The winter, apparently, was long.
And, it seems, I slept. I remember the demifae coming to me with food, nuts, berries, sometimes meat.
And I remember Janus coming to me, again and again, throughout the winter, drawing upon my strength, the sleeping queen, the dormant spring, lying there like the water beneath the frozen land, waiting for the touch that burned and froze and burned again.
And then, something stirred. I heard voices, familiar and comforting voices, and when I turned in my sleep, it seemed I could remember the rich rush of water, the coming thaw, the gloriousness of my feet against green grass.
As lovely as my long dream was, I could hear it was time to wake. How they tease you when you’re sleeping, the memories of the land, your own memories, the minds of the fae dreaming and awake. Being a Queen means being inside all of them and letting them all have their sovereignty, and if that, just this once, meant sleeping through winter, well then: I slept through winter.
Both voices, so familiar, one grown and one growing. Nathaniel and Wren, come to wake me like a fairytale princess.
Nathaniel, come to wake me like a fairytale princess, Wren, come to ask a million questions and explain the intricacies of life as a fae teenager. Bless her, she’s got wings now, and the land is working its magic in her blood as surely as it did in mine.
But something happened, of course. Something happened when Nathaniel kissed me. To be fair, something always happens when Nathaniel kisses me, ever since that night when I was drunk and kissed him because I was angry he hadn’t kissed me yet and something about his skin.
The Wylds have done their work on him as well, and the man who kissed me drew away from me a different man and reminded me of the goddess inside me who grants me the breath to walk in her footsteps.
I would have been afraid once of a man with horns and wings like a bird. I would have been afraid once of a man whose teeth can sink into flesh like a hot wire through butter. Maybe it’s only because I didn’t know what he was, but rather who he was, when I came to love him. Maybe that’s the only reason things didn’t turn out even more sadly for us all.
Yes, of course they gave me the news. News of this or that ascent and descent, the comings and goings of Huntsmen and the terrifying yet strangely exhilarating news of King Gwythyr in the wind.
It seems my dream of winter is over. It seems my crown of rain and candles were never seen except in my dream. It seems I danced with ravens only in the shadow roads, and my only dance partner was My King, and I never knew I slept except in the certainty of that dream of dancing toward winter. My plan, my life as a Winter Queen, well. I made it a month into autumn and not even to Samhain, and dream a dream of love in that other life, love I would never dream possible if I knew that were the only world.
You ask, “My Queen, what may I bring you?” And I say, “Bring me rain. Bring me snowdrops. Bring me primroses springing beneath my feet. Bring me an early sunrise. Bring me the promise of birds courting in the trees, rabbits fucking in the sparse wood, bears waking and thinking of fucking in the deep wood, deer keeping themselves under control until the last few moments of spring bleed into the wet, hot, rutting summer. Bring me ice water from the mountain above the Residence: Bring me the thaw. Bring me the melt. Bring me mud time and bud time and every little strawberry blossom that heralds every asparagus spear.”
And then you ask, “But what of the Winter Queen you might have been?” And now I will quote a book that you never have read and are unlikely to read, a book about a lion, and I will tell you that, “Nobody is ever allowed to know what might have been.”
You want to see me in my kingdom? You want to see me in a crown, in jewellery, in a dress that makes mortals tremble? Why should I make mortals tremble? Mortals tremble of their own accord. And when they see me, some of them realise why they tremble.
But here: I will indulge you. Now there are buildings behind me. Now I wear roses and gold. Now you can see what my feet have wrought even in the hazy morning of my first day, my first day awake, my first day back.
Did I tell you it was a long winter? Oh, yes, long. And now I am awake. Awake and in my Nathaniel’s arms, awake and giggling again with Wrennie, awake and hearing more of Aoibheann’s adventures (they are never-ending), awake and wondering once again if Dyisi is a genius or a rustic or a little of both, awake and wishing more than anything for a week between seasons so that I could rest and remember Gwyneth Evans and read a contemporary fantasy and laugh about how fairies could never survive in London. And a week to go there as a fairy.
And who will question me if I wear birds in my hair? No one. Who will question me if the air bends around me and crowns me with light? No one. Yes, I think a week in London, undercover as Gwyneth Evans, would do me a world of good. Someone needs to tread on my foot on purpose and then tell me to go fuck myself, someone who won’t be marked for death later by some Sidhe who wandered upon us and guards me still. Or so they say: I have not yet seen Wulf.
Fade away, dream, fade away. I shall watch you, but only far enough to know you’re fading. Any farther and you might not come back again, or so says my Welsh granny. My false Welsh granny.
Perhaps that should be a week in Aberystwyth. Twenty years ago. And maybe that’s how it all started, anyway.
So many things to think about. My mother, lost before she was found. I must find her again. And my children. I do not think I can hold off their births much longer: it may be that sleeping through the winter was in some way my desire to do just that.
My Valene. My Nathaniel. My Janus. My Aoibheann. And that creature in the castle who calls himself now a king.
Rise, sun, rise.
Come, summer, come.