She was so beautiful and delicate, but she was of ice, of dazzling, sparkling ice; yet she lived; her eyes gazed fixedly, like two stars; but there was neither quiet nor repose in them.
Hans Christian Anderson, The Snow Queen
Hans Christian Anderson, The Snow Queen
High, she was, and fair.
A winter monarch, draped in silk and furs. Eyes the color of sunlight passing through ice. Through fear and longing in equal measure she ruled, and her people crafted songs in her honor on the tautest strings of their harps.
She was tall, and the hem of her gown whispered against the floor when she stood. She had had her throne and scepter from her father, now many seasons dead, and proudly she guarded them both. She took no husband, though lovers she had now and again: bright men and women who slipped behind curtains, and glowed in candlelight, and in whose beauty she saw her own reflected.
And then came the One, brighter and fairer than all the others. His voice was rich and dark and unknowable fathoms-deep: He knew her. He promised the power after which she hungered in the recesses of her flesh and her soul. The ring He slipped over her finger was weighted all unnatural, and, to her, more full of delight than any bridal-charm upon her hand. He embraced her, and she fell, and was lost.
Power He had promised, and power did He give. She took it and rejoiced in it, bending the forces of earth and sky to her will. A sorceress, she was called, and a Queen of the Darkness, as the people’s courtly fear turned to wild-eyed terror. She let all these things adorn her as jewels.
Unnatural long years she lingered, and her earthly beauty faded, until she was as smoke against the sky. Her father’s scepter now seemed but a child’s plaything in her hand, and she laid it down and took up a weapon more fitting. The edges of her mantle frayed to naught but rags, and the music of her harp-string voice grew hoarse. All this, to the point that, either through malice or ignorance, the later bards would name her not as a Queen of the Darkness, but a King.
She cared not: her Master yet reckoned her fair. She served Him, and made offering to the old heathen gods of havoc, and when they summoned her, she came. With Him, she ruled over lesser kings whom He had yet seen fit to gift, as well. With joined voices they sounded challenges to frail mortals and their undying kin.
Against all odds, He faltered. And yet her faith did not: when He passed into shadow, she followed in his wake.
To the North she returned, when He sent her: the bone-snapping cold and the death-chill of the mountains were as an embrace. She wore an iron crown, and needed no furs to gird her. Blood warmed the snow, and the nations splintered as frost-rimes before her, their King drowned in ice-studded waters.
Once again defeat pursued her amidst glory, yet among her tributes was a prophesy: Not by the hand of man will she fall.
She wore this pronouncement as the fairest of her jewels, and delighted in it. For never had a King truly overmastered her, in life or in the beyond-dwelling place which she now roamed; never would she bow before a living man. And if there was one whom she deigned serve, one before whom she saw fit to kneel, certainly no man was He, but greater by far, and more terrible.
Very well, then. To the South she went, and laid siege to that kingdom’s Moon-Tower. She dimmed its glow, supplanted it with her own fierce light, and called challenge to yet another ruler. Fair was this race, grey-eyed and dark-haired. Fair, too, was their King, with a firebrand spark in his soul that she regarded with a lustful gaze. At last he answered her summons, uncaring of the prophesy, leaving his people behind.
And she raped them, robbed them of their prince. Her Master crowed triumph, and once more, pleasure surged in the hollow where once her heart had been.
A precious thing, they sought, the precious thing which had been taken from Him. They pursued it—she pursued it—through wind and water, the hoof-beats of her horse resounding as a curse upon the land. Once and again the precious thing eluded her hand, and each time it fell beyond her grasp, was as a salt to her fury.
This rage she carried once more to the Southern kingdom, kingless still. She pitied, almost, these thin sorry warriors who ranged against her—did they not know that her own Lord was brighter and fairer than any absent monarch after which they might pine? Man and beast quailed and fled before her voice, and that of her mount, and most terrible of all was her laughter.
She made the sky dark, and stopped the dawn.
The wings of her steed shadowed the ground, and the beast bowed its head, bared its teeth at the sweet odor of carrion and smoke. She begrudged it not, for no less sweet to her was the fragrance, finer than any glass-bottled perfume meant to scent her hand when she had been a living woman so long ago.
As they stooped as one to their prey, a sound.
A rider, mount now lost, dared challenge her with a mortal voice. Had she still a mouth, her lips would have curled into a smile. Does this one not know?
No living man, she told this frail warrior who made so bold as to stand before her. No living man.
The rider’s response was to lift helm from face, and the Queen saw then the truth:
High, she was, and fair.
The young woman’s eyes shone steel grey, but in them was some knowledge of the Darkness, glancing and disdainful though it may have been. And then, the Queen saw in this woman’s beauty a reflection of her own. Or, what it once had been. If a mirror as of old stood now before her, she saw it only as through layers of ice, splintered a thousand-fold in winking fragments.
But see it, she did, and at the same moment she resolved to ravish it. Lay it to waste.
As the Queen thought of all this, her would-be assailant moved: steel bit flesh, and the head of the black mount fell to the earth. Rage tore through her. The heavy mace shattered the green shield and the arm that bore it. And then—
Pain, at her knee. A feeling such as she had not known for Ages—too many Ages to count. Pain, and the same flesh-weakness and urgency that she had not felt since she had been a lovely winter-maiden in silk and furs, nodding at lovers behind curtains, in candlelight. And—
The woman, again. The fair one. With her last strength she fell forward, thrusting sword between crown and mantle, and the sorceress, lover of the Dark Lord, the bright undying one, knew no more.
Springtime—the City was warm and mild. She wore flowers in her hair, and the hem of her gown whispered against the floor when she stood. She waited in the chamber they’d prepared for her on her return—prepared most thoughtfully, with the things she had brought with her, and also the things she’d left behind when last she had departed.
She turned, and her gaze alighted on something in the corner of the room, which she’d not seen there before now. She stopped, and stared for long moments.
“Éowyn?” She started. In the doorway stood her brother, face smiling and handsome beneath the crown on his brow. “Are you ready?”
If she gave a pause before answering him, it was a brief one, indeed. “I am,” she said. She took one last look at the cloven shield, and then went to meet her bridegroom.