In the highest parapet of the castle, the king stood. Frozen stiff from the curse, all he could manage was a long, icy gaze over his kingdom. Miles of unharvestable farmland, dotted here and there by the scrappiest of survivors. Lean, gray wolves; industrious field mice, a flock of particularly stubborn crows.
How had it come to this? His mind repeated the question over and over. How had his land, the jewel of his kingdom, fallen into such sorrow?
The witch. It was easy to blame her. Of course, she had casted the spell that plunged his lands into eternal winter, but all his time atop that frozen turret taught him something important: perspective.
He had been too short-sighted in life--what he lived now was not life. He did not quite know what to call it, but he knew without hesitation that it was not life. The king had seen only what was before him. The next step. And then, once his feet landed firmly within it, the next one after. It made him a terror to his generals. Weeks were spent trying to dissuade him from straightforward, predictable battle plans--they did not call him the Ram lightly.
If there was a singular object that so typified his personality, it was the battering ram. Heavy, lumbering, graceless. His entire life he seemed to travel in nothing but a straight line, head down prepared to knock over whatever stood in his way. In the way of many privileged men this was both his blessing and his curse. His father--and his father before him, and so on--had left him a mighty kingdom. It lacked justice, of course. Equality and liberty were still far from common notions. Twinkles in the eyes of intellectuals and philosophers yet to be born. And so on the backs of peasants, his family had built up a mighty army and the resources to support it.
The king knew none of this. He had studied the family history, naturally. Everyone prince did. But without the experience of having built up the resources himself he had no appreciation for the time it took to accumulate such surplus.
And so it went. In the fifth year of his rule, his stocks began to wane. Armies, it is said, run on their stomachs and his army had slowed to a gentle trot. When they finally stalled out miles into enemy territory, they did what all unappreciated armies did throughout history, hunkered down and complained about the men in charge.
The king was sensitive man. As most kings tend to be. That his men, this common rabble, would sour his name so freely while bearing his standard could not stand. Gathering his royal guard he mounted his horse and raced to the front. When he arrived under a canopy of half-hearted cheers and lazy salutes he ordered his men punished. Discipline, he insisted, must be maintained. He'd rather an escort of fifty loyal men than a legion of hundred disloyal ones.
When it seemed his men were prepared to put that declaration to the test, a general, the highest ranked general in the army and a childhood friend of the king, stepped in and tried to broker peace.
"There is a house," he informed his liege. "Just beyond the hillock. They say a witch lives there. Old and terrible, but powerful beyond men's dreams." Surely, he insisted, she could feed the men. All the king need do, was ask.
As was the case with all men of privilege, the king assumed his mere presence at the witch's door would illicit cries of loyalty. So awed would the witch be, the king's logic went, that she would drop to her knees and grant what wish he had.
The spell took the shape of a meteor. This seemed odd to the king. After all, his general and friend had described the witch as "an herbalist." A creature of the earth who knew how to coax seed and stem from the very marrow of the ground. What the general failed to mention, and what the king would have failed to accept, is that the witch was also short-tempered. And no amount of blue-bloodery would dissuade her from wreaking terrible vengeance on whoever disturbed her home.
In the king's defense, that disturbance took the form of a tramples garden. Before he could even ask the witch for his grand favor, she had shrieked in terror at the sight of the king's horses royal hoofs trampling her prized roses.
"Life was better on the other side." This was how the king decided to think of his predicament. Having never been dead before, he could not rightfully call himself dead. And so "other side" served his purposes.
The meteor. He had never seen such a phenomenon. He wondered if his returning to the castle and taking his place on the turret served as some kind of catalyst for it's final terrible decent. When it struck the earth its impact was not so much a physical one as much as it was, well, magical. A wave of energy spread out across the land, covering all it touched in a lifeless chill. Plants, animals, people are frozen in time. His prized horses, forever neighing in their stables. His concubines, trapped in lifeless merriment, waiting for him to return from his vigil. His starved army, huddled and hungry on the enemy's doorstep, waiting for a call that would never come.
And the king, residing over all of it. Of all the faculties the witch's spell had robbed him of, he wished it had taken his senses. He could no longer stomach the sight of his kingdom. Waiting in half-death for the other shoe to drop. His hearing, for he could hear that other shoe's slow decent as the horns of his enemies sounded in the deep.
He thought he had been so clever. The ram,