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SilasCrane t1_j4ndu6m wrote

The Queen walked sunwise around the flat stone in the center of the crumbling grotto, keeping her eyes fixed firmly on her feet. As she did so, the air began to fill with the sound of whispers, a sound that grew more harsh and sibillant with each step. She ignored them with effort, even when they started to seem more like threatening growls and snarls coming from something stalking just behind her.

When she had completed three circles around the stone, the sounds suddenly stopped, and so did the Queen.

"Why do you come?" a voice rasped.

"I have come to trade." Queen Hilde replied, respectfully, her eyes still fixed on her feet.

"Then I give you leave to look upon me." the voice replied.

Only then did Hilde lift her eyes. An old woman stood before her, dressed in a gray mantle embroidered with stars of tarnished silver thread. Her eyes were blue as a pure mountain lake, and as deep and cold as one, as well. The Twilight Witch.

"What do you ask?" the old woman said, her expression unreadable.

"My realm lies in a mountain valley, bordered on all sides by the peaks the giants and their kin lay claim to. My nation cannot trade with any other, unless we pay the giants tribute to use the passes through the mountains." Hilde replied. "I ask for power to overcome them, and expand my realm."

"You ask a great boon." the old woman observed with a slight sigh, seeming almost bored. "What can you offer in exchange?"

"I offer a great payment -- my firstborn son, of royal blood." she said, lifting her chin. She gestured behind her, where a trembling, blindfolded servant held a cloth-wrapped bundle clutched to her chest.

The woman's serene expression faltered only for an instant, but it was enough for Hilde to catch it -- it was the reaction she'd been looking for.

The witch extended her hand, and a long brazen rod appeared in it. At its tip was a bronze crescent moon, glowing as though red hot.

"This is a bane of giantkind -- thrust this brand towards any giant you see, and they shall be marked by the seal of the moon. All giants thus marked will be bound to serve you, and do as you bid." the Witch said, a hint of eagerness in creeping into her steady, passionless voice. She extended her other hand, unable to suppress a slight shaking. "Give me the boy, and it is yours."

Queen Hilde smiled inwardly, but kept her expression neutral. "I am no fool, ancient one. You must also swear not to move against me or my realm -- that neither you, nor your servants, nor any you control, may harm or hinder us."

"I swear it!" the old woman snapped. "Give me the child!"

"Thus be our pact sealed." the Queen intoned, according to the ancient formula she'd memorized. Then she led her blindfolded servant forward, and guided the woman's hands to hold out the infant. The Witch cast the magical brand on the ground at Hilde's feet, and then snatched the babe eagerly, her face lighting up with ecstatic joy. But then her expression fell.

"What is this?" she hissed, passing a hand over the sleeping child's face, as though feeling at something invisible around him. "This is...this is not right!"

Queen Hilde smiled. "It is what we agreed, Witch. He is my firstborn, and my son -- I did not lie. But in my realm, women hold rulership. My son, though firstborn, was never my heir."

"What?" the Witch snarled.

"Did you think me a fool?" the Queen said, picking up the magical rod and examining it, fondly. "I knew why you would crave a royal scion. The tales of creatures like you devouring children are mere fables -- ignorant distortions of the truth. You desire mortals because we are connected to the mortal world, mortal monarchs most of all, for the monarch and the land are one. Your realm of dreams and shadows has become distant from the real world, and thus it has begun to vanish like a dream on waking. Most of your kind have already faded into oblivion, I am told. If you had my true heir in your power, that connection would allow you to draw your world close to mine again, as it was in ancient times, and begin to renew your realm. I have no desire to allow that."

The Twilight Witch's face darkened, as she clutched the bundled babe to her chest, her grip on the child tightening until he woke and began to cry. Power rose up around her like a stormcloud, but it did not strike the Queen, for the Witch's oath bound her like an iron band.

Queen Hilde snorted, and waved the magic rod at the Witch, dismissively. "Crush him, if it makes you feel better, I care not, but controlling him will be of no use to you. Farewell, witch -- we will not meet again." She smiled as she walked out of the grotto, her terrified servant stumbling after her, as the Witch's screams of outrage echoed through the night.

- - - - - -


SilasCrane t1_j4newab wrote



Queen Hilde reclined on a richly upholstered lounge, idly watching her daughter play in the distance. Princess Gerde seemed to be having a disagreement with one of her young ladies in waiting over a doll.

The Queen was too far away to hear what they were saying, but the confrontation was soon over, regardless: after a few moments, the princess struck the other girl across the face, and snatched the doll as she collapsed to the ground, sobbing.

The corners of Hilde's mouth curled up slightly.

"Good girl." she murmured, softly.

In the distance, something flitted across her field of vision. She squinted, but could make it. Annoyed, she looked up.

"Lean over, idiot -- the sun's in my eyes again!" she snarled.

The towering giant sighed heavily, but did as he was bid, awkwardly bending down to more completely shade the Queen and her seat. Now that she could see more clearly, she could make out the source of the distant motion. Near the treeline, deer were emerging from the forest adjoining the palace grounds, and bounding across the neatly scythe-mowed grass.

"It's a been a while since we had venison..." she idly mused, toying with the idea of commanding one of the giants to pluck a fat-looking beast from the herd. Then she saw what the deer were fleeing from.

An enormous bear charged out of the woods, a huge shaggy beast as tall as a horse and several times as wide. A fur-clad figure clung to its back, wearing a hood adorned with antlers, a long spear in his hand.

Her eyes widened. She was about to call for another her giants, but one nearer the trees was already lumbering forward to intercept the strange hunter. Though lankier than the one currently shading her, this giant still towered over even the huge bear and its rider, and bore a dangerous spiked club the size of a tree.

As the giant bore down on the bear-rider, however, the man raised his spear. A flash of bright light shone forth, and the giant stumbled to a halt. The hulking creature looked around stupidly for a moment, as the rider rode right past it, and then, to Hilde's amazement, began to wander off, as though it had simply lost interest.

"Giant!" she snapped at the one shading her, and pointed to the oncoming rider. "Deal with that brigand!"

The giant moved to intercept the bear-riding barbarian, but as he drew close, the rider raised his spear again, and Queen Hilde saw what had stayed the first giant's hand. When the speartip flashed like the sun, the moon brand faded like morning fog before the warmth of dawn. The giant swayed uncertainly, looking down at the rider in confusion.

"Another one?" the rider called, sounding amused. "Why come you here, titan-born? Your home is upon the mountain peaks, not here in the valley!"

"Mountain..." the giant rumbled in response, looking towards the peaks in the distance. "Home..."

Without another word, the giant began to walk away, leaving nothing between Hilde and the rider. She scrambled among her cushions and coverlets for the magic rod, hoping to regain control of the giant, but the rider was upon her a moment later. Suddenly the impossibly large bear was looming over her, immense paws planted on either of her chair.

She cringed back from it, thinking she was about to be devoured, but it only lowered its great head, and sniffed at her curiously, nostrils flaring.

The Rider dismounted, dropping nimbly to the ground beside his beast, and patting the bear's flank affectionately. As he stepped towards her, Hilde froze. She knew that face. The face of a man she'd shared her bed with, to sire a child that would purchase a glorious renewal of her realm. But that was impossible -- he was too young. And in any case, she'd had that man killed once she'd borne his son, to ensure he would not interfere with her bargain, nor reveal what she had done.

"Mother," the Rider said, "Who is this?"

Hilde's heart twisted in her chest. But before she could answer, another voice replied, one all too familiar.

"Her name is Hilde, my son." another voice answered. A voice that was horrifyingly familiar. The Twilight Witch walked into view from the other side of the beast, as though appearing from nowhere, and belying her name by doing so in daylight. Hilde could not fail to recognize her, though now she looked younger, more like a matron of middle age than a withered crone, and the embroidered stars on her mantle were no longer tarnished, but gleamed brightly in the sun. "This is the one who beguiled those poor giants, and compelled them to be her slaves. She purports to be queen of this land -- your land."

Outraged, Hilde opened her mouth to protest, but the Rider turned on her, jabbing a finger in her direction.

"Silence!" he snapped, and his voice cracked like a whip. There was another flash of light, and suddenly, Hilde found herself unable to speak.

The Witch smiled, and nodded. "Very wise, my son -- if she cannot speak, she cannot try to use any foul magic upon you."

The Rider beamed boyishly at her praise, "What do you think I should do now, mother?"

The Witch shrugged. "As you like, my dear -- you are the king, after all." She gestured across the grounds, towards where Gerde, having seen what transpired on the green, was fleeing towards the palace. "Why not go introduce yourself to your subjects? You could start with that girl, there."

"Ah! Excellent idea." the Rider agreed. He gestured to Hilde. "And her?"

"She can harm no one now. I will see to her, if you like." The Witch said, mildly.

The Rider nodded, and then leaped back onto his mount, before charging away across the grass. "Ho, good people! Your king approaches!"

The Witch watched him go, smiling fondly, and then turned back to Helge, who was still cringing in her chair.

"You were clever." the Witch said, giving her a nod of respect. "You outwitted me by doing something that I never would have thought of." Then she smirked. "So, when I was puzzling over how I could retaliate, despite the geas I hastily placed myself under when we made our bargain, I realized that the solution had to be something you would never think of."

The witch crouched beside the cowering monarch, like a solicitous adult addressing a wayward child. "Controlling your son would have done me no good -- you said as much. As it stood, he had no stronger connection to your world than any other mortal child. And if I made him my servant, he would have been as powerless to harm you as I am, per our agreement. So I didn't make him my servant -- quite the opposite, in fact. Most of my kind have faded away, as you know...and that means my world has many empty thrones. I placed him upon one of these, the long-abandoned throne of the Bear King, and I swore fealty to him. More than that, I loved him as my own, and taught him all I knew -- and he loved me in turn. He grew restless, of course, as I knew he would -- his realm in my world is all but empty, and he could not be happy there forever. And so, when he sought my counsel, I told him of a place where he could be happy, and do much good besides."

The Witch straightened, and stretched languidly. As she did so, some of the wrinkles faded from her face, and the stars of her mantle grew a little brighter. She turned back to Hilde, and smiled, widely.

"Oh, do not cringe so in my presence, child. I cannot harm you -- neither I nor my servants, remember?" She began to walk away, then paused, looking over her shoulder. "Although, if I were to mention to my son, my liege, that the vanquished sorceress had offended his much-beloved mother...I wonder what he might do?"


frosticky t1_j4pn75c wrote

Nice take on the prompt! When i see a comment from you on any prompt, i know that I'm going to read a story I'd like.