Read The Snow Queen Online

Authors: Eileen Kernaghan

Tags: #JUV037000, #FIC009030

The Snow Queen

The Snow Queen


©2000, Eileen Kernaghan
Second Printing 2003, Third printing 2004, Fourth printing 2007
All rights reserved

No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher or a licence from The Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency (Accesss Copyright). For an Access Copyright licence, visit
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Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Kernaghan, Eileen
The snow queen

978-1-894345-14-9 (pbk.).
978-1-927068-99-1 (html.)
978-1-927068-97-7 (pdf)

I. Title.
695S56 2000    
45785Sn 2000

Cover illustration “The Russian Princess” by Charles Robinson
The Happy Prince and Other Tales
(Duckworth & Co. 1913)
Used with permission.

Cover and book design by Jackie Forrie
Printed and bound in Canada

Thistledown Press Ltd.
118 - 20th Street
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan,

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Saskatchewan Arts Board, and the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund for our publishing program.


The song fragments in Chapter Twenty are loosely borrowed from W. F. Kirby's translation of the
Kalevala: The Land of Heroes
, Vol. 2, Dent: London, Everyman's Library, 1st ed. 1907).

An earlier version of
The Snow Queen
appeared in short form as “The Robber-Maiden's Story”, in the Canadian speculative magazine

for Gavin

Moon, free me, sun, let me out,
Great Bear, ever guide
(me) out of strange doors,
alien gates,
from this small nest,
from cramped dwellings!

                       —Elias Lönnrot,
New Kalevala

seventeen runes have I written
on hazel staves
and river stones
on apple boughs
and dragon bones
on sword and shield
on wagon wheels
and sleigh traces
on wolf's claw
and bear's paw
on serpent's tongue
on brooch and ring
on the night owl's wing
on silver, on glass, on gold
seventeen runes
for birth, for death
written on fire
and the wind's breath
and the eighteenth rune
which save in the hidden speech of love
is never told.


Looking back, years afterwards, she thought she could name the day, the hour — almost the exact moment — when things began to go wrong.

It was late in the afternoon, on a cloudless Sunday in July. The two of them, still in their church-going clothes, were perched high up above the street, in the narrow roof-garden their two households shared. The roses, flourishing in the hot weather, had shot up in their pots to form prickly head-high arches.

As usual Kai was reading a book. Holding it up against the slanting sunlight, he shielded his eyes with his free hand and squinted at the pages.

Gerda found the perfect rhyme she needed to finish her new poem, and penned the line tidily in her notebook: “ . . . and sweet as the scent of roses on the summer air.” She'd been working on it all week, in odd moments, worrying away at it to get the meter right. She read it through again from the beginning, and gave a small “hah!” of satisfaction. Kai glanced sideways at her.

“May I read you my poem?”

Kai closed his book, his finger marking the place. “Right now?”

“I'm sorry,” said Gerda, confused by the gruffness in his voice. How impatient he sounded! She had always shared her poems with Kai. Always before he had seemed eager to hear them.

“No, it's all right. Go ahead. Is it very long?”

Gerda shook her head.

“Then read.” His thin, dark face was turned toward her. The sun, glancing off his spectacles, hid the expression in his eyes.

She read the poem aloud, but all the joy had gone out of it. She spoke flatly, tonelessly, her voice draining the energy from her painstakingly crafted lines.

“It's all right,” Kai said, turning back to his book.

“What's wrong with it?” she asked. Though she really meant, “What's wrong with you?”

“Nothing's wrong with it. It's fine. Quite good, in fact. But really, it's just another poem about roses. And sunshine. And love. It isn't as if you've said anything new about them, is it?”

“You always liked my poems. You
you did.”

“But I'm older now. If you must know, I've found there are things in this world that matter more than pretty verses about rose-gardens.”

When had her oldest playmate, her dearest friend, turned into this harsh-tongued stranger? “Things that matter more than love?” she asked, dismayed.

He gave her a look of pity and condescension. “
matters,” he said, and he thrust his book at her. She glanced down at the open page. It was covered with symbols, formulae, equations. They might as well have been magical runes, for all that she could understand them.

“Mathematics, Gerda. Calculus.” He took the book out of her hands, gestured to others in the pile beside him. “Physics. Chemistry. That's what matters to me, Gerda. Not poems.”

“I write about what is beautiful,” she said.

“That's because you're still a child.”

“Sixteen in August,” she reminded him in a small, faint voice.

“As I said. A child. As you get older, you come to see things more clearly.” He plucked a rose from the nearest pot. “See this? Black spots all over the leaves. The petals brown and fading. Ugliness. Decay. Why write poems about things that are only pretty for a week? Now
. . . ” He showed her a sheet of foolscap, the page covered with equations — or perhaps, she thought, it was one single, sprawling equation. “This is beautiful. Elegant. Real. This endures.”

The marks on the page were blurred, suddenly, by Gerda's tears. “How hurtful you are,” she said. “How cruel.”

Kai looked at her in honest bewilderment. “Why do you say that? How can it be cruel, to explain what should be self-evident?”

But she had already gathered up her petticoats and skirts, and with inelegant haste was clambering through the window into the refuge of her bedroom. She refused to let Kai see her cry.


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty - One

Chapter Twenty - Two

Chapter Twenty - Three


he drumming had started again. It throbbed in the thick, stale air of her father's hall, pulsed in her flesh like a second heartbeat. Ritva knew it would go on all night. How she loathed the whole business — the monotonous drumming, the writhing and shaking and frothing at the mouth. She hated the sight of her mother lying in the mud, a limp heap of deerskin and feathers, emptied like a husk. She hated how tired and wrung-out her mother looked afterwards, and how foul-tempered she was, when her soul at last returned to her exhausted body. Most of all she hated the reminder that one day this power, and this dreadful obligation, would be hers.

“They can't make me do this,” Ritva promised herself. “I will be a hunter instead. Or a reindeer herder.” Squirming down into her nest of musty skins, she stuffed her fingers into her ears.

By morning the drums had stopped. Ritva lay still for a long time, her eyes crusted with sleep and smoke, staring up into the blackened rafters of the Great Hall. All she could hear was the soft cooing of the pigeons, the crackle of burning logs, the rasping snores of her father's men, still sprawled in drunken slumber beside the hearth. After a while she crawled out of bed, pulled on her tunic and leggings, laced up her deerskin boots. Then she felt under her pillow for her hunting knife in its embroidered sheath. This last year or so she had begun to sleep with it close to hand. She fastened it to her belt, and wandered over to the hearth in search of breakfast.

Ritva's mother had taken off her shaman's garments and had put on instead a skirt and a long-sleeved, high-necked bodice. Ritva's father had stolen them years ago from a lady of high rank who had been foolish enough to travel through their part of the forest. The black velvet skirt was frayed at the hem and rubbed shiny at the seat. There were gravy stains on the silk bodice, half the jet beads had come unstitched, and there was a gaping rent under one arm. In her shaman's robes Ritva's mother possessed a frightening dignity, but this tattered, grubby finery diminished her. When she took off her robes she took off her strength, her authority, her ability to inspire fear.

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