It used to be said, by the elders who travelled down the Sunrise Mountains from the northern wastes, that the Snow Queen still lay slumbering in her Mansion of the Rising Moon. They would sigh and wring their hands, worrying that she would never wake again and Eastora, or worse, Mabon would seize control from her Guard and the natural progression of seasons would cease.
As a small child, I would sit at their feet before the blazing hearth in the Copper Ingot Inn & Tavern, enthralled by their stories of never-ending nights in the wastes and the never-ending days that they fled in the summer. The old men, so wind-burnt and old that they looked like the dried apples we ate in the winter, told stories in voices so raspy and fragile they caused more shivers of fear then awe. The old women were quiet, working wool between their fingers or fashioning cured hides into clothing for the next season in the wastes.
"Tell me of the Snow Queen and her Final Battle." I pleaded one elder in particular, my ElderFather Starfire.
He regarded me silently, his faded blue eyes almost white by now, but still sharp and able to see. Finally he smiled, pulling my 5 year old self into his lap and wrapping me snugly in his blanket that he claimed a polar bear gifted him in a game of dice. I always felt sorry for the bear shivering in the dry, hard wastes of the north.
"The Final Battle of the Snow Queen is a harsh and tragic tale, PhoenixSong." He chided gently, wrapping me tighter in his arms that felt like sticks wrapped in leather.
I nestled my head under his chin, winding a strand of his snow white hair around my finger and looked up at him with wide black eyes. "Please ElderFather? I promise I won't interrupt this time, I'll be quiet like the panther stalking a fox."
StarFire chuckled, a surprisingly deep sound given his age and apparent frailness.
"All right, PhoenixSong. I'll tell you, but one peep and the story will be unfinished until you can learn to be silent like your ElderMother, FireNight."
I nodded solemnly, tucking myself closer to the man whom I loved with a child's purity and, setting my head to his chest, listened as he began a tale that never failed to enthrall me.
"The Snow Queen had ruled the Northern Wastes for many endless nights, from her Mansion of the Rising Moon. The Sun rarely shone and, when it did, it could gain no foothold. Eastora's presence never graced the Sunrise Mountains, nor did Mabon's. The Sun Queen, Mayseve, was content to allow the Snow Queen her territory.
"So, for as long as memory served, the Snow Queen ruled the northern wastes and the three Queens shared the rest of the world and Winter didnot hound their heels like it does here.
"The Lesser Queens, Mabon and Eastora, were not so content. They wanted the Snow Queen's territory and ploted and deceived Mayseve to allow them to wrest control from the Snow Queen.
"Finally, Mayseve capitulated, sending an emissary, her Captain of Her Guard, Pharon, to meet with the Snow Queen. Pharon was handsome and brave and smart, so he approached the Snow Queen after scaling the Sunrise Mountains to the Mansion of the Rising Moon.
"He stood before her, in her throne room carved of ice. Beautiful and dangerous, just like the Queen they served. He stood before her icy throne and pleaded his Queen's proposal. Expounding on the benefits for all the Queens to rule equally the northern wastes.
" 'Impossible," the Snow Queen announced after hearing Pharon speak. 'Mayseve must be out of her mind. Doesn't she realize what such a change could cause? Who put such an inane idea into her flightly head?'
Pharon, who owed his life to Mayseve, clenched his fists at the Snow Queen's assessment of his Queen.
" 'Your Majesty, please consider your reply carefully.'
" 'Are you threatening me, Captain Pharon?' the Snow Queen inquired, arching a crystalline eyebrow.
"Pharon knelt before the Snoq Queen, bowing his fair head in deference. 'I would never presume to threaten Your Majesty.'
"In the end, the Snow Queen sent Pharon home to Mayseve with a definate negative to her proposal. It is said that you could hear Mabon and Eastora's cries of outrage. And then they began to prepare for war.
"Pharon was sent back to the Mansion with the declaration. The Snow Queen read the declaration, over and over, tears leaking from her eyes only to freeze on her cheeks. She looked down at Pharon sadly.
" 'Come, let me show you what letting another's dominion over my territory would do to it.' She commanded coldly.
"Pharon rose and taking the Snow Queen's proffered hand, they were transported to a cliff face overlooking and icy and cruel ocean. Ice constantly formed and reformed, yellowish-white bears capered over the slick surface. They played a serious game of catch with lions of the sea.
" 'Should Mayseve succeed in her quest, then the ice would melt, stranding the bears on the shore without sufficient nourishment and prey to the tauntings of the lions. The lions store fat beneath their skin to survive the cruelty of my ocean. They would boil themselves in a matter of seasons if their enviroment was not strictly controlled.
" 'These animals, plants and even people need my protection. They are ill-siuted for the varying temperatures of Mabon and Eastora. They would suffer unimaginable under Mayseve's reign. I will fight for my people, Pharon, will you fight with me?'
"You see, the Snow Queen had fallen in love with Pharon and wanted him to stay with her. She clung grimly to hope as the Captain turned to her. Tears were freezing to his cheeks as he knelt before her and took her hand. 'Your Majesty, I am yours.'
"Mayseve was furious with Pharon's desertion. She sent her strongest mage to teh task of finding a suitable punishment for his insolence. The mage thought long and hard before being struck by inspiration. He conjured for three days, naked and sweating in his meagre tent before finally hurling the spell north with all his strength. The mage died and took the secret of the cure with him.
"Pharon was turned into a massive white wolf. And you know that wolves mate for life. He would be with the Snow Queen for eternity, but they would never be together. The Snow Queen was devestated and wrapped her heart in ice that froze her blood and made her a thing of revenge and cold-burning hate.
"She met Mayseve in full battledress, Pharon striding by her side. She faced her advesary without a trace of regret or good humour. Mayseve greeted her, and the Snow Queen greeted them all in return.
" 'Your Highness, will you not greet the former Captain of your Guard, Pharon?' she commanded.
"Mayseve gaped in horror as the Snow Queen caressed Pharon's massive head. He stared at his former Queen blankly, no more a person then the Snow Queen.
" 'For this curse you have laid upon my love I will fight with a savagry unbeknownst to immortals like us, and I will give no quarter. You threaten me and mine at your peril, Mayseve.'
"The battle was grisly, and true to her word, the Snow Queen gave no quarter. She harried the flanks of the combined army with stakes of ice that could plunge into unprepared bodies. She fought amidst her army of creatures of the north. Our people were almost wiped out entirely, so great was our love for the Snow Queen's domain.
"Finally, as the moon began to rise over the frozen and bloodied wasteland, the combined army fell back, giving the Queens a moment to plan their fianl attack. They conferred endlessly, and finally, it was Mabon who came up with the perfect way to distract the Queen.
"At moonset, with the battlefield bathed in the distant light of stars, Mabon sat atop her horse and pulled from her quiver a golden arrow and set it into her silver and bronze bow. She sighted along until she located Pharon as he lay sleeping by the Snow Queen. She pulled the bowstring taut, held her breath and let fly.
"The Snow Queen dived in front of the arrow. It pierced her through the shoulder, and, not stopping, plunged deeply into Pharon's side. Pharon let out a roar and so did the Snow Queen. The Snow Queen watched in horror as Pharon's body shook and blood stained the perfect whiteness of his coat. He looked into her eyes as he died.
"The Snow Queen's grief was a palpable thing. She rose to her feet and crossed the battlefield to where Mabon was. Mabon tried to flee before the Snow Queen's grief, only to find her horse frose to its knees in ice. She set another arrow into the bow and let fly. The Snow Queen burst it asunder with a thought. The shockwave broke the bow into bits of stardust.
"The Snow Queen pulled Mabon off the horse and beat her head into the frozen ground. All the while screaming her rage. Finally she threw Mabon's unconscious body aside. She stood quietly for a moment before weaving her final spell. She barracaded herself in the Mansion of the Rising Moon and incased it thickly in ice. She lay down in her chambers with Pharon's body on the bed. Never to wake again."
StarFire finished his story and looked down at me.
"When will the Queen wake?" I asked.
"When a fallen star lands in the ocean, and is rescued by the lions of the sea. She will have dark hair and black eyes and only she can wake the Queen and save Pharon." StarFire said.
Shortly after my seventh birthday, StarFire died. Fire Night joined him shortly thereafter and I was left with no family as my parents had been taken in a summer fever. The tavern owner sent me to live with cousins in the Alchemist's Collective far to the south of the Sunrise Mountains.
By the time I was seventeen, all of StarFire's stories were but distant memories, almost forgotten. The Alchemist's Collective pushed all flights of fancy out of my head with knowledge rooted in the study of science.
One night while plaiting my milk-white hair I gazed at my reflection, remembering the description StarFire had given of the Snow Child. Fair of hair with black eyes. Raised by lions of the sea.
I snorted to myself. Obviously, I wasn't the Snow Child. I hadn't fallen from the sky and I hadn't been raised by sealions. Or hadn't I? I remember nothing of my parents, not even their names, no one in the Sunrise Village ever spoke of them. Where had I come from?
Suddenly determined, I put on my cloak. I looked about my room, and finally took the blanket off my bed, the very same polar bear skin that had belonged to StarFire. Resolutely, I blew out the lantern and, taking it with me, set off to Sunrise Village.