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"Gather round, children, gather near," the old Storyteller called out as he made his way slowly through the town. "'Tis a tale I have to tell, and a tale that wishes told. Come, come, gather near."
He leaned heavily on his staff as he eased himself to the ground beneath an ancient oak standing in the center of the village square. There he silently waited for the children to come-and they would come-for all loved an enchanted tale.
He did not have long to wait.
"Come closer." The Storyteller wiggled a crooked finger as the children neared. "Sit, and I shall tell a tale so old, it was first whispered on a dragon's breath and spread by the waft of its mighty wing. Long has this tale remained hidden in the mists of time; long has it yearned to be told."
The Storyteller smiled as the eyes of the young shone bright within the pale light of the approaching eve tide. He leaned back against the oak and folded his hands around his gnarled wooden staff. Letting his voice grow soft and whispery, he said, "Close your eyes and come with me to the Faery realms, to a time when the season stood still and the wheel was unable to turn . . . .
". . . How dare he!" The Summer Queen, Lith-ah, flung the missive to the floor.
"He dares much," her advisor, Gavin, said as he bent and retrieved the parchment. "And threatens more."
The queen turned her back to him and stepped out onto the balcony. The sun shone warm against her skin, yet the breeze held a chill she'd not felt or known before in her realm. She heard Gavin's soft step behind her. Without turning to face him, she asked, "Do you think him serious?"
"Aye, theWinter King has the strength to hold the wheel. Even now, ice creeps ever closer to your border. Soon, he will hold all the southern realm within his frozen grasp."
"And our envoys?"
"He laughed at them and tossed them from his court." Gavin balled his hands at his side. "This new king ignores the treaties his father made. He refuses to release the season to you. No longer content to share the wheel, he instead has chosen to halt its turning. He wishes all the lands, including your realm, my queen, to be imprisoned in the long sleep-forever."
Lith-ah gripped the railing so tightly that her knuckles turned as white as the marble beneath her fingers. "If he would do this, then he leaves me no choice."
"My Queen, we could send another envoy. Surely, the Winter King will soon see the folly of his youth. We could-"
The Summer Queen silenced him with her upheld hand. Squaring her shoulders, she met her advisor's concerned gaze and stated with a voice gone flat and devoid of emotion, "Gavin, call our people to war."
• • •
"Ah," the Storyteller said, his voice low, as he leaned forward to look the children in their eyes, "even as the Summer Queen called her people to war, her daughter, Astara, sought to prevent its coming." The Storyteller sighed. "But what could one so young hope to do that had not been tried by those so much older and wiser than she?" The old man shook his head. "Gather closer, children, and I shall tell you . . . ."
. . . Astara crossed the courtyard unnoticed in the confusion following the announcement that the southern realm would go to war. No one sought to question her as she slipped from her chambers and hurried down the walkway stairs toward the outer bailey. No Home Guard hailed her or nodded her way as she passed through the towering palace gates and stepped clear of the chaos within.
As soon as she was beyond the last watchtower, she left the road and kept to the shadows at the base of the palace wall until she reached the footpath that led into the wood.
Once safely concealed by the heavy foliage, she turned north. Though her mother, the Summer Queen, would be furious, Astara choose to risk her wrath and seek out the Winter King. When she arrived at the Snow Palace, she would get on her knees, if she must, and beg him to release the season. This she would gladly do, to save the land and stave off war. The wheel must be allowed to turn.
Copyright © 2006 Sheri L. McGathy