“Joyous Yule…” The tall dark-skinned man with an impressive white beard trailed off as he looked around the small cabin. Putting down a large red sack he asked, “Where am I?”
“Emrys, old friend. You look younger somehow.” The woman was covered in furs and looked to be both loving and hating the cold. Her wild curly red hair was tied in a semblance of a ponytail.
The man looked confused at her and the only other occupant of the cabin, a woman with tan skin and the build of a fighter. She was wrapped in a thick cloak and looked miserable. “I’m sorry, who are you? And where is here?”
Sighing, the older woman replied, “Here, is a cabin in the mountains of Pakaha. I am Es’Sem and this is my descendant Jasmine.”
“Wait a second,” Jasmine said, “Are you telling me you’ve never been to Everdome before?”
“Not to my knowledge.”
“So all my memories of you teaching me about chivalry and the history of Earth, Everdome, and King Arthur while growing up?”
It was Es’Sem, not Emrys, that replied, “Happened in your past and will happen in his future. What’s in the bag, old man?”
“I’m barely a hundred, thank you. They’re Yule presents for young Arthur.”
Jasmine stood with her mouth agape and Es’Sem whistled before saying, “This is the youngest I’ve ever seen you.”
“Alright then. I know who you are, kind of, and I know where I am. When am I?”
“We’re post Montrose, if that tells you anything.”
“Great, so after the Corrupter and all that stuff.” Emrys said.
“This is very strange.” Jasmine shook her head. Her dyed blonde braid barely moved. “You were there, but it’s not you. Yet?”
“You get used to it.” Es’Sem smiled and hugged the tall man.
“I’m glad it’s possible to get used to because it seems I must.” Emrys sat down in a comfortable chair near the door he’d come in from.
“Is it… What was your midwinter festival called? Night of the Sisters?”
Laughing Jasmine said, “No. We don’t worship them. We respect them. You’re thinking of New Albion.”
Smiling, Es’Sem said, “I liked that one. It was fun to write.”
Emrys gasped. “Oh my. I have so many questions for you.” The two spent the next few hours discussing her book series Everdome.
When she had had enough, Jasmine asked, “Why are you here and can you get us out?”
“We haven’t discussed this yet? Wow. I am getting old.”
Es’Sem took a drink of her rum and said, “Talk to me in a few thousand years about being old.”
“Outside is a magical storm. The kind that can transport a poor old wizard over thousands of years and an entire Realm. This cabin is protected against most of it by some clever magic, but we’re not going anywhere.”
“I’m going to miss Cataclysm Day with my people, aren’t I?” Jasmine sighed and sat down looking completely defeated.
“Cataclysm Day, of course. Where you celebrate surviving and give thanks for family and the magic that powers the Domes.” Emrys nodded. It was the only major celebration that all of Everdome followed and it always involved a massive party and ceremony where the High King or Queen presided. He bowed and said, “I’m sorry your majesty, but there is nothing I can do.”
“That’s okay. I’m actually a little relieved.”
Es’Sem sounded annoyed as she said, “Oh for Goddess’s sake, you’d be fine. I’ve known you your whole life and you’ll be a fantastic Queen.”
“Yeah but I shouldn’t be. This wasn’t my job. I’m the warrior not the diplomat. I’ve been Queen for less than two years and in that time the whole of Everdome almost fell.”
“Focus on the fact that it didn’t, dear.” Es’Sem sounded worried and her Australian accent became more pronounced.
“It should have been Daniel. It was his responsibility, not mine. I should be out there not trapped in here.”
The cabin fell quiet. Shifting awkwardly, making his chair squeak, Emrys said, “So I’m going to ask a few questions and pry.” The two women looked at him expectantly. “Jasmine, do you want help or do you want to complain?”
“You sound just like my father,” Jasmine said and smiled.
His voice cracking, he replied, “Thank you.” There were tears in his eyes.
“I need help. I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve survived this long because I’ve been a wartime Queen. I don’t know what to do when we’re at peace.”
Taking her hand, he asked, “What happened to your brother?”
“He died heroically. The bastard.” Jasmine cursed. “He was raised to be King and he was going to be a great one. But when my father died, Daniel decided to take a tour of the kingdom before his coronation. ‘I must learn to know all the people not just those that live near us,’ he said. He insisted he didn’t need more guards and refused to let me go with him…” She trailed off.
Es’Sem continued the story, “He was in a remote village and there was a mudslide. He died saving the town’s children. Refused to leave until the last one was safe.”
“Stubborn fool!” Jasmine released a few more curses.
Timidly, knowing the reaction, Emrys asked, “What would you have done differently?”
“Now you really sound like my father. Nothing. I would have died heroically. I’ve done the same damned fool thing a hundred times and survived. I have scars for proof. I’ve fought and defeated everything that should have killed me. Why didn’t he? Why did I survive and not him?”
“Fate, a Deity, or plain luck. Death is never easy and we all have our own ways of dealing with it.” Emrys stared out into nothing as he spoke.
“And how do you deal with it?”
“Don’t take my example. I wandered through fairy and the Realms for thirty years before stumbling onto a young boy destined to be king. Everyday I’m faced with my old grief and the knowledge that my charge must die.”
“Not really one of my options. I have a kingdom and a world that looks to me for leadership. I don’t know what to do.” She turned to the window and didn’t see Emrys wink at Es’Sem.
The door burst in and a snowman wielding a large sword made of ice roared. Es’Sem looked at Emrys and cocked an eyebrow. He smiled and she sat next to her favourite sword and poured herself another drink.
As if she was expecting it, Jasmine took two long strides and unsheathed her two shortswords from their scabbards and attacked the snowman.
It got a lucky stab in and nicked her arm. Jasmine scowled and attacked in quick succession. The snowman was cut to pieces and a single scream could be heard from the storm. Jasmine ran out after the voice.
“What are you up too?” Es’Sem asked.
“Me? Up to something? I was brought here by a magical storm, nothing more.”
“Bullshit. That snowman was straight out of Calvin and Hobbs.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m not some conjurer of cheap tricks.” Emrys sat down with a warm cup of peppermint coffee that seemed to appear out of nowhere.
The storm outside was a wall of iridescence, snow reflected and refracted with every colour in existence. There was always a path however and a new snowman to fight. Jasmine threw herself into the battle. Part of her knew it was shadows and snow but she ignored that part.
When she was thoroughly exhausted and suffering from several cuts, the snow parted and Daniel walked through. He was dressed in his finest livery and the three-day stubble he liked so much. He smiled warmly at her and said, “Sister. Why are you lost in this storm?”
She cursed at him and pulled him into a hug. The roar of the storm covered her sobs and froze her tears to her face. “You’re dead.”
“You should be doing this. Everdome needs you, not me.”
“Everdome needs a monarch with heart and a sense of fairness. Ruling like living isn’t about how good you are at it, it’s what you do with it. The people need someone who is strong and lucky.”
“Are you real?”
“I have no idea JayJay, but I know that I love you and that I can’t think of a better person to take my place. You’re going to be a fantastic Queen, if you let yourself be one.”
He turned away and waved. She watched him walk back into the storm and softly said goodbye.
Back at the cabin, she hugged Emrys and said, “Thank you for letting me say goodbye.”
“I’m glad you got to say goodbye. But I’m just a poor wizard who’s been displaced by a magical storm.”
“But you didn’t?”
“People always accuse me of doing and knowing things. It’s a bit frustrating and—”
A knock at the door interrupted him. A woman walked in. She wore similar robes to Emrys and had the same skin tone. Her hair was long and black and was braided over one shoulder. “Brother, you’re missing the celebrations. Are you done meddling yet?”
Es’Sem snorted in laughter.
“I’ll be right there, Morgan.” The storm outside dissipated and Emrys turned to the other two in the cabin and said, “Well, look at that. The storm is gone.”
Es’Sem laughed harder and Jasmine shook her head. Neither said anything. Emrys picked up his sack and smiled, “May your fractured nights be followed by glorious dawns.” The traditional Cataclysm Day greeting given, he left.
“That was all rather melodramatic and over the top,” Es’Sem said before adding, “I loved it.”
The two women packed their gear and, dressed for the winter weather, headed back to the castle.
When they arrived at the castle, there were two presents wrapped in plain wrapping with garish red bows.
“Bless that man,” Es’Sem said as she opened her present to show a large jar of vegemite.
Unwrapping the larger, flatter of the two, Jasmine started to cry. It was a painting of her and her brother. It looked like it was from just before he left. “No painting was ever commissioned. How?”
“Look at the signature. J. M. Emrys.” Es’Sem then read the inscription on the frame, “Those who leave us are never gone as long as we remember them.”
This story is part of the Renaissance holiday blog roll! Find out what it’s all about here!