Chapter Six: Ice Hearts

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"I killed him," I cried, as Mandy washed my back. It was almost noon and I was bathing to rid myself of the sin I'd committed. But even I knew this bath would wash away nothing. I was scarred for life and I would always regret killing him.

How dare the Prince make me out to be the bad guy when he knew I didn't know what I was doing? Why would he make me fight a Firelander on my second day of training? He had no heart, and I hated his heartless existence.

I killed a man...

Another round of tears added to the dirty, cold tub water. It was time for me to get out, but I couldn't bring myself to move. I was full of sorrow.

"I just want to go home..." I sniffed, focusing on a distant memory of my mother singing lullabies to me as a child. I could almost hear the sweetness of her voice filling the steamy air.

"My lady, that is not an option, unfortunately," Mandy said, apologetically. Her hands raked through my damp hair, slightly soothing me. I closed my eyes and listened to her soft voice.

"So many nights I, too, had spent crying over my family and wishing things were different. But I'd learned over the years to remove my feelings from the equation as it only brought more sadness and pain. Crying about it won't change it. Sadly, this is a castle full of ice hearts."

"Tell me about your family," I said, wanting to momentarily forget my pain, even if it meant living vicariously through another.

"Well, my lady," she began. "I'm twenty years old and I've been at the castle since I was seven. My mother was a poor woman from the Western Tribe and she worked day and night with not much to show for it. She didn't want me to continue going days without a decent meal and so she sold me to the King to work in the castle, a place where I'd never go hungry.

"She didn't realize that I'd much rather starve my stomach than my heart. I needed her more than food." Mandy sighed. "But I understood her reasoning. She did what any good parent would do, she ensured her child's survival. Hmm...it's been thirteen years since I've last seen her face and not a day has passed where I haven't thought about her. Do you have a family?"

"Yes," I told her. "Well, just a mom. I don't remember my father. He supposedly died a hero a few years before the Great War. He was one of the bravest Icelanders known to man."
"I guess that's where you get your bravery from."

I scoffed. "I'm not brave. I'm a survivor. I'll do whatever it takes to stay afloat."

"It takes a brave woman to never give up," Mandy added. "You are brave, it will just take time for you to see it, but you will." She patted my back. "Up you go. Time to get you dressed and ready for your meeting with the king."

"Meeting?"

"Yes, he has requested to meet with you."

"Do you know why?" I asked.

"Not quite sure, but if you hurry, you'll soon find out."

With a sigh, I finally found the strength to move, and rose from my tub of despair.

The midday bells chimed through the castle, ringing in my ears as I stood in front of the King. We were alone in a beautiful room full of ice infused with blue stones to give it a bluish glow, an ice only a King could afford. I tried to keep my wandering eyes focused on the ground as the King watched me in silence. Finally, he spoke up.

"The news of this morning's event has made its way to my throne. A trainee killed one of my captives...and this trainee is you." I accidentally lifted my eyes to the King and regretted it. The way he stared at me made my skin crawl.

"Come closer, girl."

I obeyed with a grudge, but kept myself a reasonable distance away.

"My son states that you were not to kill him, only to hurt him. Do you understand the crime you've committed? You went against your Prince's orders."

"If I may speak, your Grace. I did not mean to kill the man. I had only acted in defense, without understanding the full extent of my gift. If I had been properly trained, I would've known what do to. I do not blame myself for his death. I blame your son."

"You are a very bold girl," the King stated. "You spoke out of turn and then accused your Prince of a great injustice. Who do you think you are?"

"An ignorant girl, Your Grace, one who is sorry for being that way. But I am also a girl who cloaks herself with justice, and I will not tolerate lies spewed on my name. The Prince made me fight, knowing I had no idea what I was doing. All responsibility should fall on the trainer, not the trainee."

"Thank you for pleading your case," the King stated, after minutes of quietness. "I will not punish you for what you've done. On the contrary, I quite admire your ability. Show me what you can do."

I nodded, although I wanted nothing more than to run from the room. I looked down at the hands that killed a man and raised them before me so that the palms of my hands ran parallel with the ceiling. With a bit of focus, I created a small ball of white fire that floated inches above my hands. I looked up to find the King leaning forward, mesmerized by the display.

"It's like a transparent force field containing fire. How did you wield it like that? Sebastian's is just plain white fire." I frowned, not understanding what he meant. He then shook his head. "Never the mind. Make it go away, I have other things I like to discuss." I obeyed and let the ball of white fire dissolve into thin air. "How old are you, my lady?"

"Eighteen."

"Ah." I noticed how his eyes brightened. "Such a young beauty, like the rarest, white flower on the Mountain of Ire. If I was a young man, I'd have married you the moment I laid my eyes on you. There is an innocence to you, and yet a power even more intriguing. Come closer." I obeyed, stopped s far enough distance away to still feel comfortable. "When you are near, I feel...static in the air. It delights me. Come closer."

I hesitated. There was only three steps that separated me from being within his reach. Prince Sebastian's words echoed throughout my mind.

I bet he'll have you as one of his many mistresses in no time.

I shivered.

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