Friday, 12 October 2012

#FridayFlash - Minuet

The strains of a string quartet echoed among the icicles of the Palace. The violins soared above the muted refrain of the cello, and Lady Winter twirled and spun across the ballroom. Her heeled boots traced filigrees in the glittering crust of frost that coated the floor. The quartet stood on a raised dais near her throne of ice. Their skin glowed pale blue in the late afternoon light.

"M'lady?"

Lady Winter ceased her twirling and turned to face Adage, her faithful butler. He nodded once, and stood to attention in the doorway. Lady Winter snapped her fingers and the quartet ceased playing, musical notes hanging frozen in the air.

"Yes?"

"M'lady, my apologies for the interruption, but there is someone to see you."

"Is it someone interesting?"

"That is not for me to decide, m'lady. His name is Ulf Bauer, and he hails from the village of Pennendorff."

Lady Winter cocked her head on one side and thought for a moment. Pennendorff lay just five miles from the Palace - the closest any humans dared come to her home. The villagers were stalwart and sturdy, as proven by her quartet of musicians. Even without her enchantments, they'd pandered to her every whim for weeks.

"Very well, Adage. Send him in."

Adage stepped aside and bade the villager to enter. A very short man, pale of cheek and gaunt in build, stumbled into the ballroom. His fingers grasped the brim of a faded hat, and his hands shook with cold. His nose glowed red in an unremarkable face.

"Bauer, is it? What business have you at the Winter Palace?"

"Beggin' your pardon, m'lady, but I come on behalf of me village." Bauer fiddled with his hat, eyes darting around the room as he fought to avoid Lady Winter's gaze.

"I'm familiar with Pennendorff." She shot a sly grin at the string quartet, now motionless on their dais. Their faces froze in eternal grins, but their eyes screamed for help. Bauer started, recognising his neighbours among them.

"Well, er, well y'see, m'lady, winter came a bit early, and we din't have time to bring the 'ole 'arvest in. Food's runnin' a bit short, y'see, and, well, we was wonderin' if you could maybe end winter a week or two early so we can start foragin'." Bauer stared at the floor.

"Why would you ask me to do that? Why not visit Lord Spring and ask him to come early?"

"Oh, m'lady, we ask you because you're more powerful than he is. Oh yes, m'lady, we know that."

Bauer nodded several times, and Lady Winter pursed her lips. Annoyance and displeasure burned in the depths of her frosty eyes.

"Flattery. Bauer?"

"No, m'lady. It's the 'onest truth, yes it is."

Lady Winter glanced out of the window at the lawn. An idea struck her. She looked at the villager, a smirk hovering around her mouth.

"I'll make a deal with you. If you can win a game, then I'll end winter early." Her tone thawed, the ice replaced by a sheen of honey.

"Really, m'lady? Oh, you're ever so good - ever so good, indeed! What's the game?"

"Chess."

Bauer's face fell. He looked at the floor again.

"I'm afraid I don't know how to play, m'lady."

"That's alright, Bauer. You don't need to know the rules."

"I don't?"

"No. For I shall be playing for you. Or, should that be, I shall be playing with you."

Confusion clouded Bauer's face. Lady Winter snapped her fingers, and the villager's bewildered expression froze in place as thick frost clung to his entire body. Lady Winter skipped around him, examining her handiwork. She squealed and clapped her hands with delight. Adage appeared at the ballroom doors.

"Is everything alright, m'lady?"

"Perfect, Adage, perfect! Have this pawn taken outside. My chess set is finally complete! I think I might invite my sister to play tomorrow."

Adage disappeared to fetch help to move the pawn. Lady Winter twirled across the ballroom to the window to admire the chess set on the lawn outside. If she used a pawn to win the game tomorrow, then she would keep up her end of the bargain. Otherwise...

* * *

The original image is of the ballroom at Peterhof Palace in St Petersburg, taken by Chilli Head. Wintry editing by me.

20 comments:

Helen said...

She's one icy lady isn't she. I hope she wins for the sake of poor Bauer - will she defrost him I wonder?

flyingscribbler said...

I've always found prawns defrost best under hot water. What's that? Oh, PAWN, not PRAWN. (sorry-it's friday).
Love your Lady Winter, what a fully-formed character she is, and Adage plays a good butler. For some reason, I had the Titantic quartet in my mind when you described the frozen-in-time players here. Personally, I didn't feel the need for possible salvation for the villager. Lady Winter completing her chess set was enough for me.

Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

Stylish and funny and gruesome, all wrapped up in one bitterly cold package. Loved it, Icy. Of course, only someone with a name like yours could write such a nice piece about Lady Winter.

John Wiswell said...

So long as she throws the chess match to Lord Spring, thereby sparing his village hardship, his is a worthy sacrifice. She gets her chess set, they get to live.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Helen - Knowing her, she'll probably forget all about him within ten minutes.

Justin - I'm not sure I was offering him possible salvation, more pointing out the fact that you always need to read the fine print...

Cathy - Well I do love winter...I was listening to Mozart's String Quartet in Bb major K458 "The Hunt" (1794) 2nd mvt. 'Minuetto' and this was the mental image it conjured up.

John - We'll have to see, won't we?!

ganymeder said...

One frosty hellion! Icy, you always write the coolest villains! (accidental pun, but totally appropriate) :D

Larry Kollar said...

Beautiful and deadly. That's a combo that goes together often, no?

The opening seemed familiar, but the rest of the story was not. I liked the name "Adage" for the butler, and the ending should have been predictable but wasn't!

Tony Noland said...

Great villain, Icy!

Interesting that you used that ballroom for the Winter Queen, since Peterhof is also known the Summer Palace. Great ironic twist!

Icy Sedgwick said...

Cathy - Why thank you! I have to do justice to my fraternity...

Larry - Well you know how much I like upsetting predictability!

Tony - Villains are way more fun than heroes. And I do like my irony.

elizabethditty.com said...

Love the imagery of your story. Almost seems like a prequel to The Lion, The Witch & the Wardrobe from the perspective of the White Witch, which is a compliment! :-)Nice work!

Bevimus said...

And this why mortals are scared of deities. Fun piece.

mgideon said...

The nerve it would take to even come ask her. You'd think Bauer would've at least landed a Knight's gig. What a game to watch!

Tim VanSant Writes said...

She's quite the cold-hearted villain. Nicely done.

Steve Green said...

oooh, the sneaky woman.

I did smile at his attempts to get her to end winter early, it would be really useful to have some kind of bargaining lever to force her hand...

But what, though?

Icy Sedgwick said...

Elizabeth - I LOVE the White Witch!

Bev - Oh those deities are tricksy devils, alright.

Aaron - You have to wonder what he thought might happen.

Tim - Thanks!

Steve - Yeah, I don't think he thought that far ahead...

Sulci Collective said...

very nice Icy, it was moving along with an authenticity of its time & place through the language & pace (a piece about feudal manners), when suddenly it just soared on to a whole new imaginative level. Excellent, really enjoyed this one

marc nash

Cindy Vaskova said...

Brilliant! Love it, love it, love it! Though I hope winter is still far away.

It read so well, the pace was perfect and the imagery quite vivid! I too had a vision of the White Queen, but a much more sinister version of her!

P.S. Loved the buttlers name!

Katherine Hajer said...

What a wonderfully complete world. I like Lady Winter a lot, for all her manipulations. I loved the line about the frozen smiles especially.

Now I have to try and find that old 80s song about the ice house...

modscheherzade said...

What a wonderfully devious villainess - I thought this was so well written Icy and I felt cold - I swear! Loved the names of the characters and of course - best wishes to Bauer - hope he thaws soon!

Peter Newman said...

And the moral is: always go to Lord Spring!

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