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Prologue: Snow Magic
The cold was refreshing, but a bit sharp. Its bite greeted the Queen with a frosty dawn glow as she awoke. Queen Chessa squinted her eyes against the blinding sunlight pouring in through the heavy curtains. A sliver of light here and there illumed the room ominously, but when her eyes finally adjusted to the light, she noted that a fresh layer of snow covered the world outside the stone walls. The glare from the snowfall highlighted Chessa’s golden blond hair and light lashes, flashing brightly across her pale complexion. The Queen’s blankets and quilts were knotted at her feet after another restless night without Admarin. Chessa’s large form was given odd shadows by the angles of light coming from the window adjacent to her bed.
She wiggled her tired feet, trying to peer at them over her large stomach. Her swollen ankles ached in protest as she stretched. Chessa sighed with exhaustion. She had spent another night alone, during which she had only captured a few hours of sleep. She imagined the look on her husband Admarin’s face as he would play with their child. A son, perhaps, as an heir. Or a beautiful daughter to enchant princes across the world.
Any day now and she would give birth. The doctors and midwives predicted another week or two, but Chessa merely smiled at the thought. The ignorance of doctors was astounding. There is no better way to tell when a child is due but by the mother.
Her maid, Alarina, appeared from nowhere and swung open the curtains a little too cheerily. Chessa held up her hands in objection, but her quiet maid ignored her. The girl hardly spoke, and the Queen had given up all hopes of befriending her.
Chessa held back a groan and heaved herself from bed with a fair amount of effort. Her spirits wilted as she realized she would have to spend another day without her husband. He had left only four mornings past with a parting kiss, wink, and jovial wave. His guardsmen and favorite horse had led him safely away to Ivionete, where he would sign a binding treaty.
The Queen placed her hands lovingly on her large belly. She feared that the birth would come without Admarin, but he was returning home tomorrow. Surely she could last just one more day. She let a most unladylike snort escape her as she reflected bitterly on the boring toll of political affairs. But, however dull, they were important, as she would grudgingly admit.
Unfortunately, it was an old custom to have both kings present at the signing of the treaty. But Ivionete was a good, strong kingdom, and an alliance with them would be healthy. Especially with Elemona darkening their Western Border with shadows of Black magic.
The Queen pushed her wispy pale hair out of her face and stared longingly outside. She drew in a breath, pulling at the wintry air. Her bright eyes softened to a glum shine as she gazed through the window.
The maid noticed her Majesty’s look and suggested that she go out of doors. Chessa agreed and sent the maid to get her coat. A walk in the crisp air would clear her mind and do her good. Four walls and a roof were a curse to the Queen. She was tormented by a cage, however beautiful.
As soon as the sounds of the maid’s fur boots clunking away disappeared, Chessa heaved her body to a stand with a soft grunt. She stumbled to her wardrobe and clumsily tugged her cloak from a peg. As she pinned it around her throat, she glanced outside and, as a precaution, snatched a quilt from her bed.
She slipped into her warm boots and out through her door. None too soon, as her maid rounded the corner with a small collection of knights.
Chessa made an exasperated sound from the shadows. She admired her maid’s loyalty, but honestly…she did not need a small posse of knights haunting her every move when she left her chambers. She could protect herself well enough. Couldn’t every White Magician?
As Chessa slipped through the castle, she considered Alarina’s punishment. She would, no doubt, be accused of leaving the Queen unattended. She reminded herself to put in a good word for the girl later.
The Queen’s feet led her subconsciously out of irrevocable habit, and soon she was facing the entrance of the King’s garden. It was not known among many that she loved gardens, and flowers, and especially roses. One day, she hoped to have a daughter with lips as red as the deep color of a rose. But a son would be welcome as well. A Kingdom always needed an heir. Chessa made her way through the snow, leaving her quilt at the entrance. She let the lacy ice seep through her slippers, but she did not find it uncomfortable.
Chessa savored everything that grew in the garden. Only with magic was she able to keep exotic flowers and herbs growing all year. The King had offered to hire gardeners, but Chessa had argued that flowers were no good to her if she did not know the earth from whence they came. Dianoe, her own country, was famous for their flowers as well as White magic. Her father always sent her some roses on her birthday from her mother’s garden at home.
She sadly stroked the petal of a rose. Her magic was restrained to this garden only, and only Admarin knew it. People in this country were so suspicious and intolerant. It was only because of her love for Admarin that she had sworn to never used magic again. But here, in this garden, he had allowed her to use what she considered a blessing and what his people considered a curse.
She scooped up some snow with a little difficulty and a small grunt. The coolness was sweetly refreshing, and she allowed the snow to melt in her palm and slip through her numbing fingers. Crisp air filled her lungs, and she relished every bit of it. This, she thought, is what is feels like to be alive. Her pale lips curved into a soft smile.
A wave of pain crashed into Chessa, and she gasped, clutching her stomach. The snow fell from her hands forgotten. Panic stabbed across her as she doubled over. The child was coming, fast and hard.
She cursed her stupidity. What was she thinking, wandering from her maid’s watchful eye so close to her time? Chessa fell to her knees, groaning as another bout of pain crunched through her. The Queen gripped the snow, gasping. She tried to call for help, but her voice only allowed a soft, strangled cry that reached none.
Agony ripped through the Queen’s abdomen as she curled upon the snow. The pain was so overwhelming she could not feel the cold snowfall on her neck, seeping through her clothes. Her thoughts were blind and wild as she screamed louder and the pain multiplied in her womb. Waves of cramps crunched through her body and her muscles seized. Chessa’s throat tore from her raw screams, and her hand groped at the snow, subconsciously hoping to find something to grasp.
In a desperate attempt, she tried to use magic, but to no avail; the pain was crushing all concentration that she would need.
Tears of anguish were forced from her eyes and poured down her high, fair cheeks, falling like priceless diamonds into the snow. But her pain was hidden from the world. No one could hear her screams of childbirth and her tears received no sympathy.
Chessa continued to grip the ground, semiconscious. But all that her fingers found were snow. White, icy snow, spread beneath her like a blanket, stealing away her warmth as the labor pains shuddered violently across her body.
She screamed her husband’s name between the seizing cramps in her belly. For nearly an hour, Chessa lay in the garden, choking for breath as binding tremors ripped at her. Blood seeped into the snow as servants frantically searched for their lost Queen, but with no success. Not one of them knew her so well as to search the garden.
Chessa began to fade from life, and her rounded eyes began to weep for her husband at her death. A shadow crossed her, but it was not Admarin; it was a knight whose wife had recently borne a child. She screamed her husband’s name, sobbing with agonized pains. The knight kept his head and carried the Queen into the castle, to the maids and midwives, who tended to Chessa as best as they could. Her screams turned into delirious wails and incessant murmurings.
Hours passed by as Chessa fought to bring her child into the world. She was slowly being drawn away towards death, and she knew it well. Aching cramps racked her body, wrestling a tormented scream over her bleeding throat. Chessa’s strength was almost gone, but with a determination to see her child, she pushed fiercely until she felt relief. Sweat poured down her face and soak her nightgown, mingling with her blood.
The doctor slapped the baby without comment, and Chessa’s child screamed softly. The midwives sighed and some laughed nervously as they took the baby away to clean it. Only one midwife, a doctor, and two maids remained with Chessa.
“I’m going to die,” Chessa whispered. No one denied it. “I want to see my baby before I die.” The maids sponged her face with a cold towel, but nothing could calm Chessa until she saw her child.
Minutes later, the midwives returned, smiling grimly. One of the women handed Chessa a warm, white bundle. “You have a daughter,” the doctor announced, and the little girl screamed on cue. It was a scream of betrayal – and indeed, Chessa felt as though she had betrayed her child. She would leave her alone and motherless, unable to comfort her own flesh and blood when she needed it most, unable to wipe the tears that would come when she first stumbled and fell.
A girl. Not an heir. I hope Admarin will not be too disappointed.
Chessa gazed at her daughter. The tiny girl had a shock of white-blonde hair and the most intense blue eyes Chessa had ever seen. “She’s so beautiful,” the Queen breathed. The doctor smiled wanly in agreement, and the midwives murmured amongst themselves.
“What will you call her, your Majesty?” the doctor prompted. Chessa knew that the naming ceremony was exactly one week after the child was born. She also knew that they wanted the girl’s name now, before she died.
Chessa smiled, exhausted, and said, “Eira.” It meant snow in Dianoe’s old language. Snow. My daughter is of the snow. The Queen tore her gaze from the princess. Chessa hoped that Admarin would love their daughter as much as a son. But there was a cool doubt in her mind that would not cease its nagging.
Delirium clawed her thoughts, but the Queen clung to the strength she had left. Her body shook with relief from the labor pains that had nearly torn her in two minutes before.
Her daughter fell asleep in a matter of seconds. Sorrow spilled from Chessa’s eyes as she imagined every moment she would not have with her daughter, every smile she would not see, and every laugh she would not hear, every pain she would not be able to comfort. A sob ached in her heart as she realized that her only child would have her face, but not remember it.
Queen Chessa pulled the princess closer to her and pressed her pale lips against the child’s forehead. “She is so very beautiful.”
And so, with the Queen’s last words echoing in everyone’s ears, Chessa breathed her last.