Since you guys enjoyed my first stories so much, I decided to include another part of my novel-to-be. Below is the story of the harshest winter of humanity’s history and how a young woman perseveres through the cold, giving birth to a girl: an embodiment of the winter. Enjoy!
The Birth of Bianca Barrowbone
Once upon a time, in a land long gone and a past not-so forgotten, there was the coldest winter humanity had ever seen. A maelstrom spat angry curses from above, whipping icy winds through the bones of plants and animals alike. Snow piled up on the once green ground, licking its way up the sides of both homes and still, frozen trees. Homes were sealed with a layer of nigh-unbreakable ice as people shut their doors against the world, hoping for the worst of the winds to pass as they clustered around the warmth of a crackling fireplace. Frost grew into towering bridges between buildings, thick enough to walk across, slick enough to slip. Pines that once stood tall and proud on the shivering mountains now fell to the ground, splintering into thousands of glittering shards. Lakes froze over with a thick, slippery layer of ice. Birds plummeted from the sky like agonized icicles, plopping on the ground with hard thuds.
No one in their right mind would have been out in a cold like this.
No one but her.
A woman with no name marched up the side of the slippery, frozen mountain, clutching her swollen belly and shivering from the deadly cold. She couldn’t feel her fingers anymore. She lost that sensation half an hour ago. Slowly, ants of numbness were crawling up her legs, begging her to settle down and let the ice consume her. Frost bloomed across her dark eyelashes and coiled around her wind-blown hair, obscuring her already fogged vision, but the woman did not stop her ascent. She blinked the frost from her eyes and squinted ahead. She couldn’t stop, not as the pain deepened and quickened within. She had to get to the top of the mountain. There was no way in hell she was going to have her baby in the middle of this gods-forsaken mountain range.
The pregnant woman, the young woman, had heard of the witch at the top of the mountain, had heard of the things she could do. She didn’t know if the witch would be dangerous, if she would eat her heart and toss her aside like scraps for the dogs. She just knew that the witch was the only midwife in a five-mile radius and the pains had gotten so bad that she was desperate. They came on fast now, every few minutes, but with the cold freezing every single bone in her body, the woman didn’t feel them as much anymore. This lack of pain, this is what scared her the most.
Birds fell from wind-obscured skies above, littering the snowed-in path as the woman saw a dim light through the mist. She was almost there, almost to safety, almost to warmth. She didn’t know if she could make it.
The cold was now burrowing deep into the young woman’s bones, curling into every corner of her body and calling her home. Her joins were getting stiff, creaky even, like those of machinery in desperate need of oil. Her movements got slow and groggy as the dark closed in on all sides. Another labor pain tore its way through the young mother, but she no longer felt it. She was numb, completely and utterly numb. She could not hear her blue lips whispering reassurances and lies. She could not feel her finger now clutching the fabric of her stained wool dress. Still, her legs tried to shuffle on.
She was so close, she could see the outline of salvation.
The woman looked down at her palms, now coated in a frozen layer of sweat. Her legs were getting frosty too. The darkness coaxed her deeper, a blanket of warmth here to save her from the cold. Maybe she should just give up, let it take her and the baby. After all, who would want to grow up in a land like this: icy and alone? Her steps slowed. Her eyes drooped. Finally, the woman gave in to the caress of darkness as she fell to the soft, white ground.
. _____ .
The woman woke hours later, her eyes unsticking as melted frost fell from her lids. The smell of cinnamon and lavender permeated the warm, crackling air. The labor pains were gone, but something else had replaced it, a dull pain…
“Shhhhh,” whispered a voice as a narrow palm smoothed back the woman’s hair. “It’s alright. You’re safe now.”
The woman wanted to shove the hand away, but she could barely move her arms. Instead, she spoke. “You’re the witch, aren’t you?”
The speaker finally came into view. She was unlike anyone the young woman had ever seen, at least in her small, provincial town. The lady before her had raven hair flowing in spirals down her back, caught at the top with an intricate, arguably expensive, pearl comb. She wore a simple dress of deep plum that was tighter to the waist and flowed out around her shapely hips. She was beautiful, yet her eyes, a deep, viscous black, betrayed secrets.
“I prefer to go by Emeline, thank you very much, Emeline Barrowbone. But yes, I am a sorceress, of sorts. Would you like something warm to drink? My peppermint tea is world-renowned.” The witch smiled a gentle smile, her hands firmly clasped in front of her and her shoulders back and straight.
“No,” The mother answered, her bones still thawing and her mind still fogged. “I want my baby.”
“Oh! Of course! Don’t worry. I didn’t forget. I’ll get her right away.” As the witch left the room, she explained in words the young mother barely understood that she fell right outside of the witch’s doorstep, so frozen and faint that Emeline had to cut the baby out of her. It didn’t seem the mother was at any risk of infection, though. The salve Emeline had made was killing off most of the pain.
Suddenly, the mother’s vision came into sharp clarity. She looked down at her bandaged stomach, a fraction lighter and smaller than it had once been and covered with thick bands of salve and bandages. She looked at the room around her: an amalgam of colors and machinery. The roof was saffron and the walls were a deep umber. All around her were draperies of violet, cerulean, and a verdant green that could only be found in the deepest summer. In the lefthand wall of the room stood an ancient stone fireplace, crackling dimly as it fought against the cold. It would have been lovely and warm if not for the delicate threat of frost thickening on the windows.
The mother wanted her baby. Now. She was about to yell out, forcing herself onto her elbows with a gasp of pain when at last the midwife came back into view.
The witch/midwife— Emeline— quickly ran to the panicked mother and pulled her back into a comfortable position, balancing a swaddled bundle of blankets in her other arm. “Breathe, darling. You just survived a harrowing ordeal. It’s a miracle you’re even alive.” Emeline curled the baby tighter to her chest, soothing it. “I must warn you, though. Something is, um, different about your baby.”
Oh no. What was wrong with her? The woman fretted, combing through a number of horrific possibilities until finally, Emeline revealed the worst possible one, the one the young woman had never expected. Baby held tight in her strong, lithe arms, Emeline spoke with a frown. “The winter got to the child. It infused itself with every fibre of her being. She did not cry when she was born, only breathed calmly when I picked her up and cleaned her. She is cold to the touch. I did everything I could, but I could not save her frozen heart.”
“Is she alive?”
Emeline snapped her eyes away from the eerily silent baby. “Oh, yes. Of course she is. But the cold has forever changed your daughter. There are three things you must know about your child so she can live a normal-ish life.”
The young woman would have rejoiced at the idea of having a daughter if her thoughts were not consumed by the frost that has invaded her child. “What do you mean, normal-ish?”
The midwife ignored her, looking back down to the baby, smoothing the girl’s thick, snow-white hair— not brown. “First, your daughter will never be able to consume warm beverages or meals. She can eat them, but they will turn icy and cold in her mouth.”
Emeline hesitantly gave the child to her mother, feeling a pang of loss as she let the baby go. She stared for only a moment as the young woman held the tiny newborn tight to her chest. Emeline had always longed for a child, but alas, it seemed that was not her fate.
Cold emanated from the girl, spreading through the pale blue blankets wrapped around her to the fingertips of the woman embracing her. The baby did not look like what her mother had expected (like her mother with deep brown hair and deep blue eyes), but she was beautiful nonetheless. The girl instead gazed up at her mother with pale blue eyes the size of saucers. Hair the color of snow barely covered the child’s small, alabaster head. The girl’s skin was ice against her mother biting against the little warmth that had only just begun blooming beneath the young woman’s skin. She didn’t utter a peep. “She’s like a tiny snowflake,” The young woman gasped.
Emeline smiled but carried on listing. “Second,” She began, setting a kettle on the stove nearby, “Your daughter cannot embrace the full spectrum of human emotion. She can feel annoyance, general happiness, and other muted emotions but passion, ferocity, and love are outside of her capabilities. Well, unless…”
The mother waited for Emeline to continue, but she just stood there, staring intently at her teapot, thinking.
The mother interrupted. “Unless what?”
The midwife snapped back into action. “That pertains to rule number three. If she does feel any of those strong emotions, and I mean any at all, she will thaw,” Now the witch stared directly into the eyes of the mother, her eyes rolling with intense, gray clouds. “While your daughter is frozen, she cannot die. She is immortal, in a sense. If she thaws, her heart will melt into her, returning her to a mortal state. If that happens, she will die a quick and vicious death.”
The kettle squealed in the background and the mother glanced down at her baby again. If your daughter’s heart thaws, she will die a quick and vicious death.
“I see,” Was all she could mutter.
When the mother held her tea, the cold of her daughter evaporated against the warmth of the simple, porcelain cup.
. ____ .
That night, the young woman stayed with the midwife, sharing a warm bed with the baby gently placed between them. The mother gazed at her sleeping child, longing for another day with the beautiful baby girl, but she knew she had to leave her. She knew the kind midwife— Emeline— would take much better care of the girl than she ever could. So, at the stroke of midnight, rose from the plush bed, slipped a note on the bedside table, kissed her baby on the forehead one last time, frost coating her lips at the touch, and snuck out of the home, never to be seen by her daughter again.
. ____ .
In the morning, Emeline read the note:
Dear Emeline Barrowbone,
I’m sorry I have to leave like this, but I know in my heart that you will be a much better mother to Bianca than I will ever be. Take care of my little snowflake.