Chapter Twenty-Six

Mornings come bright and warm, and horridly early, which is precisely why Vetur loathes them so; give him the cold and candid dark, give him clouds and storms and reasons to stay tucked into bed. Unfortunately, the Summer-lands do not agree with him—too much warmth under the covers, and too much sunlight outside of them.

With a groan, Vetur raises his head from the pillow and stares blearily ahead at the sienna-coloured wall behind the bed. To this day it's the only colour Sumar and he agree on for their bedroom, and as it is Vetur's favourite shade of brown, he is quite pleased with this achievement.

Next to him, Sumar is already awake; he gives their clasped hands a squeeze, offers a fond smile when Vetur blinks his way. Despite the fog still firmly lodged in his head, Vetur can't do anything else but smile in return.

And when Sumar softly says, "Good morning," Vetur agrees with a brief but heartfelt kiss.

He releases Sumar's hand in favour of draping comfortably over his chest. Sumar snorts and gently traces his finger up and down Vetur's spine; it sends shivers through Vetur's entire body. It's truly unfortunate that the Summer-lands have the absolute worst weather for cuddling, certainly now, at the peak of the warmer months.

"As much as I love this," Vetur murmurs, and he can feel the knowing tilt to Sumar's smile, "It's really warm and I fear I might melt at any moment."

"Oh no," says Sumar, "We can't have that, can we?"

Several minutes pass by before they deign to move, reluctant despite that Vetur has a dire need to fan himself. This is the first time in many years that they wake up like this, together in the same bed. The night before had also been a first in—Vetur doesn't even want to think how long it's been.

He knows that, despite the heat, he glows contentedly. It's happened more often these days, and Vetur catches a pleased smile on Sumar's lips often.

Fed up at being warm and the potential that he'll drown in sweat, Vetur kicks away the thin covers and gracelessly slides from the bed. Sumar follows with smoother motions. The bathroom is blessedly close by, but they leave the bath for what it is and go for a cool shower instead.

When they return to the bedroom, dry and dressed, they tidy up their discarded clothes from yesterday, fold and stack them neatly upon others in the wicker basket set apart to wash. The bed is done with a wave of Sumar's hand.

Vetur looks about for Sigvei, and finds she lies on a chair on the balcony, happily soaks up the warmth of the sun.

"Sometimes I don't understand how she's Winter-born," Vetur remarks as he watches her. He shakes his head.

"And you married me," Sumar says, "Summer incarnate, in case you've forgotten."

"Hmm, I haven't." He leaves a kiss on Sumar's cheek. "I do love you dearly—no other way I'd suffer this heat." In truth, of course—and Vetur sees in Sumar's small, somewhat lovestruck, smile that he is aware; in truth, Vetur adores Sams Sibâh. It's a picturesque little island off the southern coast and therefore not as hot as the mainland.

Vetur returns his attention to Sigvei, approaches her with caution; she had been distraught the evening before, and Vetur had nearly had to put her under with a spell before he could convince her that Sumar was not hurting him, quite the contrary, in fact. Today she seems calm, and actually happy to see him. She contentedly informs him he smells nice and does not look strange.

He scoops her up with his hands; she is too big to be carried on his palms, flails a bit, but regains her balance swiftly and runs up his right arm until she reaches his shoulder. Once Vetur is sure she will not inadvertently fall off, he takes Sumar's hand, and they leave their bedroom.

As they reach the bottom of the stairs, a rather alarmingly large clowder of cats rush at them, greet them noisily, demand attention. "As if they hadn't seen you just yesterday," Vetur says. He looks down when Faiza, a tricolour cat, rubs her face against his leg. "I know, I know. Yesterday was an age away."

"We could herd them towards the lagoon, later," Sumar suggests as he bends down to pet his hoard. He grins up at Vetur, says, "You'll cool off just nicely, no?"

Probably not with you nearby, Vetur thinks, smiling back. But it'd be nice to go for a swim together nonetheless; yesterday's venture out to the shore had been lovely.

Somehow, they manage to make it to the sitting room, which is initially surprisingly devoid of cats, though not unoccupied. Baud sits there with Lavi at her feet. Vetur opens his mouth to greet them, but Sumar squeezes his hand. Vetur takes in the room once more.

The cushions have been sorted to match with the sofa's. Most decorations have undergone the same treatment. Baud stares blankly at the display of coloured sand in an ornate jar that sits on the table in front of her, and absently curls one of her ringlets around her fingers as she sways gently from side-to-side. It's a tactic she often uses when something has rattled her badly.

Her sewing kit is near, untouched—a trunk full of needles and pins, an entire far more fabric and thread than Vetur would ever know what to begin with. She must not be interested in sewing today.

They approach her, sit at her sides. Baud closes her eyes and leans into Sumar, who wraps an arm around her waist and hums.

"Good morning, Bo," Vetur says. Somehow, his voice has always been able to calm Baud down considerably; he'd always thought that to be something specific to Sumar. "Has something happened?"

After a few moments, Baud sighs. She frowns, mutters, "They wake. They haunt the Princeling's dreams."

Bemused, Vetur asks, "Who's they?"

And suddenly her eyes go full-black, and Vetur knows. She lists them anyway, "Dagmær. Arnthora. Egill. Ámóða. Galinn. Dýrvér. Blængr. Eitri. They seek blood. They call. They break dreams."

Vetur's breath hitches. Breaking dreams—butthe spell requires something of the victim, and of course Ilhan had bled upon Dagmær's tomb, if not on the casket itself. Vetur shakes his head, denies what he already knows is true. His spells would not fall simply with a drop of blood, even if it were from a descendent of his, as is the case. For the blood to do anything at all, a Sorcerer would need to cast a spell, know the right counter-words, have a power to match Gods, an unimaginable patience—

Blængr escaped the lake. Baud had said so herself, then, and Iskander had had nightmares of a blue-skinned creature. If Blængr had risen from the prison, anyone could have gone and begun the spell in the time between Ilhan bleeding and Vetur sealing the lake. They could have begun it and returned to the water, patient in the knowledge that in ten years' time the prison would break apart and the wards would fall.

Sumar looks at him over Baud's platinum curls. I'll go with you, his expression says, but Vetur shakes his head, says, "I need to go."

He does not wait for a response. Vetur materialises at the edge of Kyrrvatn, with his back to the gates of Sværtjald. Sigvei climbs out of the inner pocket of his jacket and climbs unto his shoulder to watch the scenery with him. The lake is still as silent as its name suggests, but the thick layer of ice that once served as its surface is now broken into several big and small and even smaller pieces. They float to and fro as Vetur watches, speechless.

They couldn't have.

He whirls around, runs to the old, ruined plaza of Eldrtjald, and hurries down into the vaults of the Temple. Sigvei's tiny claws dig into Vetur's shoulder, reassuring in a way that he would not have imagined ages ago.

Nothing appears to have changed but the slight shift in the way the snow has settled on the tjald. The echoes of his footsteps resound like loud drums, alerting the dragons to his presence as he enters their sanctuary. The small, week-old infants pool around his feet, curious. He pays little attention to them other than not to squash their wings.

At the heart of the vault, the coffin of ice is broken and empty.

Vetur's heart pounds in his chest, and his hand trembles as he approaches the mound of ice that's still left, reaches out to touch it. She's gone, in the same way that Kyrrvatn is empty of its prisoners. His breathing becomes shallow, and he sinks to his knees, his entire body trembles, and he suddenly understands the meaning of cold, cold fear.

A movement catches his eye, but when he looks up, it's not to see a dragon. His own face stares back at him, its pallor the exact shade of snow, as is the curling hair hanging loosely to the nape of his neck. The eyes, however, are utterly black, and that smug grin reveals rows of sharp teeth.

"No," Vetur whispers flatly. He waves the illusion away, not frightened by it in the least. "You know better than to try that on me."

He receives no response, but that hardly comes as a surprise – with their new-found freedom, they wouldn't have lingered. Precious little remains of the ward Vetur had cast more than a century ago; it hadn't been broken so much as carefully eroded. It would have taken precision, and time…

I have to find them. When he casts the spell to discern their location, it curves back to him and gives absolutely nothing. He tries again, certain that it will work, but it curves, returns, falls flat.

Vetur rises with a furious roar, and appears before the Heads, breathing hard. "Where are they?" He bellows. His voice bounces off the walls, his words repeating. Still perched on his shoulder, Sigvei hisses at The Heads. Vetur takes a deep breath before he asks, "Why can't I locate them?"

They say nothing to him, but it matters little, he answers that question for himself, in a mutter: "Galinn."

A crafty genius, that one; he may never have set foot within the Autumn-lands, but given his wit and his patience, all those tomes of magical studies, Vetur does not doubt that Galinn could have mastered some fraction of abjuration.

It could take hours to find them, he thinks, perhaps days. They're smart; they'll not stay in one place, and likely will have split up. He cannot feel them, and therefore cannot cut away their magic as he should, but then, had he not done just that before he had first locked them away? Devious and conniving, Dagmær had still managed to do as she pleased, and the others had followed her lead.

The Heads finally speak, taunting. "What are they up to, Father-God-King?"

"What if you wait?"

"Perhaps if you are patient, you will see."

Vetur laughs derisively. "Ah, no. No. I cannot remain idle as they roam about." Even the wards between the far north and the rest of the Winter-lands have fallen. "They are terrorising Ilhan," Ilhan is not the only one with that blood, he realises as lead seems to drop into his stomach, "Perhaps Iordana, too. I need to know why."

"Watch him, then."

"Watch him closely."

"Watch him."

If Vetur could only strangle them, but they have no neck to even bother with. They've known death too, have walked to it and let it embrace them. They will not fear the God of Winter. Vetur has never wanted his Sight back more than in this moment, but it's been welded so firmly to The Heads, it would take drastic measures indeed to remove it from them.

But the option they present him has him walk a perilous road. He does not want to toy with Ilhan's life. "They could kill him."

All six hazel eyes fix on him, an eerie sight. Then, The Heads giggle, and with the echoes it becomes a cacophony of mocking voices. They quiet down abruptly, but the sound remains for longer, ringing in Vetur's ears.

"Protect him, then."

"Let no harm befall him."

"Protect him."

They continue whispering amongst themselves, paying no mind to Vetur as he glares at them. He grinds his teeth together and leaves Hvítrfjall. Once The Heads decide they want to be obtuse and keep secrets, there's no way for Vetur to persuade them to see reason.

He goes to Skynhamarr with a frail, dying hope in his heart, casts spell after spell to locate them, but finds they simply do not appear to his senses. No one comes to greet him as he sinks to the floor of the foyer. Skynhamarr is empty.

Vetur would have thought they would come to him, resentful and aching for retribution; these are things he would have given to them. He cannot die by their hand, and he refuses to end their existence – love, perhaps still a folly. Vetur would not forgive himself if it came to that, much in the same way he cannot forgive himself all the times they transgress, or the times he may use them as a means to whatever goal he seeks.

Sigvei hops down from his shoulder and unto his lap, where she grows again to her actual size. It's a trick he'd shared with her when she had grown too large to remain in his pocket, as well as her favourite in the arsenal of tricks he has imparted upon her. She nudges his face with her snout, projects that she worries about him.

Vetur hardly knows where to begin with an explanation, so he doesn't. he gives her a rueful smile and caresses her silver scales; she grows more beautiful and magnificent, and soon will be taller than he, taller even than Sumar, until she is grandly enormous. She looks forward to it with as much glee as she desires to be small and hide in Vetur's pocket.

There are far worse things than you, Vetur tells her.

I'm return! Probably not very consistently, but here's a chapter.

Death of Kings has been, as of early this month, officially finished (I had to rewrite some chapters). Some notable changes: 1) as mentioned before, Haust is bigender and thus spends some chapters as a woman; 2) Leif has now been renamed Leiandros. He would be Leandros but the i stays for sentiment.

I hope whomever reads this enjoys and the chapters to come!