Pairings/Characters: Clark/Bruce, Dick, Jonathan/Martha, Zatanna
Genres: Drama, Fairytale
Summary: During a snowstorm, Bruce and Dick are directed by a mysterious figure to an icy castle in a northern kingdom. While Dick recovers from illness, they discover its King has been enchanted and doomed to live a literally icy existence unless someone can truly love him and break the spell.
Date Of Completion: December 12, 2008
Date Of Posting: March 11, 2009
Disclaimer: I don’t own ‘em, DC does, more’s the pity.
Word Count: 9599
Feedback welcome and appreciated.
Author’s Notes: This story was written for Once Upon A Time In Gotham, a Superman/Batman fairytale e-zine, which can be downloaded here. I’d really recommend doing so, if just to see the stunning illustration for my story by avium. I loved working with her, and the results are well worth the download, not to mention all the other great stories and art! Thanks to tmelange for putting this project together! :)
This tale is loosely based on Beauty And The Beast.
The wind was the worst. It bit into his skin through his heavy cloak and winter clothing. His fingers were fast becoming numb and his arms were heavy as they carried his precious burden.
Bruce shivered as he heard the howl of the wind, snow blowing all around him and Dick. The boy whimpered in his arms, the fever burning him up in the midst of cold. Bruce bit his lip and kept struggling through the snowdrifts. What choice did he have? It was either try and find shelter or die out here. He was too stubborn to die, and he was not going to let his boy down.
Doggedly, Bruce lowered his head and pushed on.
The snow was blinding, whirling over large outcroppings of rock and through the trees, either empty of leaves or evergreens, bending with the force of the gale. He had to find shelter! A cave or somewhere safe from the wind would do, perchance.
But he had found nothing in several hours of walking, if struggling through snowdrifts could be called walking, alas. Fatigue was settling into his bones and he fell to his knees, tears streaming down his cheeks as he whispered, “I am sorry, Dick.”
The small body in his arms shuddered, the child sunk deep into fevered oblivion, but he turned toward Bruce and burrowed closer to his body.
Even now, his boy was trying to comfort.
Despair howled through Bruce like the wind. By all that was holy, would no one help them?!
A wild gust of wind blew, knocking him down and tumbling Dick out of his arms. Crying out, he grabbed his boy and gathered him up into his arms again, pulling the cloak around them. Exhausted, he murmured, “I am so sorry, Dick. So sorry.”
He was so tired. He just needed to sleep. That was it. Sleep.
Suddenly, Bruce thought he heard something. Or felt something. He looked up.
Ice glittered in the swirling winds. Ice that looked like…
Bruce blinked and shook his head. He must have snow sickness! He thought he heard a whisper on the wind, “This way.” He looked again but saw nothing, but one direction was as good as another.
He forced his body to keep going, tightening his hold on Dick. He was just about ready to fall into despair again when he saw it: a great, glittering castle, tall spires and turrets rising high from the snow.
Hope surged within Bruce and he pushed forward, gasping and moaning with pain but determined not to fall short with shelter so close…
Minutes or hours later, he reached tall gates of ice and collapsed, yelling for aid as exhaustion took him and he curled up around Dick’s feverish body…
Truly told, he was wrapped in blessed warmth.
Bruce heard the howl of the wind rattling panes of glass, and he divined that he was in a bed covered with quilts and garbed in soft cotton sleepwear. He heard a chair scrape against the floor and fought to open his eyes.
“Ah, so you are awake.” The voice was feminine and pleased.
Bruce’s eyelids fluttered open and he saw a woman of late thirties/early forties smiling at him, her reddish-gold hair pulled back into a neat bun. She wore the simple clothing of a chambermaid.
A cool hand touched his forehead. “You do not have a fever.” The snap and pop of a fire in the hearth accentuated her words.
“Where is he? Where is Dick?”
“Your boy? We have him in another room.” The woman’s face grew shadowed.
“Is he still sick?”
She nodded her head sadly, and Bruce struggled against the weight of the quilts. “I must go to him!”
“Nay, traveler, you are still weak yourself.”
Bruce managed to throw off the quilts, glad for the sleepwear in the woman’s presence, and swung his legs over the bed. She clutched his arm but did not stop him. She helped him to his feet instead.
A dark-blue robe appeared and he hastily put it on, slipping his feet into the slippers by the bed. He leaned heavily on the woman as they shuffled out into the hall.
The hall was stone walls and floor and flickering torches, old oil paintings of stiff-looking personages on the walls. No doubt ancestors, but Bruce was focused on the room next to his to which the maid brought him.
A man the same age as the woman was applying cold compresses to Dick’s forehead, a worried look in his blue eyes. Shaggy blond hair framed a handsome face, and he also wore the clothing of a servant.
“How is he?” Bruce croaked.
The man looked up and said, “Not well.”
His gut twisting, Bruce pushed himself forward to the bed with the maid’s help and sat down on the bed, cupping Dick’s face.
“It’s all right, Dick, ‘tis Bruce. I am here now. Hold on, Little Bird.”
He caressed the boy’s sweaty hair and hot skin. He looked at the man and said, “I can take over now.”
The man nodded and gave Bruce the bowl and cloth.
“I will fetch some fresh water.”
Bruce’s attention was totally focused on Dick, but he had seen the looks of concern in the couple’s faces and was grateful. He wiped Dick down while aware of the fire in this room, also, and the beautiful handmade quilt at the foot of the bed, a light coverlet over Dick.
A castle this far North…unusual. His mind raced as he attended Dick, trying to keep occupied as worry was eating away at him.
The storm was still raging outside. By some miracle, he and Dick had found this shelter…he frowned. His memory was hazy, but he thought he had seen someone out in that blizzard. Someone who had shown him the right direction?
He shook his head. He must have hallucinated, as someone close to death in the snow is said to do. Thank the heavens he had stumbled upon this place, or he and Dick would both have died.
Time passed, and Dick was still burning with fever. A soft knock on the door startled Bruce from his single-minded focus.
“Come,” he said, accustomed to giving orders to servants, though this kindly couple was more than that, he realized.
The woman approached with a tray of food and drink. Her companion had brought fresh water awhile ago, but Bruce had used it all for Dick, not drinking a drop. He realized that he was shaking slightly with hunger, but he said, “I cannot eat right now.”
“Just a little, m’lord.”
An eyebrow raised. “You know me?”
“No, but you seem lordly enough.” A slight smile touched her lips.
“My name is Bruce. And yours is…?”
“Martha. And my husband’s name is Jonathan.”
Bruce held out his hand and Martha took it, clasping warmly. “Thank you for all your help and for finding us in that storm.”
A shadow passed over her eyes but she smiled and said, “Truly welcome, Bruce. I know that you are worried about your son…”
Dick was his adopted son but Bruce remained silent. Why make that distinction? “I cannot eat…”
“Try,” she urged. “You must keep your strength up.”
The smell of beef stew and freshly-baked bread was tempting. He looked at Dick, who had settled down, his restless movements stilled. He touched the boy’s neck and disliked the pulse so fast, but perhaps this was a respite and this was a turn for the better…
“Please,” Martha said.
Bruce relented. He was faint from hunger, and she was right. If he collapsed, of what use would he be to Dick? He tucked the napkin onto his lap and began eating the stew, its rich flavor delighting his palate.
“Mmm, carrots, turnips, potatoes, and some greens?”
Martha nodded. “All from our garden.”
“Garden? So there is a growing season this far North?”
She nodded. “Though it is very small. We do the best we can, especially since…” She bit her lip.
Bruce was concentrating on the stew and missed her pause, smiling as he added, “Some kind of spice!”
“Red peppers. Crushed and sprinkled into the stew.”
She nodded again. “A special vegetable that comes from beyond the seas. King Jor-El was quite fond of exotic spices and foods, as was Queen Lara.”
“What kingdom is this?”
“Far North.” Martha began to rise when Bruce gently grasped his arm.
“You are troubled, Martha. May I be of help, as you have helped me?”
“Oh, I am just winterworn, m’lord. Eat your stew and the bread. I shall return for the tray.”
Bruce watched her go, his brows knitting together.
Was there more to this place than appeared?
He enjoyed the rest of the stew and the wheat bread, drinking fresh well water. He set aside the tray, touching Dick’s brow again. Still too hot.
He began wiping Dick down.
Suddenly he turned.
He was being watched!
His instincts never failed him in these things: not on all his Quests nor simply roaming the countryside of home. He suddenly clutched at his hip and realized that his sword was not there. Glancing at Dick, he left the room.
Bruce slipped out into the hall with the stealth of a shadow, but his keen eyes saw nothing. Except…
He noticed a tapestry waving slightly, as if someone had just passed. He quietly went down the hall, searching the rooms, but found no one.
Get hold of yourself, man! Dick needs you at his side, not chasing ghosts
He headed back to the room, so intent on returning to Dick that he did not feel the eyes upon him from the end of the hallway as a glittering figure suddenly appeared.
Bruce kept his vigil, warmed by the fireplace but worrying over Dick. The fever was still with the child, and though he and Martha and Jonathan were wiping the boy down, it seemed all for naught.
Despair gnawed at him. Martha and Jonathan took turns sitting with him, and they kept him well-fed. As he hoped for deliverance, he engaged in conversation with his hosts.
That was how he found out about the curse of the castle.
Martha sat knitting as she rocked in her chair, keeping her eye on Dick while Bruce applied the cooling water. The click of her knitting needles was a quiet counterpoint to the crackle of the hearth fire. The storm still raged outside.
“Do storms last this long on average?” asked Bruce.
Bruce shook his head. “I am fond enough of snow, but ‘tis ridiculous!”
She smiled. “Verily.”
“Is this kingdom always in winter’s thrall?”
Her smile faltered. “Yes.”
He carefully wiped Dick’s brow. “Why is that, good lady?”
Martha sighed softly. “You would be better off not knowing.”
“Nay, I need to know what my boy and are I up against.”
Bruce looked hard at Martha, appreciating her hospitality but an uneasy feeling had been growing inside him. What secret was she hiding?
She put down her knitting and stopped rocking. “This house is cursed.”
Bruce raised an eyebrow. “How so?”
Misery reflected in Martha’s face. “Years ago, after the death of King Jor-El and his Queen, Lara, their only child, Kal-El, took the Crown of the House of El. He ruled wisely and well, but then…” Bruce felt sympathy at the devastated look on her face. “An evil wizard wished to arrange an alliance with Kal. He was spurned, as Kal had no interest in allying with a Dark Lord. Furious, the wizard cast a curse upon Kal.” She swallowed. “The Kingdom of Kryptonia was to be in winter’s thrall without cease, with only a small window of opportunity to grow food. The people of the kingdom were understandably unhappy with such a turn of events, and eventually all moved away. Only Jonathan and I remained.”
“We could not leave Kal,” she whispered.
Bruce frowned. “So he would not leave his kingdom?”
She shook her head, tears shining in her eyes. “No.”
Gently he asked, “What else are you leaving out, Martha?”
She looked up at him and said, “The Dark Lord did not just put a spell of eternal winter on Kal’s people. He put one on Kal, too.
“He turned Kal into living ice.”
Bruce was astonished. He had heard of many strange things during his Quests, but this chilled him, no pun intended, he thought wryly.
“Yes,” Martha replied sadly.
“But…but how can he live?”
“The enchantment allows it, if you can call it living.” The bitterness was strong in her voice. “He has no heart, no soul…it is like living death.”
Bruce shuddered. What a terrible thing!
“What was he like before?”
Martha smiled despite her anger. “He was a sweet, loving child. Jonathan and I helped raise him, as royalty has little time for the small childish things while attending to matters of state, though Their Majesties loved Kal very much. And after they died, Jonathan and I were the parents that Kal knew.” She picked up her knitting needles again. “He grew into a generous, wise young man with compassion for all his subjects. It was his fierce protection of his people that brought ruin upon him. I cannot blame the people for leaving. They should have gone to find a better life, but Jonathan and I…we cannot leave him.”
Bruce understood, looking down at Dick. He gazed at Martha again. “How is it that this castle looks made of ice from the outside, but is normal on the inside?”
“The enchantment. The rooms that Jonathan and I inhabit are still livable, but parts of the castle are complete ice. Kal cannot come near fires.”
Bruce felt the warmth of the fire on his back. Shivering, he said, “Was he the one who directed me here?”
“Yes. He roams the lands, one with the ice and snow.”
“He saved my life and Dick’s. I want to thank him.”
“Please, m’lord, let him be.”
Bruce was saddened by the whole situation. “Is there no way to break the spell?”
Martha sighed and began rocking as she knitted. “Only if someone can warm his heart through love, as mate does for mate.”
Bruce knew that was bound to be impossible. How did one love an ice statue? A statue that one never saw?
“He was so warm-hearted, and loved the sun so. Not that the sun ever shines here much anymore, but during the brief growing season, it is warm and beautiful. He dare not leave the ice realms to feel it upon his face again.”
Again Bruce felt saddened. He wished that there was some way to break the spell.
A groan from Dick brought his attention back to his boy.
“You love him greatly.”
Bruce nodded. “He is a bright light in my life.” He smiled slightly. “He has the showmanship of the traveling minstrel show in him.”
Bruce nodded. “He came to me after an accident with his parents. The poor souls died, and he was all alone in the world. I knew that I had to bring him into my House.”
“And is that accepted?” Martha asked shrewdly.
Bruce looked at her perceptive eyes. “Not by everyone. But he is my heir, and he shall ever be.”
Bruce felt the despair eat at him again. This fever was upon Dick too long. Fevers that did not break meant death…or if the victim survived, feebleness of the mind in some cases. It terrified him to think of his bright little boy left a dullard.
He wore himself out with worry, fighting to stay awake and yet drifting off, his head on the bed as he bent forward in the chair.
Snow swirled around, blinding him. He could feel the warm fire on his back, but it was cold, so very cold. He tried to see through the white vista but it was impossible.
Until the snows parted, and he saw Dick in his bed, whimpering as the fever raged through him. He moved restlessly, small body burning up.
Then he saw Kal-El.
The mysterious King stayed at the entrance of the room, far away from the fire crackling in the fireplace. He was still, like frozen ice, and Bruce realized of course he was exactly that.
His entire body was blue-white, his royal raiments as glassy as his skin and hair, a curl sweeping onto his forehead. The rich finery was no longer velvet, the sweeping cape no longer silk or the medallion with the symbol of the House of El and glittering jeweled crown no longer gold. The sword he carried was diamond-bright, jewels sparkling on the hilt. His face was eerily beautiful, his cheekbones carved in ice, but it was his eyes that spooked Bruce the most.
They were blue-white, flat and calm…or dead?
He remembered Martha and Jonathan telling him that the enchantment had frozen their King’s heart and emotions. He glided around this snowy estate and half-frozen castle like an icy wraith, silent and apart from them now.
And yet this King of Ice was astonishingly beautiful…but he lacked a soul.
He was the same person who had directed him to the castle. He laid an icy hand on Dick’s brow, and the boy moaned at the cold touch.
Bruce struggled to reach him, get the Ice King away from his boy, but he could not move. The King’s hand stayed on Dick’s brow, but the boy stopped moving.
Fear clutched Bruce’s heart. Had he…?
Bruce awoke, heart pounding. He looked around wildly, but the room was empty save for Dick. He frantically looked down at his boy and touched his face.
He was no longer burning! The fever had broken!
Joy surged through Bruce and he silently offered up praises of thanksgiving, smiling at his boy, sweat-soaked but cooling.
Bruce had to scream out his joy. He would find Martha and Jonathan, who had worried about Dick, too, and shout his happiness as it sang through his veins.
He skidded to a halt as he noticed the puddles of water on the other side of the bed.
Seconds later he dashed out in the hall, but it was empty.
Bruce could not help but smile, brushing the damp hair back from Dick’s forehead. Jonathan and Martha shared his joy, and a great weight had been lifted off him.
Dick’s eyes fluttered open and he mumbled, “Wha…? Where are we…?”
“Shh, we are safe. Do not worry.” Bruce kissed the cooling brow. “Sleep now, Dick. All your questions will be answered later.”
Dick fell asleep, trusting in Bruce to keep his promise. Bruce smoothed out the rumpled blankets.
Bruce had a large appetite today. He happily took the tray and tucked into a large ham sandwich, the cured meat tasting divine. There were mixed vegetables as a side dish, a little wilted but Bruce figured that they must be coming to the end of their stores. He felt so good that he regaled Martha with stories of his Quests, to which she avidly listened.
“How did you come to be in this kingdom?” Martha asked.
“We were set upon by highwaymen,” Bruce said grimly.
“Yes, they stole our horses and provisions.” His face darkened. “Such preying upon the innocent is punished severely at home.”
“I have heard of Gotham’s Dark Knight and his Bright Squire.”
Again, uncanny perception. Bruce looked up and met Martha’s eyes. He knew that his secret was safe with her and Jonathan.
As he cut a carrot, he said, “Kal-El saved my boy.” He looked up at Martha’s gasp. “I saw him. I was coming out of a dream and saw his hand on Dick’s brow.”
“You were dreaming.”
“I was, but this was real.” He set aside his fork. “There were puddles of water on the floor.”
Martha automatically glanced down, but the floor was dry. “His compassion for others’ suffering was always strong,” she said softly.
“There is a heart still there.”
Suffering shone from Martha’s eyes. “But unless someone falls in love with him, it will make no difference. If love itself was needed to break the spell, Jonathan and I could provide that, but it was very specific that someone must give their heart and soul to Kal.”
“Who is this wizard who cursed Kal?”
Martha’s eyes darkened. “King Lionel of Metropolis. That was once a shining kingdom, but since he took the throne under shady circumstances, the land has gone dark. He is rumored to have killed his Crown Prince, Alexander, who objected to some of his decrees, but no one is certain.”
Bruce shuddered. Regicide was always a nasty business.
Later that day Dick opened his eyes again, and Bruce explained that they were in a castle and safe from the storm. Dick looked at the blizzard outside the window.
“How long have I been sick?”
“Almost a week.”
“Ah, glad to see you awake, young sir,” said Martha, carrying a tray with a steaming bowl of soup. Jonathan was smiling behind her.
“This is Jonathan and Martha, keepers of this castle,” Bruce said with a smile of his own.
Dick’s tired eyes sparkled. “That soup smells good!”
Martha laughed and placed the tray on the bed after Bruce helped Dick settle into the pillows. “It is vegetable soup.”
Bruce held the spoon, Dick still too weak to feed himself. After the Kents had left, Dick looked at Bruce. “What are you not telling me?”
Bruce could not help but smile. “You know me too well, Little Bird.”
Dick smirked at the nickname. “Come clean.”
“All right.” As Bruce fed Dick, he explained what had happened, Dick’s eyes growing huge. When he had finished, Dick exclaimed, “How awful! How can we help Kal?”
“I am not sure we can.” Bruce felt sad at the thought.
That night Bruce thought about it, but could come up with no solution. At least there was one thing that he could do.
Jonathan was sitting with Dick after lunch, and Bruce walked down to the library. His fingers skimmed the spines of the books, then selected one. He settled into a comfortable chair before the fire and began to read.
His voice carried through the room and out into the hall, not shouting, but at a pitch loud enough to be heard outside the room.
He read for a half hour, then put the book away.
He did the same thing the next day, and then the next.
On the fourth day, he saw a shadow in the hall and smiled. As he closed the book, he said softly, “Thank you,” and the shadow disappeared.
As Dick recovered, the household settled into a routine: Martha would bring breakfast, Jonathan poking his head in to say good morning, and then the Kents would be off to do their chores. Jonathan would come with lunch and eat with Bruce and Dick, then would leave as Martha took over, sitting in her rocking chair while she knitted and Dick napped. Bruce would go to the library and read aloud.
The storm was not as intense, but snow continued to fall off and on. Bruce was grateful for the warm fires in the hearths, but a little frustrated that it kept Kal away. He knew that the king was able to linger in the corridors, but not for long. He always read for approximately an hour, then stopped, knowing that Kal could not stay.
He read stirring tales of adventures, crusades, and quests. He also read romances, and one day, softly read sonnets.
“Oh, that I could touch thee,
And one would we be.”
Bruce closed the book and set it by the chair. He saw the shadow in the hall but did not get up. Perhaps he would be so bold as to try and catch a better look at his benefactor, but for now he wanted to give Kal respect.
Martha and Jonathan had been telling him about Kal’s good heart, compassion, and intelligence. Of course they had raised the boy to a man, and so were biased, but even bias had basis in fact, he had learned.
He thought of home and hoped that his parents were not too worried. He wished he could get word to them, but it was impossible with this storm, and Dick needed to gain his strength back before they could even attempt to leave.
And did he want to leave right now?
The sad tale of Kal-El intrigued him. What would it be like, to be transformed into living ice, and feel nothing?
No, that was not so. Kal-El had risked his very existence by coming into the bedroom and laying his hand upon Dick to cool his fever. There was a spark of humanity under all that diamond-hard ice.
Bruce was determined to figure a way to break the spell.
Dick’s eyes were sparkling, Bruce’s heart warmed by the sight.
“So, Martha is feeding you well, eh?”
“The best!” Dick was sitting up, comfortably ensconced in the pillows. He was still too weak to be restless yet, but Bruce knew that would come.
“Good. Let me start reading…”
As Bruce reached for the book on the bedside table, Dick reached out and touched his hand. “Bruce, how can we help Kal?”
Bruce smiled a little. So like Dick to be compassionate! He put his hand over Dick’s and said, “I am not sure, but we will stay awhile. Perhaps something will come to me.”
Dick nodded, relaxing against the pillows.
As Bruce opened the book, he hoped that he could do justice to the boy’s faith in him.
Bruce’s voice was loud enough to reach the corridor. He saw the shadow and smiled. Obviously Kal enjoyed the classics. Martha had told him that he had voraciously read everything in the library and had loved to get new books.
It was still frustrating not to see the king. He needed to see his eyes, his body language, to discern whether or not he was getting through to the ice-bound soul.
Then he had an idea.
Bruce shivered slightly in the chair, pulling his quilt around him closer. He was dressed in his coat, scarf, hat, and gloves, wiggling his toes in his heavy boots. He opened the latest book and began to read.
The shadow appeared in the hall, then slowly began to move.
Bruce kept his eyes on the page, but his peripheral vision could see the glittering Ice King enter the room, pausing by the cold fireplace. With a grace that Bruce wondered was his own or part of the spell, Kal glided to an ottoman by the fireplace and sat down.
Bruce kept reading, excited that the unlit fireplace had brought Kal closer. When he finished the chapter he closed the book, heart pounding as he looked up.
His breath hitched as he saw just how beautiful Kal was. Even in the gray winter light, he glittered. His icy clothes fell around him in folds, an oddity, to be sure, but part of the enchantment. A curl fell over his forehead, and Bruce wondered if he could push it back, a tingle going through him. He was not wearing his crown.
The eyes were large and beautiful, but held no serenity. Bruce thought he detected anguish somewhere in their depths, but perhaps he was just imagining it.
For did not the King of Ice possess no heart?
No, that is not true.
Bruce was certain that there was a heart buried beneath the icy symbol of Kal’s House, but so deeply that his feelings might never emerge again.
A challenge. Well, he had always eagerly met challenges.
And there was a part of him that could not leave this man to his icy prison.
He waited for Kal to say something, but as the minutes ticked by he decided he would have to speak first. Just as he was ready to open his mouth, a jagged, cracking sound met his ears.
For a moment he could barely make out the words, then his eyes brightened and he smiled.
“You are very welcome.”
Kal gazed at him for a moment more, then stood and glided out of the room.
Bruce was still clutching the book, shivering as the cold was seeping into his bones.
Yet a twinge of warmth flared deeply within his heart.
The first few times that Bruce read to Kal in the cold library, his listener was silent.
On the third day, Kal spoke.
“Where are you from?”
Kal was quiet for a few moments, then said, “You are a nobleman.”
“I am fortunate to be in the higher class, yes.”
“…is my adopted son.”
“You love him.”
Kal’s face was impassive, but Bruce wondered if a spark of emotion would show if necessary. He would keep his eyes open.
Kal spoke no further, and Bruce did not push it.
Dick was improving every day, blue eyes sparkling and his smile dazzling. Martha and Jonathan had been immediately charmed by the boy, but Bruce was not surprised.
“Kal likes you reading to him,” Dick said as Bruce was fluffing his pillows.
“He checks on me at night, you know.”
Bruce lifted an eyebrow. Now that Dick’s fever had broken, Bruce was sleeping in a comfortable bed instead of the chair by Dick’s bedside.
“Does he talk to you?”
Dick shook his head. “He thinks I am asleep, but I know he is there.”
Bruce sat back in his chair. Interesting.
“He seems so gentle.”
“He is.” Dick was firm in his belief.
“Ready for lunch?” asked a cheerful Jonathan as he bore a tray of good food into the room.
“Verily!” Dick exclaimed, and both men laughed. Bruce was heartened to see Dick’s improving appetite.
The stew was savory, home-baked bread a tasty accompaniment. Bruce found his own appetite to be hearty.
Jonathan ate with them, asking, “Are you far from home?”
“Some distance. We come from Gotham.” Bruce tore a piece of bread.
“Ah, an impressive kingdom.”
“I heard that King Thomas and Queen Martha rule wisely and well.”
“I suppose you are anxious to return.”
“We miss home, but are quite content here while the storm rages.”
Jonathan’s smile was wry. “Storms rage frequently here. Martha and I are happy to have you stay as long as you wish.”
Jonathan took a bite of bread. “I have heard many things about the Prince of Gotham.”
“He has a fondness for Quests, or simply going about the countryside performing good deeds.”
“Well, then he must be a good man.”
“He is!” Dick chirped.
Jonathan smiled at the boyish enthusiasm. “I hear that the people love and respect him.”
Bruce had to chuckle this time.
“That is good to hear. A kingdom needs benevolent rulers.”
“As Kal is?” Bruce asked.
Sadness passed over the groundskeeper’s face. “Yes.” He looked down at his plate, and Dick reached out and touched his arm. He looked up, a small smile matching Dick’s.
“My son has a heart of gold, not diamond,” Jonathan said. He stood and took their plates, departing as Martha came in.
Jonathan’s comment was still on Bruce’s mind the next day.
After reading, Bruce closed the book and Kal asked, “What is your kingdom like?”
“A place of great passion. There are knaves and other unsavories, but the kingdom is a beautiful place, too.”
Bruce wondered if it hurt Kal to speak. His voice sounded so rough and jagged! Yet he was hesitant to stop the conversation. He yearned to know more about this man who had saved his boy and still came to him every night to check on him.
There had to be a heart under all that ice!
“Your kindness to Dick and myself has not gone unnoticed, Kal. We thank you.”
Kal looked down, his hands entwined on his lap. “I am honored to serve,” he whispered.
Bruce clutched at that sentiment. “Honor for a king is a wonderful thing, or for a common man. You honor us with your concern.”
Bruce held his breath. Had he gone too far? Were emotions so dead to Kal that he would not respond?
Kal looked up, and Bruce thought for a brief second of time that he saw a spark deep in those crystalline eyes.
Suddenly, Kal stood and left the room, Bruce still clutching his book.
“Why are you so worried, Bruce?”
Bruce bit his lip as he set aside his breakfast tray. Of course Dick would know that something was wrong.
“I may have scared away Kal yesterday.”
Concern suffused Dick’s features. “How?”
Bruce explained, and Dick frowned a little. “Do you think that Kal is too upset to talk about his emotions?”
Dick looked sad. “We have to help him, Bruce. We cannot leave with him still under this wicked spell!”
“I know.” Bruce smoothed the hair from Dick’s brow. “We will.”
Bruce waited in the icy library, shivering a little, but more from despair than the cold. The appointed hour had come and gone, and no sign of Kal. Just as he was ready to sadly give up, he saw the shadow in the hallway.
Kal entered the room and sat on the ottoman, eyes clear but he remained silent. Bruce took his cue to start reading.
When he was finished, Kal did not leave. He stared at Bruce with his crystalline eyes, then said softly, “Tell me more about Gotham.”
Bruce spoke in more detail, telling tales of grand adventure and perseverance.
“The Great Siege was in my parents’ time, not mine, but our capital city was under attack, and the populace rallied to defeat the invaders. We fought hard and well, and after nine months of under siege, broke out and scattered the invaders, who had grown fat and lazy as they pushed the siege.”
“Gotham sounds as if the people are strong.”
“They are.” Bruce’s voice shone with pride.
“How came you to be out in the storm without horses or any provisions?”
Bruce sighed. “My son and I were set upon by common highwaymen. We were fortunate to find this kingdom and shelter.”
“I am glad,” said Kal, a little less jaggedly this time.
He left the library and Bruce stretched his cold limbs, leaving the room and walking down the corridor. He glanced out the window, accustomed to the snowy vista and stopped. Frowning, he went closer to the window.
Were those shadows moving on a far hill? But who would be out in such weather except the desperate?
He watched for several minutes, but saw nothing else.
Probably woodland creatures.
He returned to Dick’s room.
As the days passed, Bruce allowed himself to observe Kal more, admiring his beauty and hoping to see it in the flesh someday. He and Kal would talk after the reading, and Bruce described Gotham as Kal was always interested in hearing about it.
One day, Kal began to speak about his kingdom.
“Kryptonia is a beautiful place. Lush and fertile, the lands were green in the springtime and bore corn and wheat. The people were prosperous.” For a moment, Kal was pensive, then doggedly pushed on. “The gardens here at the castle were always of the finest quality. The flowers smelled so beautiful, the colors were so bright and vivid…”
Kal abruptly stood up, ready to sweep out of the room. This time Bruce leaped up from the chair, the book falling to the floor. He reached out and grabbed Kal’s arm.
“Kal, I know it hurts. Please do not leave.”
Bruce forced himself to hide his shock at the frigid coldness of Kal’s arm. Kal looked down at his hand and then up at Bruce’s eyes.
“You are hurt.” Kal jerked out of Bruce’s grasp, Bruce’s fingers tingling with pain. “You cannot touch me. No one can!” Kal started to leave again but Bruce pushed himself in front of him, blocking his way.
“Do not leave, Kal. We can overcome this wicked enchantment. I know that you come to see Dick at night to see if he is well, and you saved him before!” His hand hovered over Kal’s chest but did not touch it.
“You do not understand.” Kal’s eyes were as icy as his voice. “I can no longer feel the emotions I once did. I never will again.” His medallion glittered as if to underscore the coldness of his heart.
“That is not true! If someone falls in love with you…”
Kal made a contemptuous gesture. “And who would fall in love with me? I am as icy as the mountains that glitter like glass outside these walls. I have a mother and father who love me, and yet I can no longer return that love. Go back to your kingdom, noble Bruce, and bring your child with you. Warmth such as his and yours should not be encased in these cold walls.”
Kal left the room in an icy sweep, Bruce’s heart falling.
The snow was thick, blinding. Bruce clawed at the cold air, his fingers numbed. Tiny pinpricks of pain went through his hand as it landed on a cold statue.
No, not a statue.
Cold eyes looked back at him, colorless and dead. Dreadful beauty sparkled in the cold air, and then turned away as Bruce fell to his knees.
“No! Do not leave me! Damn it to seven hells, Kal, do not shut me out!”
The crown on Kal’s head glittered as he swept regally away.
Bruce staggered through the drifts, stumbling as he reached the gates of the castle. Looking up, he gasped.
Kal was encased in ice in the side of the mountain, frozen and still…
…as if in death.
Bruce woke with a gasp, shaking violently despite the crackling fire in his room.
Dick out of bed and walking again helped keep Bruce’s mind off Kal’s absence. Now when he went to the library, he sat in the cold and was alone. No king came to sit and listen to him read.
Even in the other parts of the castle he had access to, there was no Ice King. Despairing, he kept this new development to himself, but Dick knew something was wrong.
There was laughter in the warm, cheerful room of his boy as he helped Dick walk, getting his legs back after so long bedridden. As Jonathan and Martha applauded, Dick did a quick spin, laughing as he fell into Bruce’s arms.
“Enough of that,” Bruce said with a smile but firmly all the same. He helped Dick back into bed, Martha collecting the breakfast trays and leaving.
“Soon you will be able to return home,” Jonathan said.
Bruce nodded. “Though we must wait until the storm stops.” And shall I leave my Icy King behind?
“We have good, strong horses and provisions for you to take if you wish. There will be a lull soon, before our brief spring thaw.”
Bruce was troubled as he tucked Dick into bed. “Yes, we must get back to Gotham.”
“As a Prince should.”
Jonathan’s eyes sparkled as Bruce’s head snapped up. With a grin the groundskeeper left the room, Dick laughing.
“Did you tell him?” Bruce demanded.
“Of course not! But he and Martha are not fools.”
Bruce sighed. Of course not. When he had spoken of quests and adventures, he freely showed his noble blood, and speaking of Gotham…he had too much pride in his voice when he spoke of her.
Bruce kissed Dick’s hair. “Rest, and I shall return shortly.”
He left the room, snatching up a cloak from his own room. He fastened it around himself and left the warm parts of the castle.
Into crystalline solitude he walked.
The parts of the castle fit for an enchanted king glittered all around him. If the sun had been out, the effect would have been dazzling. As it was, the halls and furniture and paintings were as hard and bright as diamonds, and Bruce came upon the bedroom.
He entered cautiously, not wishing to intrude, but curiosity getting the better of him.
The room was grand, as befit a king, and eerie in its blue-white beauty. The canopied bed was hard and crystalline, as was all the furniture and paintings. Upon the high bureau glittered an icy crown set with jewels on a frozen pillow. On another pillow next to it rested a glittering bejeweled sword, as if Excalibur itself.
Shivering, Bruce left the room and came upon the conservatory.
Plants and flowers were eerily still, frozen in time. Delicate petals could be broken at a touch, and each vein of each leaf was etched in stark relief.
It was here that Bruce found Kal, gazing out at the glassine mountains.
Bruce stopped. “I cannot.”
“You will find nothing here.”
Bruce ignored the iciness of the tone and continued. “I miss my library companion.”
What sounded like a sob broke through the frigid air. “I appreciate your readings, but soon it will be time for you to go.”
Bruce shivered. It was true. Gotham needed him. His parents needed him. He had not stalked the streets of the capital or the roads of the countryside in too long, stopping those who dared prey upon the weak.
“Do not deny me the time we have left.”
Kal turned. “What time, Prince?”
Yes, blood-to-blood. Nobility always knew nobility. And the sharp peasantry as well.
“Time to learn about each other, even beyond what we know.”
Kal’s diamond-hard brilliance was remote, cold, and…
His shoulders slumped. “I…I do not wish to waste time,” he whispered.
Bruce came forward and gently put his arms around Kal, the warmth of his cloak keeping away the cold for a few moments.
The lull in the storm arrived. As Jonathan and Martha worked in the kitchen, Bruce and Dick were splashes of color against the stark whiteness of the garden. Dick was garbed in a red coat with dark-green pants, boots, and gloves, and a yellow scarf dashingly tossed over his shoulder. He wore a yellow headband and his eyes sparkled in the morning sun.
Bruce wore a dark-blue coat but his gloves were red, his scarf yellow-and-green. He smiled amusedly at Dick’s joy as he made snowballs and snow angels.
The trees’ branches glittered with ice in the morning sun, shrubs and bushes heavy with snow. The old fountains featured impassive stone water bearers pouring out diamond-sparkling frozen water. A cardinal hopped blood-red on the pristine snow.
At the first snowball thrown, Bruce joined in the battle with Dick.
At the far edge of the garden, unseen by the rosy-cheeked combatants, was the king, as always blue-white as he glittered in the sunlight, yet his expression was…wistful?
Or perhaps not so unseen.
Bruce felt Kal’s presence. Right after throwing a snowball at Dick, he turned and gasped.
In the weak winter sun, Kal’s body dazzled with rainbow prisms, so breathtakingly beautiful that Bruce felt light-headed. His crown was a nimbus of color, rays of light dazzling outward from his medallion.
“Your Majesty!” Dick called, springing forward with a smile. “Thank you so much!” He hugged Kal.
Bruce shouted, “Dick, watch out…!” The cold! He was just recovering.
Kal stiffened at the child’s touch, then amazingly, put a hand on top of Dick’s head. Bruce hurried over and touched Dick’s shoulder.
“Come away now.”
“No.” The voice was painfully jagged. “It…it is all right, Bruce.”
Dick looked up and smiled.
Bruce reached out in awe, touching Kal.
Cold, but not that biting freeze that hurt.
He looked down at Dick and smiled. Warmth from a sunny child! Yes.
And warmth from someone who dreamed of beautiful souls trapped in ice.
Bruce looked up and saw a single tear slipping down Kal’s cheek, freezing on his face. A great wave of emotion surged up within him, and he kissed Kal.
The world exploded into stars.
Stars danced in front of Bruce’s eyes, and he struggled to come back to reality. He was certain the kiss had not been the cause of his troubles, and when he heard Dick’s yell he knew it.
He blinked rapidly, trying to see what was going on from his prone position on the ground. He saw flashes of color and knew it was Dick. As his vision cleared, he saw to his horror that the four highwaymen who had accosted them weeks ago had found them again, and had stormed the gates to cause further havoc. He placed his gloves on the ground and tried to push himself up, head still ringing, anger rushing through him like a swollen stream in spring. These were the kinds of varlets he despised, preying on those who they thought weaker.
Dick, of course, could have put up a hearty fight, as he did when helping Bruce at home. He was not at full strength, barely able to perform his acrobat’s kicks and punches and rolls.
Just as Bruce managed to get to his feet, he saw Kal suddenly appear, the robbers taken aback. Shocked, they watched as the king came toward them rapidly, his face contorted in rage.
“Mother of…! What manner of creature is this?” shouted one robber.
“An evil one! Kill it!” screamed the leader.
Dick took advantage of their distraction, high-kicking the first robber while the other two shook themselves out of their stupor, the leader leveling his broadsword and running toward Kal.
“Kal!” Bruce screamed, suddenly knowing what was to happen.
The leader thrust the sword into Kal, who stopped, looking down in shock. Rainbows danced around the point of entrance in his side, then horror suffused Bruce as tiny cracks began to appear around the hilt of the sword, growing with every second. Kal fell to his knees.
Panic seized Bruce, who barreled forward with a surge of adrenaline and knocked the leader off his feet with a roundhouse punch that sent him flying. Dick scissor-kicked another robber, and just as the fourth started to bring his sword down on Dick’s head, a crossbow arrow whizzed through the air and struck the man in the shoulder, his howls echoing through the clear air.
“Kal!” Bruce went to his knees, hands shaking as they hovered around the hilt of the sword. Kal still looked numbed.
Jonathan and Martha hurried up, Jonathan carrying the crossbow, he and Dick quickly trussing the robbers with rope that Martha had brought. She rushed over to her son and Bruce.
“Holy Mother Mary! What…” She stared at the wound and the cracking of ice around the hilt.
“Kal, what do we do?” Bruce asked, heart thudding in his chest.
Jonathan and Dick approached the group. “We cannot release that sword. He will die!” Jonathan exclaimed.
Bruce feared that he was right. Dick was on his knees, looking up at Kal with great sorrow in his eyes.
“I…” Kal’s breathing grew labored. “I think…my time is done…”
Sobs broke out from Martha and Dick, and Bruce saw the stricken look on Jonathan’s face. Suddenly, he grasped Kal’s shoulders and said, “I will not let that happen! I will not! I love you, by the heavens above, Kal-El of Kryptonia!”
And Bruce applied his lips to Kal’s, ignoring the pain as the cold met his flesh, his arms sliding around Kal, careful of the hilt, tears running down his face, matching the tears on Kal’s.
And that was when he felt it.
A warmth spread through his limbs, dispatching the cold, and he heard the gasps of Jonathan, Martha, and Dick.
By the time he pulled back, Kal was drenched with sweat and water…and human again.
Shock turned to joy, Bruce exclaiming, “Kal!” and started to hug him again, when reality returned to his mind.
He looked down and saw blood flowing out from the wound and onto the ground.
Ice rained down from the trees as it melted, loud cracks signaling the great chunks of ice breaking away from the mountains, leaving greenery behind. Snow melted into the ground, leaving mud and green buds poking through the ground as robins and wrens chirped and flew around the garden.
The long winter had ended, the enchantment was done, and yet Kal was still dying.
The fire was crackling in the hearth, the room warm in temperature and colors. The formerly icy room was bright with blood-red curtains and a yellow canopy over the bed that bore a blue bedspread. Formerly icy plants were blooming with greenery and flowers, colorful and appealing to the eye.
Bruce’s heart was breaking.
Kal lay in the large bed, gasping for air and for life itself. Blood continued to flow from the wound.
“We cannot take the sword out?” Dick asked, panic in his voice.
Jonathan shook his head. “I have seen wounds like this on the battlefield. If we remove it, the blood will spurt and run out.”
“But we cannot keep it in!” Martha said, wiping Kal’s brow with a damp cloth.
“Mother…” Kal said weakly. “Father…I am glad to be back.”
“We know, son. We are glad you are back with us, too.” Jonathan smoothed Kal’s hair back from his forehead.
Dick quickly put himself into Kal’s field of vision.
“I am glad…you are…all right…now.”
“You helped me so much! Thank you, Kal!” Tears shimmered in Dick’s eyes as he clutched Kal’s arm.
Bruce took his hand, tears in his own eyes. “Yes, my love?”
“I love you, too.”
The tears spilled, Bruce unable to keep the sobs from escaping.
A loud thump! thump! thump! sounded downstairs.
“The front door!” Martha said.
“I can answer it,” Dick said.
“I will go with you.” Jonathan was wary of more trouble.
Bruce focused on Kal’s beautiful face. With living flesh instead of ice, the effect was stunning: midnight hair with the familiar curl over the brow; smooth, unmarred skin, and the most beautiful eyes that Bruce had ever seen.
And now he was losing this special man, just when he had found him.
He wanted to cry endlessly, wrack his body and scream at fate. Yet he held Kal’s hand while his tears were silent, sorrow filling him like water in a well.
“Bruce! Help has arrived!”
Bruce looked toward the doorway at Dick’s exclamation. His eyes widened as he saw a dark-haired woman in black cloak, silver half-moon earrings swinging from her ears, a large golden amulet winking in the sunlight.
“Who are you?” he demanded, hovering over Kal.
“I am Zatanna, and I am here to help.”
“Please, Bruce, let her help,” Dick said, taking Zatanna’s hand.
Bruce saw the trust in Dick and relented. His boy was very good at reading people.
Zatanna approached the bed. Compassion shone in her eyes as she looked down upon the suffering Kal.
“I shall require firstly the presence of the king’s beloved,” she said softly.
Bruce gently squeezed Kal’s hand. “That would be me.”
Zatanna nodded. “Are the rest of you loved ones?”
“Yes,” Martha said proudly.
“Excellent.” Zatanna removed her cloak, revealing a long, black gown with silver moons and stars patterned on the silk. “I am here to bring Kal-El back to health. If you are uneased by magic, please leave.”
“Magic?” Martha asked as Zatanna took a silver circlet out of her cloak and placed it upon her dark tresses. “You are an enchantress?”
Zatanna nodded. “I do not employ the magic that King Lionel employed. When the spell was broken, I was sent here to enchant this castle and its grounds against further evil. But I can help Kal, otherwise he has no chance.”
“Then do so.”
Zatanna bowed to Martha, then straightened and slipped a wand out of her long sleeve. She muttered an incantation, and gold-and-silver stars slipped out of her wand, creating a multitude of candles around the room. Then she pointed the wand at Kal, and began a steady chant as incense pots appeared and the smoke smelled sweet and alluring, Kal’s eyes closing as he struggled to breath.
Bruce held on tightly, his own prayers sent high. Zatanna’s words were incomprehensible until he realized that she was speaking backwards.
“O Tsom Yloh, eraps yht dnik dna eltneg tnavres. Tel yoj nruter ot siht esuoh niaga.”
Bruce stopped trying to decipher the words and let them wash over him instead. He let hope and despair entwine, bowing his head as he prayed for deliverance.
Zatanna’s voice kept up a rhythm, nearly lulling Bruce into a state most strange. Visions of Kal as ice and flesh filled his mind, his heart swelling with love and fear, joy and desperation. Suddenly, her voice boomed, “Htaed, eb enog!”
He opened his eyes to see the stars spring out of the wand as it touched Kal’s crown, swirling around the glittering royal diadem and medallion that carried the symbol of the House of El, and then encircling the hilt of the sword, disappearing into Kal himself. Apprehension filled him. What if Zatanna had tricked them? What if she was here to do evil, not good? What if…?
“Have faith, Prince Bruce,” she intoned, and he was startled.
With a cry she lifted the wand and the sword lifted out of Kal, who cried out. The blood came, rich and warm, and…
The wound closed, and Kal sighed.
Bruce fell to his knees, his head on Kal’s chest as his arms enclosed him.
Bruce could not believe it. All his loved ones were healthy and happy. He walked through the lush gardens hand-in-hand with Kal, who was so happy that he radiated joy like the sun. Dick would gambol down the pathways in front of them, performing his acrobatic flips and handstands, Kal amazed and overjoyed at the display.
Martha and Jonathan were happy, too, grateful that their son was back. Martha cooked all his favorite meals and Bruce found that he liked the dishes. They were savory with spices, and the greens were incredibly fresh as Zatanna had placed a growing spell on the land to give them fresh food quicker than normal before she left.
Zatanna had accepted their thanks and bowed, saying, “I am pleased to be of service.” Her last words were, “If you need me ever again, simply summon me by pressing this amulet to your heart and asking me to come, and I shall.”
The silver-and-gold amulet was in the shape of a half-moon, the chain links star-shaped. It was a stunningly-beautiful piece, and Martha put it in a special glass case on the library mantel. That way everyone could have access to it if necessary.
As Kal and Bruce walked through the gardens, Dick darting ahead, Kal squeezed Bruce’s hand. “I will be so happy to show you my kingdom now that winter only comes once a year.” He smiled. “And hear more about your tales of aiding those in need as the Dark Knight and his Bright Squire.”
Bruce’s eyes became shadowed. “I…cannot stay.”
“What?!” Panic laced Kal’s voice. “But…why must you leave? We have just found each other!”
Bruce’s smile was sad. “Kal, I have a kingdom to take care of, too. I am Crown Prince (he touched Kal’s crown), and will someday rule when my parents pass on.”
Kal’s eyes grew sad. “Of course, you must go and be with your people.”
“Oh, my love, I wish that I could stay.”
Both men looked at Dick, who had somersaulted back to stand before them.
“We both have kingdoms to rule, Dick,” Bruce explained.
“So, rule them!”
“But then we cannot be together.”
Dick put his hands on his hips. “Must you always make things so complicated? Share your kingdoms! Spend six months here, and six months in Gotham!” Dick winked. “And the Dark Knight and his Bright Squire shall have aid, methinks!”
“I am not sure that would work…”
“Let us try, Bruce.” Kal’s voice was eager as he smiled down at Dick, ruffling his hair.
Bruce felt happy. “Let us try.”
They kissed, Dick laughing and clapping.
So it was as Dick had suggested: the two kingdoms saw both King and Prince six months out of the year. The people returned to Kryptonia, and the land was more lush and fertile than ever. Gotham’s people were intrigued by their Prince’s new love, and when a grand wedding took place, both kingdoms celebrated for days.
Did they live happily ever after? Well, remember that King Lionel was still around, but no matter what trials, Kal and Bruce would always love each other.
Maybe that is all the happily ever after anyone needs.
this counter installed 11/11/09