The Winter King: a short story

When the multi coloured curtains fall on Autumn’s final act the Winter King takes the stage, so say the short-lived peoples, the youngest races that inhabit the world of Amzharr. Thick carpets of diamond encrusted snow cover the world, intricate freeze forged artifacts are to be found where water once flowed, and a silent stillness fills the skies under which he is said to rule.

The Winter King has always been seen by the younger races of Amzharr as a cruel and uncaring creature, happy to see the world stop turning and life destroyed. Winter is a time of sombre sorrowing. Great grey clouds hang menacingly over the fields and forests. Stacked high, their fluffed faces leer earthwards threatening to send sleet and snow to bury the slightest hint of a green shoot, or blossoming bud, that might dare to deliver even the slightest hope that spring may find its way back into the world.

It is a time of great sadness and desperation across the world. The masses huddle around log fires and eat sparce meals, conserving their energy until the world returns to life. Throughout those dark days they tell stories, often of the Winter King and the evil deeds attributed him, little knowing that the Winter King of whom they speak is nothing but a myth. Their Winter King is a King of Winter, his court constructed from the lifeless lustre of frost bound fields and snow suffocated saplings. Their King of Winter is an aspect of nature, far greater than any angel or demon. It is the futile endeavour of a mortal mind to explain an element of existence beyond their comprehension.

That is not to say there is no Winter King, there is, but his story has been lost to the years. He is a lonely creature found at the heart of the fiercest snowstorms flailing around in a maddened dance. Those few lost souls who have seen him, and survived the storm, all too often mistake his capering and wind stolen cries as an attempt to command the weather, ordering it to do his bidding and lay waste to the world. Maybe it is because in the heart of the storm the flurries of snowflakes make it hard to see, or because the wind is so fierce it rips his words from his lips before they can be heard, but almost always those who happen up the frantic creature fail to realise that the Winter King is no ruler.

In reality the Winter King is a mocking name, given to him by the immortals who knew him long before the mortal races found their way into the world. However, he did not know then, just as he does not know now of his name. For the Winter King has an obsession which has driven him from the moment the Creators breathed life into him.

When the world was young the Winter King took his first steps. He raised his eyes to the sky and instantly became fixated by the great golden sun. So in awe was he of the flaming star that he began to follow it as it made its way around the world. Day after day he walked the round of the world, his existence becoming an aubade to the auric entity.

One day, whilst he wandered, his eyes to the sky, he tripped over a rock and landed on the ground with a heavy thud. He felt a surge of pain in his foot. He glared angrily around from his awkward seat ready to admonish whatever it was that had interrupted his infatuation. To his surprise the rock responsible for his downfall gleamed just like the sunlight. He was immediately entranced by its warm yellow colour. He forgot the pain in his foot and reached for it. It was heavy, yet smooth to his touch. In that moment he stopped lusting after the sun, and a new obsession was born, one made all the more compelling because he could reach for it, touch it and own it.

He cast a licentious look about the ground and his search began. It was not long before he had gathered a small collection of the yellow rocks. He started to fill a small sack which he would throw over his shoulder as he searched for more. Such was his obsession he did not rest enough to allow his foot to heal, and happily carried the sack over his shoulder as it grew heavier and heavier. If he noticed the pain of his injury, compounded by his increasing burden, he did not let it show.

When the bag became too heavy to lift any more, he emptied the gold onto the ground and covered it with rocks and soil before returning to his search. Time and time again he filled his sack and brought his finds back to the where he had hidden the first bagful. With each bagful the pile grew, and the little creature would pack more soil around it, and over it, to hide it.

Over the next ten years the creature travelled Amzharr in search of gold until he had found it all. He brought the last bag back to his hiding place, which had now become a great range of mountains reaching far into the sky, peaks lost in the clouds. Once the bag had been emptied, and its contents hidden, he set out into the world again.

Desperation gripped him as it became apparent there was no more gold to be found. Then, one day as he frantically grubbed around, he happened upon a diamond, and then an emerald. A new obsession was born with the sparkling gemstones that seemed to capture his first love, the sun, when it shone on them.

Once more he began to fill his bag and hide the precious stones away under piles of soil and rock. It was not long before another mountain range rose from the world.

Another decade passed and all the world’s gemstones were hidden. The Winter King’s bag was empty once more and his searches bore no fruit. He scoured the world once, twice, three times more, but there was nothing to be found.

One day, as the days shortened, and the sun’s warmth began to be whisked away by giddy young winds returning to the world after their summer sojourn, the creature fell to his knees and let out a cry of anguish. He sobbed loudly and looked around him, desperate to find something, anything that would make him feel fulfilled once more. Then, out of the corner of his eye he saw a hint of that warm, precious, yellow he had lusted after since he had buried the last golden nugget.

He stood and walked over to where it hung in plain sight from a tree. It was different from what he had found on the ground. Not a rock, but a leaf. He breathed a long sigh of relief and smiled as a new sense of purpose flooded through his veins, bringing with it a renewed vigour. He began to dance and caper around the trees, filling his sack. Around the world he danced again, stuffing leaf after leaf into the bag not once having to stop to empty it, so small and light were the precious leaves. Once all the trees had been stripped bare, he looked excitedly into his bag, and found to his horror that there was no gold, only tiny brown flakes, and spider web skeletons. In his frustration he tipped the crinkly fragments out and let the wind take them before collapsing into a sullen heap.

The days were shorter now, the giddy winds had become howling gales and rain had turned to snow. The creature watched as the tiny crystals fell from the sky. He reached out a cold hand and let a few settle. He saw the delicate structure Nature had gifted them. He looked around and for the first time saw the frozen beauty of winter. Though his beloved sun left him for far more hours each day, when it rose its light seemed softer, its rays refracted through icicles creating little rainbows, and for the few hours it stayed the world seemed to glow. Despite the biting chill the creature ran and danced and capered around in the snow. He became fascinated by the tiny ice crystals that turn spider’s webs into delicate strings of diamonds and marvelled at the shiny sheets of ice that encased the rivers and lakes. The creature was happier than he had ever been.

When the time came for winter to move on, and the snows started to melt, the creature surveyed the dark mud and grey brooding clouds the season left behind it. Rather than stay he decided he would chase after winter. He ran as quickly as he could until he caught up with the snowstorms and freezing winds. Once again in their midst he danced and capered, grasping at the tiny diamonds that fell from the sky, laughing at the crystal flakes as they were caught by the wind and whisked up around him. And there he has stayed to this day, oblivious to the world around him, save for the snow and the ice. Oblivious to the immortals who mocked him for bringing the dawn, mocked him as he made the mountains and continue to mock him to this day with the epithet the Winter King.

The End

Want to read more?

Try another short story Ripples across Amzharr: the origin of demons

And of course the obligatory plug…

Published by Eddie Bar

Fantasy storyteller, reader and wargamer.

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