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The Winter Princess

Amanda C. Davis bakes excellent macarons and watches terrible slasher movies. She tweets enthusiastically as @davisac1. Read more of her work at amandacdavis.wordpress.com/read-free. AUTHOR'S NOTES: I love retelling fairy tales--my sister and I filled a whole collection with them, called Wolves and Witches--but writing a new one was a special, delightful challenge.

Once there was a princess born on the coldest day of the year, so that as she drew her first breath, the midwife exclaimed, "Truly, this girl will never feel the cold." And as she grew they saw this was true.
The winter princess was known to go riding in weather that made the huntsmen shiver (though she always took care for the horses), to make bouquets of dried weeds poking from the snow, and to leave open the window of her tower no matter how icy the wind.
Though she was bright and appealing in every way, no suitor became so enamored that he would consent to court her in freezing-cold rooms or, worse, wandering through blizzards as if they were harmless romantic mists. At least, not more than once. So she remained unmarried, which she did not mind too much.
One day, a visitor to the palace related a strange tale from a nearby kingdom. A powerful king had been enchanted into a block of ice and his entire castle frozen solid. No one was able to bear up under the impossible cold, so no one could free him. That night the princess resolved to see if she could break his curse. The next morning she set off on the kingdom's sturdiest horse, carrying the thickest, richest cloak and gloves and boots to keep her warm (her mother insisted).
Everyone around had heard of the icebound king, so she had no trouble finding the castle. It loomed glistening at the top of a hill, stone walls iced and frozen so they glittered like diamonds. She tied her horse at the gate and ventured across the icy drawbridge into the castle.
The castle was open and defenseless. The princess soon realized it needed no defenses: bird-shaped mounds lay scattered around the courtyard, each one frozen solid the moment it passed the walls. She pressed forward to the throne room.
Inside the castle was even colder than outside--indeed, even the princess began to feel a nip of chill. She put on her thick, rich cloak and continued forward.
The throne room was empty, the throne an imposing icicle. At its foot lay an old woman wrapped in a cloak of feathers and covered in a blanket of frost, frozen through and through. "Hello?" said the princess. No reply: the old woman was stone dead. She sought deeper into the castle.
Upstairs was colder yet. She put on her thick, rich boots and continued seeking the icebound king.
"Your majesty?" called the princess. Her voice echoed eerily down the icy halls. "I've come to open diplomatic relations between our kingdoms." She had decided on that language while traveling, since she hated to overpromise. Still, there came no reply.
At the very end of the hall she came to a grand set of carved wooden doors that glistened with frost and were so cold that even the winter princess hesitated to touch them. She put on her thick, rich gloves and opened the door.
The bedchamber was hung with silks and tapestries, with shelves full of books and a great canopied bed, the air so cold she saw every breath. In an armchair sat a man engrossed in reading. He looked up at her in astonishment. She was pleased to see that he had not been frozen into a block of ice at all, although his skin was faintly blue, and frost clung to his clothes and beard.
"Your majesty," said the princess, "I've come to--" But his surprise at seeing her and his grave solitude struck her with such pity that instead of her prepared speech, she finished, "--to break your curse."
"Break my curse?" echoed the icebound king.
She nodded firmly.
"There's no way to break my curse," said the icebound king. "Or rather, the way to break my curse was to marry the witch who cast it, for a year and a day. The curse froze her solid before she finished her sentence." He sniffed and wiped an icicle from his mustache. "She didn't think things through."
"I suppose you could marry the corpse," the princess suggested.
"It didn't work," said the king glumly.
She gazed at him for a moment: a solitary king in a lavish, empty castle. Then she smiled.
"Then we shall break what makes your situation seem like a curse," she said. "Would you be glad of some company?"
"Glad!" he said. "I am starving for it."
So the princess kept the icebound king company for many days, and they both found it very pleasant company indeed. After some time the princess returned to her kingdom and completed a thorough census to find others who had been born on the coldest day of the year, like her, and might not mind a chill. She hired them to replace the icebound king's lost company, everyone from servants to soldiers and courtiers, and they were all treated very well. Her visits to the icebound king became longer and longer until they both decided the reasonable path was for her to make a permanent move and serve as an icebound queen. Together they ruled a prosperous kingdom, if necessarily isolated. And since the ice and cold may keep things fresh for so long, for all I know, they rule it still.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, April 25th, 2016

Author Comments

I love retelling fairy tales--my sister and I filled a whole collection with them, called Wolves and Witches--but writing a new one was a special, delightful challenge.

- Amanda C. Davis
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