THE SNOW QUEEN
A FAIRYTALE IN SE7EN STORIES
STORY THE THI3D
She set out the very next morning, at the crack of dawn, wearing her most treasured possession — her new red shoes, which she had received for her birthday. Kai had never seen those shoes, and Gerda wanted to show them off as soon as she found him. She had an idea that, if she went to the river that ran through the town, the water might carry some news of Kai to her.
Gerda sat by the river, and watched as the stream carried by the tales and news of the thousands of souls that it passed every day. But there was no news of Kai.
"I know," thought Gerda, "if I throw my shoes into the river, and wish very hard, maybe they will lead me to Kai." Gerda could not throw very far, and the water simply carried her shoes back to the bank where she sat.
There was a small rowing boat tied to a stump nearby. Gerda clambered aboard and walked gingerly to the front of the boat, thinking that from here she could throw the shoes further out into the river. But as she cast her shoes into the water, the boat slipped its mooring and began to drift out towards the centre of the river.
Gerda looked around for help, but there was no one down by the river, on either bank, apart from her. The fishing boat had pointed itself downstream, and was beginning to pick up speed. Gerda's red shoes bobbed along in its wake, but were soon left trailing behind as the boat was propelled forwards by the strong currents of the rapids.
Gerda gripped the side of the boat and cried for help, glancing in desperation at the banks of the rivers. But only the shorebirds heard her. The sedge-warblers and curlews flew the length of the riverbank, keeping pace with Gerda's boat and calling, encouraging her. "Here we are," they cried, "we will fly with you. We won't let you come to any harm!"
Gerda was comforted by their song. Her grip on the boat relaxed, and she looked around. Grassy meadows with sweet-smelling wildflowers were home for cows and sheep. Willows dipped their slender branches in the stream and drank, with their tangled roots clung fiercely to the water's edge.
Gerda's spirits rose. She began to believe that maybe the river was carrying her to Kai.
Hours passed, and gradually the river became more winding, and the currents slowed. Gerda marvelled at a cherry orchard on the left bank; the blossom was so dense and so pure white it took her breath away. The boat seemed to be drifting towards the orchard, and, as she got closer, Gerda spied a little cottage amidst the cloud-like blossoms. The cottage had a thatched roof and odd little windows. A small white wicket gate at the entrance to the garden was guarded by two soldiers, one on either side,
Gerda called out to the soldiers, but they were made of wood, and thus, could not answer. As the boat finally nudged against the riverbank, an old woman emerged from the cottage. She wore a large-brimmed straw hat, gaily painted with hundreds of different flowers, and she walked with the aid of a stick or cane. As the old woman drew closer, Gerda realised that she was even much older than Kai's grandmother. Her face was wrinkled like an old apple, but she was smiling and her eyes looked kindly.
"You poor thing!" the old lady said. "You look cold and half-starved. Where have you come from?"
Gerda told her the whole story; the old lady sighed and looked sympathetic, but when Gerda asked if she had seen Kai, she only shook her head.
"You must eat, my dear, before you continue your journey. Come into my house and have some cherries," she offered with a smile.
Gerda thought this sounded like a wonderful idea, and she followed the old lady through the beautiful flower garden into the curious thatched cottage. The panes in the stained-glass windows were made up of tiny squares of blue and red, and the sunlight shining through the coloured glass made everything seem a little odd.
Gerda sat down at the wooden table, and the old lady brought out a bowl full to overflowing with ripe ruby-red cherries.
"Eat as many as you like," she urged, and, as Gerda tucked in, she started to comb the little girl's long fair hair.
Gerda was unaware of it, but the old lady know how to work magic. Not wicked magic like the sorcerer with the mirror, but simple small enchantments. As she combed Gerda's hair, the wise woman, who had been very lonely since her husband died and her children left her, thought how nice it would be to have some company for a while. The longer she combed, and the more Gerda ate, the less the little girl thought about her journey and her lost friend.
After the meal, the wise old woman let the tired little girl have a sleep on the sofa, tucked up with a warm patchwork blanket and a plump pillow smelling of violets and lavender. While Gerda slept, the old lady went out into her flower garden, She clicked her fingers, and all the rose bushes sank back into the ground, for Gerda had told her about the roses in the window-boxes, and the sorceress feared they would remind the girl of her lost friend Kai.
The next few days passed peacefully for Gerda. She played in the old lady's beautiful flower garden; she was amazed at how many different types and colours of flowers there were. Each and every morning, the sun shone on the shrubs and flower beds, and the blooms opened, welcoming the light and warmth of the star of stars. Gerda helped the old lady water and prune the garden, even fixing the thatched roof for the rain not to get in, and, in return, the sorceress taught her the names of all the plants she didn't know, and how to recognize each flower's distinctive perfume and healing properties.
For all the variety and colour in the garden, at the back of her mind Gerda knew there was something missing. The garden felt incomplete. It was the old lady's straw hat that solved the mystery for her. One day, it was left lying on the table, and Gerda was looking at the lovely flower drawings round the rim. The most beautiful of them all was a scarlet rose — a painted rose that the old lady's spell had missed.
Gerda rushed out into the garden. Surely there must be roses here; maybe she had simply missed them; maybe they were in some quiet corner that she rarely visited. She found no roses. For some reason, this made her feel very sad, and, as she sat by the flower beds, a teardrop rolled down her left cheek and fell on the soil. By chance, it fell on one of the very spots where a rose bush once had stood. As Gerda's tear touched the soil. the rose bush sprang from the ground, fully in bloom, released from its enchantment.
Gerda, too, was free of the enchantment that had imprisoned her. Seeing the rose bush yield clusters of ivory flowers, she remembered Kai, and how she had set out on a journey to find him.
"Do you think my friend is still alive?" she asked the ivory roses.
"You must keep looking," the rose bush answered her, "for we have spent many days underground, and Kai was not amongst the dead and buried."
Gerda wandered around the garden one last time, and asked all the flowers if they had seen her friend Kai. The moonflowers, the snowdrops, and the perfumed hyacinths all told tragic tales; they made Gerda feel lonely and afraid, The buttercup cheered her up with a pretty song full of sunshine and kisses, but couldn't help her find Kai. The narcissus was no help either, it was too busy gazing at its own reflection in the pond to answer. Each and every flower told a different story, but the stories were their own, and told Gerda nothing of their friend.
She knew that she had to leave the old lady's garden straight away, so she picked up her skirts and ran as fast as she could. The garden gate was locked, but Gerda pulled as fiercely as she could and the rusty hinges gave way. As she went through the gate, Gerda realised that the garden's eternal springtime was just an illusion. In the outside world, spring and summer were over, and she shivered in the autumn winds.
"I have wasted so much time," she sighed. "I must not stop again!"