Disclaimer: Not mine. Originally written for a prompt on the hetalia kink meme; I'm having a lot of fun with this! The concept is mine, and I welcome fanart etc based on it. If you want to play in this universe, just ask me first, okay? One more thing; expect sporadic updates. I mean, really. I intent to finish this, but it'll take me a long, long time.
Winter's Heart: Prologue
Once upon a time…
No. Do not say that.
To say things happen only once is the worst kind of stupidity. The world, after all, is a very large place. Things tend to be plural, rather then singular; humanity, for example, is the same despite the differences that separate the different tribes of men. There is more then one ocean – it changes with every telling. There is an infinity of beaches, an eternity of sands, some of which are scattered across the night skies, shining in silent promise of the seas yet unclaimed.
There is always more then one of a thing. Always.
There are – some exceptions to the rule. Mischances. Mishaps. Not mistakes, though, never a mistake – there are no accidents. Suffice to say, a thing may be thought singular though it is, in truth, inherently plural. There is a single sun – but what is the sun? The people of the East claim that is the eye of God, ever watchful from its place in the heavens. The tribes of the South say that it is a boat, caught sailing the waves of the sky, its cargo a radiance beyond all comprehension. Those of the West say that it is Life itself, the spark that quickens every human breast, the last spark of the Fire that brought the universe into being.
The people of the North are silent. They keep their own counsel.
There is only one sky, but it means something different to each who stares upward, enraptured by perfect, endless blue. There is only one earth, though it is twisted into fantastical forms, varying in a series of arrangements beyond human ken.
There is only one Winter, though its breath is felt by all.
There is always more then one of a thing. Except, perhaps, for the snow.
The snow is all of a kind, both singular and plural. It is the winter's child, kin to the frost that walks beside us at night, leaving its mark on windowpanes and human souls. It is cold and ice and the soft mourning of the world, descending to the land in a blanket of perfect, unblemished serenity that wraps the word in a soft haze of mingled terror and reverence. Snow is unmatched in its ferocity, for its temper is not that of the flame – it is slow to rouse and slothful, but its bite unmakes even the most ferocious of men. It falls on all lands, even the lands of the South, where the sun is hot and wrathful, for ice is known to lurk in the hearts of man. Where ice goes, the Winter follows.
There is always more then one of a thing. Yet each snowflake is different, distinct from a thousand thousand of its kind.
Let us begin at the beginning.
Once upon a time…
This is how it begins.
Arthur Kirkland, King of the East and Lord of the Western Lands, shook on the cold ground, desperately trying to stifle the whimper rising in his throat. Eyes as green as spring leaves filled with a hopeless desperation. "Please…" The blonde was sobbing, tears sliding down his cheeks as he fell to his knees, robes flapping about him like shadows of broken wings as he bowed his head. "Please, please don't…" He bent forward, hands sliding protectively around the precious bundle cradled in his arms.
Shadows loomed above him, dark figures whose outlines were one with the night. A voice came from the center of the miasma, hard and implacable. "Give us what is due." Arms stretched out, cured black leather bracers accenting the dark tattoos scrawled across corded muscles. "Give us what is ours." The shadow-man hissed, towering across the smaller man.
"I – " Arthur's voice caught in his throat as he stared upward, mesmerized. The figure's face was obscured by night and shadows, his only distinguishable feature piercing black eyes boring into panicked green. "I – No! " He scrambled backwards. "I've changed my mind!" The smaller man blurted, arms tightening around the warm lump in his arms. "I – I'll fight you! I won't – " His eyes were mad with fear and desperation. "I'm not going to let him go!"
"Then you will die." The shadow-man's words were resolute. "You and every one of your people." He hissed, the sound like an icy wind as his black cloak creaked in the night breeze. "If you do not give us what we demand, we shall sweep across your kingdom like a black sea. We will make a storm across your lands." A smile quirked the corner of his mouth, cruel and savage. "We will slaughter your menfolk We will kill- " and here he leaned closer, savoring the words "- every single one of your 'precious' children. We will take your women as our own; they shall be less then the lowest among us, and we will beget a new race upon this sunbright land." The man spat to the side, disgust suffusing his movements. Two gloved hands clamped around Arthur's face, tilting his head up and forcing him to stare into fanatic black eyes. "And then we will simply take him anyway. Your precious, sunbright prince…" The dark man crooned, pale malevolence writ large in every line of his frame.
Strong hands released Arthur's face as the shadow-man stepped backwards, waiting. The monarch stared up for another long moment, caught by those depthless obsidean eyes before swallowing hard, his face twisting in surrender.
Arthur looked down at the bundle in his arms, pulling backwards slightly and peeling back a thin layer of fabric. One trembling hand reached out, infinitely gentle as he smoothed back a wisp of soft blonde hair. The monarch let his fingers trail downward, tracing a downy cheek still soft with baby fat. Arthur's face split with unendurable pain as the bundle in his arm shifted, one chubby fist coming up to clumsily rub closed eyelids. Blue eyes – as blue as the midsummer sky – flickered open for a moment; the child– barely more then a toddler, really – yawned, smiling up at his father with perfect trust before snuggling even deeper into his arms.
Arthur held him close for a moment more, arms wrapping around the precious bundle and breathing in the soft, powdery baby-scent of his son. The king stared at the ground. "Take him." He whispered softly, self-loathing suffusing the words as he slowly, reluctantly, relaxed his hold on the child.
There was a rush of air, a whirl of motion, and the blanketed bundle was torn from his arms. The king scrambled to his feet, tear-streaked face split with sudden bleak desperation as he lunged forward, a howl of denial rising on his lips – his grasping fingers clutched only at shadows and the night wind. The blonde's head turned frantically from side to side, eyes flickering as he searched for a hint of motion, a fragment of a trail… The monarch collapsed, fingers scrabbling at the cold ground as he howled, curling into a ball and his body shuddering with unsuppressed tears of guilt and pain.
The last thing Arthur heard before darkness claimed him was the terrified wail of a child subsumed beneath soft laughter.