One freezing, dark night in the middle of winter,
I was out with my parents on a robbing spree,
when we saw a gold carriage that glistened and sparkled
as it drove through a forest, between the tall trees.
‘It’s gold!’ shouted Father as he grabbed the horses,
‘It’s gold!’ shouted Mother as she killed the coachman.
They finished off the postilions, slit the throats of the footmen,
and, with a blood-curdling cry, they yanked open the door.
Inside was a young girl, pretty and charming, cowering on the floor
amongst candied fruit, nuts, pastries, and sweetmeats.
Mother pulled out her knife, flashing and gleaming,
meaning to slice her up, ready to eat.
‘I want her to play with me’, I said to Mother,
leaping onto her back and biting her ear.
‘She must give me her hand muff and beautiful dress;
She must lay down beside me upon my mattress.
Let me ride in the carriage with my new playmate;
let me gobble up the gingersnaps and fruits inside.’
I was bigger, stronger, and darker than the princess.
But when I asked her she said she was only there for the ride.
I put my arm round her waist and looked into her blue eyes,
‘I won’t let them slaughter you as long as your mine.’
‘I’m not a princess,’ the pretty girl told me,
‘I’m on a quest to find my friend, little Kai.’
I couldn’t stop myself from feeling sorry
as the beautiful girl started to cry.
So I asked for her name and she said it was Gerda;
I wiped away her tears and took both her hands,
pushed them deep into the muff and a little further,
to prove she was safe from my parents’ robber band.
When we arrived at our tumbledown castle,
that was cracked from the tower to the dungeon below,
guarded by fierce dogs in threatening silence
and, circling overhead, ravens and crows,
inside our soot-filled hall, a great fire was blazing,
in a pit in the centre of the castle’s stone floor,
smoke drifted up to the high vaulted ceiling
and under the gap below the huge door.
In a big copper kettle some soup was cooking,
rabbits and hares were turning on spits.
‘Tonight you’ll be sleeping with me and my animals,’
I told Gerda as we chewed on the meatiest bits.
We slept on a mattress of hay in a corner,
covered with blankets and animal skins,
above us my hundred doves were peacefully sleeping,
beside us my reindeer was tethered to a copper ring.
I wanted to keep Gerda as my faithful playmate
But the story of Kai kept me up all night,
bcause the doves had seen him in the land of the Snow Queen,
and the reindeer offered to take her the next night.
All day I waited for mother to get drunk,
as soon as she fell asleep, we both crept outside.
I untied the reindeer and helped Gerda to mount him,
and swapping fur muff for mittens, I bade her goodbye.