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Rescuing the Ice Queen

Jamie Lackey lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and their cat. She has had over 150 short stories published in places like Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Apex Magazine, and Escape Pod. Her debut novel, Left-Hand Gods, is available from Hadley Rille Books, and she has two short story collections available from Air and Nothingness Press. In addition to writing, she spends her time reading, playing tabletop RPGs, baking, and hiking. You can find her online at jamielackey.com.
At dawn, the ministers drag the Ice Queen out into the courtyard where I stand in line with all of the other accused criminals. They are rough, and her manacles dig into her scarred wrists, but her face is as blank as a snowdrift in the early morning shade. The new sunlight can't yet reach us within the high walls, but I imagine glints from the ice that clings to her dark hair and pale cheeks, that spreads along the creases of her elbows and pools in the hollows of her collarbones.
I begin to worry that my plan is sheer folly, that everyone who assured me of its failure had the right of it. I stand about midway down the line of the accused, and I'm not sure if I would rather be closer to the beginning or the end.
They position the Ice Queen in front of the first of us, a thin little boy clad in rags. Her prime minister clears his throat and scans the child from head to toe. "You stand accused of theft from the royal stores," he says, his deep voice echoing in the enclosed space. "You will be frozen until your guilt or innocence is determined."
The Ice Queen's hands ball into fists, and hope blooms fresh in my heart.
Another of her ministers jerks at her chains. "Don't make us heat the chains again," he hisses, his voice just as audible as the prime minister's had been.
The Ice Queen doesn't look at him, or at her manacled hands, but her fists relax. She kneels down and cradles the boy's cheeks between her palms.
She says something to him, but her voice is not pitched to carry.
Then the ice begins to spread from her fingers. The boy's eyes slip closed just as the frost coats his eyelashes, and a moment later his whole body is frozen white and hard.
The prime minister moves along the line. Next is an old woman. What I can see of her face is as wrinkly as an old potato, and she is thin and worn. "You stand accused of theft from the royal stores," the prime minister says again. "You will be frozen until your guilt or innocence is determined."
The Ice Queen takes the woman's hands between hers, and again, says something that I cannot hear. The old woman's hands stay where the Ice Queen held them, held up as if in prayer.
They continue down the line, until finally it is my turn.
As the prime minister accuses me of theft, I reach forward and unlock the Ice Queen's bonds.
It is my own tiny magic, that locks fall open at my touch. If I had wanted to steal from the royal stores, it would have been as simple as breathing.
But I have never stolen anything in my life, never used my talent for anything more than retrieving forgotten keys.
The manacles fall away and clang against the cobblestones. Ice Queen stares at her bare wrists for a fraction of a second, then she is moving. She runs toward the wall, ice stairs forming under her feet. The ministers are shouting and the guards gaping.
I move down the line freeing as many people as I can. I have never undone so many locks so quickly, and the strain of it surprises me. Still, the chains fall away, one after the next.
The Ice Queen reaches the top of the wall just as the sun finally crests it. She holds up a clenched fist that catches the sun like a prism, and rainbows dance in every direction.
Color spreads across the boy's cheeks first, then the old woman's hands.
The guards try to follow the Ice Queen up her stairs, but the ice melts under their boots. The prime minister grabs my wrist, but I twist away, and then I'm running, shouting for the others to follow.
The gate springs open at my touch.
I run till I am out of breath, then I stop and I laugh till I have to lean, gasping, against a cold stone wall. Because, for at least a moment, I have stolen our freedom.
I think of the Ice Queen, standing on top of the wall, fist raised, and for the first time in a long time, I feel hope.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, June 17th, 2019
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