The Cold King(5)

By: Amber Jaeger

“And what about you?” Calia asked. Her lips quivered and she bit down before continuing. “Do you not need me?”

Her mother sighed. “Calia, it’s time you moved on—”

“I am only seventeen!”

“Yes, seventeen. And next year all the girls your age will begin to receive offers of courtship and the year after that they will be married. They’ll go on to have children and contribute to our town. What will you do here? You cannot live in my home forever and you cannot work and live on your own, it would be disgraceful.”

Calia’s thoughts were racing and she reached out for any argument that would keep her from being sent to the Cold King. “But who will help you? Surely you cannot do everything by yourself.”

Mrs. Thorne poured steaming water over her tea leaves. “Your sister is old enough to take on more chores.”

“Moli is only eleven; she cannot do everything I can do.”

Mrs. Thorn slammed her cup to the counter. “She can and she will. Just as you will go to the Cold King tomorrow and be his servant. It’s been decided.”

Calia tried to pull a breath of air into her tight chest. Surely there was a way out of such a dire circumstance.

She tried to imagine what life was going to be like for her and couldn’t. Silently, she cursed everyone for always ignoring her, never bothering to tell her anything. The only future she could picture was ruled by a looming mad man in a mask.

Calia shook her head, unable to even fathom it. She couldn’t go. She wouldn’t. “And if I refuse?” she whispered. “If I run away?”

Her mother arched an eyebrow. “This isn’t a request. It’s a demand. The Cold King keeps us safe and warm and fed and in return he asks for a few faithful servants. We are lucky he allows us to choose who will go.”

“Not lucky for me,” Calia mumbled.

Her mother ignored her comment and continued. “You have been chosen and if you refuse you will be killed.”

Calia gasped. “Killed?”

“He isn’t called the Cold King for nothing.”

“But killed? Surely that cannot be.”

Her mother gave an exasperated sigh. “It rarely comes to that. I’m sure most of the people that go to the castle find themselves quite comfortable in their new lives. Besides, if you don’t go then I will drag you. You will not shame me any further.” There was a dark gleam in her eye and Calia could only numbly nod.

Sensing her daughters brokenness, Mrs. Thorne relented a little and patted Calia’s shoulder. “Try to get some sleep dear. You have a big day ahead of you tomorrow.”

Chapter Two

Calia slept but it was not restful. Nightmares of winter and diamond encrusted masks tormented her until she woke at daybreak in a panic, tangled in her bed clothes.

Breakfast was a silent affair and every moment reminded her of just how unwanted she was by everyone in the village.

“Show your sister how to complete her new duties,” was the only thing her mother said to her before she left for the market.

Calia fumbled through the chores, whispering explanations when needed. She could tell Moli was quickly overwhelmed and felt sorry for her, but not as sorry as she felt for herself.

Exhausted and grief stricken, she let herself collapse in the armchair while her sister attempted to fix dinner.

“I cannot do this!” Moli wailed from the kitchen.

“You’ll have to, dear. Because I won’t be here tomorrow to do it and Mother won’t accept failure.” Calia tried to warm her harsh words but her sister continued to sob. She got up and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “Please do not cry. It’s not so hard; I know you can do it. And if you can do this well then in a few years you can be married instead of having to go to be the servant of the Cold King.”

Moli threw her arms around her older sister, surprising her and almost knocking her back against the counter. “I do not want you to go!”

Calia smoothed the girl’s hair down. “It’s going to be all right, I am sure that I will be fine—”

“No, not you, me! What am I going to do? I cannot be mothers slave!”

Calia’s hand stilled on her sister’s hair. It took her a moment to speak and when she did her voice shook with hurt and anger. “You aren’t going to be a slave. You are going to help mother until you are old enough to get married and have your own family. I am going to be slave in that cold castle until I die.”

Her younger sister sniffled and shook her off. “Well at least you won’t have to put up with mother anymore.”

Unable to tolerate any more unkindness, Calia left her sister to her own devices in the kitchen and didn’t even stir when smoke began to permeate the room.

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