IN THE SHADES OF DAWNING
Story the First:
The Mirror Cracked from Side to Side
She peers in once more through the Mirror of Reason, the Mirror of Truth, the gift from her fiery consort... when was the last time she had used it for her favourite pastime?
Every now and then, one grows weary of the cold, of the wasteland, of the icy blue walls devoid of any ornamentation. Let other royal courts boast of soirées and dances and games, for here there are none at all: everything is perfect in its harshness and emptiness. But still something lingers. Something that entices her to, the next time she brings the winter southward, to lodge a shard of that shattered mirror within the heart of a young person, turned a critic and a perfectionist, and then, keeping that person within her throne room, challenge them with a riddle or puzzle game that cannot be solved until the looking-glass has left their hardened hearts, their cold bloodstream, with a teardrop wrought by their questing beloved. Then, both young mortals would return hand in hand to their birthplace, deserving the happy ending that was theirs by right.
And thus, every lustrum, maybe every decade, the Snow Queen shatters her mirror and scatters the shards out through the gothic windows of her throne-tower and throughout the atmosphere, only so that one of them, through ingestion or aspiration, may find the right heart. After that, the story basically writes itself, all the way down to the part where the young lovers make it home, to keep springtime and childhood forever in their hearts.
Ironically, it all began by chance: with the King of the Jinni and some of his disciples showing up at the gates of her Arctic keep with the Mirror he had forged in the fires of his realm in hand. It was the crown jewel among the thousands of ways he employed in this unceasing antagonism, hell-bent on getting the upper hand over his icy vanquisher, if not by force at least by ruse. This baroque-writhing-framed looking-glass flipped more than just left and right in its reflections. You could see what people really were like, beyond the veil of appearances: an honest smile would writhe into a Cheshire cat grin if the intentions behind it were not pure, fashion victims were turned to hollow mannequins, and the loveliest landscapes threatened by the invasion of industry appeared as revolting dark marshes. All the jinni in the entourage agreed that a great wonder had taken place.
Though it's actually impossible to say how many wrongs had been done, how many discord had been sown, in every place that the Mirror of Truth had visited.
The two elemental royals, fire and ice, were star-crossed right from the start, but that didn't stop the failed courtship and the gift of the mirror. "Aside from this, there's nothing more creative or more recreative", he had told her. After claiming it as her own, she shut the gates right in her suitor's face, only to open them slightly and ask for a few jinni of his entourage... Something about seeing what the gods would look like, or eclipsing the sun, using the Mirror of Truth, that would later be known as the Mirror of Reason when reassembled in her throne room, located in the height of her redoubtable watchtower. It was her own idea, or rather a pair of ideas she had, for most entertaining experiments. Moreover, she would stay on her throne, for safety's sake, while the jinni took to the sky with the fated looking-glass.
They found no gods up there, and the sun was worlds away: nothing but empty space. Either a shooting star or the cold numbing their grasp, or both, made the mirror slip away from the fire spirits' clutches, crack, shatter, bring more than seven years... an eternity of misfortune, as they scattered throughout the Earth's atmosphere.
From on then, the care of the Snow Queen was, every winter, to glean the fragments and reassemble the mirror in her throne room (she had, in the meantime, discarded the twisted golden frame, too full of horror vacui for her own taste). Some had been made into hand mirrors, or windowpanes, or spectacles, or magnifiers, or pretend gems... but most of them were tiny enough not to be seen, and they would get swallowed or breathed in by unfortunate mortals, finding a way into their warm, throbbing hearts, that would turn as cold and hard as ice encased in steel.
It was for the last shard that everything began to fall into place -- as that shard lodged, with a swallowed snowflake, into the heart of a normal schoolboy, turning him into the best at class, especially in Mathematics, but also bereft of emotions, creativity, and aesthetic sense. The same winter when he was frozenhearted, she visited the market town where he was born and lived, had him lasso her carriage, breathed her coldness with a kiss into his lungs to harden his heart even more and turn his past into a blank slate; as he, undaunted by her redoubtable stature, slept on her lap all the way up north to the Arctic, flying on the back of the blizzard.
She kept Kai within her keep for that whole year long, through the season of darkness and the season of light, as he fingered the mirror pieces in front of the throne and tried to repair the looking-glass. All that was needed to solve the puzzle game, however, was to release the missing shard inside him, of whose existence he was entirely unaware...
Then, when she left during the next season of darkness, she didn't know what had happened until she returned with the season of light and found the throne room empty and the mirror repaired. Peering into it, the Queen of Ice saw what had happened in her absence: a schoolgirl encouraged at first by the springtime sun, a schoolgirl who had flowers open their calyces, royalty bend the knee, and outlaws sheathe their weapons before her, during her adventures into the wide world as the seasons changed in her wake... had stormed barefoot and bareheaded, leaving a trail of blood, into the throne room, embraced the lad, sung in his ears and cried into his chest, kissed him... and the shard of the mirror fell into place as a frozen teardrop from Kai's left eye, as both schoolchildren embraced, then completed the puzzle four-handed, and returned hand in hand to their warmer native lands.
The Mirror of Reason was complete, completed by a warmth softer than the heat of the jinni, yet starkly different from her own icy blue coldness. There was something about humans, especially young humans, that had struck the centuries-old ice elemental.
As the decades, which were like human years to us, went by, she kept on trying the same experience with different mortal captives, all of them young and impressionable, to see how far their emotions and those of their lovers would go. It had become a ritual, a tradition, set in permafrost ice for every time she tried the experience.
Was this the hundredth, two-hundredth, three-hundredth time she scried into the mirror, to catch a glimpse of her next captive and the matching quester before shattering it?
Anyway, while scrying, there she saw it, the place where it all would begin to write itself: in a distant province lay and lies a quaint townscape of colourful gables and half-timbered walls, that give the various dwellings a picturesque air: just like so many communities she had visited and gleaned the subjects of her experiments from. On one side, a vast blue stream like an artery; on the other, a little wooded mountain or mesa. Right in front of that town that rested on the gentle slope, a vast blue ocean, of a far brighter blue and far more teeming with life and colour than the Snow Queen's own.
Ichigozaka, literally "Strawberry Hill."
The brilliant splendour of that magical realm made her gnash her teeth and look with longing eyes. In the schoolrooms, drawings made by the children lined the walls. The furniture in every home was dazzling clean.
While her own realm was so harsh and cold, and plunged in darkness for half a year... Such loveliness was so unfair...
Closing in on the streets, the woods, the river, the beach, the park, looking for a young person whose heart would be changed.
And there they were, against the evening sky, on a staircase down the slope. Exactly as expected. A beautiful mauve-haired heiress and a strong red-headed orphan, both of them tall and comely, and having added two years to their three lustrums. The former fair of face, the latter burned by the sun, but still, in spite of their different descent, as close as if there had been a blood tie binding them. Like two blossoms on one stem, one of them kissed by fire and the other kissed by twilight. Like two slender sceptres for royalty, one of them tipped with a single ruby and the other with a cascade of amethysts.
The Snow Queen, from the mirror in her throne room floor, saw them huddled together to give one another warmth, a strong sinewy arm clasping a fair slender waist, the setting sun caught in short red hair and in clever violet eyes.
The owner of the latter, the heiress, the beautiful and wistful, feminine one, pale and slender as an iris on its stem, had in those eyes the absent gleam, the gleam of yearning and discontent, that the Queen so often favoured in her captives.
As the image fades, the mirror cracks from side to side, exploding in a flurry of hard, sharp shards. Most of them settle down on the throne room floor, except for a few, that, unseen to mortal eyes, have fluttered out of the tower's gothic windows and kept on whirring in the currents of air southwards.
1) The title is a well-known verse from the Arthurian Pre-Raphaelite poem The Lady of Shalott, whose tragic heroine, like the Snow Queen, is confined to her palace tower and to scrying the outside world through a mirror.
So every title of a chapter here will be a literary quote. Really looking forwards to every scene. To the frozen heart, to the Ovidian flower tales in the Hanasaki greenhouse, to the masked ball for Princess Ako and Songstress Ellen, to the Wild Azüre outlaws led by Aoi... and also to the titles; there will at least be two Shakespearean ones...
2) Jinni are Eastern fire elementals and also genies. In other versions of the tale, the Mirror Maker is the king of the goblins, kobolds, or trolls; or the headmaster of a wizarding school (in others, he's Satan himself!)... I wanted to add a bit of an ice vs. fire backstory of unrequited love/manipulation (devils and Feuerkumpel kobolds are also associated with fire, but jinni seemed far more exotic and removed from the Arctic!) and connect the Snow Queen and the Mirror Maker, who were completely unrelated in Andersen's tale, yet his mirror is in her throne room for some good reason Hans Christian never bothered to explain... so I had to tie up those loose ends.