DESCRIPTION – Wynter Atrialan, the Winter King, once lived in peace with his southern, Summerlander neighbours, but when Falcon, the prince of Summerlea, stole Wynter’s bride and murdered his young brother, Wynter vows vengeance. Calling upon a dangerous Wintercraig magic called the Ice Heart, he gathers his armies and marches against Summerlea, crushing their armies and spreading icy winter in his wake.
After three long, bitter years of battle, Summerlea is defeated and Wynter comes to the heart of the kingdom to issue his terms for their surrender. The prince of Summerlea stole Wynter’s bride and slew Wynter’s Heir. He wants the loss replaced. The Ice Heart is consuming him. Wynter hopes holding his own child in his arms will rekindle the warmth of love and melt the Ice Heart before he becomes the monster of Wintercraig legend, the Ice King.
The Summer King has three very precious daughters whom he loves dearly. Wynter will take one of them to wife. She will have one year to provide him with an Heir. If she fails, he will turn her out in the ice and snow of the mountains and claim another princess for his wife. And so it will continue until Wynter has his Heir or the Summer King is out of daughters. All the while, Wynter will enjoy the vengeance of knowing the Summer King will suffer each day without his beloved daughter(s), as Wynter suffers each day without his own beloved brother.
The plan is perfect—except for one small detail. The Summer King has a fourth daughter. One of which he is not so fond.
Blamed as a child for the death of her beloved mother, Khamsin Coruscate, the forgotten princess of Summerlea, has spent her life hidden from the world like an embarrassing secret. Dressed in cast-off gowns and left to her own devices, with only the determination of her loyal nursemaid to ensure she receives the education befitting an Heir to the Summer Throne, Khamsin haunts the abandoned towers and gardens of Summerlea’s royal palace, close to her beloved late mother’s treasures, and waits for the day her father will recognize her as a Princess of the Rose. But though she dreams of the valour and sacrifices of ancient Summerlea heroes and pines for paternal love that will never come, Khamsin is no sweet, gentle, helpless princess-in-a-tower. She is a fiercely passionate creature with a volatile, rebellious temper that is often as reckless and destructive as the dangerous forces of her weathergift, the power of storms.
Together will their stormy personalities be able to meld or will their powers destroy not only their love but the whole world?
Despite being a fan of fantasy literature as long as I can remember, even before that fateful day when I gasp ran out of things to read and picked up my Grandmother’s copy of Danielle Steele’s Changes unknowingly altering my reading choices ever after, it has been years since I picked up anything even resembling high fantasy. Unconsciously it seemed that I had been avoiding it for reasons unknown, instead reading paranormal romance and the odd urban fantasy/police procedural instead.
When the opportunity to read and review The Winter King came up, I couldn’t resist it’s allure. It’s fairy tale type synopsis with an undercurrent of enemies to lovers was irresistible. However, as I read I tried to figure out why exactly I had strayed from a genre that had always been so very appealing and I realized that quite simply I was afraid of getting lost in Middle Earth or more accurately I didn’t have time. High fantasy is not an endeavour one embarks upon lightly, the worlds are exquisitely detailed and to fully embrace the story I would almost compare it to learning a foreign language.
Khamsin is literally a princess in a tower exiled there by her father after her mother’s death. She is distraught when the Winter King defiles her mother’s chambers with his presence so beginning a courtship between two tempestuous adversaries. Wynter’s display of control of weather awes and temporarily intimidates Khamsin however she soon rallies when she learns her fate.
If like me you have been giving fantasy a wide berth I would encourage you to return with The Winter King. C.L. Wilson’s world is no less detailed than others but her skilfully deceptive simplistic seeming writing style beguiles the reader until they are fully entrenched in this fantastic story of the weathermages of her making, you won’t regret it.
About the Author:
C. L. WILSON grew up camping and water-skiing across America, from Cherry Creek reservoir in Denver, CO, to Lake Gaston on the border of Virginia and North Carolina, to Georgia’s Lake Lanier and Lake Allatoona. When she wasn’t water-skiing and camping on family vacations, you could usually find her with a book in one hand and a sketch pad in the other—either reading, writing stories, or
drawing. Sometime around the ninth grade, she decided she was better at drawing her pictures with words than paints and charcoals, and she set aside her sketchpad to focus entirely on writing.
Wilson is active in Tampa Area Romance Authors (TARA), her local chapter of Romance Writers of America. When not engaged in writerly pursuits, she enjoys golfing, swimming, reading, playing video games with her children, and spending time with her friends and family. She is also an avid collector (her husband says pack rat!), and she’s the proud owner of an extensive collection of Dept. 56 Dickens and North Pole villages, unicorns, Lladro figurines, and mint condition comic books.
Wilson currently resides with her husband, their three wonderful children, and their little black cat, Oreo, in a secluded ranch community less than thirty miles away from the crystalline waters and sugar-sand beaches of Anna Maria Island and Siesta Key on Florida’s gulf coast.
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Prologue ~ Scarlet on Snow
Vera Sola, Summerlea
“Do you have to go?” Seventeen year old Khamsin Coruscate clung to her beloved brother’s hand as if by her grip alone she could anchor him fast and keep him from leaving.
“You know I do. Our treaties with the Winter King are very important.”
“But you’ll be home soon?” Whenever he was gone, the ancient walls of the royal palace of Summerlea that had been her home and her prison since birth seemed somehow more confining, more restrictive.
“Not this time, little sister.” Falcon shook his head. A strand of black hair that had pulled free of the queue at the back of his neck brushed against the soft, dark skin of his cheek. “It will take weeks to negotiate the treaties.”
Khamsin scowled, and the wind began to gust, sending Kham’s habitually untamed hair whipping into her mouth and eyes. “Why does he have to send you? Why can’t his ambassador negotiate the treaty? He’s sending you away because of me, isn’t he? Because he doesn’t want you spending so much time with me.” Her hands clenched into fists. The wind sent her skirts flying and a dark cloud rolled across the sun.
Their father, King Verdan IV of Summerlea, didn’t love her. She knew that. He kept her isolated in a remote part of the palace, hidden away from his court and his kingdom, on the pretext that her weathergifts were too volatile and dangerous and she couldn’t control them. That was all true. Kham’s gifts were dangerous, and she couldn’t control them any better than she could control her own temper. Until now, however, he’d never stooped to sending his other children away to keep them from visiting her.
“Here now. Be calm.” Falcon smoothed her wayward curls back, tucking them behind her ears. Compassion and pity shone softly in his eyes. “I wish I didn’t have to leave you. But Father believes I’ll have the best chance of getting what we want from Wintercraig, and I agree with him.” Summerlea, once a rich, thriving kingdom renowned for its fertile fields and abundant orchards, had been in a slow decline for years. Although the nobles and king maintained a prosperous façade for political and economic purposes, beneath the gilded domes and bright splendour of Summerlea’s palaces and grand estates, the rough tatters of neglect were beginning to show. “Besides, you won’t be alone while I’m gone. You have Tildy and the Seasons.”
“It isn’t the same. They aren’t you.” He was the handsome Prince of Summerlea, charming, witty, heroic. He’d lived a life of adventure, most of which he shared with her, entertaining her with the tales of his exploits…the places he’d seen, the people he’d met. His hunts, his adventures, his triumphs. No matter how much her nursemaid, Tildavera Greenleaf, doted on Khamsin, or how often the three other princesses, Autumn, Spring, and Summer, snuck away from their palace duties to spend time with their ostracized youngest sister, Falcon was the one whose visits she couldn’t live without.
“Now there’s a pretty compliment. Careful, my lady. You’ll turn my head.” He smiled, and warmth poured into her. It was no wonder the ladies of their father’s court swooned at the slightest attention from him. Falcon had a magical way about him. He could he literally charm the birds from the trees with his name-gift—controlling any feathered creature on a whim–and the weathergift inherent in his royal Summerlander blood was stronger than it had been in any crown prince in generations. It was as if the Sun itself had taken up residence in his soul, and its warmth spilled from him each time he smiled.
Kham took a deep breath. The sharp edge of her temper abated, and in the skies, the gathering storm began to calm. Perhaps King Verdan truly had chosen to send his only son as envoy to Wintercraig for political reasons. Long, long ago, as a small child crying herself to sleep, she’d decided Falcon was the reincarnation of Roland Triumphant, the Hero of Summerlea, the brave King who had defeated an overwhelming invasion force with his wit, his weathergifts, and a legendary sword reputed to be a gift from the Sun God himself. If anyone could charm the cold, savage folk of the north into concessions most favourable to Summerlea, Falcon could.
“Will you at least write to me?” she asked.
“I’ll send you a bird every week.” He tapped her nose and gave her a charming, roguish grin. “Cheer up. Just think of all the swordfights you’ll win when you’re fighting invisible opponents instead of me.”
Kham rolled her eyes. He’d been teaching her sword-fighting for years, but she had yet to best him in a match.
“You know,” she said as they walked towards the doorway leading back into the palace, “it might actually be a good thing that you’ll be spending months in Wintercraig.”
“Yes. You can use that time to find out what happened to Roland’s sword.”
Falcon tripped on an uneven flagstone and grabbed the trunk of a nearby tree to steady himself. “I’m sure I’ll be much too busy to chase fairy tales, Storm.”
She frowned in surprise. “But you’ve always believed the stories were true.” Blazing, the legendary sword of Roland Soldeus, had disappeared shortly after the heroic king’s death. Legend claimed it was the Winter King, the father of Roland’s betrothed, who had spirited the sword away so Roland’s brother Donal couldn’t claim it. Every royal Summerlea Heir for the last two millennia had dreamed of finding the legendary blade and bringing it back home where it belonged. Falcon had spent years chasing lead after lead, determined that he would be the one to find Blazing and restore Summerlea to its former glory.
“What about those letters?” she added. “The really old ones you found tucked in that monastery? You said they proved the stories were true.”
“That was six years ago. I was seventeen. I wanted the stories to be true.” He gave her a quick hug and a brotherly kiss on the forehead. “I’ve got to run. I’m meeting with Father and his advisors to go over our list of demands and concessions one last time before I leave. I’ll see you in a few months.”
“I’ll miss you every day.” She trailed after him, feeling bereft and forlorn when Falcon turned the corner and disappeared from view. But this time, she also felt confused. She’d never known Falcon to give up on something he felt passionately about. And he’d been passionate about finding Roland’s sword. He’d been certain he was on the right trail. He’d shared his discoveries with her because he knew she was just as hungry as he to find the legendary sword.
So why would he deny it now?
* * *
“She’s not good for you.”
Wynter Atrialan, King of Wintercraig, cast a sideways glance at his younger brother. “Don’t say that, Garrick. I know you’ve never liked Elka, but in six months time, she will be my bride and your queen.”
Garrick shook his long, snow-silver hair. Eyes as bright and blue as the glacier caves in Wintercraig’s ice-bound Skoerr Mountains shone with solemn intensity that made the boy look far older than his sixteen years.
“You love too deeply, Wyn. From the moment you decided to take her to wife, you’ve blinded yourself to her true nature.”
Wynter sighed. “I should not have shared my worries with you when I first met her.” Wyn was an intensely private man, but he’d never kept secrets from Garrick. Not one. Wyn had raised his brother since their parents’ death ten years ago. And in those years, he’d never tried to sweeten the ugly world of politics, never tried to gloss over his fears or concerns—even when it came to the more personal but still political matter of selecting a queen. If something happened to him, Garrick would be king, and Wyn didn’t want his brother thrown into such a position without preparation.
Unfortunately, the years of openness and plain, unfettered talk had paid unanticipated returns. Because of his unflinching honesty with Garrick, no one in Wintercraig–no one in all the world, for that matter–knew him better than his young brother. Not even Wyn’s lifelong friend and second-in-command, Valik. Such deep familiarity could be as troublesome as it was comforting.
“She is cold,” Garrick insisted. “She does not love you as she should. She wants to be queen more than she wants to be your wife.”
“Elka is a woman of the Craig. She is as reserved with her feelings as I.”
“Is she? So that is why she laughs and smiles so warmly when the Summerlander is near?”
Wynter frowned a warning at his brother. “Careful, Garrick. Elka Villani will be my wife and queen. Insult to her is insult to me.”
“I offered no insult. I merely asked a question. And based on my observations, it’s a perfectly legitimate one.”
“You are misreading what you see. Elka knows it’s vital the Summer Prince feels welcome here if we are to come to an amicable agreement.” The lush, fertile fields of Summerlea provided much needed sustenance to the folk of Wintercraig during the harsh, cold months of a northern winter. Their grains, fruits and vegetables, which Wintercraig bought with furs, whale oil and forest products, could mean the difference between life and death for his people during years when their own harvests were poor. That had, unfortunately, been quite often of late, since the summers had grown shorter and food from Summerlea had been growing steadily more dear after Wynter had taken the throne. Falcon Coruscate, son of the weathermage king who ruled Summerlea, had come three months ago at Wynter’s invitation to negotiate terms of a new treaty that would ensure longer summers in the north and more affordable trade in foodstuffs for the winters.
“She makes him feel welcome to more than the court,” Garrick corrected. “She flirts.”
Wyn arched a brow. “And if she does, where’s the harm in it? A pretty face and a sweet smile can persuade a man better than cold figures and dry treaties—especially self-indulgent peacocks like the Summer Prince.” He smiled when Garrick rolled his eyes. “You don’t remember our mother, but she could charm a Frost Giant into the fire. Father used to call her his secret weapon. Elka merely uses her gifts to aid the realm, as any good queen would.”
Garrick gave a snort. “How fortunate that she takes to the task so well. All right, all right.” He held up his hands in surrender when his brother’s glance sharpened. He paused a moment, using hammer and chisel to chip unwanted ice from the frozen sculpture he was working on, then added, “But even if you trust her, you’d best keep an eye on the Summerlander. He’s up to something.”
“Foreign dignitaries are always up to something. That’s called politics.”
“He’s been asking too many questions about the Book of Riddles.”
Wyn’s hand stilled momentarily in its work on his own sculpture. “Has he?” He tried to pull of nonchalance, but shouldn’t have bothered. Garrick knew him too well.
“That’s what he’s really here for. To get the book and find Roland’s sword.”
Roland’s sword was a fabled Summerlea weapon of inconceivable power. It had disappeared three thousand years ago, not long after the Summer King who first wielded it sacrificed his life to save his kingdom from invasion. Many myths and legends swirled around its disappearance. One of those legends suggested that the Winter King of that time, fearing the sword’s power would be misused by Roland’s successors, had smuggled the sword out of Summerlea and hidden it in a place it would never be found. The Winter King had also left behind a book of obscure clues and riddles that supposedly led to the sword’s secret hiding place, in case his own descendants one day had need of the legendary weapon’s vast power.
“Well, good luck to him with that,” Wynter said. “The sword is a myth. It’s long gone by now, if it ever existed at all. And he won’t find whatever treasure the Book actually does protect, either, because he will never find the Book. It’s kept in a place no man can go.”
“But Elka can.”
He scowled. “Garrick, stop. She is my betrothed. She will be my queen. She would never betray me.”
Garrick heaved a sigh. “Fine. She is your true and worthy love. I’ll never suggest otherwise again.”
“Good.” Wyn pressed his lips together and focused on the small block of ice sitting on the pedestal before him. Patient as time itself, he carved away the excess ice until he revealed the hidden beauty inside. Fragile, shimmering, a bouquet of lilies emerged, petals curved with incredible delicacy, each flower distinct and perfect, rising up from slender stems of ice. “What do you think?” he asked when it was done.
“That’s beautiful, Wyn. One of your best yet.”
Wyn smiled. When it came to ice sculptures, Garrick hoarded his compliments like a miser. Only perfection earned his highest praise.
“Do you think she will like it, then? Frost lilies are her favorite.”
Garrick stepped abruptly away from his own sculpture–a complex scene depicting a family of deer welcoming their newest, spindly-legged member into the herd–and brushed the dusting of ice crystals from his furs. “Any woman who truly loves you would love it, Wyn. It’s obvious how much care you put into it.”
“Then she will love it. You’ll see.”
“I’m sure she will,” Garrick said, but his eyes held no conviction.
“Coruscate!” Wynter’s roar shook the great crystal chandelier that hung in the entry hall of his palace, Gildenheim. He stormed up the winding stairs to the wing where royal guests were housed and burst into the suite that had been occupied for the last two months by the Prince of Summerlea. The rooms were empty, and judging by the state of the open drawers and the clothes flung haphazardly about, the inhabitants had vacated the place in a hurry.
“He’s gone, Wyn.” Valik, Wynter’s oldest friend and second in command stepped into the room. “Laci checked the temple. The book’s gone, too.”
Wynter swore under his breath. Barely two weeks ago, Garrick had warned him to keep an eye on the Summerlea Prince, and Wyn had dismissed his concerns with such blind, confidence! “When did they leave?”
“About an hour after we left for Hileje. Elka and his guard went with him. Bron didn’t think anything of it. The Summerlander kept blathering about not letting some fire ten miles away ruin a good day’s hunt.”
“We’d better start tracking them, then.”
“There’s more, Wyn.” Valik hesitated, then said, “I think Garrick went after them. He and his friends rode out not long after the Summerlander. Bron heard them talking about something the Summerlander took that Garrick meant to get back.”
Wyn’s jaw turned to granite. With Valik close on his heels, he ran back down to the courtyard.
Still saddled and ready to ride, Wynter’s stallion was waiting in the hands of a stableboy, and beside him, a dozen of Wynter’s elite White Guard held Prince Falcon’s valet at swordpoint. The valet looked nothing like the sleek, meticulously turned-out peacock Wynter’s courtiers had mocked amongst themselves. He’d traded his velvet brocade livery for rough-spun woolens, a
furred vest, and a heavy cloak. His knuckles were scraped, and his face sported a bruised jaw and an eye that was swollen shut and rapidly purpling.
“We found him in the village trying to bribe a merchant to smuggle him out in a trade cart, Your Grace.”
“Where is he?” Wyn grabbed the valet by his vest, yanking him up so fast the man’s feet left the ground. Wynter was tall, even for a man of the Craig, and holding the Summerlander at eye level left almost two feet between the man’s dangling toes and the icy stone of the courtyard. “Where is that Coruscate bastard you serve?”
“I don’t know!” Clearly terrified, the man started babbling. “I swear to you, Your Majesty! I didn’t even know he was leaving until one of the maids delivered his note. And that only advised me to leave Wintercraig as quickly and quietly as possible.”
“In other words, the coward abandoned you while saving his own skin.” Wyn threw the man aside. “Lock him up. If we don’t find his master, he can face the mercy of the mountains in his prince’s stead. The rest of you, mount up. Time to hunt.”
Minutes later, Wynter, Valik, and two dozen White Guard were galloping down the winding mountain road that led from Gildenheim to the valley below. Wynter howled a call to the wolves as they went, sending a summons to the packs that were spirit-kin to his family’s clan. Wolves were faster in the dense woods, and they tracked by scent rather than sight. The Summerlanders’ smell was alien to this part of the world, so the wolves should have no trouble picking up their trail.
He wasn’t sure if the prince would try heading south, towards Summerlea, or west to the Llaskroner fjord. The fjord was closer, and the port there was a busy one, full of strangers from distant lands. For thieves looking to get out of country quickly, that was the better destination. When the wolf call came from the west, Wyn knew he’d guessed right. He whispered to the winds, calling to the old Winterman in the north to blow his icy horn, then summoning the Vestras, the freezing maritime winds of the western seas to send their bone-chilling fog.
As he and his men rode west, following the call of the wolves, the temperatures began to drop. If the Summer Prince fought back with his own weathergifts, that would pinpoint his location. If he didn’t, the rapidly worsening weather would slow his escape. Either way, Wynter would track him down, and make him pay for what he’d done to the people of Hileje.
The prince had hours on him. That was the purpose of the fire in Hileje—a distraction to get Wynter and his men out of the palace so Falcon Coruscate could steal what he came for and make his escape. But the distraction had been much more than a mere fire. The Summerlanders had raped and murdered dozens of villagers, then locked the rest in the meeting hall and burned them alive.
Eighty-six lives wiped out in one senseless act of violence. Eighty-six innocent Winterfolk who had depended on their king to protect them. And he had failed.
The tone of the wolves’ howls suddenly changed, the howls becoming longer, mournful, announcing a loss to the pack. Wynter sent out his thoughts, connect to the pack mind and seeing through the wolves’ eyes as he searched for the source of that cry. He caught a glimpse of scarlet splashed across the snow, bodies that were clothed not furred.
“No!” He knew instantly why the wolves howled and for whom. “No! Garrick!” He spurred Hodri faster, galloping at a reckless pace. The wind whistled past his ears. Snow flew from Hodri’s hooves.
It didn’t take long to reach the clearing where the wolves had gathered. The smell of death filled the air—a dark odor Wynter had smelled before. It was a scent few men ever forgot.
He reined Hodri in hard, leaping from saddle to ground before the horse fully stopped. The first two bodies were boys Wyn recognized. Garrick’s friends. Sixteen years old, the same age as Garrick. Arrow-pierced through their hearts. They’d been dead within minutes of being struck.
A moaning cough brought Wyn scrambling to his feet. He half-ran, half-stumbled across the snow towards the source of the sound, but when he got there, he felt as if his heart had stopped beating. He fell to his knees.
The coughing boy was Garrick’s best friend, Junnar. He’d been gut-shot, and the dark, matter-filled blood oozing from the wound told Wynter the boy was a dead man even though his body still clung weakly to the last threads of his life.
Junnar lay atop the prone, lifeless figure of Wynter’s brother. An arrow–its shaft painted with the Prince of Summerlea’s personal colors –protruded from Garrick’s throat.
“Garrick?” After moving Junnar to one side and packing his wound with snow to numb the pain, Wyn reached for his brother with trembling hands. His fingers brushed the boy’s face, and he flinched at the coldness of his brother’s flesh. Garrick had been dead for hours. Probably since before Wyn had left Gildenheim in pursuit. How could Wyn have lost the only family he had left in the world and not known it the instant it happened?
Horses approached from Wynter’s back. Then Valik was there, laying a sympathetic hand on Wynter’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry, my friend. I’m so sorry.”
Wyn nodded numbly. The ache was consuming him. The pain so deep, so indescribable, it was beyond feeling. His whole body felt frozen, like the ice statues he and Garrick carved together.
“Help Junnar.” How he spoke, he didn’t know. His voice came out a choked, gravelly rasp. “Make him as comfortable as you can.”
He waited for Valik to lift Junnar and settle him off a short distance before gathering Garrick’s body into his arms. He held his brother for a long time, held him until Junnar breathed his last and the White Guard packed the bodies up for transport back to Gildenheim. Their hunt for Prince Falcon of Summerlea had ended the moment Wynter found his brother’s corpse. But there was no doubt in any of their minds that this was far from over.
Wynter carried Garrick in front of him on Hodri’s back, cradling his body as he had so many times over the years after their parents had died and it had fallen to him to raise his brother. He carried him all the way to Gildenheim, releasing him only to the weeping servants who would prepare Garrick and the others for the funeral pyre.
Wynter stood vigil by his brother’s side throughout the night. He murmured words of sympathy to the parents of the other lost boys, but shed no tears of his own though his eyes burned. At dusk the following night, he stood, tall and dry-eyed beside the pyres as the flames were lit and remained standing, motionless and without speaking, throughout the night and into the next morning. He stood until the pyre was naught but flickering coals. And when it was done and there was nothing left of his brother but ash, Wynter mounted Hodri and took the long, winding road to the Temple of Wyrn, which was carved into the side of the next mountain.
Galacia Frey, the imposing and statuesque High Priestess of Wyrn, was waiting for him inside the temple. She had come the night before to bless his brother and the others and to light their pyres, before returning to the temple to await his visit.
“You know why I have come.”
Her eyes were steady. “I know. But Wyn, my friend, you know I must ask you to reconsider. You know the price.”
“I know and accept it.”
“There’s no guarantee the goddess will find you worthy,” she warned. “Many men have tried and died.”
“You think that frightens me? If I die, I will be with my brother. If I survive, I will have the power to avenge him.”
She closed her eyes briefly and inclined her head. “Then take the path to the left of the altar, Wynter Atrialan, King of the Craig. Leave your armor, clothes and weapons in the trunk by the door. You must enter the test as you entered the world. And may the goddess have mercy on your soul.”