my guard. He surprised you, and you touched him and then the flames took him. You have a gift.”

“A curse.”

“I’ve never been with a man who has not turned to ice,” Elsen said. “It often seems like I am cursed. Have you loved another?”

Sumner flinched at that and Elsen felt the fight come back into him. With renewed effort he worked to get out of the hold. Elsen held fast, shifting his body weight to counter the futile attempts to throw him off. There wasn’t a way to tell time in the garden, so Elsen lost himself to the struggle. He enjoyed the feeling of skin against skin, the warmth of another human that Elsen couldn’t kill no matter how hard he tried.

“I have loved,” Sumner said.

“What happened?” Elsen said, already knowing the answer. They were too similar.

“He died,” Sumner said. “He burned. You wouldn’t understand. You’ve never loved anyone.”

“I have loved and lost once for each statue in this garden,” Elsen said softly. When he looked up, he found that he was staring Charleston in the face, his cold eyes glowering into his soul. As he stared at his first love, he did not watch Sumner’s head until it intersected his nose at high velocity. Elsen’s red blood dripped from his nose and crystallized in the cold air, bouncing on the snowy ground.

Sumner rose and fled, the pattering of his feet mixed with the pattering of rain on the icy rooftop.

***

“I yield,” Sumner said. “Release me; I shall return to kill you tomorrow.”

“Leaving so soon?” Elsen said. He lived for these meetings now, for the feeling of the heat pulsing through his body, awakening senses that he never knew that he wasn’t using. “Stay a while, Sumner.”

Sumner hesitated, just long enough that it was enough. Elsen grabbed him by the shoulders, reached in and kissed him. Every muscle in Sumner’s body stiffened briefly and then he relaxed in one breath, a decision reached. Elsen felt Sumner’s strong hand reach into his hair and clench them, pulling gently but firmly at his hair. He gasped in pain and pleasure and his mouth opened, and Sumner was only too happy to press in. Sumner’s tongue played along Elsen’s front teeth, probing, searching. Then he moved his tongue further in, finding Elsen’s tongue and pressing it back, deeply and thoroughly, like a massage. The tips of their tongues wrestled until they burned from heat and cold.

When the world grew dim from the lack of breath, Elsen felt Sumner chuckle and he pulled his head away. Sumner pulled on Elsen’s hair and forced his head backwards, supporting the small of his back with his other hand. Sumner moved his mouth down to Elsen’s throat, where he took the delicate skin of his neck in his mouth and pulled it into his mouth, massaging the surface with his tongue. Elsen moaned and twisted, pulling Sumner until they both collapsed on the ground. Elsen lay on top of Sumner and felt Sumner’s hardened member pressing against his leg.

Elsen reached his hand down and clasped Sumner’s wood, gasping as Sumner had the same idea. Sumner was not gentle, but with his roughness came release, like a massage for the soul. Elsen’s breath quickened in his mouth as Sumner ran his thumb firmly up the underside of his cock, pressing into the vein. His thumb came to rest at the crease near the tip and he squeezed it firmly. Elsen gasped. It was nothing like the wedding dream; he was here, in this moment, feeling his pulse racing, his breath quickening, feeling about to burst.

“Don’t,” Sumner said, gripping the base of Elsen’s shaft. “Not yet.”

Elsen moaned, and Sumner loosened his grip and moved his hands to Elsen’s hips. Now he pulled him closer until Elsen sat astride Sumner’s hips, their members crossed and rubbing gently against each other. Elsen was almost undone. He squirmed, trying to force himself to stay calm. He felt Sumner’s hand slide along his haunch until a finger reached his nether hole. Elsen felt as Sumner worked his finger into the tiny pucker in circular motions, then as he breached the barricade and began massaging his inner areas.

Again he was nearly undone. Again, Sumner squeezed Elsen’s shaft, harder this time. “Not yet.”

The circular motions continued unabated, and now Sumner’s biceps flexed as he pulled Elsen forward over his torso. The finger withdrew and Elsen found himself holding his breath. He felt the familiar pressure around his hindquarters, but something different now. Sumner did not plough into Elsen like a raging bull. Rather, he found his way, inch by inch. When he was fully engaged, he grabbed the back of Elsen’s neck and arched up towards his face and they kissed again.

North and South joined as one and came together: Elsen’s like a stream of snowflakes that scattered in the wind, Sumner’s like a volcanic eruption that filled Elsen with warmth that made his fingers prickle.

Afterwards, they lay together on the ground, Elsen’s head on Sumner’s chest. From where he lay, Elsen espied a curious sight. Near Charleston’s feet, a daisy sprouted out of the snow.

***

In the capital city of the Northlands, there was excitement in the streets.

“There is to be a wedding! King Elsen marries today!”

“That is so. Do you think that he has found true love?”

“I do hope. He has been looking long enough.”

Not a soul stayed inside; the entire city gathered around the wedding podium that day. The sun shone and the snow blew all around them, sailing on gusts of wind. It was a wedding day unlike any other and the Northerners were unsure if it boded well or ill.

Paulette, the wisest woman in the Northlands, smiled at the two men who stood before her. “My King, I suppose that you know by now what you are to do?”

Elsen smiled. “Of course,” he said.

He grabbed the hand of his husband-to-be, the latest in so many unsuccessful tries, and turned towards the marriage bed. He paused. Instead of climbing the many steps to the official marriage bed he turned on his heel to face his lover. He leapt off the ground and wrapped his legs around his lover’s waist.

Elsen and Sumner faced each other in front of cheering Northlanders.

Sumner smiled mischievously, and Elsen could see him draw the heat from deep within. Elsen drew the cold. They kissed, and the assembled public gasped as a wave of heat exploded off the couple in a flash of blinding light.

When the smoke cleared, the crowd could see the two lovers, naked and connected stared into the middle distance, lost in their wedding dream.

To an observer, the wedding dream lasts for exactly the length of the coming of the top man, barely the length of a breath. To those inside of it, what is short seems longer.

There were no words in this dream. There were no accusations. There was no gloating. There was only this feeling of warmth and comfort and… love. This was what love felt like. The last fragments of ice in his heart cracked open to let in Sumner’s fire and they lost themselves in each other for what seemed like an eternity.

Too soon it ended. Their eyes flew open as they came. The crowd roared. High above, the birds sang their joy and welcomed the spring, because it had happened. For the first time in almost two centuries, spring had arrived in the Northlands.

Illustrated by Riba

 

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