Okay… has this ever happened to you?
You write a whole trilogy portal fantasy naughty fairy tale retelling about a curvy girl who is destined to become the queen of the Winter Realm, you get her and her schmexy Nutcracker heroes to their happy ever after, upload the book to Amazon, push publish, have a drink to celebrate another story finally pulled out of your head and onto the page, go to bed…
And dream about that story all night long….
Then wake up the next morning and think “OH SHIT! THAT’S NOT WHAT HAPPENS! I GOT THE ENDING ALL WRONG!”
*waves in cringe*
Here’s the thing. When I’m finishing a book I write like 20 hours a day, thousands and thousand of words and I’m completely immersed into the story. I barely come up for air.
When it’s done, I publish it.
I’ve written thirty some-odd books that way.
Only once have I ever gone back and made changes later (that was on Crave Me from the Dragons Love Curves series – I decided after the book came out, that I hadn’t put in enough of Portia and her dragons falling in love with each other in the beginning of the book and added four new chapters!)
But this time it was like a snowball hit me in the face. While I was so immersed in the story, trying to get Clara and her guys to the end of the story… I left out parts I wanted to tell you and have decided, I don’t like the ending that I wrote at all.
Now, I do realize that if I didn’t publish my books as soon as I’m finished writing them, this wouldn’t have happened. But seriously, this has (almost) always worked for me and my story telling style. I have great ‘finishing energy’ and the words just flow from my head to my fingers almost faster than I can get them on the page.
So, this is an unprecedented event in my entire career.
I NEVER thought – Oh, no, that’s not how the story goes AFTER I’ve written it. (Sometimes in the middle, but never after it’s done!)
But it’s happened.
Here’s the thing.
I rewrote the ending to Crowned.
Pretend you never read anything past Chapter 12.
Here’s the last sentence that you read:
Everyone in the room except for me whispered his name all at the same time. Some in awe, some in revulsion or fear, and one with a tainted love. “Drosselmeyer.”
*Now you’re turning the page and here begins the real ending of Crowned*
The man who wrote the fairy stories of the Winter Realm? The one I was supposed to marry?
Holy snowflakes. That made so much sense, but also how in the world did I not figure that out? I was absolutely flabberghasted. My mind swirled with so many more questions that just created more questions. “Let me get this straight. Herr Drosselmeyer, the sweet storyteller and toy maker is some kind of evil magician from the Winter Realm?”
All eyes turned to me and now they were as surprised as I was. The queen was the first to close her open mouth and reply to my question with her own. “Drosselmeyer is in the human realm?”
“I guess so? He’s not any kind of magician. He makes toys and writes books for children. I… was engaged to marry him.” That last part had my stomach roiling. Not because he was evil. I just couldn’t imagine being with him, not after I’d found my princes.
Leb got out his axe and gave it a fierce twirl. “That won’t be happening, love. I’ll cut him in two if he shows his face in our realm and even looks at you.”
“I don’t think he will.” If he was planning on coming through the portal, wouldn’t he have done that on the night of the party? But he’d given me a gift and left. He’d given me Nuss. Those were not the actions of a mad magician hellbent on subjugating the Winter Realm.
It was what a father trying to make amends might do though.
Nuss was too quiet and I looked up at him. His spirit was a mess of confusion, the same as mine. “That’s how I was able to open the portal and enter your world before the clock struck twelve on the first day of Christmas. Not some special messiah of the Christmas Star powers. Drosselmeyer, my father, helped me. My whole life has been a lie.”
“No, son. You were born under the Christmas Star, and you will save our realm. The teaching of the church–”
“Stop,” Nuss roared and swept the accoutrement from the altar. “You’ve lied to the Church and you’ve all lied to me. You’ve tried to teach me that I was something so special that my duty was all that mattered in this life. But none of it matters. Do you want to know what does?”
He was seething and Leb, Zucker, Tau, and I let him.
The Snow Queen jumped up and paced back and forth before the altar. Her world was crashing down around her because of her secrets and lies. “Nuss, you must believe I did all of this for you. You’re what matters.”
His chest heaved, but his voice went dangerously quiet. “No, mother. You’re wrong, and I doubt you’ll ever understand. Your plan for me and the Winter Realm is just as bad as the Mouse Queen’s, because you’re greedy. You think this pristine privileged life we lead is the only valuable existence. But what is any of it worth without the love of a good woman or man.”
She shook her head vehemently and pointed to the group of us. “Love is the lie, son. You think these rebels love you? They don’t. They love what you represent. When we march on Christmas Castle, you’re going to be a King. They’ll worship at your feet.”
“You think I care about worship?” He threw his hands up in the air, and sparks of blue magic shot out of his fingers like icy lightning. I’d never seen him do anything but access mine and Fritz’s magic, and via our blood at that. This was definitely not mine.
The blue sparks, struck the ceiling of the church sending crumbles of ice raining down on us. all. Nuss didn’t even notice. “People are dying, mother. We’re protected in our snowy hills with our churches of ice, guarded by the best dressed nutcrackers in all the kingdoms. But the rest of the realm is starving to death, being crushed under the boot of a despot.”
The queen backed away, looking both afraid and ashamed. I joined Nuus up on the dais and put a hand on his arm, saying nothing, just showing him that I was on his side. He took several deep breaths and some of the anger faded. He took my hand and kissed it, but had a few more words for his mother, but this time in a calm, measured, but still adamant tone. “That’s what I fight for, that is why I lead the rebellion against the Mouse Queen, not because I want to be a King.”
She’d been a pretty horrible mom, and I was glad he’d broken this lie of hers open. But she had been trying to protect her son. It had made her hard and and skewed her view of the world.
And she had been in love with Drosselmeyer once upon a time, and he’d left her in the wake of a war. So I understood how hurt she was inside. Not that it excused her actions. I’d be allowing her to control or manipulate our lives anymore now that we all saw the truth about her.
But I also hoped she could either change, or step back and let Nuss lead his people and this rebellion for the good of everyone in the realm. “Can you let go of your fears and join us? Nuss is a great leader, protector, and his heart is full of so much love for this realm and his fellow citizens. Don’t let your broken heart hurt others anymore.”
She looked at me and she’d lost that stern no-one-is-good-enough-for-my-son look from before. She seemed lonely and plain scared now. “If you defeat the Mouse Queen in this coming battle, you’ll become the new Queen of the Winter Realm. No one else has the magic to do so. Has Drosselmeyer trained you and orchestrated all of this?”
I thought about my last interactions with Herr Drosselmeyer on the night of the Christmas party. “I don’t think his intentions with me were ever evil. He told me something strange about wondering if he’d done enough to prepare me.”
“Prepare you for what? Does he intend to use your magic to send us into chaos once again?” The Snow Queen looked to Nuss again. “Can your Princess of Spirit and Magic fend off their combined magic? What if Drosselmeyer is coming back to support the Mouse Queen? We can’t defeat that kind of power without a magician on our side.”
All this talk of bringing magic back and using it for battle and destruction left me feeling cold. Magic shouldn’t be weaponized they way they had. It should provide comfort and joy like the way the pixies used it, or even to live authentically like when the Animals used it to shift between forms.
“No. I think he wants me to make amends for his mistakes.” His stories had not only been about adventure, but lessons in kindness, doing the right thing, and love. The Vivandiere had searched for the pieces of the broken crown, but hadn’t gathered them for herself. She’d left them hidden, and ready for whoever would need them someday.
Left them for me.
What was he trying to tell me?
“The stories are all true.” I murmured the reminder to myself. If that was so, the crown from the land of Animals should be buried in the heart of their kingdom. I supposed that meant Christmas Castle. But that didn’t seem like somewhere so deep it could never be retrieved.
The heart of the kingdom.
Konig was the heart.
Holy broken crowns.
I was making a huge intuitive leap, but I had to remember that this wasn’t the human world and magic was possible here. Magic that could be used for good or evil. If I was wrong, then we were going to lose everything in this battle.
“Clara, what is it? Your magic is swirling and I can feel your mind working.” Nuss signaled to the others and they surrounded me, blocking the Queen’s view. That was good. I needed a little space from her erratic fear.
“We need to get back to the Land of Animals quickly, but I don’t want to do anything that will put Konig in more danger. I have an idea, but we need a little bit of time. Can we distract the Mouse Army without putting either Konig’s soldiers or ours in too much jeopardy?”
“The Snowflake army has been training for battle for a long time. It will be hard to explain to anyone why they can’t directly attack, injure or kill any of the Mouse Army, so I don’t think we should send them in. But no one would harm a Snowflake nun. We can send them in to minister to the poor. That would throw the Mouse Queen off guard, and it’s not like they’ll be much use around her for very much longer.”
“Yes, perfect, Nuss.” I squeezed his hand and looked to the others.
Leb scratched his beard. “I think the Gingerbread Vikings could probably do something to keep them at bay. A bit of hide and seek. We did avoid surrendering to the Mouse Queen for all these years. I’m sure mother can hold out a bit longer.”
“Perfect.” I gave him a kiss on the cheek and pinched his butt as a promise for more later.
“The DewDrop assassins are trained in stealth.” Tau folded his arms and gave a confident nod. “If I instruct them not to kill, but to do some espionage and gather intel, they will do as they’re told.”
Zucker cleared his throat, but I saw the twinkle in his eye at his idea for our plan. “The Sweet Fae soldiers aren’t as skilled in the art of combat, but I’m sure they could, let’s say distract, Konig’s men and women with their charms long enough for you to create the sneaky masterplan I see you hatching.”
“But what are we going to do about her?” Nuss hooked his thumb over his shoulder to indicate his mother.
She wasn’t going to change overnight, and we definitely needed to make sure she didn’t get over her shame once she was out of our site. “We do need someone to talk to the other queens. The Angel missives probably have them already freaking out, and we want everyone on the same page. Could she take care of that?”
“Yes. She can,” Nuss said firmly. There had definitely been a power shift in the Land of Snowflakes. “Mother, it’s time for you to step down. I will lead our people, including our armies today. I am asking you to be a figurehead as the revered queen. But if you can’t accept that you need to say so now.”
“It’s time we take back our realm before Drosselmeyer or the Mouse Queen can use the magic to enslave us all.” The Snow Queen narrowed her eyes and I saw her retreat to her cold facade again.
She wasn’t going to like what I was about to say. I looked first to Leb, Zucker, Tau, and Nuss. “Do you trust me?”
I knew that they did, but I needed some reassurance because this was the scariest thing I’d ever set out to do, and it wasn’t what anyone wanted from me. They nodded, and their spirits shined with their affirmations. “Good, because we’re going to gather all the queens at the fields of Christmas Castle at first light. But not to battle.”
“You think our show of force will get her to come to the table?” The Snow Queen asked.
I shook my head. “No, we’re going to surrender.”
Leb dropped his axe and the Snow Queen tripped over the altar step. Nuss took my hand and kissed it. “I see. You are a clever girl, my Queen.”
His mother glared at us, but that was okay. Hers was not the love and approval I needed. “We can’t win against the legions of the Mouse Army. Not when they’re being compelled to fight with no worry for their own lives. As long as the Mouse Queen controls them and Konig, we’re doomed.”
“Surrender can’t be the answer, princess.” The Snow Queen didn’t know me and had no reason to trust me. Even this little bit she was giving me by not outright challenging my plan was more than I could have hoped for with such a crazy idea at stake.
“No, but it will get me in front of Konig and the Mouse Queen, and we all know that’s her goal. But that’s how I’ll recover the Animal Crown.”
The Snow Queen gave me a different kind of look, like she didn’t expect such a diabolical plan from me. “Then you can deal the killing blow and end her reign.”
“We will end her reign.” But it wouldn’t be by killing her. I hoped.
“Good. Then let us make haste. Tomorrow morning we march on Christmas Castle.” She signaled that we should follow her and headed toward the same exit her ladies had gone through.
“There’s one more thing I need to do before I’m ready.” And it didn’t involve her. I stood and stepped over to Nuss, and lifted his hand to my chest, where the Snowflake crown dangled with the others on my necklace.
His eyes went dark and sparkly and he smiled. “Will you please excuse us, mother. We need the room.”
Her face went white and she coughed. Nuss gave her a look that I thoroughly enjoyed and she huffed, then lifted her hem and hurried away.
Before she was even gone, Nuss lifted me into his arms and kissed me. Then he laid me on the alter and climbed up over me. “It’s time we consummated our bond, princess.”
The pixies shot off, flying away at a blinding speed. In a rush of wings and snow, they erected barriers of intricate lace across the entryways, giving us privacy. This kind of bonding wasn’t what they cared about, except for the joy it brought to us all. I’d thank them for their thoughtfulness and discretion with some gratitude of my own, later.
This church had taught me to deny all that was decadent and pleasurable in life. They made me feel unworthy of the love around me while at the same time building me up into the image of what they wanted me to be. All under false pretenses. I wasn’t some messiah, given magic by the Christmas Star to bring glory to the Land of Snowflakes, and today, I learned the truth.
I was going to destroy every rule they’d ever shackled me with and rebuild this institution into something worthy of my beautiful princess, my fellow nutcrackers, my mouse prince, and all that I truly believed in.
Zucker and Tau came up to the alter and on either side of us, and Leb finished the circle by coming up at Clara’s head. We were all feeling the absence of Konig, but I had to have faith that someday soon we would all be together. Until then, we’d do what he’d told us to.
I had to believe that consummating the bond with Clara, the Snowflake crown in possession would still bring her more power that she could then use to save Konig, save the Winter Realm, and save me.
I brushed a soft kiss across one of Clara’s eyelids, and then the other. “You’ve been telling us all along that your purpose in the Winter Realm wasn’t about usurping the Mouse Queen, nor war, nor rebellion. We weren’t really listening. I, for one, held tight to my own agenda until I was forced to experience the real purpose for bringing you back the Winter Realm.
“And what is that my sweet Nutcracker?” Clara reached up and brushed a lock of hair out of my eyes. How in the world had she put up with the five of us not seeing her true essence all this time, was beyond me.
“Your love.” My heart pounded out a jingling staccato beat just being in her presence, knowing how deeply she felt for us and for her true home. I wasn’t worthy of her, but I would spend the rest of my life making sure that I was. “This entire adventure, the rebellion, finding the pieces of the broken crown, rediscovering all the Winter Realm is and could be, it has all been about spreading love and repairing the wounds left on our realm from greed, power, and hate. I’m sorry I didn’t understand that before.”
Leb tucked his finger under Clara’s chin and tipped her head back so she was looking up at him. “I don’t know about the rest of these cookie crumbles you’ve been hanging about, lass, but I’ve always been lusting after your love. They’re the ones who’ve had their heads up their arses.”
While Leb’s declaration was light-hearted and meant to break the tension, it was clear that he wanted her to understand the depth of his love for her. He wasn’t wrong either. It had been his idea in the first place that we all become her consorts in the fashion of the Gingerbread Viking society. When we’d made that pact, I’d agreed to keep the peace among us, but had been secretly wondering all this time if she should belong only to me and me to her. That was the church’s prophecy. Such utter reindeer shit.
Choosing us all had not only made her stronger, but each of us as well. I’d never felt more close to anyone than I did Leb, Tau, and Zucker. Not even when we’d all trained and fought together in the Magician’s war. We’d definitely bonded as brothers in arms when we thought Konig had betrayed us, but now I understood them at such a deep level and I loved them. Not exactly in the same way as I felt about Clara and Konig, but it was an important love and I was better for having experienced it. Mostly due to Leb’s foresight.
His jest and declaration of love made Clara smile and relax. While I’d meant for my declaration to be serious, I also wanted her smiling and happy. There was likely some tears ahead of us in the morning. For now we would revel in each other and bask in the delight of sharing her body and her love.
“Yes, my spicy Viking, I know. Thank goodness they have us to show them how to live it up, hmm?”
“Hey now,” Zucker said. “No one had to drag me kicking and screaming into falling head over heals for our princess. I do believe I was the one who suggested the group bonding sessions. And by bonding I mean orgasms.”
He waggled his eyebrows at us all and Tau rolled his eyes, but in that way that showed exactly how much he enjoyed his lover’s teasing.
“Mmm-hmm.” Tau jumped up onto the altar with me and Clara, leaned across us and gave Zucker a searing kiss, ending it by pulling his lip between his teeth and sucking on it. “That didn’t have anything to do with how much you’ve wanted to see our Snowflake captain here lose all of his control and his mind when we finally got him into bed, would it?”
Zucker looked a little dazed by Tau’s kiss and shook his head. “Uh, maybe?”
I was surprised by how much it warmed my heart to see them being free and easy with each other, especially when poking fun at my chastity. They’d had to hide the real nature of their feelings for each other, and apparently for me, for too long.
As had I with Konig.
Love was love no matter what, and Clara helped us all realize how much more important that was than any crown. If not for the magic within the broken pieces of the Winter crown that Clara needed, I’d destroy the damn thing so it would never control our decisions again.
“I only wish that Konig was here with us too. But he’s given us this respite to so that we can come together under one banner and bring the people of the Realm together. I for one don’t intend to fail in our mission. But first, I’m going to finally consummate the bond with my true Queen, right here, right now.”
The nuns and my mother, and probably many a citizen of the the Land of Snowflakes who’d been as indoctrinated as I had been, would see this as a desecration. Maybe that’s exactly what we needed to throw off the oppressive yoke of the institution.
I was choosing to view the consummation of my bond with Clara as a new consecration of what I intended to make the Church into – all that Clara herself found holy. Which was kindness and love. That was the real spirit of what the Star represented. She was our guiding light.
Zucker smiled and said, “Glad to see the rest of us have finally rubbed off on you, captain. It’s about time you let us dirty you up.”
What he didn’t realize was that this act, with all of them here to witness and even participate in, would cleanse my spirit.
Clara magicked her armor into a softer cushion than the block of ice the altar provided, and within a second, she was completely naked beneath me. I sat back and worked to remove my jacket, but my arm didn’t want to move in the ways I needed it to.
Tau was the first one to help. He halted the frustrated shake of my arm by grabbing the sleeves. “Allow me, Captain.”
He carefully slid the jacket off my shoulders, and then went to work on the fastenings of my shirt. Under his stealth hands, I didn’t feel helpless or pitied, but as if this was part of a ritual I’d missed out by denying each and everyone of them access to my body.
Zucker jumped up and joined us, reaching for my waist. “There will be pleasure for us all, but for the time being, my inexperienced captain, allow us to show you how it’s done. On your back.”
He pushed me down, and Tau grabbed Clara up, handing her over to Leb. Then the both of then expertly stripped me. They slowly pulling off my boots, my uniform off my legs, my shirt from my arms, not with efficiency, but with soft teasing caresses so that by the time I was naked, I was also hard and panting, dying to be touched and tasted.
Zucker took my cock in hand and gave me a few hard strokes, something I’d done far too often on my own. Clara’s soft gasp matched my own groan and I could feel the magic sparking between the two of us. Tau signaled to Leb and they positioned Clara with her knees spread open wide, straddling me, her pussy right above my cock.
“Lean forward, sweet thing. Let us make you feel good.” Zucker notched the tip of my cock into her already wet folds and used my body as his tool to tease her clit. The Snowflake crown lit up and glowed with a shining blue light that swirled out, reaching for me.
Leb dropped open his belt and drew his huge cock out right above my head. “Come here, sweet lass and let me fuck your mouth. You’ll get nice and wet from sucking on my cock.”
I knew exactly how turned on I’d been when Konig had thrust between my lips. I watched as Leb fed his shaft between Clara’s lips and holy fuck, he was right. In only a few short strokes, Zucker’s hand on my cock was slick and sliding over and around the head, driving me crazy to be inside of her.
Her soft whimpers turned to pleading moans and I had to grit my teeth and clench my fists not to simply jerk my hips and shove my way into her waiting cunt. I’d waited so long for this, for her, and it was all so much better than I’d ever imagined, when I’d fantasized about taking her on my own.
Zucker didn’t relent, edging both Clara and I closer to coming. Our sweet princess shuddered and groaned, her first orgasm taking over her senses. The swirls of her magic rose up around her and that connection we’d all had in the grotto reconnected.
Her orgasm became ours and only Zucker’s hard grip on the base of my cock when she came, kept me from spurting all over his hand. Leb though, grabbed her hair and pushed deep into her mouth. “Fuck, lass, that’s it. I’m going to come in your throat and I want to feel you swallow me down.”
I watched Clara’s throat work and swallow almost all of the Leb’s seed, but when he pulled out, some dribbled out her lips. I’d come watching her get fucked by these three already, and seeing her take their seed had turned me the fuck on, even when I insisted it was from afar. This time, up close, and with my own cock so close to finally giving her my own seed, was more than I could handle.
I grabbed her cheeks and pulled her mouth down to mine, kissing her, tasting Leb’s seed for myself, and making her bond with him, my own as well. She pressed her chest against mine and moaned into my mouth. I tried to push my hips up, join us together, but Zucker chuckled and held me tight.
Clara broke our kiss and gasped for breath. “Please, I need–”
“Shh, sweetness, let us take care of everything.”
And boy did they ever. I stared deep into Clara’s eyes as they guided me into her and then sat her back so that she was fully seated on my cock. Then Zucker crawled up behind her, cupping and caressing her tits as he helped her slowly move up and down on my shaft. Tau jumped onto the altar behind Zucker and tucked himself tight against his back. The three of them moved together, creating a mind melting slow rhythm of bodies, thrusting, fucking, and driving us all into oblivion.
Leb moved to the side and pushed his hand between Clara’s legs, cupping her mound in his palm and rubbed her clit with his thumb. With each touch, thrust, kiss, and caress, the magic connecting us all strengthened and grew, until we were all calling out each other’s names.
Clara reached down and cupped my cheek as the magic rose up all around her. She brushed her thumb across my lips, before shoving the tip between my teeth. I gave her the delicious bite that I loved. I didn’t need to draw her blood to make the magic work this time. My own magic, the part of me that had been suppressed for far too long, joined with hers and I was lost.
With one more thrust, both of our magics exploded out of us, my blue with her red, and our spirits were one. She closed in ecstasy and her inner muscles spasmed, as she came on my cock. I didn’t hold anything back from her, or the others this time, and my own orgasm lightninged up my spine and I roared out her name, as I filled her cunt with my seed.
Zucker and Tau both groaned out their own climaxes and I felt their seed on my legs. Leb even came for a second time, and smeared the evidence of it across Clara’s lips.
For the first time since she’d consummated the bonds with any of her consorts, all of our spirits swirled together, drawn out by the combination of our magic. While Konig wasn’t here, both she and I sensed him with us. He knew exactly what we were doing and was pleased we’d obeyed his commands.
I wanted to stay like this with them all forever.
Someday, we would.
But today we had to rescue Konig and change the fate of the Winter Realm.
Clara collapsed onto me and laid her head on my chest for just long enough to appreciate the new bonds formed between us. My magic had mixed with hers and she would now have the power of six of the seven crowns, fully. Hopefully that was enough to rescue Konig and maybe, just maybe find a way to uncovering the Animal crown too.
Konig deserved to experience everything I just did with Clara himself, not just through me or the sex act with out the actual bond.
“I love you all so very much. I know what we’re about to do is dangerous, so I just wanted to say that out loud so there is never any question of how precious and important your love is to me.”
One by one, we each said our I love you’s too and the star hanging on the ice wall above us shimmered and shined like it never had before.
None of us wanted to, but we got up from our love making, all more determined than before to save Konig and the Winter Realm. Nuss led us to a small room off the main chapel with facilities to clean up. We performed those absolutions, helping each other wash and dress, all in silence, as if we were performing an ancient ritual that only we knew. Then we left the church and entered the courtyard outside.
The town was so quiet that it felt deserted. All the quaint wooden houses frosted in banks of snow looked like the kind of winter village I used to see in shop’s Christmas displays. I wouldn’t even be surprised if a train tooted it’s horn and chugged in a circle around the outer boundaries of the village.
It all felt too perfect and not at all like home. The sooner we got back to the Land of Animals to put our family back together, the better. We’d ask the Queen’s to make the arrangements to march on Christmas Castle in the morning. I doubted they could get everyone organized any faster than that. But it didn’t mean we couldn’t sneak out into the night and be there, ready and waiting for the surrender.
“I don’t want to spend the night here. I want to get as close to Konig as we can. If I open another portal, where should we set up camp for the night?” We couldn’t go back to the swamp behind the castle, or really anywhere too close. If we were captured before the surrender, we might not get close enough to the Mouse Queen to rescue Konig and get the crown.
I wasn’t a hundred percent sure what I was going to do after we got Konig back, but even that would be a win for today. My Nutcrackers were sure that me having all the magic was the key to overcoming the Mouse Queen. But without a battle, and I wasn’t willing to fight lest people get hurt or even die, I didn’t actually know how to make the Mouse Queen see how destructive her rule was.
Her greed had corrupted her, and I wasn’t sure even love could conquer that.
But I did know that having all my consorts, and my pixies did in fact make me stronger. The gifts I gained from bonding with them, the warrior spirit, the empathy, the charm, command, the spirit sight, and now Nuss’s protective magic, were a boon to be sure. But it was their love that gave me the confidence to face the Mouse Queen down and try to save this Realm.
Nuss shook his head. “I don’t think you should use your magic. We’ve seen how finite it can be. Powerful, yes, but it depletes quickly. You need to save every scrap of energy you have for tomorrow.”
He wasn’t wrong. The last time I’d used my magic to break the curse on the Mouse Army soldiers, had been exhausting. “How will we get back to Christmas Castle then?”
“With a little magic,” Nuss said. He led us to the compound that must be the Snow Queen’s castle, although it was much more demure than the other castles I’d been to. That surprised me. The Church was the most opulent building in the town by far. The Snow Castle was not dissimilar to the other rows of houses, except for being pure white, a few building lengths longer and with a courtyard of its own.
Around the side were stables, filled with reindeer happily munching on hay. A young man with blond hair not unlike Nuss’s was there feeding the animals. When he saw us, and specifically Nuss, he went wide-eyed and touched his chest in a ritualistic fashion that I realized when he was done, was meant to be as if he’d drawn a star over his chest.
“Your highness, please forgive me. I didn’t know you were here. I’m so sorry, I wouldn’t have–” The boy stumbled over his words and bowed over and over, so flustered he was riling up the reindeer.
Nuss put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “It’s okay. You don’t have to either be nervous around me or supplicate yourself. It’s I who should be apologizing to you for interrupting your work.”
“Oh, no, your highness. I’m only a … and you’re….” He waved his hand toward himself, and then to Nuss, then made the sign of the star again.
“I’m the consort to the Queen. She’s the one who deserves our praise and awe, not me.” Nuss indicated me and gave a little bow just the like boy.
The boy took one look at me, my bright red dress, and he peed his pants. Literally. “You’re the lost princess.”
I knew I wasn’t supposed to use my magic, but I used just a tiny bit to clean up his trousers, and calm his excitable spirit. “I’m not lost anymore, and I want you to know how much I appreciate that you take such good care of these reindeer. Is it okay if we hitch up a sleigh to use?”
He still looked like he was going to keel over, or fall down at my feet, but I gave him a smile, and let him get a hold of himself. A moment later, he took a deep breath and nodded. “I’d be happy to prepare a sleigh for you, my lady.”
He ran off and I whispered to Nuss, “Does everyone always act like that around you here?”
He sighed. “They’ve been taught to believe I’m some kind of messiah. I’m afraid it’s going to take more than simple assurances and words to convince them other wise.”
Leb stuck his head between ours. “Once they find out what a sex god you are, they’ll forget all about the other stuff.”
It didn’t take long before the boy had eight reindeer hitched up to a big red sleigh. He looked shyly over at me. “I thought you might like this one because of the color.”
“You’re right. I do.” I wished I had some other way to show my appreciation for his thoughtfulness. All it took was that gratitude thought, and Freunde and Trost appeared. They spun around my head and conjured up a small square package wrapped in red paper and tied with a golden bow. “Perfect.”
I handed the little box to the boy. “Thank you.”
His eyes darted around like he was checking to make sure it was okay. But then he lifted the lid of the box and lifted out a star shaped chocolate, dusted in red and blue glitter. He sniffed it, grinned and then popped it into his mouth. “Mmm. Sweet dewdrop, my favorite flavor.”
Tau snorted and tried to cover it with a cough, but Zucker just straight out laughed. “Kid, I think you’ve got a little fae in you.”
Nuss blushed. Blushed. Then he dismissed the young man with another thanks and sent him back to his work.
Nuss rubbed the closest reindeer’s muzzle and it leaned into him, then looked at me. “Will they fly? If we’re going to make a statement, this is as good a way as any to arrive on the field of battle. And if Konig is there and can see us, he’ll know we’re there for him.”
It was perfect. “Let’s find out.”
In another few moments we were airborn, with Nuss steering the bright red sleigh over the snowy landscape. We left the Land of Snowflakes behind and with every minute and mile further closer to the Land of Animals, my heart pinged with pain for my Mouse Prince.
This time I understood better the landscape of the Realm and felt the pull to the Land of Spirit and Magic. Someday soon I would take all five of my consorts, and my pixies back to my homeland and rebuild a better and kinder Kingdom. The kind filled with little gingerheaded Viking princes and princesses, sweet Fairies, gentle Dewy Fae babies, proud Snowflakes, and rascally little warriors.
We landed in the icy field outside Christmas Castle, and I was surprised to see gathered troops already. I should have known the Gingerbread Vikings would be the first to answer the call. I met Mother Gingerbread with arms outstretched and she clasped me into a bear of a hug. “I sure hope you know what you’re doing, lass.”
I leaned into her. “I’m not entirely sure that I do.”
“Auch, well. We’ll help you figure it out.” She held me out at arms length again and looked me dead in the eyes. “We’re being you come hell or high snow. It’s time this Realm had a good dust up. We haven’t had one since your mother left.”
She guided me toward her tent and the scent of spices warmed me down to my spirit. “You knew my mother?”
We all followed her inside and sat down beside her mates who were sharpening their weapons to ready for battle. She stopped and gave each man a kiss and then sat on a cushion, and indicated ones for the rest of us to rest on.
“Grand adventures the Vivandiere and I had in our youth before the Magician’s wars. She saw them coming, you know. That’s why she broke the Winter Queen’s crown and hid the pieces. But now you’re here and have them all gathered up again.”
I shivered and bit my lip. “All but one.”
“Aye. But you’ll get it. That’s what your plan is all about, isn’t it? Surrendering to the Mouse Queen to get back the final crown and control all the magic in the realm?” She looked at me sideways as if testing that I knew what she was talking about.
“Yes.” Although, that wasn’t my main objective. Even though it probably should be. Was I being selfish not focusing on the larger mission at hand of saving the whole Realm from the corruption and greed that had overtaken it. I knew I’d only scratched the surface of what my magic could do. How much more powerful would I be if I had all seven crowns and the love of the princes, pixies, and people?
“But what do I do once I have the magic?”
Mother Gingerbread’s brow wrinkled with her frown. She glanced around the room and caught the eyes of her men. They each nodded in turn and got up and left. Then she said to my consorts, “Lads, we have some Queenly business to discuss, your mate and I. Would you excuse us?”
I held out my hand to them, not liking being away from them even by a few feet. “Whatever you need to say, you can say to them as well. We are as one.”
Mother Gingerbread smiled, as if that had been a test. “Right you are. Now listen to me. This realm has been ruled by powerful women for as long as history reaches back.”
I didn’t know that. How could I?
She lowered her voice. “It wasn’t until men decided we needed a ruler over us all, someone who could control all the power did our ancestors begin to fall into chaos. They should have left it to their Queens.”
“That’s not how I heard it. I thought the Queens were squabbling and they chose a Queen over the whole realm to help settle those squabbles.”
“Cookie crumbles. That’s propaganda left over from the Magician’s war.” Her voice wasn’t quiet anymore. She was getting riled up and the gift of the warrior in me matched her energy. “So now you tell me, ClaraMarie Stahlbaum, Crown of Steel Court, Queen of the Land of Spirit, knowing you’re descended from Queens, do you really think that when the time comes, you won’t know what to do?”
I shrugged. I hadn’t been raised in the Winter Realm to know my own history nor was I brought up by a Queen. Everything I knew about being a confident woman I’d learned here in the past few days, and mostly from the way my men treated me, how they trusted me, and how they made me feel.
“You’ve been tested time and time again, and you’ve fought for everything you believed in from the second you got here. Trust me, and trust your men. We all believe in you.”
“As do I,” the SugarPlum Queen stood in the doorway to the tent. Behind her was who I had to assume was the DewDrop Queen. She gave me only a reverent nod and yet, I very much felt her support like a warm hug around my heart. I understood now where Tau got his empathetic powers. Except hers seemed to be able to project her feelings to others too.
The Snow Queen was the last to enter, and with a whammy. “Your mother hid you from this Realm to keep you safe. I hope you will use that gift now for the good of all.”
I took a deep breath and nodded. “That’s what I’m here to do.”
“Good. Because the sun is rising and it’s time we went to battle. Even if it’s only for show. I just hope whatever you have planned works.” She swirled around, her snowy white skirts sparkling in the rays of sunlight from outside.
We followed her out and I couldn’t believe the incredible army of people that stood gathered on the field. Most were dressed in the same uniform of the Nutcracker, but there were also ballerinas, Vikings, and flower capped fae dotting the field.
The Snow Queen raised her arm over her head and a staff of ice formed in her hands. She shouted and the sound echoed across the field. “To our new Vivandiere. May she save us all.”
Every single person on the field, Snowflake, Fae, and Gingerbread alike, replied in response with their own war cries. But then Nuss held out his hand for the staff and the Snow Queen lowered her chin and handed it over.
He lifted the staff in the air and it filled with his blue magic. He shot a bolt of it into the sky and shouted. “Today, we march not in the name of war, but in the name of love. May the Christmas Star bless us with victory.”
Then her grabbed me in his arm and kissed me like there was no tomorrow.
I felt the moment Clara, Nuss, Zucker, Tau, and Leb returned to the Land of Animals. Their bonds were even stronger, and their emotions washed over me. I’d had to hide my arousal when Nuss had finally consummated his true bond with Clara. Their combined magic had gone straight to my cock and had me so fucking hard for hours.
I struggled against the ropes tying me to the throne while Fritz laughed and poked at the already open wounds on my chest. He was the kind of magician we’d gone to war to defeat. One taste of power had corrupted him completely.
I couldn’t imagine what would have happened if he’d gained access to the Land of Spirit and Magic like Clara had. My mother had only taught him how to draw on the latent power he had inside of him, and already he was greedy for more.
I would suffer his small tortures for now because it distracted him from the real battle coming our way.
The Mouse Queen stood at the windows overlooking the front of the castle. “Time for you to earn your keep, little magician. Come see the gathering armies for you to destroy.”
Fritz rolled his eyes at me, then joined her at the window. “A pittance against the might of the Mouse army. Hardly worth my time.”
While he puffed himself up, Fritz was nothing more than a cruel, inexperienced boy. I would enjoy killing him later. Or if that displeased my Queen, my true queen, Clara, I’d happily keep him in the dungeon, where the bugs could eat away at his body, slowly, over years.
“You won’t defeat those Queens standing up here talking about it.” I chastised them both. They knew they needed me and that’s what I was counting on. “Your pet’s games will cost you the throne if you let them, mother.”
Her ire at me might be raised at the moment, but I was still her son and most trusted captain. Only because of the spell of course. I needed her to think I was still on her side.
The Queen sighed. “Shut up. You can do nothing. Konig, it’s time to destroy your little friends.”
That wasn’t actually and order and so I didn’t move. I needed a minute to think. The news of Drosselmeyer threw me off guard. I couldn’t allow her access to his magic again. I had hoped I could wait on my plans a little longer to give Clara and the Nutcrackers the chance to usurp the Queen even without my crown.
I hadn’t counted on her having a cutthroat ruthless magician of her own. Drosselmeyer had disappeared after he’d given my mother the Crown of the Land of Animals and the spell to use it on me. His betrayal of his own people at the end of the Magician’s war would send anyone into hiding. It seemed he was coming back now to do it again. But he wasn’t here yet and that gave me a very short time to take advantage of the only thing I could do to stop the Mouse Queen.
“I want you to send the entirety of the Mouse Army onto that field and destroy every living soul upon it. Now.” The power of the compulsion spell she had over me and thus the soldiers of the Land of Animals whooshed through me sending her orders out en masse. Even the two guards holding me went wide-eyed and walked out the door.
Fuck. “My Queen, you wanted to bring the other queens to heel. You cannot show them your might, if they are dead.”
“Hmm. Yes, but I’ve changed my mind. Once they are gone, I will install new obedient queens in their places. Then we won’t have to worry about rebellions anymore.” She didn’t even bother to look at me her attention drawn to the field of battle.
I would end her reign here and now. I could only pray that breaking her spell now would free the soldiers that were already heading toward the field of battle from their destructive orders. I busted the cords binding my wrists and reached for my dagger.
“Hold.” The Queen held up a hand.
I froze and so did my armies. Had she caught me before I’d even started?
“What is that?” She pointed out the window, toward the battlefield, where the Queens were gathered to direct their armies in the battle. Clara’s bright red dress stood out among the blue uniforms and the white snow like a beacon.
“That is the prin–” I couldn’t finish my word. The Queen had forbidden me from calling Clara the princess. I cleared my throat again. “That’s Clara Stahlbaum.”
Fritz snorted. “We can see that. What is she doing?”
What in the fuck was she doing? There was only one reason to be waving a huge white flag and if she was doing what I thought she was, I was going to kill her myself. I couldn’t answer.
The Mouse Queen rubbed her hands together. “My, my. Yes. She is surrendering. Looks like your little girlfriend is afraid of the might of my army. Friedrich, go get her and bring her to me. I should like to see Konig chop off her head.”
Fritz grumbled but made the trek down to the castle gates and out onto the field of battle. If I had a heart it would be pounding so hard that everyone would be able to hear it. I watched the little asshole ride out on a horse while the contingent of soldiers he took with had to run on foot along side of him.
When they approached Clara and the Queens, I strained the limits of my shifter hearing to try and catch even a speck of what they were saying, but it was simply too far away. What I did see was Fritz draw a sword and Leb come at him with his battle axe over head.
Clara held up a hand and stopped both in their tracks, not with magic, but a single look. She had certainly grown in both confidence and power.
I didn’t like what happened next. Clara stepped away from her Nutcracker guard and the Queens and submitted to having her wrists tied. Then she followed along behind Fritz’s horse as he trotted too fast for her to keep up without stumbling along. I was going to kill him with the rope he’d used to tie her up.
After I was sure she made it into the castle without being harmed. If she was hurt or worse before she got to the throne room, I’d kill him on the spot, the consequences be damned.
I paced while my mother continued to calmy stare out the window. I couldn’t stand it and sent stealthy mouse spies to track her progress and well-being even though she’d be in front of me in less than ten minutes.
Fritz seemed to actually understand his assignment and hurried back. When they walked into the room, I lost all sense of self preservation, crossed to her, shoved Fritz aside and untied her wrists. Neither of us said anything, but I saw her examine my wounds, and her eyes glisten with tears.
I wanted nothing more than to wipe them away and tell her everything would be all right. But it wouldn’t and the Queen pulled on her spell. “Bring her to me.”
I watched my own hands grab her by the arm, as if they weren’t my own, and my feet obeyed, marching her to stand across from the Queen at the window.
“Hello, Clara. Come to supplicate yourself to me? You can’t save your lover, you know. I control him and his heart, silly girl.”
Clara said nothing, but a flash of red burst out from the necklace at her throat, and the Mouse Queen took a stumbling step back. She glared at Fritz. “You bound her powers like I showed you, didn’t you Friedrich?”
The Queen looked Clara up and down with narrowed eyes and I was thoroughly enjoying seeing fear in her eyes for the first time in a very long while.
“Of course. I’m not stupid.” He scoffed and examined his fingernails like nothing bothered him. But I could feel Clara’s powers rolling off her like an avalanche. Fuck, I hope she had a plan to use them really damn soon, because the facade wouldn’t last long. If she did, there was the slimmest of chances I wouldn’t have to die today.
“Yes, yes. Good.” She waved her hand as if my words were of no consequence. “Now some lessons must be learned and punishments meted out. Perhaps that will help you remember who your Queen is.”
With another wave of her hand, the guards snatched up Fritz tying him up just as I had been. He shouted and struggled against them, but he hadn’t spent his years fighting or even training for battle like my soldiers had. He was no match for them and in a second they had him pinned to the ground under their boots.
Ah, this lesson wasn’t for Clara.
The Mouse Queen tipped her head to the side and studied him. “What a silly stupid pet you are. How could you think I would ever trust a boy magician to rule by my side?”
“But you said you needed me, that you couldn’t be the queen you needed to be without me.” While Fritz squealed like a child, I inched closer to Clara.
If she had access to her magic, why hadn’t she used it yet to take down the Queen and usurp her. I needed her to fulfill her destiny and sooner rather than later so that we could be together.
“Yes, that’s true. You helped me find where Drosselmeyer’s been hiding, much easier than if I’d had to get it out of your sister. With his power at my disposal again, no one will threaten my reign. Ever.”
Drosselmeyer? That had been her end game with stupid Fritz? Shit. Now would be a good time for Clara to do something. I looked at her, pleading with my eyes for her to act. But was I wrong? Did she not have control over her magic?
If not, I needed a back up plan right the fuck now.
I risked a whisper while the Queen was occupied with Fritz. “Use your powers, my Queen and end her.”
She shook her head and just as quietly replied. “Not until I have your crown.”
The legends had said that the one who possessed all seven pieces of the broken crown and put it back together with love in her heart would be the new Queen of the Winter Realm. My hope that I could live through this final battle were misguided. I always had to die so that Clara could rule.
She didn’t know what she was asking, and yet, I would still give it knowing she was the one woman I would trust with the care of my people. But if even the slightest thing went wrong when I pulled out the crown and gave it to her, like say I blacked out and couldn’t protect her from the Queen’s wrath, it would all be for naught.
She needed the rest of her consorts and now.
“That old man? He’s weak and lecherous. I can be much more useful to you than he ever could. I know the human world and it’s got so many more resources and technology than this realm. We can slip back and forth and plunder until both our coffers are overflowing.”
I glanced at Fritz still wiggling around on the floor. He too was a magician, albeit one who knew nothing of how to use his own powers. But I did. I’d watched both Clara and Nuss use theirs and knew what I had to do.
Spill his blood to access the most pure magic inside of him.
The Mouse Queen turned her back on Fritz and went back to Clara. “Kill him Konig. I’m tired of his whining and I don’t need him anymore now that I have his more enticing sister.”
“With pleasure, my Queen.
I moved to Fritz’s side and put my finger to my lips to keep him quiet, making it look like I was trying to free him. He smiled and nodded. Until I pulled out my dagger and slit his fucking throat.
He gurgled and flopped around like a stuck fish but it was too late for him. The Queen jumped at the noise and turned just in time to see me slap my hand into the pooling blood. The portal opened wide, tearing the time and space in the throne room open like the wound in Fritz’s throat.
The Mouse Queen shook her head and rolled her eyes, like I was a stupid, selfish child throwing my own tantrum. She didn’t understand that this portal wasn’t for me. Good. “What have you done? We could have used him for more than one portal for you to–”
Her tirade ended abruptly when I ignored her, reached through and grabbed the first arm I could find. I yanked and Nuss came tumbling through. We fell together, him on top of me, and while I knew I shouldn’t, I grabbed him and kissed him one final time.
Our teeth gnashed together and I thrust my tongue into his mouth, wanting his taste to be the last on my lips. Then I broke the kiss as fast as it had started and ordered, “Quickly, grab the others and stop the Mouse Queen. Now.”
He blinked and gave a couple quick shakes of his head and then jumped up and back through the portal.
“Konig, what have you done? You would betray me for your lover? Stupid boy. You would have grown up freezing and starving to death before my eyes if I hadn’t wormed my way into the this position of power. I lived without everything a decent person should have for far too long and I will never live like that ever again.” She marched toward me with her face twisted in fury.
I pointed my dagger at her and scooted away. “You could have made our world great, mother. For once the Animals wouldn’t have to live in fear and subjugation. But you were greedy.”
“Don’t you chastise me.” The spell flickered through me again, and any other words I had for her were gone.
I couldn’t give her another opportunity to command me or our people to obey her psychotic orders ever again. With Nuss here and the others on their way, Clara was safe and I could fulfill both our destinies. Even if it wasn’t the one I’d hoped for.
I turned the dagger toward my own chest and just as I plunged it into the center, Zucker, Tau, and Leb came through the portal, followed by the Queens, an army of angry pixies, and a harem of Vikings, weapons at the ready.
Finally, they were here to protect Clara and when I gave her the crown of the Land of Animals, they would end her reign. I could die knowing they would take care of my people in their newfound freedom. I twisted the blade, hooked it on the crown buried where my heart should be and pulled it out. The dark compulsion spell swirled around and around, syphoning out through the wound and fizzled like the wick of a burned out candle.
“No, Konig, no!” Clara screamed and just as before in the tunnels below the castle, time and space slowed. Except for the six of us.
“You stupid, stupid boy.”
Ah, I was wrong, seven.
The Mouse Queen shifted, but not into a small creature as she was meant to be, but as one huge and deformed body with seven heads. She reached for the broken piece of the Animal crown and laid the bloody mess on one of her heads.
My vision tunneled and I reached for her. The crown wasn’t meant for the Mouse Queen. I needed Clara to have it.
Tau shot the evil bitch in that head’s eye and she screamed, but continued moving forward, crawling faster and faster toward Clara.
With my last breath, I shouted at her. “Don’t ever even think that you can touch my princess.”
She whipped around and glared at me. Her voice squeaked out like a monstrous version of what she’d been before. “I told you never to call her that.”
And yet I did.
The spell was broken.
If only Clara had my crown, I could have died in peace.
Konig’s eyes looked directly at me, but his spirit was gone. He’d broken the spell the Mouse Queen had over him and all her people and sacrificed himself to do it.
With his death, my heart shattered. The pain of it burned away the love and magic inside of me and I exploded. My dress become flames, my body a weapon. Without care for my own safety I grabbed the dagger from Konig’s limp hand and marched directly toward the grotesque monster the Mouse Queen had become.
Nuss was already attacking the queen-thing. His sword sliced through the air, but with every angry slice of his blade into her flesh, one of her heads bit at him until he fell to her onslaught. Leb’s battle cry sounded and his axe flew through the air, striking down one of her heads.
She screamed again and shook with rage and pain. The severed head wearing Konig’s bloody crown fell to the ground and still she didn’t die. Zucker sweeped in and snagged the crown from the mess and tossed it to Tau. Her great wriggling tail, slapped Zucker so hard, he went flying across the room and smacked hard against the stones, slouching in unconciousness.
Tau grabbed the crown in mid-air and rolled out of the way of another slash of the Mouse Queen’s tail. He landed at my feet, and pressed the crown into my hand. “The final crown is yours, my lady. Don’t let their deaths be in vain.”
The other six gruesome mouse heads looked directly at me and in unison said, “Give us the crowns, give us the magic.”
The magic that didn’t belong to her, or me, or any one person, but all the people of the Winter Realm.
I looked down at the seven crowns, at the broken pieces that represented each of the unique lands that made up this realm. I tore the chain I wore and let each piece of the crown fall into my hand. One by one they joined together, the puzzle forming a Queen’s crown, until only one final empty spot remained.
The mouse queen rushed toward me, and both Leb and Tau tackled her. Tau held her down and Leb broke one neck and then another and another, until only the final head remained. She shifted, trying to reclaim her form of a woman, but her body was battered and torn up, half skin, half fur, but still fighting.
With a final snap, I laid the broken piece of the crown of the Land of Animals into place, and the crown reformed in my hand. The magic contained within the seven pieces exploded into the red sparkling magic of the Land of Spirit, the blue electric fire of the Land of Snow, the sensual purple of the Land of Sweet, the bright green of the Land of Flowers, the spicy orange of the Gingerbread Kingdom, and the brilliant golden rays of the Land of Animals. The rainbow that made up the diverse lands of the Winter Realm glittered and sparkled accented by pretty pink starbursts that calmed and comforted my heart, filling me with pure joy.
This was the magic of the Winter Realm. Beautiful and perfect, when ever part came together as one.
I held the key to controlling all this magic, all this power. All I had to do is set the crown on my head and the Winter Realm would be mind, just as it’s princes were. I could end the Mouse Queen’s cruel rule and make things right for all the people of the land.
I wasn’t meant to usurp the evil queen, punish her for her crimes against her people, or even kill her. Even though that’s what everyone wanted me to do.
I wasn’t the Vivandiere.
I wasn’t the loving daughter, nor the put-upon sister of the human world I’d left behind.
I wasn’t even the pudgy girl who wanted nothing more than to dance.
All of those roles were the opposite of all the lessons I’d learned on this adventure back to my true home and my true self.
I was a woman who thought she would never be loved until she met her five princes. A woman who’d had that love taken away before she even got to truly experience it.
Just as Mother Gingerbread said I would, I felt the love and knowledge of my ancestors before me, and I knew what to do.
I was the princess of the Land of Spirit, where love not hate was meant to be. The magic never belonged to my people. They’d somehow corralled it and controlled it over the years, and that too was greed that caused corruption. I had to set that right.
Just as Konig made his choice to reclaim his true self, I would too.
I set the crown of the Queen of the Winter Realm on my head, but not to take the power, not to control it. I chose in that moment to give the magic back. Back to the land, back to its people, where it belonged. Never to be used or abused again.
When everyone had power, no one did. When we were all equal, we were free.
The fire of hatred, anger, shame, and greed subsided as a mighty wind of love, comfort, and joy whipped through the room and the walls around us, along with the ceiling above us blew away, leaving us access to the wide open sky.
The stones of Christmas Castle, built on coerced labor, and for all the wrong reasons, crumbled and melted away under our feet and it was if the castle had never stood. We stood in soft fields of snow, dotted with bushes and trees. The castle keep washed away and left only the people who’d been in the buildings standing around wondering what happened.
Some of the swirls of magic seep into the people around us, but still more of the light floated out toward the armies on the field. As they each received their gift of magic and power, they laid down their weapons and embraced those around them. Even the Queens, joined together hand in hand and Mother Gingerbread led a cheer that spread all across the lands.
Snow fell down on us all and with each snowflake, the magic contained in the crown seeped away. I used the last bit of magic contained in my tumultuous emotions to heal those around me.
I pushed the snow toward the Mouse Queen and as it touched her fur, the monstrous heads disappeared, and a small mouse was all that was left.
She scurried away, leaving bloody footprints in the snow. I didn’t chase her, I had no need to find her now. There were more important matters for the Winter magic to take care of.
I directed the snow to fall on Konig, Nuss and Zucker next. I let my spirit flow into theirs and find the connection between us all, as faint as they were.
Zucker rose first, shaking his head and looking around like he’d only just waken from a dream. Tau rushed over and pulled him into his arms and that link clicked back into place.
Nuss awoke next and Leb helped him to his feet. He made his way over to me and pulled me into his arms. They were both healthy and whole again. “You’ve save us all my Queen.”
I shook my head and let the first of my tears fall. “Not all of us.”
I fell to my knees beside Konig’s body, and covered his chest with my own. He’d sacrified everything for for this realm, for his people, and for me. He’d made the ultimate sacrifice for love and if I had a modicum of magic left in me, I would curse him for it.
I couldn’t breath, only weep. Nuss dropped to the ground beside me and put a hand on both my head and Konig’s. “This can’t be. We were supposed to save him. Nothing else mattered. It was my job to protect him and I let him down again. I’m so sorry, my King. I’m sorry.”
Leb, Zucker, and Tau knelt with us, and Tau joined our hands. Just as when we all experienced pleasure together, our link connected our pain. My heart broken five more times over and it would never heal.
The people living in and around the castle began a procession past us, grieving the loss of their prince, their king, their protector. While this was a day for rejoicing, it was also a day of sorrow.
The little doe-eyed girl from the docks approached us from the line of mourners and came right up to me. She touched my tears and pressed them to her own eyes. “If I give the magic back, my lady, will you use it to give Konig his life back?”
“Oh, honey. I wish it worked that way. But only you can use the magic inside of you now. So use it to make something beautiful in this life and perhaps if we all do that, we will honor him and his sacrifice.”
She shook her head and her own tears streamed down her face. She wiped them away and pressed her wet hands to my face. But when nothing happened, she cried even more.
My sweet little pixies appeared and they flitted around us all, wringing their hands not knowing what to do. Milk and cookies weren’t going to provide very much comfort today. Freunde sat on the little girl’s shoulder and nuzzled her ear. But Trost made a strange nose dive for the ground, and went head first into a pile of snow.
“My lady, what’re they doing?” The little girl pointed to where Trost had gotten lost, and in an instant, Freunde followed them in. We could see their lights wiggling around under the snow, and finally, Leb got frustrate waiting for them to reappear and he started shoveling scoops of snow away with his hands.
When he uncovered them, I thought at first they’d conjured up another present. I just wasn’t up for gift giving. But then I saw that the box they had wasn’t pretty and tied up in a bow, but instead was made of bones. They’d had a hard time getting it out of the drift because a small, raggedy mouse had a hold of it too.
The Mouse Queen.
She smacked Freunde and Trost away, and shoved the box toward me.
I reached for it, but the little girl held my hand back. “My lady, no. That thing is evil.”
I patted her hand and picked up anyway, then held it up and let the snow fall on it, washing the evil away. Because I could feel that what was inside wasn’t evil, but magic instead. When I turned back, the little mouse was gone and there were only tiny footprints in the snow.
Carefully, I lifted the lid, and my heart skipped a beat, then another and another, until I had to finally remind myself to breathe. Inside was a heart, made of golden magic. It beat ever so slowly, but it did beat.
I looked at my men and it took me a minute to find my voice. “All together now.”
We five reached into the box and as one, we lifted the heart and pressed the magic into Konig’s chest. I held my breath, and closed my eyes. “We love you, my Mouse King. Come back to us now and complete this bond. We need you.”
I heard the others’ sighs of relief before I opened my eyes. I was met with the sparkling eyes of the final piece of my heart. He pulled me down to him and into a long kiss. I think he would have let me go on kissing him forever, if my tears hadn’t dripped all over us both.
“Don’t cry, my Queen. I want your laughter, not your tears.”
I did let out a small laugh and hugged him tight.
Leb grabbed us all up into his great big arms and held is tight as one. “Well, I for one want her orgasms.”
The others groaned and then laughed and a final bit of magic passed between us all, linking all of our hearts back together again.
We helped Konig up and the people around us gasped, cheered, cried, and laughed. Somewhere nearby, music that sounded a whole lot like some of the more jaunty Christmas carols from the human world started up and soon there was merry making and reveling all around us.
Though most were in celebration mode, the Queens had their heads together. The Snow Queen approached us and I could see trouble coming. Nuss tried to fend her off, but I wrapped my arm around his waist and tucked myself against him. “It’s okay, let her come. We’ll deal with her together.”
“Nuss, Clara,” she said, giving a little bow.
“Mother, this isn’t court, you don’t have to–”
She held up a hand. “I will just the same, thank you very much. You may have changed life here in the Winter Realm, but it will take some of time to get used to it.”
I gave Nuss a squeeze. He too was going to have to get used to not caring so much what his mother said, thought or wanted.
“Fine. Then what is it that you need?”
She gave a thank-you-very-much jerky nod of her head. “We’d like to know if Clara isn’t the Winter Queen, and the Land of Spirit and Magic–”
I interrupted her this time. “It’s just the Land of Spirit. The magic belongs to us all now.”
“Fine. And the Land of Spirit,” she made a face as she paused the beat for where the words ‘and Magic’ should have been said, “is, umm, non habitable at the moment, will Clara step into the role of the Queen of the Land of Animals?”
“No.” Nuss, Konig, and I all said it emphatically at the same time.
The Snow Queen frowned and looked uncomfortably between Nuss and Konig. “Then he will be the, uh, King?”
I could feel Nuss’s ire rising up again, so I stepped in so he didn’t have to say anything more to her. “For a while, we’re going to let the people of the Land of Animals heal. When they’re ready, they’ll decide who they want to be their leaders.”
“That’s not how it works in the Winter Realm. They need a Queen.”
“Do they though?” They’d been hurt long enough by people in power. Maybe they needed a break. Either way it wasn’t any of our decisions. Only Konig should have a say.
My favorite little girl ran up and tugged on my hand. “I’ll be Queen.”
Konig chuckled and gave her head a gentle stroke. “Okay, love. That sounds like a good plan. But let’s iron out the details when you come of age and can control your shift, hmm?”
She nodded and ran back to her mother. “I’m going to be Queen, mama.”
The Snow Queen rolled her eyes and stomped her way back to the other Queens. She must have reported what we’d decided, and the other women laughed and Mother Gingerbread gave me an approving smile.
Pixies and messenger Angels flew through the air, and Freunde and Trost pulled me to follow them. They buzzed and squealed and I vowed to learn to speak their language now that we weren’t searching for crowns and fighting an evil queen. “Leb, what are they saying?”
“Basically, there’s a party in the Christmas Tree Forest and they want us to join them there. There’s something they want to show us.”
Nuss gave a little whistle and our reindeer came trotting over still attached to the sleigh. Konig rolled his eyes. “It’s no animal carved work of art, but I guess it will do.”
Nuss picked Konig up, in a princess hold, and carried him over to the sleigh and carefully deposited him into the soft blankets, wrapping him up snug as a bug in a rug. Zucker, Tau, and Leb all conveniently looked up at the sky, or across the field when Konig scowled. But the way our King leaned into Nuss’s touch, he secretly liked being taken care of that way.
I’d venture to guess no one had ever done anything of the sort and I was already making plans to do lots of taking care of him. In and out of the blankets.
The rest of us climbed in and it took quite a while for us to make it to the the Christmas Tree forest because so many wanted to greet us and cheer us along the way. But there was no more flying for us now that I couldn’t magic us up into the sky.
When we finally made it to the heart of the forest, the party was in full swing. There were adults talking and dancing, and children running around with cookies in their hands. It reminded me so much of the night of the Christmas party at my human home that my chest and heart gave a little contraction.
Tau took my hand and gave it a kiss. “I can feel your heartache. Do you miss that world so very much?”
I thought for a moment and shook my head. “No. This is where I belong. That world never appreciated me for who and when I am, and I don’t even mean being a magical queen. I do wonder about my father though. I did love him.”
Was he even my real father? I doubted I would ever know since no one else from the Land of Spirit was still around. Unless of course Drosselmeyer found a way to come through the portal. Pins and needles creeped down my spine worrying that he might still have the power to do that.
I still didn’t think he was evil, but he might have been at one time and his energy didn’t belong in the Winter Realm anymore. But with the magic now dispersed across the land perhaps there was no more portal between our two realms.
Freunde and Trost circled me and while one pushed my shoulders, the other tried to drag me by the arm. “Where are we going my little loves?”
Tau and I went along to where they pulled us, and the others followed close behind. We were just outside the main circle of trees where the revelry was in full swing. But in another few steps, I recognize one particular tree. A few of the lower branches were broken from where I had fallen along with Nuss only a few days ago.
This was the tree we had portaled through. And if I squint it close, looking between the branches, there was electric light from the lamps in the Stahlbaum house’s living room. My stomach dropped a little and I took a step back. But the nurse dragged me back forward. “The portal is here but without an intention it’s not entirely opened. We can observe until the final hour of the twelfth days of Christmas.”
“But look, the tree is still up, the living room still has remnants from our Christmas party. It looks as though it’s only the next day. Christmas Day.”
“Yes, lass.” Leb said. “Remember time moves differently between the realms. At Christmas each of our days is a mere two hours in your world.”
“What day is it here?”
They all glanced around at each other as if I’d asked what the square root of pi was. Zucker even made calculations on his fingers. It had been a very busy few days and it seemed we’d all lost track. Konig was the only one to speak up.
“The ninth day of Christmas.”
My truly loves gave to me… let’s see… oh, I was so getting five golden rings made up for them. But then I remembered. The ninth day of Christmas my true loves gave to me, nine dancers dancing.
I wondered if I could get the ballerinas of the Sweet Fae court to do a dance with me that ended with a partridge in a pear tree. “So, it’s Christmas afternoon. Father should be having afternoon tea.”
Suddenly through the branches I saw someone wheeling my father into the living room and one of the maids bringing in a tray of tea and biscuits. The man pushing my father’s chair sat, so that his back was to the old grandfather clock, the one Herr Drosselmeyer had given us.
But I had a clear view of my father, and he looked… happy. He was lucid and animately talking to his visitor. That brought a gentle tear to my lashes and I didn’t bother to wipe it away. He was going to be okay. I almost hoped he wouldn’t remember that Fritz and I were gone, and he likely wouldn’t.
He and his visitor laughed, and talked, but eventually my father yawned and the maid came and cleared the tea away. She returned and rolled my father away, but he no longer had that tired lost look on his face. I was glad and sad all at the same time.
The visitor rose and turned, finally toward the clock, which gave us a straight view of his face. It was Herr Drosselmeyer, but he looked so much younger, and he had a new twinkle in his eye that absolutely reminded me of Nuss.
He looked directly at me and I gasped. He wasn’t supposed to be able to see through the tree, was he? He tipped his hat to us, and put his hand over his heart. Then he opened his jacket, and revealed a blue, sparkling, snowflake, beating along with his heart. He patted it and held his hand there, in a gesture that expressed sadness and love.
Nuss touched his heart. “I felt that. Although, I don’t think it was actually meant for me.”
“It wasn’t,” I said. “But your mother probably isn’t ready to hear this story.”
Herr Drosselmeyer nodded and walked out of the living room so we could no longer see him. The Stahlbaum house fell silent and the living room began to darken as twilight fell. Soon, the only thing visible in the house was the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree.
We returned to the party, but along the way back, the pixies pointed to other trees and I caught glimpses of more portals. These were in that same window-like state, and the quick views that I saw, wasn’t of homes like mine, but exotic lands. Someplace warm with a lot of sun, that I’d definitely like to visit someday for a vacation from the snow, and another filled with thunderclouds and trees with branches filled with the flowers of Spring.
I caught up to the others and asked, “Are there other realms? Like say the Summer or Spring Realm?”
“Of course, lass. There are seven realms.”
“There are? I only know of four seasons, what are the others?” I was fascinated by the idea of other realms and wondered if we could even visit.
Nuss answered with, “There’s also the Twilight, and Shadow Realms.”
“But that’s only six.”
Konig supplied this last answer with a dark frown. “The Lost Realm.”
Fascinating. I felt like I needed to go to Winter Realm elementary school to catch up on all that I’d missed living in the human world. “Ooh, that sounds creepy and ominous. How do you know about it if it’s lost?”
“There’s still legend and lore about it. The magicians used to have a whole field of study dedicated to finding the Lost Realm, thinking there must be power and magic to be had there. I found text in the ruins of Steel Tree Castle.”
Well, that was a downer discussion for another day. We rejoined the revelers and the party in the Christmas Tree Forest lasted well into the tenth day of Christmas. Which was both fun and exhausting. Those pixies could party, man.
On the last two days of Christmas, we as a group, travelled around to the different courts, visiting the Queens, Mother Gingerbread, and finally the Land of Animals. They’d set up a new market where the old castle had stood, and it was thriving.
Animals who’d been in hiding for years had come out, and all the men and women who’d been enlisted as soldiers all had the opportunity to build new lives. It wasn’t going to be all sunshine and snowflakes. There was years, generations even of trauma that needed to be healed.
But the other lands helped how they could. The contingent of Snowflake nuns that Nuss had sent to help the poor had an uphill battle. Not only because there were so many who’d been living in poverty for years, but because very few Animals trusted any Snowflakes.
I thought maybe we’d make our forever home in the Land of Animals, but Konig said no. He didn’t want any of his people to harbor any resentment for non-Animals deciding they could just take up some of the land for themselves, even if they were bonded and mated to him.
“Where should we settle down then, or will we roam from Land to Land the rest of our days? That sounds exhausting to me.” Zucker was stretched out in the back of the sleigh, with Tau tucked into his shoulder.
Leb nodded and patted his axe on his hand, which had become his main thinking strategy. “No, we should find a place to build a long house and begin the work of filling it with many children.”
“That doesn’t exactly sound like work to me. But I agree the sooner the better. We haven’t had a moment alone to bond with our Queen.” Konig gave me a come hither look and it was something I couldn’t refuse.
Nuss grabbed me up and threw me over his strong shoulder. His arm still hadn’t healed and it seemed unless we took him back to the human realm, it may never do so. I used a bit of my magician’s armor, which seemed to have some if it’s own inherent magic in it, to create a more permanent sling. Even with only one arm to use, he wasn’t any less my protector or lover.
“Yes, we need some privacy and a place of our own, because otherwise, I’m going to be getting more lessons in lovemaking here in the back of the sleigh in the middle of the prairie. So whoever had a suggestion, speak up now.”
No one said a thing.
“You guys just want to watch while Nuss learns the fine art of cunnilingus, you dirty bastards,” Zucker finally said. “And I for one am ready and willing to teach him.”
“Wait,” I squeaked out. “I know of a slightly run down castle in the Land of Spirit that could use a good solid family to move in and fix it up.”
Even while I was hanging upside down over Nuss’s back, I could see that all of them liked the idea. Leb jumped into the back of the sleigh with Zucker and Tau and settled himself in for the ride. “Sounds like the perfect place. As long as we can build a room with a bed made for six, I’m game.”
That sounded just perfect to me.
We took off in the direction of the Land of Spirit, and this time when we got close to the boarder, there was no more wall, and no more magic barrier. The ruins of the castle were still as they were when I left, but the zip of magic was gone.
But where the land had been barren, windswept and cold before, trees and plants has started to take root. The land was already beginning to recover. As we pulled up to the bit of castle that still stood, I noticed something on the side of the room we’d stayed in before.
I hoped out of the sleigh and walked around the building to where a courtyard opened up. In the center was a Christmas tree made of shiny steel. My family’s namesake, stood tall and proud, even in the face of destruction around it.
But around the base of the tree was a stack of brightly wrapped Christmas presents. I looked back to my men, but they didn’t seem to know anything about them.
I carefully unwrapped the first present and found a gingerbread man and a gingerbread house inside. I showed it to Leb and he smiled and gestured for me to go on.
The next boxes had a sugar plum, and a dewdrop flower in them. They were beautiful and all together too deliberate to be coincidental. Who had left these for us?
I opened the next two boxes and indeed found a mouse king and a nutcracker. Of course.
But what was going to be in the final box? It was the biggest and wrapped in shining red paper. I lifted the lid and found two dolls inside. One an adorably chubby ballerina, and the other…
I lifted the beautiful doll out, and she was dressed as the Vivandiere. There was a chain around her neck, with a stylized crown of gold and rubies, similar to the one my mother had left for me.
There was also a note, and it read.
Welcome home, princess.