Short and sweet. Enjoy Chapter 32, I’ll see about a bonus update on Friday or sooner, to make up for my illness last week. ❤
Love you all,
(32) Season’s Refuge
In time, things change. In time, Summer, Winter, Fall and Spring make the journey to Season’s Refuge along with Silk. Thomas and the orphaned girl already live there- they’d transferred shortly after the… well, the Resolution.
Season’s Refuge stands on a low field, and rises near fifty feet up from the earth. The courtyard is enormous and open- no iron gates bar entry by foot. The walls are worn from disrepair. The path up to the great wooden doors is weathered. In the courtyard a great oak tree snakes up to the sky, and as a wind blows across the plains its branches sway and creak.
It’s Winter who leads Fall- who carries Summer’s baby- past the worn walls girding the courtyard. He stumbles on cloven hooves, trying to keep up with her, bent over almost comically as he leans down to follow her beyond the worn walls and onto the path.
The baby, who Summer had promises to name once she found one she liked, is sound asleep. Fall had taken to him instantly, to Winter’s surprise- and despite the poor experiences the infant may have had when he was kidnapped by Fall, the baby boy had been able to sleep soundly every night, and didn’t seem perturbed at all by the horned man’s care.
“Really,” He says quietly. “You could pretend to show a little restraint, you know. Have some reverence for your home.”
Silk, just clearing the courtyard and obviously a little uncomfortable, trails along behind the pair of them slowly.
Winter ignores them both, shoving the big doors open one handed and stepping into the Refuge, letting Fall’s hand go as she races inside.
It’s exactly as she pictured it, as she remembers it. Still, Winter’s eyes tear up as she takes a step into the great hall. Columns stretch up into forever. Before her, an immense stone table with finely crafted wooden chairs set around it, for more than two score guests to sit at. It strikes her at once as both wonderful and horribly lonely at the same time. It’s a bit of a relief that she’ll never have to be all alone now, not with Summer and Autumn and Spring here.
Dust has been disturbed- everything is neat and tidy. The Seasons rarely actually used the great hall for anything other than entertaining guests. The only people who actually ate things at it were Fall, whose energy was always decaying, Summer, who enjoyed the tastes, and any servants they might keep around. Said servants were all long gone by now, surely.
The stone here is near soft underfoot from overuse, but still sparkles in Winter’s eyes. She hugs herself then, slowing down, taking everything in at once.
“Miss Winter?” A voice calls. “Miiss?”
Winter looks up and around, and smiles when she spots Miri, dwarfed by the great stone table she sits at.
The girl smiles back, but it’s clear something is on her mind. She’s sharp, Winter thinks to herself. I hope she’s done well here with Thomas.
“Miss Winter? I dreamed you were going to come today,” She says shyly. “You’re gonna come live with me an’ Thomas now, aren’t you?”
Winter grins and nods. “Mhm! Where is he, do you know?”
Miri shrugs indifferently. “He’s around here somewhere. This place is big!”
Independent, too, Summer murmurs admiringly. I wonder who taught her that?
Winter turns to go look for him. Miri’s hand on her arm stops her dead.
Winter stares at her uncertainly. “Yes?”
“Your baby, Miss Winter?” Miri asks quietly.
“It’s not my-”
“She’s in trouble.”
Winter blinks. There’s a certainty in the child’s eyes that’s just plain disconcerting. And she?
A cry from the direction of the courtyard takes Winter’s attention, and it’s Summer who shifts, pushing Winter out of the way and taking over.
She runs across the stone of the hall, throws open the door to the castle and finds Fall standing there, backing away into the hall. A mass of people is gathered before the courtyard- a score in all. A few men stand around in white armor holding torches, swords or spears. Women bearing bags of goods or food, maybe personal belongings, women holding babies or holding the hands of children.
They gather together. It’s midday- the torches can’t be to provide mere illumination.
“We’ve drawn quite a crowd,” Fall says wryly.
Someone steps forward from the gathered people. His blond hair is familiar to Summer, as are his eyes.
His armor shines, and his voice is steady. In one hand he holds a torch, the other a long knife. “We are the descendants of the Ivory Templar, journeyed here from Wheel. We’ve come to take back Black Refuge in our ancestors’ names.”
Let me handle this, Spring urges.
“Miss Summer?” Thomas whispers, right next to her ear.
She jumps, then steps aside as he brushes past her.
Looks like that job is being taken care of, Fall observes to Spring. Aloud, he says “Careful, Tom.”
Thomas just grins back at him before he stands in front of the man. All he carries is the haft of his spear.
“What’s your name, sir?” He asks politely.
Winter shifts in while Summer isn’t paying attention, and she reaches out for the baby. Fall hands him to her gently.
The child hadn’t cried once the entire way to Season’s Refuge.
“I am called Mark Danehood. And you?” Mark’s tone is wary.
“I go by Thomas. Just Thomas,” He replies easily. His entire posture is relaxed, and his completely nonthreatening attitude seems to take Mark by surprise. Still, he recovers.
“Well, just Thomas, who do you stand with?”
“I should think that’s pretty obvious, sir,” Thomas says, with just a hint of reproach. “I’m standing with the Seasons.”
“This land is ours by right,” Mark says quietly. “If you are with the Seasons, you stand against us.”
“I’m sure we can work something out,” Thomas says lightly. His posture is open, and Winter wants to tug him out of harms’ way.
But something in his stance eases her fears. This is a man who has been through more than mere mortals can dream, Winter remembers. Still…
It isn’t until he turns his head slightly and winks at Fall that she lets herself relax.
Winter cradles the baby in her arms thoughtfully before she walks back into the Refuge.
Thomas can probably handle this, especially with Fall at his back.
What’s important is that you got my son out of that potentially nasty situation, Summer whispers. But how did the girl know that was going to happen? And how did they get here?
Portal, Winter replies as the idea strikes her. They came here through the portal, journeyed from Everspring to Season’s Refuge, probably almost the same time we set out.
Still, something else doesn’t quite fit.
“Miri?” Winter calls.
“Miss Winter!” Miri’s voice calls back excitedly. “I’m in the study! Come see!”
Winter remembers where the study is by sheer luck. Summer nudges her in the direction of the door. It opens as if on greased hinges, swinging silently aside. Winter takes a deep breath, closes her eyes, and steps inside.
Her eyes open again, and what she sees takes her breath away. Stacks and stacks of books, piled high, teetering here and there. There are so many of them that it makes her dizzy, stretching high into the air, some on shelves, some on the tile floor.
Miri sits in the middle of the room, legs crossed, grinning widely and holding a book. It’s title is in Eldritch, and Winter recognizes it as Poems, Songs and Sonnets from Ages. It appears ragged around the edges, as though it has definitely seen better days. The paper is old and yellowed.
“Look!” Miri giggles. “It’s like the words you and Miss Summer use.”
“You can’t read that-” Winter starts, but Summer silences her. Miri opens the book and, flashing Winter a grin, begins to read.
No, not to read. To sing, in a wavering, but soft, pretty voice.
“Souls in cycle, follow along
Writ for wrote
Word for song
Souls in cycle, lead my heart
From place to place
From past to start
Beginning to end
First and now last
Find my heart in a looking glass
When demi of mind meets demi of soul
Push both together
And make them whole.”
Miri finishes, giggling, obviously pleased with herself. Then she frowns a bit. “What does it mean, Miss Winter?”
Winter blinks, smiles down at her and shakes her head. “It’s just a song. It’s a nice song, though.”
Like hell. That’s the song Fall taught you, Summer says flatly.
Yeah, Winter replies quietly. I think I understand what he meant by it, too.
Miri shrugs, though, obviously not accepting Winter’s answer, but not questioning it openly either. She stands up again. “Can I have it? The book, I mean?”
Summer’s baby stirs in Winter’s grip. Winter finds herself wondering at who his father could have been, and she’s so lost in thought that she almost forgets Miri’s question altogether.
“Mm? Oh! Yes, of course! You live here too!” Winter says hastily. “Just… well, be careful with it.”
“Yes, Miss Winter,” Miri says quickly, and scurries off, the book tucked under her arm.
What did he mean? Summer asks curiously, prompting her. Winter is about to answer her when she hears a clicking on the tile behind her.
Winter turns, and finds Silk standing in front of her, all of her arms folded.
“Half a mind and half a soul, both here together as one,” Silk says quietly. “With the Cycle broken and mended, with everything you could ever ask for right here…. can you forgive me, from so long ago?”
Winter blinks, then takes in a breath. In that instant, Silky puts a clawed finger to her lips, hushing her instantly. “No, don’t talk yet. I haven’t told you what I did and what I am asking of you. I haven’t told you what you’ve done.”
Winter quiets herself, curbing her own curiosity while Summer grumbles.
“Winter,” Silk says quietly. “Your daughter is mine by blood right. That is the oath I made to you long ago, that I would take your child.”
Winter nods slowly.
“The child you carry is yours as much as it is Summer’s,” Silk whispers. “Being of your blood, she is mine now by my law.”
Now wait just a second! Summer snarls in Winter’s head. Winter shakes herself, trying to make sense of it.
“What are you talking about?” She asks finally, heart sinking. “This child is a boy.”
“The boy is the dominant soul, yes,” Silk replies gently. “But underneath his shell and in his heart beats your blood, and with your blood a piece of you, Winter, as much as he is a piece of Summer.”
“How…?” Winter starts weakly.
“There was no union between you and any mortal man,” Silk says, and her voice is tempered by guilt. “Nor was there any such union between Summer and another. You two are bound together, but more than that- when your souls touched, I…” Silk closes her eyes for a moment, opens them again, her posture relaxing, claws falling to her sides. “I took advantage of your vulnerability. I used magic- my peoples’ magic- to create a child within you. I worried- and foolishly- that you would be incapable of having a child on your own so…” She pauses and then sighs. “I… violated your trust, my love.”
“Spells like that exist?” Winter asks, stunned, horrified, and wondering all at once. “And you cast one on me- you used magic on me without me knowing it?”
“It… It is more that I provided a spark for your own magic to use. But it was a spark made of all Seasons, from pieces of their magic that I plucked and spun together,” Silk says quietly. “All of you- Summer, Winter, Autumn, Spring- every one of you is a part of this being. Four children in one.”
“Why did you do this?” Winter pries, frowning. “Silk, you were- are- one of my most trusted friends. Why? And why keep it from me, or from Summer?”
“You wouldn’t remember,” Silk says quietly. “And hopefully now you will never have reason to. It’s fine now- it’s worked out the way it needed to.”
“I don’t understand,” Winter says wearily. “But by now I think I’m used to that. I’ll figure it out later.”
“Are you going to run?” Silk asks quietly, as Winter starts to turn. There’s something almost desperate, something soft and hurt in her voice. Winter isn’t angry. She’s hurt. Like Silk is.
Feelings fight, boil and die in Winter’s heart. Running now feels like the only thing she can do… It’s too much for her to deal with right now, if she could just…
She’s a spider, Summer warns. She’ll lie and manipulate to get her way. I told you I had a bad feeling about her.
Winter wrestles with herself, takes another step, pauses. She’ll betray you again.
Summer means well. She means the best for her sister, truly she does. But…
Winter shakes her head, frowns, and stops, arms folded. “No,” She says finally, breaking into a grin. “I think I’ll walk.”
She turns to face Silk and reaches out. Silk stretches out her own clawed fingers to meet the fourth Season’s tentatively, gazing down at Winter, clearly a little worried for her love’s sanity. “Winter?”
“I don’t forgive you now,” Winter answers slowly. “And I’m not sure what to think. But I’d rather we found out together. I’ve spent too long without you, for all that I remember- that I’m starting to remember doing with you. I trust you, Silk, and I’m disappointed in you for not telling me the truth, but I won’t leave without you. And we won’t be gone forever.”
She cracks a smile, then, her eyes meeting Silk’s. For a moment, her heart skips a beat and she feels light. Silk returns the smile, obviously confused, but relieved. “Come on,” Winter says gently. “I think you’ve done enough moping.”
She grasps Silk’s hand and leads her away from the study, with the Seasons’ baby in the crook of her arm, unsure of where she’s going, but certain of where she belongs.