she is the snow queen
there is a summer queen, a fae by the name raveena, who lives in a place of warmth, and bright colors, and laughter. although the world she lives in is not perfect, is not always easy or good or fair, she does not allow that to touch her. she is a woman of pure heart, who believes in kindness, in forgiveness. raveena rides the backs of elephants and touches flowers to make them bloom, she brings fireflies into the world so that people can find light even in darkness. she coaxes banyan trees into being, and carefully arranges their canopy of leaves so the light would shine through in beautiful patterns. people sing to her and pray to her, people believe in the hope and beauty their summer queen brings to them.
one day, deep in the forest, a tiger known as bhanu finds her. tigers always know where to find her. “there is a girl lost in the forest,” he says, “she’s crying, and so much too salty to eat, but she hurts my ears.”
“i see,” raveena says seriously, knowing better than to smile, “well, then, i suppose i must go help her.”
bhanu huffs and raises its head in the air, “if you wish, summer queen.”
she finds the child, a scrap of a girl with a mass of unruly hair and bony knees, and kneels beside her. she’s stopped crying, looking at raveena with wide eyes. “hello,” the summer queen says, “i think you may be lost. would you like me to take you home?”
she shakes her head, “no, please don’t! i can’t go back.”
raveena takes the girl’s hands in her own, and has to resist the urge to flinch. it’s the height of summer, heat hangs heavy and wet in the air, but the girl’s hands are freezing. “why? is someone hurting you? are you in trouble? i can help.”
she shakes her head again, “no, no please – i am anika, and i came here to die. you must let me!”
“to die?” raveena asks, shocked. “you are much too young to die! you must let me help.”
the girl tugs at her sari, and she shows the queen her chest. there’s a small piece, about the size of her thumb, that is like crystal, iced over and twinkling in the light of the sun. it would be beautiful if it wasn’t so grotesque. “my little sister was ill, she was born with a hole in heart. and my parents cried and cried, and told me she would not live to grow up. but i wanted her to live! so i gave her a piece of my heart to fill that hole. it worked, and she’s getting better! but it was a cold night, and ice found its way into my heart, and it keeps on growing. i’ll die once it covers my heart. i do not want my parents to cry more, so i came to this forest.” she looks up at the banyan trees, “i wanted to die somewhere beautiful, somewhere my parents couldn’t find me.”
raveena is moved by the little girl’s story, this brave, foolish girl, and she says, “you must return to your parents, but it wont be so you can die. i will melt the ice from your heart, and you will live to grow with your little sister.”
the summer queen presses her hand against the small patch of ice on the girl’s chest, and carefully applies heat, as delicate in this as when she paints the designs on the butterflies’ wings. it works, and the ice is gone. but when she removes her hand, ice sticks to her palm, and for the first time in her life, she feels cold.
anika is crying again, asking for the ice back, offering her own heart yet again, but the summer queen won’t hear of it. she summons the same tiger that had told her of the girl, and instructs him to guide the girl back home.
as the days past, raveena tries everything, but nothing she does can get the ice to stop spreading. near the end, she pulls her own heart from chest, and thinks it looks beautiful like this, glimmering and shining in the sun. the last of the flesh of her heart hardens, and shifts. she holds a ruby in her hand, and her life is gone. as her life leaves her, the ruby falls from hands, and shatters on the ground.
she looks up, so her last sight can be of the sun shining through a canopy of banyan trees.
gerda is a simple village girl. she has a best friend named kai, and they grow up together and fall in love together, and gerda is convinced they are destined to do everything together for the rest of their lives. but one day, in the thick of winter, kai slips and falls. this is not so remarkable, for he has slipped and fallen may times.
but this time a sliver of ice gets stuck in his eye. it hurts, but he doesn’t bleed. he looks in the reflective pond, and there is a red speck in his eye. he tries to get it out, but it seems as if he only manages to push it in further.
kai changes after that. he’s no longer the kind boy whom gerda loves. he grows cruel, seemingly for no reason at all. he doesn’t care for his grandmother’s garden, doesn’t play with the neighborhood children, rejects and rebuffs gerda whenever she tries to help him, to talk to him.
he goes wandering in the forest one night, even though there’s a snowstorm and he can barely see a foot in front of him. he never returns.
gerda mourns. kai may have changed in the end, but he was still the boy she had grown up loving, still the man she’d intended to marry. she is unable to accept that the love of her young life is gone forever, so she goes marching into the forest, determined to find him. she treks through the snow for days, but finds no sign of him. she’s just beginning to despair when she happens upon a cottage. she knocks on the door, and an old woman with silver hair and eyes answers. “hello,” gerda says, “i’m looking for my friend. he is very tall with dark skin and hair, and his name is kai. can you help me?”
“of course,” the old woman says, “i am a sorceress, and i can find anything. come inside, come inside.”
gerda goes inside, and is instantly warm, the snowflakes clinging to her melting and dripping away. she looks out the windows, and doesn’t understand. she came here in the dark, in the snow, but outside the sorceress’s windows shines a high sun, and a bright summer. her garden is flush with colorful flowers, and she can’t help it – gerda runs out the back door, sure this has to be a trick, an illusion. but she steps outside and the sun remains, and she gently touches the petals of the flowers, and it’s as real as she is.
the sorceress scries for kai, and she finds him. “oh dear,” the sorceress says, “he’s a servant in the snow queen’s court. best to forget about him, child. he’s gone now.”
gerda knows of the snow queen. she appeared like an early frost when her grandmother was young, a pale woman with dark eyes and white hair. she lived in the mountains, and gerda was warned never to venture there, lest the snow queen ate her whole. she was told the snow queen was like the winter – beautiful, uncaring, and powerful.
“i have to find her!” she cries, “please, can you tell me how to get to the snow queen’s castle?”
the sorceress looks at her sadly, then says, “this is for the best, i promise. those who pursue the snow queen only find misfortune.” she reaches for her, hand glowing, intent on erasing kai from gerda’s memories. gerda tries to run, but she can’t find anywhere to run to, and the sorceress’s hand reaches ever closer.
there’s a slam as the front door bounces open, letting in flurry of snow and ice into the warmth of cottage. a woman stands there, not quite old, but with lines just settling into her face. there’s a sturdiness to her, a sureness, that only comes with the passing of years. she has skin the color of fawns in spring, and a frowning, disagreeable mouth. “they said a woman who controlled summer lived here,” she says, stepping into the sorceress’s cottage. “but this is no summer.”
“please!” gerda cries, “help me! she means to take away my memories!”
“it’s for her own good,” the sorceress says, “she pursues someone who can never be saved. it will be her doom!”
a smirk curl’s the edge of the woman’s lip. “oh, i know a thing or two about pursuing an unsavable person. if it’s to be her doom, so be it. but it is her choice, crone, and not yours.”
the sorceress looks as if she wants to argue, but at that moment there’s a deep growl that reverberates through the cottage. behind the woman steps a massive animal with glowing eyes and barred teeth, covered in snow. it shakes itself off, and it’s only then that gerda sees it’s a tiger. she’s never seen one in person before, but she didn’t think they were this big.
“fine!” the sorceress spits, “on both your heads, be it!”
“there,” the woman says. “now no one is taking your memories. you better leave with me, in case she changes her mind once my back is turned.”
gerda hurries after the woman, carefully skirting around the snarling tiger. “please!” she says, “can you help me? i’m trying to find my friend, kai, and he’s been captured by the snow queen.”
“sorry,” she says, “i’m looking for my own someone, and i’ve travelled a long way from home to find them. i can’t help you find yours.”
gerda grabs the woman’s hand, struggling to keep her grip with her mittens. “please! i love him very much, and i miss him, and i need to bring him home. no one dare approaches the snow queen’s court, and i don’t know how to get there on my own. please!”
the woman meets her gaze and stares at her for a long time. then she gives a great sigh and says, “oh, look at your young eyes! i suppose i can help. i get the impression you’ll get into a world of trouble if i leave you to your own devices.”
relief sweeps through gerda, making her weak. “thank you, thank you so much!”
“i am madhubala,” the woman says, then pats the massive tiger on his flank, “and this is bhanu. where might we find someone who knows where this snow queen’s court is?”
they go to many hedwitches and wisewomen, none of whom can tell them where to go. they say the mountains, but madhubala insists that’s not enough to go on, that venturing into the hundreds upon hundreds of miles of mountainside with no clear sense of direction will only end misery or death. so they keep searching.
gerda asks madhubala who she’s searching for, hoping that she’ll be able to help. but madhubala only shakes her head. “every dayaan i’ve spoken to says she’s here, that this is the land to which she fled. and daayani are often malevolent, but they are also rarely wrong. she must be here, but if you have to ask – you must not know her.”
“but who is she?” gerda presses.
the giant tiger rubs up against gerda’s back, and she reaches up to scratch the massive beast behind his ears, right where he likes it. “you might as well tell her,” bhanu rumbles, shocking gerda into stillness. she hadn’t known the beast could talk! “she’s a trustworthy girl, and pure of heart.”
madhubala sighs and reaches beneath her heavy coat. she takes out a silk bag, made from all the colors of the rainbow, and slowly undoes the string. in her hand is a ruby, and it somehow sparkles even in the weak light. however, riddled through it are what looks like spider web fine cracks. “i was born with a hole in my heart, and so my sister found a dayaan who could give me some of her heart. it worked, but it left her heart vulnerable, and when a chill swept through our village it became infected with ice. she ran away from home, but was found by our summer queen, a fae of exceptional power. she saved my sister’s life, but the ice infected her too, and she couldn’t stop it.” she gently places the ruby in gerda’s hand. “this is her heart. it froze, and shattered into a thousand pieces. you and me can’t live without our hearts, but she could. they say she changed without her heart, and ran far away from home. my sister and i have spent our whole lives collecting the shards and reconstructing her heart, but there’s still a piece missing,” madhubala shifts the ruby, and points out the tiniest chip in one corner.
“how did you find the shards?” gerda asks, fascinated.
“pieces of a fae’s frozen heart can only do harm to mortals. there were people who came upon them, and tried to barter or control them, and were taken under it’s thrall. there were innocent people, who happened upon them, and were changed utterly. both became the worst sort of person, so that’s what we pursued – terrible, horrible people, who may have been infected by a shard of the queen’s heart.” she nudges gerda and cracks a smile, “it turns out lots of horrible people are just horrible. but, sometimes, it was the shards. we’ve looked all over, for years and years, but we can’t find the last piece. it will have to be enough. we think, maybe, if we return her heart, then maybe our summer queen will be able to come home. and if not – well, she’ll know that we didn’t forget her, and that we tried.”
gerda is crying at the end, hurrying to wipe at her tears before they freeze on her face. “that’s so sad! and so kind!”
“raveena was a kind woman,” bhanu says, “i don’t know what she’s become. but who she was would have appreciated the kindness, the effort.”
they keep traveling, and asking, and finally they catch a break. a crow happens upon them, and says there is a prince who reigns over the mountains and its people. they say he knows the snow queen, and has an alliance with her. they say he sends her babies to gobble up, so she won’t eat any of his people. “that’s horrible!” gerda says, twisting her hands together, “who would do something so awful?”
“maybe he has the last shard,” madhubala says, “or maybe he’s just an awful prince. either way, he’s the only lead we have.”
it takes days upon days of climbing to get to the mountain prince’s castle, and gerda fears her legs will snap in half from the strain. halfway there, madhubala puts her on bhanu’s back, and he carries her the rest of the way up.
they get to the castle, and guards bar their way in. “are you here for the contest?”
“what contest?” madhubala snaps, looking very much like she’d like to grab the guard’s sword and skewer him through with it.
“she looks like she’s here for the contest,” one of them says, looking to gerda huddled up against bhanu’s side. “she’s pretty, and young, and slight. she’d make for a nice princess.”
“we’re here to see the prince,” gerda says, summoning a smile for the guards.
they shrug, “if you win the contest, then you can see the prince.”
“what’s the contest then?” madhubala asks.
“our highness cannot ascend the throne without a bride,” he says. “but he’s refused all the noble ladies. instead he seeks a clever woman to rule by his side, saying he’s not very clever himself. if you can pass three tests of cleverness, you win the prince’s hand and a throne.”
gerda despairs. she’ll never win! she is only a village girl, and has never had any need of cleverness. and if she doesn’t win, they won’t be able to speak to the prince, and they’ll never find the snow queen, and kai will be lost forever! and besides, she’s not interested in being a princess anyway. she doesn’t think they let princesses work in gardens.
“very well,” madhubala says, and gerda turns to her to tell her it’s a waste, “i accept. i will face your tests.”
the guards look at madhubala dubiously. “our prince is a young man,” one says carefully, “and you are, um, not.”
“i am not a young man, that is correct,” she says, raising an eyebrow. “i don’t particularly care for a throne, they’re all so uncomfortable. but if the only way to speak to the prince is to win this silly contest, then i suppose i have no choice.”
“it’s not so easy as that, no one has beaten it yet,” the guard warns, opening the door to let them in.
“everything happens for the first time,” she says airily, and into the palace they go.
it’s so much warmer than any place they’ve been, and soon gerda is shedding layers like a snake skin, carefully piling them atop bhanu. madhubala looks dubiously to a waiting attendant, then says, “do not lose it, it was quite difficult to find in my home country.”
she undoes the clasps to her dark, heavy coat and hands it off, then another, then another. when she is done, gerda can’t help but gasp and look on in wonder.
she wears flowy light pants in a light blue, dotted with what looks like sparkling jewels and edged in gold. she has a matching dark blue tunic that goes nearly to her knees, a long scarf the same color as her pants wrapped around her neck, and a half dozen golden bracelets on each arm. gerda had thought madhubala had short hair, but now she can see it’s just pinned up. madhubala untwists her hair, and a heavy, messy braid falls down her back. she undoes it, running her fingers through her hair so it falls like a heavy black waterfall over shoulders down to her hips.
gerda thinks that the guards were wrong. she thinks that madhubala looks an awful lot like a princess.
they’re shuffled to the next room for the first test, and it contains ten ancient riddles. just hearing them makes gerda’s head hurt, but madhubala frowns, and taps her fingers against her arm, and mutters to herself. then, one after another, she gives her answers. one by one, she is told she’s correct.
next, she is presented with a set of numbers, and a scenario. a terrible storm has swept through the mountains, and many villages have lost their food supply. how can the royal stores be best redistributed?
madhubala needs scratch paper for this one. she spends a long time writing and scanning the map and comparing. finally, she presents three solutions. she says that she did not know enough about populations for the various villages, so these three solutions are dependent on the amount of elderly and children in each village. she is told all of her solutions are viable.
everyone is looking at her in wonder now. gerda gets the impression that no one has ever gotten this far before.
the final test is a game of chess, and gerda wrings her hands and frets, but it’s a wasted effort. madhubala beats the old man soundly, and when he looks from her to the board in confusion, she only smirks and says, “we should play chaturanga sometime.”
the old man blinks, then breaks out in a smile. “i am looking forward to it, your highness.”
they’re whisked away after that, everyone whispering and pointing as they walk past. they’re brought to the throne room, and sitting there is the prince.
he looks to be not much older than gerda. he’s got the brightest blue eyes gerda has ever seen, and a wide smile. “you did it!” he says, striding forward. he takes madhubala’s hands, something she wasn’t expecting by the way her eyes widen. “finally, i had almost given up hope – but here you are! a clever queen for my people!”
“prince,” she says.
“call me enok,” he interrupts, “you are to be my bride and my princess, and then crowned as queen when i am crowned as king. it is only right that you call me by my given name.”
“enok,” she says, “i did not come here to be your bride. i am not even of this land.” she explains their predicament, and the smile slides from prince enok’s face.
he doesn’t let go of madhubala’s hands. “are you truly so against being my bride? the sunsets here are quite beautiful, and we have excellent woodcarvers. anything it is within my power to give you, you shall have.”
“i am a little old for you, enok,” she says, “perhaps you would benefit from a younger bride?”
he tugs her closer, and wraps an arm around her waist. gerda fears for the prince’s safety, but madhubala is blushing, and bhanu looks incredibly entertained, and not like he’s getting ready to rip the prince’s throat out. “i do not want a young bride. i want a clever bride. that you are as beautiful as the first bloom of spring does not hurt, however.”
“i am looking for someone,” she says, swallowing, “well, two someones, really. If, after I find them, you still desire me as a bride – I will accept.”
“excellent!” he says, spinning her around. then his faces smooths into seriousness. “you do not plan to harm the snow queen, do you? i know you believe she has taken your friend, but that does not sound like the queen i know.”
“do you not feed her babies to get keep her at bay?” gerda asks, then winces and adds, “sir! uh, your highness, i mean.”
he laughs. “not exactly. oh, what a rumor! there are children that are born ill, or become ill late in life. they are born with hearts that don’t beat right, or lungs that can’t expand, or missing bits that they need to live. if they are young enough, and we are quick enough, the snow queen can save them. they’re not quite human after that though. they’re fae touched, as it were, children that don’t really fit in with the rest of us humans. which is fine, because human is rather broad term, but often they are unhappy, and nothing their parents nor i can do has the ability to satisfy them. if they can find no happiness in my kingdom, in the land of humans, then when they are sixteen years of age, they go back to the snow queen to serve her. if they are not happy with her, then they come back.”
“do they come back often?” gerda asks.
“no,” he says, “i’ve never known one to come back at all.”
madhubala looks dubious, and gerda can’t help but agree, but all she says is, “we mean this queen no harm. all we intend to do is retrieve the young man called kai.”
prince enok seems mollified by this. he gives them a carriage and powerful horses to carry them, and directions to the snow queen’s palace. he also removes a ring from his finger and slides it onto madhubula’s. “so that she knows you come with my blessing,” he says, although by the way he shuffles and can’t quite meet their eyes gerda supposes it’s more than that.
they see the snow queen’s palace long before they arrive there. it’s gorgeous, made of ice and twinkling like thousands of jewels in the rising sun. it’s not like any palace gerda has seen before – the tops of towers are round and bulbous and end in a point. instead of bricks or stones, and the palace walls are carved with intricate, beautiful patterns that seem to glisten with their own light. “oh,” madhubala breathes.
bhanu has been loping alongside them, far too big to fit in the carriage, and he stops for a moment in surprise, then sprints to catch up to them. “that’s something we haven’t seen in a while,” he says, “not since we were back in our land.”
“strange,” she says softly, and gerda means to ask her to explain, but they’ve just arrived at the front of the palace. they get out of the carriage, and approach the ornate, tall doors.
four guards stand there in white leathers and furs, ice spears clutched in their fists. they look human, and gerda wonders if these are some of the people that go to serve the snow queen and never come back. madhubala takes off her gloves and flashes her ring to them. “we come with the blessing of prince enok. we mean no harm, but we must speak to the snow queen. we are looking for a human boy named kai.”
they trade looks, and one says, “we know of the human you speak. but there’s no point in looking for him. if it’s him you seek, then you should go home.”
madhubala’s eyes narrow, and bhanu’s hackles rise. gerda pushes forward and clasps her hands together, “oh, please, you must let me see him! i grew up with him, he’s my very best friend in the whole world.” they hesitate, and she presses her hands against the arms of the nearest one, pressing herself up against the ice spear, well aware one wrong move could end with her sliced to ribbons. “please! i love him, you see, so i can’t leave without him.”
they sigh, and step aside, pushing the large doors open. “don’t say we didn’t warn you.”
gerda goes to her tiptoes to press a kiss against the guard’s cheek, ignoring the way her lips frost over when she touches him. “thank you!”
they enter the palace, and the inside is just as lavish and beautiful as the outside. people in pure white walk past and around them, and finally they find someone to take them to the throne room. “our queen is very busy,” says a young woman with hair as blue as her eyes, “you mustn’t distract her for too long.”
when they enter the room, she’s not sitting on a throne. she’s standing at a desk with her back to them, giving orders to a dozen or so winter foxes, while a dark, handsome man takes notes besides her. “kai!” gerda yells, and runs forward. she throws herself at him, startling him and the queen and causing the foxes to scatter back. madhubala and bhanu get ready to fight, but the snow queen hasn’t turned. she’s tall and pale, with pure white hair piled atop her head and a white dress.
madhubala blinks, then squints. it doesn’t look like a traditional dress for these people. it looks like – well it looks like a sari, like women wear back in her home.
“hello,” he says, putting gerda gently on the ground. “do i know you?”
gerda’s heart breaks. she reaches up to cup kai’s face in her hands. “of course you know me! i am gerda, your very best friend in the whole world!”
he shakes his head, his eyes darting to look behind her. “my queen?”
“oh dear,” says the snow queen, and madhubala and bhanu go completely still. “i was afraid this would happen. child, please, look at me.”
gerda feels the queen’s cold hand on her shoulder, and rubs at her leaking eyes before turning to face her. she’s so stunned by the sight of her that for a moment she forgets to be sad. the snow queen is achingly beautiful, dark eyes and pale skin and pale hair, plump lips and delicate wrists. has kai chosen the queen, and simply left gerda behind? was she foolish to search for him so desperately?
the queen tucks a piece of gerda’s hair behind her ear. “i’m afraid he doesn’t know you, and that is my fault. i found him wandering in my mountains, half frozen and near death. i kissed him once, in order to make him invulnerable to the cold. but i sensed a malevolent magic about him, something that clouded his heart and his actions, that threatened to destroy his soul as surely as the cold would have destroyed his body. so i kissed him again, and locked all his memories away, so that the magic had nothing to grab onto, and he would be safe.”
“but he does not know me,” she says, lips trembling, “and i know him so well. he was the one that knew me best in the whole world. could you not kiss him again, and set him free?”
“i am sorry,” the snow queen says, “but a third kiss from me would be the kiss of death.”
gerda turns back to kai, and asks, “am i not familiar to you at all? does nothing of me feel like home?” before he can answer she leans in close and says, “oh, kai, your eye! what happened?” it’s got a sliver of red stuck in it, like an eyelash, but it looks far more painful.
“i don’t know,” he says, “it was like that before i was with the snow queen.”
“it was settled deep in the back of his eye,” the snow queen says, “it came forward after my spells, but i haven’t been able to get it out.”
“it’s the last piece! i can complete the heart!” madhubala says excitedly, speaking for the first time.
the snow queen whirls around, “oh, my apologies, i didn’t mean to ignore y – oh, bhanu!”
she holds out her arms, and the massive tiger bounds forward, nuzzling into the snow queen’s chest and reaching up to lick her face. “i have been looking for you!” bhanu says crossly. “you are far from home.”
“i was like this when i woke up,” she says. “i had already frozen and destroyed my favorite banyan tree, and i did not want to cause harm to the rest of my country. so i came here, to a place where my snow and ice wouldn’t hurt anyone, where they had so much of it already that surely i couldn’t cause any damage.”
madhubala steps forward, “queen raveena, i have something that belongs to you.” she reaches into her coat, and takes out the fist sized ruby.
“my heart!” she gasps, “it fell from my hands and shattered, scattering to the four corners of our land. how did you ever find it?”
“i am the younger sister of anika, who’s life you saved by taking the ice from her heart,” madhubala says. “my sister and i have spent our whole lives reconstructing this heart. after we finished, she sent me to find you, and the daayans says your where here. but it’s missing one more piece – the piece, i believe, that is in kai’s eye.”
gerda says, “there must be a way to get it out! please, i’ll do anything.”
raveena frowns, looking at gerda with a considering gaze. “do you love him, gerda?”
she flushes and gives kai a shy glance, who ducks his head, an uncertain smile curling around the edges of his mouth. “i do, queen raveena.”
“truly? do you love him more than anything? if he were to get his memories back, and did not care for you, would you love him still?”
“of course!” she says, “love doesn’t work any other the way.”
raveena says. “gerda, i think you should kiss kai.”
“i am no queen or fae!” she says, “my kiss won’t do anything at all.”
“you are a girl of pure heart and a kind spirit, who loves him dearly. if your kiss can’t help him, then i fear nothing can,” she says.
gerda looks to kai, her best friend, and asks, “do you mind terribly if i kiss you? i’ve never kissed anyone before, and my lips are quite chapped.”
“i suppose it’s all right,” he says, voice an octave too high.
gerda is too short to reach, even when she grabs his shoulders and goes on her tip toes. kai carefully settles his hands on her hips, and bends down to meet her lips with his.
at first, nothing happens, and it’s just a kiss. but then they all see a red drop of liquid drip out of his eye and down his cheek. gerda’s love has melted the shard, and they break apart just in time for kai to catch the drop of liquid as it freezes once more into a shard.
“gerda!” he cries, recognition lighting up his face. he grabs her in a tight hug.
she wraps her arms around his neck, burying her face into his chest and crying, “you know me! you really know me!”
“of course i do,” he say, beaming, “i reckon i know you better than i know myself. you’re my very best friend in the whole world.” his cheeks go pink, “you kissed me!”
they step apart, and she shuffles her feet. “er, yes, i did. was it awful?”
“not at all,” he assures her, “uh, maybe we could do it again? sometime?”
“i’d like that,” she says, and it’s freezing in the snow queen’s palace, but she feels warm.
kai hold out his hand to madhubala, “here, i think you need this.”
he drops the red shard into her hand. madhubala carefully slots the shard into place on the ruby. there’s a bright burst of light, and madhubala isn’t holding a ruby anymore – it’s a beating heart.
raveena comes forward and presses a finger against it. “it’s warm,” she says in wonder. “oh, you and your sister must have put so much love in these pieces for it to melt my heart. thank you!”
“you are our summer queen,” madhubala says, smiling. “it was our pleasure.”
raveena pulls the top of her sari down, “would you put it back for me?”
madhubala steps forward, and carefully presses the warm, beating heart against raveena’s chest. at first nothing happens, then it sinks beneath her flesh, settling inside of her once more. as her heart beats, and spreads warmth through her once more, raveena changes.
her pale skin turns brown in places, splotches appearing over her arms and face. her pale hair darkens, until it’s black streaked through with white. “wonderful!” she cries, spinning around as she stares at her new skin in delight.
“you are not as you once were!” bhanu says, upset.
raveena says, “oh, bhanu, we can never be as we once were. we can only go forward, and become something new instead.” she winks, “besides, i’ve grown rather fond of this land, and i’d be sad to leave it forever.” she holds out her hands. in one, a lotus flower grows. in the other is the same flower, but made entirely of ice. “i am the summer queen, but i am the snow queen as well. now i can travel between my lands, and love and care for them both! i would say that’s much better than simply being as i was before.”
“i like it!” gerda enthuses, “you’re even prettier than you were before!”
raveena absently tucks the real lotus flower into gerda’s hair, “would you like transportation back home? i imagine you and kai are far from your village. and madhubala and bhanu do you want to travel back to our land with me?”
“please,” she says, leaning into kai’s side. “i think we’ve been away from home long enough.”
madhubala flushes, “ah, actually, my queen, i made a deal with a prince.” she rubs the ring on her finger, almost self consciously. “i don’t think i’ll be going home anytime soon.”
“prince enok is a delightful young man,” raveena says. “it seems that soon i shall be addressing you as queen. bhanu? what about you?”
the great tiger hunkers down, then says, “well, you see, i’ve been with madhubala since she was a baby. and i don’t know about this prince enok fellow. you never know, with these prince types. it’s probably best i hang around, just in case anyone needs to be eaten.”
“i see,” raveena says seriously. “well, you’re not really meant to be someplace so cold for so long, bhanu. but i can fix that.” she leans down and gives the tiger a kiss on the nose.
he shivers, then shakes all over. by the time he’s done his orange fur has become white, and his eyes are a bright blue. “i’m warm!” he exclaims, pleased, “thank you, summer queen.”
“excellent,” she says, “now, let’s get everyone where they need to be.”
gerda and kai return to their village. they open a flower shop, and get married, and live in blissful happiness. they often take trips to the mountains, and people whisper stories about how gerda fought the gods of the dead to bring kai home, but they never comment on it. every morning she weaves an eternally fresh lotus flower into her hair.
madhubala and bhanu make themselves at home in the mountain palace. madhubala is shocked to discover how easy it is to fall in love with her prince, how easy it is to be his wife, his princess, his queen. enok is kind and courteous, and madhubala is clever and determined, and under their rule their land and people flourish. anika visits often, and when nobles are particularly irritating, bhanu will stare at them from his place sitting by madhubala’s throne.
raveena spends half her time in the land she came from, painting butterfly wings and arranging the patterns of leaves in the canopy, and the other half in her home of ice, carefully crafting beautiful snowflakes and making the ice sparkle.
although the world she lives in is not perfect, is not always easy or good or fair, she does not allow that to touch her. she is a woman of pure heart, who believes in kindness, in forgiveness. people sing to her and pray to her, people believe in the hope and beauty their queen of snow and summer bring to them.
and they all lived happily ever after.
read more of my retold fairytales here
2K notes · View notes