The Coldest Night by Michael Roberts

Every heart is a shell full of hollow bubbles. One for joy, one for hope, for love, for despair… For every bubble there is a song. To fill joy near to bursting. To make hope shimmer. To lift despair. Once this was known, and the guild’s singers filled every court, were welcomed in every wealthy home. But there are things no one should ever do, and one song no one should ever have sung.

 

Once a generation, on a cold, moonless night deep in the heart of winter, the sun freezes over and dies. The guild gathers beneath the starless sky to sing a chorus of hope, loss, and sacrifice. For with the song and the sacrifice there will be no new sun in the morning. When the last notes die the king lays upon the altar, and the prince drives a knife through his heart. Blood drips to the snow and light is reborn in the east.

 

But the last king had no sons. Only royal blood can make a new sun. He could not let his line end, so when the song was sung, he laid his daughter, trembling but brave, on the altar and spilled her blood upon the snow.

 

The sun rose in the morning, later than normal, pale and heatless. No heart as cold as the king’s could ignite a fire like the sun. The kingdom rebelled. At first the guild refused to join the rebellion. They surrounded the castle. They sang to thaw his heart, to soothe his guilt, but nothing touched the king. He ordered his knights to kill the singers, and the guild fled. All save one, who snuck inside and climbed to the highest tower.

 

As her friends fled, she sang slow and piercing. Her voice echoed across the courtyard to the king’s balcony. Knights ran to the tower, threw themselves up the stairs, but the climb was long and the song was short. The king shivered as the bubbles in his heart froze and shattered. Silver shards exploded out from his chest, and he fell to the snowy ground far below. Royal blood mixed with snow and a bright, hot light bloomed in the east.  

 

But the king had no sons and no more daughters, or so they believed. When the darkest night came again, fifty years later, they sang the song but had no sacrifice. The people turned on the guild. That night, there was blood in the snow, but no light in the east. This is why we live in darkness. This is why singing is forbidden, but there are still those who try, who remember the songs and sing on the coldest nights. You must never let them find you. Your blood is too precious to let them rip you apart, but one day, the sacrifice will be required.