Note: This is book 6 in the Fairy Queens series but can be read perfectly on its own.
Only the desperate need them.
Only the desperate make them.
And always, the desperate pay . . .
As the daughter of the Winter Queen, the silence and never-ending dark of winter are all Elice has ever known. So when a whaling ship crashes just offshore, she doesn't hesitate to rescue the lone survivor, Adar, who quickly becomes her friend. But the closer Elice and Adar become, the more desperate she is to keep him hidden from her mother at all costs.
For if the Winter Queen discovers Adar trespassing, she'll kill him.
When her mother reveals just how dark her soul has become, Elice realizes she is as much a prisoner as Adar. Worse, she begins to see hints of something more nefarious. The darkness that has taken hold of her mother is spreading, staining the world with its influence.
Unbeknownst to Elice, a bargain was made long ago. A bargain she was born to fulfill.
Can Elice escape the Winter Queen before she kills Adar? Read Daughter of Winter to find out!
Enter the beautiful, magical realm of winter in Amber Argyle's Daughter of Winter. The Winter Queen's daughter lives a life of isolation in the land of ice and snow, unaware that she is a key part of a bargain that was made long, long ago. – Jamie Ferguson
"If this is your first volume of the series, you may miss some of the nuances of the history of the realms and their inhabitants. But you'll still be drawn into a spellbinding tale of the powers of winter and the imminent collapse of a system spinning out of Balance. Love, loss, friendship and betrayal all feature as a young girl strives to break free of her cold, enchanted world."– Amazon Reviewer
"Darkly wondrous, fast paced, and heart wrenching. Will you abandon all you have ever known on the word of a stranger? Will you give into your heart desire?"– Amazon reviewer
The horizon was a brilliant orange when Elice slipped out of her cave wearing only a white linen underdress. The crystallized snow felt rough under her bare feet as she ran through her forest of ice sculptures. Before her was an ice tree that, when the wind was just right, became a wind organ. There were animals, too, all with prismatic features. An owl was startled to flight from its high perch by two reindeer, antlers locked and mouths open.
Breathless and hungry as she always was after the darkness, Elice left the forest behind and paused where ice met black ocean. The light grew brighter until she had to squint. But she didn't look away, not until a ball of gold peeked over the horizon. She grinned and stretched her bare arms toward the pale sky, letting her skin soak in the sun she hadn't seen in six months. It caressed her as she breathed it in, tasting sunshine that spread through her body and chased away the shadows that plagued her.
The wind picked up, tugging playfully against her hair, thick and so dark it was almost black. She could have stayed that way forever, but there wasn't much time left to find food for Picca, her injured seal. From inside one of her trees, Elice retrieved the belt she'd weighted with stones. She secured it around her waist and then opened herself up to winter—like pulling open a window to a storm of ice and snow. She tugged on a trickle of that power.
Shaping the ice as it flowed from her hands, she quickly encased her head in a clear bubble, which she sealed against the skin of her shoulders. She formed flippers on her hands and feet, picked a spot between the circular ice floes that littered the water, and jumped into the ocean. The weight of the belt pulled her down to where sea plants shifted with the current. Inside her bubble of air, Elice took in the shafts of light piercing the water's rippled surface and then refracting below. It was like being inside a giant, one-dimensional prism. Before her, the ice floes of the Winter Queendom stretched on in an almost minty green. Behind her was the small peninsula she shared with her family, the ice palace built beyond the shore and tucked into the steep mountains.
Unlike the unending silence of the queendom, the ocean was alive with sound—the chucks, whistles, chirps, and booms of seals and whales. Here, life flourished in a way it never would above. Careful to make sure her ice bubble didn't separate from the skin of her shoulders and allow the air to escape, Elice swam up to a small octopus, killed it with a shock of cold, and stuffed it into a large leather bag trailing from her belt.
After tying off the string, she looked up and came face to face with an enormous walrus, its tusks the size of a two-handed sword. Elice tensed and opened the window to winter a little wider, forming an ice spear in one hand. But the walrus simply twitched its whiskers and swam curiously around her. Then, as if it had lost interest, the creature moved away, its tusks ripping at the mollusks embedded on the rocky sea floor.
Elice exhaled in relief. Swimming away from the walrus, she searched for more prey. In the distance, she could make out a silverfish wriggling in the space where an ice spear stabbed down from a floe into the ocean. The fish's mouth busily worked free whatever food it had found. Spear still in hand, Elice moved smoothly toward the fish. But she hesitated before swimming over a boulder covered in sharp-edged mollusks and a hundred different water plants.
On the other side, the seabed dropped off sharply, leading to open water. In the distance, the water was red with krill. A dozen too-thin leopard seals hunted the swarm. Though Elice had the magic of winter at her fingertips, she wouldn't dare come near a group of seals that were twice her size. Besides, hunger had made the seals even more aggressive than usual. There were other dangers too—the orca that hunted the seals and ruled the open waters.
Still, she didn't have much time, and the silverfish was the only other prey she'd seen. Steeling herself, Elice left the shelter of the shallow water and pushed toward the silverfish—a somewhat misleading name, as it was actually a salmon pink. The creature only turned silver after it died.
Elice had just gathered some of her power when something exploded above her. A dozen large-eyed seal pups plunged into the water, tails frantically pumping. Elice didn't wait to see what had panicked them; waiting could mean death in the queendom. She swam hard for the shore. In her peripheral vision, she saw a polar bear diving into the water after one of the pups. It opened its huge mouth full of sharp teeth and snagged the baby seal. Blood curled through the water, and Elice pivoted and kicked out. Even she dared not face a hungry polar bear.
In her panic, she had separated the ice bubble from her clavicle, and now water filled the bubble to her chin. Her head felt light and floaty—she'd taken too many breaths. She glanced around to ensure that nothing else was after her before she kicked for a distant ice floe. Just as she surfaced, she drew the ice back into winter. Taking hold of the raised, icy edge, she gasped in a breath of crisp air. She heard the seal pup squealing in pain as the bear dragged it back onto the ice. Elice's first instinct was to try to save the pup, but it was already too late. Besides, the bear had to eat, just like she did.
Trying to block out the sound, Elice let the spear dissolve from her hands. She looked back at the faraway shore. The winter palace and her forest appeared no bigger than she was. She glanced into the watery sky to check the time and was surprised to see smoke rising in the distance. She stared. Here, she was the only one who lit fires.
Curious, she pulled herself out of the water and onto the higher vantage point of the ice floe, doing her best to ignore the sound of the bear ripping and tearing at the seal carcass. The scene was distant enough now that Elice could cover it with her outstretched hand.
Floes from the spring melt stretched into the distance. Dominating the horizon was a chunk like a floating mountain broken off a glacier. The smoke was coming from behind the iceberg. Smoke means people, Elice thought. She'd never known other people. Never met anyone outside her immediate family.
Hope and longing tore at her. But with that hope came fear, for after six months away, the Winter Queen was returning today. And she would never allow a ship to survive this close to the queendom.
Knowing running would be faster than swimming, Elice dissolved her flippers and opened wide the channel to winter, letting water freeze beneath her feet as she ran across the ocean, ice spreading just ahead of each of her steps.
Her heart pounded in her ears when she finally reached the iceberg, her underdress and hair hanging stiff and heavy from her body. She withdrew the cold, and they were wet and dripping again. She climbed the steep ascent and peered over the rise.
Elice gasped in disbelief at what she saw—a ship, close enough that she could make out dark-skinned men running about in panic, shouting to each other. Elice gaped at them. She'd only seen three people in her entire life, and here was a whole group of them!
She squinted and read the name etched in the side of the ship—Drauga. She'd never laid eyes on a ship in real life, but from her books and her grandfather's stories, she knew what it was. This one was obviously damaged, for it leaned sharply to one side, a trickle of smoke coming from somewhere below decks.
Movement in the sky drew Elice's gaze. A flock of ice fairies shifted in the air currents like a school of fish, their clear-as-glass wings catching the sunlight in a thousand sparks. They hovered between Elice and the ship. Dread seeped into the place where hope had been. She was too late. Too late to meet the ship. Too late to warn its occupants.
Tinted green by the water, a spear of ice shot out, stabbing into the underbelly of the ship. The ship's scream sounded remarkably close to the cry of the dying seal pup just a few minutes before. The men released a small boat, but the moment it hit the water, it was crushed between two ice floes.
Having completed their dark task, the fairies fluttered away, leaving the craft in her death throes as they headed toward Elice. She knew their destination was the Winter Palace, and she was directly in their path. She ducked down, pressed herself flat, and tried to keep her breathing shallow. The fairies passed over her, their wings making a sound like a hundred scissors opening and closing at once.
Elice wanted to stay put until the fairies were long gone, but there wasn't time. Whatever they'd done to that ship had doomed it—otherwise they wouldn't have left it. She eased around the other side of the rise, putting the iceberg between herself and the fairies and hoping her movements hadn't caught their attention.
A horrible screeching of wood made her whip around. The ship canted to one side before plunging into open water again. It was listing badly and sitting heavy. Water gushed out some sort of pump, but the craft was sinking fast now, water closing around the sailors. They began to scream.
Still at the pinnacle of the iceberg, Elice sent out a ribbon of slick ice. She sat on it and slid. Her wet hair whipped behind her, freezing in crazy tangles. She wasn't fast enough. Helpless, she watched as the ship slid beneath the surface, dragging the men down with it. Some of them splashed around in the water, but with their heavy fur clothing and their weapons, they sank faster than the ship, which was already fading like a ghost.
When Elice reached the edge of the iceberg and launched to her feet, all that was left behind was a bit of flotsam—shards of wood and barrels ripped loose from their moorings. There was no trace of the sailors. Hands crossed and pressed hard over her mouth, Elice silently waited for one of the men to resurface. For someone to have survived. She couldn't explain the tears that pricked her eyes. All her life, she'd been taught that humans were insignificant, their deaths no more important than the seal she'd seen killed earlier.
But Elice dove in anyway, forming flippers even as she kicked and stroked to where the ship had been. She dove down, pushing away debris and hunting for any signs of life. She hadn't taken the time to form an air bubble, so she soon surfaced, panting. Then a man burst up on the other side of the debris. He gasped for breath, his hands tangled in rope wrapped around a barrel. Their gazes locked, and the shock of looking into a stranger's eyes rendered Elice temporarily immobile.
He was shivering violently, staring at her with despair. He made a shuddering sound again, as if trying to call for help, and she remembered that while the water was pleasant for her, it would be freezing to him.
"Swim for the iceberg," she cried even as she swam toward him.
He gave another great shudder, his lips moving as if he uttered a prayer, and kicked out. Whether he was trying to reach the iceberg or her, Elice wasn't sure. But then he slipped under the waves and disappeared. She dove below the surface and swam hard for him. His eyes were closed, and strands of his tied-back hair wavered in the water like sea plants as he sank gently into the water's dark embrace.