Magic always leaves trace. Magic of immortal things from before time doubly so. Gerda cannot forget and Kai can’t help but remember.
Together, they make it work.
Story set after Snow Queen, detailing Gerda and Kai adjusting to their world. This is first chapter, harsh (nonetheless) spring.
Magic always leaves trace. Magic of immortal things from before time doubly so. Gerda cannot forget and Kai can’t help but remember.
Together, they make it work.
They never tell you what happens after. After the tale. After the villain is defeated and you are back home. After the friend is saved.
Sometimes, Gerda wonders if that is her mistake. Should she have walked in while Snow Queen sat on her throne, engaged her in duel, killed her? Her stomach turns at thought of killing a living being, of taking another’s life.
But Snow Queen isn’t human. Gerda isn’t even sure she can be counted as alive. And what use is there for world of somebody that steals children and buries people under ice and snow?
‘’ No,’’ says Kai. ‘’ You did everything great. Without you, I’d never be free. And you wouldn’t kill her. You shouldn’t stain your hands with blood.’’
He doesn’t lie, as Snow Queen didn’t ( couldn’t), but like her leaves piece of truth hidden. He doesn’t say that otherwise Gerda would have fallen, one more victim of frostbite. He doesn’t say that you can’t kill blizzard, can’t harm winter, can’t make cold of vast space bleed. You can only prepare shelters, wrap yourself in fur and wool, and wait for it to pass.
He doesn’t say that army of angels was needed to fight against horde of snowflakes, that even Michael, he who leads God’s armies, would have failed against Queen there, in heart of her power.
He doesn’t say that Queen deserves no punishment, that she did nothing wrong. Winter gale doesn’t choose which way it blows, doesn’t seek to end lives. How can something without conscience, without morality, be called evil?
At first, everything is same as before. They are at home, living with grandmothers, playing on roofs and planting roses. They forget for a while.
It is small things at first. Seeing herself in windows and mirrors, all tall and grown up. Meeting old friends and not recognizing them. Reminders of years missed that slip from grandmother’s mouth. Finding job.
Whispers of roses. Chatter of birds. Kai’s hair, long and white as freshly fallen snow. His dark skin, once warm and rich as fertile earth, now pale as frozen ground of taiga.
Gerda closes her eyes and pretends not to hear.
‘’ It is so hot.’’ Gerda’s granny says.
‘’ I don’t remember summer this dry and warm.’’ Answers Kai’s.
‘’ I don’t think I could stand a day more of this heat.’’ Lies Kai. It is easier to pretend then admit that neither heat or cold bother him anymore ( Gerda restored his memory and took him home, but Queen kissed him, and he isn’t sure if she made him immune or fire and ice don’t dare harm him, but since that day he could go nude in blizzard and wrap himself in furs and walk through desert and not feel anything).
‘’ Rain will soon fall.’’ It comes out of her mouth without thinking. They turn, blink, and grandmothers ask ( how do you know, why are you sure, did somebody tell you).
Words stop in her mouth. How does she explain, sparrows gossiping about faraway storm, soon to come. How does she explain about roses knowing, feeling it’s arrival, starving for water that shall descend from sky.
‘’ I just know.’’ It is enough for now.
She sets up flower shop. Of course she does. What else could she have done?
Many things. She could have opened a bakery, or served in an inn as a barmaid, or became a teacher. She could have become a nurse tending to the sick, or started selling clothes she made, or cared for children of not so rich families. And she is the princess’s friend. She could have had anything. She really shouldn’t treat it as such mundane thing, even if it maybe is. Because even princesses have friends but who would have thought that she, Gerda, would be one to befriend the princess. She has spent years on journey, planning, hoping, fighting to survive. Childhood friends are nothing but blur in her mind. Princess is one of few people in world she can call friend anymore.
Princess in name only, she should add, for her friend has reigned over their land since she was fifteen, first aided by regent and advisors then alone, guided by her own wisdom. Year still needs to pass for her to ascend to mantle of monarch formally, which is stupid tradition in Gerda’s opinion, but the Princess is content with waiting- rules are to be followed, and Gerda doesn’t begrudge her that, as long as none suffer under them.
But thing is, she could have had any job she wanted. Anything that didn’t involve flowers and plants and hearing voices nobody else does, understanding their songs and stories. She didn’t have to do that.
But she likes gardening. She has always loved it, since she can remember planting and tending seeds, nurturing and guiding young green things to their first bloom, caring for them through year until cruel frost steals their life, as winter always does.
And she will be damned if she lets magic or bad memories take that away from her
She is successful. Beyond that even. She nourishes her plants, like mother caring for children, and they drive. Years of experience and hard work and knowledge she gained make sure none can match her.
Her flowers don’t speak, which surprises and relaxes her (but doesn’t disappoint, of course not). Flowers of old woman who enchanted her could speak like men, though they knew only to tell one story and to argue. Her roses, red and white, could muster words, not sentences but still expressions that she could understand.
Flowers she grows just murmur, too low for her to understand, and sing their wordless tunes. Still, she feels, and can imagine what story they would tell, if nourished by old woman’s magic.
Lily who drowns with despair, rolling off it like dew would be about girl who lost too much and walked into lake on her own.
Wildflowers that chime like jingle bells would be about three girls running under summer sun in green meadow.
Carnation with anger and pride as bright as fire would be about woman who knows what she desires, and dance laughing at those who try to stop her, for sooner will world burn than she will bow.
That is what attracts her customers, she muses. Somehow, she coaxes out those stories from flowers into hearts, and people know that her boquets mean more than any else. They come to her with wishes, flowers for first dates, flowers for marriage, flowers for separation, for funeral, for spite, for apology. She cares not for so called flower language or even colors clashing in some cases-she gives grieving mother sunflowers that scream with rage and loss, violets that soothe and give strength to move on, pink roses that fondly sing of loved ones long gone by.
Her competition laughs at first, but then they smell her work, or walk in rooms containing her pots, and their hearts are overcome with emotion, and they know she is right.
Gerda laughs. Perhaps it isn’t so bad. People are happy and she brings many coin home.
Grandma is waiting for her home, with magnificent red dress. It is woolen, and bright, and beautifully embroidered. Grandma cannot stop talking about it.
‘‘-and then I said, of course I can’t take it Martha, it is too good for us, I cannot believe ho well you sew, and that color is so vibrant, but she said nonsense after all times she spent in my house she is like my own daughter, and she needs some reward for all her hard work, and she and Kai were always such good friends with Brigitta, she was one who embroidered those stars, said she can’t wait to reconnect, and I said oh really, thank you so much Martha, these new shops are run by idiots who refuse to make more than five dresses for girls that aren’t thin like sprigs, but don’t think you won’t be getting three new shawls and-’‘ Grandma stops, looking at Gerda’s lost, stricken face.
‘‘Gerda, sweetie, what happened? Are you sick? Was there problem at work? Do you-’‘
‘‘Grandma,’‘ Gerda says, voice shaking ‘’ those people-Martha, Brigitte, I…I don’t remember who they are.’‘
‘‘Oh.’‘ Grandma says, patting Gerda’s hair as woman collapses in her arms, sobbing.
She always goes to church now. She did before too, but she now refuses to miss a single gathering. When she comes down with flu, grandmothers have to restrain her from getting up.
They don’t understand. She saw God answer her prayer, saw her breath form in army of angels, bright guardians with wings of flame and bodies of jewels and too many eyes of thunder, saw them fight demonic forces that kept her from Kai.
God has shown her mercy. Answered her prayer out of so many. Absolute loyalty is least she owes Him. He created her, Kai, her world and everything she holds dear. He sent His son to die for their sins, and He gave Heaven to virtuous.
And she needs to pay her sins. She hears voices of beasts, can command them, birds and bugs and cats and dogs, and she knows that is magic, and she saw witches and demons, was bewitched herself and escaped, saved her enthralled friend with His aid.
Magic is work of devil, and devil tempts and tricks, clothed in bright golden light, and his gifts lie and beguil, masked as blessing, and like gambling and wine magic is addictive and ruins people and…
She doesn’t want to be witch. She doesn’t want to be evil. She doesn’t want to harm people. To go to Hell. To become wicked and cruel like Snow Queen. To betray Him.
She cries and prays.
‘‘I don’t think she was a demon. Or witch. Or anything like that.’‘ Kai admits once. It is beginning of autumn, but night cold and yet Kai isn’t.
(It is not quite the truth, but he doesn’t want Gerda to worry, not after everything she has done for him, not after what bastard he had been. Better to say, he is always cold, but it doesn’t grieve him. He’s got the winter in his bones, and he will live with that for rest of his days, and honestly, he likes it).
Gerda looks at him, shocked and alarmed and bundled in jackets, and she doesn’t know what to say because Kai never confided in her what his time at palace was like but now he says this and she fears he is tempted again and she wants them all to heal, and you must talk if you want to achieve that, but she wants to forget and leave everything behind.
But Kai can’t. He wants to heal too, but he doesn’t know where to start, and sometimes he thinks healing requires thinking and accepting and letting what happened become part of their lives forever, and sometimes he isn’t sure if he wants to forget, but he knows that he can’t, for he went with Snow Queen and she kissed him and he lived in her realm growing without need to eat or sleep or drink and now there is winter in his bones, cold in his blood and frost under his skin, and he knows piece of her rests within him and he knows that wherever he goes he will carry snow within himself and he can’t pretend so long.
‘‘Kai…’‘ Gerda begins ‘‘She…. did something happen, Did you… Did she return?’‘‘
‘‘I saw nothing of her this day, or yesterday, or any other day since you saved me.’‘ He says gently. He doesn’t say that he didn’t need to see her-wherever there is cold she has reach, even at height of summer, and her power flows through universe itself, and she rests within him, bound together by winter as mother and son are by blood, or bond even stronger than that.
‘‘I just… I was thinking about what you said. I think angels came because of you, not her. Your prayer and your heart, that is your strength, like Bae said. he gave it to you, because you got it.’‘ Kai smiles, slow and sweet, and Gerda doesn’t look at his teeth, white and shining like fresh snow on morning sun ‘‘ I don’t make sense do I? I think… He helped you because you helped yourself first.’
But that doesn’t really have much to do with her, you know? I don’t think she serves God, but I don’t think she is against him. She is out of it all, like wind or snow. I asked her once, you know, how can you tell between good and evil.’’
‘‘And what did she say?’‘ Gerda doesn’t know what to expect. Demon would likely give some answer that seemed innocent but advised human to be selfish.
‘‘She looked at me, puzzled-I think that was only time I saw her confused, maybe first time she was ever confused- and asked me what those words mean. I don’t remember what I said, but she didn’t understand.
And once she talked to me about angels and demons, said that they are God’s servants, extensions of his will. But demons wanted to control world, to enslave other creatures and take what was not theirs and rebelled against him. She said that like all people and beings that are his they have soul. And…’‘
‘‘I know that Kai. Did she tell anything more.’‘ She didn’t want to believe that, but demon wouldn’t have admitted they were evil. But neither were humans demons and there were many evil ones.
‘‘She told me once that she doesn’t have one. Soul that is. And she doesn’t lie Gerda Believe me, I know she can’t, just as I know to calculate or to breathe. She isn’t human, but she isn’t demon either.’‘
‘‘But what could she be otherwise?’‘ Kai looks through window into deep blackness between stars, there where cold is strongest. he thinks he can imagine cold, sharp yet soft hand stroking his back, fondling his hair, can imagine laugh and wail in hush of wind.
‘‘She is… she is old, and cold and alone, and that is all.’‘
They say that women who talk with animals are witches, that beasts are demons in disguise and their familiars, and perhaps Gerda should stop feeding every animal she encounters and unlike some cynics she isn’t quite so ready to believe that world is full of demons.
Kai’s words were strange, but she trusts him like brother, and chooses to believe. Because at end of day, faith is what she must have, and she is sure God would have given her sign otherwise.
Besides, most beasts are quite dumb, even pretty white doves she fattens, thinking only of food and mates. Not like Bae, or Mr. and Mrs. Raven.
And such thinking is insulting to them, she considers. If normal animals are demons because she can understand them, then what of ones that speak and think like humans? What of the princess, whose dreams dance? Or of two wise women who helped her, kind leaders of their villages? Would somebody name her friends, who helped her so much demons or witches for that?
Perhaps it is not magic at all, but simply gift to understand others-she understood different tongues as if they were her own, now that she thinks of it. Perhaps she just listens better than most people. And she doubts that demons would give her such gift, or that angels would fight for sake of a wicked creature (they were angels, she knows, true and through, she could feel their holiness, their goodness in depths of her soul, and it was greatest thing she ever felt, no demon could fake that).
So with a smile, she resumes feeding her white doves.
There are many distasteful men in world, Gerda is aware. Men with no manners nor respect, who, utterly entitled, treat women and children and seniors as things. She would have to be raised under the rock, or in that land of Greek women warriors Kai told her about, not to know about them. Single reason why she is surprised when older customer gropes her is that shop is full of people.
He is surprised when she slaps him, so she can forgive herself for that. He shouts, more from surprise than pain-she didn’t smack him as hard as she could or should, have had- for he is too much used for this. Too many girls are afraid, knowing that few will help them, and those men take silence for yes.
‘‘Dear God, what has gotten in you, lass?’‘
‘‘What has gotten in me? How dare you?’‘ Grandma always said that Gerda had more bravery than self-preservation, but Gerda reckons if she could go over half world as child then she can shout at this man when she is a woman .’‘ You, sir, have honor of being most rude and shameful customer I had displeasure of serving. How dare you act so toward young woman, nay any woman at all! I hope you haven’t been bothering any other girl here other wise..’‘
He is angry, and red, and raises his hand. Several customers ran to Gerda’s side, fastest being sixty-year-old widow with steely hair buying flowers for cheap funeral and fourteen-year-old boy taking single flower for each of his eight siblings; man’s hand falls down.
But window is thrown open, and golden October sunlight pours inside as half dozen white doves descend, pecking at his bald head. Man lets her go as he tries to fend them off. Gerda stares in awe, then rises cross around her neck and whispers her thanks.
‘‘Miss Gerda, are you alright?’‘ The boy asks, having run to her side. Widow watches with stern, steely gaze, her angry eyes like embers as she shouts to two strong men standing near her to take ‘‘gentleman’‘ outside, using names and words that would make sailors red as strawberries. Two men comply, their necks as flushed as Gerda at widow’s words.
‘‘I am well, thank you.’‘ She says to everybody inside.’‘ Promise me you will never be like that man when you grow up.’‘ She whispers to him, and he nods, face determined and hard. She doesn’t doubt it. His mother is honest woman of strong hand, if little easy to set off, and his father is nice man who is always kind to all even if they don’t have much. And boy himself is, as far as she knows from seeing him around neighbour, just as kind and honest.
‘‘ I will keep flowers, mister, but you can have your money back once you learn to behave properly.’‘ She says and takes three coins off counter, giving them to boy and widow as shop laughs.
‘‘Thank you.’‘ She whispers to doves. they stare at her with their red eyes before cooing back.
‘‘Feed us. Nice girl. All people love you. Man bad, man harm. Cannot allow that.’‘ Gerda laughs and thanks again. Amount of birdseed increases, and so does amount of feathery flyers keeping watch over her.
She doesn’t have such incidents ever regain.
In November, they attend her friend’s coronation. She gets invitation, personally signed by future Queen herself. She is allowed to bring guests. Nobody from house says anything, but news spread and soon Gerda is given as much as attention as mayor himself. Still nobody is surprised when she brings both grandmothers and Kai.
They are given great chambers, and coronation is magnificent, her wise friend ascending to her rightful throne, dressed in royal regalia. They dance (Gerda is astonished to see grandmas pick up fast, complicated dance with each other) and laugh and eat and everything is beautiful. And then Kai and the prince meet.
There is no fight, no problem at all. Not even teasing or bantering. But once they meet Gerda realizes how much things have changed.
She once confused him for Kai. It was easy to mistake them in dark for each other while prince was sleeping-but once his face was revealed she saw her mistake immediately. Head was right size, neck long enough and forehead just as wide, with thin eyebrow and upright jaw and pointy chin. But his eyes were bigger than Kai’s, his ears shorter and rounder, nose not as prominent and lips much plumper, teeth not as small and cheekbones not as sharp.
Still, they could have been cousins. Or even brothers. Both knew nothing of their parents, and were right age to maybe be fraternal twins- prince grew up in orphanage and Kai was found abandoned on street by his grandmother (in the snow, but this she never told anybody). Only problem was that they grew up in towns on opposite sides of the country. Still she joked about confusing them again once they met each other.
And they did, and Gerda could no longer deny how much Kai changed. Both were tall and strong and slim, but Kai seemed tall and robust and thin like a frozen mountain, or frost covered pine tree.
Their skin was dark as earth, but Kai’s was harsh and frigid like dead, frozen taiga where nothing could grow. Prince’s hair was just as long and fair as her friend’s once was, but now it was pale and white like pure snow and bleached bones.
Their teeth were healthy and clean, but Kai’s were blinding white and seemed pointy at times. Prince’s hands were warm, while Kai’s felt like sticking hand in mountain river. Prince’s eyes were sparkling, so were Kai’s, but whereas eyes of prince shone with joy and mischief, Kai’s reflected still light of aurora.
And only there, in room full of people, hundreds of them, instead of apartment filled with four, did she notice how off Kai felt. How hairs on her neck rose, as something deep in her bones remembered and said: odd, inhuman, wrong, eldritch, other, run, beware, don’t trust, hide, too powerful.
But she ignored it. Kai was her friend, and some stupid voice in her head didn’t know him better than she.
Only when they went to coronation, did he truly notice how small and weak and not right everything looks.
He sees the castle, gold and marble and brilliant, and thinks of a palace rising from ground unto sky, made of snow that will never melt and with doors of wind that will never stop. And he knows how fast and how easily this so called castle will crumble.
He walks halls, small finite halls in which people are pushing and hitting each other and having problem keeping distance and thinks of endless labyrinths that could contain whole world and still not lose one percent of space yet were always empty.
Decorations are wrought, and ugly, imperfect things not wrought by will. They cannot change shape or rise to defend castle and he knows that if he compared candles and statues he would find that they aren’t perfectly same. He sees candles and thinks of pale northern lights adorning walls and roof, part of castle, contained in floor and pillars and freely travelling through air.
He sees throne, ugly, red and gold thing, and thinks of pale mirror, frozen bottomless lake of reason containing world and answers to all questions and then some, watches tables and portraits and thinks of ice pieces that made such perfect puzzles.
And he sees Gerda’s friend the queen, and his very mind screams and recoils upon thinking of calling her so. He almost cries when he says ‘’glory to the queen’’, his bones breaking.
For in place of this mortal creature, being of flesh and blood and bone, being that can be killed and thorn apart and shattered and rebelled against by any he sees a goddess, gigantic and beyond measure and of power deep beyond comprehension, woman with body of glaciers and restless soulless eyes of stars and hair of northern light and clothes of snow and voice of sharp winter wind, being that stands against vulcanoes and turns magma to stone, who can take away life with touch and turn land harsh and barren, woman older than very time, who rules vast expanses of empty space and brought winter in existence and who will one day bury entire universe in cold and ice when time is right for her to do so (she doesn’t hate other elements and seasons, no matter what anybody says. World has time and place for all, and when it is time for fire and heat to devour all she will accept and burn and wait for flames to die out just as they will wait for her hold to shatter, and so on and on).
He doesn’t hate Gerda’s friend-could never hate her, nor her husband, she is so wise and smart and ambitious and cunning and caring and will make a great leader, but part of his very soul shivers and shrivels and dies whenever he thinks of her as a queen- none of them humans realize, he understands, what true monarch says.
‘‘Isn’t she true queen?’‘ Gerda asks, smile as bright as the Sun, and for her sake he will lie even as his tongue blackens and rots.
‘‘Yes, she is.’‘ He says and quickly coughs up blood that spills from his mouth.
Fate snatched them, and changed what they were in something else, but just because they are something else now doesn’t they will stop being friends.