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Winter’s Guard

She marches through the trees, snow crunching softly beneath her feet. Feeling not a chill, unbothered by the wind, laced with the breath of ice, nor the encroaching darkness that creeps along the edges of the impromptu fairground.

She breathes, no puffs of air passing her lips, and glances back. Several creeping shadows, too long and sharp to be natural, flinch back at her gaze. A smile pulls at pale lips, and the woman smiles, turning her attention back to the festivities, her furred cloak held loosely against her shoulders.

It is another glorious party, held for the second time in two centuries, in a large grove encircled by the wood; pines swaying gently in the breeze, dozens of sparkling lights, lanterns and colorful ornaments adorning their branches. The pale woman skips along the edges, graceful and beautiful, catching more than one pair of eyes as she goes, long pale fingers dancing along the tips of the pines. Her smile grows as she takes in the trees joy; they had longed for the return of this festival, of any festival, for many years.

She inclines her head in gratitude, the old wood promising to watch, to alert her if necessary, before stepping deeper into the light. Where she is immediately drawn into the crowd, to a couple, a man and a woman who smell of magic, who offer their hands. With one final warning glance back at the writhing shadows, a darkness that will remain distant at her will, she takes the offered hands.

A drink is pressed to her, chilled, unlike the other steaming drinks being passed around. She catches the husbands eye, and nods in thanks. He nods back, just managing not to spill his own drink as several children rush by, twisting around the woman’s pale skirts, oh-ing and awe-ing at her fur cloak.

She laughs, a sweet sound, twirling along with the children. The adults join her, with minimal hesitation, and soon the area is filled with their warm laughter and the cheers of the little ones. One hand at her skirt, she offers a bow to each child, whom follow and bow in return. Once finished, the small crowd runs off in another direction; except for two. A boy and a girl, twins, barely past her knees.

They are pulled aside by the couple, each given a warm drink and sent to sit upon the nearby bench. The woman moves to join them, and the siblings part, patting the space between them. She chuckles, but settles between the two none-the-less, happy to drink and watch the mortals make merry.

Barely a minute passes before the boy is tugging on her skirts.

“Are you the Lady of the Frost?” He asks, eyes wide and sparkling. The woman hums, and feels the sister press against her other side, eager as her twin.

“And if I was?” she grins, crystal eyes shinning, voice as soft as snowfall. The boy grins.

“We want to thank you for all that you do!” He exclaims cheerfully, his sister waving her head up and down. “We wouldn’t be able to have so much fun if it weren’t for you. Protecting us as you do.” The sister hums, quite loudly, in agreement, still nodding intensly as the Lady stares on, blinking, pale lashes brushing equally pale cheeks.

The Lady blinks, and pauses, thinking, one pale hand pressing against her lips. She could not lie, not directly, as her kind was so bound. The truth, always. But unlike most of her kind, she saw no reason to trick and manipulate, no real interest in claiming and breaking mortals.

She sees their joy, and their sorrow. Their ability to love, to kill, to create, to feel the aching loneliness as if they could feel the weight of centuries on their weak shoulders. In brief moments, in select individuals, she sees herself, and her kin, and feels only love and pity for humanity.

So, many centuries ago, she made this land hers, fought and held it tight in her grasp. No other creature would cross into her frozen magic, ancient and powerful, she watched. She helped cultivate the town beyond the wood, protecting its denizens, from the climate, themselves, and any else who would dare offer any trouble to what she had claimed as hers.

She smells the magic in these twins blood, knows their bloodline, knows the honesty in their words, and offers the warmest smile she can muster.

Your thanks is appreciated, my little darlings.” The Lady says, setting down her drink and ruffling the twins dark hair, chilled fingers brushing over crimson cheeks. “And though I will not abuse your gratitude, be careful of whom you grant it. Others might not be so kind.” She warns.

The children nod fiercely, knowing looks in their dark eyes. The Lady nods back, and two names are called.

“Rowan! Rosemary!”

The twins rise, a little sad, but are pacified by the Lady’s promise to dance later. They rush to their parents arms, cheering as they are distracted with the new task of decorating the large tree set directly in the center of the clearing. The Lady smiles, remembering when that tree was planted, watching it grow, waiting for it’s first festival, then waiting for the next.

The Lady of the Frost stands, breathing deep, wandering the edges of the crowd, waving back, returning smiles as she waits for the floor to clear, for the dancing to begin. She will be the most beautiful dancer, she knows, clumsy is the footwork of children. Still, she looks forward to it, as she looks forward to it every year.

On days like this one, full of warmth she rarely truly feels, both inside and out, she finds herself wishing, just for a moment, to be mortal. To be human, free and fragile, clumsy and messy. Not eternally beautiful, graceful and powerful in all things.

But, as Rosemary and Rowan rush to her side, pulling her into the throng of people, surrounding her with warmth and music, she decides that her race does not matter. Not here, not with so many smiles and so much love. She will hold this warmth within her cold heart.

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