Fairytale Retelling Again
Now is a good time for your mother’s DNA to exert their influence was the first thought that flashed through Erik’s mind when he faced Rachel in her bedroom. To his dismay, he discovered his niece had arranged her stuffed animals around her play table and had set her pink toy tea set on top of it.
“Story time?” he asked hopefully.
“No,” said Rachel, as imperious as her mother. “Tea party first.”
Erik sagged. The wrong combination, he moaned to himself. Nevertheless, he sat by the table, banging his knee against the edge as he did so. By the time Rachel finished pouring the imaginary Darjeeling, Erik found a topic he thought was challenging enough to put her into a state of acute mental exhaustion.
“I was very impressed with you yesterday, Rachel,” he began. “Frost is a difficult book for a five-year-old, but you still understood. You’re as smart as your mother.”
Rachel glowed. Erik opened his mouth to transition to his choice of difficult topic but then realized discussing Frost would achieve the same effect. So he quickly switched gears.
“Can you tell me what you remember of the story?”
“There was a war!” said Rachel in a rush. “It happened because people were stupid! It lasted seventy years! Weaver is the author! The enemy caught him, but a white giant saved him! When he went back home, Weaver wanted to find the giant to thank him, so he asked his friend Sigh for help!”
Erik was honestly impressed. “Good. That’s very good, Rachel. You’ve remembered well.”
Rachel shivered with pleasure.
“So what did Sigh—whose real name is Sebastos Helix—do to help Weaver?” Erik asked.
“He took him to see a pirate!” said Rachel triumphantly.
Erik drooped. “No, he took him to see a Detective Inspector.”
“But she wore an eye-patch!” cried Rachel.
“Police officers can wear eye-patches, too,” Erik pointed out.
Rachel didn’t look convinced. In fact, she eyed Erik as though he refuted a universal truth.
“Helix took Weaver to see Detective Inspector Eareckson, who incidentally wore an eyepatch,” Erik pressed on. “Do you remember why?”
“She knew a lot about the people from the—the…”
“Empire,” Erik supplied.
“Yeah, that,” said Rachel.
“Sure. So what happened after Helix and Weaver found Eareckson?” Erik asked.
“They had a long boring talk,” Rachel answered.
If it weren’t for the fact you’d tattle to your mother, I’d called you a philistine to your face, Erik grumbled to himself. “Helix asked Eareckson if she knew of a race of snow giants. Eareckson told Helix and Weaver about the Kang Admi, a race of very tall, very pale people living in Mount Evra. That was a vital clue.”
“It was still boring,” Rachel insisted.
You find anything that requires deep thinking boring. “It was the most interesting part, actually, but I suppose it was too much for wee little babies like you.”
Rachel perked up, and the corner of her mouth curled. “You think I’m a baby?” she asked slyly.
“You want to be?” asked Erik, feeling wrong-footed.
“I do!” cried Rachel. “Danielle gets everything she wants ’cause she’s a baby! Daddy always says I have to share all my toys ’cause I’m a big girl! Besides, five is still too young to be a big girl!”
Erik stared at Rachel for a second. Then he sniffed.
“Well, I suppose I can have a word with your parents. I’ll tell them you’re still a baby, so you shouldn’t have your own room or bed. Instead, you need to sleep in the crib with Baby Dani, since you too are a baby, and that they should take away all your toys because they are too big and dangerous for a baby like you.”
Rachel turned redder as Erik went on. Then she looked down.
“I’m not a little baby,” she muttered.
“Oh?” Erik drawled. “That’s not what you told me earlier. Why are you taking your words back?”
Erik continued to fire off accusations. It wasn’t long before Rachel threw her teacup in the air and yelled:
“I don’t know! I’m tired! I wanna go to bed!”
Erik did a mental victory lap. “Okay.”
Rachel dove to her bed and wrapped the blankets around her. Erik headed to the bookshelf and reached for a Dr. Seuss book.
“No, no, no! Read me the Yeti story!” commanded Rachel.
Erik let out a theatrical sigh. “Fine.”
He sat by Rachel’s bed and dutifully pulled out Frost from his backpack. As he ruminated on how to proceed, Erik decided he was going to mention qi as soon as he detected a suitable opening, complications to the plot be damned (what little he knew of it, at any rate).
“While Eareckson, Helix, and Weaver talked about the Kang Admi, they had a visitor. The police were looking for people to hire, see, and so this guy called Constable Blue brought in a friend. Everyone was shocked when they first laid eyes on her.”
“Why?” asked Rachel.
“Well, for one thing, she was so tall the top of the doorway only reached to her neck,” said Erik, as he recalled the last page of chapter one, where Frost made her first appearance. “She also had snow-white hair, milk colored skin, ivory eyelashes, and pearly sea-green eyes. But most importantly—” Rachel’s eyes went wide— “…her pupils were black. Meaning she wasn’t albino.”
Rachel started to bounce with excitement.
“Weaver’s looking for a white giant! Maybe it’s her!”
“Ah, but the white giant he’s looking for was a man, remember?” Erik said.
Rachel scowled. “But there can’t be that many white giants…”
“The Kang Admi was a race of white giants,” Erik argued gleefully. “That’s why I said Eareckson mentioning the Kang Admi was important. And this is why you need to pay attention to details, even if it sounds boring. Anyway, Constable Blue introduced his friend to the police. Her name was…”
Erik searched his memory to recall Frost’s real full name, and had a brief moment of regret over not having the context in which to recite: Within Alba itself it was said that if your height wasn’t within the respectable average of five-foot-six, give or take two inches, an ancient Alba pirate must have shanghaied one of your ancestors while she was out pillaging his village.
“…something unpronounceable,” Erik said. “Eareckson asked what the name meant, and lady giant replied: ‘A Healer Treading Frost Covered Leaves’. So the police decided to call her ‘Frost’.”
“Frost,” Rachel echoed. “Is that why the book is called ‘Frost’?”
“But the story is about Weaver,” said Rachel, frowning. “Why isn’t the book called ’Weaver’? I s’pose ‘Frost’ sounded cooler…”
“I probably wouldn’t pick up a book titled ‘Weaver’ over one titled ‘Frost’,” Erik agreed. “But never mind that. After meeting Frost, Weaver wondered if she knew the giant who saved him. So he tried to talk to her. Unfortunately, this wasn’t as simple as just asking Frost a few questions.”
“Think about it,” said Erik. “Say Weaver asks: do you know a seven-feet-tall young man, about twenty years old, who has white hair and skin like you? Frost will answer: that describes half of the young men age in my village.”
“Because all the boys in Frost’s village are tall and white?” Rachel guessed.
Erik forced himself to ignore the illogic of everyone being tall. “Exactly. Weaver had another problem: he was a Great Alliance soldier and Frost was from the Empire. In short, they were enemies. So Frost had no reason to answer him.”
“But if Frost was an enemy soldier, why was she in Weaver’s country?” asked Rachel.
“That’s a very good question,” said Erik, impressed again. “Weaver wondered the same thing. So the first thing he asked after he convinced Frost he had no intention of treating her like an enemy, was how she ended up in Alba.”
“What did she say?” asked Rachel eagerly.
“It turned out Frost was part of a diplomatic entourage that came to Alba for peace talks three months before they met,” Erik answered. “The Empire’s foreign minister picked her because she could speak the Albion language.”
Rachel looked bemused as she asked: “How did she know?”
“An Albion woman named Hyacinth Fort built a school in Frost’s village when Frost was a kid. She taught her,” said Erik, as he flipped to chapter three to crosscheck his answer. He had a moment of perturbation as he read the following sentences: I chuckled as I mentally filed Ms. Fort among my grandmother’s generation. Only someone born in that era would have had parents wholesome enough to name their daughter after a pretty flower. My late older sisters were named Major and Colonel by my parents in a pique of cynical humor.
“Why was she still there?” asked Rachel.
“Negotiations didn’t go well,” Erik said, as he wondered if Weaver’s first name was ‘Lieutenant’. “The foreign minister got angry and wanted to punish someone. So he left Frost and his attendants behind.”
“That’s so mean!” Rachel cried.
“It was completely messed up, yeah,” said Erik. “Anyway…”
He paused, as it slowly dawned on him that he nothing left of the plot he could tell. Chapter five, the last chapter he read, culminated in Weaver having a second private conversation with Frost, and as a result arriving at a terrible realization. Namely, the Empire might’ve mistaken the growing Great Alliance (GA) settlements in her southern coastlands as a brewing zombie invasion because they didn’t use qi in their daily lives. According to Weaver, qi use in the GA nations dwindled to virtually nothing after Sir Ensign Adalbert demonstrated qi was a force a life form could produce as long as it lived. Ensign’s discoveries unshackled Weaver’s part of the world from the neigh universal belief that qi glued one’s soul to the body, and just as a body that didn’t exercise withered and decayed, the soul of a person who didn’t use qi diminished and died. The Empire never got the memo, so the then emperor concluded the GA settlers were undead creatures when native residents of the Southern coast reported to him that they never used qi. Thus he enacted Z-Day protocols.
The tragicomic circumstances that likely triggered the Seventy Year War had been faintly interesting to Erik, but Rachel had neither the context nor maturity to appreciate it. He also didn’t want to re-read the paragraphs that described Weaver’s heart-rending sorrow as he realized a simple misunderstanding had cost millions of lives and left him without kith or kin. They were so emotionally exhausting, he went straight into the arms of Morpheus. So what should he do?
“Uncle Erik!” Rachel whined. “Why are you stopping?”
“…Sorry, I was thinking,” Erik muttered. “Anyway, Weaver had other questions. The Empire had an eight hundred thousand strong army, so the only way Frost could have known the white giant Weaver was looking for was if they’d served in the same team. This, of course, is assuming Frost served in the war at all. This didn’t look likely because Frost was part of a diplomatic entourage, and only people who worked in the palace got assigned to that sort of job. But then again, he had to wonder how Frost got to work in the palace in the first place. Frost was from a tiny backwater village on the west-most side of the Empire. Hardly anyone cared about that place. So he had to ask: what happened?”
Rachel scrunched her face, “Sounds very complicated.”
“Like I said, he had a lot of questions,” said Erik, nodding sagely.
“Did he find out?” asked Rachel.
“Yep,” said Erik, as he frantically flipped through the pages, feverishly willing: don’t fail me, Weaver, you must’ve asked Frost how she landed in the palace at some point…
As luck would have it, Erik noticed a passage in chapter eight that showed promise. For reasons he’d have to find out later, Detective Inspector Eareckson invited Frost and Weaver to her home. There, a character named Admiral (Addy for short) asked Frost if she had children.
“No,” said Frost, looking away.
“But you’re married!” said Addy, pointing at the jade ring on Frost’s left ring finger.
Frost turned to stare at Eareckson and me.
“In Alba, couples exchange rings when they marry,” Eareckson explained.
Frost let out a deep sigh at that.
“My people do not follow Albion customs,” said she. “And I am not a married woman. I never was.”
“Why not?” asked Addy, her naïve youth blunting the sheer rudeness of her question. “You’re so pretty! A lot of boys must’ve liked you!”
Frost seemed to fossilize into a limestone statue before our eyes. Her pale face, already as white as milk, seemed to lose the subtle pink hues that hinted the life coursing through her veins. Only pain of the deepest sort could cause such a reaction, I thought, before I reminded myself I should put an end to this line of conversation. But before anyone could intervene, Frost spoke:
“The year I reached the age to marry, crown prince Reza wanted a pet snowman,” she said in clipped tones. “The Emperor ordered the Aurum to find him one. I was the snow-person they captured and brought in.”
“Uncle Erik?” Rachel piped as Erik sat in stunned silence. “What happened? What did Weaver find?”
Erik closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. What in the world could he tell Rachel?
He settled for: “Frost got taken to the palace because she was a pretty white giant.”
“So she didn’t serve in the army? That’s too bad,” said Rachel.
Erik nodded, though his thoughts actually said: yes, she did.
Frost had indeed served in the Empire’s army as a healer, according to chapter two. The real question, then, was the timing. Did the Emperor learn about Frost through the army, or was joining the army her way of escaping the life of a palace pet?
There was only one way to find out. Erik vowed to check the rest of the book as he pitched his voice just so to lull Rachel to sleep.