The Cold King(3)

By: Amber Jaeger

The summer rains slowed and cool wind ushered in a dry autumn. Life continued on for Calia as it had for years—chores, cooking, cleaning, errands and more chores. She often wondered about the old woman and the mysterious king, among other things, and spent all of her time working in thoughtful silence. Life was hard and boring and lonely. Calia was beginning to wonder if it would always be that way.

Then, on the first snowfall of winter, the king came down from his mountain castle.

Tiny flakes swept through the steel sky, hiding everything above the tree line before thinning out and falling onto the village. Children shrieked and ran about with their tongues stuck up in the air while the adults muttered about cold weather and wetness everywhere.

Calia was looking over the last of the apples Mr. Norp had for sale when everything around her stilled. The children stopped yelling, the adults stopped grumbling and even the animals fell silent. The she heard the sharp rap of boot heels coming down the only paved road in town—the road from the castle.

The even footsteps were unhurried and echoed eerily off the walls of the stores and stalls. Calia gripped her cloak tight against her throat and peeked over her shoulder. All the other villagers had turned to watch their king make his way to the small platform in the center of the market square. Men removed their hats and women clutched their children to their sides.

Calia’s breath caught in her throat when she finally caught sight of the Cold King. Whether he was handsome or ugly, she could not tell. A cold, hard, mask encrusted with glittering stones covered his face from hairline to the top of his perfectly shaped mouth. The muscles along his sharp jaw were clenched and Calia wondered if he was angry.

She squinted to see better but the sparkling of the stones made it hard to discern what was mask and what was man. The unruly, dark waves framing his face and tumbling to his collar hid how the thing even stayed in place, giving the uneasy appearance that his face was the mask.

Even from afar Calia could see he was taller and his shoulders wider than most of the men in the village. His perfectly fitted clothes, clearly made of expensive cloth, emphasized his fitness.

But rather than all of those things making him attractive they made him terrifying. His careless hair, theatrical mask and perfect physique made him appear a mad god.

If her shaking knees would have let her, Calia would have run. Instead she stood in place, trembling, and waited with all the other villagers for their king to speak.

He was silent for a long moment, seeming to take in the small town around him. Men shuffled their feet and women twisted their hands together in nervousness. But Calia glanced around, wondering what the king was looking at—or for.

His voice was a low rumble that seemed to reverberate in her chest. “Loyal subjects, it is with great sadness that I inform you that your former friend and neighbor, and my treasured personal servant, Seleda, has passed from this life to the next.” A collective gasp came from the crowd and one mother began to weep. The Cold King held his hand up for silence. “I am sure you will mourn her as I will. But life will continue for the rest of us and as such, I have need for a new personal servant. I will trust you wise villagers to choose the most capable of you all to fill this important role. I will receive my new servant in my throne room tomorrow at dusk.” He looked out over the crowd again with his hidden eyes and Calia shivered as his gaze passed over her. The king gave a curt nod and stepped down from the platform. Without a backwards glance he made his way back to the road leading to the castle.

The villagers slowly came out of their daze and several mothers began to wail in earnest with the first mother that had cried. Men twisted their hats in their hands and began rushing about looking for their wives and children.

The mayor of their town pushed his way to the platform the king had vacated. “Town meeting!” he called through cupped hands. “Town meeting tonight at dusk, right here!”

Calia gripped her empty basket, picked up her skirts and ran home.

“Mother, did you hear?” she asked as she burst through the door.

“Hush, you idiot girl,” her mother hissed. “I just got those two to sleep.”

Calia glanced at the sleeping twins and lowered her voice. “Mother, did you hear? The Cold King came to town and said he needs a new personal servant. We’re having a town meeting tonight.”

Her mother’s face paled and she pressed a hand over her heart. “Oh my… oh…” Her eyes grew shiny with tears and Calia was shocked to see her strong, harsh mother trembling with fear. “I knew this day was coming. I was hoping that old coot would live until my children were grown.”

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