In a small cabin sheltered by fir trees heavy with snow, an elderly Dornish man sits beside a child’s bed. The boy is obviously precious to the man who gently tucks blankets and furs around him. It’s dark outside, the only light coming from the pale reflection of moonlight on the snow. Inside the hearth casts dancing shadows on the walls.
“Grandpa, can I have a story before I go to sleep?”
The old man smiles at the boy’s curiosity and thinks a moment before replying.
“One story Tomas and then you must get your rest. In honor of the turn of winter, I will tell you a story of a great Dornish King who challenged the turn of seasons and attempted to keep winter at bay.”
The boy’s eyes light up at the prospect of a new story. His grandpa was full of stories with great battles, betrayal, and heroes.
“When our people first reached these shores, we spread across the north, founding great cities, building roads, and taming the vast wilderness. The land did not give up its riches without a fight and your forbearers fought many wars with the fey, the spawn of the shadow, and the great spirits of the land, the water, and even the air. Our people were mighty then, with great heroes, and powerful mages. All fled before out might as we created great kingdoms.
One of the greatest kingdoms was that of Hakon Hilstrada. King Hakon ruled the lands from the great forest of the Erethor in the west to endless plains of grass in the east. King Hakon was beloved by his subjects and blessed by the spirits of his ancestors. The King had two sons. The eldest was a warrior and led the King’s armies in battle. The younger, was a master of magic who could bend the nature spirits to his will, moving the earth, changing the course of rivers, and even calling winds and lightning. What should have been the king’s pride, two strong sons, was the source of his greatest sorrow. The two sons despised each other and could not be in the same room without coming to blows. They could not put aside their differences even as the king, who was dying, asked this boon of them as his final task in life.
The king knew that dividing the kingdom between his two sons would lead to war and the death of thousands. He could not let all that he worked for be destroyed. Calling his advisors to him, the king declared that he would follow the customs of his people and declared his older son the sole heir. The younger son flew into a rage and vowed to form his own kingdom. The newly anointed king told him there is no land left except the snows in the north, see if you can wrest a kingdom from winter’s snow and ice. The younger son snarled back at his brother, winter is no match for me. I will create a kingdom like none you have ever seen and I will return for what should have been mine.
The younger brother took his followers into the northern wastes to build their new home. Using his power over the spirits, he created a home with rich fields, ample water, and a strongly fortified castle. From the castle he controlled his spirits and changed the weather to his liking; but winter had not yet made its approach. As the autumn came to a close the cold breath of winter began to descend on the new kingdom. The mage king called his spirits to him and ordered them to push the northern winds away and to bring heat from the ground to keep the fields and houses warm. He was blinded by his own power and believed that not even winter could oppose him.
At first winter ignored the small bastion of warmth as it spread its hold through the north. Winter’s power is vast and each year it reclaims what it once held. As the north was covered with his snow, the mage king resisted. Winter could not allow a mortal to stand against him and he pulled his great freezing winds and dark clouds full of snow and sleet to him and unleashed them on the new kingdom. The lesser spirits controlled by the mage king could not stand against winter’s full power and were destroyed one by one. First the waters froze, then the ground, and then the snow clouds broke through the mage’s defenses and the worst storm in the history of our people pounded the kingdom.
When the storm final ended, all were dead except the mage king, lonely and freezing in his castle. Winter had spared the arrogant king, for the moment. On the coldest night of winter, the castle gates opened and a giant figure all in white entered the king’s halls; winter had come to meet the arrogant fool who had sought to challenge him. Cowering behind his throne, the mage pleaded for his life, promising to leave winter’s lands forever. Winter looked down and opened his mouth. His words were almost lost in the rushing of the winds that swirled around the hall. “You who sought to defy winter shall be its heart. Where you tread will be the coldest, most bitter part of my realm. You will be my herald, walking cold and miserable through the northlands with no hearth or home to call your own.’ Winter then raised his arms and great sheets of ice covered the walls of the castle. With a single blow of his arm, winter shattered the stonewalls as if they were glass and the mage king’s castle was no more. The winds began to howl once more surrounding the mage king. Dark and heavy clouds blotted out the sun and snow and hail began to fall. Shivering, the mage king walked silently from the ruins, the storm following him.
The mage king attempted to escape his prison by moving south toward the lands of the sun. The storm would not end and the freezing winds and snows destroyed crops and killed thousands. The king was miserable and tried to build shelters from the storm, but he could not. No fire would kindle. The mage king thought to use his terrible power against his hated brother, but he realized that his fellow Dorn would suffer so he turned aside his hatred and journeyed north into the wastes. Some say that he uses his power today to punish the Shadow and bring death and misery to those who oppress his people.
Now boy, I tell you this as the mage king longs for the company of his people and the warmth of a simple hearth. When winter covers our lands, the mage king walks through the lands of his people and will occasionally seek charity. In the depths of the worst storms, you may hear a knocking on your door. You must answer the door and invite the king in. Let him sit by your fire and give him the best of your fare. When he has gained what warmth he can, he will thank you in the old tongue and take his leave. In return for your hospitality, he will take the storms away from you and ensure an early end to winter. Turn away the winter king and the land will suffer a long and grim winter.”
The boy is huddled under his blankets with only his eyes showing. The story both thrilled and frightened him. In a tiny voice the boy asks, “Grandpa, have you ever met the mage king?”
The old man smiles. “When I was you age we had a terrible storm, the worst seen in generations. As we sat near the fire we heard a knocking on our door. My mother was afraid, fearing the restless dead or worse, but my father followed the old ways and knew he had to answer the door. When he did he saw a giant of a man, over seven feet tall, clothed in furs caked in ice. The man spoke strangely and motioned toward the fire. My fire invited him in and cleared a space for him. He brought the stranger hot soup and mulled cider. Their was joy in the stranger’s eyes and he spoke slowly in a rich deep voice in a tongue that felt familiar but was not our own. My father shared some of the tongue and spoke respectfully to the stranger. After several hours by the fire, the man rose, took my mother’s hands and kissed them, then he clasped arms with my father and walked from our home. The storm broke that night and winter was soon at an end. So yes, young one, I have seen the man who would be the master of winter.”