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Tam and Lin and the Queen in the heart of the forest

They say that in the heart of the forest, there’s winter in the middle of summer. Tam went to see if the opposite was true.

He challenged the forest. His mighty sword vanquished his foes. A boy and his stick, leaving frosty nettles broken behind.

“Where to, soldier boy?” a magpie laughed.
Tam bowed. “To summer, sir.”
“Then march on, and get your warmth from the Queen.”

“Why the hurry?” a squirrel asked.
“I go to the Queen,” Tam said.
“Have a care, she’ll heed your words, not what you say.”

In the heart of the forest, Tam stepped off snow onto lush green moss. Leaving winter behind, he shivered, then marched on.

The Queen welcomed him to her court. “What does this noble knight bring us?”
Tam thought, then kneeled. “I bring my sword!”

There’s a too brief bliss of peace you can enjoy before you realise it’s caused by something missing. Like a young brother.

Lin tracked her brother; the snow made it easy. Harder to make herself follow, into the deep forest, where loneliness howls.

“Where to, fair maiden?” a magpie laughed.
Lin frowned, hidden in coat, scarf and hat. “Why do you ask?”
It flew, laughing.

“You seek the boy?” a squirrel asked.
Lin stared at it. “Hm?”
“The Queen took him. Have a care, trust only what you know.”

Lin hesitated where winter seemed to end; she recalled tales of false promises and lifetimes lost. Then she stepped across.

Every few steps, a garment would vanish or change. Lin arrived at the Queen’s court looking like a princess. She shivered.

The Queen welcomed her. “What boon would this fair maiden ask?”
“I demand my brother!”
“Of course! A knight for the lady!”

The Queen took Lin to a long row of identical soldiers, standing to attention. “Choose any you like. But choose only once.”

The soldiers all stared straight ahead, without meeting her eyes. None of them looked like Tam; none would recognise her.

“Maybe a kiss would wake them to you?” the Queen said. “Maybe your… favour would?” Lin bit her tongue to avoid screaming.

Lin walked up and down the line of soldiers, looking and thinking hard. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw one shiver.

It is winter, regardless what it looks like, Lin thought. She took the hand of the shivering soldier. “I choose this one.”

“Blood knows blood,” a magpie laughed. “and you shall have none.”
The Queen ignored it. “Well chosen. Now do not lose him.”

They ran, hand in hand, the soldier and the princess. Around them, other solders ran in silence, fading away one by one.

They ran, and snow began to cover the ground. It hid a crevasse, which her soldier tumbled down, his hand torn from hers.

All the remaining soldiers jumped into the crevasse. Then all reached up, mutely asking Lin take their hand, pull them out.

“Where is blood?” a magpie laughed.
One of the soldiers drew his sword and pointed it at Lin. She grasped the sharp blade.

Eyes closed, Lin pulled at the stick in her hand, pulled her brother up by his toy sword. When she looked, he was himself.

They hugged, then began walking home through the darkening forest. A magpie laughed behind them, but they didn’t look back.

The first advent tale. This story was serialised in 25 daily tweets from MicroSFF, December 1st to 25th, 2013. Here those tweets have been collected to give the full story.

Published inShort story