The Winter King sat on a mound of grass in his forest, a great weight on his weathered brow. The long branches of his favourite oak tree stretched their shade over him providing a respite from the glaring sun and yet at core he felt cold. Ritual chanting filtered thinly along the wind over the rippling water of sacred pools and through the whispering leaves from the palace some distance away where he spent his time in the cold seasons, for the rain and the frost touched him deeper now than they had in his youth. Of late he had been wandering the glades and thickets of his home in search of something though he did not yet know what it was or what form it would take when he found it. His god was a strange thing, dark and bloody and protean, elemental and yet subtle in his ways. He must know that he was being sought and chose not to unveil himself yet.
Sensing someone approach, he looked around. There in the trees across the glade from him he caught sight of his daughter, her white dress with its long train trailing after her and her garland of leaves over ash-blonde hair. A train of celebrants followed her all decorated with leaves and boughs and garlands and their long grey robes trailing in the undergrowth. Her white face passed in and out of shadow as she approached, blue eyes showing very light as the sun glanced over her between the leaves. Passing round the thick greening trunks of oak trees and the long vines hanging from their low branches she made her way over the mossy and flower-strewn ground of the forest to the grass of the glade. The King stirred and sat up. The small line of celebrants followed her into the glade silently and formed a circle around the border of the glade.
“Father.” Rima half-smiled and showed him a cup of something. “I brought you an infusion.”
“Thank you, daughter.”
Rima walked over to where her grey-bearded and white-gowned father made his throne for the afternoon and leaned down to proffer the earthen cup of bitter leaves in hot water. Amalesh grunted slightly as he shifted to accept the drink.
“This is Haomas?” The smell brought vivid memories and associations.
“Then you know whom I seek.”
The drink was just cool enough for Amalesh to sip while he pondered something. The trees of the forest and the waters of the sacred pools told him nothing today, their whispers brute phenomena without sense or reason, their wind-struck waves and ripples without pattern.
“The earth and the wind are silent today.” Amalesh said, blowing into his drink and sipping it again. “I look to the sky. Will you sing for me, daughter?”
Rima sat down cross-legged near her father and began an unearthly song in a forgotten language, repeating short verses and then a long chorus, the chorus of varying cadence each time, with a rising and falling rhythm so that Amalesh felt closer to the sky with each line. The celebrants began a low repetitive chant which fit around the music and underlaid it like a spine. Amalesh drained the last of his cup and lay back against the trunk of the tree adjusting his head so that the branches of trees ringing the glade only scratched at the edges of his field of vision and almost all he could see was the glaring sun, the depthless blue sky and the white clouds hanging in it. As he watched the clouds they sped up, spinning and revolving about an unseen axis like the stars in their spheres, making shapes of horses and men with blades held high, images that shattered the peace of the wood with their ghostly play across the still blue deep. One image threw shade onto another even on that bright day until the battle in the clouds ended with one white warrior stood aloft and proud, this image holding still and steady for a time until at last the clouds formed it split and then dissolved or crept away into his field of vision. His blurring eyes strained against the sun wrapped again in cloudless blue when another white tide passed onto the spinning stretch of sky and formed inexorably into the image of a garlanded woman’s figure, an image that should have been a comfort. Then she again drifted across the patch of sky and beneath the sun, away from him. Amalesh closed his eyes.
Finally Rima’s singing faltered and stopped. She coughed a little and reached forward to shake her father. The chant continued with the celebrants rocking back and forth in their meditations.
“What do you see, father?”
Amalesh opened his eyes and sat up.
“Nothing, dear one.” He said, turning eyes full of love and grief onto her. “I saw nothing.”
“He will show himself to us in time, father. I know he will.”