Lord Ice

Srebrenka Peregrin January 25, 2019
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A long way away, at a time far off in the past, there lived an undertaker with his wife and daughter. They were not a well loved family, for everybody saw them in times of greatest grief, although they were respectfully addressed in the street. The daughter was pretty and sweet, but both girls and boys shunned her, afraid they would meet with the ghosts of the dead in her eyes. She was, therefore, lonely, and spent much time reading and listening to stories.

One day she asked her mother, “Mama, is it true we shut the windows after the sun goes down because of Lord Ice? But why should we fear him, when every day we dress people who have gone to his lands?”

“Because, my dear,” her mother said, “Lord Ice is ever in need of new servants, and if he can, he will kiss you with his cold mouth and take whatever service he wants, whether you will it or not.”

But the girl had no company, and she thought it was better to be kissed by anyone than by no one at all, so that night she left her window open and lay down to sleep. And in the night, as Lord Ice rode by and saw the sweet and pretty girl asleep, he slipped into her room and kissed her red mouth with his cold one.

When she woke up the following morning, her lips were as cold as frost, and she was unable to speak. Whatever she touched with them would immediately freeze and crack with cold, so she only drank the hottest tea and ate the hottest bread before they turned to icicles.

Seeing the state she was in, her parents decided to give the girl in service to a dame. The dame needed a mute to keep her secrets, and their daughter nobody would marry now for certain. The girl embraced her parents but did not kiss them, and went to live in the manor. She spent her days there in opulence, keeping the dame’s secrets and making her drinks cold in the summer.

In the manor there also lived a wicked sorcerer, whose counsels were wise but who desired the dame for himself. One day, therefore, he called the mute girl to him and fed her hot cakes and wine. When she was satiated, he showed her a mirror and said to blow on its surface. When she did so there was revealed the castle of Lord Ice.

The sorcerer said, “If you open the chamber of the dame for me tonight, I shall teach you the way that leads to Lord Ice. Then you may go and reclaim your speech. If, however, you trick me, I shall make you kiss the mirror and so drive yourself back to your father.”

The girl bowed low and in the night she unlocked the doors to the chamber of the dame. However, she lay down next to the sleeping dame, and so cold was her breath that the dame was unable to sleep and went for a walk around the garden.

As the sorcerer came to the room, so great was his impatience he did not wait to see which woman lay in the bed. He embraced the girl and planted his mouth upon hers, and was instantly frozen to his own death. When the dame returned from her walk, she found the dead sorcerer in her bed, as cold as ice, and thought he must have been taken by Lord Ice, because she had left the doors to the garden open. He was buried with much pomp and only then did the dame notice her mute servant was missing.

But the girl now knew what the castle of Lord Ice looked like, and though she was uncertain of her path, she went in search of it nevertheless, because she saw in which direction Lord Ice had taken the sorcerer on his sleigh.

She walked and walked until her arms got cold and then she saw in her path a tiny bee that had not managed to return to the hive for the winter. The girl took the bee into her hands and gave her the rest of her own warmth until it was safe with her sisters. The grateful bee than fed her a spoonful of honey, so she had the strength to continue on her way.

She walked and walked some more, until her body was cold all over and then she saw in the middle of her path a blackbird that had got lost in the middle of the forest. The girl put the bird in her bosom and kept it warm there with her own body, until she had none left for herself. They found the nest and the girl returned the blackbird. The creature fed her two morsels of bread, so that she was able to keep going.

She walked and walked even further and more, until her feet had become cold and then she saw in broad daylight a bat that had not got into its cave on time. She put him in her boot where it was warm until they found the cave. The bat had no food or water, but asked wither she was bound. The girl could not speak, but she blew her cold breath on a puddle of water and when it turned to ice, she drew the castle of Lord Ice. The bat screeched and shrieked in fright, but it beckoned her to follow.

They passed through the cave and to the other side, and there were some hills in the distance, below which lay the lands of Lord Ice. The girl thanked the bat and went on her way. She was already so cold that she did not mind the snow or frost that lay thickly all over the land, and made even the sun burn low.

When it was already night and Lord Ice started on his nightly survey of the world, he found before his gates the girl, who was almost completely frozen, but for her heart that beat slowly and quietly in her chest. And although Lord Ice does not like the noise of the living heart, he recognized the pretty and sweet girl who had left the window open for him to kiss her.

Because she was already so cold, the touch of Lord Ice could not hurt her any more, and he carried her into his castle and let his servants take care of her until he returned. They fed her morsels that never freeze and made her drink liquors that never turn to ice. Then she was able to leave her clothes behind and enjoy the cold as much as they did. And when Lord Ice returned, he found her dancing around his frozen halls.

For the longest time Lord Ice had not seen anyone dance in joy or rapture, and he therefore joined her, and before the morning was fully upon the world, he asked her to be Lady Ice. She gladly accepted and they celebrated their icy wedding in the snow-covered castle with their cold servants.

As a wedding gift, she was given back her power of speech, for Lord Ice had theretofore used it to tell him all the stories she had read and listened to in her home. Now that she was there, she was able to tell the stories herself, making his eyes even deeper and less moving.

In the beginning, therefore, Lord and Lady Ice were happy together, but as time went by he was more and more annoyed at the constant ticking of her heart that could be heard in the silent halls. At first quiet, the beat became ever stronger as she loved Lord Ice better. Yet the more it thumped, the less he liked being with her and found excuses to go afield and spend time in the silence of the sleepy nights under the white moonlight.

“Why do you keep away from me?” Lady Ice asked her husband once as he was about to leave.

But he would not say the truth and instead told her, “I need to pluck the white stars from the heavens to bring them home to you, so you may decorate the halls with them.”

“Do not pluck the stars,” she said, “for they will burn down your castle. Rather ask them for their seeds, and I can plant a garden so you need not go away again.”

He did as she asked, and brought the star seed, but he still prepared to go away again although the garden was full of the star flowers, and the halls garlanded with them.

“Why do you go away again?” Lady Ice asked him.

And he, unable to tell her the truth, said, “I need to harvest the moonlight so I may make you the finest of the dresses.”

“Do not harvest it,” she said, “or the nights will be dark. But do bring me some of those sheep that leave their hoof prints on the moon, and I can make my own dresses.”

So he brought her the sheep from the moon, and she took their wool and made her own beautiful gowns in which she danced through the halls of snow. But it was not long that her husband got ready to leave yet another time.

“Wither do you go this time?” she asked him and there were tears in her eyes she did not dare spill lest they freeze and cut her.

But now he could not think of an answer, and said, truthfully, “I cannot stand the beating of your living heart, my dear. It is giving me such a horrible headache that I can barely look with my own two eyes or hear anything else with my own two ears.”

Then Lady Ice was frightened, but said, “If it is so, then I shall take it out of my chest and bury it far away.”

And just as she had said, so she did. She went far afield, all the way to the cave where the bat slept, and there she dug a hole in the ground that was not frozen, and buried her heart. Her hands, however, remained red, and she could not wash the stains off them with any water or snow. She therefore put gloves over her hands, so they would not mar the white beauty of Lord Ice’s castle.

In the meantime, the dame was overcome with sadness at the loss of her servant, who had become a dear playmate and confidante. She dressed herself in the warmest clothes, furs and boots and decided to follow the footsteps of the one so precious to her.

Little by little, she was able to find her way to the beehive and there she learned from the bees that the girl had indeed passed that way, although they did not know anything but that she had entered the forest. The dame promised them rich pastures in the springtime, and went under the trees. Soon, she utterly lost her way, for there was no way of finding out which of the many paths the girl had taken.

The dame wandered this way and that until she was met by a crooked dwarf that felled trees in the forest. She greeted him and enquired whether he knew the way to the other side.

“I will show you the way if you give me your coat,” the dwarf said.

The dame had already taken off her coat, when there came flying down a blackbird and started to pull at the dwarf’s beard and hair. The dwarf screamed and shouted, and the dame helped him drive the blackbird away. But when the imp took a stone to kill it, the bird spoke to the dame in a human voice.

“Do not let him hurt me,” it said, “for I know where your friend has gone. She is in the castle of Lord Ice.”

Then the dame stopped the dwarf’s hand, and he, being an angry and spiteful creature, stole her coat and hurried away to his hut. The dame thanked the blackbird and promised it would be welcome to her orchards in the spring. However, now she had to walk through the forest in only her dress and boots, and the night was drawing closer. She walked and walked, until she saw a little light away in the trees.

When she came closer, she found it was a woodcutter’s hut and knocked. But the door was opened by that very same dwarf that had taken her coat, which was now spread over his little bed.

“What do you want this time?” the dwarf asked impatiently.

“Only some food and warmth for the night,” the dame said.

“I will give you food for those boots,” the dwarf said, “but the only warmth you may get is the one you share, for the night is dark and cold when one is all alone.”

The dame agreed and gave him her boots for a bowl of stew, and when the supper was over she climbed with the dwarf into his bed. When he had put out the fires and the candlesticks, however, the dame remembered the story of Lord Ice, and in the dark she unlatched the window.

Therefore, when Lord Ice passed on his nightly guard, he saw a window open and looked into the room. He immediately thought that the dame was far too good and beautiful for such a lowly servant of his; for the dwarf was in actuality one of Lord Ice’s servants. He therefore took the sleeping woman out of the open window and placed her on his carriage, to take back home to his wife as a servant.

By the time he returned to his castle, the sleeping dame was already as cold as a caught fish left on the ice so as not to go rotten. She was still very beautiful, and her heart beat faintly in her breast. But Lady Ice did not recognize her, because her heart was buried. She only thought how unbearably loud that beating heart was, and ordered the dame be put away in the furthest of the servant rooms.

Now the dame served Lady and Lord Ice and both cared for her in their own way. Lady Ice often remarked how she reminded her of somebody, but it was not very important because she was a good servant. Then she would ask the dame whether she would consider removing the loud heart from her chest, as it gave her a headache.

Lord Ice also liked the new servant very much, and many times he stood on the threshold of her room and watched her delicate beauty, but he dared not enter for the noise. Then she reminded him he was married to Lady Ice, but he said it was not that important, if only she would get rid of the heart that drove him mad.

But the dame would not and she cried at the thought and continued to serve at the cold castle, all frozen herself except for the heart that still beat somewhere inside her. However, since she had no love or hope to keep her heart going, its beat was ever more quiet, and the dame was ever more sickly and weak.

One day, while she was walking through the castle with Lady Ice, she stumbled and fell and did not move any more. Lady Ice opened her dress and removed a glove to place on her chest. The heart hardly beat at all and would soon stop forever. However, the touch of her red hand revived the dame for a while, and she looked at the stained hand in wonder.

She asked many questions of Lady Ice, but when she received no answers, she finally said, “I am ready to take my heart out and bury it next to yours. Will you take me?”

Then Lady Ice rejoiced and took the dame to the cave where the ground was not frozen. In the cave, from the very place where her heart was buried, there now grew a bloody tree with scarlet leaves and fruit as red as the hands of Lady Ice.

“Is this what becomes of our hearts?” the dame asked in wonder.

“I do not know,” Lady Ice said, for she was just as amazed.

Then the bat woke from the noise and it spoke to the two women, “Just one bite from the fruit of this tree will leave you satisfied and warm for a whole hour.”

The dame plucked it and ate and immediately felt the warmth return to her limbs and body. The more she ate, the warmer she felt, until her heart once again beat strong in her chest, and the blood ran through her veins gladly. She filled her pockets with all the fruit they could contain and offered one to Lady Ice.

But when Lady Ice tried it, she nearly choked. It burned her mouth and her throat as she swallowed, and then it made a great fire in her stomach so that she thought she would turn to ashes. She ran out of the cave and ate handfuls of snow, and when she was cool again, she said, “I cannot eat this fruit, for I have given up my heart.”

Then she turned to the dame, and seeing she had a strong and healthy heart, desired to take it. But the bat beat his wings upon Lady Ice’s face, and so the dame was able to escape. Feeling a great pain from the burn in her empty chest, Lady Ice went back to the castle of her husband. It is said since then she has always ridden with him in the night, looking for another heart to replace her own.

The dame, however, returned safely home, though crying many tears. From that day she always carefully closed the windows at night, and did not let her children ever come near a single one of them.

“For,” she said, “Lord and Lady Ice are ever in need of new servants, and if they can, they will kiss you with their cold mouth and take whatever service they want, whether you will it or not.”

Her children then listened to the whole tale of Lord and Lady Ice, with great care and fright in their open mouths. And they ate the red fruit from their mother’s orchard that kept them satiated and warm throughout the night, however dark and cold it was.

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