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Lady Winter

((this was my halloween contest submission, reposting it here for people to enjoy))

The cold October wind blew though the village of Cragstown, bringing with it an early bite of snow that would soon arrive. Perhaps even on this very Hallows Eve. A lone figure clutching a cloak tightly around him to ward of the biting chill, moved through the mining village towards the central building. Once a freehold, the building was now the villages Inn and sometimes doubled as a grange hall.

As the voices from inside began to reach his ears through the door the figure he looks at the Inn's sign, swaying in the chill wind, which sported a weather worn painting of a miners pick and a bunch of grapes with a bed to the far side. The Picking Grapes Inn.

“This is the place.” he said to himself, pushing the hood of his cloak back, just as a lone flake of snow drifted upon his cheek. He smiled at the gently snowy kiss of winter, then schooled his face into a passive one, as he pushed the door open to head inside and to the hallows eve gathering inside.

Some tables had been pushed to one side of the common room, with various foodstuffs and treats arrayed on them. The chairs were spread out in two rough semi circles around the hearth.

One of the people gathered, the inn keeper he presumed form the looks of the proprietor, called over to him, “Merry met, grab yourself some food and join us”. He fetched himself some of the treats and sweet meats as invited, and moved to the fire and a vacant chair, indulging in the stories as he snaked on the hallow's eve offerings.

Eventual the story telling, each person sharing a tale of dread and woe, came to roost upon him.

“I'm S'trel,” he began as he set aside the wooden plate, now almost devoid of food, “and I have a tale that will chill you to the very bone.”

“It's from a time long before even the corruption and exile, one of the few stories remaining to us Py'rains form that age, and actually comes to us from these parts, if the legends are true.”

“There was a spirit in these lands, a coldhearted and often unseen spirit, who our kind called Jallil Erthe.

Lady Winter is how that name translates.

She was not evil as most would think. My ancestors lived in these parts and had encountered her. She saw this place as her lands, and did not tolerate outsiders who did not approach her for permission first and offer her some tribute.

Three of our towns in those times were wiped out by her and her frosty winters breath, before we learned to ask, and offer tribute. Locked in a icy cold and death so fierce, that the legends say they the towns did not thaw out until the deepest and hottest of the summer months.

So my ancestors offered tribute every year after that. Sometimes something as simple as food left out in her name.  Sometimes gold or other valuables, and once if the myth is true, they even offered her a the son of a local towns lord. A handsome companion for her who had been alone for countless eons. Supposedly he became her consort and lover, and even functioned as a herald for her.

That was all long before the corruption came to Verra, but does brings us to why I am here.

What will you good folks now offer Jallil Ethre to keep your place here within her lands?” He finished the tale with the question.

It was met with a lot of good natured laughter and guffaw's, the inn keeper even saying, “Ye almost had me with that one!” But the question in the end was ignored. Not even some of the older children still awake and listening offered anything.

The night's festivities eventually wound down and S'trel donning his cloak again, headed back outside, and then left the village as he had come to it. Wrapped against the soon to arrive cold.

As he crested a small hill a blast of deathly cold air swirled a torrent of snow about suddenly, and a ghostly icy hand, feminine and lithe materialized out of the sudden blizzard, reaching for him.

He placed his hand in hers saying, “My Lady” is all, and then he vanished along with her in another torrent of snow and ice as she took him back to their winter like home of ice.

A fortnight later a lone explorer found the village of Cragstown locked in a wintry and icy embrace. Every living soul; people, animals, even bugs, were frozen solid in her deadly embrace, and covered in an eerie but almost disturbingly beautiful sheen of an early winters frost.

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