So cold. The Queen’s teeth wouldn’t stop chattering, the rest of her was shivering. She had been taken ill just two days before the battle. She had insisted; fought to be let to lead the battle. If not to lead, at least to fight.
“With all due respect, Horton, I don’t need to be allowed to go. I am the Queen. I don’t need your permission,” she had said, standing her ground, weakly.
“Alright, let me appeal to the Queen then. Are you sure you want to go parade around your soldiers in this condition? For heaven’s sake, you are slowly getting closer to the floor as we speak!” the Elder argued.
That had shut her right up. What he said had made complete sense, and she couldn’t come up with a loophole for the life of her.
The battle had been a humongous victory for them. “One for the books,” Horton had claimed. Well, one book. It was a book he himself had started to put together about the war. There were no written works on the history of the war. He didn’t want to let it stay the same way from then on, too. So he had started writing down whatever important had happened that day, in the nights.
The battle was supposedly the shortest one Horton had ever seen; and he had lived through a lot. The Flames had only lost men in the hundreds. The Iron-makers had made good in their promise.
A rough coughing fit brought her back to her dismal situation. She had never felt this bad from a cold – as the healers would have it – ever before.
Has the flu that took my parents come to claim me too? she found herself thinking, repeatedly. She found herself thinking a lot of things. There was nothing else to do. Whoever came didn’t stay long, in fear of catching whatever she had. Death, glory and even love made their way into her head.
Right now, dying would be easier. She had been in bed for most of the two days. She spent some time on the balcony to get some sunslight.
Without her, the Flames hadn’t even moved from Bennet’s town. She had argued that she was okay and she could bare with transportation, but it was finally Jane who came up with the notion that it would just look like a power move to anyone from the outside, and convinced her that it was okay to stay.
The battle had looked beautiful. She had gotten through half of it when her remaining strength had given out. She was back in bed with word that the battle had been won, when she woke.
“Oh, look at you you poor thing,” Jane said, in a sing-song voice, coming in through the door.
“Yes, feast your eyes upon your mighty mighty Queen,” she joked, straining to smile.
“Guess what I heard,” Jane said, propping her up on her bed. “The Frosts are apparently already at the Mud River now. And that might not even be where they’re stopping!” Her voice was full of enthusiasm.
Mud River was two towns away. The land was covered with high grass there. The grass was partitioned by a long broad stretch of brown mud in the center, which resembled a flowing river. There were many theories about how that came to be. This feature gave the place its unusual name.
Another wave of cold spread through her body, chilling every single bone of hers.
“Ah, look at how you’re shaking. It’s hurting me,” Jane said.
“Do you want to jam something sizzling hot straight down your throat?” Pam asked.
“No… I don’t think so,” she answered, deliberately confused.
“Yeah, then whatever is hurting you ain’t this,” Pam told her, in between coughs. “Can you draw me a bath? Scalding hot, please,” Pam asked, pouting.
Jane nodded and scurried outside, closing the door behind her. Thud, and Pam was all alone, covered in darkness and silence again.
She was back in the thick of battle. She was losing arrows, one after another, without pause. She reached for another one. Her hand was grabbing at empty air. Her quiver had run out.
For the first time, she realized she was surrounded by wolves. All around her, everywhere she looked. They were fighting for her! They were ripping the Frosts to shreds. There air was full of snow, blowing with the wind.
She was level with the wolves now. She looked down to find herself on all fours, covered with fur. Her hand was a paw, with claws. She walked; then ran. The wind blew through her fur, it was wonderful. There was a man ahead, green eyes – just like her. She leaped and bit into his flesh.
“Pam! Pamela! My Queen!” Jane was standing over her, shaking her awake. “God, you wouldn’t wake. I was scared there, for a moment,” she said clutching her chest. Her breath came in little quick intervals.
“The-ba’s-redy?” Pam asked, her words muddled up by drowsiness. Jane had understood anyway, she was used to Pam’s drowsy speech. She was her bed-warmer, still. The room felt even colder, if that was even possible.
Jane helped her to the tub and went to stand by the door, as she always did. Undressing had become a difficult job now. Her hands ached when she tried to pull her top over her head. She couldn’t bend down. She finally managed the task, aided by Jane. Jane had heard her struggling, and come in and helped her.
The water didn’t seem to be scalding. Was I struggling with my clothes for that long? Or has my body’s condition just dampened its heat? It was also possible that Jane had done a lousy job, but she didn’t want to doubt Jane. She was the one who was taking care of her, and with great care too.
The water was definitely not hot when she was done. She dried herself, and went out wrapping herself in her towel. Horton was waiting for her, with a tired expression.
“Have you been waiting here, Elder? Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked Jane, still at her door.
“Oh I asked her not to disturb you, Pam. Don’t worry, I haven’t been waiting for long,” he said, putting on a comforting smile.
“Yes he has”, Jane whispered, leaning towards her, almost without a sound.
“I will wait outside, you need to get dressed. It’s nothing of great urgency,” he said and walked out, closing the door behind him.
She caught Jane, who started behind him, by the arm and got her to help her get dressed again.
“It’s just three quarrels, Pamela. You can rest, I am only here to tell you that I will be holding court,” he assured her.
“No, Elder! I can do it. What are the three about?” she was adamant about it this time.
“It’s another drunken fight, a rape and this one lad, that I can’t lie about. He actually has an interesting idea. But you still don’t look any better. What about showing your subjects that you are weak?” he asked, with the same tone he had, before.
“And not even being able to hold court, that’s a strong look, Elder?” she asked. She got him now! Aha! Just a little late. Damn it.
“Actually, bring them here,” she thought about the journey to the town hall and chose not to go that way.
The work was easy. The first two were crimes that had preexisting punishments. The ones who fought were separated. One was sent to the West and the other one, East.
The rapist had claimed that the glory from the battle had entitled him to some reward, and that when he was denied it, he took it. He was made a Pinkman. The Pinkmen were rapists, who were gelded. They were made to fight at the front lines of the battle.
And the last one, interesting indeed. Right from his name : Cricket Flame…