What Would Donia Do?
The newest girl stands beside the hawthorn bush. She is beautiful, like all the others. Her hair is long and dark. If she were to smile she could cause the clearing around the house to light up.
Her name is Aislinn. She could be the one.
Rowen stands beside Donia, the Winter Girl before her, and they watch. They have both been here before, first when they picked up the Winter Queen's staff, and then when all the girls after them refused to. Rowen has always had Donna with her to help cushion the blow when the girl did not pick up the staff, but Donia spent her four decades carrying Winter's chill with only Sasha for company.
"Is this what you freely choose," Keenan asks Aislinn, "to risk Winter's chill?"
Many eyes are watching. Summer Girls drift into the clearing, seeming to Rowen to be not quite there, in their own little worlds, but still watching. Beria's hags are there, as are many, many other faeries from all three of the Courts, Winter, Summer and Dark, and even a few solitary fae. They watch, and they wait.
She really could be the one.
If the number of eyes watching were an indication of the outcome, Rowen hadn't had a snowball's chance in hell.
And she had known that.
"Is this what you freely choose, to risk Winter's chill?"
"Yes," she had said, "but not for you."
"You understand that if you are not the one-"
Rowen had interrupted the Summer King's speech.
"There will be another girl," she had said. "And another, and another, and another. None of them will accept, until one does. Then I will be free and she will take my place."
The sunlight pulsing under the Summer King's skin had dimmed. He had deviated from his script to protest, "She could be the one."
Rowen had smiled, the cruel, faerie smile she had been practicing in the mirror. "The game is rigged, Keenan. You have to know that."
The Summer King had swallowed and continued his speech.
"You understand that if you are not the one, you'll carry the Winter Queen's chill until the next mortal risks this? And you'll warn her not to trust me?"
Rowen had looked past the Summer King, at the Winter Girl who she had fallen in love with in the weeks before, who she thought, perhaps, loved her, and said, "I understand."
"If she refuses me, you will tell the next girl and the next, and not until one accepts will you be free of the cold."
"I understand. Let's get this over with."
She had bent down and reached under the hawthorn bush, closed her hand around the Winter Queen's staff. It was a plain thing, the staff, worn from the grasping of countless hands. All the girls before her who'd stood where she was, holding the staff and praying that they would be her, the one, the Summer Queen.
Rowen had held the staff. She didn't hope, she had just waited, afraid of what was to come.
Keenan must have hoped. Maybe, when she didn't fall to her knees for many heartbeats, he had even believed.
Then the ice had filled her veins, sharp and painfully cold. The summer air had filled with clouds of frost as she screamed and screamed and screamed.
Donia had stayed with her when Keenan left, but the cold hurt her because she was a Summer faerie now. Eventually she had left too, and Rowen was left only with Sasha, the Winter Girl's wolf, as she waited for the next girl to be chosen, so she could tell her that she must never love him, never trust him.
Aislinn, Ash, is holding the staff now. Rowen is holding her breath.
She could be the one.
Ash is holding the staff. She holds Keenan's gaze. If she isn't the one, he will have to watch as her beautiful eyes are filled with ice.
All of a sudden, Rowen gasps.
She isn't cold anymore.
A warm breeze blows through the clearing. The sunlight coming from the Summer King and Queen grows almost painful to look at. It would be painful for Rowen if she still held Winter's chill, just as it is for the Winter faeries present, but it isn't.
She is free.
Donia laughs with delight. "You're really her!"
Donia hugs Rowen and Rowen wants to kiss Donia, but that time is gone. She looks over Donia's shoulder at Beria's hags, who are grinning at Rowen despite the burning sunlight.
The Summer Court faeries are mad with joy. They are soon gone from the clearing, off to celebrate in a place of true Summer.
Donia holds Rowen's hand, hesitating as the hags close in on them. Rowen does what she knows Donia would do if she were in her place.
"Go," she says with a wavering smile, "I'll catch up."
They both know she will not catch up.
Donia goes back to Keenan and the Summer Court. The hags close in on Rowen and trap her arms in their icy grips. She shakes them off with a scowl.
"Let go. I can walk to my own death."
Beria is waiting for her. The hags give her back her staff and she caresses it with a cruel smile on her red lips.
Rowen looks up at the Winter Queen and says nothing.
"You failed," Beria repeats, punctuating her words with a blast of icy wind. "The Summer King is unbound."
"Tell me something I don't know," Rowen says, "or just kill me already."
Beria descends from her throne faerie fast and grabs Rowen's throat. Rowen doesn't fight as the Winter Queen presses her lips against her's and blows ice into her lungs.
She is cold again, but this time it is worse. She is cold after feeling the only warmth she has had for a decade.
It hurts, but the pain will end when she dies, she hopes. She wonders how cold it will be when she is a shade.
Then Beria stops. Rowen falls to her knees, breathing in shallow gasps as if every breath may be her last.
"I still have use for you. Bring me the Summer Queen's lover. Bring him to me and you have my oath I shall let you live. Fail and I will take my time to finish killing you."
Rowen looks up at the Winter Queen. What would Donia do now?
"I will not fail," she rasps.
Donia wouldn't do that.
The Summer Queen's lover is Seth. He lives in a train car, a metal train car. That is the first place that Rowen looks for him and it is lucky for her that he is there. With the ice weighing down her lungs she thinks that Beria expects for her to fail.
She knocks on the door of the train car, fully aware of the absence of faeries in the yard behind her. Summer faeries are off celebrating, and the others that would usually be here have likely been warned away by one of the regents.
Seth opens the door. He gives a small smile when he sees her, stretching his lip piercing in a way that looks painful. She's helped him and Ash before, when Ash was in the process of fighting off Keenan, so he's falling into the trap of thinking he can trust her.
"Rowen, hi. It worked, right? I mean, you're not blue anymore so…"
Rowen nods. "Yes, it worked. The queen wants to see you."
It's not a lie if she doesn't say which queen.
"Right now," she confirms. "I'm supposed to take you to her."
"Okay, just hang on one second."
Seth locks the door of the train behind him and falls into step beside her. When they have cleared the metal filled yard, Rowen holds her hand out to him.
"It will go faster if we run."
Seth nods and takes her hand.
"Don't let go," she tells him.
Then she runs, runs so fast that any mortals they pass don't even register that they're there. She runs all the way to the Winter Queen's door before she stops. Seth leans against the doorframe and catches his breath.
"Wow," he says. "That's something."
"It is," Rowen agrees.
She opens the door and pushes him inside quickly, before he can look around and wonder why the Summer Queen is in a place that is so obviously Winter.
Beria is waiting. She smiles.
"I brought him," Rowen says. "Take back your ice."
Beria laughs. "Oh, my dear girl, I only said I would let you live."
Rowen is sure that she and Seth both have identical looks of horror on their faces.
"You're her, aren't you?" Seth asks. "The Winter Queen."
Beria's lips look exactly like blood when she smiles. "It's nice to be recognized. Please, enjoy my hospitality."
When they are saved by Ash, Keenan and Donia, Rowen knows she doesn't deserve it.
She is hanging from the wall, pinned up by icicles piercing her arms. She coughs as the battle rages, expelling shards of ice from her lungs that she can feel cutting her throat but can't see as Beria has thickly layered ice over her open eyes. She can hear someone else coughing as she is, but she's not sure who it is.
When the storm of snow and ice battering her ends she knows that Beria is dead. Death is the only thing that could ever stop the Winter Queen. The room warms drastically and the ice holding Rowen up breaks away. She slides to the floor, still coughing. Her eyes fill with water that she rapidly blinks away.
It was Donia she heard coughing. Almost at the exact same time they cough up the last pieces of ice in their lungs while the Summer Queen sits with her king and her mortal at the foot of the Winter Queen's throne. Beria's shell lies not too far away.
The hags are talking in whispers. Rowen ignores them as she crawls to Donia's side. It would be nothing for the Summer King to kill them, but she doesn't think they will cause trouble anyway. They feared Beria as much as the rest of the Winter Court.
"Donia, are you alright?" Rowen asks hoarsely.
Donia wipes blood off her lips and nods.
The hags appear to have come to a decision. They turn to Donia and Rowen.
"My queens," one of the hags says, holding out the Winter Queen's staff.
"No," Keenan says. He pulls Ash close to him and glares at the hag.
The hag smiles, showing her many missing teeth, and tells him, "My queens, not your queen, Summer King. They survived the old one's ice, now they will take her place."
Donia and Rowen look at each other.
"Together?" Donia asks.
"Together," Rowen agrees.
They each grasp the staff with one hand, then together they press their mouths to Beria's cheeks and inhale. The cold of the Winter Queen fills each of them, for Beria had made herself so powerful that there is enough for each of them to have the full power of Winter if it were a balance to Summer, and it doesn't hurt. It isn't shards of ice cutting through them but a world of white, a frozen pond surrounded by an ice coated forest and fields blanketed in snow.
The world of white gives them the right words to say and they swirl from their lips like blowing snow.
"We are the Winter Queens. As those before us, we will carry the snow and ice."
Their wounds are healed, and they are stronger than they'd ever been.
The new Winter Queens stand, still holding the staff, their staff between them, and walk towards the Summer King and Queen and the Summer Queen's mortal.
"Three new queens all in the same day," Keenan comments sadly.
Donia smiles at him. "This is right, Keenan. Being the Winter Girl, even being a Summer faerie, never felt right. This does."
"Your court will grow stronger," Rowen promises. "We will work with you until we are balanced. But right now, Seth needs healing."
Ash holds Seth up as they stand. "You brought him here," she says to Rowen accusingly. Sunlight pulses under her skin.
"'s not her fault," Seth murmurs. "Beria would've killed her."
"Hush, you," Ash says fondly. Then she shivers.
"You had best leave our home," Donia advises. "This is not a place for Summer."
Ash and Keenan agree, and soon the two Winter Queens are alone in the destroyed living room with the hags and Beria's warming body.
Rowen looks down at the former Winter Queen. Somehow, dead, she looks much less scary.
"Take the shell away," she tells the hags. "Burry it somewhere…warm."
The hags cackle and comply.
Donia and Rowen look at each other.
"Well," Donia says.
"Well," Rowen says. "That was a thing."
Donia laughs. "You almost died, and that's all you have to say?"
"I don't have very much to say right now," Rowen tells her.
She gives their staff a tug and pulls Donia closer to her. "Maybe something to show?"
Donia smiles. "I think I would like that, my queen."
Rowen kisses her. Donia kisses her back.
Around them, snow falls.
Disclaimer: You'll notice that some of this story, specifically Keenan's "script", is directly from the Wicked Lovely books. This is the work of Melissa Marr, not Cynder2013.