a story with a magic heart

Tolstoy says that life is a lesson in how to nourish our soul – for as long as I can remember, fairy tales have nourished mine. Here is the beginning of the idea I had, reading ‘The Snow-Daughter and The Fire-Son’.

Long ago a poor, work-bent man and his threadbare wife lived wistfully but kindly together. They lived wistfully because they had no children; and because they were kind, their hearts were full of magic.

The magic gave them uncanny pangs of joy, while wistfulness gave strange turns to their thoughts. One winter morning, they woke to find the water in their drinking pail turned to ice. They went wonderingly to the window, then to the door, and out into a trembling, frozen dawn. The woman pointed to icicles glittering from their eaves. Her eyes sparkled. ‘I should like as many children as those icicles, husband.’ She laughed, and an icicle broke into glittery bits all over her hair and shawl. Her husband brushed bright splinters from her hair and smiled. ‘I would content myself with one snow-child’.

And he did: in time, the woman gave birth to a little girl. She was white as a snowdrop, her eyelashes were fringed with frost, and her tiny hands were like folds of sleet. ‘What a miracle’, whispered her father. But she cried when he took her to be warmed near the fire. Her tears dripped icicles down her chin, and shattered on the floor. Thereafter they rocked her where the wind whistled through the chinks of the door.

When she could walk, she would pry at the door in deep winter, till it swung loose. Then she tottered out barefoot, with a bare head, cooing and clapping her hands.

This bewildered the man and his wife. They would have spared their daughter the bitter cold. They would have wrapped her in their last clothes. It dazed their hearts to watch her go scantly dressed into a storm. But they learned to spare her after her own nature: to screen her from the hearth, to let her run into the snow, and to make a little bed for her in the basement on the cool earth, through the long summer days.

‘What a miracle,’ breathed the husband while they sat by the fire one evening, watching their daughter dance through the window. Trees lashed around her in ice-sharp wind.

‘She is a miraculous child,’ his wife agreed. ‘Yet, husband-‘ Her eyes flickered with sudden mirth, ‘I think I shall have no more snow-children. I will have children like these coals.’

Some sparks flew up and shimmered on her ragged dress. ‘One such child would content me,’ her husband smiled….

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