In the Snow Queen’s Castle
by Theodora Goss
Kay waits in the castle of ice, sitting
at the center of a lake made of ice, surrounded
by the pieces of a puzzle also made of ice —
everything in the Snow Queen’s castle is frozen,
everything is blue with cold, including
Kay himself. Although he still has a small fire
around his heart: you can see it through his translucent
blue chest. It has almost flickered out.
He still remembers what she told him when she drove
past in her sleigh drawn by seven white reindeer:
How do you know that you are truly loved?
If I took you now to my castle made of ice,
where the northern lights flicker above my bedroom,
where it is so cold your breath would turn to frost,
would anyone try to rescue you?
Gerda would come, he told her. Gerda loves me.
She would always come, even if she lost her shoes,
even by foot over Finland.
The Snow Queen threw back her head and brittle laughter
broke in the air, falling to the ground like snowflakes,
each perfectly different from every other.
No one is loved like that, my dear. Not even you,
with your blue eyes, so sincere,
your brown hair arching over your forehead
like a pair of swallows’ wings.
I’ll prove it to you, he said, hitching his sleigh
to hers. A moment later they were flying.
Now he sits on the lake of ice, trying to solve
the puzzle she set him, which is supposed to spell
the word eternity, but shattered long ago
into frozen shards, indecipherable.
If you can put it together again, she told him,
I will give you a pair of skates so you can return
to Copenhagen. Which is, he thinks, the only way
he will ever leave the Snow Queen’s castle.
He is realizing what a stupid boy he has been
to think anyone loved him so much, even Gerda,
who is no doubt still at home, learning
how to embroider various flowers on linen
from her grandmother.
He knows no one will come
and the fire in his chest, the small bit of fire
that is left around his heart,
will flicker out.
Damn him, Gerda thinks, standing in the front hall
of the Snow Queen’s castle, her feet frostbitten
from walking over Finland.
Perhaps she should never have come, perhaps
she should have left him with that bleached strumpet.
She sighs, then walks forward on aching feet
to rescue the boy with blue eyes and hair
like swallows’ wings.
(The image is an illustration for “The Snow Queen” by Margaret Tarrant.)