THE SNOW QUEEN
A FAIRYTALE IN SE7EN STORIES
STORY THE SECON2
Two children, Kai and Gerda, lived opposite each other in a provincial town. They were such good friends that many people thought they were brother and sister — but no sibling pair ever played as happily as Gerda and Kai, with never a fight or a cross word.
Although both their families were rather middling, Kai and Gerda didn't care, for they were happy with each other's company and didn't need any expensive toys. Through the springtime, summer, and autumn, for three quarters of the year, they would spend hours on the balconies outside the attic windows of their houses. Their respective fathers had built each of them a little window-box, and two planks were high across the street so they could walk or crawl from one house to the other. Kai and Gerda loved these window-boxes; they grew pretty flowers in them to attract butterflies and other pollinating creatures. Their pride and joy were two rose bushes, one in each box. Gerda's roses were scarlet, and Kai's were the colour of ivory. Each year in May, both of these bushes would burst into flower and wind their way out across the street, twining themselves around each other, as if they too loved each other as much as Kai and Gerda.
In the winter, the children had to find other games to play in their spare time, for it grew cold and icy in their country, and the flowers in the window-boxes faded, and Gerda and Kai watched their rose-blooms wither away. The planks between the windowsills were put away until springtime, and the children had to run down three flights of stairs, and back up three flights more on the other side, in order to see each other. They would skate on the ice and play in the soft snow, not fearing the cold, for Kai's grandmother was always ready with a cup of hot chocolate and a warm rug to make them snug and cozy again. It felt so good to sit by the window, cocooned in soft wool, and press warmed-up coins against the frosty glass panes and stare out at the winter scenes through the little magic spyholes they had created.
Grandmother would tell the children stories of the mysteries of winter; how a particularly strong swirl of snow meant the Snow Queen was in flight. She told them how the terrible Queen would ride at the heart of the storm, exulting in the fierce cold.
"I'm not afraid of her!" boasted young Kai. "I'll catch that giant flake and put her on the fire — she won't be so scary then!"
Gerda grinned at Kai adoringly, but Granny smiled and stroked his auburn hair. "Many brave boys have said that, but still she flies — better to keep the windows shut and be careful she doesn't catch you!"
Kai looked nervous at this, but Gerda squeezed his left hand for comfort, and he soon forgot his fears.
One night, after Gerda had gone home to bed, Kai stayed by the window, staring out at the falling snow. The flakes looked clean and bright against the gaslamps in the street. They fell even thicker, as if they wanted to cover the whole world so everything could start again. As Kai stared, transfixed, one large flake drifted across the street towards him, pushing the smaller flakes aside as if it had a purpose all of its own. The giant flake settled on the balcony outside the window, next to the barren rose bush. and Kai could see every sharp detail of its cold beauty. Even as he looked, the snowflake grew taller, and the lines slowly took a human shape. The crystals became a shimmering white gown crusted with glittering frosty jewels. Kai raised his gaze and gasped as he saw two cold, ice-blue eyes staring back at him. He felt himself shiver as those eyes burned into his, as if searching into his very soul. The white gown fluttered, and a pale arm emerged, so pale he could almost see through it. The ice-woman beckoned Kai to come to her with a single long index finger.
For a moment, Kai forgot where he was and moved to open the window. Just as quickly, he remembered all his grandmother's warnings and slammed the shutters closed, rattling the panes and the pictures on the wall. He was surprised to find himself out of breath and a bit shaky. "The Snow Queen," he said to himself. "That must have been the Snow Queen!"
Soon after, the thaws came, and brought with them March rains and strong, blustery winds. As Kai and Gerda walked together home from school one day, Kai turned to Gerda to ask her a question. Before he could speak, he winced and rubbed at his left eye. Gerda looked concerned.
"Are you all right, Kai?" she asked. "Shall I look into your eye for you?"
"Well, I can't feel anything, so you'd better," replied Kai in a grumpy voice. As he spoke, he winced again, and coughed and gulped as if he had swallowed a bug. But it wasn't an insect at all.
Gerda looked into Kai's left eye, but she saw nothing — for no one sees a shard of the sorcerer's mirror. She could see Kai squinting with discomfort, and her own eyes watered in sympathy.
"Oh, stop that, Gerda," snorted Kai. "You look so ugly when you cry. Dry up your eyes and don't be such a baby."
Gerda was hurt at Kai's words, but she thought it was because he was in pain. However, it wasn't pain that caused Kai to speak so harshly; it was the shard of looking-glass he had just swallowed or breathed in, working its way down into his heart.
Over the next few months, Kai said many more hurtful things, and upset Gerda every day. One day, when she asked him to look at a storybook, he sneered and said books were for babies. When she invited him to smell the roses on their bushes, he tore off the blooms and crushed them underfoot.
"What use are roses?" he coldly asked. "They don't feed anybody or make anything!"
"But they are beautiful, Kai," said Gerda, puzzled that he no longer understood.
"I don't care about beauty!" snarled Kai. "I know the nine times table by heart, I can do fractions in my head, and I know how a wheel turns; what use are flowers and books to me?"
Even his granny wasn't spared Kai's malice. When she sat in her chair and told stories to the younger children at the orphanage, Kai would stand behind her, mimicking her expressions and her gestures. Kai was very good at spotting little flaws in other people, and he could do funny impressions of all his teachers and classmates at school. Everyone thought they were hilarious, especially Kai himself. Gerda was the only one who thought they were cruel.
Winter came around once more, and the snows set in. Kai rarely played with Gerda, but instead took his sled into the town square and raced against the older boys. With the school bullies, they played games of rough and tumble in the snow, which often ended in a bloody nose, a black eye, or someone crying. It was never Kai.
Just after the turn of the new year, around Twelfth Night, Kai was racing in the square as usual, when a shining, brand new sleigh came proudly up the main street towards them. Kai stopped and stared as the grand sleigh glided past. The strong, white horse trotted proudly in front, head up, tossing its snowy white mane. The sleigh itself was edged and gilded in silver, and painted in intricate patterns of white and icy blue. The driver was heavily wrapped in white furs, wearing both an overcoat and a shapka hat of what seemed to be Arctic fox skin, but Kai saw a glimpse of frosty platinum blond hair, and pale white wrists below the gloves holding the reins. Kai looked down ruefully at his own crude wooden sled. When he looked up again, the white horse had stopped, and the driver was staring at him over the back of the sleigh. The driver's head lifted from among the furs, and Kai found himself staring into the icy abyss of the Snow Queen's eyes.
The Snow Queen beckoned to Kai, and this time he was powerless to resist. As he approached, she spoke to him for the first time. Her voice was barely more than a whisper, but it rang in Kai's head as loud and clear as a church bell.
"Come with me," she breathed. "Tie your sled to the back of mine. We'll go for a fast ride — it will be exciting!"
To Kai, the invitation was as good as an order. As soon as his sled was tethered to the Snow Queen's sleigh, the white horse set off at a steady trot. As the horse picked up speed, Kai clung on to the side of his sled, afraid lest he be thrown against the pavement or a wall as the horse turned at a street corner. They passed through the main gate of the town; the horse was cantering, and its great strides soon left the comforting sights and smells of the town far behind. Now they were in the open country, covered in a thick white blanket. Kai was frightened. He began to struggle with the fastenings of the sled, but his hands were too cold and numb to undo the knot. He tried to scream for help, but the word froze in his throat, and what stole through his parted lips was the nine times table.
The sleigh seemed to be gliding on a cushion of air. They crashed through the forest, and the branches of the snow-covered treetops whistled and whipped at them like icy limbs. They rode along a frozen river-bed, and the horse and sleigh cast a pale and ghostly reflection in the water. They flew northwards over a range of hills; the sleigh went so fast that Kai's stomach lurched as they crested each hill and plunged down the other side.
At last, the sleigh slowed. Kai was petrified with cold and fear — he would've cried, but the tears froze before they could roll down his cheeks. The Snow Queen turned in her seat and smiled at him.
"You poor thing. You must be freeezing... Come and sit by me, then you won't feel a thing."
Kai was unable to protest. He stumbled forwards and climbed into the carriage alongside the Snow Queen. She wrapped her enormous white fur cloak around his shoulders and drew him closer to her. Her body held no warmth, and Kai shivered as the horse strode forwards once more, and the wind whipped up again.
The Snow Queen turned his face towards her. Her lips curved upwards in a smile, but her glacial eyes burned into his own. The Snow Queen kissed Kai on the forehead. His teeth stopped chattering and he no longer shivered. The blood froze in his veins, and his heart hardened even more, as he forgot his home, granny, Gerda, and the short life he had led. For an instant he thought that he was going to die, yet he awakened as quickly as he had fallen unconscious. A frosty pallor came over his features, but the biting wind no longer stung his cheeks, now so pale that the veins could be seen through. He forgot his fears, and smiled back at the Snow Queen.
Now she seemed more beautiful and intelligent than ever, with nothing sinister about her. Never had he seen more perfect a sight. Kai told her that he could do fractions by head, and draw diagrams as well, and that he knew the surface and the number of inhabitants of every state in the continent, and she burst into a tinkling laugh.
"Then, you certainly are a boy for me, my little cold-blooded prince."
In the end, after hours of flying through the cold winter air, they entered the far Northern region where there is darkness all winter long, and a weary Kai fell asleep at the feet of the Snow Queen.