Steve/Tony Snow Queen, part VI @ 06:17 pm
As with the previous installments, some content has been paraphrased & quoted from Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen."
Story the First: The Steel Mirror
Story the Second: The Soldier and the Smith
Story the Third: Of the Library At the Young Woman's Who Understood Witchcraft
Story the Fourth: The Prince and the Princess
Story the Fifth: The Little Robber Boy
6) The Far North, and Who the Soldier Met There
The soldier walked for hours across the frozen wastes. He walked until his boots were completely worn through, and after that, he walked in his bare feet. The sharp edges of the ice cut the soles of his feet, but he never stopped to look back, and so he never saw the long line of bloody footprints he left on the snow behind him.
On and on he walked, under a sky that was always dark, save for the Northern Lights, for he had gone so far north now that the nights lasted for weeks on end.
After he had walked for a very long time, he came upon a little house built low against the ground, its roof sloping so steeply that the eaves were entirely buried in the snow. The soldier was very weary by this time, and also very hungry, and after walking and walking for so long in the trackless wilderness, he was beginning to worry that he might have lost his way, and so it seemed to him that it might not be a bad thing to stop at the little house and ask for directions.
The solider knocked on the door, and it was opened by a man about his own age, who leaned heavily on a large wooden staff. When the man saw the weariness in the soldier's face, and the terrible state of his poor feet, he let him in at once, urging him to sit down by the fire.
The man was a physician, though you would not expect it to look at him, living out at the edge of the world as he did, and while the soldier ate a meal of smoked fish and reindeer meat, the man tended the soldier's injured feet, covering them with healing salve and wrapping them in bandages. When he had finished, and the soldier had eaten his fill, he asked the soldier to tell him what he was doing all alone out here in the northern wastes, for he got few visitors and was therefore eager for conversation.
So the soldier told his story once again. He had related it so many times during his journey that the telling of it was familiar now, as well worn as his old boots had been.
"You have my sympathy, then," said the doctor, "for you have a long way to go yet, and on those feet, too. You must travel more than a hundred miles father, to Finland. The metal woman lives there now, and the forge fires in her palace burn every evening. I will write you a letter of introduction, which you must take to a man I know of who lives there; he can give you better information than I can."
Then he asked the soldier if he would not like to stay for a few days, until his feet had had time to heal. But the soldier refused the offer, for, having come so near to his goal, he was anxious to attain it without delay. So when the soldier was warmed and fed, and his feet tended to, the doctor tore the frontispiece from Avicenna's The Canon of Medicine, and wrote a short note on it, in a strange, angular hand which the soldier could not read, and told him to take great care of it.
And so the soldier set out again at full speed, traveling still farther northward. Snow soaked through the bandages on his feet, and his hair and eyebrows were soon covered in frost, but he took no notice of it; his eyes were fixed firmly on the horizon, where the blue northern lights burned the whole night long.
And at length he reached Finland, and knocked at the chimney of the Finnish man’s hut, for it was so entirely buried in snow that no door was visible. Within a minute or so, a veritable shower of snow erupted from one of the drifts, and in what seemed to the soldier to be only seconds, a massive man with yellow braids and a great, yellow beard had dug his way out into the open air. "Well met, my friend," he boomed, in a voice so deep that it made the giant mound of snow seem to quiver. "My colleague in Lapland told me to expect company, so I have food, drink, and a fire prepared for you already. I believe you have a note for me?"
The soldier, much astonished that word of his arrival should have proceeded him, handed over the note, and the giant man read what was written on it in the doctor's strange script. After he had read it three times, he knew it by heart, so he folded it and tucked it into his pocket, for paper was scarce in the Northern wastes, and not to be wasted. "Come inside," he said to the soldier, "and we shall soon know each other better."
The man's hut was small, particularly for such a tall fellow, and he shared it with two goats, black animals with fierce-looking red eyes, the presence of which made the single room feel even smaller. The soldier sat down before the fire, and extended his poor, frozen feet toward it; the warmth was very pleasant, and if he closed his eyes, he was almost able to pretend he was back in his own shop again, as warm and cozy as if he had never left home.
After a moment, the Finnish man cleared his throat and spoke once more. "I am already familiar with your story, but I would fain hear it once more. It is a tale of great loyalty and valor."
The solder felt his face heat at the compliment, and wondered where the Finnish man had gained this intelligence. However, he was conscious of the need to be a polite guest, and so he launched into his tale yet again, while the man listened intently.
When he reached the end of the story, the Finnish man clapped him on the shoulder heartily, and even blinked away a tear, so moved was he by the pains the soldier had endured for his friend.
"My friend in Lapland," the Finnish man said, "has asked if I cannot give you something that will make you as strong as twelve men, to overcome the woman of metal, but I fear such a thing would be beyond my skills. I can tie all the winds in the world into a piece of twine, but i can give you no powers you do not already possess for yourself."
The soldier assured the man that that was all right, for he had come seeking directions to the metal woman's fortress, and had not expected to receive anything more.
But the Finnish man was determined to offer the soldier something, for he had been greatly affected by his plight, so he went to a shelf and took down a large skin, upon which were inscribed more of the strange, angular characters the doctor had used in his letter, and he read till the perspiration ran down his forehead. Then he took down a leather dice cup filled with small tile of carved bone, and shook them out onto the floor three times, studying them closely each time, for though he was not a sorcerer or shaman himself, his old father had been a man of great cunning, and the Finnish man had learned the magical arts of divination at his knee.
Finally, he pronounced himself satisfied, and put the skin and the bone tiles away. "You friend is really with the metal woman," he said, "but he finds everything there so much to his taste and his liking, that he believes it is the finest place in the world; but this is because he has a piece of steel in his heart. It must be taken out, or he will never be a human being again, and the metal woman will retain her power over him.”
"You are a man of unusual skills," the soldier said, for, having lived a n entire summer witha witch, he knew magic when he beheld it. "Do you know of a way that I may conquer this power?"
“I can give you no greater power than you have already,” said the Finnish man; “don’t you see how strong that is? How many obstacles you have overcome, and how well you have got through the world, barefooted and alone as you are? You cannot receive any power from me greater than you now have, which consists in your own courage and the nobility of your heart."
"But I was not alone," the soldier protested. "For the witch rescued me from the river, and the spider broke the witch's spell, and the ant and his wife told me of the metal woman's true nature, and the robber boy saved me from a cut throat in the forest, and freed me from captivity. And there is the hawk and the falcon; I would not have got far without the falcon, for he directed me to the prince and the princess, and they gave me provision and a fine horse. And your doctor friend in Lapland bandaged my feet, and now you yourself are giving me direction and advice." As he spoke, he realized that it was the truth. He had felt so terribly alone since the smith's departure, had felt alone, in truth, even before that, from the day that the steel had pierced the smith's heart and turned him cold and unfeeling, but at every stage along his journey, there had been someone to offer him aid and friendship.
"That is true," the Finnish man conceded, "but the steel in your friend's heart can be removed by you and you alone. Two miles from here the metal woman's garden begins. I will take you as far as that, to the last living tree that marks the edge of her realm, but from there, you must go forward on your own."
The soldier agreed that this was perfectly fair, and moreover, he asked the Finnish man if they could not leave immediately, for the knowledge that he was but a few miles from finding the smith at last made him too eager to sit still any longer.
The Finnish man clapped his hand together and stood, calling the goats forward from the corner of the hut. He, the animals, and the soldier all ventured forth through the tunnel in the snow drift and out into the cold once more, and once they were outside beneath the dark, winter sky, the Finnish man dug away at a second snow drift and produced a sled, to which he tied the two goats.
"We will ride the rest of the way in my sled," he said, "for it will save your feet from further injury."
The two goats' names were Gnasher and Grinder, and they were far stronger and faster than they looked, for though their master was not a sorcerer, neither was he an ordinary man. The two miles few by in a twinkling of an eye, and then the sled came to a stop before a low, scrubby tree, warped and wind-blasted by the frozen air, but covered in bright red berries. Beyond it, all was bare rock and ice, stretching away before them like a great sheet of polished silver.
The soldier climbed down from the sled, and bid his companion farewell. The Finnish man's feet and hands had been so much larger than his own that his boots and gloves had not fit him, so the soldier stood in the snow with his feet bare save for the doctor's bandages, without gloves, without helm or breastplate, and weaponless save for the shield at his back.
The Finnish man clapped him on the back, and wished him well, and before he departed, he gave to the soldier a piece of sinew, with four knots tied in it. "I have tied all of the winds in the world into this cord," he said. "If you untie the first knot, you will have a fair wind; when you untie the second, it blows hard; but if the third and fourth are loosened, then comes a storm, which will root up whole forests."
The soldier thanked him, and set off across the ice and stone as quickly as he could. His feet were soon cut and bleeding again, and while he walked, the snow fell thicker and faster, forming a wall of white around him, but somehow never seeming to touch the ground, which remained icy and bare.
Quite suddenly, great forms of shining metal loomed up out of the snow. The soldier remembered the clockwork toys the smith had used to make, but these were very much larger, and much more terrible, for they were alive, and were the guards of the metal woman, and had the strangest shapes. Some were like great porcupines, others like twisted serpents with their heads stretching out, and some few were like huge, armored bears with their hair bristled; but all shone like silver, and all were living clockwork.
Then the soldier untied the first knot, and a gentle breeze sprang up, making the snowflakes swirl about him. He hoped to conceal himself in the snow, and sneak past the creatures unseen, but unfortunately for the poor soldier, they had eyes like burning coals which could see through even the heaviest and whitest of blizzards, and they were not deceived. He could hear the whirring of their gears and the creaking of their joints as they came closer, but he could not see them to defend himself properly, so he untied the second knot.
A strong wind sprang up, and swept the veil of snow away, and the soldier could see the clockwork creatures plainly once more. They all wore helmets on their heads, and carried swords and spears.
As they drew near, one of the largest of them, a great clockwork man, lifted his spear and threw it at the soldier. The soldier brought his shield up in front of him, and the spear struck the metal boss in its center, and bounced off quite harmlessly. Then he picked up the spear from where it lay on the ground, reversed it, and flung it back at the clockwork man; it flew through the air and struck the creature in the neck, where it stuck fast, and the clockwork man fell over backwards.
The soldier felt a burst of satisfaction at having dispatched at least one enemy, but he could see that the clockwork army was far, far to vast for him to defeat single-handedly. So he pulled the piece of sinew from his pocket again, and untied the third and fourth knots.
There was a crash of thunder so loud it might have deafened reindeer herds grazing tens of miles away, and indeed, it is very probable that it did so. A wind sprang up from all directions at once, blowing so strongly that it roared like a lion. It batted and pulled at the clockwork army until they were all torn into a hundred pieces, and then it died away, and the soldier once more stood alone.
The fierce wind had entirely blown away the snow clouds, and the sky was quite clear and glittering with the northern lights, while the air was, if possible, colder than ever before. The soldier spared a moment to silently thank the Finnish man for the gift of the knotted cord, and then he hastened on to the Snow Queen’s castle.
But now we must see what the smith is doing. In truth he thought not of the soldier, and never supposed he could be standing in the front of the palace.