Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Tale of Fire and Frost

Once upon a time there were two brothers, wizards both, one named Fire and the other Frost. Lord Fire was hot tempered and flew across the land in the summer months on a fabulous bird of red and gold wings. Lord Frost was thoughtful but also could have a sharp temper, but he blew across the land on wings like a great seabird when the season was cold.

The brothers had little to do with each other most of the time. Fire and Frost do not mix well. But once, they both fell in love with the same woman, the Lady Autumn. She lived in a solitary castle by the sea, a place surrounded by groves of willow and by a garden of roses. At times, she would leave her garden, and walk along the seashore. When she did, first one brother, and then the next would take turns courting her.

She grew fond of both brothers. Lord Fire, with his with his hair like flame and his eyes like dark coals, his passion and quick temper sometimes made her laugh, but sometimes, he made her feel like he wanted to burn her up and devour her in his eagerness to make her his. This frightened her. Lord Frost, though, approached her gently, like the way the trees are dusted with a fine white frost that makes them beautiful just from the touch of winter. Lady Autumn found him fair to look at, with his hair of ice blue and his eyes gray as the sea. Somehow, even though he was a cold man to most, he made her feel safe and cherished and bit by bit, he won her heart. One day, when the moon was full, she told Frost of her love. He wrapped her in a mantle of white fur and snowflakes in his joy, and not long afterward, they became husband and wife.

But Lord Fire, hearing the news, burned with jealousy that his brother had won the beautiful Lady Autumn. He raged across the southlands, setting trees on fire with his heat and his lightning. Mountains smoldered in his anger.

As he stood there watching the world around him burn, a shadow fell across the moon - it was the dark witch people call Lady Strife, flying across the midnight with her children Pain and Woe and Grief. Nothing pleases her more when she sees misery and unhappiness in someone's heart than to make it worse. She loves to turn small griefs into great tragedies, and when she saw the flame in his heart, she knew she would have an easy time using him to bring even more misery to the world.

She landed next to him. "Grieve not, my son," she whispered. "I can give you your heart's delight." And she held up a small crystal globe. It glowed with an unnatural light and as he watched it, all he wanted to do was touch it. He started to reach up to take it from her, but she quickly wrapped it in a black cloth.

"Do not touch this with your own hand, my son," said the witch, "But let your lady love pick it up herself. Once she sees it, her soul will be trapped by it, and you will be able to do with it whatever you wish." She began to laugh, as she saw the delight grow in his heart as he planned how he would use it. Then like the wind, she was gone.

A few days later, Lord Frost received a message from his sister. An ogre from the mountains was attacking her in her own keep, and only he could stop it. With a heavy heart, he kissed his wife goodbye and told her to stay within her garden until he returned.

Little did he know that the message hadn't come from his sister, but it had been written by his brother. Lord Fire lurked around Lady Autumn's keep, hoping she would step out and give him a chance to use the globe Lady Strife had given her. But for six days, Lady Autumn kept to her own keep, and stayed within her own garden.

On the seventh day, though, the sun was bright and the wind blew from the sea, and Lady Autumn grew lonely for the sound of the water and so, not thinking of her husband's advice, she walked down to the beach where she had been courted by the two brothers. Lord Fire, hiding behind some rocks, rolled the cursed jewel to where Lady Autumn was sure to see it. It happened just as he planned, for as she neared it, its shining light caught her eye and, without thinking, she bent down and picked it up.

When she held it in her hand, she became transfixed by its shimmering light. She did not see Lord Fire approach her. She did not react as he closed her fingers over the jewel, nor wrap his arms around her. She was a prisoner of Lady Strife's magic.

With a shout of victory, he grabbed her and flew off with her on the back of his bird of fire, towards the mountains he made his home, where he laid her in his bed of shining coal. She was like a doll; he could do whatever he wanted to do with her. And he did.

Lord Frost arrived at his sister's keep to find out that it was not her who sent for him, and realized he had been tricked. He and his sister the Lady Gannet, who was just as magical as her two brothers, returned to Autumn's home by the sea, but found it empty. He searched high and low for her but the only traces he could find were the cinders where his brother had walked. Calling upon his sister who could fly on snowy white wings from the northlands to the southlands and could see all things the wind sees, he begged her to help him find out what had happened to his beloved.

For three days she flew across the north and south, east and west, questioning all the travelers on the wind to see if they could tell her anything of the Lady Autumn. In the north, she found a sea bird who told her of how Lady Autumn had walked along the seashore. In the east, she found a sparrow who told her of how Lady Autumn had picked up a jewel laying on the sand. In the West, she found a swan who told her of how Lord Fire had lifted up the Lady Autumn and flew off with him on his bird of red and gold wings.

Hearing this, the Lady Gannet flew back to her brother with all the news. Lord Frost's fury was frightening to see - wherever he strode, ice froze in his footsteps. Rocks cracked from the power of his breath. Animals who walked in front of him shivered, and if they did not move quickly, fell down, frozen. A gale of snow and sleet swirled around him. Unsheathing his mighty sword that glittered like ice in the morning light, he flew to the home of his brother.

Lord Fire's home was in a mountain that burned, sending up a column of smoke and belching red streams of molten rock. But this did not stop Lord Frost. He used frozen wind to calm the fires and ice to crack through the walls of his brother's home. A mighty battle followed, bolts of ice and tongues of flame flew out as the two brothers wrestled with each other, but at last, Lord Frost covered his brother with a ball of ice and broke through to the room where Lady Autumn lay unmoving on his brother's bed of coals, still holding the cursed jewel.

He knocked the jewel out of her hand, and the spell was broken. Lady Autumn, realizing where she was, screamed and ran into her husband's arms. Before he could pick her up and leave, Lord Fire burst the bonds his brother had put on him and ran in to stop them. Seeing the jewel on the ground, he cried out and picked up the jewel with his bare hands, forgetting Lady Strife's warning not to touch it with his bare hand.

They say the sound of his screaming as he realized what he had done was indescribable. The jewel did not turn him into a puppet, like it did with Lady Autumn. Instead, it began to feed hungrily on Lord Fire's magic, draining every bit of fire magic from him. As it pulled in the wizard's power, it began to glow with a fire of its own, consuming the body of the wizard and filling the room with an incredible heat.

Alas, it was too much for poor Lady Autumn, even sheltered by the cooling power of Lord Frost. She died in the arms of her lover, consumed by the heat of Lord Fire and his desire, like she feared when he was courting her. Lord Frost, gravely burned and wounded by the treachery of his brother, carried her body and laid it to rest near the sea that she loved, crying great tears that fell to earth like diamond snowflakes.

While he wept, a rose fell down on the shimmering snowflakes. He looked up and saw the shining outline of his love standing in front of him.

"Do not cry, beloved," she told him. "When the time is right, I will return to you. Keep this rose as my promise." And with that, she was gone.

Sick at heart, and damaged in body, Lord Frost took the rose and returned to his own home in the far north, beyond the steps of mortal man. He placed the blossom on the ground, and to his wonder, a tree grew out of it, tall with white leaves, like ice, yet filled with tiny pink buds, like rosebuds, waiting to bloom.

As he watched the tree grow, a sleep stole over him and he sank into the bosom of the earth his mother, to heal and to wait. One day he knows that the white tree will burst into bloom and Lady Autumn will return to him again, but until that time, he sleeps in an enchanted sleep, dreaming of what once was.

It is said that his sister Gannet in the form of a great white bird rides the winds and comes and visits him from time to time, singing soft lullabies.

As for what happened to the magic gem, it is said that Lady Strife, well-pleased with the havoc it wrought, but unable to touch it for the fire it contained, used a spell to send it into the waters of a bottomless lake. On moonless nights, it is said you can see it glowing in the depths of the water, and if you listen carefully, you can hear the ghost of Lord Fire weeping for what he can never have.

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