I feel as though there are crystals of ice within my lungs; the cold of the forests of Asleyre is renowned in song and tale, but to feel it in my person is something else entirely. Every breath is a feint cloud from my great-helm; frost and snow has devoured the woods around me like a miraculous diamond collage of white and blue. Hills of fresh and untampered snow gather on the forest floor, and the sun kisses them with light, as fair as a maiden; while the trees afar stand idle through the distant haze, appearing to be tall ghosts, spirits of the woods.
The forest is alive, now more than ever. Behind me a stream trickles steadily through the snow with water as clear as light. I see small birds above, in the trees, fluttering about, and they sing of my arrival.
I only wish I could admire it more, for my sword is heavy and I am tired and wounded.
Before me stands Aelyria the Fair, a woman worthy of song. She is Aelyria of the Queen’s Guard, the Woman of Valour, and Maiden of the Gods. To many travellers far and wide she is known as the Nightingale; said to have been born in the waters of eternal life. They say no weapon of man can harm her.
She is a woman far too beautiful to wield a sword or to bear armour. Her face is small, and her cheeks are like roses in the frost. Her light golden-brown hair falls down her back and is speckled with drifting snow. Her eyes are like pools of marble that glare at me, and I see a flame of hatred and anger within them.
Amid the snows and the sun, her armour shines like the stars, as she is garbed in steel from neck to toe. From her shoulders hangs a mighty red cape bearing the yellow sword-and-shield sigil of her house. It follows her every movement steadily like a shadow, stepping as she steps, and dancing as she dances. In both hands she carries a bastard sword; a mighty weapon engraved with the words “valour and glory” along the moonlight blade.
She stares at me, and I at her. Heavy clouds of breath pass her lips and she takes a moment to regain her strength, and I notice a bead of blood roll past her left eye, as bright as a ruby. We are both tired, and the sweat of our brows has turned to ice. I notice her gloved hands tighten around the hilt of her sword; she is about to strike.
Aelyria the Fair announces her words, “valour and glory”, and then brings her sword down upon my shoulder. I step aside and parry, but she does not let me counter, attacking again and again in one furious volley. Upon her final thrust I almost meet my end as her sword severs some links in my chainmail, drawing blood from my torso, but it is no more than a graze. By now her sword would have grown heavy, and so I make my counter.
Without a helm Aelyria knew that her head was vulnerable; I struck her once with my fist before, but I considered that a lucky break, for the Nightingale is never so careless. Nevertheless, I aim high. Her armour is light, and although her breastplate can deter most of my attacks, I know that it is weak beneath the arms; her armour is weak also at the back of the legs. We exchange blows, but slowly I drive her back.
I push her towards a large snow covered tree and strike from low to high, and with a mighty swing she casts my blade aside. I press again, driving for her ribs, and for a moment we lock swords. I feel her pressing her weight against me, but I am the stronger. She falls back upon a root buried in the snow and I leap at the opportunity to end her life. I stab at her, throwing everything I have into the point of my sword, but she rolls aside, and while my balance is faltered she kicks me in the head. I collapse into the snow.
I find myself disoriented. My sword is no longer in my hand. I look up and my enemy is treading towards me. Unarmed, I hardly stand a chance, and there is only one thing left for me to do. I scramble to my feet and rush her, hoping to somehow get past her bastard sword. But Aelyria is yet too fast, and she runs me through with her blade.
In death I embrace her. Holding her close, I whisper, “you have lived up to your name, Aelyria the Fair; I am honoured.”
I fall again into the snow and the stars descend upon me. A long time ago I murdered her husband, and now, for his honour, she has avenged him. Valour and glory. But I am honoured to rest now upon the white expanse, among the trees and the snow. I smile, for the beautiful forests of Asleyre shall forever be my grave.ns 126.96.36.199da2