It was the first snowfall of the year
Sesha Liatos, former archmage of the fearsome warlord’s domain, peered over the crest of the small hill he was crouched behind. His eyes scanned the field before him for signs of the enemy. His eyes narrowed, and though it was somewhat tempting to use magic it wouldn’t be playing fair. This was supposed to be honorable combat and, besides that, he’d promised. He took a more solid grip on his weapon, ready to act at a moment’s notice. His enemy was crafty, however. There was the crunch of a footstep, and a shadow loomed over him from behind. He barely had time to turn before the blow came in the form of a snowball to the back of the neck.
He sputtered as snow began to drip down his neck, and blindly lobbed his own snowball back in the direction the attack had come from. He heard the decisive ‘poff’ of a hit and then the sound of laughter. Wiping the snow away as he turned, he saw the candle maker’s children, Aldis, who he’d struck in the side, and Torin, who was happily taunting his sister about her misfortune.
“It doesn’t count anyway! Sesha was out cause I hit him first!” She announced, loud enough for all to hear. For the moment they’d forgotten him as they descending into sibling bickering. Using the opportunity, he took up a premade snowball in each hand. Rising up slowly, like a dread thing from the ground, he loomed over the both of them. He lifted his hands, wielding the snow as he might have a spell, and made the most sinister face he could. “Beware! Now I have you both!”
The children looked up at him. In the past he’d rarely seen children, outside of messengers scampering here and there through the halls of the citadel. They’d always looked at him with awe, or fear. Always, until one child in the neighboring kingdom’s capitol had found him interesting instead of scary. He’d met many children since then, and his attitude toward them had slowly evolved from annoyance, to curiosity, to fondness. He’d been awkward around them at first, but found the more he relaxed, the more they responded to him.
The caught siblings screamed at his challenge, but there was laughter too, and as he threw his snowballs they careened away from him with squeals of delight. “You’ll never catch us!” The other children on their team were waiting for them and he quickly ducked back behind his little hill as as fresh wave of snowballs covered their retreat. He took a moment to catch his breath.
It was the first snowfall of the year. The storm had rolled in the night before, sweeping in the bitter cold along with it. The locals said it was early this year but they’d been lucky they’d had enough time to fortify to make it through the winter months. Sesha hadn’t known, as he’d been well shielded from the day to day lives of the common folk before now, but usually the winter months were very lean times and losses weren’t unusual. He was determined to see everyone make it through this year.
The night before, the locals had stayed indoors, huddling around fires and under blankets to keep warm. Unlike in the past, when everything went to those in the citadel itself, they’d made sure the citizens had more than enough to keep them safe and warm. Seibel had overseen the distribution of food, blankets, and firewood to any who needed them. Any one who didn’t have a home to go to was put up in a room in the citadel, no matter their standing.
The wind had howled, the cold deepening through the night. He’d cuddled close with Domerin, their tower shielded from the buffeting winds. Despite the storm, the next morning had dawned with an open blue sky and a weak sun shining above. Everything was covered with a thick layer of white. It was beautiful.
Unlike in the past, with the shadow of the warlord over them, the locals had struck out to spend some time in the snow. The local children, particularly, were taking advantage of it. Their parents had come up with improvised sleds for a nearby hill. There were snowmen, of varying degrees of skill, and of course, snowball fights. It might not have been a lot but it was such a change from the silent dreariness that had laid over the people before this.
Sesha had never much bothered to spend much time outside in winter. He wasn’t the greatest fan of the cold and he’d had no real reason in the past. Today, though, he’d dressed up in his warmest gear, and headed out to see how things were going. It had take a bit of time to find something to wear, since most of his coats were still the gaudy things he was avoiding wearing these days. The replacement of his wardrobe was going slowly but surely.
He’d gone out to check and make sure everyone had made it through the night all right, and to see if there was anything anyone needed. He hadn’t gotten far before the children had gathered around him and pulled him away toward the snow hills, begging him to play with them. It had taken him a bit to learn all their rules, and the children had then bickered over who got him on their team. Eventually he’d promised to take turns playing for both teams. When the game had finally started he played with an almost childlike glee.
He’d never been allowed to do this sort of thing when he’d been young. Memories of playing were distant and faded, and each passing year had brought more restrictions, more responsibility. As one child showed him how to make a proper snowball he could just imagine the stern voice of one of the senior mages telling him to come inside and stop being foolish. There was something freeing about playing like this, even if it was just a short interlude before he returned to his work.
He did care anymore about old voices in his mind. They were nothing but memory, long past. Things were different now, he was different now, and he could enjoy himself, even if he wasn’t a child anymore. He took his turns with both teams, warmed by the enthusiasm and seemingly boundless energy of the young.
During a lull in the battle one of the children called out and pointed, and a chorus of happy shouts followed from her fellows. He saw Domerin approaching, and he waved, smiling at the man. He was dressed warmly too, in the gifts given to him by the locals. He was thankful they’d shared what they had with him, when he’d had almost nothing.
There seemed to be a truce at the moment, so he stood and made his way over to the other man. He slipped an arm around him, leaning up to press a kiss to his cheek.
A smile touched the man’s lips. “You’ll give me frostbite if you’re not careful.” Domerin’s tone was teasing though, and he couldn’t help but laugh softly. After a moment the other man reached down to lightly brush one of his cheeks. “Be careful about staying out too long.”
“I will,” he promised, returning the smile. He had to admit the thought of curling up in his tower with a cup of tea was a nice one.
Before he could say more they suddenly found themselves surrounded. The children had given up the current game at the sight of Domerin and ran up to them, crowding around. Much as they had with him earlier they called for him to join in their game. Some implored him to play with wide, pleading eyes, some asked sweetly, while others challenged him to the great snowball fight.
There seemed to be nothing for it, and Domerin gave a hearty laugh. “As long as you’re willing to take turns having me on your teams.” A great cheer went up and they promised to share him. Before they headed back Aldis smiled up at him, asking if he wouldn’t say and play with them a little longer.
Sesha watched, the children already bickering over who got Domerin first, the other man being as diplomatic about it as he had been. “I think I can play another few games.” She broke out into a grin and ran back to announce it, and after a moment Sesha followed. He couldn’t help but smile, feeling warm all over despite the cold.