“You broke your oath. The one you swore, like the rest of us; to never defend yourself. You betrayed us!” the demoness scolded. She looked at the carnage in horror. The humans would all come after them now. The demoness’ kind had lived in peace for so long, and as long as they did, they could truly live.

The demon arose and yanked his sword free from the dirt. My actions were driven by instinct. I only wanted to survive.”

“I understand. But you should have died. That is how the rest of us survive. Until you stop fearing death, and make such mistakes, people will never stop fearing us.” She eyed the bodies and turned away from them and the demon in disgust. “And rightly so.”

The dining room was quiet, subdued in candle lights, but bright enough for the Prime Overseer to see. He didn’t like shadows. They offered too much space for anyone to hide in.

Hungry and tired from the day’s harsh but necessary decisions, he made his way to the serving table where they had set out ten dishes for him, including his favorite steak in mint sauce. They always made sure he had something else to choose from should he not want his favorite. Three days a week, he had this time to himself, where he didn’t have to entertain statesmen and foreign dignitaries. He didn’t even want servants to handle the food for him. This was the time for himself when he could reflect upon his life and seemingly endless successes. It sometimes astounded even him.

The Prime Overseer poured himself a glass of his favorite wine and helped himself to some food and then sat at the end of the long dining table. It was oversized, ridiculously so for one man, but then, had he not deserved this sign of his position? He hardly thought about it as more than an obvious right before tucking in. No one was there to see him anyway, so why not enjoy himself?

“Is it to your liking, your Excellency?”

The Prime Overseer jerked his head up and began coughing. He’d swallowed wrong from the sudden strange voice. While in his coughing fit, he got up and looked around.

There, at the far end of the table, a man sat, alert and with his hands resting on the table, watching him. The Prime Overseer couldn’t fathom it. How had he not seen him when entering? Was there sorcery at play?

“Who are you?” he wheezed between his coughs. He could see that the man was in his early thirties, perhaps. Dark hair, dark eyes. Inconsequential. The Prime Overseer’s livery adorned him. One of his own servants then.

“Does it truly matter who I am?” the man asked. “Based on years gone by, it never seems to matter to any of us.”

There was something familiar about him. The Prime Overseer squinted to see at that distance. “You’re my cupbearer,” he concluded. He sank into his chair then, clearing his throat hard to ease the coughing. It helped a little.

“I am,” the cupbearer admitted with a twist to his mouth that told the Prime Overseer that this was inconsequential to him too.

“This is outrageous!” The Prime Overseer banged his hand on the table, his glass wobbling. “You’ll be punished for this.” He looked toward the serving table for his bell, used to alert staff he wanted something, the man spoke the dreaded words: “No, I won’t.”

“What is going on?” the Prime Overseer demanded.

“Exactly what your kind always fear, your Excellency. From the day you seize power in whichever form of violence.”

The Prime Overseer gripped the edge of the table, the itch in his throat still there. Why could he not compose himself? He’d only swallowed his food down the wrong pipe. He was a mighty warrior. This young and skinny fellow was no threat to him.

“Who are you?” he demanded yet again. His cup bearers died occasionally and were always sourced from the staff serving his family. They had already proven themselves as loyal servants long before they entered his personal employ.

“No one to you,” the cupbearer said.

“I want to know. Tell me!” The itch persisted and the cool dread flowing through his body turned to shivers. He wanted to yell for the guards to come, but there were two doors and vast spaces between them. There was something more happening here than a mere servant stepping out of line.

“It doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things,” the cupbearer insisted.

“Tell me!”

The cupbearer sighed and leaned back in the chair. Then he gave in. Of course, he did. They all did. Always.

“When I was but a lad, a woman came to our village seeking help. A sorceress. She was fleeing the capitol. She refused to work for you.”
The Prime Overseer nodded. He couldn’t remember the specific person. There had been so many. He knew what had happened, though, without the cup bearer’s next words.

“One of your spies lived in the village.”

The Prime Overseer nodded again. There were spies in every village, house, and family.

“Needless to say, your knights took care of the sorceress a few days later, and then the townsfolk, grown and child alike. A mere dozen of them survived.”


“Pardon?” the cupbearer said.

“You are here as well, looking for revenge, I gather.”

The cup bearer smiled. “No. I died too that day.”

“Fool! You are sitting right there.”

“Yes. But the survivors were stronger than me. I have merely existed these last decades. One purpose guiding me.”

The Prime Overseer shivered badly now, the itch forcing his coughs. If the cupbearer meant to attack, then he had given up his moment of surprise. The thought made the Prime Overseer glance at his wine glass and then back to the man, who nodded.

“You might choose something other than your favorite steak with mint sauce, but you never stray from your wine.”

“But … but,” the Prime Overseer faltered. “You must have drunk from it yourself,” he said. “You must!” There were too many people involved in the food preparation for the cupbearer to avoid tasting and testing the wine. “You are unaffected.” If the cupbearer had taken an antidote, then surely the Prime Overseer could as well.

“The sorceress I spoke of,” the cupbearer said. “I struck a deal with her son. You see, there is no antidote.”

“You used sorcery then, to stay alive?”

“Sorcery cannot cheat death. Not even Prime Overseers can do that. No, he barely bought me a little time.”

The Prime Overseer’s throat fought his efforts to stop his coughing, but they exploded from his mouth, bringing a spray of blood with them. “Time for what?” he gasped, pushing the now bloody plate of food to the side.

“Time to watch you die.”

The Prime Overseer laughed, and the laughter turned to wretched coughs. “Die? I will not die like this!”

“That’s not your choice. Nor was it mine,” the cupbearer said evenly. “You’ve been falling for twenty-three years. Unlike me, you, for all your spies, just didn’t know it.”

He’s right. She retrieves the body. Pale and void of blood. Carries it inside like it weighs nothing.

The stairs to the basement feels as long as ever. She leaves the dead man with the others.

She’s revolted now. But not before. She is always so hungry. And they taste so good.

“It’s only right that you clean up your own mess,” he snarls while passing her in the hallway.

She nods. She might detest and recent him. But she doesn’t deserve to leave.

For weeks, he has ruled the lands. He has watched the trees and plants shed their deadened leaves and be covered by the white powder. He has watched the fur of the animals change and adapt to his beloved frozen vapor.

But now…

Now he can see the end all too clear.

He stops outside a cluster of houses.

Warm, golden light emanates from shut windows. Through the molded glass, he observes them. The humans drag trees inside and decorate them. Humans who bake and clean and wrap presents. How can they not see? Don’t they understand?

King Winter moves on. He has a meeting he cannot miss. He never has. Nor has she who will join him. It can only happen on four nights a year, two for them in particular, and this night? This is his night to ask for her help.

They meet in a clearing.

She hesitates at first. King Winter knows this and heeds her weakness. He retracts the snow from the ground in front of him, all the way to the tips of his toes. Only then, does she come forward from the shadows.

She is freezing, her dress too light for the cold of his realm. For this truly is his realm.

Time turns as she approaches, and the day and night are equal. Darkness lingers too long for her tastes, but she is there, as always. Like he will be for her.

“It is beginning,” King Winter tells her when she stops in front of him.

“I feel it,” the Queen of Summer says and shivers less.

“She is coming to defeat me. To weaken me.”

“I feel this too,” Queen Summer says. Her eyes, which usually glow with warmth, are mere embers at this point. “It cannot be stopped. Queen Spring will be too warm for your cold.”

“Swear to me you will avenge me,” King Winter beseeches her.

“Always. As you will avenge me against my fall.”

“It will always be so. I will cover his realm of decay and hide it under my cold beauty.”

They seal their bargain with a kiss. Her warm lips burn his cold ones, as his does hers. It is not a kiss of passion, but one of burning promise.

Days will now become a little longer.

The King and Queen separate, for they must.

King Winter walks back, his realm still strong and ever so cold. He stops again by the cluster of houses. None of the humans within notice him watching them. They go on with their traditions, stories, and celebrations while he must face his inevitable demise. How can they not see? They are blind to the greatest forces coming together on their doorsteps. How can they miss this pact which has been upheld for eons?

King Winter walks on, dejected, leaving no traces in the hard-packed snow. The humans put extra wood in their fireplaces, feeling an unusual cold this night.

They all love him when he’s there.

But they also rejoice because now, the days will be longer, and Queen Spring, though far away, stirs.

I drew inspiration for the structure of this flash fiction from a post about self-perception during mental health awareness week 2020, though that was used in a different context than a story. Still, I thought it would be fun to see if it could work in a story setting and I think it does.

She startled at the sight of the Lady who reached out her hand. The human world was dangerous, but they were so frail. So easy to toy with.

The human woman looked around, but no one else was there. Then she peered at the Lady’s hand. She hesitated, no doubt having been told from a young age never to leave with the Fae. The Lady had heard many such tales from her captives. But she knew the lure of the magical forest behind her, and that her enchanting smile would win the woman over.

She was right.

Her smile intensified when the woman came closer and took her hand. She would step inside the Lady’s realm and be forever trapped.
The woman looked at their joined hands and met the Lady’s gaze. She smiled then, and the Lady frowned. She recognized that smile. Had felt it on her own face many times. Feral, smug, dangerous. Hidden behind a mask of feigned innocence.

The woman yanked and pulled the Lady out of her realm before jumping inside herself.

The Lady stumbled and whirled around. The woman laughed, the magic faded, and the Lady screamed. Her skin wrinkled and her hair turned white, the dull power of the human realm peeling away her essence.