The Cold King(4)

By: Amber Jaeger

Calia bit her lip but her curiosity overcame her fear. “Will one of us really have to go?”

“Yes. We will have to choose someone tonight and send them tomorrow.” Her mother dropped to her chair. “Perhaps someone will volunteer. That happens occasionally.”

Calia shuddered. “Why would anyone do that? Don’t they have to stay up there until they die? What if the Cold King is cruel? Wouldn’t they miss their family, their friends?”

“I do not know, girl,” her mother muttered. “Stop with your chattering, my head is pounding.”

Calia bit her lips together again, trying to keep all her questions in.

“When is the meeting?” her mother finally asked.

“Mother, please can’t I go as well?” Calia begged.

“For the final time, no!” her mother snapped. “I need you to stay home and look after the younger children. I do not know how long this will take and I cannot have the babies out after dark in the cold.”

Calia pouted but dutifully handed her mother her hat and gloves.

Mrs. Thorne jerked them on roughly then visibly calmed herself and smoothed them over her hands. She set the hat just right and inspected her teeth in their one tiny mirror. To Calia she was just a harsh, unloving mother and to the town’s people she was a nuisance who thought too much of herself. But Mrs. Thorne was certain good fortune, a gold fortune and ease in life were just around the corner for her. She was certain that she deserved it.

With a grim smile she kissed the younger children but left without a word of goodbye for the oldest.

Calia watched the door for a moment, wishing her mother would change her mind and let her attend the important meeting. She was always left out of everything; her curiosity was always left unsatisfied. She doubted her mother would even share anything she learned that night. With a sigh, Calia turned back to her chores.

She washed the dinner from the babies faces and began to clean the dishes and table. After she wrestled her siblings into bed she continued with her chores. Exhausted, she finally allowed herself to collapse into her mother’s arm chair just as she came home.

“Mother! What happened? Who volunteered?” she asked, jumping up from the chair.

If Mrs. Thorne had noticed her daughter sitting in the chair specifically reserved for her and her alone, she said nothing. She kept her back to her daughter while she removed her coat and hat and kept her silence as she removed her shoes and moved into the kitchen to push the kettle over the fire.

“Mother?” Calia asked again.

“No one volunteered,” her mother finally said, but she still did not turn to face her daughter.

Calia waited for more but Mrs. Thorne just fiddled with her tea leaves and cup. “So what happened?” she finally burst out. “Who did they choose?”

The silence stretched out and the skin at the back of her neck began to prickle.

“We chose you,” her mother finally answered.

Calia pulled in a shuddery breath. “Me?” Suddenly her tiny world of cooking and cleaning for her mother and tending her siblings didn’t seem so terrible.

Mrs. Thorne turned to face her daughter. “Yes girl, you. You were the best choice.” Her cold words matched her cold demeanor perfectly and it chilled Calia to her core.

“But I do not want to go! I—”

Her mother cut in angrily. “Well someone has to go and you were the one chosen.” Her face held no remorse or sadness, only annoyance and aggravation.

Calia clutched her hands over her chest in panicky disbelief. “But why? Surely the Cold King won’t be happy with someone as lowly as me.”

“He’s happy with whoever we send,” her mother snapped. “And we’re sending you.” She noticed the tears welling in her daughters eyes and softened the tiniest bit. “Really, it’s for the best. All the other girls have prospects and you have none. You could have a better life being a servant in a castle than being an old spinster in town.”

Calia reared up, tears no longer threatening. “I could get married,” she argued indignantly. “Someone could want me; I would make a more useful wife than most of the girls in this town.”

Mrs. Thorne snorted. “Useful, yes. But young men aren’t looking for useful, they want beautiful. Who’s going to fall in love with a girl like you? You are nothing to look at, you aren’t lady like in the least, your manners are atrocious and then there’s the matter of your father.” Her words hurt Calia so fiercely she could hardly breathe. She knew she wasn’t the loveliest or politest or most charming girl but her mother’s harsh assessment left her feeling as though there was nothing special or lovable about her at all. And the double meaning of her mother’s words had not escaped her. The villagers hadn’t chosen her to go, they had all chosen her, her mother included.

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