art by Seth Alan Bareiss
Three Kisses: The Mirror of Reason
by Henry Szabranski
She was all shining, all glittering ice as she rose on a whirling column of white. The impossible tower grew taller and thinner, leaning over until it finally disintegrated into a shower of crystals. When the plume cleared, the Queen was gone.
The little girl waited, but there was no sign of the Queen returning. She forced her fear-paralyzed limbs into motion, emerging from behind one of the rime-encrusted pillars. Her eyes were on the boy who slouched beside the empty throne. He appeared listless and sullen, his pale skin mottled with frostbite. She shivered at the sight, feeling a marrow-deep chill that had nothing to do with the bitter winds scouring the Snow Queen's palace.
The frozen boy did not look at her, concentrating instead on the ice shards arranged like a broken puzzle at his feet.
The cold numbed the girl's feet as she ran across the frozen lake upon which the palace stood. "Kay! Don't you recognize me?"
"Of course I recognize you." His voice, hoarse and weak, still contained the spiteful edge that had first shattered her world. "Stupid Gerda, why have you come all this way?"
Gerda fought back tears. "The troll mirror is blinding you."
Kay's face darkened into a frown. "The only mirror here is the Mirror of Reason, and no troll made that." He pointed at the polished surface of the frozen lake. It seemed to heave, the dark waters in turmoil beneath the glistening skin of ice. Gerda dared not look at it.
"No, I mean the troll mirror that broke into a thousand pieces. A fragment has lodged in your heart and your eye, and now you cannot see the world as it truly is."
Kay laughed; a cracked, humorless cackle. "If what you say is true, then my ears are fine. But all I hear from your mouth are words of nonsense."
"It's true." Gerda stopped at the foot of the icy throne. "The wise Finn woman told me so."
Another snort of derision. "You must be as stupid as you are ugly. I'm here because the Snow Queen loves me. And I love her."
Tears misted Gerda's eyes, threatening to freeze before they could escape. What had happened to the carefree boy who had once been her best friend? The boy who winked through the peephole made by a heated coin in the winter-frosted window of the bedroom opposite hers; the boy who used to play all summer long down in the street that divided them, who stepped with such foolhardy grace over the rose-entwined guttering that linked their two apartments? Such a sweet and kind boy, until the troll-mirror fragments and the Snow Queen conspired to sweep him away.
Kay's grin faltered. Frostbitten fingers stroked his lips. "She kissed me, you know. Twice. I would have been happy for her to kiss me again, but she warned me I would die." His voice became wistful. "She's so beautiful, Gerda. So unlike anyone I've met before."
"Stupid, Kay! She's put a spell upon you and you cannot see." Her tears welled. Had she traveled all these hundreds of miles in vain?
"I am happy here." Kay's voice was a frozen whisper.
Gerda grabbed him in a hug. He did not resist, more like an icicle than a warm, living being. "How I missed you," she whispered into his blackened ear. The tears flowed, hot and unstoppable.
And Kay responded, thawing like a side of frozen meat placed in the sun. Tears of his own flowed freely, although if you had asked him he would not have known why. Gerda did not notice the mirror shards dislodge from his eye and heart, caught up in her joy at just being able to touch him again.
"What am I doing here?" His voice was full of wonderment, and not a little fear.