Chapter 29 – Winter’s Fear

Winter glanced at Silias again, momentarily meeting her eyes with a sad smile, ‘That is for another time; just know that I believe that my punishment was just. The goddess was lenient, considering some of the things I have witnessed her do.’ she shook her head.

 

‘Regardless, I am here now, by the actions of my own hands, ashamed. My power is now restored on the eve of five years and yet, I am powerless, I am a sword rusted tight into its scabbard. Fearing to be put to the test, fearing the rush of blood, the bite of steel and the song of magic.’

 

‘Many of those few that remain from those times, before the world turned, quake at the mention of my name. The fear of my coming sharp and respect for the threat tantamount. But Silias, the truth is that now I am a burden. Despite my freedom, my strength, I fear leaving the outskirts of Meliandra, the fear of leaving the boundaries of my home to face a threat, cripples me.’

 

Silias watched the valkyrie walking at her side, ‘But you are immortal. You need not fear these things.’

 

Winter smiled sadly, ‘Yes, you speak a simple truth. But immortality does not blunt the fear of pain from what would be mortal wounds. Immortality does not conceal the fear of ineptitude.’ she met Silias’s eyes again, ‘Being imprisoned and stripped of my power was not the true punishment. Having my freedom and power returned was. The return to normalcy, it is humbling and painful when one’s confidence has been stripped away leaving you bare, naked, vulnerable and without guidance. Never before would I have even considered confiding in a mortal woman, as I am opening my heart to you now.’

 

‘But Winter?’ said Silias as she slowed her pace.

 

‘My Goddess, my saviour and benefactor, Lumos Darkfall wanted me to understand something. It was long in the learning, but worth the time spent. Before I was a powerful instrument, an unyielding tool created for a purpose. Now I have a heart and soul, doubts, fears, weakness and humility. Despite my physical immortality, I am in all other senses, mortal. The first thing that comes to my mind every day is thanks for the gift she has given me. The one who brought me into this existence gave me purpose, but Lumos granted me life.’

 

‘And now you fear conflict?’

 

‘That and other things. It is a fear that will be overcome with time. Just the thought of flying out tomorrow morn fills me with exhilaration, but at the same time apprehension. The fear of the unknown. I am appreciative of Antrandis’s patience with me, but before Sian my weakness draws forth shame in my current state.’

 

‘But why? Were you not stationed as her liaison to the Host? You were close to her.’ asked Silias, concern in her voice.

 

Winter smiled and nodded, a genuine gentleness on her face as they walked, ‘I was, and now her memories of that time are returned to her. My shame is due to this. I will never be as strong or as complete. Before she was a gifted soul in her own right, and now she is so much more. I am honoured to concede defeat to her.’

 

Silias looked at Winter, tailing the valkyrie momentarily in confusion.

 

‘I-I am sorry, concede defeat?’

 

Winter nodded, ‘Yes, I must concede defeat, regardless of how I have grown. In essence, I am still a tool; while I have a will of my own, I must be bound to a master. I am bound by the will of the Goddess, Lumos. Without a host, I will revert to shadows and be once again a spirit trapped in a realm beyond your reckoning.’

 

‘Winter?’ said Silias, stopping on the path.

 

‘Yes?’

 

‘I do not understand this conceding of defeat that you speak of. But I do have a question, are you sure you are tethered and bound to Lumos as you were in the old world to the Host?’

 

Winter stopped and looked at Silias with a curious expression, thinking carefully.

 

‘I am, though it is not the same. Lumos gives us many freedoms, she treats us as people, asks our opinions, gives us responsibilities, she lets us evolve. We are not used as objects or instruments to complete tasks or purposes as we were before.’

 

Silias watched Winter in the moonlight, the play of emotions on the valkyrie’s face as she thought. The roar of the river breaking over the falls of the fortress ahead of them.

 

She frowned a moment before smiling, ‘Winter, I have never seen you as anything but a kind and wonderful soul in a powerful, winged, wilderelf body. I never knew that your kind are as you say; bound servants to a goddess. It does not matter to me, who and what you were before. Who you are now is what matters; fear can be overcome, weakness can be trained into a strength. A blunt sword can be honed, and a broken blade, reforged.’

 

Winter smiled, her eyes bright, ‘Thank you for your kind words.’

 

Silias looked at her as they resumed walking, taking a bridge from the bank of the river to the bulwark.

 

‘Winter?’

 

‘Yes, Silias?’ Winter said, glancing at the wilderelf as they walked.

 

‘I am honoured that you have confided in me.’

 

Winter nodded, ‘I would like to talk more, if you like, another time. You and your sister are the sworn attendants to Sian, and by extension Antrandis, I know what this entails. Your forebear, Cressidia and I would talk often. I would be grateful, if,’ she looked at Silias, ‘We could converse in the same manner.’

 

Silias nodded with a smile as she quickly looked back to the path where they had left Antrandis and Sian. She was unsurprised that the path was empty as the moonlight bathed the top of the fortress of Shadowfalls.

 

*          *          *          *          *

 

‘Should we wait a little longer?’ asked Sian as she looked up to the stars through the trees, random branches obscuring the dark sky as they walked.

 

‘Not necessarily.’ Antrandis said, ‘Though a few more moments won’t hurt. We will still reach the lower pass to Scarosant before midnight. Regardless, I want to view the valley and the river from above before dawn. We will descend after daybreak.’

 

Sian nodded, glancing across at him, ‘My love, we need to talk about Winter.’

 

Antrandis raised an eyebrow.

 

‘Lately, she has been avoiding me. Since my return I have tried many a time to speak with her, but it is like she is cocooning herself in the temple. She refuses to see me.’

 

‘She is ashamed.’ he spoke bluntly.

 

Sian’s eyes widened, ‘What is there for her to be ashamed of?’

 

Antrandis looked to her, ‘Many reasons come to mind.’ he paused, ‘Before your rebirth, as such. The return of your memories and your ascension. She was comfortable, she knew her place.’

 

Sian looked at him as they walked, a sad smile on her face, ‘She is still struggling to find herself after her power was returned to her.’

 

Antrandis nodded, ‘She is more than she used to be, and she is not finding an acceptable middle ground. So Winter seeks solitude. But that is only one facet of many. She told me she wants to talk, so she is taking the first step. I believe she doubts herself.’

 

He looked at Sian as they walked, ‘Apart from the will of Lumos; Winter and I have not truly spoken to each other since before your full return. She has been avoiding me also.’

 

‘I would have just been Snowshadow then. You would always spend time together. Strangely, I never found myself jealous of her or the attention you gave her, even then you were already mine. Maybe a part of me remembered her from my previous life.’ Sian said with a smile.

 

Antrandis nodded as Sian met his gaze, sudden realisation hitting her, ‘She stayed away, she kept her distance out of respect. By the gods, Winter, what are you doing? Nearly five years of this. You are…She is.’

 

‘She is no longer the blunt instrument of the old world. If she were, she would not react so.’ he looked at Sian, ‘She ran afoul of this before, long ago. Her sense of duty and newfound emotions that she didn’t quite understand.’

 

Sian nodded in understanding, looking at him with gentle eyes, their emerald depths catching the starlight. ‘We need to talk with her when we return. Keeping herself distant, she doesn’t know where she stands, and yet she means so much to the both of us. What she meant to me.’

 

Antrandis looked up at the sky again, sighing slightly as a smile curled his lips. Sian looked at him and smiled, feeling his emotions through their permanent bond, ‘We neglected her, my love.’

 

He glanced back to Sian, his stormy blue eyes meeting with her emerald green, ‘That we did.’

 

She nodded, her smile growing, ‘Do you think, possibly?’

 

He frowned slightly, before looking back up to the night sky, a blue gleam in the depths of his eyes, ‘Anything is possible.’ he said as he looked back to Sian.

 

Sian watched him as he stretched, almost catlike in his movements.

 

‘I am sure that Lumos would find such a suggestion ironically fitting.’ he said as he rolled his shoulders.

 

‘Thank you, my love.’ Sian said as she closed the few steps to him and kissed him. ‘I am almost alarmed at how agreeable you are with my suggestions, my dear. Straight after my return five years ago, you agreed with my demand.’

 

He looked into her eyes, his stormy blue meeting her emerald, ‘You did not give me much of a choice. Not that I am protesting.’

 

She smiled, her lips twisting playfully, ‘But this time it is so close to home, she was mine once. She was yours for much longer.’ she tapped a finger on his chest, ‘I find it quite interesting how we are connected through time and those we are close to. It is strangely intriguing.’

 

Antrandis smiled and returned her kiss, before looking up at the moon which carried the namesake of the Goddess Lumos, ‘We must go.’

 

Sian nodded with a small smile, ‘We must.’

 

A few short moments later they were both a blur on the mountain trails, a pair of snow leopards passing silently. Their large paws soundless as they ran, almost indistinguishable from their surrounds as they rapidly passed from shadow to shadow in the night.

 

 

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