Nadia struggled back to her feet. The children were up as well, apologetic. They had pressed too far, had been too bold. They had interrupted the countess’s questions, even worse. Viola coldly looked at them in turn.

“I expect answers for questions I ask,” she said icily. “Ivan, you should know this, even with the unexpected arrival of your mother.”

“Yes, countess,” Ivan said.

“Now, how are your studies?”

“I’m reading go…well,” he said. “And starting to sing. Lord Smyth is letting me sit with him when he speaks to the lumber men.”

“Adequate, adequate.” Viola walked up to him. “But how are your sliding skills?”

“My…sliding skills?”

“Your sliding skills, dear boy.” Viola’s eyes narrowed. “You have not been honing those at all?”

Ivan shrinked into his clothes, trying to disappear. “I, I don’t know what sliding skills are, countess.”

“Well, then I shall have to teach you myself.”

Before anyone could blink, Viola had scooped up the young Koskov. He shrieked, holding tight as the countess ran to the edge of the gardens. Viola snapped her fingers, and leaped. Ice poured out of her, over the side of the railing, and down into the gardens into a sudden slide.

Viola caught the lip, and slid forward. Close, but she managed to right herself and Ivan. She willed her power out, letting the ice continue to flow just ahead of the two of them. They spun down, up, and across the gardens.

Ivan shrieked again, but this time it was one of delight. Pietr and Sophie looked on wistfully, trying to imagine what the slide would be like.

Sienna smiled, and pushed Sophie over the edge. The girl yelped, which turned into a whoop as she too slid down into the gardens. Sienna laughed, watching the children. Nadia smiled, and hugged her own daughter close.

Nalus watched it all with a soldier’s eye. Once again, off-putting countess. Why pretend like this? Why go through the motions when everyone is aware of her cruelty?

Viola’s eyes scanned the garden. Her smile deepened, and she hugged the child close.

“Hang on,” She whispered to Ivan. The child clung tight. She pointed upwards, launching them up into the air.

“Countess!” Sienna shouted. Viola spun and flipped, the air whipping about her. Ivan shouted out, but held on tight. The countess smiled, and fell.

“Oh!” Willow Sam burst out of the trees, long arms outstretched. He grasped the countess, holding her and the child close.

The treeman grinned, looking at the countess. “Now what have I caught sky-fishing?”

Viola looked up, her eyes wide. “Is that a thing?”

“Is it?” Ivan asked.

“Humans,” Willow Sam set the two down. “Terrifying the locals, never knowing which way is up or down.”

Viola hugged Ivan again. “He didn’t say no.”

She tussled his hair and sent him back to his mother. The two older Koskovs were promptly caught and returned unharmed, under the watchful eye of the treemen, and Nalus.

The elder councilor did not know what to make of Viola. The countess was cold, and distant, and devious. And yet she could maintain such a façade of joy and warmth to the smallest child and all around her.

What was the truth of Viola? Would she let anyone know?

copyright 2018 Jack Holder

Leave a Reply