Mistress of Winter
A woman watched from outside as young Eleeza was quietly sleeping in the corner of her little brother’s room. In the serene night, her brother’s crib rocked gently. She was completely ignorant of the subtle threat on the way. The only sign was the chill that caused a little shiver from the sleeping girl, but alas, it went unnoticed…
For on this Christmas night, there was another person: the woman at the window, whose name was Meracki. She was not like Eleeza, who was dreaming in joy with the anticipation of gifts and happiness glowing around her. Meracki also wasn’t half as serene as the little child.
No, she had not been as peaceful as the girl was on this night for many, many moons. This woman felt no change coming, no promise of rescue from this state that had plagued her for an eternity.
That knowledge she loathed. She loathed it all, especially this time of year, for it was this season years ago that her last chance of happiness dropped from her… dead. She had lost her baby so many winters ago…
During her early pregnancy, she had been so full of joy, so full of the anticipation that came with this time of year, that came with Christmas. But the night she was forced to gaze upon the son that was to make these feelings eternal… It was too early… And now it was too late…
Ever since, she had been full of bitterness and regret. Now, she was as cold as the winter nights she ruled.
Whilst she hated this season, she could also relate perfectly to it. She felt a kinship with the Earth at this time of year. The Earth and her barrenness; her happiness buried under snow. Meracki felt for the planet like she would feel for a sister, but every year, this sister betrayed her.
Every year brought its Spring, its new birth, its new life. The planet would regain her fertility, her joy. She gained everything Meracki would never have again.
So the mistress of winter learned not to trust this season or its guise of sisterhood. She could not trust her sister Earth. She could not trust the winter she served. She could not trust hope.
That is why she looked through the window into Eleeza’s little brother’s room and felt so stupid. She thought she had been done. She thought she had been finished. She was not.
For how could she be done when that awful surge of jealousy came, for the mother that could have that baby boy? For how could she be finished when the question came, the question she had asked so many times it was almost too painful to think, the question of, Why can’t I have a son?
Tears also came: wet, hot things that boiled from her eyes, but like everything that came from the mistress of winter, they turned icy, cold… and dead.
She became overwhelmed with anguish. The icy desire for a son cut daggers into her breasts.
Then a thought came to Meracki, a thought that made her heartbeat speed. It caused her breathing to come in rapid bursts, which made her look as though she was exhaling smoke because of the cold.
What if she made this baby boy her son?
This uncontrollable urge filled her until she was so full of joy, so full of anticipation, that she had to act upon it. For this was Christmas! This baby boy would be her gift!
Her sharp nails, now talons, scratched against the glass of the window. A horrible screeching sound accompanied it, but it did not bother the soon-to-be-mother. It did, however, disturb the young Eleeza from her slumber.
The mistress of winter’s arms, now possessing unimaginable strength, ripped the window from its ledge despite it being locked. Eleeza cried out, panicked. She ran to the door, trying to make it to her parents’ bedroom to wake them.
Eleeza’s attempts were in vain. Meracki raised her arm and ice conjured from her fingertips and covered the door, sealing the exit closed and trapping the children inside the room.
“Who are you?! What do you want?!” Eleeza’s voice was hard, determined, but her eyes were brimming with tears.
“I am the mistress of winter, and I have come for my son.”
Confusion, bewilderment, and horror crossed the young girl’s face in a matter of moments as the older woman made her way to the baby’s crib. The woman pushed the crib and it rocked gently. She lifted a slender hand to the boy’s cheek and affectionately stroked it. A smile blossomed on her cold face.
“No! He is my brother! He is ours! You cannot take him!”
The woman’s face hardened as it turned from the baby to the girl. Her voice was bitter and harsh.
“You silly, stupid girl, don’t you realize how selfish you’re being? Don’t your parents? They have their child. They have their little girl. Why must they also have a son when so many do not, when so many cannot? No, no, this boy is rightfully mine.”
There was now a pounding at the door, the parents. They called for their children. They threw themselves at the door. But there would be no victory for them. No mortal strength could break the woman’s ice.
The mistress of winter picked up the baby and wrapped him in her arms, holding him close to her chest for warmth. She was grinning now, her body filling with the emotions she thought she would never know again.
Eleeza made a noise of panic and fury. She threw herself at the woman, hands reaching for her brother. The woman slapped her away with one hand.
“NO! NO! I WILL NOT LET YOU TAKE HIM!”
“Selfish child, one day you and your family will understand. You will see how truly fair all of this is.”
The woman moved back to the window. The little girl continued to pull and yank at Meracki’s silver gown but made no hindrance for the woman. She wailed and sobbed. The mistress of winter ignored her, completely taken by the innocence in the baby boy’s face. Without looking back once more at the girl, she left.
The new mother looked down at her baby with the warmest of expressions. She finally had her son. Her husband would be so happy in her success. But to her displeasure, the baby began to bawl and cry.
The mother made comforting sounds and sang to the baby, but his screams only grew louder. She shrugged this off and continued to head to her home and her husband.
The heavy, crystalized ice of the door glittered in the moonlight as she opened the entrance to her home. In one hand she held the door, in the other, she held her little boy. She froze in place as she gawked at the child. Surely, he was the most beautiful spawn that the gods had ever created. With a face like that, he was definitely so.
The smooth skin, ocean eyes, and high cheekbones suggested divine intervention in his mother’s womb. However, something was wrong in those ocean eyes… but Meracki would not allow herself to see it, to notice it. The tiny seas of life, those perfect irises, held unimaginable pain. Inside of those eyes were shores of sorrow and terror that could not be described. But all Meracki could see was the perfection in the baby as he stared back at her. The love radiating from her caused the world to grow roses without thorns. The gorgeous flowers blocked her vision. They protected her mind from the two attackers, the baby’s two eyes.
“Wh-What is THIS?!” Her husband’s voice, which shook with increasing volume, took her from the baby’s face. But again, Meracki could not process the look on the master of winter’s face, the look of horror and revulsion.
“It’s our son, beloved. Isn’t he just beautiful?”
“Where did you get that boy?” His voice quivered with anger.
She pursed her lips. Something had slipped through her flawless walls, her mind’s impenetrable gates. The words “that boy” played over and over in her mind. She knew there was something off with them. They did not belong in her paradise of bliss and satisfaction. The way they tore violently out of his throat as if they were curses, dirty insects buzzing to escape a corpse’s mouth. They were not the blossoming praise to announce the opening anew of a flower long thought dead. No, those words were wrong.
She found herself uttering the final word aloud. “Wrong.” Her hoarse voice was alien, frightened, disappointed, hurt to unfathomable proportions.
This was not what she wanted. This was not what she expected. It was all wrong. She felt her heart sink into her boots.
“Where did YOU GET HIM?! WHOSE SON IS THIS?! WHOSE CHILD HAVE YOU STOLEN?!”
Again, her mind dragged on his words. They were a trap laid out for an unsuspecting bear. The long, rusty edges cut into the sides of her brain. They pressed deeper and deeper until their jagged blades met. And the trap closed.
Her voice shook, her mind still clinging onto the fragile hope that perhaps she could have misinterpreted what he was saying. “Lo-Love… Dearest, this is our son. The family who had him didn’t want him anymore.”
“You’re lying! You filthy woman, you’re lying!”
That hope burst like glass from a shattered window under fire from bloody stones. She wept in frustration, shaking her fist about madly. How could he do this to her?! After all, the boy lost had been his too. After all, he had mourned with her… for a time.
That was it. He had healed. She was left broken and shattered and trapped, and he was fine. Rage boiled within her. He had not shown her the elusive path to freedom! She had been abandoned! She sought out a cure by herself, for herself! And he was here, in her arms. A baby boy to be the son she deserved.
But perhaps her husband did not deserve this light of a child. He had his own light, faulty and artificial. Or possibly he had gone blind. Maybe he could no longer tell light from dark, and he confused his blackness for contentment. For how could he look at the cure and see only a mistake, see only “that boy”?
“He is ours! He is our son! Accept him! Love him as I do!” Her eyes smoldered. His eyes must be wrenched open to gaze upon this beauty! He would not condemn me for this holy act!
“He is not mine! And he is not yours! Put him back! Give him back! Now, woman!”
No! He would not see. Why?! How?! He was not only blind but mad! How else could he demand such an action? It was equivalent in her mind to burning a thousand sacred churches for the goal of pleasing the gods.
How could he even dare to think that blasphemy?!
She turned to the baby she held. The graceful lines she drew on his cheeks with her gentle fingernails were ruins of ancient love and devotion.
“I would rather die.” As she uttered the words, she knew them to be true. Indeed, they were the truest words she or anyone had ever spoken.
The master of winter’s eyebrows rose, and his glare deepened. Feeling the rise of aggressive tension in the air, the woman placed the boy down safely.
“This goes against the rules of nature!” he bellowed.
She didn’t flinch. Instead, she whispered, “This is nature.”
Like the statement was a spell, a chill came into the frosty castle. Then she realized that the door still stayed slightly open. She made a split-second decision. In a burst of power, she thrust the great gate back against its hinges. Freezing air filled the world about her. She felt the power of her element grow on her to make armor.
Her husband’s eyes widened. He had seen her in joy, in grief, in agony, but never had he gazed on her and thought without a doubt that she was a goddess.
She reached out into the wind, waiting readily for her call. It crafted for her a long, sharp staff of power. It glittered dangerously.
“Do recall, love, who married into the house of winter. It. Was. You.”
With the venom came a sound like a creature wailing in the dark. It was the sound of every piece of blade-like ice in the palace shooting toward Meracki’s husband. They say when everything you love is on the line, you fight for everything you love, and in that, you fight with everything you love.
She looked longingly at her son. The love she felt for him encompassed her like a cloak of mail. And she was going to fight.
She launched herself and her staff at the treacherous fool. Her staff met one of his own.
“Do recall, woman, why we married. It was because of my power.”
Thunder roared through the opened door. Lightning struck Meracki’s back. A wild yelp broke through her. The scorching blast of light left black places on her back. The burning skin smelt like determination to Meracki.
She charged again, pushing down suddenly harder on her staff. She forced her husband back. His jaw set tightly in a pained frown.
That was when the sharp pieces of ice attacked. They pierced him from every side, and she danced swiftly away as one landed in his chest. Blood poured from him like beer from a damaged keg. Though the sight would have been gruesome and sorrowful to anyone else, Meracki took pleasure in it.
She sauntered back to greet her husband’s death. She watched patiently as the soul began the process of leaving his blind, mad eyes.
Before he was truly gone, she said, “I am the mistress of winter. And no one will take my son away from me. Not again, not now, not ever.”
Then he died.
She exited the palace, leaving the artwork that she had created. The body had frozen. Forever, her masterpiece would lay there in cold misery. But she had tired of looking at such a hateful face, the face of her husband. She had a new love, a better love. Her son.
She gazed down with passion and hope at her baby. He was perfect. And he would be perfectly hers for the rest of eternity. She would make sure of it.
Lost in ecstasy, she had nearly forgotten to be cautious in carrying the baby. Meracki noticed his attempts to break free of her grasp. He was flailing about and whining.
“Shh, shh, my love. It’s all right, you have me now. I’m your mommy.”
He cried louder. His screams echoed in her ears painfully. A feeling of despair deepened in her. The baby did not want her.
She tried to push the thought away. She forced the roses to return. He loved her with all his existence as she did for him. That was nature’s law. The son must love his mother as the leaves must love their tree.
Yet, the boy bit her and sank his nails into her arms. He tore himself free of her arms with horrid strength. And so he fell from her, plummeting into the dark, cold trees below. Like a leaf that had fought to survive the cold of autumn but had given up when the talons of winter finally came to claim it for her own.
Because everything the mistress of winter loved turned icy, cold… and dead.