The End

Finding no allies remained to him, Adalric ran from his castle without even a heavy shirt, let alone cloak or boots. His chest heaved, whether from screaming or running. Cold bit his damp face, whether from tears or the snow in the air. He didn’t feel the chill as he stumbled through the snow that remained in the woods despite the near presence of spring.

“Mara!” he shouted as he went deeper in the woods. “Mara, I need you!”

There was no answer, and eventually he stopped running and knelt in the snow like a wounded rabbit. Adalric heard a growl and reached for his sword, thinking it must be a wolf. He no more wore his sword than his boots, however. He scrambled to his feet anyway.

No wolf met him but a woman, wearing little more than blood so fresh it seemed to steam in the cold. Her hair hung in matted tangles, and her teeth greeted him with sharp points. She looked at him and he was certain she was sizing him up for a meal.

Adalric shook his head to clear it and drew himself to his full height.

“Ah, so stiff! So you’re not going rabbit after all.”

“I am not prey,” he told her, “but instead the rightful king of this land. My subjects have turned on me, witch, but if you come back with me surely you can slay all who oppose me.”

“Everyone is my prey,” she said.

Adalric began to argue, but before he could say anything further, she pulled her hair up and before his eyes her face softened. He sobbed as he recognized her.

“My love, I told you never to seek me in the winter.”

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” The apologies spilled out, insensible, for everything, and Mara understood each one.

“You sound tired, dear Adalric. I would bid you to rest with me.”

“But- I-” he stammered.

When Mara spoke again he saw sharp teeth glinting once more. “Everyone must meet me in the winter eventually, Love. Even you.”

She took him into her arms, and the king’s body was never found. But then, we all rest with Mara in the end, one way or another.

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