Actions

Work Header

Winter's Fall

Chapter Text

Once Upon a Time...

{Note: Echidna is known as the mother of monsters in Greek mythology, and one of her offspring is the Hydra monster, which is important to this story for all the obvious reasons. Read more HERE and HERE.}

*****************

The castle by the sea caught the last rays of the winter sunset and reflected brilliantly under the gentle glow. Marbled walls shaded soft pink and rich purple, the ocean below tossed deep blue and shadowed gray waves against white cliffs and the evening wind brought a crispness to the air that spoke of coming snow. 

Inside the home, servants closed the last of the windows to be sure the halls and great room stayed cozy for the all the attending guests and lit every chandelier so each lovely gown and piece of ornately stitched brocade was displayed to it's best. The floors were polished to a high shine, the statues and decor dusted, drapes cleaned and banisters smoothed all to be sure the castle was as beautifully put together as could be.  

Tonight was the night the two month old Prince James was to be christened, baptized and blessed and finally introduced to the Kingdom, and all needed to be exactly perfect.

Gathered in the main ballroom was a crush of the most important people in the realm-- Lords and Ladies, visiting dignitaries and stewards, the bishop and priests. The General Ross and his second in command were present, the Royals Stark with their son Prince Anthony, and as a show of respect to the ancient magic woven through the land, even the good witch Margaret and the King and Queen Fae had been invited. 

The bishop wasn’t thrilled about seeing old magic mingling with new religion, but King George cleared his throat loudly when one of the priests spoke up to complain, and on his other side, King Howard pinned the priest with the sort of look that quelled even the strongest objection. 

“It would be unwise of His Majesty to seek the blessing of only one spiritual force in this Kingdom, don’t you think?” Howard said slowly, pointedly. “Surely we all want as many blessings for Prince James as possible, isn’t that correct?”

“Well yes but--but-- but--” the priest tried to stammer but neither Howard nor George were listening anymore, both the Kings turned to watch their wives approach the gilded bassinet that held the little Prince. 

“Oh, he’s beautiful.” Maria gathered her heavy skirts and knelt to brush gentle fingers over the baby’s satin soft cheek. “Winnie, you must be so happy, look how lovely he is. Such dark hair too!”

“He looks like a foot.” Prince Anthony was two and a half years old, wildly rambunctious and hilariously outspoken and as he peered at the baby from beneath a riot of curls, his little nose scrunched as if unimpressed. “Why is he wrinkly?” 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

“Anthony!” Maria gasped. “Baby James does not look like a foot!” 

Winnie only chuckled and hugged the toddler to her side, kissing her godson’s forehead. “All babies are wrinkly, my little Tony. But one day he will grow to be just as handsome and charming as you are, you’ll see.”

“I dunno about that.” Tony said doubtfully. “He’s pretty wrinkly.” 

“You’ll see.” Winnie repeated and stood up to take Maria’s hand. “Shall we go see the fairies, I don’t want them to feel slighted ignored. No use stirring up that sort of ill will, hm?”  

“I’m sure they were happy just to be invited. There is no ill will here tonight.” Maria soothed, and with one last glance at her son to be sure Tony was behaving, she followed the other Queen around the room to greet the visitors. 

Tony stayed behind at the baby’s crib, eyeing the various gowns and colorful outfits with mild curiosity, wondering at the wings on some of the shorter people, and nibbling at a stash of cookies he’d hidden in the silken pockets of his overly ruffled outfit. He crammed the sweet treats into his mouth about as fast he could, and ended up getting crumbs all over the floor, himself, and onto the baby’s blanket.

“Oopsie.” Tony looked around guiltily, then reached in and tried to brush the crumbs away. “Sorry baby, sorry. Didn’t mean to get you messy--” he stopped when baby James’s eyes opened wide and blinked at him. “Oh. Hi. Are you awake?”

He poked at the soft tummy with just one finger and then jumped when the baby waved tiny fists around and tried to grab at him. “Hi baby. My name’s Tony.” 

“Little Prince.” A puff of air and a stir of magic, and Tony jumped when the witch Margaret shimmered into sight next to him. “Are you sharing your cookies with Prince James?” 

“Ummmmm….” Tony looked down at the cookies still clutched in his hand and then down at the crumbed blankets. “Yes?” 

“Ah.” Margaret smiled down at him. “Would you like a little help cleaning up?” A flick of her fingers and twist of her wrist and the crumbs disappeared, and Tony gasped in delight when he suddenly had more cookies. “There, isn’t that better? I think Prince James is too young to eat cookies for now, so why don’t you have them and when he gets older you can promise to share with him? That’s what charming princes do, you know. Share their cookies.” 

“Oh I promise!” Tony’s dark eyes lit in happiness. “Thanks, Mar’get!” 

“You are very welcome, little love.” Margaret said warmly. “Now tell me what you think of--” 

The witch suddenly froze, and before Tony could ask what was wrong, she snatched him right up against her body, hiding the toddler in her skirts so he wouldn’t see whatever was coming. 

“Your Majesties!” she called, and both sets of Royals turned her way. “Please? This way, I don’t know what is coming but please come closer to me!” 

The royals hurried towards Margaret and one of the fairies screamed when they felt the evil roiling through the room. They were snatched back by another just in time to avoid being burnt as the air seemed to pop and boil around them, searing smoke of burnt red and silver gray gathering into clouds at their feet. There was a rumble of thunder, the chandeliers flickering and drapes whipping in a sudden wind, a flash of light--

--and a too tall woman with too thin limbs straightened up to stand in their midst. 

“How…peculiar.” the intruder said slowly, and the words echoed as if from a great distance. “An entire celebration full of royals and fairies and witches and yet I-- was not invited?” 

“Echidna.” Margaret moved to stand in front of the crib, blocking baby James and Tony with her body to keep them from the monsters sight. “Mother of monsters, of course you were not invited. You bring only chaos and terror and you are not welcome in this place.” 

“A shame.” Echidna waved her hand idly through the still dissipating smoke, her clawed fingers and scaled skin nearly yellow in the light. “It seems perilous to honor the old magic but then shun the eldest and most powerful of them all, don’t you think? I love babies, even the ones far less dangerous than my own little monsters and my feelings are terribly hurt at being ignored. What is the saying, my dear Margaret? Hell hath no fury…” 

“Echidna.” Margaret held tight to Winnie’s hand when the Queen cried out in fear. “Echidna, you will not dare--” 

“Hush.” Echidna was more ancient than Margaret, a creature from a time beyond time and it took nothing more than a snap of her fingers to bind Margaret’s mouth and silence the witch entirely. “I won’t hurt the little beast, but I will give it a blessing of my own. Isn’t that why we are all here?” 

She whirled to face the room, curved fangs peeking from beneath her lips when she saw the humans cowering, even the fairies turning away. “Isn’t that...why we...are all...here.” Echidna said again, enunciating the words with malicious intent. “To bless the newest Prince? To honor and be honored with our presence? Surely I deserve a chance to whisper into the child’s ear?” 

No one dared move, no one dared speak and Margaret couldn’t speak even though she desperately wanted to. She kept one hand on Tony to keep him hidden in the folds of her gown and with the other hand Margaret kept hold of George, compelling him to stay still

Too quick a movement, too obviously violent an intention towards her, and Echidna would not hesitate to kill. Margaret had seen the witch kill simply for pleasure, she’d seen Echidna rip heads off and hearts out before sinking her fangs into what was left and draining it dry, she’d seen the mother of monsters feed her gruesome children entire villages, Margaret had seen it all

It had been centuries since Echidna had stirred from her lair within the black cliffs and neither Margaret nor the fairies knew what had brought the creature to the surface, but here Echidna was, and Margaret was helpless to do anything. 

“Please.” Winnie covered her mouth with both hands and shook her head. “Oh please-- please my baby--” 

Shhh.” Echidna brushed one scaled knuckle down Winnie’s cheek as she passed to the bassinet. “I am a mother too, you know. I will not lay a hand on him, you have my word.” 

The mortals in the room breathed a collective sigh of relief, but the fairies shared an uncertain look. They knew better than anyone that a witch’s promise only applied to the exact words she said, that harm could be dealt without a hand being raised, and as Echidna swept her snakeskin cloak behind her, as the claws at her feet tsinged across the polished floor, every fairy present knew something terrible was about to happen. 

“Hello, little beast.” Echidna murmured to the baby, her lip curling in near disgust as she stared down at his smooth skin and soft hair. “Are you sleeping?” 

Baby James opened his eyes again and Echidna’s smile was an awful thing, her voice both syrupy sweet and sharp as nails as she leaned into his crib to whisper,

“Before you are grown you will seek to fly, risking all to touch the sun. But Icarus lost his wings and so will you, winter’s fall will not be undone. A slip from heights, a careless step, a slide to down below. A beauty lost, a Kingdom torn, and that’s the way the horror goes.” 

Margaret was shaking with rage by the time Echidna had finished but she was forced to silence by the other creature’s magic, unable to do anything but hold the family back until Echina moved away from the crib and towards the center of the room. 

“Perhaps next time you humans will not be so quick to ignore me.” She bared her fangs in a gruesome smile. “Congratulations on your little bundle of joy. Enjoy him… while you can.” 

A roll of thunder and a flash of light and Echidna’s mocking laughter echoed across the ballroom long after the creature herself had gone. 

Maria snatched Tony up and hid her tears in his hair, and Howard held both his wife and his child tight as George and Winnie ran to gather up James, clutching the babyover their heart. 

“Do something.” George ordered, his voice cracking in the terrified silence. “There is more magic in this room than there is stretched across the entire realm. One of you do something! Do not let that monster curse our child!” 

“Your Majesty, we are not strong enough to break Echidna’s curse.” One of the fairies whispered. “Her power is rooted before our time, we cannot--we have no way of--” 

“--the best we can do is bless James with something that will help him counter the curse.” Margaret could only speak once the last of Echidna’s smoke had disappeared and the first thing she did was murmur into Winnie’s ear and press comfortingly at George’s hand before motioning for them to give her James. “Give him here, love. Let me have him.” 

Winnie was crying as she handed the witch her child, openly sobbing when George pulled her back several steps. Maria wrapped an arm around Winnie’s waist and Tony, who had no idea what was going on at all, whined and tried to pull away from Howard’s too tight hold. 

“Baby!” he insisted. “Let me see the baby!” 

“It’s alright.” Margaret spread her skirts on the floor and patted at her leg so Tony would come sit with her. “The boy is alright, let him come here.” 

Tony ran over and snuggled into Margaret’s lap, thankfully too intent on cookies and the little noises James was making to see the tears in everyone’s eyes. 

“The Kingdom will fall to winter and the castle will hide behind the dark.” Margaret began slowly, and Winnie made a muffled, panicked noise. “But your heart will not cease neither will your soul depart. You will slip, little love, and yes you will fall. But you will only sleep, only rest, until true love conquers all.” 

“True love.” King George shook his head. “How could true love conquer a curse when Echidna said it would come before James is grown? He might not be old enough to have his first kiss, much less old enough to fall in love, it could happen anytime! How does this help, Margaret?” 

“I’ve done all I can.” Margaret whispered, and leaned in to kiss Tony’s chubby cheek before kissing James’s forehead. “There are more ways than one to love, your Majesty, and very few demand romance or a kiss. Very few indeed.”

*************

That night Howard and George stood by the fire and smoked their cigars, muttering quietly about the days events while Maria and Winnie sat upstairs in the nursery rocking their babies and trying not to cry. 

“What do you think Margaret meant, that very few ways to love demand romance or a kiss?” Winnie asked into the silence, tucking James’s blankets in a little closer. “What happens if the curse comes around before he is old enough to find love?” 

“I don’t know.” Maria hated to admit, and she held Tony a little closer as the toddler slept. “I don’t know what she means and I don’t know how her blessing will help but--” 

“Maria, what is that?” Winnie pointed towards Tony’s cheek, to the shimmer on his little face. “That mark?” 

“Oh, it’s where Margaret kissed him.” Maria rubbed at the glittered spot absentmindedly. “Every time she kisses him, the glitter stays for a few minutes. It’s never stayed this long before, but we’ve never had such an emotional day either.” 

“It’s on James too.” Winnie turned the baby towards the firelight so Maria could see the glitter dusting the baby’s forehead. “A bit of protection for the children, maybe?” 

“I’m sure.” Maria comforted, and then, “Would you like us to stay for a while, at least Tony and I? I don’t want you here alone and I’d worry about James if we were gone and something--” she swallowed hard. “If something happened, I don’t think I could bear it.” 

“Please stay.” Winnie reached for Maria’s hand and squeezed hard. “Please? You are my best friend, and seeing our boys be friends would make me very happy.” 

“I’m sure Tony and James will be entirely inseparable.” Maria cuddled Tony a little closer, readjusting him where he lay on her shoulder. “Absolute hellions together. We’ll go positively gray trying to keep up with their antics.”

“Absolute hellions.” Winnie agreed, and sighed shakily. “I can’t wait to see them grow up together.” 

If they grow up together was the unspoken end to her sentence, but neither mother said it aloud. 

For tonight they would only hold their babies and think of the coming sunrise and not the looming winter, and think on Margaret’s blessing instead of Echidna’s curse.

It was all they could do for now.