The Frost KingbyEquilibria©
Fat, white flakes were falling gently from the pre-dawn sky as Tatya arose, the small bits of white looking like the goose down that sometimes leaked from the fine mattress upon which her step mother and step sister slept. For long moments, the young woman stood by the window, shivering in the cold as she watched them fall outside the small cabin, transforming the weed-choked yard into a fairyland, before turning to tend to stirring up the banked embers of the fire. Soon enough, she knew, the other two women would be up.
By the time Mother Agna and Sonti had arisen, the dancing flames had spread warmth through the cabin. Water was boiling in the kettle hung over the flames, and Tatya was just stepping in from the yard with the eggs she had collected from the three hens that were all they had left.
"Lazy little slut," snapped Mother Agna. "You don't even have breakfast started? If your good for nothing father were still alive, I'd see to it he tanned your hide. Get to work."
Ducking her head so as not to see Sonti's malicious grin, Tatya set about preparing breakfast. There were eggs for Mother Agna and Sonti, and thin gruel for her. Ever since the death of her father, his second wife and her daughter had seen to it that Tatya had less to eat than they. However little they might have in the world, it seemed their mission that Tatya have less.
After breakfast, Tatya was sent out with a buffet and a kick to fetch firewood from the remnants of the pile, and she knew this was the last of their store. The wind whipped at her tattered dress, and seemed intent on freeing her long, golden hair from the faded kerchief she'd worn to tie it back. Scrounging what she could, she was about to re-enter the cabin, when the petulant voice of Sonti drifted out. "I don't know what we're supposed to eat. That good for nothing slattern takes up more than her fair share. We'll waste away to nothing this winter, Mama. Or have to dip into the dowry Father Chernov left us, and it's bad enough that I have to share it with her."
Tatya froze, unable to move, a shaking taking over her limbs that had nothing to do with the shivering caused by the frigid air.
"Don't you worry, daughter," came Agna's voice. "I know just what to do. We'll survive this winter, and find you a wealthy merchant's son come spring with the combined dowries."
Tatya had to pause to lean against the cabin's rickety wall for long moments before she could force herself to duck back inside. Her cheeks were aglow from the cold, masking how pale she had gone, as she scuttled over to lay the measly pile of wood in the bin by the fire.
"Girl," came the sharp tone. "Is that all the wood you could carry?"
"No, Mother Agna," Tatya said, voice trembling. "It's all that was left."
"Well, you're just going to have to head out to the forest and collect more. Take that old cart. It's not good for much, and you must pull it yourself as we had to sell the mule. You're not to come back until it's full to the brim, or you'll be spending the next week with the chickens."
Hours later, Tatya had wandered much further from the tiny cabin that was all she knew of as home than she'd ever ventured before. But the deadfall of wood had already been picked clean by the denizens of the collection of huts and cabins that populated the sparser woods on the edges of the great forest. Now she was deep into the woods, and while leafless branches blocked out the sky, they also kept her from the tug of the wind that was blowing down from the north with the first snows of the cold season. The winters in these parts were harsh, often carrying off both the very young, and quite aged into the arms of death.
She couldn't help but remember, as she scrounged for fallen branches, how it used to be when her father had been alive. They'd never been rich, but he was the finest wood smith for miles, and their small cabin had been full of comfortable things. Then, he'd married Mother Agna, a recent widow only to die soon after, carried off by the winter sickness that always swept the area. Unwilling to take in washing or hire out at one of the greater houses, Agna had begun selling off their things, starting with Tatya's belongings first, until the only item of comfort left in the cabin now was the huge bed with its fine mattress, shared by Mother Agna and Sonti alone, though there was plenty of room for one more . It was a thin straw pallet in the corner for Tatya, though, with only a moth-eaten blanket that seemed more hole than wool.
By the time darkness was starting to fall, Tatya had only collected half a cart's worth of wood. She had no food, and only a tiny amount of oil in the old lamp, grudgingly given over by Mother Agna, and a tinder with which to light it. She knew she couldn't return without a full cart, for Mother Agna would make good on her threat, and Tatya knew she'd freeze to death if made to sleep in what passed for a hen coop. She trudged onwards, the forest trail growing narrow and rough, so that it soon became a struggle to pull the old cart over the roots that snaked over the path.
The soft groan that came from ahead jerked Tatya from her own thoughts, snapping her head up, widening her blue eyes as she searched the shadows. Dropping the handles of the cart, she inched forward until a slumped form came into sight, a figure in clothing more ragged than her own.
"My god. Are you alright?" she asked, rushing forward and dropping to her knees. It was a man, but she couldn't really see him under all the rags and tangle of disheveled snow-white hair. Stretching out a hand, she touched his cheek, only to yank it back with a cry of alarm.
"You're cold as ice... wait here." She unfastened her own oft-patched cloak, none too solid itself, and laid it over him, then hurried back to the cart, to gather kindling and some stouter branches from her hard-earned stash. Thinking nothing of the fact that this meant she'd only have to replenish what she was using, she hurried back and knelt down, clearing a patch in the snow to lay the timber and strike a spark. It took some time to coax a small blaze into life, and more time still to build it up into a cheerily dancing fire, but at last she sat back, heat bathing her face and chilled body.
In spite of the welcome warmth, she turned at once to scoot back over to the fallen man, laying a hand upon his shoulder. To her surprise, it wasn't emaciated with hunger, but broad and strong. "You'll be warm soon. Are you hurt?"
Eyes of the coldest blue she'd ever seen gazed back at her, and a raspy voice came from within the tangle of limbs and clothing. "Girl. Why do you do this? I am but a stranger, and I'm sure you need this wood for you and your family."
Tatya felt a shiver, then, that had nothing at all to do with the winter's chill, for there was a deep growl under the rasp of that voice. The sound of it sent prickles up her spine and filled her stomach with the fluttering of tiny wings.
Ducking her head, she shrugged. "You were so cold, sir. I couldn't stand by and let you die, stranger or no."
There are cusps in every life, moments that serve as a pivot for events. Tatya could not have known beforehand that her words marked such a moment , but no sooner had she spoken than the bundle of rags seemed to burst apart, and a tall man arose from them. Fair of skin, with incongrously white hair framing a face neither old nor young, and glacial eyes, he was a powerful figure, and richly garbed in ermine and velvet, with the bearing of a king. Gone were the rags and tangled hair, and when he spoke, the rasp was vanished from his voice, though not the growl.
"Child, you have shown the kindness of your heart, and the Frost King rewards such things. Name your heart's desire. Riches? Endless youth? I would offer beauty, but for all the roughness of your garb, I see that you already have it. Name your prize, sweet, and it is yours."
Tatya had fallen back as he rose, and stared up at him from the ground, now, soft lips parted in a soundless 'oh'. For nearly a minute she remained mute, laying there in the snow, but finally, she found her voice. Scrambling to kneel before the tall figure, she looked up at him as she spoke.
"My lord... I wish only to be taken away from the life I have known. I am a simple girl, I would not know what to do with gold and jewels. But... take me with you, let me serve you. I can cook, and clean, and sew, and fetch wood. I would not ask for any more. Please, I will serve you in any capacity you wish. I will do anything."
It seemed to her, then, that a glint of amusement entered his eyes as he pondered her. "You would serve me, would you, sweet one? An... interesting proposition. But think carefully, for I will only ask this once. Aare you sure? Come with me now, and never return. You will be mine for all time, to serve me. As you say you wish to do."
Tatya could only nod, lifting her hands upwards. "I am certain. Please, my lord."
Hands that remained ice cold reached down, taking hers, and then the world erupted into a swirl of snowflakes. When they settled, all that remained was a cheerfully dancing fire, an abandoned, threadbare cloak, and the mule-less cart, half full of wood.
Tatya luxuriated in the first hot bath she'd had in what seemed like forever. It was a far cry from the quick washes in chilled water that were all she had been allowed back home, and she pondered her circumstances as she soaked.
The man - was he even a man? - that she had tried to rescue had instead transported her from the snow-bound forest to a glittering hall. She knew not where she was, nor how far from home. No sooner had they arrived than she'd been handed over to oddly silent servants who had whisked her away, quickly stripping off her threadbare and tattered garments and leading her to a massive tub filled with steaming, scented water, where she now soaked.
There was something bizarre about those servants, far beyond their eerie silence. Tall and slim, there was a peculiar sameness to their androgynous features; the robes they wore seemed to offer no clue as to their gender.
Not for the first time since her arrival an hour ago, Tatya found herself wondering just what she could really offer the household of this Frost King. He seemed to have servants aplenty already, ones far different from her, and while she didn't aspire to much more than a simple scullery maid or cooks' a ssistant, even that seemed a remote possibility. Still, he had accepted her request, and, she supposed, she would find out sooner or later what work he had for her.
A soft rustle of fabric had her looking up to see another of the almost ethereal servants entering with a towel. She was helped to rise from the water, blushing a little as the servant impersonally toweled her nude body dry. She was helped into a white robe which, though simple, was made of finer fabric than she had ever seen, even when her father had been alive, so soft that it caught on the work-roughened skin of her fingers.
From the bathing chamber, she was led out and into a larger room where a fire crackled in the hearth, . Gentle but insistent hands pressed her down onto a stool set before the hearth, and she sat, sipping at a cup of tea that was handed to her while her long hair was patiently combed, accumulated tangles worked smooth with a skill that surprised her, until the silken mass hung free to her hips, crackling slightly as it dried in the fire's warmth. Already bewildered at this treatment, as though she were an honoured guest, rather than a new, low-ranking serving girl, her confusion only grew when a gown of pale, almost icy blue was brought in, glittering with crystal beads that made it look as though it was crafted of frost and snow.
"No, no," she protested. "I cannot wear this gown, it's much too fine for the likes of me." The servants said not a word, but merely removed the robe and dressed her, first in a surprisingly comfortable, if still tight corset of reinforced silk with stiff boning, then a layer of beautifully embroidered white petticoats, and finally the gown, which rustled almost musically as it was lowered over her head and laced up. Directed back to the stool, Tatya's golden locks were pinned up in an elaborate series of braids that were then piled high, then decorated with more crystal beads so that the golden tresses lookked frosted.
When the servants were finally finished, and they led her to a mirror, Tatya could hardly recognize herself in the finely dressed woman that gazed back at her from the glass, eyes wide with awe. This was the very image of a nobly born lady, perhaps even a princess, not the lowly peasant girl that she knew herself to be.
"This must be a dream," she mused to herself, speaking aloud as though she had a need to hear a voice, even if it was her own. "I've collapsed in a snow bank, and this is a fever dream."
Before she could ponder that for long, however, she was whisked off again, and led through a bewildering series of twisting passages to a small, but very much ornate dining room where places were laid for two. Delicate crystal and diamond ornaments decorated the walls and table, continuing the motif of ice and snow that seemed to be the theme of the entire castle.
Tatya had wandered over to examine a particularly delicate crystal figurine when a noise behind her made her turn quickly, only to freeze in place as the regal figure of the Frost King stepped into the room. His ice blue eyes swept over her from head to toe, the corners of his mouth turning up ever so slightly as he took in her altered appearance.
Belatedly remembering her station, Tatya gathered up her skirts to dip into a slightly awkward curtsy, but the monarch's fingers twitched in an impatient gesture. "Don't do that, child," he said, almost gruffly. "Come, sit, and eat. Talk with me."
Moving to the table, he pulled out a chair and stood waiting, causing her to flush as she realized he was holding it out for her. She hurried over and sank into it, watching as he moved to his own chair.
Servants entered at once, silently bearing bowls of soup and a jug of wine which was poured into waiting goblets. Once they had retreated, Tatya turned her eyes to her benefactor.
"My lord... I mean... Your Majesty. I don't understand. I asked to be a servant, nothing more. Why all of this?"
"Eat, girl," insisted the regal man, and waited until she had taken up a spoon and began to carefully sample the fare. "What you asked, in fact, was to serve me. You did not specify that it had to be as a servant... You did, I believe, say you would do anything. I have no need of more castle staff. The snow elementals are fine servants, if uncommunicative ones. What I need is companionship, and you will do." His eyes swept over her, in a manner that made her blood heat. "You will do very nicely. Now... you will tell me of your life, yes?"
And so, over the various courses of delicious food that followed, Tatya did just that. She described for him everything, from her earliest happy memories, to how her life had turned since the death of her father, and finished with being sent out to the woods.
"It seems to me that your step mother intended you to die. Either you would freeze in the storm that she had to have known was coming, or you would have returned without the wood she told you to bring, earning a punishment that would have surely seen you catch a deathly chill. Either way, you would have been removed. Her wish is granted, if not in the way she intended. But life has a way of returning to you what you put into it. You, who have shown the kindness of your heart, are here... and she and her daughter remain poor and cold, and now without an unpaid servant to do their work. And I?" He smiled, slowly. "I, my dear... have you."
Reaching out, he took hold of one of her hands, pulling her to her feet, and over to a window, where he showed her a beautiful frozen landscape, a pale winter moon bathing everything in its silver light.
Standing behind her, his hands rested on her shoulders, left bare by the gown. "I am the Frost King. I rule over the ice and the snow., and bring down the winter from my northern kingdom when the power of the Summer Lady wanes each year. A powerful position, to be sure, but a lonely one. I long for what has always remained beyond my reach. Warmth, companionship, passion. I am not mortal, child, and there are laws that govern such as I. I cannot ever ask anyone to come to me. I cannot woo and seduce, nor charm nor even purchase human affection. It must be freely offered for me to accept it. You... you could have had any wish of your heart, and yet all you asked was for me to take you away. To... serve me." He turned her then, one hand sliding beneath her chin, tilting it up so she could meet his cold eyes. "And so you shall, my dear. So you shall."
Tatya had a moment, as his head dipped slowly, in which she knew she could pull away. Some inner sense telling her that she would be allowed the chance this one last time, in spite of his earlier warning back in the forest. Yet, as his lips moved ever closer to hers, she found that she would not, could not, did not wish to stop what was coming for her. Then, his mouth was on hers, and all logical thoughts fled her mind as a tingle shot straight from her lips to the center of her belly.
The kiss was soft at first, but it did not remain so for very long, for after a moment of merely brushing his mouth to hers, she heard a soft, low growl rumbling from his chest, fingers tightening on her shoulder as he drew her in closer, forcing his tongue between her lips to part them.
Tatya was lost, head swimming as she returned the kiss with just as much fervor as it was given, her hands finding their way to the back of his neck without even being aware of the movement.
It came as a shock when he broke the kiss with a muttered oath, leaving Tatya panting softly, breasts heaving against the corset worn beneath her gown. She stared up into those icy eyes, aware of the chill of his skin, now, contrasting to the growing heat of her own.
"Stop me now, if you are ever going to," came his rough voice. "For there will be no other chances for you. If I go further than this, I will never be able to bring myself into check." The glitter of ice in his eyes now seemed to mask an ever increasing fire, but there was a warning there, too, letting Tatya know that his words were all too true.
All she could do was shake her head back and forth, but he seemed to understand, for in the next moment, she felt strong arms sweeping her off her feet to bear her from the dining room. His chambers were not far off, and none of his silent servents were in evidence on the way, though she likely would not have noticed if they had been. Kicking the door shut behind him with one foot, the Frost King bore his conquest to the bed, setting her down before it, only to spin her quickly around to face away from him. His fingers worked at the lacings of her gown, making short work of them, so that the material whispered down her body to wind up in a pool by her feet. Her petticoats soon followed, then the corset was gone and she stood naked and shivering.
Cold hands traced up her spine, making goose bumps spring to life on her satiny skin, and then she was scooped up a second time to be lain on her back upon a velvet blanket, staring up at the man as he made short work of his own clothing. Then, he was on her again, mouth hungry upon hers as his hard body pressed her down into the mattress.
She felt his hands graze up her sides, then move inwards, cupping a heavy breast in each palm, but it wasn't until his thumbs grazed each taut nipple that she cried out, body arching beneath his like a bow.
A low chuckle greeted this response, then his lips were off hers, trailing a line of kisses down the column of her neck, over her collarbone and onto the swell of a breast. She lifted her head, then, too look down at him, meeting his eyes just before he suckled one of her nipples into his mouth, the rasp of tongue and teeth making her whimper and squirm beneath him, a need growing in her that was both frightening and electrifying.