About Kiss of Ice:
When the Winter Knight finally reaches the castle of the Ice Maiden, she is strangely calm in the face of death and does not even try to resist. But has the Winter Knight truly succeeded where so many before him have failed or does the Ice Maiden still have a trick or two up her sleeve?
For forty days he travelled, crossing snowbound mountains and frozen rivers, wind-blasted ice plains and forests smothered in snow. For forty days he travelled, never once faltering, until he came to the Forest of the Dead which marked the border of Ice Maiden’s realm.
At the edge of the forest, the Winter Knight brought his faithful black steed to a halt and dismounted. Dead trees loomed before him, their thorny branches stark black against the unrelenting whiteness of the snow. These trees had never known leaves nor bloom. All they knew was the ice and the snow and the cold.
It was called the Forest of the Dead, because none of those who had ventured inside had ever returned. To a man they had perished, lured to their doom by the Ice Maiden who lived somewhere beyond the forest in a castle built of ice and hoarfrost.
The many men who had died at her hands were the reason why the King of the South had sentenced the Ice Maiden to death, that and the fact that she kept defying his authority, safely ensconced in her castle of ice and hoarfrost somewhere beyond this frozen black forest.
There were whispers that once, a long time ago, the King of the South had tried to woo the Ice Maiden and make her his bride. So he sent out messengers bearing morning gifts to his intended — gold and silver, pearls and diamonds and rubies red as blood. At first, the Ice Maiden returned only the gifts… and then she began to return the King’s messengers or rather their heads, chopped off and displayed on spikes at the edge of the forest. So the King became furious and decided that if he could not woo her, he would see the Ice Maiden dead instead.
So instead of messengers, he began sending out executioners to bring the defiant Maiden to justice. The Ice Maiden, alas, reacted just like before. She chopped off the heads of the executioners and put them up on spikes at the edge of the forest.
The heads were still there, too, a ghastly border fence of skulls, bleached by the elements until they were the colour of the snow. Their hollow sockets seemed to glare at the Winter Knight, while their dead smiles mocked him, a silent warning to anyone who dared to defy the Ice Maiden.
The Winter Knight pressed on, undeterred, for in his left pocket he carried the King’s execution warrant and in his right hand he bore the flaming sword of justice.
As he approached the line of severed heads, the Knight noticed that ravens rested on top of some of the skulls, feasting on the flesh and shitting on the heads of the unfortunate.
“Begone,” one of the ravens croaked as the Knight passed, “Begone, traveller, or suffer the consequences.”
The Winter Knight ignored the raven. After all, he was here on the King’s business, come to do the King’s justice, protected by the strongest magics the King’s sorcerers had to offer.
And so he stepped into the forest. The black branches closed behind him, plunging the Knight into utter darkness. And the light cast by the blade of the flaming sword of justice was all he had left to guide his way.
For three days and three nights — not that there was any way to tell the difference here in the dark heart of the woods — did the Winter Knight travel through the Forest of the Dead. And though he sometimes thought that he glimpsed a flicker of movement from the corner of his eye, neither man nor beast came to challenge him or impede his passage.
On the third day, the Winter Knight finally emerged from the forest, cold and exhausted, but still very much alive. And he rejoiced, certain in the knowledge that he had come further than any man before him.
Just ahead, by the shores of a frozen lake, lay the Ice Maiden’s castle. As the legend said, it was entirely built from ice and hoarfrost, unearthly in its beauty.
There was a light blazing in a window at the very top of the tallest of the castle’s many spires, telling him that the Ice Maiden was watching and waiting.
The Winter Knight patted the pocket over his left chest, where the King’s execution warrant rested. He smiled, for he would soon execute the warrant and put the Maiden to death. And then justice would be served, justice for the many unfortunates whose heads set on spikes guarded the edge of the forest.
Relentlessly, the Knight pressed onwards, crossing the frozen lake until the castle rose before him. This close, its eerie beauty was even more striking than it had been from afar.
The castle gates loomed before him, two massive double doors made from the black wood of the dead trees in the forest, studded with silver and covered in hoarfrost. The gates opened of their own accord, with a sound like the moan of a damned soul in the deepest of dungeons.
The Winter Knight reached for the pommel of his sword in expectance of an attack. But he did not draw his blade, not yet. Instead, he waited, waited for the gates to open fully.
He expected the Ice Maiden’s soldiers to emerge from the castle, expected that he would have to battle his way through legions of them to get to the evil Maiden and bring her to heel. So he drew his sword, the flaming blade of justice. He hefted it in his hand, ready to cut down the Maiden’s minions.
But what emerged from the castle was no army. Instead, only a single figure stepped through the gate.
It was a woman. Her skin was pale and glittered with sprinkles of silver, just like the frozen lake. Her eyes and lips were the colour of aquamarines. Her hair was pure white like the snow in this perpetually frozen land. She wore a gown of fine white lace, covered by silver armour that was chased with hoarfrost. In her hand, she bore a sceptre topped by a diamond the size of a man’s fist. On her head, she wore a crown fashioned of silver and diamonds and pearls and the feathers of birds long extinct.
It was the Ice Maiden herself, come to meet the man who would be her executioner.
For the space of a few heartbeats, the Winter Knight just stood there, struck by the unearthly beauty of the woman before him. And for the first time, he who had always prided himself on his steadfastness and celibacy, who had never as much as gazed upon a woman with desire and inevitably shook his head when his fellow knights lost their wits over a comely maiden, understood just why his King had been so eager to make this woman his bride, why he had sent man after man to his doom trying to woo her.
The flaming sword of justice was still blazing in his hand, but the Winter Knight was too petrified to move, let alone raise his blade against her. He just stood there and gazed upon the woman who had made a fool out of his King, the woman who had put countless men to death without a shred of mercy.
The Ice Maiden, meanwhile, walked towards the Knight, utterly unafraid.
“You have entered my realm with neither permission nor invitation,” the Maiden said, her voice haughty like snow crushed under the foot of a king, “State your business or suffer the consequences.”
The Winter Knight shook his head to clear it.
“My business is the King’s,” he managed to say, even though he was still bewitched by her beauty, “For I have been sent to inform you, my lady, that His Majesty, the King of the South, has sentenced you to death for treason and insurrection and numerous other crimes and that he has appointed me to execute the sentence.”
The Maiden emitted a sigh from her perfect blue lips. But it was not a sigh of fear or resignation, but rather one of disappointment.
“I guess you’d better come in then,” she said.
Without another word, she turned around and beckoned him to follow.