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The Cold King

By:Amber Jaeger

The Cold King
Amber Jaeger


For Paul.

Your love and support have made my dreams reality

Chapter One

Calia wove through the crowded market with her basket held high above  her head. The town's people barely noticed the slight girl so it was up  to her to steer around them or out of their way.

She grimaced as she was jostled almost off her feet. There was no  apology from the man who bumped into her, no one asking if she was all  right or offering a steadying hand.

It wasn't that Calia was invisible to the other townspeople. They saw her, they just did not care.

But she cared. If she let the precious contents of her basket fall to  the churned, muddy ground beneath her feet she would have to face her  mother's wrath.

"Excuse me," she mumbled as someone else roughly brushed past her. With  the basket tilting precariously on her head, she stepped into the mouth  of an ally. It was a tiny safe haven and she paused to settle her burden  more firmly in place. Her stomach growled loudly and she realized she  had stopped next to the bakery. The scent of buttery rolls was heavenly,  but Calia had neither the time nor the money.

The town's people mulled and dashed and argued in the tightly packed  market except in one small, loose circle around an old woman. Everyone  avoided her as she slowly made her way from stall to stall with the  handle of her wicker basket gripped tightly in her bony hand.

The crowd thinned just enough for Calia to really see the elderly woman.  Her chest tightened. It was the Cold King's personal servant.

It was no wonder everyone in the market avoided her. A thin, stooped  woman nearly bent in half over her cane should not cause such unease,  but this woman did.

She was treated even worse than Calia. Everyone simultaneously ignored  and avoided her. When she headed for a stall all the current customers  scattered. The people shopping opposite of her kept their backs turned,  only occasionally peeking over their shoulders to make sure she wasn't  coming their way.

So only Calia saw the old woman slip in the mud and fall her knees, her basket tumbling away and spilling its contents.

Suddenly unmindful of her own basket, Calia dropped it and darted  forward. No one else reached out to help the elderly woman but neither  did they impede the younger one rushing to her side.

"Are you all right?" Calia asked when she reached her.

The old woman had used her cane to push herself before Calia could reach  her and was carefully patting her frizzy, snow white bun with a gnarled  hand. The skin was parchment thin and Calia tried not to wince at the  web of protruding veins and tendons running underneath it.

"Are you all right?" Calia repeated. She looked the woman over and grimaced at the blood on her stocking. "You hurt your knee."

The old woman brushed her off. "Do not talk to me. Don't you know I am  cursed?" she jeered. Her eyes flashed in the noon day sun and Calia  almost backed away. Tales of the king and his servants were whispered  around town but not to the likes of her.

Always more practical than superstitious, Calia brushed away her unease.

"You are hurt," she said firmly. "Let me help you."

"My girl," the old woman whispered, wrapping her hand tightly around her  cane. "Have no fear for me. My master will always care for me."

Calia took a steadying breath. "I am sure he will but he's not here now and your knee is bloodied."

The town's people continued to give a wide berth to the woman and girl and the basket with the spilled goods.

Calia knelt in the mud and gathered the buttons and threads and needles.  "Let me walk you back," she asked when everything was back in the  basket.

"No my girl, you've done more than enough."

"Please, let me-"

"No. Keep your life here."

Puzzled, Calia watched the old woman push off into the crowd. The people  kept their distance until she passed and then flowed in to hide her  retreat.

The girl watched for several minutes until a rude shove interrupted her  thoughts and brought her back to her own ugly world. Suddenly she  remembered her mother's precious basket and ran back for it.

"Oh no," she groaned, seeing all her mother's goose down feathers getting ground into the mud by the uncaring shoppers.

"Calia Thorne!" The shriek was like ground glass in her ears. "What did you do now?"

"Mother," Calia gasped, trying to hide the empty basket behind her body. "I thought you were staying at home."

Her mother glared at the poorly hidden basket. "I was, until I realized I  needed more cloth for nappies." She had one twin tucked under each  breast. Greer, still a toddler, lagged behind her, grasping her mother's  skirts and Moli lagged even further behind, her face empty over the  full basket she clutched.                       


"I could have done that for you," Calia mumbled.

"Like you got my feathers to the pillow makers?" her mother asked. "I swear, what I ever did to deserve such a worthless child … "

Calia was used to such hurtful statements and so did not even flinch. "I am sorry Mother, I'll pay for the feathers."

"With what money?" Her mother pushed past her and continued on her way  to make her purchases. Calia took the heavy basket from her grateful  younger sister and trailed behind.

It wasn't until late that evening that Calia's mother deigned to speak to her again.

"So what was it this time?"

Calia looked up from scrubbing the tea pot and brushed her hair back from her face. "What was what, Mother?"

"Your excuse for ruining my feathers?"

Calia's cheeks heated but she kept her voice even when she answered.  "The basket tipped when I rushed to help an old woman who had slipped in  the mud."

Her mother looked up from her embroidery. "Mrs. Peepers?"

"No, it was the Cold King's servant."

The ugly woman's face stilled with shock. "You helped her? You touched  her? Calia, she is probably cursed, just like him! You must never  interact with any of his servants!"

Calia bit her lip before giving an answer she was sure would only anger  her mother more. "I know everyone says she and all of the servants are  cursed just as the Cold King is but they age and he-"

"Do not speak of him, you idiot girl!" Her mother's cheeks were flaming  red and she glanced about the dark house as if someone could be hiding  in the shadows listening. "Besides, what could you possibly know about  the Cold King or his servants?"

"Nothing," Calia said, trying to hide her exasperation, "because you  won't ever tell me anything. But how can he be so bad? We have plenty to  eat, our crops always grow. We never face war or famine, our homes are  always warm. And maybe it isn't the same king, maybe this one is the  heir of the heir of the original."

Her mother reached out and slapped her faster than Calia could pull  away. "Shut your mouth. Do not speak of things you do not know about."

Calia rubbed her cheek but was grimly determined to have her say. "I  just meant that it seems no one really knows anything about him."

Her mother relented and picked her embroidery up again. "You have your  father's stubbornness." She must have seen the glimmer of a smile on her  daughter's mouth. "It's nothing to be proud of! He should have been  more concerned with making money." She sighed and shook her head. "But  you are right; we do not know much about the king. It's best that way,  it keeps us safe."

"From what?" Calia asked, hoping her question wouldn't earn her another slap.

But her mother shrugged. "Him. The outside world. I do not know, but you  are correct. We have food and shelter and warmth and we should be  grateful for all of it."

Calia paused her scrubbing. "I am grateful. But I am also curious. Weren't you curious about the Cold King as a child?"

Her embroidery slowly fell to her lap again as her gaze lengthened. "I was. But then I saw him."

"You did?" Calia gasped. "You never told me!"

"I do not like to speak of it," her mother said quietly.

"Please mother, tell me," Calia begged.

The older woman gave another furtive glance around the room before  speaking. "It was the year I was pregnant with you. He came down from  his mountain castle for a new gardener."

Calia waited for more but nothing came. "That's it? No, there must be more."

"There is no more," her mother snapped. "He came down from his mountain,  stood in the middle of the town square, made his announcement and  left."

"But what did he look like? What did he sound like?"

"Calia, I do not know. He wore a mask. He looked rich. Stop asking  stupid questions." Mrs. Thorne shifted in her chair, signaling the end  of the conversation.

But as Calia finished scrubbing the dishes, and then the counter and  floor, she wondered. All the whispers she had overheard depicted the  king as an immortal, heartless man. Long since cursed in a way no one  remembered, or dared to say, he hid himself in his castle with the few  servants he demanded from the town. The servants themselves were rarely  seen once they set off for the castle and reviled on rare occasion they  came back on an errand. The old woman was the first servant Calia had  ever seen. She wondered if she would ever get to see the mysterious  king.