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summer woman to become the winter woman out
of mourning. I knew all of that.
What non-family members don’t know is this:
Persephone and Demeter were the same woman.
They’ve been split into two for the purposes of nar-
rative. She also had children. Her children had chil-
dren, and so on. Every generation it was the same.
A child would be taken, at first by Hades himself and
then, later, by the last child to go missing. It was
always the eldest child, if there was more than one,
made to be a Snow King or Snow Queen during the
cold months. As time changed, the Taken One was
not trapped under the soil but at the topmost region
of Earth amongst the permanent snow, no longer
allowed to go free for half the year. The six months’
reprieve shrank over the centuries to three, then two,
then one month. Then a week. Then a day. Then
nothing. Such was Hades’ revenge for the time he
had to spend without Persephone.
There was more than one baby born to my parents.
Me, and my younger sister Fernie.
I once hid behind the barn when the current Snow
King came. At that time it was a man, our uncle who
had been taken when he was a boy, his heart fed to
the ice so he was no longer human. A creature of the
seasons. He was different in the warmer months, I
knew—still trapped, but able to visit for a few
moments at a time, in the guise of a flower or a tree.
But I still did not want to go away with him.
I pretended I was dead.
At the rst glimpse of snow, when I was ten—all
children were ten when they went missing from our
family—I bribed Fernie with my portion of dessert for
the rest of the year to tell our parents I had fallen in the
well. I walked out with a bucket and rope, for the look
of the thing, threw them down the old stone well at the
other end of the farm and gave Fernie a signal. She was
only four, and hadn’t been told about the curse then.
She did as I said, even cried while she was telling the
lie. Probably frightened of being given the slipper for
lying, but that show of emotion saved my life.
It doomed hers.
I took to the abandoned barn and slept in the
straw, sneaking food from the house when I could.
The old well was dug right down to a natural spring,
bottomless, so nobody tried to climb down it looking
for me. They presumed I’d been swept out to
I saw the Snow King, with his slate-grey eyes and
blowing cloak of cold wind. I watched from a distance
as he picked Fernie up in his arms and whisked her
away. There was no love behind that embrace, no
hatred. The Snow King, my uncle Vander, had become
the puppet of Nature. It was impersonal.
That was what hurt the most, and the guilt when
I walked back to the farmhouse and announced
myself alive. I was beaten with a cane, and hardly
noticed, so racked was I with the terror of what I had
done. In fact, I wanted the physical pain to hurt more.
My parents ostracised me. I can’t say I blame them.
We were left with nothing to remember Fernie by,
only her absence and her shoes by the door. Red
shoes. When I was old enough, I moved to the big
city and I took them with me. I would eventually give
them to Gerda on her tenth birthday.
Whether to have a child of my own was a difficult
decision to make, knowing the fate that waited. I
have to admit, Kay was not the result of a planned
pregnancy. The bump didn’t show, and I assumed
the little nausea and aches I had then were caused
by flu. That was a harsh winter, and many of my
neighbours succumbed to the illness. Then, one
afternoon as the snow came down, my waters broke,
and I realised the truth. I was glad my husband
William was there for the birth, not on one of his
long sea voyages. Despite knowing the curse would
affect our child, I loved the boy like no other. When
he became childhood friends with Gerda, she became
almost like a daughter to me.
Then came the stormy afternoon when my Kay
was snatched from us. Fernie never let me see her,
but I sensed she was still angry with me. Whatever
small, human part of her that was left hated me with
a cold indignant rage. The crows told me so. I had
talked to crows since Fernie was taken, not feeling
close enough to any human to confide in them. For
some reason, they only deigned to answer after Kay
was born. Giving birth altered my perception,