My singed feet tingled as Andrea bound them tightly with white clean bandages. Tarquin lay on a pallet right across from me, with Tiana tending to him. My father and Hollis sat unharmed on cushions nearby, waiting patiently for me to heal. Before I was brought here, Hollis had come to me in tears, and we had reunited joyfully. Soon after, I had introduced her to our father.
“How are you feeling?” Andrea asked me, looking steadily into my eyes.
“Cold. Never imagined this was Winter was like.” I clutched the warm blankets that came up to my chin, balling my fists so my fingers wouldn’t go numb.
“It’s better to be cold than on fire.” She smiled ruefully, but then leaned in to whisper in my ear. “You know your sister is crazy.”
I raised a brow, but before I could speak, she continued. “She has just sat there without a word for hours. Are you sure she’s alive?”
It was true. When she’d ran to me, she had barely spoken to me, only embraced me and cried. Even now, she was chillingly silent.
Andrea bit her lip. “I don’t know what’s going on, but it scares me.”
It scared me too. How had Hollis managed to speak so eloquently moments ago to the queen, and now she could not speak more than one word?
My sister came over and sat quietly on a stool beside me. She laid a hand on my arm. “Gesu.”
At her touch, I felt a sudden peace wash over me. Gesu had given her the power to speak to the queen, and now that power was gone from her. She no longer needed it. Somehow the plague and death she had endured had made her almost mute, yet what did I have to complain about? She was alive, and that was all that mattered.
“I still don’t believe it.” Andrea gritted her teeth. “It was only a powerful spell that brought you all back to life, that’s all. Don’t believe in the ridiculous Gesu.” She hugged Hollis gently. “Please just admit it—it was nothing more than a spell.”
Determination filled Hollis’ eyes as she hugged Andrea back and whispered, “No.”
Andrea glanced at me, baffled, but I refused to reflect her confusion. “You must understand, Andrea. Gesu has power beyond Hazina.”
“Speaking of the queen, where is she?” Tarquin sat up, as if hit with sudden inspiration.
“Restoring the world to how it should be,” Andrea said simply.
“No.” Tarquin’s eyes shot across the room at everyone. “We can’t let her. The only way the island can be restored is by her death.”
“But Tarquin,” I said, “she is good now. Her heart has changed.”
“I must,” Tarquin said in a low voice, staring at me intently. “She is the cause of all our pain. I must put an end to her.”
My father stood up. “Young man, don’t even think of it.”
“I must!” he exclaimed.
Gritting his teeth and averting his eyes from us, Tarquin grabbed some crutches Tiana had ready and hobbled out the door with his bandaged feet and a sword in his hand.
“We need to stop him!” I burst out.
But the room was silent. Hazina had saved many of them from death, and she now vowed to set the humans. Could her acts of kindness restore people’s trust in her?
Andrea frowned at me. “This time I agree with that miner boy. Hazina deserves death, Dahlia. You know that.”
“No, Andrea,” I said hoarsely. “You don’t understand. Didn’t you see it in her eyes? The pain, the regret? We have to give her a second chance.”
“Is that what Gesu teaches? Being kind to the most awful people?”
“Yes, Andrea.” My voice was steady. “That’s exactly what he teaches. Forgiveness. Healing. Love. We can’t let Tarquin ruin our chance to show Hazina that Gesu can give her new life, regardless of what she has done in the past.”
As a pinprick of a tear dripped down Hollis’ cheek, she squeezed my hand and smiled sadly.
My father narrowed his eyes. “I’ll stop that boy.”
With that, he dashed out of the room.
I had yet to tell my father that I was in love with that man. I couldn’t deny it any longer. Tarquin was always in my thoughts; he was always strong, always… caring. I trusted him, for the most part. But what was I supposed to think of him now?
Someone knocked at the door. Tiana opened it, cautiously. To my astonishment, Kari dragged in Prima who lay on a sled.
I gaped. She lay there, pale, with broken wings, her eyelids closed and the Winter frost encasing her.
The boy ran up to me and hugged me. “I brought Prima back!” he said proudly. “It took me ages to drag her here. I had to borrow the sled from a white-haired person. I didn’t know people had white hair! Maybe the snow makes it like that. Anyway, I brought her here, and she’ll get warmed up and be okay soon, right?”
His innocence broke my heart. I wished I had thought to find Prima before Andrea, Tiana, and my father took Tarquin and me here. I stared pleadingly at Tiana as she examined Prima.
The old woman spoke in a low voice. “She is still alive, but she needs serious attention.”
She laid Prima out on the bed Tarquin had recently left, wrapping her delicate body in cloth.
“She will be okay?” I whispered.
Tiana nodded. “Though she looks very frail, she is a fairy; the magic makes her stronger and able to endure more than humans.”
“You should be a doctor,” I said with a half smile.
Tiana chuckled. “I’ve always wanted to, but never was able to, being a human and all. Perhaps now I’ll have that chance, without any mandatory duties to attend to.”
She had a chance… because of Hazina’s changed heart. Determination to stop Tarquin returned to me. I grabbed the crutches that awaited me on the side of the bed and began hobbling out of the room. “I can’t let Tarquin do this—”
“Wait.” It was Hollis’ soft voice. Her blue eyes sparkled as she held out a necklace with a small cherry pit on it. I had made it for her long ago in Spring. On the pit I had carved the letters “D & H.” Smiling, I put it around my neck.
“Forever,” Hollis said.
Andrea was glaring at me from across the room. She did not believe in Gesu’s power. She hated Hazina. I hoped her fierce opinions wouldn’t destroy our friendship.
I placed my hand over the cherry pit, over my heart, gazing into my dear sister’s eyes. “Yes, Hollis. Forever.”
Then I picked myself up with the crutches and hobbled out of the room.
When I reached the shore, I stopped in my tracks. There, a good distance away, Tarquin stood, raising his sword above the queen, ready to strike her.
Desperation gripped me as I rushed forward, crying, “Stop!”
But it was too late.
As Tarquin stabbed her in the chest, she shrieked, a hollow deathly wail into the frosty air.
The world became black in instant. Gesu had forgiven the evil fairy, but Tarquin had not forgiven her.
To my amazement, light flashed, and suddenly the snow melted beneath my feet.
Warmth surrounded me, as I stepped forward, my feet crunching the leaves. Sunlight exuded over the mountain that rose from the center of Istagun. The mud walls collapsed before our eyes. Winter was no longer Winter… it was Summer. Everywhere, it was Summer. Snow melted off the pine trees and the green of the world glowed brilliantly for all to see.
People shed their heavy coats and danced around in the grassy field.
Hazina lay on the earth, and many fairies began to prepare to take her to Midfuna Island.
But other fairies and humans cheered, “Long live King Tarquin! Long live the King!”
They placed a crown upon his head, as thousands gathered around him and applauded for the one who had saved them from Queen Hazina. No one remembered her change of heart, that she had saved many of our lives and resolved to put an end to her evil ways.
Tarquin said in a loud voice, “This is a new kingdom, ruled under the guidance of the great healer, Gesu! The pattern of this world has returned; this summer will turn to autumn, which will turn to winter, and then to spring. It is a beautiful pattern of life and death, pain and healing, youth and old age. We all will enjoy this life together—with mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, living with one another at last, enjoying the fruits of their labor.”
And everyone cheered all the louder.
I only watched in silence, in bewilderment. He never saw me among the many humans, fairies, and joyful Treelanders whom Hazina had freed from the mind-bending spell.
Sadness crept into me, overwhelming me. The queen could have been good, if she’d been given a chance. Tarquin didn’t understand, he didn’t—
How could I trust him?
“And my dear Treelanders,” he declared, “I will return you soon to your home across the seas.”
The people applauded.
As Tarquin sat on a makeshift throne the Treelanders had quickly created from wood and leaves, my father leaned in and spoke with him. Tarquin shot words back at him, angrily.
As they argued back and forth, I hobbled around to the back of the throne, to listen to them without them noticing.
“You’re a fool, boy. Can’t you see when a person’s decided to change? My daughters were so hopeful in Hazina’s new beginning.”
“You don’t know who your daughters are,” Tarquin replied. “You only met them today! Dahlia is strong, and she understands that it is my destiny to be King. It is the will of Gesu.”
My father lowered his voice. “You know my daughter, eh?”
“Yes,” Tarquin said earnestly, his eyes lighting up as he spoke. “And she is the most beautiful girl I’ve ever met. I plan to marry her one day, if you ever concede to it.”
My father raised a brow. “I will never let her marry a man like you! For all we know, Hazina would have allowed you to take the throne, knowing the people would put much more trust in a human than the fairy who had so long oppressed them. You had no right to kill her!”
I was shaken, unable to move from that spot, burdened with thoughts running back and forth through my mind. Who was Tarquin, anyway? Did I truly know him?
I felt a hand on my shoulder, and turned, gasping. Hollis smiled. “Remember when you came to Winter and found Tarquin holding me in his arms?”
I rolled my eyes. “Hollis, I can’t think of that right now. He… he killed Hazina.” I pointed to the dead fairy as she was laid on a mat and taken in a slow procession to a boat.
“He tried to keep me alive for as long as he could.” Hollis’ voice was so faint, like the soft drop of snow on one’s cheek.
I didn’t look at her. “Our father hates him, so I will too.”
Hollis’ blue eyes filled with tears. “You know what he told me, Dahlia? You know what he said to me as I lay in his arms, hopeless and frozen?”
I shrugged and looked away, not wanting to think of the man who had brutally murdered a fairy who had changed her heart.
“He said to me, ‘You know, Hollis? Gesu may have told me Dahlia needed me, but I think it’s also true that I need her.’ Don’t you see, Dahlia? Tarquin isn’t perfect. He isn’t, but…”
But he held my little sister in his arms to keep her warm, he built a boat to sail across the sea, he helped me find Hollis, he convinced me that Gesu was real, he showed a love that surpassed anything I’d ever known before.
Was he worthy for me to marry him, now that children could stay with their parents, and all was as it should be?
I didn’t know. Maybe one day I would know. What mattered now, was that he was the king, determined to rule under Gesu’s guidance and with his power, to bring justice and kindness to a broken nation. And I was determined to help him.
“Dahlia?” Tarquin stepped down from his throne and hobbled over to me on his crutches, his gentleness warming my heart as it so often had. “Are you all right?” He held my hands, gazing sincerely into my eyes.
I nodded vaguely, overcome with emotions swirling inside me.
“Will you sail with me across the sea?”
I sighed. “All right—anything to get the Treelanders back to where they belong.”
“That boat of mine has come to some use, I guess.” He laughed, a deep barrel of a laugh that resonated in my soul.
A smile tugged at my lips. “Long live the king.”
He chuckled, wrapping an arm around me. “And maybe some day I can say to you, ‘Long live the queen’?”
I rolled my eyes, but I was relieved that he understood I was not ready for his proposal.
We would set the Treelanders free at long last. And no matter what happened, Gesu would always be with us. For whatever the season, night always came, with the stars shining brightly, declaring Gesu’s love amidst the blackest points in my life.