A medieval western that’s crosses the Gunslinger with the Snow Queen.

Friends

“Do I look pretty?” Selene asked Elizabeth as she finished braiding her hair.
“Selene! How could you think you were anything but?” Elizabeth answered with her mouth hanging open as if she would answer any other way. “How about me?”
“Of course, now don’t hog the mirror, Lizzie.”
“You’ve hogged it all day.”
“Well it is mine.”
They hugged each other playfully as best friends do. They had met on their first day of school, and from that day forward, they were inseparable.
Selene was a year older than Elizabeth. Her father was a moneylender and she was always interested in the story of someone else’s life. Her dark brown hair and deep brown eyes gave off an air of sophistication that made her the envy of many girls in the village.
Elizabeth, on the other hand, was a horseman’s daughter with golden hair and soft blue eyes that could make a man cry. Like Selene, she had an insatiable curiosity for people and places from all walks of life. One could say this is what brought them together.  They laughed together, cried together, basked in each other’s accomplishments and corrected each other’s faults, together.  Nothing could tear them apart. Not even boys.
On cue there was a knock on the door.
“Thomas!” the girls greeted in unison, rushing for hugs.
“Ease up, girls. There’s plenty of me for you both,” he joked, hugging them back.
Thomas was a farm boy, one-year Selene’s senior, training to be the village Sentinel. To be the Sentinel one must posses a body of pristine physical condition along with a shrewd mind. All of which Thomas possessed. But a Sentinel’s greatest strength was not in his mind or his arms, or even his sword, but in the greatest muscle of all: his heart. A Sentinel has a heart so pure yet so passionate that in the most dire of moments, the heart’s desire can melt the coldest steel.
Thomas was nominated on the day he met Selene and Elizabeth. The girls were picking berries when a couple of wolves cornered them. They screamed, and the only person close enough to hear was Thomas. When he arrived, he saw two wolves circling the girls. Without thinking, he grabbed a loose tree branch and jumped between the wolves and the girls. He told them to stay still while he tied his hunting knife to the end of the branch with his shirt. Slowly, he turned the wolves’ attention away from the girls so they could carefully slip away. The quiet ended when one of the wolves growled and attacked, forcing Thomas to plunge his spear into its chest. He threw himself between the other wolf and the girls and told them to run. Thomas calmly, although scared, looked at his surroundings and found a narrow passage between two trees. Slowly, Thomas inched his was way toward the passage. The wolf pursued. Thomas stopped right before the slit between the trees. The wolf leapt so Thomas spun to the left side of the trunk trapping it in the space between. It clawed and scratched, baring its sharp white teeth at Thomas. He picked up a huge rock and dropped it directly on the wolf’s head.
Selene and Elizabeth returned immediately and found the wolves vanquished. The boy asked, “Are you alright?” Thomas, Elizabeth, and Selene had been friends since that day. When the girls told the village of Thomas’ bravery, he became a hero and was nominated for Sentinel. While the village considered Thomas a hero, Selene and Elizabeth considered him a brother, and themselves as sisters to him.
“So how are my two favorite girls?” Thomas greeted, like he always did.
“Just getting ready for tonight’s Cotillion,” Elizabeth answered. “Selene’s been losing her mind over it all day.”
“What about you?” He asked.
“I have…but not as much as she.” Elizabeth answered bashfully. Unlike Selene, who felt social events were the ‘be all, end all’ of her life, Elizabeth took them for what they were: adolescent courtship rituals. Young girls fulfilling dreams of dressing up like Princesses for an evening with their ‘Prince.’ It was very rare to find true love at the Cotillion, even though that was the idea behind the event.  “It doesn’t really matter, we’re taking each other,” said Elizabeth.
“No one asked either one of you?” Thomas asked, surprised but relieved.
“Some boys asked Selene but…they just didn’t meet her standards. You know how she is.”
“What are you two talking about?” Selene interrupted, now wearing the silk navy blue gown she picked out for the cotillion. “I hope you weren’t talking about me.”
“Of course not.” Thomas answered. “Unless it was about how beautiful you look in that dress.”
“Thomas! You know how far flattery will get you with me,” Selene answered bashfully. “But seriously, will you save both of us a dance tonight?”
“Of course, and I’ll keep an extra special eye on both of you.”
The girls were touched. They knew they would be in safe hands because they’re ‘brother’ would be watching over them. But still, Selene couldn’t help but feel the urge to have the last word. “You don’t need to worry about me, Tommy. I’ve got someone special to make sure I behave tonight.” She winked at Elizabeth.
“Yeah, but whose going to watch over me?” Elizabeth joked.
“Looks like you two will need me tonight more than ever.” Thomas smiled and bid them farewell so they could get ready. He got the last word in, like always, but they didn’t mind. They were all friends and they’re friendship could endure anything, even heartbreak.

The Cotillion

The cotillion was held in the dining hall of the town center just like every year. Flowers were near every entrance, the colors at the tables were cerulean blue and white, the curtains around the windows were white with golden rope, and of course the outside patio was opened, in case couples wanted privacy. It was a night meant for magic, and kissing, and love. It was a night where couples ended their relationships and found new ones. A night when a tight knit friendship began to unravel.
Selene arrived in her long dark gown (a perfect complement to her raven like hair) while Elizabeth wore a red gown, emphasizing her blue eyes and golden hair. Thomas saw them and was stunned to say the least. They gave each other salutations, complemented each other, then went their separate ways for a bit to mingle with the crowd.
“Save me a dance!” Selene smiled to Thomas.
“Of course, my lady.” He bowed. When she walked through the crowd, it parted. Thomas couldn’t take his eyes off her, and although he worked hard to suppress it at that moment, he couldn’t hide the fact that he loved her.
“You know you have a duty to perform,” whispered Sir Brian, the leader of the militia and elder Sentinel, bringing him back to reality. “If you’re not feeling up to it I can simply relieve you.”
“Oh no, sir!” Thomas began, “I was just saying hello to a very close friend of mine. I can introduce you if you…”
“Oh, I know Selene. She pleaded with me to take you as a trainee. And between you and me, she had the best nomination.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“However, if you lose your focus tonight I might reconsider, so don’t disappoint me…or her. So don’t forget to follow through on that dance!” he sternly yet playfully warned.
Guarding the Cotillion was a prestigious honor for many reasons. It gave the nominees the opportunity to get to know the people they protected, both the virtuous and unscrupulous. It taught them whether or not a person had morals, they still need protection and it was their duty to protect them.
Secondly, it tested their respect for women. If a guest was getting out of hand with one of the girls, it was the Sentinel’s duty to step in and resolve the matter respectfully, sternly, and quietly. After all when pretty girls were present, young men’s desires do tend to get the best of them!
Finally, Sentinel nominees were there to watch out for spies and other suspicious people from outside of the village. Often, rival villages would send their spies to this event to infiltrate and learn as many secrets as possible from the children, or sneak around town hall to find structural weaknesses to exploit.
But it was not all work. The nominees were encouraged to ask the girls to dance and were especially encouraged to dance if asked by a girl. It was why being a cotillion guard was so prestigious.
The cotillion went on as it normally did every year. Sure, there was the occasional male who had too much liquor for his own good and had to be removed, but nothing out of the ordinary, until something out of the ordinary happened. The atmosphere got colder. Thomas was the first to notice and pointed it out to Sir Brian, who just attributed it to the late hour. But, soon the guests noticed the drop in temperature as well. A frost started to gather on the outside of the windows. The band slowed down.
“This is awfully strange.” Thomas mentioned to Sir Brian. “We don’t get frost at this time of year.”
“Yes. A curious matter indeed,” the Sentinel Captain answered.
Selene and Elizabeth also noticed the curious change and wrapped their shawls tightly around themselves.
Almost as soon as the cold came, a tall dark-haired man with a pale, almost bluish, complexion entered. He had a confident and regal step and wherever he walked the temperature went down. Yet, for some reason the guests could not take their eyes off him. He had piercing eyes that could freeze a person where they stood, which he did to every lady present. He walked through the party as though it were a farmers market moving people out of the way like wilted produce. Time stopped. All eyes were on him, especially Selene’s. She had to meet him.
“Who is he? Does he come from some family that just moved back after an extended holiday?” Thomas asked.
“I’ve never seen anyone like him before,” Sir Brian answered with his eye sharply focused on the tall pale man, “I’m watching him, and you should too, especially if you value your woman.” Thomas looked over and caught the pale man approaching Selene.
“Hello” the man greeted, extending his hand to Selene.
“Good evening,” she curtsied, caught off guard because she didn’t expect him to approach her so soon. “I’m sorry. You startled me.” She shook his hand.
“Oh, my apologies. My name is Girard.”
“Selene.”
“A beautiful name.” He kissed her hand. His touch and kiss were cold. Selene at first wanted to pull back but curiosity got the best of her. Elizabeth had to make a noise to get her attention.
“Oh, where are my manners? This is my best friend, Elizabeth.”
“How do you do,” Elizabeth greeted, shaking his hand too but pulling away due to its sheer frigidity.
“My lady,” he said to Selene. “It’s awfully crowded in here. Would you care to step outside for a few moments?” he asked politely.
“If its alright with Elizabeth, then, of course.”
“Go right ahead,” Elizabeth told Selene. “Why are you asking for my permission?”
“We came together.”
“No one said we’d leave together.” She smiled.
“I like that one,” Girard chimed in, as he briskly whisked Selene away.
Thomas shoved his way toward his two friends. At first it was easy. After all, a Sentinel is taught the different methods of contorting one’s body to make their way through a crowd, but even the greatest training can still not be enough. He was too late and arrived at a solitary Elizabeth who had just dismissed Selene to a mysterious stranger.
“Lizzy, who was that man?”
“Oh, the pale man. I don’t know. He said his name was Girard and he was from north of here. His skin was awfully cold. Selene went off with him. Why?”
“I’ve got to find her. Get her away from him.”
“Why?”
“Sir Brian said so. He has suspicions.”
“What kind of suspicions?” Elizabeth asked curiously.
“He didn’t explain, he just told me he wanted to talk with him. Can you tell me where they went?”
“They went outside,” Elizabeth answered.
“Thanks, Lizzie.” He felt a tug on his arm. Elizabeth was not going to let him leave, no matter what.
“Why are you going out there?” Elizabeth asked him.
“To find Selene and our mysterious stranger.”
“Can’t you wait?”
“It’s a matter of great importance.”
“Did it ever occur to you that talking to him might be a matter of importance to Selene?”
“Well…”
“Isn’t patience one of your virtues?” Elizabeth continued.
“Um…” Thomas was stumped because she was right. As a Sentinel he was supposed to be patient; it was how he defeated the wolves to save the two girls. Surely the matter of a strange male was not life or death. More importantly, talking to this man probably was of importance to Selene as a friend who was he to disrespect her wishes by interrupting her conversation? After all, the first rule of the Sentinel code was loyalty and respect for your friends and an interruption would be a violation of that code. So he bit his tongue and went to fulfill another promise he made earlier that day.
“Elizabeth, do you want to dance?”
“Well I’m not really good….” she tried to protest.
“Nonsense, I’ll teach you.”
Thomas escorted Elizabeth onto the dance floor and they began to waltz. Unfortunately Elizabeth’s timing and footing were way off, so they spent more time stepping on one another. But it was okay, for a whole night lay ahead.
Girard escorted Selene outside, far away from the bustling multitudes of people that might interrupt their conversation.
“That’s odd,” Selene observed. “It’s cold. It’s never cold at this time of the year.”
“Really?” Girard answered, “I wouldn’t know.  I’m not from around here. My family is from the north.”
“Oh. Well then, I have a few things to tell you about our town. First, I apologize if the folk seem a little suspicious of you. They tend to be that way with people they don’t know. Secondly, I apologize for this weather. It usually doesn’t snow in springtime.”
“Once again, it’s okay. I’m from the north. Remember?” He answered charmingly. “Do you want to see a trick? I am a magician of sorts.”
“Sure!” She answered.
He picked up a snowball in one hand and flattened it. Next, he waved his other hand over it until it hardened. Then he smoothed it over and polished it until it was so clear that it was more reflective than a spring lake. He gave it to Selene.
“Go ahead look into it,” he whispered softly. She did and never saw herself so beautiful.
“It’s…it’s so pristine. So flawless…” Selene gasped in wonder.
“It is the beauty of the ice,” Girard began. “Unlike fire, which destroys, ice preserves. Ice preserves what is beautiful by granting eternal youth and eternal beauty…like yours.” He combed his finger across Selene’s cheek. She shivered at first yet found the touch warm. A cold warmth that froze the outside yet gently burned within.
“I can feel it!” she whispered. “I can feel the warmth and the cold inside me. How did you do it?”
“Magic,” he answered. Selene raised her chin and slowly leaned upward. Gerard lowered his and leaned downward. Their lips connected. The kiss tickled Selene and warmed Girard. They smiled at one another.
Within the ballroom, Elizabeth, with Thomas’s help, finally got the rhythm of the waltz and the two were enjoying themselves. The music stopped, they bowed to one another, and exited the dance floor.
“I’m sorry for stepping on your feet,” Elizabeth told Thomas.
“You got better…but still have a long way to go,” Thomas joked. Elizabeth hugged and thanked him for the dance and for making her more confident.
A cold chill suddenly ran down their spines. Selene returned with her mysterious suitor. She introduced him to her father and after a short conversation excitedly scampered toward Thomas and Elizabeth.
“You’re not going to believe this.” She began to Elizabeth. “Girard invited me to visit his manor and Father gave his blessing.”
“That’s…great,” Elizabeth answered half dejectedly. “Where is it?”
“Up north. We’re traveling on his sleigh first thing tomorrow,” she continued.
“Tomorrow morning?” Thomas piped in. “But…I don’t trust him.”
“Oh Thomas, there’s no need to be overprotective. I’m a grown woman.”
“I know that. It’s just…” he began.
“It just seems a little sudden to go on a trip with a man you just met, Selene,” Elizabeth finished.

Girard wandered over. “What she means to say is she feels as though she’s known me her whole life. We share a connection that way.” He bowed and kissed Elizabeth’s hand. She smiled. Thomas glared at him suspiciously and grabbed Elizabeth and Selene’s hands and pulled them behind him.
“I’d believe that statement if I heard it out of her mouth,” Thomas defiantly addressed Girard. There was a moment of silence while the two stared each other down.
Elizabeth ended the confrontation by pulling Selene aside. The two chatted in the corner while Thomas and Girard looked on. Upon reaching an agreement, Selene returned.
“Enough!” She began. “ Thomas, there is no need for such stubbornness, I’ll always love and care about you. And Girard, I’d be more than happy to accompany you on your return home.”
“Wait a…” Thomas began but was cut short.
“Thomas, I’ve made my decision. Elizabeth and I talked it over and agree there is nothing further to discuss. I’ll see you soon. Please don’t try to change my mind.”
Thomas wanted to say something but the stern and certain look in Selene’s eyes, held his tongue. Selene left on Girard’s arm. He glanced back at Thomas and flashed him a smirk.
“Why did you agree?” Thomas asked Elizabeth.
“Because it was her decision and she’s my best friend. No matter, what I’ll stand by her.”
Thomas nodded bleakly and Elizabeth rubbed his shoulder in comfort. The consolation was short lived.
Sir Brian frantically burst into the ballroom breathing heavily. “I…need…you…” He gasped between breaths to Thomas.
“What’s going on?” Thomas asked. He had never seen his master like this.
“Ice..King…” He answered. Ice King, dreaded words to a Sentinel. Their reason for being: to fight back the Ice King’s attempts to expand the length of winter. “No wonder it got cold everywhere he went!” Thomas realized and dashed outside. He saw several guards frozen in place like statues. Encased forever in ice. A whip cracked and an elaborate and regal sled pulled by stags, started to depart. Girard held the reins while snuggled next to him, wrapped in the thickest furs, was Selene.
“Selene!” Thomas called. She glanced back for a moment. Thomas rushed the sled, jumped onto the back, and let it drag him. The pain was massive but he ignored it as he inched his way up the skis. Upon reaching the carriage, he lifted himself upright and locked his hands around Girard’s throat.
“Pull over!” he ordered, pain searing in his arms from the frigid touch of Girard’s skin. Holding the reins with one hand, Girard picked up his whip and began thrashing Thomas. Thomas endured the stings of the lashes until Girard whipped his fingers, instantly breaking his grip. He slipped and fell off the back of the carriage, bumping and rolling on the snow-caked ground.
The sled stopped. Dazed, Thomas saw a pair of feet exit the carriage and approach him.  He looked up and caught Girard brandishing a sword constructed of hard ice. The Ice King raised the sword.
“Girard!” Selene shouted, beckoning him to come back. He glanced at Thomas one last time and returned to the sled. The whip cracked and once more the sled glided forth.
“Thomas!” Elizabeth shouted as she and Sir Brian arrived to offer aid. They helped him up as Elizabeth breathed sighs of relief.
“Gave us a scare, boy,” Sir Brian began. “But don’t worry. You are worthy to wield it.”
“Wield what?” Thomas asked.
“The true power of the Sentinel.”

The Presentation

The drums beat while the villagers gathered in the town center as torches danced in the warm breeze. A platform had been erected. The villagers separated to make an aisle down the center of the platform. Led by his peers, Thomas marched toward the platform where Sir Brian stood. He shot Elizabeth a glance. She winked back. He was glad she was there-it was his day after all. But someone was missing. Selene. The three of them had planned to hold a special celebration after all the pomp and circumstance. A party planned by three would be enjoyed by two, but such are the paths life takes. He tried to banish the thoughts and enjoy the moment, but he couldn’t.
He knelt atop the platform as Sir Brian spoke the traditional verse. “Tonight is a proud night. For a legacy is past from one to another.” Thomas tried to listen but his mind and heart were elsewhere. So far was he from the moment, he almost missed his cue.
“Rise Sentinel and claim your legacy,” Sir Brian declared. Thomas rose and approached Sir Brian. Sir Brian presented to him first a sword shaped like a flame, then a small wooden chest, which Thomas promptly opened. Within, resting on velvet was the weapon of flame, a pistol, the weapon of the Sentinel. Sandlewood handles, cast iron hammer, and smooth neck. Thomas picked it up and raised it toward the sky. The crowd roared with approval.

The Coldest Winter

Winter came early that year, not suspiciously early, but noticeably early.  Yet, if one looked at the friendship between Elizabeth and Thomas, it would appear years had passed. Friendships ebb and flow depending on the choices people make; for Thomas and Elizabeth, though their friendship remained, it was strained. Instead of seeing each other everyday, they would only see each other once or twice a month. They wished they could see each other more often, but Thomas’ duties as Sentinel and Elizabeth’s duties as a teacher didn’t leave time for leisure. At least, that’s what they told one another.
The truth was that since the day Selene rode away with the Ice King a wedge was driven between them. Although she didn’t want her best friend to leave, Elizabeth felt Selene’s departure from the village was Selene’s choice to make not hers or Thomas’. Thomas on the other hand knew exactly whom Selene had left with and the danger the Ice King posed not only to her, but everyone else.  No matter how many times he tried to explain it to Elizabeth, she stood by her friend. Something Thomas understood but didn’t like. So the two of never spoke of Selene, even though she was always on their minds. Together they were a trinity. When one was removed the others lost their power, a power that could never be regained. But hope is always there, as it was on the day Elizabeth received the letter.
Thomas went to market to pick up fresh herbs and spices when he spotted Elizabeth, attempting to hide her happiness with a serious countenance.
“Why are you so happy?” he asked.
“Oh. Hello Thomas,” she answered flushing red. “You’re not going to believe who sent me a letter.”
“Who?”
“Selene. She says she and Girard will arrive shortly.”
“What?”
“Selene’s coming back, isn’t that wonderful?”
“Selene; yes, Girard, no. It is imperative you get her to stay. Girard is dangerous.”
“Dangerous? What do you mean?”
He pulled her toward an alley, away from prying eyes.
“Girard, you’re acting awfully strange. What’s wrong?”
“Thomas is the Ice King. He takes maidens from villages across the world to test a land’s strength. If the lands don’t fight for the freedom of their maiden, he knows he can easily conquer them,” Thomas informed her.
“Thomas, that’s a story told to young girls.”
“Really, explain why on the night of the Cotillion, it got colder wherever Girard walked. Explain why it snowed in springtime. Explain why he arrived by sled.”
Elizabeth was dumbfounded. The notion was absurd but it made sense, though she didn’t want to believe it.
“If Girard is the Ice King, then why hasn’t he frozen the world yet?” Elizabeth asked.
“Because of this,” he drew his revolver, surprising Elizabeth. “If used, the weapon of flame can shatter him, and end winter forever.”
“That doesn’t explain why he wooed Selene.”
“He chooses maidens by how much influence they have in the village. Selene’s father is a moneylender and holds a seat on the council. With her help, he can convince her father to convince the town elders to join him. Selene is going to help him convince the town to surrender.”
“How does he do that?”
“By hypnotizing them.”
Elizabeth was skeptical and confused. “Thomas, I think the duties of Sentinel have gotten to you. You sound like a loon. Get some rest.”
Thomas knew it was pointless to argue with Elizabeth. She was the type of girl who once she made a decision could not be persuaded. And she was so smart that she could defend her decisions in a way that made perfect sense.
“Elizabeth, whether you believe me or not, I need a favor.”
“What kind of favor?”
“Do not let Selene accompany Girard to town hall. Spend as much time with her as you can. Can you do that for me?”
Elizabeth sighed, “alright, but only because its been so long since I’ve seen my best friend. But, you have to make me a promise.”
“Of course.”
“You will drop this nonsense and let Selene live her life.”
“As you wish.” Usually, he bowed but with this response Elizabeth always got a hug. She meant so much to him.
Selene didn’t lie. Within a week she and Girard arrived. Their presence was felt when a sharp, bitter cold hit the village. Selene and the Ice King made their entrance in a grand fashion. Snowflakes fell and stuck to the ground like a mid-winter storm. The children, bundled up in their snow gear made snow angels, snowmen, and had snowball fights.
The entire village froze when the Ice King’s sled made its way to town. Drawn by six white caribou, with a carriage composed of blue ice crystals. Steering the sled was Girard, tall and resplendent. Beside him sat Seline, radiant, her black hair flowing like a river onto her silver and crystal blue dress. Upon her head was a crown of diamonds that sparkled in the light. Snowflakes fell while she waved to the crowd.
“Is that Selene?” people whispered to one another.
“She’s beautiful,” someone said.
“Like a doll,” commented an old woman.
The sled glided smoothly through the town and stopped in front of Elizabeth’s. Selene stepped out and flicked her hair, sprinkling snowflakes across the lawn. Elizabeth stepped out and embraced Selene.
“Oh my God, Selene, welcome home!” Elizabeth greeted. The touch of Selene was bitterly cold yet Selene felt a pang of warmth from Elizabeth’s bosom. “You look so pretty,” said Elizabeth.
“So do you. I’ve missed you so much, Lizzie!”
“How were your travels?” Elizabeth asked.
“Oh, there is so much to tell. I don’t know where to begin.”
“Do you want to start with tea?”
“That sounds wonderful.”
“Hello Selene,” Thomas greeted as he slowly approached Selene.
“Thomas…how are you?”
“Fine. I’ve completed my training,” he answered.
“Congratulations.” She embraced him.
Girard watched anxiously from the sled. He was not pleased at the sight of Selene chatting with Thomas. Thomas made him uncomfortable and it wasn’t just his history with Selene. Girard saw an aura about Thomas. A fiery determined aura fueled his heart. Girard was afraid such fire emanating from a man could destroy him.
“Selene!” he shouted from his sled. “We must go to the hall, immediately.”
Thomas shot a glance toward Elizabeth as Selene headed toward the sled. “Wait!” exclaimed Elizabeth. Selene turned around. “Selene, you just got here and we haven’t had a chance to catch up. Can’t you stay for tea? Town meetings take forever. You could enter at anytime and they’d still be on their first agenda. This could be my only chance to see you.”
“Girard…perhaps I should stay. You know how I’ve longed to see Elizabeth.”
“I need you at this meeting, to talk to your father.” Girard coldly ordered.
“Girard,” Elizabeth spoke up. “Please, let her stay so we can catch up. What could be so important that Selene couldn’t join you later?”
“It would be in her best interest,” Thomas interrupted, staring Girard down. Girard was insulted but calm. By all rights he should smite the petulant Thomas. But he kept his calm knowing that attacking Thomas did not serve his purpose. So, he humored him.
“Very well,” Girard bowed while Selene and Elizabeth scampered like little girls into Elizabeth’s house.
Outside Girard and Thomas glared at one another, neither one wanting to be in the other’s presence. “You shall never speak to her again,” Girard calmly growled.
“We’ll see,” Thomas answered and marched toward village hall.
A few hours passed but Selene and Elizabeth didn’t notice, memories had hit them like a snowstorm as they reminisced about old times.
“What happened to Thomas?” Selene finally asked.
“What do you mean?”
“He seemed so…stern and serious. He approached Girard very aggressively.”
Elizabeth paused for a moment trying to think of the right words to explain Thomas’s feelings. “Thomas has changed. He was finally knighted as Sentinel. He protects not only us but the village as well. And…he’s suspicious of Girard.”
“Suspicious, why?” Selene asked.
“Selene, why were you gone for so long?”
“Girard is a diplomat. He wanted me to join him in his travels. He’s negotiating territorial boundaries.”
“That’s it?”
“Yes. Actually, I’ve stayed here too long. Girard needs me at town hall and I’m running late.”
“Wait!” Elizabeth called as Selene strode toward the door. “Selene, please stay,” she pled.
“I’m sorry but I can’t. Girard needs me…I can’t abandon him.”
“But Selene it’s been so long and we’ve barely caught up.”
“I know. I’m sorry.” Selene sighed and exited. Elizabeth followed.
Meanwhile, in the town hall, Girard was upset. Thanks to Thomas and Sir Brian, the town elders refused to join with him. Even more upsetting was Selene’s absence. She could have convinced them like she had so many before. He stormed out; Sir Brian and Thomas followed. In the distance, Selene dashed toward the hall with Elizabeth trailing.
“Girard is everything…”
“Where were you?” he barked.
“I was with Elizabeth…She said the meeting would last much longer. She…”
“Was wrong. It is over! They refused me!” He yelled directly at Selene. Thomas and Elizabeth watched with alarm. Girard turned to Elizabeth and yelled at her, too. He blamed both of them for his failure to secure an alliance.
“Leave her alone!” Selene demanded. “I’m sorry. Perhaps you can get a second meeting. I’ll accompany you and plead your case.” She apologized, shrinking in submission.
“No,” Thomas spoke. “He will not. Return to your kingdom Ice King.” He glanced toward Selene.
“Thomas…I …”
“I believe I forbade you from speaking to her!” Girard barked.
“You are in no position to dictate terms,” Thomas countered.
“No…” Selene gasped.
“I’m afraid I must teach you to respect your betters, my petulant friend.” In one swift motion Girard drew his blade of black ice and lunged at Thomas. Thomas quickly parried with his flame seraded blade. The battle began.
Thomas and Girard clashed and whirled like two colliding storms. The impact of their blows scattered onlookers and carved trenches in the snow, but neither one was scathed. Girard summoned a volley of frozen snowflakes and flicked them toward Thomas. The snowflakes cut Thomas wherever they touched and his blood stained the snow-covered field. Girard threw another round. Thomas, with the blade of flame, drew a circle of protection around himself (a Sentinel gift), melting the flakes as they got near. Then he charged Girard with such speed that Girard barely parried the attack. Quickly, Thomas continued pressing his attack, throwing Girard off balance and felling him. Girard gasped in shock; no one had ever grounded him. He raised his hand and whispered to the air. Slowly, the snow around Thomas’s feet hardened. Thomas struggled to free himself but it was futile.
Moonlight passed through Girard’s blade, casting an eerie pall over his scowling face. He raised his sword poised for the kill. Thomas reached into his pocket and pulled the Sentinel revolver. One chambered bullet, one chance. He aimed at Girard’s heart, his finger twitched. Girard’s sword lowered.
KA-POW
“Girard!” Selene cried as he sunk into the snow. Cracks quickly spread through his ice-cold skin like broken glass. “Girard,” she cradled him in her arms while Elizabeth watched and Thomas freed himself.
“Selene, back away!” Thomas pleaded. For a moment her eyes met his and she began to loosen her grip on the Ice King. But it was only a moment. Girard’s hand gripped hers, its icy grip was tighter.
“Selene,” he gasped. “Don’t go.” She paused, glancing toward Thomas and back to Girard. “Selene…” he continued. “I need you. The world needs you.”
“What do you mean?” She asked in wonder.
“I am the Ice King. Where I go winter goes. The world needs winter. It is part of the world. Part of life. Without a ruler of ice, the balance is offset and the world will fall into chaos.”
“What are you talking about?” she asked.
“Take my power before I go. Become the Ice Queen. Bring winter to the world.”
“Selene, don’t!” Thomas cried.
Selene glared at Thomas. Anger filling her eyes. Then she mouthed to Elizabeth, “I love you. I’ll return.”
“Selene!” Elizabeth cried as Selene pressed her lips to Girard’s. A brilliant white light enveloped them and cast an awesome glow throughout the village.
The light faded, leaving behind the shattered remains of the Ice King. Selene was nowhere to be found. Thomas and Elizabeth looked into each other’s eyes. Sad and confused they turned away from each other wondering if they could ever be friends again. Elizabeth watched him kill, and things would never be the same.

The Summoning

Two years had passed since Selene’s disappearance. The coldest winter in recent history was ending and the people looked forward to the coming spring. For most, the villagers viewed spring as a time of renewal: color returned to the world and relationships could be rekindled. For Thomas and Elizabeth, spring was a reminder of days gone by. The disappearance of Selene had driven them farther apart than ever. They barely spoke, and saying “hello” to one another became a game of chicken.
Elizabeth was now a prominent member of the community. She left town for a little while and visited several of the surrounding villages. She enjoyed her time away; it helped clear her head and put a fresh perspective on the events that precipitated her departure. Yet, she missed her home and decided it was time to return. She was welcomed with open arms by the villagers. Children would flock to her home during the day to hear stories of her travels. But the story the children always wanted to hear was of Thomas and the Ice King. Along with Sir Brian, Elizabeth was the only witness to the legendary battle against the Ice King, and stories began to spread amongst the town gossips that she was the catalyst of the feud. For the children, they were talking to a living legend. The notion she, according to gossiping mothers, was the boyfriend of the Sentinel was icing on the cake. When asked about Thomas by the children, she merely answered that he was “a good friend. Nothing more. Nothing less.” But the truth was he wasn’t even that anymore.
For Thomas, his greatest victory was his greatest defeat. True, his fame had spread throughout the land. Proud warriors from the surrounding territories flocked to the village to pay tribute to the one who had slain the Ice King. Bandits dared not step into the village lest they face Thomas; they travelled around it. But for Thomas, life was boring. When he was nominated as Sentinel he was filled with romantic dreams of a life of adventure and valor. And in the beginning, it was. But, once he defeated Girard, he’s life became the opposite. And then there were his friends, Elizabeth and Selene. Selene had not been seen since the night he defeated Girard. He never forgot the cold, unfeeling stare she gave him before she vanished in the brilliant white light. And Elizabeth. Sweet Elizabeth. She left before he could even explain what happened. She just didn’t understand his responsibility. As he approached her while she was walking home, he thought maybe tonight would be different.
“Hello, Elizabeth,” Thomas greeted.
“Oh. Good evening, Thomas.”
“It’s a nice evening, isn’t it?”
“Oh yes,” she answered awkwardly.
“So…how have you been?”
“I’m fine. You?”
“I’m good. It’s been a while. I wanted to talk to you about…”
Thomas tried to think of what else to say. He knew Elizabeth was horrified by what she saw two years ago. She detested violence and unfortunately Thomas’s position in society forced him to use that which she detested. And in front of her, nonetheless! And just when he thought he found the right words, Elizabeth was distracted by a bright, white, speck of light, calling her.
“What’s wrong?” Thomas asked, noticing the light in the distance,
“Thomas, I have to go.”
“Can I at least walk you home?”
“I’m sorry, Thomas, but no. I have…personal matters to attend to.” She began to run and Thomas followed.
“Elizabeth…Please, a moment of your time.”
She paused, crossing her arms on her chest.
“Thomas, leave me alone,” She pleaded once they reached her home.
“Elizabeth, I’m sorry!” he shouted. She paused but did not turn in his direction. “I’m sorry you had to see what happened between Girard and me. I’m sorry about what happened between us and Selene.”
“Thomas…” she calmly interrupted, “I don’t want to talk about what happened two years ago. It’s something I’ve been trying to forget. But every time I see you, I’m reminded of what happened and all the pain returns. I’m sorry.”
Elizabeth’s words wounded Thomas more then a knife to the heart. But, as much as he didn’t want to believe it, deep inside he knew her words to be true. He started walking away when Elizabeth called him back.
“I’m still your friend. I just wish things were different.”
“If there’s a way to find Selene, to bring her home and rekindle our friendship, you know I’ll find it,” he declared.
“I know.” She smiled and bid him farewell. Once he was gone, Elizabeth circled her house hoping to find the light. It was gone.
On the other side of the village, Thomas knocked on Sir Brian’s door. His mentor was glad to answer and invited him in for tea.
“So what brings you here so late?” Sir Brian asked his former pupil.
“Something that’s been on my mind for a while.”
“Do tell.”
“I spoke to Elizabeth earlier tonight.”
“And?”
“As you are aware, she was best friends with Selene, the one whom…”
“The Ice King passed his powers onto. Yes, I remember.”
“Well, he said something to her before he died. He said the world needed him to bring winter to the world. And I’ve always wondered, if what he said was true, then why was he an enemy?”
“There have been multiple Ice King’s through the ages. Some more benevolent than others, but all are equally dangerous. The goal of the seasonal monarchs is to traverse and bring balance to the world during set solstices. It is a law. Spring is a season of birth, full of wonder and curiosity. Summer, a season of youth, growth, and innocence. Fall brings age and wisdom. And Winter, the season of darkness and death. Everything dies where winter goes; crops wither, people die. But it is a necessity, to cleanse the world of the impure so the cycle can begin anew in Spring. It is the way of the world. To violate the solstices is a violation of that law.
“And Girard would have overstepped his boundaries.”
“Not much is known about Girard before he became the Monarch of Winter except that he lobbied his way into becoming the Ice King and stole the power from its true bearer.”
“Is it possible for the seasonal Monarchs’ to transfer their power without death?”
“Yes.”
“Is it possible for me to travel to the Ice Queen’s kingdom and rid Selene of the power of winter?”
“Only if she can pass the power to someone else.”
He thought about this for a moment. Then he thought about Elizabeth; how distant and cold she’d become. He thought about Selene and how she went off with Girard and accepted his power. Finally, he thought about himself and how since becoming the Sentinel, he had done nothing but drive a wedge between the friendships they held so dear. He once said he would sacrifice everything for their friendship, perhaps the time had come to sacrifice his happiness in exchange for his friends. He thought about it, he knew what he had to do.
Elizabeth was enjoying a peaceful night’s sleep cocooned in blankets when the brilliant white light returned to wake her. She slowly approached the window. The light came closer and frost flakes formed over the glass. Within the light, she saw a shape, a human shape getting clearer as it got closer. It was Selene, more radiant than ever. She pointed north and beckoned Elizabeth to follow.
“Selene!” She shouted, climbing out her window, but she was too late. Once her feet touched the cold, damp ground, the light and Selene were gone. Elizabeth knew what she had to do.
The next morning, Thomas went by Elizabeth’s to tell her about his plan to get Selene back. She was not home. He knocked on her neighbor’s door. They said she had left that morning and didn’t know when she’d return. He asked what direction she went, they pointed north. A few hours later, Thomas travelled north.

The Journey

Days passed as Elizabeth continued her journey north to the homeland of the Ice Queen. She was about a day or so from entering the mountains, so she decided to spend the night at an inn.
The innkeeper was very helpful. He gave her fresh sheets, a feathered bed, and a hot meal. Elizabeth enjoyed the meal but was very tired from travelling and fell asleep two hours into nightfall. The bed was soft and warm. Elizabeth felt a cold gentle sweat easing her into dream…
She found herself in a field, blanketed by white flakes. Sitting up, she gazes at an apparition in the distance. She runs toward the light. It forms a shape, the shape of Selene.
“Selene?” she asked the apparition. It acknowledged then started to drift away. Elizabeth followed. “Selene where are you going?” Elizabeth asked. Silence. They walked until they reached a familiar clearing, the mountain pass. Selene glanced at Elizabeth. “Go west,” she said pointing toward a path.

“Selene!” Elizabeth shouted upon arousal. She looked around and realized she was still in the room. “Only a dream,” she sighed. Lying back upon the bed, she took a couple of deep breaths and stared at the moonlit ceiling. “Was it really just a dream?” she wondered. “Or something more? A direction?” She pondered the question for an hour then succumbed once more to sleep.
Morning came like it always does. Elizabeth thanked the innkeeper for his kindness and set out towards the mountain path. Upon reaching the clearing, the words Selene spoke echoed in her head. She walked west.
Elizabeth was puzzled, the deeper she went the brighter the woods became. Within steps foliage went from being dead as winter to blooming, “Strange,” she thought as she continued her walk until she reached a strange meadow.
The meadow was clear and bright.  Yellow buttercups, daffodils, lilies, celandines, and other flowers sprung from a bright green ground bathed under an open clear-blue sky. Elizabeth’s jaw dropped.
“Hello,” a jovial voice greeted. Elizabeth turned around to a rosy-cheeked cherubic little girl with roses braided into her golden hair and a strange manner of speech.
“Hello,” she politely greeted. “I’m Elizabeth.”
“Here.” The child handed her a bouquet of daisies.
Elizabeth sniffed the bouquet and smiled. “Thank you.”
“Your welcome.”
“What’s your name?” Elizabeth asked.
“I go by many names. Some you know, some you don’t. It matters not.”
“Very well? Where am I?”
“You are in Printemps. I’ve been expecting you,” the girl answered.
“You have?”
“Of course, you’re searching for my sister.”
“Your sister? Not exactly.”
“No, precisely. You seek Selene, my sister, Mistress of Niovse.”
“Selene never had a sister.”
“Spiritually, I mean, but now literally,” the girl answered.
Elizabeth was confused.
“My lady, you aren’t meant to understand the way we are. What’s important is you’re here and on the right path.”
“Right path?”
“Yup.”
“I’m still confused.”
“Those who find us are meant to find us,” the girl began. “You were friends with my sister before she was my sister. That is why she appeared to you. That’s how you found me.”
“So, the only reason I can see you is because Selene told me to come here in my dreams?”
“Yup, yup. And she’s not far.”
“How far?” Elizabeth gasped.
“Two more of us. Not far.”
“Two more of whom?”
“My brother and sister, silly.”
“How do I find them?” Elizabeth asked.
“Come with me,” the little girl smiled, took Elizabeth’s hand, and led her across to the meadow’s edge where the girl pointed forward towards a walkway that looked like a drop to a great sea.
“Forward?” Elizabeth asked the girl who nodded a sheepish ‘yes.’ “Thank you.” She bent down to thank the girl who slid a white flower into her hair.
“Bye, bye.” The child smiled and waved to Elizabeth who travelled straight through the meadows edge, wondering what awaited her on the other side.
Once Elizabeth was gone, the little girl went back to her frolic until another figure appeared. A tall figure clad in traveler’s clothing.
“Hello,” the girl sheepishly greeted. “I’ve been expecting you.”
“So it would seem,” the Sentinel answered.

Elizabeth trekked along the walkway until the meadow was out of site. The path was smooth and wound down a cliff that descended toward the sea. Elizabeth thought it strange, for the mountain was nowhere near the sea. But after her experience in the mysterious meadow, she felt it best not to dwell on this. Slowly, Elizabeth descended toward a beach.
The beach was long and filled with soft, white sand where waves gently broke upon the shore.
“Welcome,” a golden-haired young lady clad in an iris colored dress greeted from the water.
“Hello. Are you the sister the little girl mentioned?” Elizabeth asked.
“I am.” The young woman glanced at Elizabeth’s flower. “She liked you.” Elizabeth smiled. “Come. Take your shoes off and walk with me.”
The two walked along the soft beach as the cool water softly kissed their toes. “You seek my brother-turned-sister. She told us you would be traveling to her castle. You should feel honored, not many of your kind have the privilege of conversing with us.”
“I am honored but confused.”
“Confused about what?”
“You act as though Selene and I never met, yet we’re best friends. And what do you mean by ‘brother-turned-sister?’ Selene has no siblings and was never a man.”
The young woman giggled. “Oh, you mortals! Must we spell everything out?” She brushed her hand on the water’s surface. “The one you call Selene is the same as you knew her. But now she is our sister. Our brother made her our sister on his passing. Where she goes Winter goes; where I go Summer goes. It is our purpose, our role. Simple as that.”
“So, how do I find Seline?”
The girl reached into the water and pulled out a pearl. “Soon. You’ll find her before the other.”  She attached the pearl to Elizabeth’s hair.
“Other?” Elizabeth gasped.
“I’ve said enough. Ask my brother,” The young woman finished. Taking Elizabeth by the hand, she led her toward a large wooded area. “There.” She pointed toward the entrance. “The answers you seek are in there.”
Elizabeth nodded, put on her shoes, and entered the woods, puzzled as to what to expect.
Behind her, the young woman looked toward the cliffs to see a lone traveler approaching.
The path got darker the further Elizabeth went, but she didn’t notice. Elizabeth was too distracted by the fallen leaves littering the path in the most beautiful colors. Green leaves faded to yellow then red, and finally to brown that crunched to dust under every step. A cool breeze started so she stopped and wrapped herself in her wool shawl. She heard a rustling in the distance, along with whistling.  She quickly strode toward the whistling and came upon a large wooden cabin.
“Timber!” A large deep voice called as a massive tree fell. Atop the tree stood a large muscular young man tipping his feathered cap. “Hello, my dear,” he greeted. “I hope I didn’t frighten you.”
“No, not at all,” Elizabeth answered. “It looks like I’m in the right place.”
“Indeed, you are. Care to join me for some hot cider?”
Elizabeth nodded yes and he led her to his cabin. The cabin was warm and inviting. The man gave her a wicker chair and poured her some cider, freshly boiled in heated logs in the fire. “Cinnamon?” he asked. Elizabeth nodded.
“You’ve travelled far,” the man began between sips. “Though you might not believe it, much time has passed.”
“What do you mean?” Elizabeth asked.
“You are on the cusp of winter.”
“Selene is close?” Elizabeth asked.
“Yes, she is. But, there is an obstacle following you.”
“Following me?”
“Yes. A man; a driven man. He, too, seeks my sister; for what purpose, it is not known.”
“Thomas,” she murmured to herself. “Does he know how to find you?”
“Yes. He shared a bond with our sister in her previous life. Perhaps he is trained to see us. Or, perhaps he is a tracker and you are his prey. It could be one or all three.”
“Can you stop him?”
“Yes.”
“Why don’t you?”
“He poses no threat to me. It is only my sister or yourself he is interested in.”
“Don’t you worry about your sister’s safety?”
“She’s safe. Nothing can harm her. So long as the world lives she lives.”
“What do you mean by that? I saw one of you die…the Ice King…”
“My brother. Yes, he did die, along with the one before him and the others. But through our sister, they live on.”
“I don’t understand. I don’t understand any of this.” Elizabeth started to sob. “All I want is to see my friend again. I want us to catch snowflakes, talk about boys, share our dreams with one another…all those stupid little things girls do together that mean so much…I don’t want to be involved in…whatever it is you all are. I just want to see my friend…”
“This is a lot for mortals to comprehend, my dear.”
“Then help me comprehend it! Stop speaking in riddles! What happened to Selene?”
“We are as old as the Earth; so long as it exists so will we,” the man began. “My sisters and I maintain a balance. We travel the four corners of the globe every three months, taking our realms with us.”
“Realms?”
“Our homes. What you are in now. It is from there we do our jobs, guiding the year through its cycle of birth to death and rebirth. We do this until the day we die and that is the day when the world falls into the Deep Sleep.”
“But, I saw Girard die…”
“He died, but what he represented did not. In his final moments he transferred his power to the one called Selene. Now she does the task appointed to him.”
“She brings winter to the world,” Elizabeth finished.
“Yes, my dear.”
“Is she cursed to do this forever?”
“Cursed! Heavens, no! It is a great honor to be part of the cycle of Life (Though I understand why you would think such a thing). Is it her job forever? Yes and no. The task shall forever be hers unless she freely gives up her power to someone willing to accept it.”
Elizabeth closed her eyes, murmured a ‘thank you’ to God, and finished her cider.
“You sound relieved,” the man pointed out.
“I am. You told me I can free my friend from the eternal servitude to which she’s been bound.”
“Remember, only if she wants to be freed. What will you do if she doesn’t want to give up her power?”
“The ability to choose for herself is enough to make me happy.”
“You are a true friend. Now, why do you fear the one following you?”
Elizabeth took a breath, “ I don’t. He won’t harm me. He won’t harm her. He cares about us too much. Thomas may be a determined man but he would never harm either one of us. He loves us…just as we love him.”
The man nodded and continued to chat with Elizabeth. They were so deep in conversation that they failed to notice nightfall.
“It looks like the day is done,” The man commented observing the darkening rose-colored sky. “It looks like you better get going.”
“Go? Now? I couldn’t…I mean…”
“Don’t worry, my dear. You will find what you’re looking for over that hill. Go now while it is still the hour of two lights. You’ll be at my sister’s palace by nightfall. It is splendid under the moon.”
Elizabeth nodded.
“Wait.” He wrapped her in a bear-skin throw; it felt like a soft hug. “My sister’s realm can be quite cold. This’ll keep you warm.”
“Thank you. Out of all your siblings, you’ve been the kindest,” Elizabeth complemented. He tipped his hat to her.
“Thank you, my lady. Remember, over the hill.” And with those words Elizabeth set out.
The man watched Elizabeth disappear into the twilight, then returned to his cabin where the Sentinel waited.
Strong winds battered Elizabeth during her hike up the hill. Besides pushing her back, the gale force caused her eyes to tear, distorting her vision and forcing her to pause so she could regain her balance.  She whispered a ‘thank you’ to the man in the cabin for giving her the throw she held onto so tightly. “One step at a time,” she kept telling herself. Time passed. Elizabeth felt the crunching snow getting thicker and thicker under her feet. The wind calmed, the sky turned a misty rainbow, and the touch of snowflakes tickles her brow. Wetness from the snow seeps through her shoes and numbs her toes, but she didn’t let this stop her. She pressed forward one step at a time until she reached her destination, a giant glass-like castle radiating blue light.
“This must be the place,” she murmured as she stared at the resplendent sight. She marched forward with purpose across a bridge made of ice toward the bright, translucent palace.
She reached the entrance and found the door open, so she walked in. The interior was beautiful, it was like a palace of crystal and glass. Elizabeth looked around, mesmerized by her reflection in every facet of the architecture.  She walked forward through a great hall, her reflection getting larger and smaller with each step.
“Lizzie!” a familiar voice called. Elizabeth turned around and saw Selene, dressed in regal furs.
“Selene!” Elizabeth cried, tearfully giving her a big hug. Selene responded in kind. For that moment there was no ice palace or ice queen, there was only two friends reunited after a long time.
“Lizzie, you’re wet and look cold. Here, take my ermine, it’ll keep you warm.” She took off Elizabeth’s damp bear wrap and replaced it with her ermine cloak.
“Thank you, Leenie.” Elizabeth smiled, rubbing her hand through the fluffy white fur as her body warmed up as if she were sitting beside a fire.  She looked up at Selene who was so beautiful yet so otherworldly at the same time.
“Do I look pretty?” Selene asked, gazing at herself in the ice.
“Selene, you look beautiful. That dress…”
“It’s made out of snowflakes.”
“What? How?” Elizabeth asked sounding dumbfounded.
“It’s easy, Lizzie. I’ll teach you. I’ll teach you so much.”
“I’m eager to learn. Though, I’m not sure what about.”
“I guess you would call it magic.” Selene pointed toward a wall of ice and began moving her fingers. The wall moved in tune with her fingers, forming shapes of various design. When Selene was finished, an ice sculpture of an angel was carved.
Elizabeth covered her mouth stifling a gasp. She couldn’t believe what she saw. It was both amazing and frightening at the same time.
“I…I don’t know what to say,” she murmured.
“Oh, Lizzie, there’s so much I want to show you. Have you ever seen an ice rainbow? The unique embroidery of the snowflakes, or heard the music of the icicles? Of course you haven’t, you haven’t the ability but that can change.”
“What can change?”
“Stay with me, Lizzie. Become my squire. Let me impart to you a fraction of my power. Just imagine what we can do together.”
“Selene…what are you talking about?” Elizabeth asked, feeling strangely afraid.
“Don’t be afraid.” She extended her hand to Elizabeth. Her hand glowed blue. “It doesn’t hurt. I know what I’ve said sounds scary but it’s really not. You will see so much, and live so long, and be able to create…anything you wish.”
Elizabeth was frightened. This was not Selene, at least not the Selene she knew.  The Selene she knew was always calm, warm, caring, and direct. This Selene was flighty, obscure, and unclear. She wondered if this was what power does to regular people. Does it make them forget what make us human?
“Selene, no! I don’t…I don’t want your power.”
“What do you mean? Are you turning down the ability to create anything from the snow? To mold angels from the frost? To make your breath dance?”
“Yes, Selene, I don’t… Are you listening to yourself? You’re not…you. You sound enchanted by your power.”
“But I want to share it with you. I want someone to look on my mighty works of winter and admire them. What good are those works if there’s no one to appreciate them?”
“Power does not need to be appreciated, Selene. It’s dangerous to expect that of people. Please renounce it and come home with me. Your friends have been worried sick, I have been worried sick, Thomas…”
“Thomas!” Selene shouted to the castle. “Thomas is not worried. Thomas seeks to end me like he ended Girard. That is his mission: to prevent the coming of winter. To destroy that which creates and preserves.”
“No, it’s not!” Tears welled up in Elizabeth’s eyes. “Thomas cares about you. He loves you, just like I do.”
“Thomas fears my power and wants it for himself. Since he is not worthy of it, he seeks to destroy it. It is what Sentinels do. If they cannot wield power then no one can!”
“Selene,” a voice called as if on cue, Selene and Elizabeth were distracted by a large, ominous reflection in the ice of the walls. The reflection diminished as the man approached.
“Thomas,” Elizabeth gasped.
The Sentinel had arrived.

Apocalypse

Thomas and Selene stared directly at each other. Their expressions stern and challenging.
“I didn’t come to fight.”
“What do you want?”
“I want you to come home. Relinquish the power of the Ice Queen.”
She turned away.
“Selene…”
“All that training as Sentinel and you know nothing about your opponent, Thomas. My power is needed. If I were to relinquish the power, do you know what would happen to the world?”
“I know, Selene. That is why I came. I want to trade: I will give you my life for your power. Let me be the one to bring winter to the world so you can return home.”
Selene’s heart skipped a beat. A part of her wanted to go home, she really did. A part of her wanted to be rid of the responsibilities and go back to the village where she could just be Selene. All she had to do was give Thomas the power and she could have her life back. All she needed to do was give Thomas the power…give Thomas the power. Suddenly, in her mind, everything made sense. He wanted the power for himself so he killed Girard. But, Girard had passed the powers on to Selene. So now he had to kill her!
“So now you’ve come to finish what you started,” She accused. “You were jealous of Girard’s power so you killed him to get it. But in his last moments, he bequeathed it to me.”
“Selene!” Elizabeth shouted. “He doesn’t want to kill you. He wants you to come home with me so you can be a normal girl. He’s willing to give it all up to make it so.” She started to cry. “Please, listen to him,” she pleaded.
Selene wanted to listen but couldn’t. Her fury turned away from Thomas to her best friend…who led her enemy to her. “You led him here so he could kill me!  She accused, “You call yourself my friend! You are as guilty as he!”
A painful chill crept up Elizabeth’s spine.
Selene continued, “Are the two of you conspiring to steal my power? Are you using Thomas to kill me so you can kill him and take my power? Are you two planning to kill me and split the power between the two of you?”
“Selene…are you listening to yourself?”  Elizabeth trembled. “This isn’t you, it’s the power…Let it go.”
“Silence!” Selene ordered, pointing an accusing finger that froze Elizabeth in her place. “Elizabeth, you too are jealous of my power. You also want it for yourself!” Selene’s eyes started to glow an eerie shade of blue, a spark grew from her finger. “You are as guilty as he.”
“Stop!” Thomas spoke up. “I followed her myself. She had no idea. Leave her alone. Your quarrel is with me.”
“So be it.” Selene raised her finger and formed a spear of ice from the ground. Thomas loaded his revolver. She threw, he shot.
“Stop!” Elizabeth shouted, rushing between them. She was too late. A cold prick and a hot blast pierced her heart.
“Elizabeth!”
“Lizzie!”
Stunned silence filled the hall as Elizabeth fell. For a moment all grudges were set aside and the two combatants rushed to their friend’s aid.
Selene held her up while Thomas bound her chest with his scarf to stop the bleeding, but they were too late.
“Hold on Lizzie, please,” Selene pleaded.
Thomas tightened the knot then caressed her hair. “It’s going to be all right,” he assured her. Elizabeth shook her head; she knew the end was near and she had one last wish. She joined the hands of Thomas and Selene with hers.
“Do not grieve,” she gasped. “I have my dearest friends beside me at long last.” Selene and Thomas tearfully nodded.
“Thank you,” Elizabeth whispered then closed her eyes and peacefully left the world.
The two friends bowed their heads in grief, cradling and holding the hands of their fallen friend. At last they looked into each other’s eyes, barely recognizing each other.
“You killed her,” Selene whispered in grief.
“What?” Thomas gasped in shock.
“You followed her. If you never came, she’d still be alive.”
“I’d never come if you never left.”
“Leave here, Thomas. Leave here and never return.”
Thomas rose. “I’ll go, but I’m bringing her back with me. She will be given a proper burial. At home with her family.”
“No, she stays here. Leave and never return.”
Thomas stood, silent and defiant.
“I won’t say it again. Leave here now and never return!” She shouted toward the heavens.
The palace quaked. The ceiling and walls crumbled. The ground below Thomas sank. All he could do was run, so he ran as fast as he could while the ice-cold ground fell away behind him. He kept running and running until he reached the woods. He paused, turned around and watched as the beautiful palace of ice crumbled beneath a brilliant white light. He looked away for a moment and the palace was gone, leaving only a snowy mist to indicate it ever existed.

One Year Later

One year passed and a glass statue of a praying angel guarded what once was the site of the Ice Queen’s palace. The Sentinel knelt at the statue’s base, planting a white rose while whispering a prayer.
“What are you doing?” a cold familiar voice asked. He looked back and saw Selene towering over him.
“I came to pay my respects.” He walked off, not meeting her gaze. “I wish things were different,” he whispered back.
“So do I,” she answered. They went their separate ways, never to see each other again. A drop of water kissed the rose. Somewhere, an angel cried.
The End.

Copyright ã 2009 Todd Matthy

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