WinterBy: Marissa Meyer
For Jesse, who turns every day into a happily ever after.
The young princess was as beautiful as daylight. She was more beautiful even than the queen herself.
Winter’s toes had become ice cubes. They were as cold as space. As cold as the dark side of Luna. As cold as—
“… security feeds captured him entering the AR-Central med-clinic’s sublevels at 23:00 U.T.C.…”
Thaumaturge Aimery Park spoke with a serene, measured cadence, like a ballad. It was easy to lose track of what he was saying, easy to let all the words blur and conjoin. Winter curled her toes inside her thin-soled shoes, afraid that if they got any colder before this trial was over, they would snap off.
“… was attempting to interfere with one of the shells currently stored…”
Snap off. One by one.
“… records indicate the shell child is the accused’s son, taken on 29 July of last year. He is now fifteen months old.”
Winter hid her hands in the folds of her gown. They were shaking again. She was always shaking these days. She squeezed her fingers to hold them still and pressed the bottoms of her feet into the hard floor. She struggled to bring the throne room into focus before it dissolved.
The throne room, in the central tower of the palace, had the most striking view in the city. From her seat, Winter could see Artemisia Lake mirroring the white palace and the city reaching for the edge of the enormous clear dome that sheltered them from the outside elements—or lack thereof. The throne room itself extended past the walls of the tower, so that when one passed beyond the edge of the mosaic floor, they found themselves on a ledge of clear glass. Like standing on air, about to plummet into the depths of the crater lake.
To Winter’s left she could make out the edges of her stepmother’s fingernails as they dug into the arm of her throne, an imposing seat carved from white stone. Normally her stepmother was calm during these proceedings and would listen to the trials without a hint of emotion. Winter was used to seeing Levana’s fingertips stroking the polished stone, not throttling it. But tension was high since Levana and her entourage had returned from Earth, and her stepmother had flown into even more rages than usual these past months.
Ever since that runaway Lunar—that cyborg—had escaped from her Earthen prison.
Ever since war had begun between Earth and Luna.
Ever since the queen’s betrothed had been kidnapped, and Levana’s chance to be crowned empress had been stolen from her.
The blue planet hung above the horizon, cut clean in half. Luna was a little more than halfway through the long night, and the city of Artemisia glowed with pale blue lampposts and glowing crystal windows, their reflections dancing across the lake’s surface.
Winter missed the sun and its warmth. Their artificial days were never the same.
“How did he know about the shells?” Queen Levana asked. “Why did he not believe his son to have been killed at birth?”
Seated around the room in four tiered rows were the families. The queen’s court. The nobles of Luna, granted favor with Her Majesty for their generations of loyalty, their extraordinary talents with the Lunar gift, or pure luck at having been born a citizen of the great city of Artemisia.
Then there was the man on his knees beside Thaumaturge Park. He had not been born lucky.
His hands were together, pleading. Winter wished she could tell him it wouldn’t matter. All his begging would be for nothing. She thought there would be comfort in knowing there was nothing you could do to avoid death. Those who came before the queen having already accepted their fate seemed to have an easier time of it.
She looked down at her own hands, still clawed around her gauzy white skirt. Her fingers had been bitten with frost. It was sort of pretty. Glistening and shimmering and cold, so very cold …