THE SNOW QUEEN
A FAIRYTALE IN SE7EN STORIES
STORY THE S6XTH
THE LAPP LADY
AND THE FINN WOMAN
All Gerda remembered of the rest of her ride into Lapland was the cold. The biting wind wrung tears from her eyes, but it was so cold that the tears froze halfway down her cheeks. By the time the reindeer pulled to a halt, Gerda could no longer feel her nose, her fingers, or her toes.
The reindeer stag stopped because there, in the lee of a small rise on the snowy plain, was a hut. A tiny deerskin hut, with a huge roof reaching almost to the ground; a roof which made the hut look as if it might topple over any minute. It took Gerda a moment to spot the door, it was so low to the ground, half buried in the snow. The door opened and a female hand waved her in. Gerda had to crawl on all fours, on her hands and knees, to get inside; it was an even greater struggle for the reindeer!
A skinny old woman grinned at them from beneath her furs.
"What brings you here at such a furious speed?" asked she.
Gerda's teeth were chattering so hard she couldn't possibly answer, so the reindeer spoke for her. He told the Lapp lady how he had been imprisoned by the bandits, and how Gerda had helped him escape. Then he told the Lapp lady as much of Gerda's story as he could remember.
"Mmm," the Lapp lady thought for a moment. "First of all we'll get you warm and fed!" she declared. And, without further ado, she stripped off Gerda's clothes and sat the frozen little firl by the fire in just her undergarments. Gradually, the heat soothed Gerda back to life, and the Lapp lady gave her a supper of soup and old bread.
Once Gerda was well fed and warm and thawed out, the Lapp lady gave her some news and advice.
"I'm afraid, my dear," she grimly said, "that you still have far to travel. The Snow Queen has left her Summer Palace in Lapland; she has gone to the Finmark, where the Northern Lights come from. There are some who say the lights are the fireworks at the Snow Queen's Winter Palace."
"But that's over a hundred miles away!" exclaimed the reindeer, dismayed at the news.
"Yes," said the Lapp lady seriously, "and you must continue the journey with Gerda — alone she cannot hope to reach the Finmark."
The reindeer stag bowed his head in agreement, but he looked sad that he would have to wait a little longer for his play in the snowfields of Lapland.
The Lapp lady took a piece of dried salted cod from a shelf.
"I shall write you a note in runes on this piece of cod. Take it to the wise Finn woman who lives at the edge of the Finmark. She is better able to give you advice on how to reach the palace."
"How will we find the Finn woman?" Gerda asked.
"The edge of the Finmark is a flat wasteland; you will see her chimney many miles before you see her house," the Lapp lady reassured her. "Follow the smoke. She will give you all the aid she can."
The Lapp lady waved them off the next morning, and, tired yet determined, Gerda and the reindeer set off on the last leg of the journey. The Lapp lady's advice was sound. As they grew closer and closer to the Finmark, they saw dark tendrils of smoke curling into the clean winter air. Soon, they could glimpse the top of a tall chimney, and, before too long, a strange round white house came to view.
When they got close, they saw that the house was an igloo, made of blocks of ice, and had no door. Gerda stood on the reindeer's back and knocked on the chimney. There was a small gust of wind, and Gerda toppled from the reindeer's back. When she sat up, instead of finding herself dumped in the snow, she realised she was already inside the Finn woman's igloo.
There was a great, crackling fire under a huge cooking cauldron in the centre of the one-roomed ice house, and Gerda was already sweltering under her warm clothes. The Finn woman, a stout lady with very little raven hair, was wearing next to nothing. She helped Gerda struggle out of her furs, and sat her by the fire while she read the Lapp lady's cod letter. The Finn woman read the letter thrice, and then muttered: "Waste not, waste not." With that, she threw the cod into the cooking pot.
"So you want the help of a feeble old crone, do you?" she asked, with a glint in her eye.
"Ah, but we know you are no feeble old crone," the reindeer replied. "With your magic, you can bind the winds, tie them in a knot, and release them at your will. It is said that sailors bring you old books and scrolls in exchange for knowledge of the winds."
The Finn woman smiled at this. "And how will the winds help this little girl?"
"They won't," admitted the reindeer stag. "But surely someone with your powers could give her the strength of ten grown men to fight the Snow Queen!"
The Finn woman just snorted at this, turned around, pulled a scroll written in runes from a shelf, and began to read it. The reindeer coughed, but she ignored him. Gerda sniffed, but she ignored that, too. Only when the Finn woman had finished reading did she look up; she saw the hope in Gerda's eyes, and the steadfast courage of the reindeer, and made up her mind.
"Come here," she softly addressed the stag. The proud beast bowed his head and walked over to the wise woman, who scratched behind his antlers as she whispered to him.
"One last journey, brave heart. You must travel North again — not far — to the edge of the Snow Queen's gardens. There, you will see a large holly bush with bright red berries, and there you must leave Gerda, for she must perform her final task alone."
"And will she find her friend?" asked the reindeer.
"Yes, Kai is with the Snow Queen. But he is wholly in her power. He thinks he is happy and content. His heart is frozen, and he cannot see the truth because he has a sliver of the sorcerer's mirror in one of his eyes."
The reindeer stag gasped at this news — everyone knew and feared the power of the sorcerer's mirror.
"But... can you give her some strength, or some weapon to help her release Kai?" pleaded the deer.
"She is a weapon!" stated the Finn woman firmly. "Don't you see how powerful she is already? In only her dress and her bare feet she has come a thousand miles through bitter experience, with only her innocence and belief to guide her. If she cannot free Kai, then nobody will..."
The reindeer still looked doubtful.
"Tell me," the wise woman continued, "why did you run all this way over frozen wastelands?"
"To help Gerda," replied the deer firmly.
"But why?" persisted the Finn woman, "you hardly know her!"
"Because..." the reindeer stag was about to argue, but then he looked into the Finn woman's wise old almond-shaped eyes and bowed his head again.
"I think I understand," he finally said.
The wise woman smiled at him again and patted his head. Briskly she got on her feet, all business again.
"Come now!" she called, clapping her hands. "Time to be off!" Without another word, she lifted Gerda from the frozen floor and put her on the reindeer's back. She clicked her fingers, and once again they were outside. It was still dark — they were so far up North that there was no daytime in the winter. With a smack to the deer's flank, she sent him shooting northwards, Gerda clinging to his back as he sped on through the snow.
It was not long before they came to the red-berried holly bush, and the reindeer stag slid Gerda gently off his back.
"I must leave you here," he told her, and his eyes filled with tears at the thought of the defenceless little girl alone in the wintry wild.
Gerda, too, was crying. The reindeer leant down and wiped away her tears with his gentle nose, and planted a kiss on her forehead with his soft, warm lips. Then he turned, and started back southwards, for he could not bear to say goodbye.
The cold was piercing, and Gerda was numb to the bone. She looked ahead of her for the first time. In front of her was the Snow Queen's icy palace! Shining blue against the white of the snowy plain, it pierced the skyline with stalagmite towers, spires, and turrets of ice. The reflection from the Northern Lights, still flashing overhead, glinted and flashed on the ice-paned Gothic windows.
Gerda stumbled forwards through the snow-drifts, for she knew she was close to the end of her journey. The night sky was clear, but still there seemed to be snowflakes falling, a whole host of them. Gerda remembered looking at snowflakes through a magnifying glass with Kai, and wondering at the ice crystals' different shapes and sizes. These flakes were bigger than any she had seen at home; and they were growing. As each flake landed, it would expand and form itself into some strange shape. Gerda saw a direwolf-shaped flake, and some like fat polar bears or white wombats. There were birds of prey, and monster hedgehogs, and winged serpents too, and they were all tumbling towards Gerda. Tumbling and lurching, they converged on Gerda as she staggered, one foot at a time, across the snowy plain. They were the Snow Queen's guards!
Gerda's heart hammered in her chest, as if it were to breach her breastbone. Her mouth was dry with fear. She was exhausted and hungry and lost. She wanted so much to lie in the snow and go to sleep, even if it were never to awaken. It was no use; the Snow Queen had won.
As she sank to her knees and prayed one last prayer, she heard a familiar voice in her head: "I'll catch that giant flake and put her on the fire — she won't be so scary then!"
It was Kai! Kai would never give in so easily. Gerda lifted her head and shouted defiantly at the host of monster snowflakes whirling around her.
As she roared, Gerda's breath misted in the cold air. The mist hung for a moment in front of her, and drifted away. As it moved towards the snowflake guards, the mist formed itself into a shape; it was a reindeer, just like her friend. The mist reindeer tossed its antlers at a monster guard, and the snowflake fell apart in a puff of white dust. Gerda cheered, raising her hands to the sky in victory, and another misty shape came forth from her lips. Soon, she was surrounded by phantoms made with her own warm breath. The robber girl was there with her dagger in her left hand and her pistol in the right, so too was the princess and their prince with their hunting bows. The woodland raven and his lover pecked at the monsters with their sharp beaks; the Lapp lady smacked at the snowflakes with a dried salted cod, and the misty Finn woman just clicked her fingers and the guards melted, liquified and absorbed by the snowy ground. All of them moved amongst the snow guards, melting and breaking them, shattering them and making them retreat, creating a path for Gerda to plough onwards through the snowstorm. One of the mist shapes formed itself into Kai's grandmother's likeness, and rubbed at Gerda's hands and feet to keep them warm.
Stirred and heartened, Gerda marched on to the Snow Queen's palace.