An experiment in writing by Lady Vivien:
Editor's note: The original printing of this story used a wider variety of fonts than we are able to reproduce here.
The light has the quality of water to it, as it streams over the stone windowsill and across the wood-panelled floor. Glinting in a golden stream, accenting the colours - yellow, orange, red. She stands at the window - pale and beautiful in the way of a ll her family. Hair of auburn, like a fall of autumn leaves which tumble past her waist and hips. Her features, caught in the precision of that moment, are delicate, patrician: feathery eyebrows against the blue-white of fresh milk; high cheekbones carved from soft marble, a face made of pride and sharp edges. Altogether an unearthly vision, set against the russet silk of her dress, puffed and slashed in Elizabethan profusion, hung about with creamy pearls and edged in a gold spiral pattern, entwining in, and around, and about... One hand holds an antique silver brush, and the hair seems to sparkle in the morning sunlight. Besides the fair one, the rest of the room stands in shadow, with only the vague outlines of furnishing to be sensed. A princess caught in amber. Save her eyes - hazel, almost green, and flecked with the same golden light that pervades the scene - yet they hold in them all the sadness of a world. As if, even then, she knew what would become of them all.
Second born daughter of her house, she married first in her twelfth year, to the scion of a merchant family three years her senior. It was a good, though not spectacular match, and she lived in relative contentment, until the death of her husband in her sixteenth year. As a widow not yet of age, she was matched again, a year later, to a man far older than she, a man of power and importance many years her senior. A match which would prove her sorrow, her joy, and ultimately her undoing.
An imposing visage, to be placed over the mantle or in the centre of the hall. The eyes draw the attention first - the colour of steel, they bespeak tenacity, stamina, endurance. Indeed, everything about him seems to have the quality of metal - his only colour, grey. The diadem crown on his brow resembles nothing more than a shackle, and the hair beneath it, though retaining hints of raven black, is shot with streaks of white. He has aged before his time, and there is an immobility to his face - imposs ible to imagine that those craggy features had ever crinkled in laughter, or tears. The weight of duty still hangs about those shoulders, despite the padding that a surcote of mail might provide. He wears armour even with his finest garb - as if the black velvet might turn his chain to silver, the only ornament that a warrior will ever need. Behind him, the unrelieved stone of a curtain wall rises, cutting crenellated edges against a darkening sky. One hand rests upon a sword hilt - at rest, but never relaxed. An effigy, come to life - not to pardon or deliver, but to accuse.
He was the seventh of his lineage to stand as Clan leader, although he had no knowledge that he would do so in his youth. By the time of his ascendancy, he was still before his fortieth year, though he carried himself as a man well beyond it. He had fathered a son by his concubine, yet she had died of a stillborn birth, three years ago. Of legitimate heirs, he had none, and thus contracted to the High House of the shorelands for a bride - and was presented with a child widow, second born perhaps, but of the dominant line. A creature of gold and russet, she was beautiful and delicate - a sheltered flower of the shorelands, ill-fit for the spartan life of the hills. She was not pleasing to him, but she was obviously the best the House would offer him. So, he accepted.
The Lord of Summer, perhaps the man that his father might have been before age and duty had worked their will upon him. Hair of dark chestnut, contrasted against an engraved circlet of plain copper; ornament bespeaking both nobility and elegance. His features are hawklike, arrogant, stern even at rest. Yet the face is gentled by a smile that warms his eyes as well, turning the grey to green. He is a man at balance with his environment. The brown and tan of his tabard and trousers are those of the trees which surround him, his figure blends with the forest. Shafts of sunlight pierce the canopy above, and glitter upon the rich emerald of the foliage; bright as the gems that adorn the bridle where his hand rests. And even though his steed seems to sen se the serenity which cloaks him, still the waters run deep - there are no lights in his eyes. They remain dark green pools, reflecting a troubled soul. For the summer king too must give way to the fall.
Right line son of his clan, he had been born twenty-one years ago to a concubine. Yet as the only living son of his father, he was heir until the birth of a legitimate one. Thus he should have borne aught but enmity for the shorelands wife his father b rought to the hills at the turn of the year, as she already carried the child which would displace him in the succession. Instead, he became her ally, drawn to her distress and unhappiness. Bereft of the support of her house, city and childhood home, sh e was lost amidst the forest of strange faces and incomprehensible tongues. It was only this stepson, one five years her senior, who offered aid and succour, and he became her one true friend. Until then, the hills had nothing to offer her besides the m istrust of foreigners and the neglect of a husband. But it was he who taught her the beauty of the mountains - how to read the wind, find the rare snowflowers, and blend silently with the forest. How strong a bond the shared we may never know, but it was not even severed by the birth of her son, at the turn of Half-year.
He stands in half-shadow, an outline obscured, a face highlighted by reflection. Sconces at the corners of the room hold torches, which blaze in the darkened room, casting their reddish glow upon the hewn stone walls, to trace there elaborate patterns of darkness and light. The illumination, though it crawls across the richly carpeted floor, does not quite reach the centre of the room, where he stands before a long wooden table piled high with books and papers. It is upon these that his hand rests, sim ultaneously claiming and acknowledging his position. The hand is one of a scholar, inkstained but at the same time delicate, callused only by writing. The features have a delicacy to them as well, they are yet unmarked by deep emotion, although the seri ousness of duty is already visible in the light, almost golden eyes. Still, it has not yet begun to weigh upon his young straight shoulders, or leave its marks upon his dark hair. This it will in time, perhaps, as it has all the Clan Leaders - and this one has assumed his role at a particularly young age. He wears the traditional black, lined with gold, and beneath the slashes in his surcote, his tunic is a rich forest green; his dress is an echo of both father and half-brother, yet he appears as neither - taller than one and slighter than the other. There is the barest hint of a smile to his face, but it is a weary one, for he is a man who has already resigned himself to his destiny.
He was the legitimate heir, the long-awaited son of a dominant line. Cherished by his family, and fiercely loyal to them, he was nonetheless destined to play the part of the villain, as would be required by his sense of duty. Though more scholar than s oldier, he studied and trained diligently in all parts of a noble education, for the weight of responsibility had been impressed upon him at an early age. Meanwhile, his father aged quickly, harried by barbarian wars to the north, and court intrigues to the south. His mother came to accept her role as lady of the hills, supported always by the special bond she shared. In time, this would prove her undoing, for as the closeness of stepmother and stepson matured, it became the fiercely romantic and tragi c love that can neither be accepted nor denied. When at last the lovers were betrayed, it was he, the true son of the line, who was forced to lead in the accusation, even as it was the grieving father who pronounced sentence, condemning his wife, son and their infant daughter to exile in the far reaches of the north, beyond the shelter of the gentle hills which both had come to love. Regent and heir were left to walk the empty halls of the place, despairing yet determined; unyielding and unloved; alone, but adhering to the letter of the law. For in all things, a lord will do what he has to and will do what he must.
The last vision, the last of the line. She is Queen of Winter - silent, vengeful, and unearthly fair. Her features resemble those of her mother, save that they are ripped of their gentleness - it is as if she had been carved of the same ice and snow whic h cloaked her uplands home. Gone is the joy of the greening; for the summer king, her father, did not long survive the exile to the cold - like a tree of the hills, he withered and died in the cold of winter - and without the rock of his support, her mot her was but an empty shell. Raised to the harsh realities of uplands life, her nobility nonetheless shines through in every line - the aristocratic bearing, the eyes of adamantine, the arctic furs which frame her face as regally as ermine, contrasting ha ir that glows nearly blue in the dazzling whiteness. Her only ornament is a single pearl on a chain of silver, milky against the honey of her skin; her gown is simply cut, a draping creation of midnight blue, whose flowing lines belie the weight of the f abric, shield against the chill. Behind her the plain stretches in an almost featureless plain of white until it reaches the pale blue horizon. In an unconscious echo of her grandfather, her hand rests upon a silver swordhilt - for she is warrior as wel l as lady. And there remains one test for which she has waited all her life.
It was the turning of the year when she returned to the homeland she had left as a child, to the brother and court that she could not remember. She came on horseback, at the head of a barbarian army determined to ravage and destroy the peaceful hill-lan ds, even as her parents had been destroyed in their exile. On the battlefield where hill-land and moutainland clashed in battle, she came face to face with the uncle and half-brother who was the leader of the opposing army, the man that she had always bl amed for the banishment of her family, though he had only followed the tenets of tradition. For him, the battle was lost from the start, as he could not bring himself to inflict further harm upon one whom he had so greatly wronged in the past, the sister and niece that he had condemned to a life of hardship and sorrow. He refused to raise his sword save in defence; and she, the better warrior by far, soon cut through those defences. He died by her hand. She herself would die of wounds obtained during the fight (later named the battle of Winterfall). Thus did the last unbroken lineage of the hill-land clans reach its end.
And only the image remains...