Hello there, this is my bit for this week’s Picture it and Write! photo prompt entry. It was certainly a challenge.
I was garbed in white from head to toe, a shade similar to the crystals that covered the plain and delicately draped the mountains. My eyes were the only part of me revealed, thinly veiled against the biting cold and the glaring reflected light. Crouched atop a dune I saw them, there were two. Vibrating against my leg followed by the steady low purr, my leonine companion affirmed that he saw them too. Easy targets especially to toothy predators, the nastiest of which were snow leopards like my friend beside me. Foolish pawns. Ill adapted to this terrain they were forced to trudge in the open. I know the helplessness, the hollow alcove the tundra carves into the soul with every glimpse to the endless horizon and up at the haunted peaks.
These won’t last long. Their faltering steps were pierced with tiny blades, scraping a numbing trail along their heavy limbs right about now. The frozen wasteland claimed countless prey over the centuries; the lost, the desperate, arrogant and prideful. Many a man had gone insane, the echoes of their screams return in mocking jeers. These were assassins sent to capture the princess. I will not allow it. Aspiring usurpers will be reminded of the wrath the Ice Kingdom is capable of. Each transgression, each attempt against the crown will not go unpunished. They seem to forget. I will happily refresh their memories.
The pair of black dots became larger as they move towards where I stood motionless. Frostbite plastered their cheeks and dulled their squinting eyes. Ragged breaths escape in frayed puffs of vapor. A man and a woman. Their progress was slow but surprisingly steadier now. I smiled as I petted Igor who began another round of purring and leaned into my touch. I knew them. They sent two of their best, I thought smugly. I expected nothing less. It would seem that the bitter cold was breaking them before I could. The winding path I led them to their end. In another line of duty, perhaps a typical knight, I would soon be known as the one who took down Icara and Dunan but I wouldn’t be here if I were. The world who did not know them would not forget them.
They were approaching our perch. As one, we leaped off and landed lightly on our feet, woman and beast. Thoroughly startled, they froze. How apt. Icara widened her stance and drew her sword, stiff jerky motions. Dunan followed suit. Her eyes were a sharp arctic blue, wary and determined. I simply began working my joints free of frost, my eyes on them. The cat stretched leisurely and bared his pearly whites.
“Let us pass, and we won’t harm you,” she grounded out, trying to disguise her chattering teeth.
I couldn’t help it, I burst out laughing, drawing a swift breath of icy air that hurt only a little thanks to the ward charm. I stared a the pair of them incredulously.
“And what might you do? Slay me and my friend here with your toothpick of steel, hmm?”
She sent my a nasty look but said nothing. The man spat impressively at the ground, who knew he had that much left.
“As I thought. You know why I’m here. I will make this as painless as possible, you see, fortunately for you I don’t like to play with my food this chap would. It is a mercy so you might as well not resist.”
“Mercy!” Dunan raged in a heavy rusted accent. “You call what your king has done mercy? How dare you, you pathetic puppet.”
“You know nothing. You may call me a puppet but we are all marionettes in this war. No man is his own. My king was once your king too. He is protecting those who are loyal to him as any respectable ruler should. Not shoving children into battle with metal to hunt blood. Babes! You speak as if he is the devil, then what is your Karoff?” I spat, my fingers buried into coarse fur.
“Enough of this senseless talk,” said the woman, stepping one foot forward.
“I could not agree more. Igor,” I said to him conversationally, “You know what to do.”
Only one will live, the other will be buried here beside the powered bones of the past. He sprang in a sudden fury of snow and ice and landed on top of Icara, flinging her sword out of her hands as she hit the ground. Dunan barely had a moment to take a breath when my steel was at his throat and my dagger digging into the base of his spine.
“Move and I will cripple you. The cat will have his turn, this I promise you,” I whispered calmly in to his hear. A quiet demeanor will accomplish more than a hot temper would. He dropped his long sword and kept very still.
Igor’s long frame of lean muscle covered in a scatter of ebony rosettes upon white, caged Icara’s frail form in comparison. She lied there on her back as the beast got up close and personal, his massive jaws inches from her face that was probably pretty to look at in other circumstances. He was awaiting my signal, not that he required it. If it were up to me I wasn’t sure who’d I have chosen but the crown prince made that decision himself.
I dug my feet deeper into the snow and I called it to life. It worked it’s way up Dunan’s legs and up to his shoulders, stopping an inch below where my blade rested. He gasped, and began to sake violently.
As it should, not by magic but by nature. Ice and snow were only cold up to a point, after then it burns like a flame bent on consuming you whole.
“I know. It will make you remember.” But I don’t want him fainting too soon.
Igor took care of her. The sparse foliage, the dead snow, ghosts, mountains and infant hills accompanied us as witnesses while he mauled her beyond recognition. Her screams ripped from her throat joined the others that long faded into the abyss they had disappeared into. The inhuman sound sent shivers down my back but I didn’t flinch. I couldn’t say the same for Dunan. A mask of terror was painted upon his face, his eyes refused to close from the sheer horror.
It didn’t take long. Her voice was still rippling in the air even after she stopped, never to make a sound again. The cat sat on its haunches licking his bloody muzzle clean. A ringing silence eventually claimed the wide expanse of winter. I stepped around the man still frozen and conscious yet. Crunch, crunch. He struggled to swallow, breathing hard. I thrust my fist forward to where the dead woman lay and slowly released my fingers, spreading them wide. The ground opened and swallowed her, stained snow and all. What remained was a flat piece of pristine land.
“This is where our enemies go,” I told him, “The traitors as well. But you’ve been so good and will not suffer her fate. You will return to Karoff and relay what your tangled tongue might deign to speak. We will be watching you, make no mistake in forgetting that.” A few long second later I clubbed him at the back of his neck with the hilt of my sword and watched him fall as the ice melted from him.
I walked to the snow leopard and knelt before him, waiting expectantly. His eyes were on me all the while he changed. It was as if time slowed down, blurring the animal shape and then sped up to behold a tall man dressed in simple white skins not unlike mine but with a more regal air to him that I would never claim to have.
“Your Highness,” I addressed him, my head bowed but gritted my teeth.
“You know that you don’t have to do this.”
I remained so until he drew me up with hands on either sides of me. The prince frowned and said, “I don’t believe my father broke you that easily. Not one bit.” He stared and I fought to keep my eyes on his but it was pointless, he was a predator and it wasn’t a smart thing to do so I averted my gaze.
“Okay, fine. But you can’t say I didn’t try to be polite and respectful,” said wearily, looking around the bleak graveyard.
His chuckle made me turn back with a frown. “What?” He just shredded a woman and here he was laughing like it was a stroll in the park.
“You. You hate it here. The cold.”
I shrugged. “Why her?”
His smile faded and he was silent. “Two years ago, she attempted to poison my mother and father. She know who I was before she died,” came his quiet reply.
Revenge, it didn’t exactly solve anything but prevented much regret and it made a body feel hell of a lot better even if some people said it wasn’t right. We would wait here until the twin moons appeared in the twilit sky so we would make our way to the castle under the cloak of the night on the wolf led sled kept three miles from here. So till then, we watched the colours change in the sky, reflected in the snow. It’s truly beautiful if one could look past what was hidden beneath it all. I’ve seen too many dark things, I deserve at least this.