Winter's Childby Cameron Dokey
A Retelling of "The Snow Queen"
Free-spirited Grace and serious Kai are the best of friends. They grew up together listening to magical tales spun by Kai's grandmother and sharing in each other's secrets. But when they turn sixteen and Kai declares his love for Grace, everything changes. Grace yearns for freedom and slowly begins to push/big>/i>… See more details below
A Retelling of "The Snow Queen"
Free-spirited Grace and serious Kai are the best of friends. They grew up together listening to magical tales spun by Kai's grandmother and sharing in each other's secrets. But when they turn sixteen and Kai declares his love for Grace, everything changes. Grace yearns for freedom and slowly begins to push Kai -- and their friendship -- away.
Dejected Kai dreams of a dazzling Snow Queen, who entices him to leave home and wander to faraway lands. When Grace discovers Kai is gone, she learns how much she has lost and sets out on a mystical journey to find Kai...and discover herself.
Meet the Author
Cameron Dokey is the author of nearly thirty young adult novels. Her other fairy tales include, The Storyteller’s Daughter, Sunlight and Shadow, and Golden. She has also written the #1 bestselling How Not to Spend Your Senior Year. She lives in Seattle, Washington, with her husband and four cats.
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Read an Excerpt
Story the First
Many years ago, when the world was much younger than it is today, a king and queen dwelt together in a castle made of ice and snow. No doubt this may seem uncomfortable to you, but as this royal couple ruled over a kingdom where there was so much ice and snow that not a single day went by without some sight of both, the king and queen had become accustomed to their situation. It suited them just fine. They found nothing unusual about their circumstance, in fact.
But I am straying from my path already, and I’ve no more than packed my bag and started out the door.
The king and queen had been married for several years when the stories you are about to read were preparing to begin. The royal couple had loved each other truly when first they had wed, but, as the years went by, the queen began to fear the march of time. She began to ask herself a series of impossible questions, questions with no answers:
If her looks should start to fade, as inevitably they must, would the king still care for her? Or did he love her for her appearance alone?
In all fairness, it must be acknowledged that the queen was very lovely. Her face was a perfect oval. Her lips were the color of the bright red berries that flourished even in the depths of winter, and her skin was as white as snow. Her eyes gleamed like two jet buttons, and her hair was a waterfall of black as dark as a night without stars.
In equal fairness, it must be acknowledged that, by giving in to her fear, the queen performed a great disservice, both to herself and to her husband. The king had not fallen in love with her simply because of the loveliness of her face, but also for the strength and beauty of her heart.
But giving in to her fear was precisely what the queen did. Her heart didn’t even put up a fight. The moment that happened, all was lost, though the queen didn’t realize this at the time. As soon as fear’s occupation of the queen’s heart was complete, she retreated to the castle’s highest tower. All she took for company were her baby daughter, just six months old, and a mirror made of polished ice.
First days, and then weeks, went by. The queen sat in a hard-backed chair, gazing at her face for hour after hour, searching for the first sign that her beauty—and the king’s love—were poised to take flight. The king visited the tower morning, noon, and night. The nursemaids came and went, caring for the princess. The housemaids came and went, dusting the room and lighting the fires. The king sent first the royal physician, and then every other healer in the land to see if any could cure the queen’s strange malady.
None of it made any difference. Nothing the king did or said could penetrate the fear that had captured the queen’s heart. And so, as the weeks threatened to slide on into months and still the queen’s heart refused to listen, something terrible began to transpire. The king’s love began to falter, for not even the strongest love can survive all on its own. Love cannot thrive simply by being offered. Sooner or later it must be accepted and reciprocated. It must be seen for what it is and nourished according to its needs, or it will die.
The queen’s face remained as beautiful as ever. But the king’s love could not stay the course charted by his wife’s fearful heart. His love began to diminish with every minute of every day that the queen stayed in the tower, until at last the morning dawned when the king awoke and discovered that his love for the queen was altogether gone. And in this way, the queen’s own actions brought about the result she had so feared: The king no longer loved her.
Love must go somewhere, however, and the king still had one family member left, his baby daughter. Determined that she should not suffer because her mother had eyes only for herself, the king decided to love the princess twice as much as he had before.
The baby had her mother’s coloring. She, too, had hair and eyes as black as night. Her skin was as pale as fine white linen, and her mouth, a perfect little red rosebud. This caused the king both pain and joy. Every time he gazed into his daughter’s face, as he did each morning, noon, and night, it seemed to him that he felt the clutch of fear wrap itself around his love.
Search though he might, the king could find nothing of himself in his daughter’s face. In every particular, she seemed to be her mother’s child. The queen’s fate was hardly turning out as might have been predicted, let alone desired. The princess’s resemblance to her mother could not help but make the king wonder about his daughter’s own fate. What might it hold in store?
Now, it was the custom in the land of ice and snow for mothers to bestow names upon their newborns. Every family followed this tradition, from the royal couple to the woodcutter and his wife. Most people named their children right away, for it was dangerous to let a child go without a name for too long. Without a name, it is hard to develop a sense of direction. Without a name, it is difficult to set out on your life’s journey and so discover who you are.
This is not to say that any name will do, of course. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Every child must be given her or his true and proper name, and this is a task that cannot be rushed. It takes time.
So when at first days, and then weeks, went by and still the baby princess had no name, though it made the king uneasy, he kept it to himself. But as the weeks slid into months that added up to half a year, the king’s uneasiness turned into genuine alarm. Day after day, the infant princess lay in a basket by the tower window, kicking off her blankets no matter how tightly her nursemaids wrapped her up. This, the nursemaids took to be a sign.
“She is trying to escape her destiny,” whispered the first, as the nursemaids sat together near the kitchen fire one night. They were having a bedtime snack of tea and scones.
“Oh, don’t be daft,” the second replied. She took a gulp of tea, then winced as it burned her tongue. “There’s not a soul alive can do a thing like that.”
But it was the third nursemaid who came closest to the mark. She sipped her tea, for she was more cautious.
“She’s only six months old,” the third nursemaid remarked. “The princess doesn’t have the faintest idea what her destiny is yet. And she won’t, poor mite. Not until she has a name to call her own.”
Not long after this conversation took place, there came an afternoon when, just like always, the queen sat in her hard-backed chair gazing at her reflection. Her baby daughter lay, kicking her legs, in a basket on a nearby window seat. The window was open for, though cold, the sun was shining and the day was fine. High above the castle, so high as to render the legs of the baby princess so small they were almost invisible, the North Wind was passing by.
Now, the North Wind is a cross wind, a contrary and unpredictable blusterer. The plain and simple truth of the matter is that the North Wind hates to be cold. But as bringing cold is the North Wind’s reason for existence, it really has no choice. This is why, in the dead of winter, the North Wind howls so. It’s lamenting its own fate and wailing a warning. It will do some mischief if it can, and never mind the consequences.
And that’s precisely what happened that day at the palace. The North Wind passed by with mischief on its mind.
It did not care that the sun was shining and the day was fine. It could not bring about such things itself, and so they provoked only jealousy in the North Wind’s soul. So when it spied an infant lying unwatched and unprotected by an open window, the North Wind swooped down to take a closer look. Perhaps it might be able to use the baby to conjure up enough mischief to summon clouds that would blot out the sun.
But no sooner did the North Wind come in through the window than it caught sight of the queen gazing at her reflection in the mirror made of ice. The North Wind was so struck by the queen’s beauty that it forgot completely why it had come. If it had been possible for something to deprive the North Wind of breath, the queen’s beauty would have done so.
But no matter how the North Wind tried to get the queen’s attention, frisking around the hem of her skirts, teasing the ends of her midnight-dark hair, nothing compelled the queen to look up. She never even shivered, as if she didn’t feel the North Wind’s presence at all. Instead, the queen’s eyes stayed fixed upon her mirror and her reflection. Thoroughly vexed, for it was not accustomed to being ignored, the North Wind swirled around the tower room. There, on the window seat, was the infant who had drawn it down to the castle in the first place.
Aha! the North Wind thought. It dashed to the window and caught the child up in its arms, sending the basket and cushions beneath her out the open window in a great whoosh of air. Surely whisking away the beautiful woman’s infant would get her attention.
Sadly for all concerned, it did not.
The North Wind carried the princess straight out the window, and still the queen did not so much as stir or turn around. When it realized this, the North Wind behaved true to form. Having stirred up some mischief, the North Wind lost interest and released the child, letting her fall.
Down, down, down the baby princess plummeted, kicking her legs the entire time. She fell past the window where her mother’s ladies in waiting sat busy with the castle mending. Past the window where her father’s pages were dusting the leather spines of all the books on the library shelves. And finally, past the royal study where her father sat at an open window of his own, jotting down notes for a State of the Kingdom address he would be making in about a week’s time.
At the sight of his daughter hurtling inexorably downward, the king gave a great cry. He abandoned his papers, leaped to his feet, and dashed down the stairs from his study to the castle’s front door. He hadn’t a chance of reaching his daughter before the ground did. The situation was simple as that and, even as the king ran for all he was worth, he knew this in his heart. But just as the king was sure his heart would burst with fear and love combined, the unseen forces that shape the world around us interfered for a second time.
Just before the princess hit the ground, a different wind caught the baby in its arms. It was a small and playful wind, a delicate wind, a harbinger of the spring that comes after the North Wind passes by. A wind like this was not about to watch a baby be dashed to pieces, particularly not on such a beautiful day.
With a touch as gentle as a shower of flower petals, the wind set the princess on a nearby snowbank. And this was where the king found her moments later, no longer kicking her legs, for the Spring Wind had carried away the princess’s blanket, but had left her otherwise completely unharmed.
“Unharmed.” It’s a nice word, isn’t it? A comforting word, though not quite all-encompassing. “Unharmed” is not the same as “unchanged,” after all. And “changed” is precisely what the princess was.
The baby’s hair, once as dark as the feathers of a raven, was now as white as the snowbank on which she rested. Her eyes, no longer dark, had become the fine and delicate blue of a winter sky. Her skin always had been white, but now it seemed so thin that the king could see the blue veins weaving their intricate patterns, like lace, beneath the surface. The princess’s lips, previously as red as a rosebud, had faded to the pale pink of that same rose now kissed by a winter’s frost.
The embrace of the North Wind had changed the princess forever. She had become a Winter Child.
The king loved her no less for this, however. In fact, as he cradled his daughter against his thundering heart, the king might even have loved her more. For now, at least a portion of her destiny seemed clear:
She must walk the ways of a Winter Child.
A Winter Child does not tread the same paths as the rest of us. The touch of the North Wind lingers on a Winter Child long after the wind itself is gone. There is only one way to remove this touch, and so return a Winter Child to her true and original form. She must help to right some great and terrible wrong. She must atone for a sadness that was not of her making.
This is what it means to be a Winter Child.
No sooner did the king come to realize all this than he realized he was angry. Angry with the queen, his wife, a mother so intent upon herself that she had failed to see the danger to her daughter, let alone to save her from it.
And so, still cradling the baby in his arms, the king returned to the castle and climbed all the way to the topmost tower, taking the steps two at a time. He burst into the chamber where the queen still sat, gazing at herself. She had not even noticed that the baby was gone.
“Look what our daughter has become! Look what you have helped to make her!” the king cried.
The king held out the baby toward the queen, and finally, the queen looked up from the mirror made of ice. The coldness of the North Wind had utterly failed to catch her attention, but the heat in her husband’s voice turned the queen’s head as if pulled by a cord. Even accustomed as she was to gazing at nothing but her own features, the queen could see at once that something was terribly wrong.
“But I never—,” the queen began.
“Yes, I know you never,” the king cried passionately, cutting her off. “You never even noticed our daughter was missing, because you never see anyone but yourself!”
He advanced into the room, still holding the infant out in front of him, and now the queen could clearly see the changes in her daughter for herself. She felt a fine trembling begin in the pit of her stomach and spread to her limbs. For the first time since coming to the land of ice and snow, the queen felt cold. Cold with the apprehension that something dreadful was about to happen, something that now could not be turned aside.
“How I curse the mirror that you clasp so tightly!” the king went on. “More tightly than you have ever clasped our child. How I wish your mirror could show you the coldness of your heart. I wish that it could show what lies beneath your beauty. I wish it could expose your flaws.”
Here, I will give you some important information, so important you may even wish to write it down and keep it somewhere safe. Put it in a place where you can take it out and look at it from time to time. And that important information is this: It is very dangerous to utter a wish and a curse at the same time.
That’s ridiculous, you may answer. Surely the two would cancel each other out.
Don’t you believe it. Not for a moment. Instead of canceling each other out, each magnifies the other, giving it more power, until both the wish and the curse have enough power to come true.
That is precisely what happened in the tower room that day. No sooner had the king finished speaking than the queen uttered a piercing cry. She flung the mirror away with all her strength. It struck the wall, shattering into pieces too numerous to count. Most flew out the window and were borne away by the wind. Only one did not. This icy fragment struck the baby princess and embedded itself deep in her heart.
The power of a wish and a curse together now had done its work. Each had fed upon the other’s energy, growing in strength, until both were granted at the same time. In that instant, the queen’s mirror had revealed not just her outer beauty, but also her innermost flaw. What she had seen so pained and horrified her that the queen’s heart shattered into pieces too numerous to count, just as the mirror had. She perished on the spot. All that remained of her beauty was her daughter’s pale and serious face.
Her daughter, the Winter Child, who now had a shard of cursed and icy mirror embedded in her heart.
The king sank to his knees, still cradling his baby girl in his arms. What his own heart felt in that moment, no living soul will ever know. But now, with cold tears streaming down his cheeks, the king spoke one thing more. He spoke his daughter’s name aloud.
Deirdre. That was what he called her. Sorrow was the name the king gave to his only child. Then he bowed his head and, at last, his tears grew warm.
For now the king wept not just for what would be, but for all the things that could be no more. He wept for the fate of his wife, whom he had once loved so deeply, and for that of his young daughter, now forever altered by the North Wind’s touch. As the king rocked her in his arms, dampening her pale face with his tears, he vowed that he would spend the rest of his life trying to prepare his daughter for whatever lay in store for her as a Winter Child.
But as to what, precisely, that might be ... for that we must move on to another story.
© 2009 Cameron Dokey
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