A Tale from the North: Part Two

Snow_Scene_at_Shipka_Pass_1

” . . . and the ice sprites hissed – ”

“They’re back!” Henrik interrupted, slipping out of his nursemaid’s grasp and darting over to the picture window. The royal carriage was visible as a gold-gilt smudge racing through the front gates. Henrik turned back to his nurse, his face alight with joy. “I’m going down to meet them!”

“Now hold on a moment, Henrik,” the nurse called, but by that time the prince was halfway to the stairs that led to the lower floor where the entry hall was situated.

The boy sprinted through the stony passage, barely slowing down as he descended the stairs. His short legs churned as fast as they could, his stockinged feet smacking against the cold stone floor. He had been scared, so very scared that something terrible had happened to his parents, but now they were back, and everything would be okay.

Any dreams Henrik had of everything ever being okay again were vanished as soon as he made it to the entry hall.

The tall oaken doors were open at uneven angles, as if someone had barged through them in a great hurry, and biting cold wind rushed into the hall, bringing flurries of snow with it. There was shouting from outside the door, and several guards charged in, followed by the king, who appeared to be rather damp and was carrying what seemed to be a dripping bundle of cloth. As the agitated party drew nearer to the passage in which Henrik stood, however, the boy noticed that the bundle was, in fact, a person, a person with dark hair and pale skin much like his own.

“Mummy!” he screamed, terrified. And it was indeed his mother, but not as he had ever seen her – the queen’s eyes were screwed tightly shut, her fair skin was far paler than usual and shadowed with a faint blue tinge. Her teeth were chattering uncontrollably.

“Mum!” Henrik tried to call out to her again, so that maybe she would open her eyes, maybe she would sit up and smile at him and tell him that it was all some sort of strange game. But his voice stuck in his throat and it came out as more of a squeak.

The party stormed past Henrik as if he wasn’t there, crushing the boy against the tapestries hung on the wall. By that point, the nursemaid had caught up with her charge, and after the monarchs and guards had passed, she took the boy’s hand and started to gently lead him away. “Come on, Henrik, let’s go back to the playroom.”

Henrik jerked his arm away from the woman, staring up at her indignantly, tears clouding his vision. “No! I’m going to see Mummy.”He turned away and started to follow the passage that the king and the guards had taken, but turned back after a few steps. His eyes were determined now, but when he spoke, his voice was far sadder than any six-year-old’s should be.

“I was right. They were in trouble, but you didn’t believe me, and I knew!”

Tears threatening to overflow and spill down his face, the prince spun around and ran to find his mother.

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