Once upon a time, there was an old man called Aksel who lived a long life away from the world, filled with simple contentment. He resided in a wood-log hut in the middle of a forest that was nearby a village. His home stood next to a frozen lake with a frozen waterfall. The blurred dark outlines of fish swimming freely underneath could be easily seen, if you ever took the time to kneel down onto the bank.
But despite all he could ask for, there was one thing that Aksel did not have. And that was a wife. And with that, no children. He wanted children.
Nearing the end of his life, Aksel decided to dedicate what time he had left to fulfilling a wish. He travelled to his village, spent his coin on a collection of tools and returned to his hut in the woods. It was November.
He found a block of ice, naturally torn from the frozen waterfall. With his bare hands, Aksel pulled the block of ice to his hut and once there, he began carving away at the ice with the tools he had.
Days rolled by. Morning and night became one and the same. Aksel did not eat nor sleep. He saw no need to. But he continued regardless and without hesitation. He knew what his daughter would look like. He knew her eyes. Her hair. Her feet and her chin. He knew her laugh. He knew her tears. He knew all that encompassed her as a being.
It was December when a young man watched Aksel from a fair distance. His name was David, a foreigner from a distant land of deserts. He grew up without family or friends. Without title nor any riches to his name. He survived solely upon the kindness of strangers. And with that, he had developed a sense of compassion that was not normally found in the hearts of mankind.
David stepped towards Aksel and enquired upon his situation.
Aksel turned to David, hammer and chisel raised up as weapons. Aksel then explained what his purpose was. And that purpose had caused the village to laugh and jeer at him and his mad endeavour.
David knew this but he did not laugh or jeer. Instead, David stepped forth and offered his help.
Aksel hesitated, not used to the company of another human, but then he nodded and pointed at the tools. David smiled and joined Aksel.
There they worked. And Aksel’s daughter came to be. She now wore a flowing silk dress with heeled slippers of sapphire. Her hair was full and curled, a chestnut brown in Aksel’s mind. Her chin displayed an edge that could sharpen diamonds. The old man and David stood back and admired their work. The old man began to weep. Finally, he had a daughter.
And David smiled, for he may have found love. It was while he worked upon her hands. They were small and thin. Delicate, like the sleets of yesteryear’s winter. David looked at the beauty of the girl and began to fall for her. She was enchanting. It was now January.
Aksel decided to give her a name. He called her Nora, after his deceased sister. With the work complete, David bid Aksel a farewell. David had never intended to stay for too long. He did not have a home, nor expected one. Such was the way of his life.
But as he turned away, David saw three men approaching the hut from the forest road. Men from the village. David had seen these men on his way passing through the village. These were drinking men; veteran soldiers with nothing to do with their ruined lives in this time of peace. They were all carrying hammers.
David stood before the men. Aksel saw these men and stood in front of Nora.
The leader of the three men, more of a dwarf than man, looked up at David and pointed at the ice figure. “That’s the girl then?”
David nodded. His fist tightened around the hammer in his fingers.
“Well, then.” The dwarf smirked. “Let’s break it up.”
The two gorilla-like men that backed the dwarf grunted with laughter.
“Why?” Aksel asked. A slight fearful tremor shook his voice.
The dwarf shrugged. “‘Cause we’re bored. There ain’t nought much to do ‘ere. Also, the village says you’re mad. We’re ‘ere to make things right for ‘em. But we’re bored, mostly…”
“Then move on and find something better to do.” David replied, clenching his jaw.
The dwarf sneered and snapped his fingers. “Get ‘im.”
The gorillas lunged for David.
David stumbled, forced back by the sudden attack. He was grabbed by the throat and thrown into the old man’s hut. But he did not fall. No. He stood and swung with his hammer. It connected with the first gorilla’s knee with a crunch and then a snap, like a dry twig. The gorilla fell with a yowl. The second gorilla came again with a lunge.
The dwarf walked slowly towards Aksel. Aksel held up his chisel.
“Please.” he begged. His knees shook and his vision became blurry with tears. “Please. She is all I have in this world. I am begging you. Don’t hurt my little girl.”
The dwarf laughed and responded with a simple “No.” He swung his hammer up and cracked its metal head under Aksel’s jaw. Aksel spun back with a cry and fell upon Nora. His blood splashed on Nora’s face.
But Aksel did not go down. He coughed and spluttered. He turned around.
He put out his hands.
The dwarf raised his hammer and swung it down at Nora’s outstretched right arm.
But it cracked into Aksel’s right arm instead. He blocked that attack.
Aksel cried out, but held his ground.
The dwarf snarled and raised his hammer again and swung it at Nora’s right leg.
Aksel’s right leg broke under the second attack.
Aksel fell to one knee. He looked up at the dwarf, who stared down at him.
The dwarf raised his hammer and aimed it for Aksel’s head.
But a hand of ice grabbed the hammer and yanked it out of the dwarf’s grasp.
Aksel and the dwarf looked up and stared as Nora, who was still and lifeless, stared down at the dwarf with moving and very lifelike eyes. Her eyes that were filled with the colour of blood. The blood of Aksel, that had crawled into her eyes, her nose and mouth.
The hammer in her hand froze and turned to pure ice. She clenched her fist, shattering the hammer.
She tore her heels from the snow and stepped in front of Aksel. And with the speed of a falcon, she grabbed the dwarf by the throat and lifted him high off the ground. She gritted her ice teeth, then opened her mouth. Along with snowflakes and vapours, out came a breathless yet sharp voice that filled the dwarf with a sense of pure dread. “ARE YOU BORED NOW?”
The dwarf screamed, but only briefly. Nora put her other hand upon his head and froze his entire body. Having finished with him, she tossed the ice dwarf aside. He smashed into a thousand pieces upon the ice lake.
The gorillas, who had David at their mercy, saw everything. They stayed still and stared.
Nora turned her head, ice creaking and cracking under the slight strain. She hissed.
The gorillas dropped the drowsy David and ran away, screaming in terror.
David crawled towards Aksel, who lay motionless in the snow.
David called to him. “Aksel? Aksel?”
Aksel did not respond. Nora turned to Aksel. “Father?” Her face softened. And fear crept into her once vengeful eyes.
She fell to her knees and turned Aksel over, exercising great caution to not accidentally freeze his shoulder.
Aksel coughed badly. His breathing began to turn into wheezing. David knew for a certainty. Aksel was dying. His obsessive carving and the attack had taken too much from him.
Nora shook her father. “Father. Please, not now. I just got here.”
Aksel coughed again, but this time raised his left arm and placed his fingers against his daughter’s smooth cheek. “Oh…the light of my life…you are safe…you are…Alive!…How?”
“I do not know. I awoke as you fell. I had to kill the man. I am sorry.”
“No apologies, my star… You are safe, that is all I wish… David…”
David pulled himself onto his feet. “Yes?”
“My Nora… Others will come for you. For her. You must leave… Now…”
“My time is over. I leave you both now… Nora?” Aksel’s eyes brightened and a smile appeared on his wrinkled lips. “What is this? A tear? No tears… Death is only another step on the ladder of life. Please, be happy to live. Be good. Be strong. Be-”
Aksel’s eyes widened. His air caught in his chest. He coughed once harshly, then again softly and finally let out one last sigh. His hand fell from Nora and landed gently in the snow.
David drooped his head and placed a weary hand over his brow.
Ice, in the shape of pearls, dropped from Nora’s red eyes. She wrapped her arms around Aksel, curled her body around his and howled, wishing to never let him go.
David and Nora watched Aksel’s hut go up in flames. David took it upon himself to quickly set up a pyre within the home; using dry sticks, kindling and some unused coal from Aksel’s much maligned fireplace. Nora settled her father in his bed, wrapped him in his sheep-skin blankets and stood back at a safe distance to allow David to set fire to the building.
The haste in which this was completed was necessary. For down in the village, the captain of the veterans who attacked Aksel and David had received word from the two survivors of what transpired. After summarily executing the two survivors for their cowardice, the captain (who’s name was Arnold Thacker), mobilised his small troop and set out towards the hut to vanquish ‘the possessed statue and the heretic foreigner’. He was a headstrong and violent man. He believed in his own justice and in God’s justice. But from the day he was merely a babe, he was never shown love. And such a treatment made the captain excessively cruel and unknown to mercy.
Unbeknownst to this oncoming threat, David gathered his supplies and pointed to the mountains.
“They’ll be back with men. Not too many I hope, but we have to run for the mountains. Get to the northern regions- Nora!”
Nora was not listening. She stared at the ash pile that lay upon where her home stood. She stared at her father’s ashes. She was as silent as a grave.
David stepped towards her and put his hand on her wrist. “We need to-”
Nora whirled upon him and hissed viciously like a slicing sheet of glacial ice. “LET ME BE. I WILL NOT RUN FROM THOSE MURDERERS.”
David jumped back, shocked by the sudden bout of anger from her. “We will die if you do not leave.”
“Then go! You’re not family. You planned to leave us anyway.”
“You heard-? How-”
“I heard it all. I may not have been able to move, but I watched and heard all while Father made me. You wanted to leave, you can still do so. Go on!”
David grunted impatiently. He stepped in front of her, forcing her to look him in the eye. “Listen here. I was also here working on you. I helped your father make you. Now he made me promise to take care of you. To keep you safe. That’s what I am going to do, alright? So wherever you go, I go. If you want to stay, well…”
David dropped his rear in the snow, crossed his arms and legs, and stared Nora down. Nora’s eyes filled with frustration.
“What are you doing? Go away! Stubborn idiot! GO! ……Fine! Fine! You win. Where do we go?”
David pointed at the mountain again. “That’s our only option. Come on then.”
David shouldered his bag and pushed through the snow and up the incline towards the mountain. Nora cast one last look on her home. She sighed bitterly, turned and pushed after David through the knee-deep snow.
The looming mountain, who’s name was forgotten by those who have long since passed on, looked like a row of dragon’s teeth. Jagged, blackened and scarred. It gave off an imposing and menacing impression to the two climbers. David had led the climb initially. But he was starting to feel the fatigue. Now it was Nora who took over the climb. She did not feel tiredness, for she had no muscles to tire her. David shook his head at her unnatural feat.
“I’m curious. Do you have an actual heart?” he asked, feeling that the odd silence between them was too painful to bear any longer.
“No.” Nora replied coldly. “I have no heart. No lungs. No stomach. I do not need to breathe or eat.”
“Huh.” David huffed as he pulled himself over a particularly jagged shelf of craggy rock. “That’s helpful. But you do have a weakness, I realise it now.”
“I know. The sun. That is why you intend to lead us North?”
“Yes. More snow, the safer you’ll be.”
David grunted with effort. “I gave my word. I intend to keep it.”
Such short conversations were how the two passed their time. Nora, having no heart in the physical sense, meant she had no heart in the spiritual sense. She did not know how to interact emotionally with the (somewhat irritating) human that followed her.
After what seemed like an age, pushing through rough gusts of wind and heavy snow, the pair finally reached the start of the summit. David and Nora looked behind them and witnessed the expansive sight of the land below them.
“Goodness.” David whistled in admiration.
Nora turned to David. A curious look formed in her eyes. “What was that noise you just made?”
“Huh? Oh! This.” David whistled again. “Called whistling. Try it. Just purse your lips and blow air through them.”
Nora frowned. She copied David’s lips and blew. Wisps of icy air flew out like feathers made from diamonds. She grunted and blew again. She blew harder and harder, then a sound started to rise from her mouth. It was a whistle. Putting a hand to her mouth, Nora laughed for the first time in her short existence. “I did it! I actually did it!”
David watched her and smiled. “Well done. Just keep practicing that and you’ll get use to it.”
The sun pushed through the clouds at that point.
It shone over the mountain and the snow that surrounded the two travellers. The snow lit up and sparkled with such life and spirit. And so did Nora. The sunlight struck right through her body, its spears darting back and forth through the reflected surfaces within her.
David stared at her. And Nora looked down at her body.
Her figure was transformed into a rainbow, no, a kaleidoscope of colours. A sudden explosion of coloured light that twinkled like the stars across the world at night.
Nora started to turn slowly and watched the colours within her shift and move like a school of a thousand fish within a sapphire sea.
She could not stop smiling, though she did not know why.
And in David’s heart, as he watched the girl slowly dance before him, something fluttered. He started to feel warm. A warmth that one has for a soul mate.
He took one step and tapped Nora’s shoulder. Nora stopped and looked at David.
David looked away sheepishly, but he returned her piercing gaze. He slowly offered his hand to her. “Dance?”
Nora looked at his gloved hand. Then a corner of her mouth curled up into a smile. She took his hand. “Lead on.”
David nodded and placed his other gloved hand on her waist. He did not break the gaze.
The pair started to dance.
Slowly, with meaning and purpose, they stepped forth and around the summit. The wind rose and mischievously played with David’s hair. But he did not care. He only focused on Nora.
Nora, unsure of his intentions, continued the dance. But, nonetheless, she asked. “Why are you dancing with me?”
“Well… I like you.”
“You like me?”
“Yes. I think you are quite beautiful.”
“Why not? A girl and boy must dance. It is what must be.”
“I do not understand.” Nora let go of David’s hand and stepped away from him. “I do not think I can understand.”
David frowned. “Well, you can learn.”
“But why? Why should I do that? For you?”
“That would be nice to start with, yes.”
Nora placed her hand upon her smooth chest. “You do not understand. I have no heart, David. I do not tire. I do not rest. I do not love. I do not care. I do not feel anything. Whatever it is that you feel right now, for me or otherwise, I cannot replicate it. I cannot reciprocate it. I am sorry.”
Nora turned and walked away, towards the other side of the mountain.
David took a step towards her. “Nora! You shouldn’t give up just like that. Just-”
But his words were cut short by a gunshot and a bullet.
Nora stopped dead and turned.
David had fallen in the snow. Blood started to pool and marked the white area with a deep crimson hue.
Nora yelled. “DAVID!”
She dove to him and turned him over. By the grace of Luck, David was still alive.
He grunted and snarled, holding pressure on the bloody hole in his left shoulder. But blood continued to drip out. “Nora! Snow!”
Nora grabbed a fistful of snow and David stuck it into the wound. And after tearing off a strip of cloth from his shirt, he wrapped it around the hole and (with Nora’s help) tightened it as hard as he could. The blood flow stopped.
David staggered to his feet with Nora. He looked over the edge, then immediately threw himself and Nora down. “WATCH IT!”
Three gunshots snapped at the air and the whistling of bullets passed around their heads at a dangerous proximity.
“You there! Boy!” snapped a cold and commanding order.
David pulled his head out from the snow. “What? Who are you?!”
“I am Captain Arnold Thacker. You killed one of my men today! With that demonic statue. You are to surrender yourself and the statue immediately. Or you will be killed on sight!”
Nora looked at David. David looked back at her.
David gritted his teeth and set his jaw. “Your men attacked us! Killed this girl’s father! We defended ourselves! We will not surrender. Just leave us alone!”
There was a brief pause from Thacker. Then, “Is that your final answer, heretic? Very well. We will kill you both.”
Without hesitation, David replied. “You can try. Come on then.”
Gunshots fired off instantly, chipping away at the edge of the summit by David’s feet.
Nora and David pulled themselves up and ran to the northern side.
Looking down off the edge of the summit, Nora and David saw the snow sloping downwards. It was a thin sheet of ice. Ice that could give away at any moment. But moments were all they had.
David took Nora’s hand. “We have to go down. Carefully!”
“But you’re injured. You won’t make it.”
“Well, I can certainly try! Come on!”
David stepped off the edge and his boot unexpectedly plunged deep into the snow. And it shifted. Shifted enough for him to slip and fall into its cold embrace. Nora, who was holding onto him, yelled as she felled down with him.
Their vision was blinded. Their senses were altered and turned upside down. Whiteness filled their eyes.
And with the sense of fear building in David’s chest, he and Nora started to move against their wishes. The snow blanket was turning into an avalanche.
Nora roared and clawed her way back to the surface. And with her unnatural strength, Nora lifted David clear from the depths of the snow. He spluttered, then gasped for air. “The rocks- Nora! The rocks!”
Pushing and even swimming their way through, they eventually reached a group of rocks, outcrops on the face of the mountain. The snow, though not ferocious in its travel, was still moving with a malevolent pace.
David and Nora clambered on the rocks. And as soon as they found stability, gunfire caused them to duck.
Thacker and his troops had reached the edge of the summit and were now firing down at the pair. To avoid being killed, Nora pushed David back into the snow and fell in backwards herself.
Thacker ordered his men to move down. But one of his soldiers protested. “Sir! The snow’s falling down, it’ll be an avalanche soon. We’ll be killed.”
Thacker said nothing as he turned, pulled his gun out and fired. The soldier fell down, off the summit, down past David and Nora, and into the snow below.
Captain Thacker waved his gun at the rest of his troop. “Who else wishes to leave?” No one spoke. “Fine, then follow me!” He roared and dived off the summit with suicidal bravado.
As for David and Nora, they had more pressing issues. The snow was picking up speed.
Their only chance to survive, as they immediately realised, was to cling onto a rock and hope for divine mercy.
David did just that, reaching out with one hand and grabbing another rock in dire hope. With his other, he reached out to Nora. Nora saw David and pulled herself towards him.
But she stopped and screamed.
David turned his head and saw Thacker standing on the rock. The captain pointed his revolver at David’s head.
“Now.” he snarled. “You have cost me two men, boy. So, you die.”
David, for all of his courage, could not stop fear filling in his eyes. “Please, please don’t.”
Nora pulled herself towards to David, wildly disregarding all danger to get to him. She could not name the feeling that filled in her chest. It was something akin to desperation.
Thacker smirked as he thumbed back his revolver’s hammer.
David looked away. Nora put out her hand to David.
The gunshot thundered across the mountain.
Nora and David stared at Thacker.
And Thacker stared at the gaping hole in his chest. He looked up and saw his soldiers, all pointing their guns at him. They had not followed him, instead they stayed on the summit. None of their faces were filled with fear anymore, but with righteous anger. Anger for their murdered comrade.
Thacker tried to talk, but couldn’t. Then he turned his revolver at his troops. They fired one volley.
Thacker shuddered, spat and cried out in horror as he fell from the rock and disappeared into the swirling masses of snow. He was gone.
David turned to the soldiers. They looked back at him and said nothing. He opened his mouth to speak, but his fading strength and the loss of blood proved too much. He lost his grip and fell away. Nora swiped her fist and snapped up his hand.
The snow pulled them downwards, away from the soldiers and towards the edge of the outcrop. The falling snow ahead of them disappeared from sight.
“No! NO!!” Nora shouted. She flailed her free hand. She looked for something, anything, to hold on to. And she did.
At the edge of the outcrop, there was a curved edge of stone, like a frozen ocean wave. This gave Nora the perfect handle. Latching her fingers onto it, Nora felt her body being pulled by the increasing power of the snow that did not give in.
David tried to grab onto the edge as well, but he could not. He slipped over and started to fall. But fall he did not, as Nora still held onto him for dear life.
“David! Wake up! Wake up!”
David did not respond. He was unconscious. And he was slipping out of Nora’s grip.
The snow thundered onto them. Nora turned her head away to not be blinded.
She then felt something in her arms. A burning sensation. A painful sensation. It was fatigue. She was getting tired.
And she lost her grip. She and David fell. They fell through the air, amongst ice and snow, sailing down towards oblivion.
Nora woke up with her face in disturbed snow. She leapt up suddenly and turned around.
“David!” she cried, “David!”
She stood in a field of avalanche snow at the bottom of the mountain. Not too far was another frozen lake. Fear drummed up in her chest. She breathed rapidly. “DAVID!” she screamed.
But he was nowhere to be seen. He was gone.
Nora gritted her teeth and trudged through the snow. She was not giving up. “David! Please! Answer me! Where are you?!”
Nothing. She was alone.
She fell to her knees, defeated. Her father was gone. David was gone. She looked around one last time. Then she saw a hand. A human hand sticking out of the ground.
Nora scrambled to her feet and threw herself to the hand. Grabbing it, she pulled with all her might. David emerged intact from the snow. But he was not awake. Nor was he breathing or moving.
Nora’s eyes widened. “No, no!” She pulled him clear from the snow, laid him on his back and thumped his chest. “David! Come back!”
He did not.
Nora held his nose and breathed icy air into his lungs. “Breathe!”
He did not.
She thudded and hit at his chest for many minutes.
But to no avail. It was fruitless. He was dead.
She slumped onto his cold chest. She looked at his eyes, which were glassy and staring up at the sky. Nora tried to hold in her tears, but that was also a fruitless venture. She weeped. She reached over and held his hand.
“I’m sorry. I wish I could take back what I said. I wish that I could tell you what I’m feeling now. I want you back. Please… Please, come back. David, don’t leave me… David…”
She kissed his hand and laid it to rest.
She crawled to his face and placed her hand on his colourless cheek. She closed her eyes and she kissed him. It was a tender kiss. Slow, gentle and filled with such meaning and emotion. But that was all it was… just a kiss.
Nora stood up from David and turned away. Now, she had to go on without him. That was her fate, to be a silent and lone hermit. Hidden away from the world. Never to be with anyone ever again.
“Nora?” croaked a voice.
Nora whipped around and a smile exploded from her lips.
David was lifting himself up from the snow. He was alive!
He rubbed his chest. “Argh, that fall must have been worse than I thought…” He turned to see Nora. His eyes widened with shock, surprise and joy. “Nora!”
Nora cried out and dived on top of him. She held him in her arms.
“You came back! You came back!” she cried out.
“I had to. I could never leave. But Nora! Nora!”
David pushed her away and looked at her. He could not stop smiling. “Look at yourself!”
“What?” Nora looked down at herself and stared…
She was wearing a yellow silk dress, no longer made of ice. Her legs, feet and the slippers which they stood on were not ice. They were flesh and cloth. Nora looked at her hands. They were also flesh. She could see ten beautiful fingernails. She touched at her face. She could feel skin. Her skin. She darted for the lake. And stared at the reflection of a girl that she did not recognise, and yet she did recognise. It was her.
Her face was fully realised, with flowing chestnut brown hair, rosy cheeks and red lips. She gasped with shock and amazement. She looked to David, who watched her with an indomitable smile.
“I’m- I’m-,” she couldn’t say it. She wouldn’t dare say it. It didn’t seem real. She feared in that moment that if she said it, she’d wake up and find that it was all just a dream.
“You’re human.” David finished for her. “You just changed before me. Just like that.”
It was real. The dream was real. “I don’t believe it. I-,” Nora smiled. “I feel cold. I feel everything, David! Everything!”
She ran to David and leapt into his arms. He laughed and swung her around. Soon, he stopped swinging her around and they stood there, facing one another. His arms wrapped around her and her hands on his shoulders. David blinked, smiled then leant forward.
Nora welcomed his kiss by wrapping her arms around his neck, pulling him closer to her. After they were done, they both turned to face the country that lay beyond.
The sun was bright as it laid its light upon the tall brown trees and the green fields that were all capped with gentle snow. And in the far off distance, there was a town. A normal town like any other. In a land like any other. But to Nora, it was a chance to explore. A chance to learn and a chance to live.
She ran forth, her eyes open and laughed heartily.
With his strength slowly returning, David followed Nora with courageous confidence, knowing fully well in his heart that his promise to Aksel was at last fulfilled.