On the fringes of the Ice Valley, lies the threat of snow in dense billowing clouds. Yet there is no freak storm in existence to match or rival the ominous clouds created in my mind from this dark twist of fate. I’m struck completely still by pure shock from the news I’ve just heard.
Whenever I felt this kind of panic or the pressing weight of despair that can only come from death - I retreat into the recesses of my mind. My safe place; a favourite story that became my oasis when I was consumed with this dread.
When I was a child, my favourite folktale was Snowred and it was about the Queen’s prized Knight; simply named Snow. He could turn into a ferocious wolf with white fur and he’d camouflage into the snow at winter to assassinate the Queen’s enemies. The Neighbouring Jealous Queen. The Jealous Baker’s Wife. The Jealous Maid. All the women who were jealous of the Queen’s position. Snow would do her bidding and then come back with their hearts.
The part of the story I loved the most was the ending. Snow had a secret family who were exiled from the Queen’s territory... for unknown reasons. But Snow was fighting for them this whole time, providing for his child and sick wife. The Queen found out of his secret mission, so to test Snow’s loyalty she requested that he kill his wife, after all, he’d still have the Queen’s affection at the end. Without hesitating, Snow betrayed the Queen and tried to kill her. She was too strong and Snow was scarred from her feline claws. He was so ashamed by his disfigured face, that he went to hide in the woods, hidden away in the coldest parts of the Ice Valley.
What became of his wife and child were unknown.
This story was hundreds if not thousands of years old. I hated the Queen, as she was still alive today and still ruling... but I loved the warrior.
And I lived in the Ice Valley and I had seen Snow as a child.
He saved my life. At least... I liked to imagine he did.
Ten years had past so I was 20 now. But I’ll always remember the middle of winter, when I was 10 and sold to be a house slave to an aristocratic family. My family had died from a quickly spreading sickness while out of the Valley on business, and I was made into the neighbour’s work horse. Distant cousins.
After being put through so much unexpected abuse, beaten to work harder, and with the added grief of my family lost... one night I walked into the snow and I kept walking, waiting for the freeze to get me.
I had no other thought that night.
I collapsed after my eyes caught sight of a white wolf three times the normal size. I knew I was dead so I just lay and waited for the killing blow. And you know what? I woke up back in my bed. Safe and sound and warm. To this day I was still unsure if it was real or just a dream. It was so surreal.
But... from that moment, that vision of that white wolf, vision or not... I at least believed in something. And then I really did work hard, simply waiting for the day life would bring me another small miracle.
Plenty of little things came about. Mostly it was the kind village-folk who gave me free treats or invited me over to play with their kids, just so they could sneak me extra food when my new ‘family’ wasn’t looking. When I couldn’t receive any kind of education, other families taught me. I felt... like a secret princess in this town.
Despite the cold bed I lay in at night, everyone else outside this homestead showed me what real humanity was all about.
And beyond that, I kept my little fantasy about Snow.
The one miracle I always wanted; my freedom, however, ended up more violent than I could have ever imagined.
The distant family that raised me, just last week, died in an avalanche while travelling on a horse drawn sleigh. I thought they had arrived at their holiday cabin in a luxury part of the Queen’s Territory. However, a law teller dropped by just now and handed me the note that changed everything; everything in their will was now mine.
I also noticed the blood smear at the bottom near the quacking signature, written by someone in the throes of terror. I would know, I was always living in constant fear with the father, mother and their two sons, my age, constantly demeaning me. Now dead. Just like that. Everything they said, everything they did... over.
I was waiting for the punch line.
“When the grieving ends, you might want to spruce up into some ladies-attire, you’re the Lady of this Homestead now, Ellie.”
I meekly nod and watch the law teller make his way out, pulling his coat closed and slamming the front door shut.
I collapse on a rocking chair by the fire, where I had been knitting myself new socks.
I fall asleep with shock and exhaustion, wishing ridiculously that I’ll find Snow, knocking at the door, a light scar on his face, telling me he’d been waiting for me, and that now he wanted to keep me safe and make me his new wife.
To my dismay, I dream of nothing but black roses and an empty funeral for a family of four.
But I do awake to violent knocking...
...and the sad smile on my face is soon dashed.
My eyes blink apart, my vision wet and foggy as the door on this log homestead is pulled out and thrown off it’s old hinges. In my lucid state, I see a black outlined silhouette, the deep night shrouding all his features away.
And then the low burr hits my ears, “That daft uncle is coming for you. It’s time to go. Child. You’re not safe here any longer.”
I wasn’t a child and that’s about the only thought that flies through my head as the giant man with shoulders broader than any lumber jack I’d ever met, sweeps me up over his shoulder from my chair like a sack of loose potatoes and then turns, running straight out into the night.
I could scream, but I do nothing, even though I’m being kidnapped. Instead my breath is frozen on my tongue with my head turned back, staring wide eyed at the thick white blonde hair perfectly curled around my abductor’s ears.
I’m not sure if I’ve simply manifested a dream or perhaps a budding nightmare; to replace the one I just lived. Regardless, this is too much to handle. In the face of fate, as my throat closes up and anxiety washes in, I faint in the chilled night air as my abductor moves with powerful strides, determined to go somewhere in the forest.
I can only hope there are no monsters on the other end of this new tale that has just begun.