‘Order! Order! I will have order!’
The call did little to calm the chaos of the court. Instead, it became one of the many voices reverberating through the air. Their shouts, cries and pleas filled every space, suffocating any other sound.
It started from where they stood on the marble floors or sat on the pew-like chairs in the gallery, and from there it extended upwards. Up and up the sound drifted until the rumble of voices washed against the dome ceiling. From there it was redirected downwards, bouncing off the walls on the way down back to where it came from.
From there it started again — the never ending force of aggravated voices.
The table was the only place from where there came no sound. Its four occupants sat facing each other in grim silence.
‘Order! Calm yourselves!’ Autumn shouted, slamming his fist on the table for emphasis.
No one paid him any attention.
‘Enough!’ Winter’s voice cut through the courtroom, cold as steel and sharp as a blade. Two of the room’s windows shattered. Some of the Fay screamed while others ducked for cover. Ice lined the floor from where Winter sat at the table to the other side of the room.
What followed was a silence so strong it was almost palpable. Not a single soul spoke or moved.
‘Now that we have everyone’s attention,’ Autumn said, casting a sideways glance at Winter, ‘I would like to proceed.’
‘Yes,’ Spring agreed. She smoothed out her dress, straightening her back and lifting her chin.
‘We need a plan,’ Autumn continued. ‘Oyuki needs to be dealt with swiftly.’
‘And severely.’ Winter’s lips formed a thin line.
‘That is not a priority,’ Spring said, directing her gaze at Winter. ‘The priority is to get rid of her before winter comes.’
‘She needs to pay for what she’s done,’ Winter snarled. Her words were met with encouraging cries and thumping hooves.
‘Calm your people.’ Summer spoke for the first time. ‘I want her to pay for what she’s done, just as much as you do, but at a time like this we need to be careful with our anger.’
‘Anger?’ Winter’s eyes flared. ‘Anger doesn’t begin to describe what I’m feeling.’
‘Then you should not be making decisions,’ Summer said simply.
‘You will not get rid of me that easily.’ Winter’s voice turned cold.
‘You are too biased in the matter; too invested. We need to make this decision objectively.’
‘Don’t take me for a fool. Don’t take any of us for a fool for that matter.’ Winter made a gesture at the rest of the table. ‘You’re just as invested as me. It’s your soldiers who stood alongside mine and it’s your soldiers that died along with countless of my own.’
Summer’s jaw was set tight. His whole body had gone rigid at the Queen’s words.
‘There is no need for hostility among ourselves,’ Autumn said, eyeing Winter and Summer. ‘Let us not forget it was you, Winter, who called this court to session.’
The King of Warmth and Frost Queen seethed in silence.
Polar opposites and constantly at each other’s throats, there was no love lost between the two royals. Eternity is a long time and so far they had played testament to the notion that time does not heal all wounds.
‘Oyuki, her strength and abilities are unknown to us?’ Spring changed the subject. She looked from Summer to Winter, then back to Summer.
The king finally turned his gaze away from Winter. His body seemed to relax somewhat, the tension draining, but it left Summer with a haggard shadow.
He had lost so many of his people.
‘We know what she is capable of, but not the extent of her abilities,’ the Summer King said.
‘She could do more damage?’ Autumn leaned forward, placing his elbows on the table.
A frown settled on his forehead, creasing the ancient lines of his face below his antlers.
This was deeply upsetting and the table lapsed into silence.
Each King and Queen retreated to their own concerns, for their people, for the Realm and for the Balance of All alike.
The court started to whisper amongst themselves. They were getting restless again.
‘Baoh,’ the Autumn King broke the silence, mentioning for one of his Fay to come forward. He addressed the table again, ‘Let us start somewhere at least.’ To Baoh he said, ‘You have heard from the border, yes? Where is Oyuki now?’
Baoh cleared his throat and resisted the urge to push his hair back. The unruly mop of chestnut was always falling in his eyes. ‘Last word was that she was still in the East. She made no indication of moving towards the West yet.’ He stopped, hesitant, before asking, ‘May I give my opinion, Your Majesty?’
‘Of course.’ The King nodded.
‘I believe that it takes a great deal of strain to maintain the range of chaos Oyuki has caused across the East. To tip the Balance of All,’ he bowed his head in respect at the words, ‘by such a margin…I don’t think that she will leave it any time soon. Not until she has found a way to keep her everlasting winter there.’
‘Her hold on winter is not as strong as we thought?’ the Spring Queen asked hopefully.
‘It is strong,’ the elf said. ‘But not unbreakable.’
This news sent a wave of excited chatter through the courtroom. Some of the sprites even took flight.
‘Order!’ Autumn called, before the outbreak took over.
‘You make it sound simple.’ Spring sighed.
‘That was not my intention, Your Highness,’ Baoh apologised.
‘I know, young one,’ the Queen replied with a small smile.
‘Since you are so full of wisdom,’ Winter’s cold voice lashed out, ‘pray do tell, how do we stop her then? Before she fastens her hold and moves her destruction to the rest of the Balance of All?’
Boah lowered his eyes to the floor. He could not look the frost Queen in the eye. Not out of fear or respect, but for the coldness that gathered in those dark pools. It was a coldness that burned into your very soul, leaving you weak and numb.
How frighteningly empty she must be inside, he thought, to gather such contempt and hatred. If not for the other Kings and Queen, she would have surely destroyed them all.
‘Let us not forget whose Balance Oyuki is abusing,’ the Autumn King shot back at Winter.
‘How dare you!’ Her cry was a burst of icy wind. Frost erupted from her palm on the table, covering the olden oak in a layer of glistening coldness. The frost stopped short in front of the Autumn King. ‘Do you not think I have done everything in my power to stop her from using my Balance? My Balance?’ Her last words were almost a screech as she rose from her chair.
The frost on the table pressed forward, closer to Autumn.
Without taking his eyes off Winter, Autumn swept his hand across the table’s surface in a semi circle. The frost retreated instantly as the table groaned and shook. From within the thick wooden slab sprouted branches, twisting and reaching across the table. Where the branches extended the frost melted.
The court grew agitated. Some of Winter’s followers started stamping their hooves, giving huff cries of ‘ahu, ahu, ahu’. On the other side, behind their king, Autumn’s sprites started hovering, their wings beating angrily.
‘Enough, the both of you,’ the Summer King demanded. ‘We need to stand united in this matter.’
‘Yes,’ Spring said, looking to Summer. ‘Or else we have no hope in defeating Oyuki.’
Winter and Autumn still glared at each other, but the court settled down somewhat.
The sprites ceased their hovering and Winter’s trolls stopped stomping. The Fay glared at each other from across the room. Their King and Queen was the only barrier between them.
Autumn leaned back in his chair. With a small gesture of his hand, the branches started thinning, shrinking and withering until they were nothing more than twigs. The table rumbled for a last time before the twigs snapped off and landed in a heap on its smooth surface.
Winter’s face stayed frozen in anger, but she too sat down and leaned back in her chair.
‘Our armies have seemingly no effect on her,’ Summer continued. ‘She would unleash blizzard after blizzard, burying the troops and destroying the landscape in the process, and when we would get close, she would simply vanish. One moment she would be there and in the next breath she would disappear into the mist.’
‘Your soldiers cannot withstand her blizzards?’ Spring asked the Winter Queen.
‘Her blizzards, they are not like mine,’ Winter said slowly. ‘They are not made from my Balance.’
Gasps came from the court’s audience.
‘That’s not possible,’ Spring said, repressing a tremor in her voice. ‘That magyk is lost.’
‘I’m afraid she’s right,’ Summer said somewhat grudgingly. ‘My people have seen it too. They know how to deflect Winter’s frosts and snow.’
Winter’s mouth twisted in disgust, but she remained silent.
‘Summer is correct,’ Autumn interjected. ‘His people is of great value to us when the frost comes particularly early.’
At this, a grin stole across the Winter Queen’s face.
The Summer King nodded choosing to ignore the queen’s pleasure at their discomfort. ‘Therefore we thought that we would be able to handle Oyuki’s onslaught.’
‘My people stand no chance against her,’ Spring said. The Queen glanced over her shoulder at the collection of Fay standing behind her. The fawns were visibly shaking and some of the pixies had started crying, but the rest seemed to be putting up a brave front.
They remember all too well what had happened during Spring’s reign when Oyuki had refused to stop her snow. She continued her wrath during Summer’s reign as well. Now, Autumn sat on the throne and the creature’s power had only grown.
As if he sensed her thoughts Summer asked, ‘But your people was the first to make contact with her?’
The Spring Queen stiffened. ‘Yes, but she would not respond to reasoning.’ She turned to Winter. For the first time anger showed in her features. ‘My people has suffered as well.’
The Winter Queen dragged her gaze away from Spring’s angry expression. She would never admit it, but the Spring Queen’s uncharacteristic anger was unsettling.
‘How will we proceed?’ she asked. ‘This creature is not of our Realm, she can withstand our Balances and uses a power unlike our own.’
‘Perhaps we should do the same – use the same magyk as Oyuki – and counter her power,’ the Summer King said.
‘I will not defile my Balance by using such magyk,’ the Spring Queen said. ‘Such power is not meant to be used in the first place.’
‘I trust you have a better suggestion then?’ Winter said. The Frost Queen raised a single frosted brow.
‘If you are so willing, then why don’t you be the first to summon the magyk?’ Spring asked Winter.
The Frost Queen returned Spring’s hostile look, but said nothing.
‘The Flower Queen is right,’ Autumn said. ‘We cannot risk tainting our Balances. If we were to succumb to the dark magyk, the Balance of All would suffer even more.’
‘Only the weak will succumb,’ Winter said.
‘I will not risk it,’ the Spring Queen insisted.
‘Your Majesty, may I speak freely?’
The Kings and Queens turned to Baoh. He was still standing where he had before, but his presence had been forgotten during the debate.
The elf’s face was a blank slate.
‘Yes, you may,’ the Autumn King said unsurely.
Boah addressed the whole table. ‘I believe your Majesties are on the right track. Oyuki cannot be stopped by following the same procedures as we have in the past. Someone akin to her must approach the situation. Some—’
‘I will not reason with that wretched creature,’ Winter interrupted the elf. ‘Not after what she’s done.’
‘You misunderstand me, Your Highness. Not someone akin to her power, such as yourself with your Balance of Snow, but someone like-minded.’
‘That will still be the Frost Queen,’ Autumn said. The other King and Queen nodded.
The Winter Queen made to speak, but Boah quickly continued, ‘No, someone not of the Realm.’
‘How can a human hope to succeed where we have failed?’ Spring asked frowning.
‘Not a human, Your Majesty, a Guardian.’
At his words the room erupted into a wave of gasps, whistles and chatter.
‘If our King cannot fight Oyuki, how will a Guardian?’
‘What Guardian will they pick?’
‘Not of the Realm? All Guardians belong to the Realm?’
‘This could save us!’
‘Surely they could not mean—’
‘Silence!’ Summer bellowed. He waited for the room to calm down before he spoke, ‘A Guardian? Like-minded to Oyuki?’
‘Yes,’ Boah said firmly. ‘Oyuki has defied all Nature’s rules, upset the Balance of All and refuse to respond to reasoning. Does this not remind you of a certain Guardian?’
The Spring Queen’s eyes widened while both Kings nodded thoughtfully.
‘No,’ Winter said simply. ‘I will not allow it.’
‘It is not your decision to make,’ Autumn said.
‘It is my Guardian.’
‘He was your Guardian until you banished him,’ the Summer King said.
‘We all banished him.’ Winter slammed her fist on the table.
‘Exactly,’ the Flower Queen said. ‘Thus we will take a vote, just as we did back then.’
‘We will first have to speak to him,’ the Summer King said.
‘Yes,’ Autumn agreed. ‘He will need to be summoned.’
‘No.’ Mist gathered around the Winter Queen’s dress. Her icicles glistened dangerously.
‘It is not your decision alone,’ Autumn repeated.
‘All in favour of summoning the Guardian raise your hand,’ the Spring Queen said, raising her hand.
Summer raised his hand, as did the Autumn King. They looked to Winter who remained passive.
‘It is done,’ Autumn said. He turned to Boah. ‘Summon Jack Frost.’
To be continued