When the days were at their shortest and the world growing cold and nothing would grow, a member of the reigning family would don the purple and sit on the throne. And there, there they would hear the needs of the people.
For this purpose, the reigning family was brought up to be wise, educated, calm, and unflappable. They were treated as kings for the spring and the summer, treated as emperors for the autumn, because in the winter, one of them would don the purple.
In a mild winter, the duty was not onerous. A mild winter after a fruitful summer, especially, made for light sitting on the throne, and a purple that sat lightly on the shoulders. And the world had had, in this time, many light years.
And the reigning family grew in number, and in strength, and in wealth. One in particular, Astarte, was most favored among the people. Even in fair times, the wisdom of a monarch is sometimes needed. Even in fair times, the people have needs. And though she was young, this woman had the wisdom and the strength to see her people through troubles. And her parents watched, and were proud, and worried. And the world watched, and was pleased.
As such things go, the summer became lean, and the winter became cold fast and hard. Cattle died. People hungered. And they came to the reigning family. “Hear our needs. Let Astarte hear our needs.”
And Astarte donned the purple, the raiment that became her, and sat in the throne, the chair that engulfed her. She set her wrists in the cupping briars and her ankles against the blades.
“I will hear your needs.”
They came before her, those who needed her wisdom, and she gave them her judgement. The purple wrapped tighter around her shoulders.
They came before her, those who needed sustenance, and she gave them of her life. The throne held her a little closer.
They came before her, who had adored her, and she loved them. You could see, then, only her eyes and lips, for the purple and the throne holding her.
One, who had no need but knowledge, found a finger, one fingertip of Astarte, peeking out of the steel. He touched it, carefully, for her finger was very thin. “Why do you do this?”
“For love.” Her voice was reedy. “I have been loved, and I love.”
“But it is killing you.”
“That is the price we pay, when the world grows cold.”
“But you bear it all alone.”
“It was my turn.” Even answering cost her vital energy now, but he was of the world, and he asked it of her, so she gave it.
“But if you could share it…”
“The world will take as many as we give it. It will devour us all.”
“Then let it be so.” The throne opened, so very little, to allow him to sit. The purple wrapped around his shoulders. The prickers and the blades drank his life.
“Why do you give your life for her?” the people asked. “She has been feted and feasted her entire life.”
“I do it because of love.”
The world scoffed. This was the time for the reigning family to give. This was the time for the world to take what it needed.
But one, barely past childhood, sat down beside the man.
Shamed, another sat down.
The throne stretched. The purple stretched. “For love.” The briars and the blades drank. The world brought their needs. The winter stretched on.
But for every hundred people who had a need, one would sit. For every thousand, the throne had to stretch further. The purple wrapped further. And blades and the prickers drank.
When the spring dawned warm and bright, when the summer brought fresh crops, Astarte was thin, and old. They were all thin, and old, even the child who had sat there. But they lived.
And never again did a member of the reigning family sit the throne alone, or wear the purple alone.
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