A cold night in July...

Upstate NY...
7/10/2018

“Matthew!” Mrs. Reilly shouted, as she entered her son's bedroom. “I told you to finish your chores first, then you can go back to reading those silly books.”

“But mom,” cried Matthew, “they’re not silly books. Dad reads them all the time. He’s been reading them since he was my age. In fact, he told me that the author said—”

“That it’s all true?” Mrs. Reilly rolled her eyes. “It’s a fairy tale, honey, nothing more, nothing less.” She smiled gently at him. “It’s nice that you and daddy have something in common, but the author’s claims were only a gimmick to sell more books. Now get to your chores young man.”

“Oh, come on mom,” Matthew pleaded, avoiding the chores topic, “daddy said the author really visited all the countries and kingdoms in these books!”

Mrs. Reilly sighed. “Your father’s just playing games. He knows it’s not true, and he shouldn’t be filling your head with such nonsense.”

“I don’t see why it can’t be true,” insisted Matthew, “and daddy wouldn’t lie to me.”

“You want to know something that’s true?” She gave him a stern look. “If you don’t put down that book right now, and do your chores, you’ll spend the entire weekend in your room. Got it?”

Matthew grunted to himself, and placed the book down on his bed. “Got it.” He was almost done with book three of the Winter War Trilogy, one of many trilogies in the Tales of Terridia book series. His father, an avid reader of the books, had given him a few copies a short while back, and the ten-year-old had been addicted to them ever since.

***
Later on that night, Matthew drifted off into a deep sleep. As the night went on, his bedroom turned unusually cold—much colder than it should be, even with the air conditioner on. He tossed and turned in his bed, half awake, trying to keep warm. Finally, when he reached the point of shivering, he rolled out of bed to turn off the a.c., but when he turned the light on, he sensed something strange was going on.

He ran to his window to look outside, and to his surprise, it was snowing! He also noticed all the houses on his street were not the same houses anymore. Instead, they were big log cabins, all lined up along a snow-covered road, in the midst of a wintery forest.

His curiosity got the best of him. He opened his closet door and grabbed his winter coat, along with a hat and a pair of gloves. He also found a pair of warm boots and quickly put them on. When he was all dressed and ready, he rushed outside to investigate...

***
The snowfall was relentless, and gusty winds ripped through the area, sending shivers up down Matthew's spine. It certainly wasn’t a typical summer night! And as the blizzard intensified, it was difficult for him to see anything. He peered through the falling snow, trying to make sense of it all, and then he heard a voice in the distance—the voice of a woman...

“Are you lost?” she asked, in a soft and friendly tone.

She stepped closer, and Matthew was able to get a better look at her. She was tall, with fair skin, and icy-blue eyes, and her shoulder-length hair resembled sparkling silver. Matthew had never seen such a woman in all his ten years. She wore a long, white dress, under a thick, blue overcoat, with a white, furry hood attached to it, and a glowing pine cone dangled from her necklace.

‘Young man,” she continued, “I asked if you were lost.”

“Ummm...I’m not sure,” said Matthew, in awe at the sight of her. “I was trying to get some sleep, and then my room got very cold...so I looked outside and saw that it was snowing...but it’s not supposed to snow in July! At least not in New York.”

“New York?” a baffled look came across the woman’s face. “Never heard of a New York, but I can guarantee that you’re nowhere near that place—wherever it is.”

This time it was Matthew’s face with the baffled expression. “Of course I’m in New York! Look, my house is right over there.” He spun around and pointed toward his house, but it was gone.

“Wait a minute,” continued Matthew, “where the heck’s my house?”

“I have no idea,” said the woman, “but you’re obviously lost, and you shouldn’t be alone in this part of the forest, especially not at night.”

Matthew, totally bewildered, said, “Who are you? And where am I?”

“I’m Noelle Krystalson, daughter of King Vallenbar, and you, young man, are in a very dangerous part of the Northwood Forest.”

“Northwood Forest?” Matthew scratched is head. The name sounded familiar, but he couldn’t make it out just yet.

“Yes,” said Noelle, “the largest forest in all of Lonovsia, and perhaps all of northern Terridia I might add.”

Matthew’s jaw dropped. Now it all made sense...sort of. Or maybe it was just a vivid dream? Of course it was a dream! He was reading Terridia’s Winter War saga before he went to bed, so it made perfect sense that he’d have dreams about it. But the brisk air that caused him to shiver suggested otherwise. It felt too real to be a dream.

“Are you okay?” asked Noelle.

“I...I...don’t know, ma’am. Something strange is happening here. I just ran out of my house a little while ago—and now it’s gone!”

She gazed at him intently. “I think I know what’s going on.” She started to observe his clothing, unusual attire for Terridians. “What’s your name, child?”

“Matthew Reilly.”

Before Noelle could ask him another question, they were suddenly distracted by a sliding and crunching noise. Matthew turned his head, dumbfounded at what he saw: a snowman, armed with a sword made of ice, rapidly sliding in his direction..

“What the heck!” Matthew jumped back, his heart pounding.

“No need to worry,” said Noelle. “That’s my friend Wilfred.”

“Good evening Princess of the North,” said Wilfred, bowing as he approached Noelle. He turned his round head toward Matthew. “And hello to you, young fellow. Got a name?”

“Matthew Reilly...sir.”

“Good to meet you, Matthew Reilly. I’m Wilfred Winterborn of Frostworth, but some folks call me Officer Willy.”

“Wow!” Matthew shouted. “You’re a real living and breathing snowman!”

“Well of course I’m a living and breathing snowman!” snapped Wilfred. “Do I look dead or something?”

“No, sir. It’s just that I’ve never seen one of you before.”

“Then get a good look if you must.” Wilfred narrowed his small beady eyes. “Now if you'll excuse me, I have important news for the princess.”

“What is it?” asked Noelle.

“Well, my lady,” continued Wilfred, “I’m afraid the Yeti King is planning another invasion here in Northwood Forest. Please get word to your father and your fiance as soon as possible!” He let out a deep breath. “If I’m correct, an army of snogobs will be here by morning.”

“The Yeti King!” Matthew butted in, staring wide-eyed at Wilfred. “He’s the self proclaimed ruler of Frostworth. I’ve read all about him. You’re in the midst of a great battle known as The Winter Wars! And...and...The Yeti King wants to usurp all the northern lands. Around 200 AE, he took over most of Frostworth, your very own country, on the other side of the Icy Bay! And you’re a member of the Frost Warden Patrol. You and your fellow officers have patrolled the north for centuries, and you're close friends with the Northwood Knights...and...and... you always report to them about the Yeti King...and...and…”

“Calm down, lad!” snapped Wilfred again. “I don’t need a history lesson. But since you brought up the Winter Wars, let me assure you that those events occured ages ago. This here is a new battle altogether.”

“Matthew,” said Noelle, completely changing the subject. “Tell me exactly where this New York place is?”

“It’s in the United States of America, ma’am... on planet Earth.”

“Oh Brisky-blizzards!” shouted Wilfred, as though hearing drastic news. He slid closer to Matthew, observing him now more than before. “You’re one of them, aren’t you?” He glanced back at Noelle, and the princess nodded.

“One of who?” asked Matthew. “Oh wait, of course! Yes—I’m a portal traveller—just like in the books.”

“I was starting to suspect as much,” said Noelle. She glanced over at Wilfred. “We need to get this boy out of here now!”

“Yes, yes,” said Wilfred. “This place will be a warzone soon. Where’s your fiance, my lady?”

“He’s out patrolling the shores of the Icy Bay. I wanted to surprise him when he returned, to tell him the good news.”

“Good news?” Wilfred asked. “Your kingdom is on the verge of a snogob invasion. What possible good news could you have if I may ask?”

“My father’s giving us his blessing to be married,” she said, her eyes filled with joy. “And believe me, Wilfred, it wasn’t easy. You know very well he didn’t want me getting involved with a Northwood Knight. He wanted me to marry one of those wealthy merchants from Snowport!”

“Hold on a moment,” said Wilfred, apparently bewildered at her comment. “You mean to tell me that only NOW King Vallenbar has approved of this relationship? I thought Lord Nelldon was already your fiance.”

“What difference does it make?” Noelle glowered at the snowman. “I was going to marry him with or without my father’s blessing, so in my mind, he’s been my fiance the whole time.”

Wilfred shook his head. “Very well then, my lady. Congratulations to you both.”

“Oh wow!” Matthew butted in again. He looked up at Noelle. “You're marrying a Northwood Knight...and I’m standing in the very headquarters of the Northwood Knights!” He looked around at all the cabins.. “Yes!” he went on, “these are the cabins where they rest after their long shifts are over. It’s all in the books. And if I’m correct, the Icy Bay is only a mile or so west from here, on edge of the forest.”

“Why do you keep mentioning stuff we already know!” Wilfred scowled at him. “First a history lesson, now a geography lesson. Anything else you want to tell us about our own world?”

“I’m sorry, sir,” said Matthew, a doleful look on his face.

“Don’t worry, child.” Noelle smiled and patted him on the head. “Wilfred can be a little cranky at times, but he’s a good soul. Anyway, I’m going to arrange for my Sled Master to give us a ride back to my father’s castle in Brisk Dale. It’s too dangerous for you here.”

“You’re not taking him anywhere just yet,” said a man who suddenly emerged out of a cluster of pine trees, riding on the back of a large, white moose. He was garbed in a hooded, fur cloak, draped over a dark blue tunic, with the emblem of a white yule tree on his chest. And underneath his cloak and tunic, he wore black padded armor, covering most of his body. A curved sword was strapped to his side, sheathed in a fancy white and green scabbard, and a bow made of antlers was slung around his back.

"Lord Nelldon!" shouted Wilfred to the man. "We must talk at once."

“Wow! You’re a Northwood Knight!” said Matthew, as the rider dismounted. “I recognize your whole costume from the books.”

Lord Nelldon narrowed his eyes. “Books? What books?”

“Tales of Terridia sir, in particular The Winter War trilogy.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Lord Nelldon glared at him for a moment. “But this is no costume, boy.”

Before the knight could say another word, Noelle rushed toward him and gave him a big hug.

“Nelldon!” she said, her voice loud and filled with joy again. “I’ve got wonderful news.”

“Save it for later, my love.” Nelldon kissed her briefly, then glanced down at Matthew again. “What are you doing here, boy?”

“Well, sir, I was sleeping in my bed, and somehow I woke up here. I’m pretty sure I’m a portal traveller, just like the books say, unless I’m really dreaming ...but I don’t think I am.”

Lord Nelldon narrowed his eyes, then turned to Wilfred. “Why is this boy roaming the forest so freely? He might be a spy for the Yeti King!”

“He’s no spy,” said Wilfred. “I believe he’s one of them distant travellers people have been talking about recently. You know what I speak of. There’ve been reports all the way from Barnoria of similar events.” A look of concern came over the snowman's face. “They’re coming here for a reason, my lord...a reason we need to investigate.”

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