The Polar King stood before his wounded hunting party, the empty throne by his side a stark reminder of what he had lost.
“And you let it go free?” his face was framed by the silver light of a harrowing moon that set the black of his eyes fiercely, the anger within them a furious glow.
“We did, sire,” Captain Cassanaida looked him square in the eye as she admitted her failure. “I take full responsibility.”
“But it wasn’t just you out there on the ice, was it?” the King’s teeth clacked together, his need for destruction could not be sated with just one victim, he had to hold them all responsible. “Where’s Carlyl?”
Cassanaida’s heart lurched in her chest. The memory of Carlyl stepping out into the frozen waters of the river, ‘just for a look’, was what he’d said, made her want to weep openly before the Polar Court, before the Queen’s sister. A tear welled in her eye but she wiped it away quickly. She couldn’t bare Lenore feeling sorry for her.
“I see,” the King didn’t have to ask again, the silence was all the answer he needed. “That idiot would have made Pandora’s of us all with his curiosity.”
Although his words were harsh, his hands left their perches on his hips and released from their clenched positions. The Polar King’s knuckles breathed a sigh of relief at the reduction in pressure he’d been putting on them.
“He was a good lad,” the King admitted, rubbing his now loose fingers along his weary forehead. “But that doesn’t mean you’re all forgiven. You know what the monster took from me – from US,” he shouted the last word, sending a ripple of nervous twitches throughout his court. He hadn’t slept in the week since they’d left and each one of the hunting party could see it in the madness that tinged his eyes and jerked his movements. But still, six nights of insomnia was nothing compared to what they endured.
Black scales threw arrowheads uselessly from its slithering body. Green skin, or blood or whatever it was – no one who’d gotten close enough to check remained alive – had whispered to them through the bloodlust haze they’d all been consumed with. Whispered terrible things to them all. Things that no other man should know of another. It had came barreling down the icy river, Carlyl didn’t even have time to draw his sword, though Aurora knows he tried, before its spiny teeth, dripping with translucent venom, had split him front from back and stained the snow of the riverbank red.
“We got this,” Cassanaida delicately pulled a soft, white handkerchief from the pocket of her leather riding gear.
The Darfunal, a monstrous white rhino with the eyes of an owl and a spiral horn lodged in its nose, sniffed gingerly at the offering. The Polar King, who only came to the Darfunal’s muscular shoulder, stretched a hand up to rest on the beasts soft, white fur – though it did little to console the animal’s sadness. He’d lost Queen Tifftish too. And he felt the loss like no human could. That was the burden most animals bore and yet still their masters viewed them as little more than savage dolts. How wrong the smart can be.
“What is it?” the Polar King thought he could smell her again, the way he used to with every pass and twirl she made around him as she danced. She’d loved to dance almost as much as she’d loved him and her Darfunal. Barren and broken, her own child’s laugh just a wish in her heart, she’d made do with her frozen prince and ugly pet and still found the courage to dance. That had made him love her all the more. And made it hurt all the more too when she was taken.
“We think it might be…” she couldn’t dare say ‘hers’ without raising his hopes and if she was wrong… well, that didn’t bare thinking about. Despite his grief and the anger it conjured in him, he was a kind man, an honest man, a decent man. He’d brought prosperity to the frozen wastes above Draothair, and peace. His family had carved a kingdom at the top of the world, where the outcasts of others lands could come and find sanctuary, maybe even salvation, amongst the crisp, pure fields of snow. Innocence made reality.
The Glass Palace sat like a glittering tooth in the heart of the greatest city on the ice, Farzia. Carved entirely from enchanted glass, its high towers and steadfast walls transmuted magic better than any ice ever could. The wind could whistle down the grand promenades and narrow marketways and revel in its own voice, as its unheard song rang proud like bell tones across the Farzian streets. “A marvel of the new world,” Lenore had called it, “a more ingenious city the Athburgians could not have devised.” And Cassanaida believed her. For Lenore had seen the Painted Pyramids of Sepermeru that danced under the sunlight before it was stolen; she’d eaten in the homeless kitchen of the majestic Grand Rah Mashal in Kadladur, whose marble curves and ample gardens were the envy of every Kindred in Draothair. Andoit, Seven Hills, Solcolo, the City of Tri’th, the Queen’s sister had seen them all and still she was humbled by Farzia.
“Might be?” the King snapped his fingers impatiently as he strode down the glass steps beneath his feet and snatched the handkerchief from his captain’s hand.
But he’d done it too harshly. The handkerchief opened and a small vile, recognizable to everyone in the main hall of the Glass Palace, tumbled carelessly, glitteringly, to the hard, glass floor.
It shrieked as it cracked, the water within turning to a fine mist in the air. The Polar King’s mouth hung agape, the sheer stupidity of what he’d just done rendering him an idiot before his people.
Cassanaida had tried to jump for the vile, its significance too great to contemplate, but had been a fraction of a second too slow in her grip and the vile had slithered through her fingers like the monster had done as it sailed through the icy river’s waters.
“You did that,” the Polar King’s face had woken up and hatred for himself burned hotly in his royal eyes. The Darfunal made a goat’s noise at the king, warning him to be merciful, but all his dulcet tones did was awaken a wave of nostalgia in the Polar King’s heart, which made him even crueler. “You did that on purpose.”
“No, I, I… I didn’t. I swear!” Cassanaida backed away from the King who came stalking towards her, his teeth sparkling in the moonlight.
“You did! I saw it! You did it so you could break me! You think destroying my wife’s treasures will make me love you?” the king’s voice reverberated off the glass walls as he drew his silver sword from the sheath by his side. His cape was tattered with holes and stains from the very little food he ate, marked its perfect sky blue and Cassanaida thought how curious it was that she noticed such ridiculous things in these moments before she died. Surely she was supposed to see her life? Or maybe she could steal a look at…
“Grab her,” Lenore was standing from the ceremonial throne she was given out of respect for her station. The wounded and bloody hunting party that had stood side by side with Cassanaida only last night, turned on their captain and held her in place. The Polar King’s sword came singing through the air, whistling a merry tune as it did its duty, and Cassanaida prayed to the Titan that her death would not hurt.
But nothing happened.
She was in blackness, perfect dark haunted all around her. She didn’t remember closing her eyes but as she opened them she saw the entire court was staring at the Queen’s sister. Her perfect, silky hand outstretched, the room could sense her power gripping the King’s blade – a capital offence for all but her – holding it in place and inch from Cassanaida’s neck.
“Take her to the ice pits,” Lenore’s sentence was final, even the King knew that.
The madness and blood lust had left him now anyway and so, as her friends eagerly marched her off to incarceration, the Polar King broke down by his dead wife’s last gift to him and filled the Glass Palace and all of Farzia with his animalistic, savagely poignant howls of visceral, terrible anguish.