A man and a woman kneel before the other, a line of black drawn in the soil between them. Atop the golden head of the man rests a crown of leaves and flowering buds. Nestled in the woman’s snowy mane is a circlet of holly berries and plum blossoms. On either side of the line, the two press their hands into the soil, their fingertips mere inches apart as their bodies lean eagerly towards the other.
Though they appear so near, the space between them yawns open still.
For the golden man is the Prince of Summer, and the pale woman is the Princess of Winter.
Though they’ve never kissed, nor embraced—nor have they ever touched—they are in love.
Daily, the two come to this place where their lands meet, their heads filled with the starlight of hopes and dreams. Daily, as the sun’s rays fade, they walk away, their hearts pierced by the steel of despair.
For neither dare to cross the border that separates their lands.
For death is the price to be paid.
The seasons haven’t always been so divided. Long before the Summer Prince and the Winter Princess were born, their fathers ruled the land in relative peace. The Summer King reigned for six months out of the year, and then the Winter King for the remaining six.
When it was time for the seasons to change, the two monarchs would meet in the palace of the reigning king. At summer’s end, the Winter King would make his way through the glittering green forest of the Summer King. Along the way, he’d stop to thaw his frozen toes in warm streams, and as he closed his eyes, he’d listen to the sighing of the trees.
Upon arrival, the Summer King would say to the Winter King, “Make them miss me.”
To which the Winter King would toss back his head, his white mane fluttering in the wind, and let loose a hearty laugh. For this is what the Summer King asked of him year after year, and it was a challenge the Winter King had come to cherish.
That night, the Summer King held for the other a feast in celebration of this arrangement that had been made. For none knew how it had come to pass. None knew if there had been some great battle which had established this rule. For so long this tradition had been held that none were alive to recall if there had been some clashing of leviathans or a rallying of sleet and snow against fire and smoke. To all who were concerned, and there really weren’t that many who were, this was just how things had always been and how they’d continue. But as is the way of the world, things established in peace do not have a tendency to last.
So, for one night out of every year, there was no such thing as seasons, nor were there any notions of summer versus winter. For this one night, all that could be heard was the sound of the Winter King’s laughter echoing across starlit skies and the pounding of his feet against the fresh earth as he danced to the sweet chirrup of summer mockingbirds.
It wasn’t until the night sky peeled itself back to reveal the awaiting sun did King Winter take a moment to mourn for himself. Despite how much he loved his lands and all those to which he was responsible for, secretly he did envy all that the Summer King possessed. In that singular moment, the Winter King would wonder to himself if the Summer King could feel the blossoming of each dahlia and honeysuckle. If the Summer King could feel life bloom the same way King Winter could feel the way death stole breath, and wither warmth. King Winter wondered if the Summer King felt the birth of every fawn the way he could feel the death of every lone wolf that succumbed to the cold. The Winter King wondered about these things but didn’t bother to wonder at them for very long.
By the time the new day had fully dawned, the Winter King was already trekking his way through the woods, leaving trails of frost and snow in his wake. It wasn’t until he sat upon his lonely throne, a silver crown nestled firmly amongst his white curls, did he tell himself that he didn’t think all that much about the warmth and color and vibrancy which surrounded the Summer King. He told himself he didn’t think much about it at all.
The King of Winter has a wife.
They say her beauty rivals that of the setting sun. That her skin is whiter than snow and her hair is softer than clouds lined in silver. They say her voice is a chorus of plum blossoms and jasmine petals dancing on a gentle wind.
It is also said that she is unhappy. Though at her breast suckles her winter child, she feels isolated and alone and grows tired of the cold.
For it is known by all that the King of Winter is a brittle and fickle sort, and at times cruel. Despite her beauty and her kindness of heart, Winter spends his days traipsing around in the north, indifferent to her shriveling spirit. His frozen feet grounded in snowcapped mounts, his fingers wound in the North Wind’s wintry hair.
Desperate and spirit dying, the Winter Queen crosses the border into the lands of the Summer King, a tiny bundle nestled in her hands. There she falls in love with the fire of the sun and vows to never return to the glacial lands of her home.
But the King of Winter demands his child’s return, and for the first time in millennia, he crosses the length of the summer lands before it is his turn. In his wake trails tree limbs armored in frozen spikes, his anger raging colder than ice. With his face turned defiant to the West, he bellows a song into the warm summer wind.
His voice is a haunt over the land.
They call me Night, he howls.
The whisper in the breeze.
The rustle between leaves.
They call me Winter, he moans.
The prickle against skin.
The moonlight sinking in.
They call me Hunter, he whispers.
The darkness inside dreams.
The shadows unseen.
They call me Snow, he grins.
The bitterness in the cold.
The secrets untold.
They call me Storm, he thunders.
The howl in the wind.
The cloak to sin.
They call me Night.
And, I am coming.
When the Winter King finds his wife, she is sat in a meadow, singing a melody in a voice very different to his own. At her side lays their child, her hair a tuft of white atop her head, eyes a pair of sparkling sapphires.
For just a moment the King pauses at seeing his wife’s delight. He could leave them here, he thinks, if he knows they’ll be happy.
Just as the King of Winter decides that he will walk away, the King of Summer comes crashing through the trees, a golden-haired boy laughing on his shoulders.
The Summer King has everything, the Winter Kings thinks.
The Summer King has it all.
Cold jealousy pierces the Winter King’s breast, hardening his resolve.
The Summer King shall fall.
With brutal claws, the Winter King drags his wife from her summer heaven, their child tucked close to his chest, her tiny wails drowned out by the cries of her mother.
The Winter King throws his wife into a fortress made of ice and snow and hail and all things cold. He fills it with the howling wind of the East and blankets it with starless skies and moonless nights. It is a place so desolate that not even the North Wind dares visit.
The King’s wife will rot there for eternity.
The King’s wife will forever be alone.
The King’s wife will die.
Determined to save his lover, the Summer King challenges Winter to a duel. Whoever wins may keep Winter’s wife and child for himself.
Gathering his forces, the Winter King rallies forth the fog and the frost, calling on the wailing wind and the blizzard of hail and snow. In turn, the Summer King rallies forth the lightning and the rain and calls on the heat of the sun and the fire of its rays.
For three nights, Winter hails against Summer. For three days, Summer scorches Winter. On and on they continue in this way, but no matter how hard the wind howls or how hot the sun blazes, neither side wins.
Weary from war, their great helms of ice and smoke tossed carelessly to the side, the two men watch the ash and snow from their battle drift in flurries to the ground. At their feet, they behold all the destruction they have wrought. Between them lies their lover. Slain by sleet. Singed by heat.
From the very ashes and icicles of their fight, Mother Nature herself arises, her gaze more withering than ice and hotter than fire.
A truce, Mother calls. From here on out and for the rest of forever, Summer and Winter will be split so that neither will ever wage war against the other. So none will die senselessly for the sake of their feud.
Dipping her fingers into the oily black of their hatred, Mother draws a line between their two lands.
So long as there is hate in their hearts, none may ever cross it.
So long as the Kings have lived, no one has ever tried.
The Prince of Summer has it all. His father’s lands are full of life and plenty of things to eat. He’s never had a care in his life and doesn’t have any now.
As the Prince leaps over fallen logs and races a fawn between young saplings, he lifts his face to the blinding azure sky and lets out a whoop of joy.
Unconcerned with how far he runs, he dashes over fallen logs and goes farther through his father’s lands than he’s ever gone before.
Breathless, he comes to a stop, bracing his hands against his knees. All he hears is the heaving of his breath between his teeth.
No birds sing in these trees. No leaves dance along the gentle breeze.
But nothing bad can ever happen in his father’s lands, so the Summer Prince presses forward until the twin peaks of snow-capped mountains rise into the horizon before him.
There, across the way, is a girl kneeling in the cold, her fingers playing with the icy wind, white hair thrown over her shoulder and a crown of silver tossed to the side — half buried in the snow. Though the wind and snow respond to her command, though they leap and twirl and heed her every behest, none of her power is enough to lift the corners of her blue eyes, nor tilt the line of her mouth into a smile.
Nothing, except for the approaching stranger.
She watches him with sharp eyes, taking in his carefree stride and his easy grin. She wonders at the feel of his warmth and the sound of his laugh.
Though she knows it makes no sense at all, she decides that she will love him. For he is everything she is not.
So for many years to come, the Prince of Summer and the Princess of Winter have met here in this place between their lands.
On humid nights, the Summer Prince reads the Winter Princess his favorite stories. His voice becomes a comforting hum that sends the Princess of Winter into dream-filled slumber.
On frigid mornings, the Princess of Winter walks by his side, her hand outstretched towards his but never touching.
During the solstices, they sleep together, or as close as they can, their bodies lined up side by side, their hushed ‘goodnights’ carried to the other on an obliging breeze.
When the Princess of Winter runs to the border, her tears become needles that pierce her feet. The Summer Prince reaches his fingertips towards her, knowing he cannot touch her, knowing he never will.
“I am to marry,” the Princess says between choked sobs. “My Father intends for me to ascend.”
Why, she shouts within the silent space of her heart, the part that aches the most. I’d rather die.
Seeing the pain on his lover’s face, the Prince whispers over the divide, “I have a plan.”
Quickly he explains.
“What if it doesn’t work?” the Princess asks, her silver brows knit together.
“It will,” he responds.
“How can you be so sure?”
“I have to be.”
From the East comes an icy gust.
The Princess’ eyes widen as she looks over her shoulder. “My father comes.”
From the West blows a blast of heat.
“As does mine,” the Prince responds, his face grave.
“They’ll stop us,” says the Princess, circling a pale hand around her throat.
“They’ll try,” says the Prince.
The Prince of Summer is afraid, though he’ll never say.
To cross is the way.
To cross is to die.
Both are willing to pay this price, for both will leap over the divide.
Now the woods fall still.
No leaves crunch beneath bare feet. No feathers sigh against the wind. No motes of pollen dance in the golden light.
The entire woods is that moment between an inhale and an exhale.
The Prince of Summer is the first to go.
The Princess of Winter goes next.
Where Summer bleeds into Winter there becomes Fall.
Where Winter bleeds into Summer there becomes Spring.
And so, despite the hate their fathers had begotten, despite the divide which had forever kept them apart, the Summer Prince and the Winter Princess had at last found a place in which they could meet.
Became it known for the rest of eternity, that Summer meets Winter in the Fall, and once more they reconvene in the Spring.