Solan stood in the snow and shivered, looking up at the towering bulk of the mountains in front of and above him. The sun had risen high into the cloudless blue sky but its warmth barely took the edge off the wicked wind sweeping down from the mountains, cutting through his heavy layers like they were tissue paper. His breath steamed out from his mouth and he stomped his feet to try and bring some warmth back into his toes, glancing past Kyr—bundled up beside him with little more than his eyes visible between the bottom of his hat and the top of his scarf—to where Lokan stood with his mother and Torin. Ceridwen was still back at the house, calmly loading up the truck and coaxing its cold engine into life.
The wind gusted snow against Solan’s legs and he found it hard to believe that spring would ever come again, let alone that it was already beginning in the world beyond the mountains. He bumped his shoulder against Kyr’s and got a sour glare in return, before Kyr shivered so hard he staggered himself a step to the side. Trying not to laugh, Solan wrapped an arm around his waist and pulled him in close, then looked to Lokan again. Even Lokan had his shoulders hunched against the wind and Torin was standing close enough to take advantage of using Lokan’s size as a windbreak, but Roisin stood with her dark hair blowing around her bare head, completely unaffected by the cold.
“Is this your big plan?” Kyr asked, voice muffled by the scarf wrapped around the lower half of his face. “Make us all stand here until we freeze to death?”
Lokan ignored him, but did look at Roisin, who shrugged slightly in return. She waved them back and stepped towards the mountains, then raised her arms and tipped her face up to the sky. For a moment nothing happened, then the snow suddenly exploded away from her in a wide path running rapidly towards the base of the snowy wall blocking the road out of the valley. Solan hurriedly got out of the way, pulling Kyr with him, as the path extended back towards the house, ending neatly at the garage where Ceridwen was working on the truck. The ground shook and a low roar made Solan look back towards the blocked pass.
He felt the mountains groan, a low trembling sound that reverberated inside his bones and made the tattoo on his shoulder itch so suddenly and fiercely that he squirmed his shoulder back. Beside him he saw Kyr reach up with a gloved hand to touch the cuff in his ear, shaking his head like a dog. Snow tumbled down from the tops of the mountains hemming the pass in, sending a glittering spray of ice crystals into the air, and the ground lurched beneath them. Solan caught himself on Kyr and saw Lokan grab hold of Torin as the shifting ground almost threw him off his feet, though the little area around Roisin remained perfectly calm and flat.
Solan looked at the blocked pass again and blinked, feeling something inside his head seem to slip a little as he tried to make sense of what he was seeing. The snow that had filled the pass was slowly beginning to roll back up the mountains to either side, gradually opening a path through to the road beyond. Roisin made a sharp gesture and the walls on either side of the narrow path—just wide enough to fit the truck through, to Solan’s eyes—firmed up as though frozen solid.
“It won’t last forever,” Roisin said, tucking her hair behind one pointed ear. “It was a pleasure having you in my home for the winter. I only hope you will be able to come again.”
She went to Lokan and took his face in both hands, pulling him down a little to kiss his forehead, then released him to kiss Torin’s cheek and murmur something in his ear. Torin flushed slightly and nodded, ducking his chin down into the collar of his coat, and Solan saw him look up at Lokan with a little half-shrug before Roisin crossed over to him and Kyr.
“Look after my son,” she said, taking Solan by both shoulders. “He trusts you.” She kissed his forehead and offered a hand to Kyr, which Kyr took after a moment. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Kyrianos.”
“Yeah, you too,” Kyr said with more sincerity than Solan had expected. “Thanks for having us, I guess.”
Roisin smiled at him then stepped aside as Ceridwen brought the truck up to them, braking carefully on the packed snow. Solan gave Kyr a hand up into the back, just glad to get out of the wind, and they cuddled up together under a pile of blankets. They were joined a moment later by Torin, who pushed his way under the blankets with them and tickled Kyr until he squirmed. Lifting himself up enough to see out the front windows, Solan watched Lokan speak quietly to his mother again, allowing her to hug him before he pulled himself into the truck’s passenger seat and nodded to Ceridwen.
The drive through the opened pass seemed to be endless; the snow beneath the truck’s wheels forced Ceridwen to keep her speed down and the snowy walls towered over them so high they almost seemed to touch at the top. Solan looked out at them once or twice but they made him feel dizzy and only worsened his nagging fear that the snow would all come crashing down and crush them beneath its cold weight. He closed his eyes instead and let himself doze with his head on Kyr’s shoulder, only half-listening to the murmur of voices from the front seats and the idle conversation between Kyr and Torin.
It was dark by the time they left the pass and began to wind their way down towards Awen, and when a snowstorm blew in Cerdiwen pulled the truck over in the shelter of an outcropping and they hunkered down to wait out the night. After the bitter cold of Roisin’s valley, the air even still this high up felt almost gentle, and with all five of them huddled together under blankets, the back of the truck stayed warm enough for Solan to sleep for a few hours. When he woke he let Kyr use his lap as a pillow, absently running his fingers through Kyr’s hair, glad to see that Lokan had even managed to fall asleep, though Torin was still awake.
“You nervous?” Torin asked. “About going home like this, I mean.”
“Mostly nervous that my mom and Lokan will fight again. Last time she threw him ten feet.”
Torin grinned. “I look forward to meeting her.”
“Going to tell Kyr about you and Lokan?” Solan asked before he could stop himself.
“Don’t see how it’s any of Kyr’s business,” Torin said mildly. “Or yours.”
Solan held up both hands. “Okay, point taken. I just don’t want to see him get himself in any more trouble, I guess. I want him to be safe.”
“I promise as soon as this is over, I’ll lock him up in a padded room somewhere and only let him out for supervised walks.”
“Does Kyr like you so much because you even out-asshole him?”
Torin burst out laughing, covering his mouth with one hand when the noise brought Lokan awake to give them a groggy glare and waving him back with the other hand. “Sorry. Solan’s a funny man.”
Lokan made a noncommittal noise and heaved himself up, ducking out of the back of the truck. Solan pushed himself up a little to try and see him through the windows and was relieved to spot the telltale red glow of a cigarette, slumping back down and giving Torin half a shrug. “Went for a smoke.”
“It’ll be dawn soon. I’m going to go bum a smoke off him before we start moving again.” Torin smiled at him and let himself quietly out.
They reached Awen by lunch, passing through streets that looked a little more lively than they had at the beginning of winter. The house was still locked up and freezing cold inside but it soon started to warm up after Ceridwen cranked the thermostat and got the furnace running. Solan found himself volunteered to go down to the main street and buy some food, and reluctantly set off, kicking his way through deep snow until he got to the shovelled paths. The back of his neck itched with the sense that people were watching him from the houses he passed but he forced himself to ignore it, glad that Kyr had insisted he go armed.
He was greeted politely but distantly at the general store and watched as he quickly went around the shelves to grab a few necessities. At the counter the woman manning it rang him up but paused before taking his money, studying his face.
“Lokan is still alive?” she asked after a moment.
“Alive and still the wild king, antlers or not,” Solan replied, holding her eyes.
She snorted. “Yes? Then tell him to prove it. We are being killed out there.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t have abandoned him then.” He pushed the money at her and she took it in silence, handing him back his change and pointedly turning her back on him.
Solan left and walked back to the house, letting the cold air soothe the anger tightening his chest. He passed a few groups of wild Fae who barely acknowledged him beyond half-wary, half-dirty looks, and breathed a sigh of relief when he let himself back into the house’s warmth. He helped Ceridwen make dinner just for something to keep his hands busy and the meal passed mostly in silence until Lokan pushed his plate away and said, “Solan, I need you to come with me and Ceridwen to see the General before we go to Arian Mawr.”
“Okay,” Solan said automatically, then paused. “What about Kyr and Torin?”
“Yeah,” Kyr said, “what about us? I’m not letting you drag Solo back into this stupid fight without me.”
Lokan arched an eyebrow slightly. “You and Torin will be going ahead to Arian Mawr to wait for our arrival.”
“You’re not ordering me around. Where Solo goes, I go.”
Solan exchanged a glance with Torin then took Kyr’s arm, giving him a warning squeeze when he opened his mouth again. “I’m going. I don’t think it’ll be for long.” He looked at Lokan, who nodded. “If nothing else, you can tell my mother that we’re all okay. It’d put her mind at rest and I’m sure she misses you too.”
“I will kick your ass if you get hurt.” Kyr glared at Lokan. “Yours too.”
Lokan inclined his head slightly. “We’ll leave first thing in the morning. Tell Fiona to expect us within a day.”
Solan woke before dawn the next day and nuzzled Kyr awake, pulling him quietly out of bed and down the hall to the bathroom for a shower. They took their time together, laughing and deliberately not mentioning their upcoming separation, until the water started to go cold. Solan got out first and grabbed a couple of towels, wrapping one of them around Kyr and kissing his forehead before drying himself off.
“Promise me you’ll be careful and you won’t let Lokan push you into anything stupid.” Kyr wrapped both arms around Solan’s waist and hugged him. “Because I’ll fucking kill him.”
“I swear it. Tell my mom I’ll be home soon.” Solan peeked out into the hallway to make sure the coast was clear and pulled Kyr back to their room, closing the door quietly behind them. He reached up and ran his finger lightly over the cuff in Kyr’s ear then kissed his mouth, lingering over it until Ceridwen yelled for them to put pants on and come downstairs.
“Love you,” Kyr murmured in his ear, pulling away with obvious reluctance to get dressed.
“Love you too.” Solan smiled a bit. “Always.”
Kyr looked at him for a moment, eyes shadowed, then grinned. “Gay. Come on, before Ceridwen comes to drag us down by our hair.”
The sun was rising as they left, Solan with Lokan and Ceridwen in the heavy military truck, Kyr and Torin in one of the lighter trucks, heading in opposite directions once they left Awen behind and headed down to the lower ground. Solan twisted in his seat to watch the other truck until the glare of the sun on the white snow made his eyes water and realized he couldn’t see it anymore. When he turned back Ceridwen gave him a sympathetic look and passed him a granola bar, telling him to eat it for energy.
They travelled for most of the day and were finally stopped by scouts on the outskirts of the General’s camp just after dusk, then escorted immediately to the General’s tent as soon as Lokan identified himself. Solan hung back a little as they entered the smoky interior, where the General was gathered around a long wooden table with high-ranking officers, but Lokan caught his arm and pulled him forward.
“So you are still alive,” the General said, leaning back in his chair. His voice and expression gave away none of the thoughts behind his eyes. “Your people no longer follow you, though, according to my reports. We’ve spent the winter getting our asses handed to us.”
“That’s your problem, not mine. I’ve come to offer you a way to end this once and for all.” Lokan squeezed Solan’s shoulder. “Show them the tattoo.”
Solan looked up at him for a moment then took a deep breath and stripped off his coat and the shirt underneath, turning to show the tattoo on the back of his shoulder. He heard them murmur and felt the tattoo itch slightly as though in response.
“His mother is a wild Fae, one of our most powerful before she left to marry a human,” Lokan said. “Solan is a half-breed and cannot use the magic given to him. I can.”
There was a beat of silence that made Solan aware of his own heartbeat pounding rapidly in his ears, then the General asked, “What do you want us to do?”
“Gather as many soldiers as you can, wild and civilized alike.” Lokan turned Solan back around so that he was facing the assembled officers. “Bring them to Arian Mawr.”