Bronwen wrapped her furs about herself more tightly. Three months her brother Olwen had been missing, while the village elders did nothing. The Snow Queen takes who she takes, the old men said; Bronwen’s mother did little but weep.
And thus it fell to Bronwen to save him.
The journey was long, and arduous. A witch-woman traded her the language of winter in exchange for help with the harvest, for the witch’s garden was vast, the produce lush and large. Bronwen left with strange fruit in her bag, stranger words on her tongue, and a witch’s blessing on her forehead.
Robbers beset her in the forest — a group of fierce girls atop shaggy winter ponies, hands clenching the hilts of their swords. She had nothing to give, but their leader was of the opinion that a red-headed witchling would be a fine addition to their band. The bandit princess had a smile near as bewitching as the old woman’s fruit; Bronwen traded a kiss tasting of summer plums for her freedom.
A passing crow told her stories of a kingdom to the north, where a handsome young lord had come to marry their golden queen. The crow showed her the way, in exchange for seeds to feed his family through the winter.
The witch’s mark blazed from her forehead when Bronwen was stopped by the castle guards. Stunned and frightened, they let her stride into the palace, feet carrying her unerring to the throne room. The queen was indeed golden and the prince handsome, but he was not her brother.
Moved to tears by her story, the royal couple offered her a sturdy mount and plush furs to replace her own. Bronwen left behind her the crow and his well-earned seeds; she left also a melon from the garden which would bring health and strong babes to the beautiful queen.
She trekked north.
North, and further still, until even the snow flurries calmed, and all was ice. The air shimmered overhead in greens and violets. Sprites danced in the cold, cold light.
Finally, she came to the doors of a great fortress. The echoes of her knock resounded in the frigid air.
The doors swung open silently. Once again, Bronwen’s feet carried her to a throne room where she knew not what she would see.
There was a woman seated there, more lovely even than the golden queen. Clean ice and fresh snow she was, the chill that bites at the heart, the hush of frozen nights.
“I have come for my brother,” Bronwen stated, winter words strange on her tongue. “Give him to me.”
The icicle façade cracked. “Oh, thank Father Winter, is this creature yours?” The queen drew back her fur wrapping to reveal Olwen, sleeping, curled into her side. “I have been trying for an age to find where he belongs!” The queen patted his head fondly. “He sent my household into complete disarray. Not a one of us familiar with humans, I’m afraid. The time I had trying to keep the direwolf pups from eating him… I had to set the sleep on him to keep the child from doing any more damage.”
Bronwen frowned. Was this some sort of trick, some puzzle to weaken her guard so that the queen might have both of them?
“I will trade you for his safe return,” Bronwen said. “The fruit of summer. Or a witch’s second kiss, which has yet more power than her first.”
The snow queen shook her head a little frantically. “What need have I of summer and kisses? Take the child, please, and my blessing with him.” She bent down, whispering the waking spell into Olwen’s ear. “Promise only that you will keep him from straying into the lands of winter. He got loose amongst the breezes and the North Wind is still quite wroth with me.”
“I… I do so swear.” Bronwen reached forward and grabbed Olwen’s hand to tug him from the frozen throne. He was dazed, lips blue with cold and the queen’s magical sleep. There was fruit yet left in her bag; it would bring a flush to his cheeks as warm and red as a summer apple.
Bronwen bowed to the queen and took her leave, her brother bundled onto the pony behind her as they headed south, toward sun and the new, fresh leaves of spring.
The Snow Queen watched them go, and sighed with relief. Humans. Honestly.
Kate Wickersham writes unrepentant smut and spends (too much) time on tumblr. As a child, she was determined to be a writer while simultaneously raising thoroughbred horses and taking the first steps on Mars. As a (questionably) grown-up author, the horse craze has faded but she still thinks Mars sounds pretty good. You can find her on Twitter as @thatworldinverted, or on Tumblr.