THE SNOW MAIDEN - A STORY OF SELFISHNESS

A SANTHARIAN FAIRY-TALE

 
Master Tribell's Miraculous Narrations   
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Introduction. Why does the snow fall? An old human peasant tells his version of the old Snow Queen story. A lesson against selfishness and an elemental 'pourquoi' tale, along with a lovely illustration of the Snow Maid dancing in the sweep of the snowflakes, with the bitter wind as a cloak.

 

ee the snow falling, child’en?” says the old granther, tucking his pipe into one corner of his wrinkled mouth. The four assorted sizes of child around him, pushing to get closer to the fireplace hearth, nod and grunt absently. Of course they see the snow, the problem is not seeing it. And they haven’t even been able to go out and play in it, it’s too cold!

Granther looks around at them, the pipe shaking as he chuckles. “Ye don’t half care, do you, ye little sprogs? Look at ye, each one trying to get the heat meant for the whole cottage. Now that’s selfishness, don’t ye know?”

The oldest gives his grandfather a resentful look. “Aye, granther, that’s what Ma says. So? I’m cold! If we each had a fireplace in our room, like they say the great folk do....”

The old man cuts him off. “If ye each had a room, like the great folk! No sense in filling yer heads with such nonsense. Best to make the best of the world ye do have. And be grateful ye has a fire at all! Selfishness, now, selfishness...that’s why the snow falls in the first place...” He trails off, staring into the flames, pushing his chair back so that the littlest can stand in front of his old knees.
 

She doesn’t face the fire to get the heat, though. She clutches at his knees and looks up into his face, hunting intently for the love she knows is in his deepset eyes. “Granther,” she says winningly, “granther, why does de snow fall? What do you mean, se’fishnuss makes it fall?”

“Why...the Snow Maiden is what I mean, little one. That greedy girl who never thought of others’ needs or wants - she’s why the snow falls. Would...” - the grandfather pauses temptingly - “would ye like to hear the story?”

“Aye!” the children chorus, as one, their pushing forgotten. Granther’s stories will make the cold world outside vanish, and if they are good enough, even Ma and Da will listen and forget that there are chores to be done...

“Well, then. This is the story of the Snow Maid. Listen and hear and remember:

Erissa, her name was, and she lived... well, she lived in a small village in Enthronia, near Ephirn's Lake, they say. Now Erissa was a peasant girl, a farmer’s child like you and like me. She would go out daily and cut the grass, pasture the cows, milk them and mind them, and do the other chores around the place with her ma and da. But - she did them with a sour look on her face and a sour tongue in her mouth. For the simple truth is, Erissa was selfish. She wanted nothing but her own good, and what she wanted didn’t include slopping the pigs and getting her hands cow-smelly. The only good she found in her work was the chance to drink the cream off the top of the milk before anyone else.

Well, her ma and da didn’t see Erissa’s mind clearly, for she was a pretty girl, oh yes. And the cream wouldn’t show on her lips when she gave her pretty smile. So Erissa grew up to moonstime, and past, about fifteen she would be, with her outside as fair as a cloewen blossom, and the inside as rotten as hogfruit. But suitors were short on the ground, reason being that everyone in the village but her parents knew the inside and the out didn’t match.

So one day in full summer Erissa slipped off from her work, as she was doing more and more, and ran off to the lake to pick poppies. She took with her a piece of her ma’s just-baked snowcake from the kitchen, and a chunk of her da’s smoked pork from the gameshed. And for her drink she filled a horn with fresh, creamy cowmilk and put the plug in.

Erissa lay in the grass and plucked the fragile white poppies all around her. She wove a wreath and put it round her neck and pretended she was a noblewoman from Bardavos. Then she dressed herself in a poppy crown and incense-grass rings and bracelets, and stared at her reflection in the water, dreaming she was Queen of all Enthronia. Then she took out her food and drink, and sat down for her lunch.

“Hallo, girl,” came a creaky voice from just beside her, as she was taking a sip of her cream-milk. Erissa jumped and spilled it down the front of her dress. She turned angrily to see a tiny old creature, the size of a dwarf but with the ears of an elf poking through her white hair. “Would you have any food to spare for a hungry old woman?”

“No!” the selfish girl said, and quickly tucked the snowcake under her skirt, and kicked the piece of pork behind herself. “No food to spare. I’ve only this horn of plain cold water and a crust of bread.”

The old woman sat down in front of Erissa, looking her flat in the face. “Cold water and bread, is it? So it is, so it is. And none to spare of even that?”

“No,” Erissa said again, “and you be off, ye half-size beggar-thing! You’ll ruin my poppies with your ugly old face, you will!”

“Your poppies, is it?” the old woman said, still looking at Erissa straight. “And you would be the queen of the country, then, with your poppies, but only bread and water?”

The Snow Maiden
View picture in full size Image description. The Snow Maiden, with a heart of ice. Picture drawn by Enayla.

Erissa felt her face go hot, and the blood came up from her selfish heart to her pretty cheeks. She took another drink from her horn to cool herself, and choked, and spat. For instead of the creamy milk she had filled it with, it was plain water, true and cold. She hastily flung her skirts back, and there was no snowcake, and no pork, but only the heel end of an old chunk of mossbread.

Well, I couldn’t begin to tell you the curses Erissa gave that old woman, or your ma and da would have wingeberry juice on my tongue to teach me cleaner talk. But she cursed her up, and she swore her down, and she threatened her sideways. And at the end of it the old creature still sat there, with her ears pricking through her white hair, and her eyes still looking at Erissa’s, calm and cold as the waters of the lake.

“Now,” she said to Erissa, “now, my queening lady, the town knows your heart is as cold as the winter and your only love yourself. Decked in white poppies, and eating snowcake all by your own... aye, you don’t belong here in the heat of summer, with the folk whose blood is warm. Out and away with you, to queen it over the ice and the snow!”

And she stretched out her wrinkled old hand, with one single poppy in it, and she shook it over Erissa’s head. And the fragile petals from her crown and wreath came fluttering down around the girl, and as they fell, they turned to snow, and as they touched her, they froze her skin, and Erissa began to vanish, like mist in the morning.

And as the selfish maiden vanished she heard the old woman chant;

“Queen of the snowflakes you shall be
this of Erissa they shall sing
heart carved of ice and soul made of frost
come with the winter, go with the spring!”

So they still say, when the heavy snow falls, and the flurries are dancing out on the deep white blanket, and no man is out of doors, so they say, “The queen of winter shakes her icy poppy petals down - Erissa the Snow Maid is abroad.”
 


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