viernes, 2 de junio de 2017

THE SNOW QUEEN - DERMARK VERSION

THE SNOW QUEEN - DERMARK VERSION

This is my own version of the story, as I remember it from childhood but adding a few of my personal touches. I originally wrote it in Catalan, so this is a self-translation!!


THE SNOW QUEEN

A FAIRYTALE IN SEVEN STORIES
Written by Hans Christian Andersen - 1844
Retold by Sandra Dermark - 2015
Translated by Sandra Dermark - 2017





STORY THE FIRST

THE MIRROR OF TRUTH

Right, let us begin this exciting story! And when we have reached the end of it, we shall know far more than we know already! For the first character we wish to introduce to you is one of the most villainous villains you could ever imagine.
Once upon a time, and a very good time it was, there once was a wicked troll, one of the most wicked among trolls and a real expert in the Forbidden Arts, who, one day that he could not be in a better mood, created a mirror that only reflected the dark side of reality, without showing a hint of goodness, truth, or beauty. The loveliest landscapes were reflected as wastelands; and each and every honest smile, as a Cheshire cat grin full of sarcasm. And our wicked troll, delighted, gave his creation an ironic, sinister name: "the Mirror of Truth."
All the trolls he had for disciples said that one could at last see what people and things were actually like.



And thus, with the aid of all his colleagues and disciples, he wanted to eclipse the sun and shroud the world in darkness using the enchanted looking-glass, and, once the whole Earth had bent to his will, become the master of the whole universe; yet the mirror slipped from their grasp and fell by chance, shattering into trillions of shards, that the air currents scattered all over the Earth's atmosphere.
Breaking any mirror brings seven years of misfortune; breaking that ominous looking-glass brought to humankind an eternity of dismay.
And that was even worse, since each and every shard kept the power of the whole mirror within. Should any of these fragments enter a human body, the warm and throbbing heart of that person would turn cold as ice and hard as steel.
And, of course, the maker of the Mirror of Truth could not stop laughing!
Yet still there were countless shards of that enchanted glass drifting in the atmosphere.
Now listen to what happened to one of them...



STORY THE SECOND

THE BEST FRIENDS IN THE WORLD


On a downtown street in a certain town in a certain kingdom, there lived two children who were not brother and sister, yet loved one another as if they had been siblings. All winter long, they would sleep over one at the other's place and watch the snowflakes waltzing in the crisp air, through a peephole made by warming a penny, which they placed on a windowpane rife with lacy ice flowers. Through these peepholes were seen two pairs of warm and friendly eyes; his blue as summer skies, hers green as clover meadows. The name of the boy, whose parents were still alive, was Kai; the girl, an orphan who lived with her grandmother, was called Gerda.


"Indeed, they look like an army... and they've got a queen who commands them," said Gerda's granny, a wise old lady who told them Norse legends and other folktales.
"On stormy winter nights, the Snow Queen flies through the woods and through the streets, leaving in her wake a trail of ice bereft of life and colour", the good old grandmother continued. "And, when the Queen looks through a windowpane, the glass is soon covered with strange, lacy frost flowers."


"Yes, we've seen it," her grandchild replied. Both little friends, like many other children, never ceased to believe in any fantastic creatures.
"Let me face her!" Kai defiantly said. "I'll melt her into liquid by shoving her onto the fireplace!"
Then, Gerda's granny soothed him by mussing up his auburn hair and telling him other stories.

That night, when Kai went to bed in his pyjamas, a blizzard startlingly woke him up. The little boy looked out through the window and saw a rather large snowflake fall upon the windowsill terrace that he shared with his friend. The large snowflake gradually grew and grew, gradually acquiring a human shape: that of an elegant and beautiful lady, clad in an overcoat made out of countless tiny white crystals and a crown of ice.
The boy stayed still, without moving or saying anything.



The Queen's piercing eyes shone like first-magnitude blue stars in a clear winter sky, yet they did not express any emotion. For that reason, Kai found her unsettling, and he violently pulled the curtains shut as she waved at him.
That was the greatest of outrages to the most powerful among ice elementals. And thus, as she took to flight, she thought up of the most suitable of punishments for that lad who had been so insolent towards her.
Yet she also felt strange since she had looked into the child's blue eyes, full of the warm fire of the first feeling that had ever awakened within her icy, heartless chest... Had he dared to defy her to confess how much he loved her? Was this one such a strange little boy that he dared to love the Snow Queen herself?
Troubled, she had already made her decision: she needed to possess that mortal, both his body and his mind, to make him her son and heir, the prince of her austere realm.
And the seasons changed, the flowers opened up, the sun began to shine warmly again and each day of light was longer than the previous... Gerda and Kai, as they used to do during three quarters of each year, were once more sitting in the windowsill terrace that their garrets shared, in the shade of the lovely arch made by Gerda's scarlet rose bush and Kai's ivory-white rose bush, which entwined together and were a wonderful sight when in full bloom.
On a certain September afternoon, they were rehearsing a song which they had learned that day at class:

"Roses bloom and cease to be,
yet true love is always free."



The church bells pealed seven o'clock as both children, songbook in hand, were about to rehearse the song once more, and Kai got a little thing in his left eye.
"It must be an eyelash," he thought, before breaking into a coughing fit, feeling a sharp pain in the chest. A shard of the Mirror of Truth had entered his system through the eye, and, plunging all the way down to his heart, it had lodged there, along with another shard the young boy had just breathed in. Now it did not hurt anymore at all, yet the ominous crystal slivers were still embedded within his chest.
Since that day, Kai was never the same. He never wanted to write poetry, listen to songs or stories, or enjoy the flowers. He even hurt Gerda's feelings, though she had not ceased to love him despite his strange change of heart, when he interrupted with "buts" during storytime as soon as he heard of talking animals, flying carpets, potions, fairies, merfolk, or fantastic beasts; when he tore out roses from their little garden and pictures from the storybooks, which looked hideous and gruesome in his eyes; when he left his bedroom, where he spent nights and days having locked himself all alone, to explain to the little girl how perfect were the tangent circles he had drawn and the starry hexagons of ice crystals, of which Kai admired their fascinating symmetry and regularity. All of this was because of the mirror shards that had entered his heart.
One day shortly after Christmas, which he did not celebrate with his friends and family and spent studying Mathematics that year, Kai took his little sled and a rope, and set off for the Main Square, to let himself be dragged by one of the carriages that passed by, lassoing his sled to the carriage in question.
Kai settled for a stranger's carriage, white and pulled by great direwolves, in which sat a tall and elegant lady in white.



Just like a cannonball, the carriage took off and left the town through the North Gate. Kai wanted to cry for help, but, his heart being frozen, he could only chant the nine times table. "Nine times three, twenty-seven; nine times four, thirty-six; nine times five, forty-five..."
Once they had reached the open countryside, the female driver invited the boy to sit down by his side. She was the Snow Queen! She kissed Kai on the brow, and the boy forgot his home, family, and friends, as his heart froze and hardened even more than before. For an instant, everything turned dark around him, as he felt the blood freeze in his veins and felt that he should die... yet, as suddenly as he had fallen unconscious, Kai awoke... without feeling any cold or fear at all.


And she smiled, without betraying any emotion... yet to Kai it seemed that he had never seen before such a beautiful face. The icy ruler was no longer a frightening sight to him, and the boy saw in her a master and a confidante.
He didn't notice that the Queen had cut the rope lasso that tied his sled to her carriage, and neither did he notice that the little sled fell, shattering the ice, to the bottom of the great lake that lay on the town's outskirts, with the school itself on the shore of the lake.


He told the Queen how much he loved Maths, that he could do square roots, statistics, the number of residents and the surface of every province in the kingdom, and all that by heart...
And she, with that seductive smile of hers, was listening to his conversation... At last, or so it seemed, Kai had found someone who understood him.
The carriage took off in flight and flew over seas and mountains, forests and lakes, always northwards, until it reached the Arctic Circle. At sunrise, an exhausted Kai rested against the chest of the Queen, where no heart throbbed beneath her icy bosom, and slipped down next to her noble feet, where he plunged into a deep sleep.
Around them, the furious storm, with thunder and lightning like cannon fire, hurricanes howling war cries, and hard bullets of hail pouring down, packs of direwolves and flocks of ravens joining the clamour and discord... echoed with the clash of battle. Yet Kai, unconscious, could not feel anything at all.



STORY THE THIRD

THE ENCHANTRESS'S GARDEN

And what happened to our Gerda when she saw that Kai did not return? Let us return to his home and his best friend! What ever happened to her?
Gerda greatly missed her estranged friend, whom they officially said had drowned in the frozen lake by the school that winter, yet she felt that he was still alive somewhere. And hope kept our heroine company throughout all the long winter nights, even when a fisherman, with his nets, found Kai's little sled at the bottom of the lake.
During the funeral, as they buried the little coffin with the sled inside, Kai's parents were in mourning, brokenhearted, his mother drying up her tears on her husband's sleeves, while Gerda made an effort not even to sob, to keep the flame burning within her heart.



When, as the seasons changed once more, the warm springtime sun, the swallows of passage, and the roses on their arch reassured her that he was still alive, she donned the red slippers she had received for Christmas, took her leave of her good grandmother with a kiss, and left her home to seek him across the wide world, her heart full of joy and hope.
She had made a vow to seek her friend until she had worn out those shoes: she would return to her town of Glenrose if she had worn them out without finding her beloved Kai.
Drifting downstream on a wide river in a fishing rowboat, the little girl came to a lovely country cottage with stainglass windows and a thatched roof, surrounded by a garden and an orchard in full bloom. The mistress of the house, a rather friendly old lady with a hooked staff and a broad-brimmed straw hat, decked with a garland of ever-fresh flowers, helped Gerda to land on her riverbank and invited her to have supper and spend the night there. According to this old lady, she had flowers far prettier than those any artist had ever painted.

That evening, as she had for supper a tower of pancakes with berry preserves and honey, and a sweet lemonade, Gerda gradually forgot her friend Kai and her quest. Old Linnéa had laced her drink with a narcotic drug. She was a good witch, by no means a wicked one, yet she wanted a little company, and thus, she wanted to keep Gerda by her side.
That night, sound asleep and tucked under lavender-scented covers, the little girl had as sweet dreams as a young queen has on the eve of her coronation.


And not only that: the old lady made all the white rose bushes in her evergreen garden disappear under ground, lest Gerda's memories were awakened, to keep her skipping around in that paradise. Yet the witch Linnéa, absent-minded as she was with old age, forgot about the white roses on her own straw hat.
The garden was certainly such a lovely one, full of hundreds of flowers and plants from all seasons and from every climate, that no artist could ever reproduce colours so diverse and so intense.
Gerda kept on running, skipping, and doing flips on the grass under the soft, warm springtime sun... without ever growing weary of it, yet she felt strange, as if she had lost something very important among all those leaves and petals.
Sooner or later, Gerda noticed the white roses on her hostess's straw hat, as well as the fact that there were no more white roses in the garden. In response to her wish, a white rose bush shot up to the surface. Yet its flowers, which had been under ground with the souls of the deceased, had not seen Kai in the underworld.



Thus, Gerda decided to ask the other flowers in the garden. Could any one of them tell her where her friend was found? Not at all. Each and every flower only thought of its own story...


What did the moonflowers say?

At the end of the narrow, winding path 
between the mountains, there, upon the slope,
stands an old keep since centuries ago.
Thick ivy covers crumbling granite walls,
leaf after leaf, up to the balcony,
where stands, alone, a lovely damosel.
She leans out, thus, over the balustrade,
and follows the path westward with her eyes,
sighing against the setting evening sun.
What a fair flower in the ruin'd keep!
No dew-drenched white rose dare outshine her skin,
no apple blossom's lighter than her frame.
Her lovely blue silk skirt rustles, "frou-frou,"
as she leans, quivers, and asks to herself:
"Will he ever return someday to me?"


And what did the hyacinths say?

Triplet sisters once there were,
all of hair and skin so fair.
One in blue, and one in white,
and the third clad in scarlet bright.
By the lake, under the moon,
they danced to a lively tune.
Were they human, were they fey?
Mortal maidens, still they say.
A sweet scent leads them to the wood
where their pathway is lost for good.
Three coffins drift across the lake;
someone did all three maids' lives take.
Fireflies soar in the night,
filling the mournful scene with light.
Is their sleep meant to last forever?
Scent and church bells say they'll wake never.



What did the snowdrops say?

In between two century-old trees
hangs, from strong ropes, a long, wooden board:
a swing. Two lovely little girls
in snow-white pinafores and bonnets
with fluttering pink ribbons are sitting on it.
Their older brother, a tall stripling,
stands behind, holding the ropes used
to restrain the swing in his left hand.
In his right, he holds a teacup full of froth,
and there's a pipe in his mouth:
he's blowing soap bubbles.
The swing swings to and fro, and,
as the children soar upwards, the bubbles
rise and scatter, reflecting
the most diverse and loveliest bright colours;
changing from one colour to another
as they rise higher and higher up in the air.
The last bubble is still on the pipe,
gently swaying in the springtime breeze.
The swing swings to and fro,
the bubbles burst...
and, in the meantime, all of this time,
the lovely bubbles burst and fade away.
A swinging board, a tableau of glitter and foam:
this is my story.


What did the buttercups, those little suns of the meadow, say?

The warm sun of the first spring day
is shining on the wall
of a small white-washed farmhouse as
the sun doth gently fall...

The buttercups upon the path
are jewelled with fair dew;
the farmer's widow suns herself,
facing the twilight view...

Her rocking chair rocks to and fro,
and everything is still,
when her young daughter comes back home,
returning from the mill.

Her workday's hard, from dawn to dark,
the fair maiden needs rest;
and, with a kiss and soft embrace,
she warms her mother's chest.

There's gold within that humble kiss,
the greatest to be won;
gold on their lips, gold in their hearts,
gold in the evening sun.


And what did the canary-yellow narcissus say?

Pretty boy, I see a pretty boy, hair of gold and eyes of green,
leaning over the lily pond, the clearest one ever seen!
He plays with the water, washing his face,
smiling a smile all full of grace,
playing catch-me-if-you-can with his mirror image in the water!
Look at him! Look at him!
Look at me! Look at me!
That pretty boy, that pretty boy, that pretty boy was me!

By then, Gerda was sure that none of the flowers in the garden knew anything about her best friend's whereabouts.

Now sure that it was not worth to ask any more flowers, the golden-haired girl darted out of the garden. Gerda left the garden immediately, in such haste that she nearly forgot her red shoes in the crone's cottage. The landscape was all in warm colours, yet misty and bleak. Outside, the woods were now all the colours of the sunset, the sky was cold and ominous, and a veil of mist shrouded the flowering heath.
"It's mid-autumn already!" Gerda realised. "I have spent over half a year in that enchanted garden, where springtime was forever and time flew by without me noticing! Don't wait for me anymore, Kai! I will not delay anymore!" 
Thus she said to herself, to encourage herself, as she ran up the pathway, led by her intuition northwards, where she would find the royal palace and the capital of the kingdom, and there she would surely find at least a clue, if she did not find her friend himself.


STORY THE FOURTH

A PRINCE AND A PRINCESS

When she had to rest in the middle of the woods, at a certain distance from the royal palace, Gerda came across a wild male raven, and she told him her story.
"Maybe my sweetheart knows," Hugin the raven replied. "My fiancée Munin is Princess Frederica's pet raven, and you know how often pets take after their masters..."
Crown Princess Frederica, who would soon be crowned queen, was eighteen years old and renowned throughout the kingdom, from her own court to Kai's and Gerda's hometown, for her intelligence: she read all the newspapers in the Western world, spoke more than twenty different languages, owned the most well-stocked and well-assorted library in the land, and surrounded herself with artists, scholars, and scientists.
They had taught her, since she had been orphaned in her early childhood, all of the sciences and the creative arts, even the arts of war, and she had always showed signs of an insatiable thirst for knowledge, which made the Regency, the Court, and the common people alike proud of her achievements.



Soon thereafter, swiftly flying, along came a female raven, holding some papers decorated with a border of flowers, ribbons, and coats of arms. Those were wedding invitations.
"Pleased to see you again, Munin! What's new at the palace, a royal wedding?"



"Tomorrow. How blatant it is that you two are as provincial as the princess's bridegroom!"
"Is that bridegroom... from the Glenrose Province?" the little fair-haired girl asked curiously, since she hailed herself from the leading town in that region.
"Yes, he is. A kind-hearted and cheerful young man, quite good-looking, with long auburn hair and bright blue eyes, as clever as he is bold and dashing. And he's wonderfully well-spoken. Just like Her Royal Highness, but of the opposite sex!", the female raven confirmed. 
Gerda and Hugin, thanks to this spoken portrait, were convinced that the future prince consort and Kai were one and the same person.

Princess Frederica did not want just any prince of those who only can cut a figure in uniform and smile on purpose whenever they are addressed to, and never say no to any of her whims; and neither one of those pretentious curmudgeons who are so serious and so tiresome... No, she wanted to marry a true prince; good-looking, brave, intelligent, able to lead armies to victory in case of war and to patronise the fine arts during peacetime. Long story short, her intellectual equal.
With that purpose, she had the palace gates opened to all the good-looking twentyish young men in the realm and in some foreign lands, and she launched a proclamation, written by her own hand, decorated with a border of flaming hearts and her monogram, according to which she would choose to take for a consort the most intelligent and well-spoken of all those who visited the royal court. Hundreds of young men showed up at court, but most of them did not succeed.
All the suitors, upon facing the splendour of the Court, the baroque interiors, the golden lace on the guards' mess uniforms, and the courtiers' magnificent attire in all their finery, became so impressed and their minds were so clouded that, in front of the throne, they could only echo the last words Her Highness had just said, and she sent them away, now sure of what they were really like, with a graceful flick of the wrist.
It was as if all those young men who queued and camped before the palace gates had been enchanted, and they stayed in that state of trance until they left the royal gardens.


And thus the first and the second day were spent, without any suitor catching Her Highness's fancy. And, the more young men left the palace disappointed, the more young men arrived, full of hopes that would shatter as well.
But it happened on the third day that a stripling from Glenrose arrived, saluting the guards and the courtiers, without feeling the least overawed. While many others had arrived on horseback or by carriage, keeping up the appearance of great lords, this lad had come on foot, striding forth at a steady pace. Everyone looked at him in indignation, since his Wellington boots creaked loudly and his clothes were faded with the sun, yet he kept on striding forwards, with those shining blue eyes and that honest smile, without worrying or paying heed at all...
And, in the throne room, there were, flocked around the enthroned princess, all the lords and all the ladies with their servants, and their servants' servants, and, the closer to the throne they were, the higher was their rank and the haughtier the look in their eyes.
The young stranger, however, paid no heed to them and confidently strode up to the princess, without bending the knee or dropping the hat before her. And thus the interview began. He was not only well-spoken, but lively, friendly, and dashing as well; and he had not come to ask for the hand of Frederica, whom he called by given name, but only to hear if she was as clever as they said, to be sure of her reputation as an enlightened ruler, to share a conversation with her and exchange their knowledge.
He found her charming, and she liked him in return.
And, of course, both of them discovered that they were kindred spirits, and soon they were betrothed.


"You are his childhood friend, young human," the royal pet said. "Yet a commoner with such a middling and worn dress will not be able to enter the palace. It would be anathema to the guards. In spite of this, the garden gate is locked with a chain, and a human of your size can squeeze effortlessly through the gap. I also know a little secret door under a waterfall in the royal gardens, and a series of tunnels, dug out in case of siege and thus equally secret, which lead from that little door all the way to Their Highnesses' bedchamber. We shall enter at twilight, and I will show the way." 
Gerda and Hugin nodded in agreement.
At twilight, both ravens and Gerda entered the vast gardens of the magnificent royal estate, where linden leaves fell one after the other and crunched beneath their feet, without the guards even noticing their presence. And, after passing through the little secret door, they followed many intricate tunnels and passage ways, with Munin for a guide and in the light of a kerosene lamp, all the way up to the royal bedchamber.


The royal couple's bedchamber was the jewel in the crown. The roof was a cupola of costly Bohemian crystal glass, shaped like a crown, through which one could see a night sky with a lovely crescent moon and full of glittering stars. And, in the middle of the chamber, hanging from a thick stem of solid gold, there were two lily-shaped beds. The princess slept in the white bed, and her fiancé in the scarlet one; both young people breathing steadily, while dreams in the form of knights and ladies on horseback galloped through the room.
When Gerda held the kerosene lamp, which Munin had given her, close to the prince's face, as the dreams came galloping back to bring his spirit back to their dreamlands, and he awoke and turned his head, she discovered that he was not Kai, but a young man ten years older and with eyes a brighter shade of blue. Both he and his fiancée awoke and asked what was happening, and thus, the fair-haired little girl told them her story.
The royal couple was not the least irate towards the little maiden or the two ravens. The Prince and the Princess begged not to be addressed as Their Highnesses, but as Frederick and Frederica, and they decided to reward the three intruders: Gerda would spend the night and break her fast at Court, and the Royal Household would help her to find her friend. Hugin was knighted and dubbed a Royal Pet, and thus, in the end, he was able to wed his beloved Munin.
"How good people are in this wide world!", Gerda thought in her soft, cozy canopy bed in a guest chamber. That night, she dreamt that she was sledding with Kai on the snowy hills of Glenrose, yet, of course, it was but a dream, and it faded away as soon as she awoke.



The next day, a detachment of maids dressed Gerda in luxurious and warm winter clothing. Since the coldest of seasons was approaching and Kai had gone forth northwards, it would be better that she be prepared. She received a scarlet velvet overcoat embroidered with golden lace, a thick pair of Wellington boots, and even a bearskin muff. And she broke her fast on many different kinds of treats and cakes: marrons glacés, macarons, sugared puff pastry pretzels, gingerbread biscuits...
After breakfast, Gerda went down to the royal gardens, where she was surprised by the sight of a baroque carriage covered in gold leaf and gemstones, on whose panel doors the coats of arms of the kingdom and the Royal House shone like bright stars, and the coachman and footmen were dressed in their best finery. Frederick and Frederica, who had launched a proclamation to lead a search for Kai within the kingdom, helped her into the carriage and wished her the best of good luck.
"Adieu et bon voyage!", the prince and the princess said, each one of them drying up a teardrop.
At the edge of the woods, the little girl took her leave of her raven friends as well, embracing them, and that one was a heartfelt farewell as well. Both Hugin and Munin watched the carriage shimmering in the setting autumn sun, until it disappeared into the horizon.



STORY THE FIFTH

THE GIRL IN THE ROBBER BAND

As they drove through a dark forest, when the coachman lit the lanterns, the dazzling carriage caught, at twilight, the eyes of some highwaymen, who would never let such a valuable bounty escape! They seized the horses and, as the cowardly coachman and footmen fled back to the palace thinking only of their own lives, the bandits took Gerda prisoner.
The female leader of the band thought of butchering the fair-haired maiden and having her for supper aux fines herbes; but her daughter, a little dark gipsy girl in love with Gerda's fair skin, her golden hair, and her green eyes, told her mother that she wanted to have the girl pardoned as a playmate and to keep her company in the carriage. And, of course, the robber maiden had always to have her will...
So they travelled together by carriage into the highwaymen's lair. Gerda's unexpected saviour was called Yrsa; she was more muscular and dark of features, with restless and slightly mournful black eyes. And she was very curious in conversation with her new friend:
"Are you a princess?"
"No, I'm just a young girl from a provincial town. The carriage... It's a long story." And then she told it, with every detail she could remember, to the gipsy girl, who had taken the coachman's place at the reins. Yrsa listened to Gerda's tale with her eyes wide open. When the little blonde had finished, the robber maiden gave her the strongest of her bear hugs and whispered in her ear:
"You're safe and sound with me. They won't dare to kill you, for I will defend you. But if you make me cry or make me angry, I will be the one to stab my dagger between your ribs!"
Gerda felt both reassured and frightened, at the same time.
The carriage made a triumphal entrance into the courtyard of a ruined keep, the robber band's den, where the rest of the outlaws had been waiting for them, making soup and roasting rabbits. Wild ravens took off in great flocks, the tame wolves that guarded the keep growled to greet them, and the ruffians roared with glee: "What fine quarry!"



After having a soup of doubtful ingredients for supper, while all the grown-ups quaffed brandy and sung lewd songs to celebrate their latest capture, Yrsa took Gerda to sleep with her on her straw and deerskin mattress. Some night owls were roosting on the rafters above.
"And here's Blixten, my fiery steed!" Yrsa exclaimed in a triumphal tone. Gerda, who had expected to see a pony or a mule, was surprised upon realising that it was a young reindeer. And she was a little frightened to see the little robber maiden tickle his throat with the tip of her dagger's blade. As animal-loving as she was, the fair-haired girl felt pity for the poor tortured reindeer struggling to break free, while the gipsy girl broke into hearty laughter and seemed to have a lot of fun with such a cruel pastime.
When both girls laid down to sleep, Yrsa drew her dagger once more.
"Do you sleep with your dagger?" Gerda asked her.
"Of course! Always!", Yrsa replied. "And with my pistol loaded as well! You never know what may happen at night!"

As her fair-haired friend kept on explaining the story of her quest for Kai, a great grey owl perched on the rafters interrupted her:
"Hoot, hoot! I've seen that boy, and he was travelling with the Snow Queen in her great white sleigh! They were surely heading for the Lands of Everwinter; isn't it right, Blixten?"
"Ah... My native land!", the reindeer sighed.  "Ah, those days when I galloped free across the tundra! Yet the icy palace that towered in the middle of the frozen plains has always made me feel respect... for a despotic, heartless queen is the one who dwells there..."
Yrsa and Gerda listened to this animal conversation quite attentively, as the wild shouting of the party turned to silence and gave way to the howling of the guard wolves.



That morning at sunrise, as the rest of the robber band were sleeping off their drinks, the outlaw maiden set her prisoner free and helped her get on her reindeer's back, giving her provisions and wishing her the best of good luck.
"I wish I could keep you longer by your side, and tickle you some more," Yrsa told Blixten. "Yet Gerda is far more important; take her into the tundra as soon as possible."
Yrsa had already shut the guard wolves in their niches and told the reindeer to take Gerda northwards, into the tundra, before taking her leave of her steed and her first human friend with another great bear hug.
As she saw the fair-haired girl canter across of the courtyard and through the keep gate, Yrsa burst into tears: she would free all the other woodland animals she had captured to keep as her pets.
"Forcing others to stay by your side... that's not true friendship," she thought.





STORY THE SIXTH


THE WISE CRONE OF THE FAR NORTH



True to his name, Blixten galloped fast as lightning, across forests and marshes, steppes, rivers, and valleys, until they reached an endless snowy plain without a single sign of animal or plant life. There, the sun neither rose nor set, yet an aurora, a Northern Light, of bright and changing colours lightened up the night sky and the vast sheet of snow.
"This is my tundra! Here, the day lasts all summer long, and the night lasts all winter long. Thus, the sun will not rise until springtime. Gerda, I will take you to see a wise old shamana who may be able to help you."
The young girl, elated, let herself be carried by her steed, her golden hair fluttering in the wind. For each and every second, she was closer to finding her friend.



They stopped in front of a reindeerskin hut, the only dwelling that could be found within all that vast stretch of tundra. An old Saami crone, with almond eyes and a face like the full moon, gave them a hearty welcome, with a hefty supper and a good rest by the fireside. The reindeer told her his own story, and then that of his young rider.
"You're so wise," Blixten said. "You can tie the winds into knots on a string, should the sailors get hindered by the calm... but don't let them untie all the knots, or they'll unleash a hurricane! Cannot you give Gerda a potion that grants her the strength of a hundred men, so she can put the Snow Queen to rout?"
"I cannot grant her any more powers," the shamana replied, as she studied a parchment written in runes. "She's already got the greatest powers there are in the universe! People, animals, plants, even the sun itself, have helped her and served her on her quest! She has made it all the way to the ends of the Earth on foot, in those scarlet slippers of hers!"
Gerda smiled. "And which are those powers I have got?"
"The power of a pure and noble heart, and that of fiery love, which have given you courage to face all the obstacles you have come across in your long and winding way. Indeed, your Kai is at the Snow Queen's palace. He's a prisoner, yet indifferent to it, believing that he is in the best of all possible places. There's a pair of slivers of the Mirror of Truth lodged within his heart, which has made him a thrall to the Queen; and if you, little Gerda, cannot take those shards out of him, then no one else will."
The fair-haired girl listened attentively: were her love and her innocence such redoubtable powers? Would her courage waver at the moment of truth, at the end of the day?
"Now, Blixten," the Saami crone resumed, "take Gerda to the border of the Snow Queendom, next to the holly bush. She has already received enough help, and this is a quest she has to fulfil on her own."
The reindeer kept on galloping, as the wise old shamana took her leave of them.
Yet Gerda was so worried about the idea of facing the Snow Queen all alone on her own... that she forgot, left in the crone's hut, her boots, hat, muff, and overcoat!



By the holly bush, whose berries were as bright red as rubies, the girl embraced and kissed her reindeer before waving him goodbye, and, as Blixten returned to the Saami crone galloping and sobbing, she advanced towards the redoubtable ice palace that encompassed the whole horizon. 
And it was then that Gerda realised that she had forgotten her winter clothing... she was all alone, in her scarlet slippers and bareheaded, in the middle of the lethal Arctic ice!
And not only that; for a whole army of snowflakes were advancing towards her from the palace. As they closed in on her, Gerda noticed that some of them looked like enormous polar bears, many-headed winged serpents, hollow suits of armour made of ice... They were the vanguard of the Queen's army, and they were storming right to attack Gerda, who had never hurt anyone before!
Under pressure, all alone and facing a whole host of ice monsters that advanced towards her in perfect formation, Gerda did not know how to get out of that predicament. And thus, to encourage herself, she began to sing, pouring her whole heart and all of her warmth into the song, the lyrics she had rehearsed with Kai right before his change of heart:


"Roses bloom and cease to be,
yet true love is always free."


And the cold was so sharp, and the song was so warm, that every note that rose from the bottom of her lungs, after stealing through her parted lips as a little cloud, grew and took on a human shape, until it turned to a valiant warrior armed with his spear, helmet, and shield. When Gerda's song came to an end, she was surrounded by an army that vastly outnumbered the Queen's.
The ice monsters retreated before their warm adversaries, as Gerda, leaving the battlefield and passing by a flank of both armies, entered through the enormous gate of the Snow Queen's palace.
Yet Kai, within the throne room, was unaware that his friend, whom he could not remember, was so close to him!




STORY THE SEVENTH

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE QUEEN'S PALACE,
AND WHAT HAPPENED AFTERWARDS

Within the palace, there were only the Snow Queen, her new little prisoner, and even more ice monsters. All of the countless halls were vast and austere. There was not even a single sign of colour or gaiety, not any amusements, not even masked balls or tea parties for the ladies like there were at other royal courts; and the only light, in winter, came from the colourful and changing, yet icy, Northern Lights, that made everything shimmer and glitter.
Little Kai was very pale with cold, his skin nearly transparent, yet, frozenhearted as he was, he didn't notice it at all. He sat in the middle of the vast throne room, with the crowned Queen enthroned before him, watching the boy play with the fragmens of a shattered ice mirror that lay in the middle of the hall; it looked like a piece of art. He was very concentrated, his eyes and his thoughts fixed on the shards, combining them in one way and another...

The mirror was a puzzle, and Kai put the pieces together in all of the most abstract ways, yet he never could assemble them in the shape he wanted, a sun: if he contrived to make the star of stars with the puzzle pieces, she would give him back his freedom, and also give him the rule of the world and a brand new pair of ice skates.
Yet Kai, frozenhearted as he was, could not make his sun. He had faced the riddle in all possible ways, yet he had not been able to solve it throughout his long stay at the ice palace. However, all the unreal and abstract figures he made looked wonderful to him, magnificent indeed, and made the time speed by before his eyes, as if time did not even exist.
"Now, I must return southwards to bring the winter once more," the Queen told him, without displaying any feelings. "I am going to hat the craters of the volcanoes with snow, and paint a little frost on the oranges, the lemons, and the grapes: it will all look lovely... Farewell, my prince. I will return long before you may grow impatient."
And thus, Kai, after the Snow Queen had left, stayed all alone in the vast and icy throne room, imagining, ruminating, thinking of how he would put the mirror pieces together to regain his freedom. Suddenly, something cracked within him, and the poor lad was left unconscious, rigid and cold as a statue, before the throne of ice.
It was then that Gerda, who had crossed many a long corridor and vast hall where she had found no trace of either life or colour, stormed into the throne room, and she immediately recognised the little motionless form that rested in front of the throne, with a sunken head.
"Kai! Kai! At last I have found you!" the young golden-haired girl cried as she ran to greet her beloved.
Gerda embraced her friend with all the strength she had left, but Kai's lifeless form was cold and stiff, and no heartbeat could be heard within his chest.
Desperate, still embracing his rigid form, Gerda burst into tears upon Kai's chest, as she sang that song that doubtlessly would make him awaken:


"Roses bloom and cease to be,
yet true love is always free."

The teardrops seeped through Kai's clothes and through his skin, while the notes echoed inside his head. Little by little, his heart gradually thawed, and the slivers of enchanted mirror left his system through the left eye, inside the largest of the teardrops that were running down his cheeks. His eyes shining once more like before, he kept on staring at his friend, and, as he awakened, those memories flooded back as well:
"Gerda! Gerda! What are you doing here, and where are we? Such a vast and icy hall, with a throne of ice..."
"At the Snow Queen's court. It's a long story, and full of adventures. I will tell you right from the start as we return home."



Both of them were crying and smiling at the same time, tightly embracing one another lest they should be separated once more. Their elation, proof of the protecting and saving love that conquers all, spread to the fragments of the mirror puzzle, that waltzed upon the throne room floor until they lay down coming together in the shape of a sun, whose rays shone even brighter than the Northern Lights.
Kai was already free, and the Snow Queen could come if she pleased: she would find a radiant sun in the middle of the throne room, without any little captive prince by its side.
The two children ran, skipping with elation, through long corridors and vast halls. Hand in hand, they felt not the cold at all, and the power of love lent wings to their feet. Blixten, the reindeer, picked them up at the palace gates and carried them across the tundra to the Saami crone's hut, where they stopped to warm themselves and for a rest, and Kai recovered his strength, for he was still rather weakened after all that he'd been through.
It was then that they realised that Gerda would have to don those boots again, since she had fulfilled her vow and worn out her faithful scarlet slippers.
The crone also gave them winter clothes that once had belonged to her children. Now, Kai's cheeks were rosy and his eyes glittered even more: his state of health had significantly improved.
The next day, the two children donned the Saami crone's gift of winter clothing, a pair of embroidered ensembles with the traditional patterns of her people. After breaking their fast on some warm, hefty soup, Gerda and Kai resumed their southward journey on Blixten's back until they took their leave of the reindeer, kissing his muzzle and stroking his fur, when the tundra gave way to conifer forests, which later gave way to chestnut woodlands, in whose treetops the first buds began to green and the first songbirds began to chirp.
The sun was shining warmly again.
And, lo and behold, from the reborn forest cantered forth, on one of the white horses that had pulled the royal carriage, a dark young female rider with a scarlet kerchief on her head and a pair of pistols on her sash-belt. She hopped off her steed, deftly landing on her feet, and ran up to Gerda, who ran herself as well towards her other friend, and both of them fused together in a passionate embrace, full of elation. Then, all three young people sat down on the grass in that glade for a rest and some conversation.


"Yrsa!", Gerda exclaimed. "I would like to introduce my..."
"Lemme guess... this lad's Kai, isn't he?" the raven-haired girl interrupted. "You've got to be quite an important fellow for someone to dare go seeking you to the ends of the Earth!"
Gerda asked about the fates of more old friends. And the gipsy girl replied that the prince and the princess were travelling through foreign lands on their honeymoon, and that they would be crowned king and queen as soon as they returned home from their cruise full of adventures.
"And the ravens?" the blonde maiden asked.
"Hugin froze to death this winter. And Munin roams the palace halls with black satin ribbons tied to her legs, crying like an oyster, but I'm sure it's all a charade!" Yrsa replied. After which, she told them that she had grown weary of the life she had led in the robbers' den, and, having filled her pockets with quite a fortune from her elders' hoard, she had gone forth on one of the horses that pulled Gerda's carriage, to explore the wide world and seek her own fortune. Now she would no longer live as a criminal, but as an honest, decent maiden instead.
"When you pass through Glenrose, why don't you visit us?" Kai asked the reformed outlaw maiden. And Yrsa promised so, and she also showed them shortcuts through the woodlands and meadows of the kingdom, where a magnificent springtime increased for each and every day in flowers and in warmth, until she took her leave of them, teary-eyed and smiling, on the edge of a valley where a quite familiar spire towered over a cluster of pumpkin-orange eaves. And they heard five bell peals ring to a quite familiar tune: it was Glenrose, their native town, the place where both good friends were born and raised!
Gerda and Kai entered through the North Gate and ambled up the streets through which they had once left. Within an instant, they were finally on their own street, at the door of Gerda's place. The rose arch on the balcony had never been in such full bloom.
Everything was just like it had been before, and there was nothing new under the sun. The old cuckoo clock tick-tocked at the same old steady pace. Only upon peering into the little mirror did they realise that now they were young adults, good-looking and clever-eyed.
The roses were in bloom as usual on the balcony, and, from the window, one could see two child-sized chairs that they had already grown too big for.
Kai and Gerda sat down on those chairs. They had forgotten the past as if they had awakened from a long unsettling dream, and it seemed that they had never left home at all. Holding one another's hands, he looked into her green eyes, and she looked into her friend's blue eyes, and both of them realised the meaning of the song:


"Roses bloom and cease to be, 
yet true love is always free."



Then, Granny returned from church, hymn-book in hand, and she did not recognise the good-looking young people until Gerda and Kai sang their song once more:


"Roses bloom and cease to be,
yet true love is always free."

The old lady shouted with glee and cried for joy as she embraced them, recognising her own granddaughter and said granddaughter's best friend.

There were both of them, all grown up and yet children at heart, and it was a day in springtime, the warm, lovely fair season.



A fortnight later, the tower bells whose sound they had recognised from afar were pealing for their marriage.
Nine months later, when the Snow Queen returned southward at the head of her army and coursed through the streets of Glenrose, the same bells pealed once more for the christening of the loveliest little twins: one of them named Kai just like his father, and the other named Gerda after her mother.
It would be impossible to tell of all the moments of happiness spent by this hopeful young family: moments of adventure like their assistance at the coronation of Queen Frederica and Prince Consort Frederick, or the twin children's baptismal celebration, or visits from the ever restless and bold traveller Yrsa; and everyday moments full of emotion such as the funeral of the beloved grandmother or the great adventure of being parents of their two own children.
We must say that, every winter, the Snow Queen peered in through the windowpanes on a certain street in a certain town in a certain kingdom, to behold the only one who had warmed her icy heart and made her feel what pain was like. She saw him happily married and a father of two, cozily snuggled up with his loved ones by the fireside, and she thought of how irrational and unworthy of her it had been to fall for that young mortal, who was made for the life he currently led.
Gerda and Kai lived for a long time together in that land, without any tension with their children, who played during the warm seasons in the shade of the rose-bushes of yore, or in their relationship. To quote the old Bohemian proverb, they lived until they died with winter at the door, summer in the cupboard, autumn in the cellar, and springtime within their hearts.



FINIS.


THE END.







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