“Jack, is it? Far better than ‘Ice King,’ I suppose.”
The king frowned.
“I’ll call you Majesty until we trust each other. But on that day, I will call you Jack.”
“Is this a game to you?” The Ice King straightened. Reardon stood almost directly before the throne now, chilled and shivering but without any creeping frost on his hair or clothes. “What do you hope to accomplish?”
“My father is wrong for what he does, but seeing this curse on you makes me wonder if he is right about magic’s corruption, despite all the wonders it can do.”
“Magic alone did not curse us!” the king roared. “One person who wielded it did, and I brought her wrath upon me myself.”
That gave Reardon pause. There was so much he didn’t know. “You could tell me your story.”
“It is a long one, little prince, and I grow weary of your presence already.” He stood, crunching down the steps between Reardon and the throne and bringing a gust of icy wind with him.
Reardon sensed how close he was to death but stood his ground. “I only want to bring my people home.”
“And where are they supposed to go? Home, you say. The thief who almost lost her hands because she was starving, the man who lusted after the wrong noble’s son, your friend who has visions—do they have a home to go back to when their own people cast them out as villains?”
“Good for you. You only cared once it finally affected someone you knew.”
Reardon’s fists clenched to be called a heartless coward, but he’d called himself worse this past year.
He also couldn’t overlook the example of a man and a noble’s son.
“I suppose you’ve taken in all the corrupted, haven’t you?”
“You call them corrupt”—the Ice King stomped another clawed foot closer—“yet ask for leniency?”
“I only speak as I was taught. I don’t agree with it. I don’t believe they’re corrupt. Not any of them. I don’t want to. If my father understood—”
“He’d still keep up the status quo. Your kingdom shuns what they don’t understand because of my curse, yet they don’t even remember the time before.”
“So tell me! Let me know the truth so we can learn from our past instead of continuing to repeat it.” Reardon stepped forward—too close, he knew—but like before, instead of reaching out and ending him, the Ice King backed away. “You’d really let them all go, wouldn’t you? If they wanted it?”
“They don’t, but you are welcome to ask them, including your friend.”
“Then I am not a prisoner either?”
“That is up for debate.”
If Barclay had seen Reardon’s death in his vision, it couldn’t be now. Not yet. “Give me the chance to prove I will go back and change things for the better. I’ll stay for as long as it takes, but once you believe me, once you know me and I know you, let me go.”
“And what if I never believe you? You’re the prince. You could bring an army to my door after learning my secrets.”
“If you never believe me… then you either have another servant or another statue to crush. But that means you take an audience with me every day.”
The king scoffed, turning to stomp back up to his throne and throw himself onto it with an elegant ease that should have been impossible. “Sounds frightfully dull.”
“Yes, I can see your calendar is quite full.”
He rumbled with laughter like a brewing winter storm.
For a long stretch of minutes, he stared at Reardon with his uniquely human eyes—different from his companions. The Ice King was more tied to his humanity, even if he’d lost the feeling of it in his heart, and more cursed and tortured because of it, perhaps.
Yet still he said, “Fine. But make no mistake, little prince, if you prove unworthy or attempt to betray me, I will not hesitate to turn you into frozen rubble like that thief.”
All Reardon could do was return his stare and wonder—What was this curse? Why had it been cast? And what had the king been like before it changed him and his kingdom? He had to know, even if a mysterious and frightening future stretched out before him.
Love, death, and blue eyes in a sea of white.
Whatever that might mean.
“You have a deal, Your Majesty.”