The Kingdom of Snow

1- In Which Optimism Soars

Lawson, eldest son of the King and Lord of the Kingdom of Rain, was standing in front of a mirror, studying his complacent expression, scrutinizing every bit of his face. His pale skin had drained of color even further over the past few weeks, and he determined he had lost too much weight. His green eyes were still bright, but they were sunken in, and there were dark circles under them. He pulled at some of his bangs, and then ran his hand through his black hair, turning his head to the side, deciding it had gotten too long.

With his head turned as it was, he could see the large scrapes down his neck that he sustained less than a day ago after falling through the floor. He and his siblings had faced Judge Hunt, a mutual enemy, and also the man who carved the fresh and deep scar in his forehead. It began above his left eye, tore through his eyebrow and then over the bridge of his nose, stopping short before it dug into his right eye. Although it was on his face and it had been weeks since it happened, this was truly the first time he saw it. When Hunt had cut his face, he had also Infected him with a demon called a Thar, which drastically limited his mobility and his vision. Ultimately, Hunt's goal was to control Lawson using this demon, but during the showdown yesterday, Hunt had been forced to remove it because a second one had been accidentally injected into him.

Lawson frowned at the sight of his own reflection. Even when he was partially blind, he knew he was not looking his best, though he hadn't realized it had all gotten so severe.

Elena peeked into the bathroom to see him leaning against the sink, standing only a few inches from the mirror. He was using the sink to support his weight since he couldn't stand up on his own too well. Hunt had also shot him in the thigh during the initial Infection, and since then he required assistance to even stand.

He saw Elena in the mirror, and his frown morphed almost instantaneously to a smile as he turned his head to see her.

"What are you doing up?" Elena asked quietly, not wanting to wake up anyone else.

Lawson faced the mirror again and sighed. "I haven't seen the scar yet," he said. "I was wondering if it looked as bad as it feels."

Elena leaned against the doorframe. "And?"

"It does," he concluded.

He eased away from the sink and hopped slightly, lowering himself down onto the edge of the bathtub.

"Did you come over here on your own?" Elena asked, looking around for an indication that someone else might have helped him. "Where's your cane?"

"No one brought it back," Lawson replied. "Though, I find it's easier to move now that the Thar is gone. The numbness has disappeared. Of course, that means it hurts more but… well, I can move better."

He rubbed his thigh, contemplating what had happened only a short while ago.

Elena moved away from the door and sat down next to him on the edge of the bathtub. He watched her move with some relief in his eyes, his smile bursting through simply because he was able to see things in detail again.

And perhaps it also made him happy to see her. After all, they had recently decided that they should make it official and date. Of course, they hadn't actually gone on a date yet, so Elena didn't know if she would consider him her boyfriend or anything, but he was kind of like that. Although he wanted to begin their relationship with marriage, Elena had managed to convince him to take it down a couple of notches at start in a more conventional way. She felt she could safely say that things felt steady between them—and comfortable.

"That was a really brave thing you did for Quentin," she told him. "I…well, that's it. You couldn't have known it would work out like it did."

Lawson's smile changed. It went from happy to thoughtful as he recalled his thoughts leading up to his decision to intercept the Thar Infection meant for his most hated younger brother, Quentin. Really, it didn't make sense at all for Lawson to behave the way he did. He had always despised Quentin the most of all his siblings.

Quentin was tall, strong, polite and unfortunately, the reason why Lawson did not inherit his father's Kingdom automatically. He was the Lord of the Kingdom of Wind and happily married to his pregnant wife. Quentin also resembled the King much closer than Lawson and demonstrated more know-how of ruling a Kingdom and fighting in a war. To a casual observer, it might seem as though Quentin would be the perfect choice for the next King.

Quentin had secrets, though. He had a very bad temper as a result of years of abuse from his slightly mad mother. He had strange tics, such as disliking physical contact and dangerous expectations on proper behavior. Despite the chance that he could be set off into something most of the Sons considered an alternate personality called "Bad Quentin", he hid it well. Until Elena had been told about it, she felt like she hardly noticed it. He appeared to the outside world like he was perfectly well-adjusted—just a little odd. And, honestly, none of the Sons could claim that they weren't at least a bit odd in their own ways.

Elena felt as though part of the reason why Lawson hated Quentin so much was because Lawson was able to recognize his younger brother's good qualities. He could see that Quentin was fit to be King and that's what horrified him most. Lawson felt he deserved to be King because he was the oldest, but maybe Quentin deserved to be King because…he deserved to be King. That knowledge was what drove Lawson the craziest.

This is why it was so unbelievable what Lawson had done. Judge Hunt planned to Infect each of the Sons based on the order in which he had taken advantage of each of their mothers over fifteen years ago. They didn't understand why this order was necessary, but he stuck religiously to it. So it was Quentin's turn, and Lawson had knowingly thrown himself in the way, something everyone had a hard time believing.

However, Quentin had recently done something great for Lawson. Hunt had taken Lawson's cousin, Emma, captive and threatened her life if Quentin did not come on board his own Kingdom to receive the Infection. Quentin agreed even though Lawson had never shown him a kindness in his life. Lawson had promised he would repay Quentin in some way.

And this is what Lawson reminded Elena of when she brought up his heroism. "I knew Quentin would have done it for me," Lawson admitted. "He is a good man." He crossed his hands and leaned his chin on them, then repeated, "He is a good man."

"You are too, Lawson," Elena reminded him. "You could have died. If Hunt hadn't pulled the Thars out of you, you would have died."

Lawson huffed a quiet laugh under his breath. "I didn't know that," he confessed. "What happened to Hunt afterwards?"

"He was pretty weak after he took the Thars out of you," Elena replied. "Sir Steinorth shot him in the knee. He could have killed him too, but Hunt said he'd come back as a demon. He'd be even stronger then, wouldn't he?"

"We need to get a blessed weapon," Lawson said.

"Sir Steinorth went to do that," Elena said.

Steinorth was the King's personal bodyguard. He was also a magic user, which turned out to be the single missing element from their group. With barely any difficulty, he disposed of Hunt's most powerful servant, a super strong creature which was able to take the form of a dead person and had singlehandedly bested all the rest of them in the past. Steinorth was a powerful ally—knowledgeable and unifying—but he was needed elsewhere.

Not only was he going to retrieve a blessed weapon, the only thing that could prevent Hunt from returning as a demon after death, but he was also going to fill the King in on what had been happening. For the most part, the King was kept ignorant of things that happened. In fact, the King was hardly in charge of anything at all (though no one knew this), as all of the important decisions were made by the Audience of Three. They were three individuals unknowingly elected by the King.

His bodyguard, Edward Steinorth, was one of them, meant to represent the King and convince the King that he came up with decisions reached by the Audience. The second was a woman named Geneva Carmen, an older woman who represented the people of the cities and kept their best interest in mind. And the third was the Captain of the Guard, Hayden.

Hayden was a very close friend of Elena's and a fabulous warrior. He wasn't nearly as skilled as Steinorth, but he was extremely adept at disposing of the Others and leading the Sons when he absolutely had to. He also bore a striking similarity to the King (and Quentin), so there had been rumors that he was an illegitimate son of the King's. But, with Hunt's help, Hayden had recently come to the conclusion that he was not an illegitimate son of the king—he was an illegitimate son of the former King. So, technically, the King's brother.

And maybe it wasn't mentioned before that Steinorth was an illegitimate son of Hunt's.

As demonstrated, the drama within this family was slightly out of control. And the King's seven wives haven't even been addressed.

More on that later, of course. In the meantime, Elena got to her feet and held out her hands to Lawson, offering to help him stand.

"I think we'll be in Parson pretty soon," Elena said. "Hayden's going to land us outside the city just in case the Others are on board. You know, to keep your family safe."

"It's going to be difficult to face my aunt after what happened to Emma," Lawson said, taking Elena by the hands and allowing her to pull him up.

He took a step, gradually leaning weight on his injured leg, taking a deep breath through his teeth, as he then limped to the other leg and relaxed a little. Elena watched him do this, and then stood next to him, allowing him to wrap his arm around her and use her like a crutch.

"I think she'll just be happy to see how much better you are from last time," Elena observed.

"I still can't walk."

"But it's in your face. And your attitude. You already seem that much better. You'll be back to your old self in no time."

"That's kind of you to say," said Lawson, "but try to be realistic."

"I am being realistic," Elena said as they slowly moved out of the bathroom and back towards the hospital room the rest of the group was sleeping in. "Look, overcoming a Thar Infection seemed impossible, didn't it? But you beat that."

"You hit your head pretty hard," Lawson said, brushing some of her hair aside to see the bandage Hayden and placed there.

"Hey, I'm being serious," said Elena, dodging his hand. "Keep walking. We're almost there."

"Over the past weeks, I've grown so accustomed to your voice," Lawson said. "I haven't been able to see much of you. Just a blurry array of colors. I had to distinguish between people based on their heights or what they were wearing or the color of their hair. It's strange now that I can look at you and I can see your face, and I can see every subtle change in your expression."

"Is that a good thing?"

"It's a very good thing," he said.

"Are you disappointed?" Elena asked. "I mean, I'm not that pretty, am I?"

"What makes you say that?"

"That's what you told me."

"Well, I also recall telling you that I had lied when I said that."

"Yeah, when you were half blind."

Lawson was too handsome for normal girls. Too handsome for pretty girls… and maybe even too handsome for beautiful girls. Physically, he was a very appealing man, even after losing so much weight and gaining a massive scar in the middle of his face. He stopped walking and stared down at her, challenging her to believe what she was saying.

Of course, Elena didn't necessarily care about whether or not he actually thought she was pretty. When he had first proposed, she thought he did it just so he could have a wife like Quentin because he thought he ought to have one. Then, she thought he was confused because she was off-limits, so he only wanted her because of that. But, over time, he expressed himself gradually (and with considerable strain) and was able to show to her that he had legitimate feelings for her. Those legitimate feelings might have been confusion or curiosity, but they felt real enough.

And Elena had never really been the type to be very interested in boys. She didn't pay that much attention to her appearance (if she did, maybe she could go from plain to pretty). Lawson was completely out of his element, suggesting dates and having to compete with his brothers that he seemed to become almost bumbling. In the past, he never had an issue with acquiring a "grown-up nighttime buddy" so the entire process of wooing a girl was foreign to him. Even as he fumbled to show her how hard he was trying, Elena sort of only found him adorable rather than feeling attracted to him. Yes, he was definitely attractive (that was not up for argument), though Elena could honestly say that she felt like only being friends with him.

She was trying. Definitely trying. He would be a nice boyfriend to have. And so, she tried to push their relationship further by allowing him to do things like this.

Like what? Like stop her in the hallway, turn her towards him and lean in to kiss her. She was more distracted by the amount of weight he had lean on her shoulders in order to keep himself from falling over, though she did return his kind gesture. For whatever reason, he wanted to make it work (perhaps confusion or curiosity), and she was willing to keep it casual enough to allow the chance that it might get less casual.

She drew away and reminded him that all his siblings (as well as several other people that were related to him in some way) were only a few feet away. If one of them woke up and got all awkward about them kissing in the hallway, then it would be…well, it'd just be awkward.

"They already know," Lawson reminded her.

"Yeah…but it was weird last time…" Elena said uneasily.

He sighed and looked away from her, glancing briefly at the floor, and then back to her. He nodded, barely suppressing the urge to roll his eyes.

He was trying so hard. Maybe she had to try even harder than him.

"Thanks," she said.

As she said it, she suddenly wasn't so sure if she legitimately worried about someone witnessing them, or if it was because she didn't want to kiss him anymore. That was ludicrous, though. Why wouldn't she want to kiss him?

She had deep, sincere love for him. Two people could not go through as much as they went through without emerging with an emotional bond. Though, at the moment, she could say with confidence that it was not a kind of love that involved desire, yearning or any form of sex.

His face made her hope that would change.

"Look, you're basically standing up on your own," she said quickly (hoping to change the subject in her own mind) once she noticed Lawson had leaned most of his weight off of her.

"Little by little," Lawson said to himself, taking note of his accomplishment, mostly because he hadn't even noticed. "It certainly helps that I don't feel so weak anymore."

"Do you think he'll come after you next?" Elena asked. "Or do you think he'll continue with his order?"

She wondered if maybe she should have said that with a little more tact. It was certainly a simple question that everyone was thinking about and would have to be addressed eventually, but the way she had sound it made it sound almost casual. Instead of backtracking, she only watched his face as he looked to the side, sorting it out in his own mind.

"I suppose," he began, "we need to be prepared for both possibilities." Then he nodded slightly and added, "Hunt might even be angry with me for what I've done."

"I think Hunt's madder at Quentin," Elena remarked. "You know, when he punched him like that and made him bleed?"

Lawson barely suppressed a laugh, glancing back at the door that led to where everyone was sleeping. "I have to admit, my respect for Quentin drastically increased after that. I wish I could have seen it better."

"Was that the really bad temper I've been hearing about?" Elena asked.

Lawson raised both his eyebrows and shook his head. "Maybe," he said. "Somewhat. Though, you'd know if you saw that."

"Everyone keeps saying that."

"Well, it's true. Though, I'm surprised Quentin kept his head after some of the things Hunt said to him. If there was ever a moment to lose one's temper, I would think that would be it. Despite his faults, Quentin is amazingly strong-willed. I often wonder how he became so sturdy and stubborn."

Elena knew why. But it was a secret.

So she only shrugged. Maybe she'd never have to see the full extent of Bad Quentin.

"Come on," said Lawson. "Let's get some sleep."

He wasn't holding onto her at all anymore. He took one cautious step quite slowly, closing his eyes and concentrating on keeping himself steady. Elena watched him and quietly advised, "Don't push yourself too much."

He reached out for her and she helped him take a few more steps. "I think you're right, Elena," he said confidently.

"About what?"

"I'll be back to my old self in no time."

Hi everyone! Thanks for waiting! If you have any questions for me or the story so far, you can leave it in a review. I hope to be more interactive and respond to reviews at the end of each chapter. Short of spoiling actual events in the story, I'll try to answer as truthfully and thoroughly as possible. I appreciate everyone who's reading and reviewing, and just wanted to make sure you all knew that.