Winter came and everybody retired indoors.
Jared, however, could not forget meeting the Wind Lord: though he had long since grown used to the noise all the winds made blowing around his little house, he started waking up in the middle of the night, listening for hoof-beats.
One night, he heard them and immediately slipped out of bed, careful not to wake his brother, and raced out of the house, standing in the icy wind without shivering. In the pale moonlight he saw a white horse running on the snow-covered fields without disturbing a single snowflake and his heart leapt with joy.
“Hail, lord of the Northern wind!” he shouted.
The rider immediately turned his mount toward the little farm and in the blink of an eye they came to a stop before him.
“Little mortal!” The lord of the Northern wind said, surprise and concern mingling in his voice. “Why are you outside? Is your mother cross with you again?”
“No, my lord. I heard you ride and I wished to see you again, if it's allowed. I hope I have not offended you, for it was not my intention.” Jared said, feeling all his blood rush to his face. He hadn't actually put much though on what might happen once he saw the lord Jensen again.
But the lord of the Northern wind laughed. “No, no, little mortal, you could never offend me and no law forbids our meeting. How fare you?”
“Very well, sir.” Jared smiled. “I'm afraid I have nothing interesting to tell you: there's not much to do in winter.”
“The same cannot be said for me,” lord Jensen's green eyes met Jared's. “But then, if our working seasons were matched, you'd be too tired to come out and I wouldn't have the pleasure of your company.”
Jared blushed, and stammered. “Shall you ride far tonight, my lord?”
Lord Jensen smiled and began telling him about all the faraway places he would see that very night, where all sorts of strange and marvelous things could be seen.
“It's such a big world out there...” Jared whispered, awed. “And I have never gone farther than our little village.”
“Who knows, little mortal? Maybe someday you'll travel there and learn to know those lands even better than me.”
“Better than you? No, impossible.” he replied. “It's a nice dream...but I must stay here and take care of my mother and brother.”
The Lord of the Northern wind pursed his lips as several uncharitable thoughts about Jared's mother and brother ran through his mind. Aloud, he said, “Then I'll have to visit you again and tell you more.”
“Would you?” Jared's eyes sparkled. “Thank you, my lord. I don't know how I can repay you, but...”
“No need for payments between us,” Lord Jensen interrupted him almost sternly. “Not if we are to be friends.”
At this, the boy fell silent for a handful of seconds – Lord Jensen felt his heart accelerate for the first time in centuries, even as a corner of his mind was steeling itself for rejection.
“I'd be honored to call myself your friend,” Jared said. “I shall prove worthy of your trust, I swear.”
Lord Jensen smiled. “You are a good boy, Jared. I must leave now, but we shall talk more next time.”
“Really?” He cried, then blushed. “I mean...I shall look forward to your next visit. Ride safe, my lord.”
“Sleep well, little mortal.” The lord of the Northern wind bowed his head, then turned his horse and took off at a gallop.
Jared watched him go, following him with his gaze until there was nothing more to see but a black sky and undisturbed snow. It was only then that he quietly slipped back into the house and under the covers, next to a snoring Adric, and was soon asleep.
As he slept, the lord of the Northern wind rode for miles and miles, until he reached the border of his sister's lands, where she ruled alone and no other wind could venture.
“Danneel!” He shouted. “Come out, I need to speak with you.”
His words had barely stopped echoing in the air that a beautiful lady came galloping on a black horse. “Well, brother! What brings you here this fine morning? It's not my time to ride out yet, I would know.”
“I know, sister, and bring my apologies to Aldis for disturbing your rest, but I couldn't wait. I've met a mortal.”
The lady of the Southern wind gasped in surprise. “You met a mortal? I thought you had stopped trying at least six centuries ago”
“I had, but this one hailed me first.”
She narrowed her eyes. “And he didn't curse you or swear at you for following Our Father's order and fulfilling your duty? I can hardly believe it!”
The lord of the Northern wind turned his face away in shame.
“Forgive me, Jensen, I didn't mean to bring back painful memories,” said she, laying a comforting hand on his shoulder. “I just wish those foolish mortals in the North could see my lands, then they'd understand why it cannot always be hot! You are my favorite brother, I'd hate to see you hurt.”
“I know, I know. But I think this time it might be different. He is different: only a boy, yet he wasn't afraid of me, even if he was dying when I met him. And tonight, he came out of his house to look for me and accepted my friendship. He said I honored him, can you believe it?” Jensen said, his voice filled with awe. “He said he wanted to see me again. Isn't that incredible?”
“Does this wonder have a name?” lady Danneel asked dryly.
“Jared,” he replied. “His name his Jared.”
What a winter it was for those two lonely souls! Every time little Jared heard the Northern wind beating against the wall of his house, he snuck out in the cold that couldn't touch him and waited for the only person he knew who took him seriously and listened to him.
As for lord Jensen, for the first time in centuries he could talk to someone who wasn't one of his siblings. He would have stopped by Jared's house every night if he hadn't known all too well what destruction his powers could cause: his friend was safe, but the other humans and the land itself were not. He couldn't indulge himself or he would ruin everything – and then Jared would never speak to him again.
The lord of the Northern wind was so worried, he resolved never to approach Jared's house unless the boy called him first.
Jared never noticed, or if he did, he thought it a sort of game, a secret between the two of them and was always careful not to use the Wind Lord's name.
They kept meeting and talking for months and months, moon, snow and stars their only witnesses – but even a Wind Lord cannot stop the seasons: the Eastern wind started blowing more and more often, heralding the arrival of Spring.
Everyone was happy – that is, everyone but Jared.
One night, after the first shoots had already started poking their heads through the snow, he was awakened by the wind whistling and rattling. His heart leapt when he realized it was the Northern Wind: he immediately jumped out of bed and rushed outside.
“Hail, lord of the Northern wind!” he shouted happily.
The lord of the Northern wind dismounted, like the first time they had met, and Jared felt a pang of marvel and envy at his height: he felt certain he would never grow so tall.
“Hello, little mortal.”
Jared barely stopped himself from throwing his arms around him – that would have been going too far and then he'd never see the wind lord again.
“You are back.” he breathed instead. “The wind has been blowing from the East, I thought... I'm glad you are back.”
“It's good to see you too. I've come to take my leave: after tonight, I'll retire to my lands.”
“Oh. I see. I guess it cannot snow forever,” Jared said, forcing himself to smile. “But this isn't farewell, is it?”
A pained expression flashed for a second on the wind lord's face, so quick Jared wasn't sure if it had been really there or if he had imagined it. “No, no, it isn't. I shall come back next Autumn...if you still wish me to.”
Jared nodded. “I'll be waiting.”
“I hope so. You know, it will be your turn to tell stories. Who knows how many you'll collect before then,” the wind lord said. “Well...goodbye, Jared.”
“Goodbye, my lord. Until next Autumn.”
The lord of the Northern wind swung himself up on his saddle and bowed his head at him one last time before spurring his horse into a canter.
As Jared watched him go, he felt cold for the first time in months – only this time it came from his heart.
Slowly, inexorably the days grew longer and warmer. Spring arrived, with its showers and its chores, and then was replaced by Summer.
Jared spent all his days working hard and collecting stories for winter, but he never told lord Jensen the most extraordinary story of all.
It happened on one of the hottest days of Summer, when the sun beat down mercilessly on their heads and even the grass and flowers wilted in the heat. While Jared and Adric were watching over their cow near the forest, they ran out of water.
“What shall we do now?” little Adric asked. “Our house is too far.”
“There is a spring in the wood, it's a bit of a walk but it's closer than home,” Jared said. “I shall go and fill our flasks, you mind the cow.”
Adric immediately agreed, so Jared gathered their flasks and left.
It was awfully hot even under the shadow of the ancient trees, and strangely quiet too: as Jared walked deeper and deeper in the woods, the only sounds he could hear were those he himself made – the dry grass crunching under his feet, the soft rustling of leaves when he brushed against the lower, thinner branches. Nothing else stirred, not even a mosquito or a bumblebee.
Jared felt a shiver race down his spine and, for a moment, he thought of turning back, but his parched throat spurred him onward.
At last, he saw the trees grow thinner and thinner until he stepped out in a clearing. His mouth felt even drier as the unmistakable sound of water rushing between stones reached his ears: in a couple of strides, he crossed clearing and dropped to his knees next to the deep pool, his flasks carelessly dropped beside him as he reached out with cupped hands. His hands almost broke the water when, suddenly, somebody spoke behind him. “Good day, boy.”
Startled, Jared scrambled to his feet and whipped around. On the other side of the clearing stood a little old lady, dressed in black from head to toe and carrying two empty pails.
“Good day, madam.” Jared replied, briefly wondering whence she had come as he had been sure he was alone. “Forgive me, I did not hear you. Do you need help with those pails?”
The old woman beamed at him and happily handed over the pails. After he filled them, not without some effort, he filled one of his own flasks and offered it to her so she could drink more comfortably.
“You are kind,” she said, and Jared saw a strange glint in her eyes. “I understand now why you interest him so: kindness is something my brother has never seen from your people.”
Jared stared at her, fear binding his limbs and stilling his tongue, and before his eyes now stood a tall woman, beautiful and young and smiling at him like she knew all his secrets.
“You have my brother's name,” she said. “It's a precious gift. It might bring you great happiness, someday, or it might lead you to even greater misfortune and ruin. Choose wisely.”
“I do not plan to use it all!” Jared protested, but the lady's smile didn't falter.
“We shall see. Farewell now, young man, my task here is done.”
Between a heartbeat and the next, she was gone and Jared stood alone in the clearing. Walking like a man in a dream, he went back to the spring, drinking his fill and dutifully filling the flasks. But as he made his way back to his brother, fear and surprise receding at every step, he started thinking about what had happened.
For a moment, thinking of how quickly the lady had disappeared, he wondered if he had imagined everything, if the heat had gone to his head...but no, the Lady of the Southern wind – and who else could it be, in this season and calling herself the Lord Jensen's sister – had been right there before him, had spoken to him. More than spoken: she had sought him out and tested him and perhaps not found him wanting.
But her warning weighed heavily on his mind. She had mentioned happiness – not fame, not riches, not marriage to a king's daughter, like the fairytales his mother used to tell him, but happiness. But what being, even a mighty one like her, could promise happiness? Most importantly, why would she even care about his happiness?
No, the warning had been addressed to him but it had not been about him. It had to be about the lord Jensen: evidently, knowing his name made Jared a danger to him. He wasn't sure how, but it had to be so and he immediately resolved to be on his guard: he would never let the Wind Lord's name pass his lips, not even by accident.
All spring and summer long he also debated whether it would be wiser never to see the Wind Lord again, lest somebody should discover his secret. However, when winter finally arrived and he heard the cold wind blowing all around his house, his resolution was swept away and he snuck out of bed to meet his only friend.