“Since the time of the last Golobon Winter…”
“What’s a Golobon?” Marisha asked.
Granny Needle scrunched up her face, displeased at being interrupted.
“Golobon was a king of this land,” she snapped.
“What’s a Golobon Winter?” Marisha asked.
Dehaven shifted uncomfortably. Granny Needle was so named because everything about her was sharp, from her nose to her chin to her temper. No one dared call her Granny Needle to her face, but if you said Needle, everyone knew who you were talking about. Now Dehaven’s sister, Marisha, was painfully inquisitive and displayed an unusual devotion to fairness. He could already see what direction this conversation was turning and he began frantically scouring his brain for something that could distract them from it.
“I was about to tell you, except I keep getting interrupted!” Granny Needle nearly shouted. “If you wish to know, then press those little lips together and let me speak.”
Mercifully, Marisha did as she was told.
“A Golobon Winter is a winter that lasts for more than a thousand days,” Granny Needle explained. “Have your parents at least taught you about the Four Seasoned Crown?”
Dehaven and Marisha shared a glance. Marisha didn’t know, either, Dehaven could tell. He had the sense that getting this question wrong would only further aggravate Granny Needle.
“It’s the crown we were brought here to see,” he said quickly.
“Any notion why?’ Granny Needle pressed.
Dehaven shook his head. Granny Needle hissed out a string of words Dehaven and Marisha weren’t allowed to say, especially since they were directed at their father.
“I’ll tell you why, but first you must learn about King Golobon. Golobon’s father was King Edebon. He lived ninety odd years and refused to give up the crown though winter stretched on and on. The crown you were brought to see, young Dehaven, is charmed, see, and the seasons in our kingdom match the life and health of our king.”
“Not your queen?” Marisha asked.
“No. What did I tell you about keeping your mouth shut?”
Dehaven held his breath until he was sure that Marisha wasn’t going to say anything else. He saw the temptation in her eyes, but she closed her lips and gave Granny Needle a dangerous smile. Dehaven once again began the search for an idea that would thwart the storm that was bound to happen between his little sister and his prickly grandmother.
“Where was I?” Granny Needle muttered, but she didn’t really need prompting. “The crown gives us spring in a king’s youth, summer as long as he is grown and strong, autumn as the color fades from his hair and the winter snows fall when the king’s mind begins to stray. Most kings throughout history began the Choosing at the first signs of winter. It’s why our land is so prosperous. A few, though, weren’t ready to release their rule and plunged our land into long, cold winters. King Edebon was one such king. His autumn was long, and there was plenty for our people to grow so the land remained strong. Winter eased in gradually. Little flurries here and there. A crispness to a morning. Some crops worked, some failed. The people began to call for a Choosing. What they didn’t know was that old Edebon wanted the crown to choose one of his heirs for the next rule. He kept his grandson, Golobon, at the castle and every day placed the Four Seasoned Crown upon his head in hopes of a sign of spring.”
“Didn’t he have granddaughters?” Marisha asked. “Why didn’t he try it on them?”
Granny Needle leveled a sharp glance on Marisha and continued as if she hadn’t been interrupted.
“All of this talk of inheriting the crown seeped into Golobon’s head and when his grandfather passed away in his sleep, Golobon went and seized the crown. He barred the palace doors lest the young man to whom the crown called might arrive one day. Deep, cold winter fell on the land. Snow piled high until the people lived in a maze of channels carved through it. The winter seemed to go on forever. Many left this land never to return. Those who stayed had a terrible time. That is why a winter lasting more than a thousand days is called a Golobon Winter. It isn’t permitted. If the king is not willing to give up his crown, well the people will come and take it from him. A Choosing is held until the crown selects a new king. Never again will we suffer the crown upon the wrong head.”
“Why a king?” Marisha asked.
“The crown knows when it sits on the head of a good king,” Granny Needle said.
“Why not a queen?” pressed Marisha.
“Look what I can do with my nose,” Dehaven said, frantically waggling his nostrils.
“Don’t be absurd girl!” Granny Needle said, spitting into the hearth. “What notions has that good for nothing father of yours put in your head? I wondered what they were playing at dropping you off with your brother.”
“They said something about peace and quiet.” Marisha shrugged. “Still, I’d like a try.”
Dehaven was pretty sure Granny Needle was about to have some kind of medical emergency. Her ears turned magenta and her face went blotchy.
“A try! Girl, you should know better. It’s boys who are allowed into the crown room. Boys. In all the long years of this land the crown has always chosen a king when permitted to do so.”
“It’s not fair,” Marisha said.
Dehaven got up and walked outside to the garden. The shouts coming from within Granny Needle’s little house were going to last a while.
The next day was Dehaven’s first Choosing Day. The Choosing had been going on for a week already but the crown had remained cold. Granny Needle showed him to the palace gate and shooed him on his way before turning off to do business in the market. Marisha lingered at the gate long after he had gone into the palace. He caught sight of her from a few of the windows he passed.
He was brought to a long, narrow hall with gold columns and intricate tile floors. A line of boys preceded him, and it wasn’t until early afternoon before he made it to the front. King Orison sat on his throne with a scowl while a man in puffy velvet robes rested the crown on each of the boys’ heads and made comments to a young man who sat nearby scratching his words onto a long scroll. Dehaven stepped forward and bowed his head as he’d seen the other boys do. The crown felt cold and heavy around his brow.
“Interesting,” the velvet clad man said. “There are no signs of spring, but the chill has lessened. What is this one’s name?”
The young man checked his scroll. “Dehaven,” he said.
“Come back tomorrow, Dehaven,” the man instructed.
As he left the hall, Dehaven peeked back at King Orison. The king’s eyes were on him. He bowed and exited.
“What does it mean?” he asked Granny Needle over dinner that night. It wasn’t the first or last time he’d asked it.
This once, Granny Needle was patient with him.
“It means that if the crown doesn’t recognize anyone else as the true king, you will do,” she said. “It’s happened before. A temporary king was selected until the real king finally showed up a few years later. The spring won’t be as green as it could be, but under your reign we’d at least be able to plant some harvests and get a little work done. Better than winter, anyhow.”
As far as votes of confidence went, that was as good as it was going to get with Granny Needle. Dehaven decided to take it as praise.
“How does the crown know I’ll be any good at it?” he asked.
“Charmed,” Granny Needle reminded him. Her attention was more focused on getting the peas passed and Dehaven took the hint.
The next day Dehaven was crunching through a fresh layer of snow toward the palace when he noticed another set of footsteps crunching along behind him. He didn’t recognize the boy and he waited so the other boy could catch up. When he did, Dehaven gasped.
“What have you done with your hair!” he asked his sister, whose long curls were completely gone. She wore an outfit from his trunk.
“I need to see the crown,” she said, and the set of her jaw defied him to argue with her.
“Granny Needle’s going to have your head for this,” he whistled.
“It’s a stupid rule that girls have to have long hair,” she scowled, marching past Dehaven and letting him catch up. “Just like it’s a stupid rule that the crown always chooses a king. I could be king.”
“You’re a girl,” Dehaven sighed. “You’d be a queen.”
“It shouldn’t even be different titles,” she said. “If the crown chooses me, I’m changing the title to quing.”
“If that’s your plan, then I’m definitely not helping you get into the crown room,” Dehaven snorted.
Marisha gave him a long, thoughtful look.
“Queen then,” she said.
Dehaven pushed down a smile. Marisha was constantly inviting him into trouble, and this was probably the worst, but a part of him was excited. She was younger, and she was a girl, but his little Marisha was fierce. To be honest, he’d looked up to her for years.
“Come on,” he said, catching up to her.
The guards at the gate didn’t even blink at her disguise. They waved the children through with instructions on how to get to the crown room. Marisha walked confidently beside her brother and followed him into the line of boys in the crown room; not quite as long this morning than the day before. Soon Dehaven was again at the front of the line and the velvet covered man nodded in recognition. He placed the crown on Dehaven’s head and made a small sound as if he’d expected the result he saw.
“Move to the side of the dais please, Dehaven,” he said.
Dehaven did as he was told, glancing up at King Orison. The king was purposefully avoiding his gaze. A cloud of gloom seemed to hang over the old man. Marisha stepped forward and lowered her head. A shout of exultation escaped the velvet clad man and King Orison’s head snapped up. Through the window, Dehaven could hear birds singing.
“Your highness,” the velvet man said, dropping to his knee before Marisha, “I am your humble servant, Ardol. I will teach you how to rule this realm well. Tell me what is your name?”
The young man with the scroll spoke up before Marisha had a chance to open her mouth.
“His royal majesty, Marishon!” he announced.
Marisha held up her hand and the room fell quiet from the murmurs and exultations that had begun.
“Her royal majesty, Marisha,” she corrected. “My first act as queen will be to allow girls to attend the next Choosing. Those years when the crown has been only warm toward a boy… did anyone ever consider that he might have a sister?”
A silent hall greeted her words. Finally the silence was broken by the sound of one man laughing. It was King Orison. He rose and shuffled down the two steps to take Marisha’s hands in his own. He guided her up to the throne and seated her in it.
“I will also guide you through your rule,” he said to her warmly, “for as long as I’m able. It is an honor to pass the crown to someone so courageous and aware.”
Marisha beamed at the king who now seemed years younger from his joy. She then turned to Dehaven and he saw a flicker of worry in her eyes.
“And you?” she asked quietly. “Will you help me rule?”
“Always,” Dehaven smiled. “Haven’t I been doing just that all my life?”
Marisha smiled and faced the room. “I can’t wait to see the look on Granny Needle’s face when she finds out,” she said under her breath.
Personally, Dehaven hoped to be absent from the room when that happened.
Written by W. C. McClure. This may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. This is a work of fiction. None of the characters or events depicted are meant to represent anyone or anything this side of dreams. Comments are welcome! Please help support this indie author by telling your friends about this short story blog at http://www.farsideofdreams.com and buying W. C. McClure’s books at http://www.wcmcclure.com. Thanks for reading!