They say that in the heart of the forest, there's winter in the middle of summer. Tam went to see if the opposite was true.
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He challenged the forest. His mighty sword vanquished his foes. A boy and his stick, leaving frosty nettles broken behind.
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"Where to, soldier boy?" a magpie laughed.
Tam bowed. "To summer, sir."
"Then march on, and get your warmth from the Queen."
3/25

"Why the hurry?" a squirrel asked.
"I go to the Queen," Tam said.
"Have a care, she'll heed your words, not what you say."
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In the heart of the forest, Tam stepped off snow onto lush green moss. Leaving winter behind, he shivered, then marched on.
5/25

The Queen welcomed him to her court.
"What does this noble knight bring us?"
Tam thought, then kneeled.
"I bring my sword!"
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Follow

There's a too brief bliss of peace you can enjoy before you realise it's caused by something missing. Like a young brother.
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Lin tracked her brother; the snow made it easy. Harder to make herself follow, into the deep forest, where loneliness howls.
/25

"Where to, fair maiden?" a magpie laughed.
Lin frowned, hidden in coat, scarf and hat. "Why do you ask?"
It flew, laughing.
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"You seek the boy?" a squirrel asked.
Lin stared at it. "Hm?"
"The Queen took him. Have a care, trust only what you know."
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Lin hesitated where winter seemed to end; she recalled tales of false promises and lifetimes lost. Then she stepped across.
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Every few steps, a garment would vanish or change. Lin arrived at the Queen's court looking like a princess. She shivered.
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The Queen welcomed her. "What boon would this fair maiden ask?"
"I demand my brother!"
"Of course! A knight for the lady!"
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The Queen took Lin to a long row of identical soldiers, standing to attention.
"Choose any you like. But choose only once."
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The soldiers all stared straight ahead, without meeting her eyes. None of them looked like Tam; none would recognise her.
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"Maybe a kiss would wake them to you?" the Queen said. "Maybe your... favour would?"
Lin bit her tongue to avoid screaming.
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Lin walked up and down the line of soldiers, looking and thinking hard. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw one shiver.
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It is winter, regardless what it looks like, Lin thought. She took the hand of the shivering soldier.
"I choose this one."
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"Blood knows blood," a magpie laughed. "and you shall have none."
The Queen ignored it.
"Well chosen. Now do not lose him."
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They ran, hand in hand, the soldier and the princess. Around them, other soldiers ran in silence, fading away one by one.
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They ran, and snow began to cover the ground. It hid a crevasse, which her soldier tumbled down, his hand torn from hers.
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All the remaining soldiers jumped into the crevasse. Then all reached up, mutely asking Lin take their hand, pull them out.
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"Where is blood?" a magpie laughed.
One of the soldiers drew his sword and pointed it at Lin. She grasped the sharp blade.
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Eyes closed, Lin pulled at the stick in her hand, pulled her brother up by his toy sword. When she looked, he was himself.
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They hugged, then began walking home through the darkening forest. A magpie laughed behind them, but they didn't look back.
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** I hope you enjoyed "Tam and Lin and the Queen in the heart of the forest". For your convenience, it can be read in its entirety on my web site: microsff.com/tam-and-lin-and-t
Take care of yourselves, be kind, and remember the light is returning. **

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