The Frost Bride
I made myself as small as possible as I huddled in the cave’s corner. The cold seeped through my shift, and I shivered as goosebumps crawled over my skin. I hadn’t eaten in two days. Those were the least of my worries. The angry frost giant blocking the exit was far worse.
His size prevented some wind from whipping across the opening, howling as it twisted through the snowy mountains. It was the only positive piece of my situation I could cling to. I didn’t have the answers he wanted from me. No matter how many times he asked, I couldn’t help him. He didn’t believe me.
Things were so out of control. Cold, confused, and angry I tried to work through what I could have done, how I might have avoided this captivity. Nothing came to mind. She’d tricked me. Now I would die rather than her. How had it come this far? Why had I been so naïve?
While the giant continued to keep his back to me, seeming to enjoy the swirling sleet and freezing temperatures, I had time to relive the memories, over and over.
“Come now young one, hurry. We’ll be on our way in two shakes, and you must look your best,” Atta cooed as she rushed around my room packing my things.
“I don’t understand why I have to attend this wedding. I haven’t seen my cousin, Pirreah since we were babes. Why would she insist that I come?” I sat on my familiar cushioned stool in front of the table that held all my brushes. Atta usually cared for my long tresses, making the russet color shine and feel silky before she plaited it down my back. I had to pull my hair to the side to avoid sitting on it these days, but I took pride in it. What I didn’t love was caring for it myself.
“From what I’ve heard, the ceremony will be a grand affair, unlike we’ve seen for many generations. It is a privilege for you to go. Now hurry and dress, I’ll finish your hair after.”
“Why is she marrying a giant, anyway?” I asked as I stepped behind my changing screen.
“The elves and giants have made peace, and your uncle was key in the negotiations. He and the frost king became so close they agreed to marry their children as proof of a peaceful future. You know this.”
It was true, I’d heard the explanation, but it still didn’t make any sense to me. When I stepped out from behind the screen Atta beamed a brilliant smile and sighed. “Kattorah, you are so grown up. It’s hard to see sometimes behind all that dirt you wallow in while running through the forest. In that dress, you look so much like your mother.”
She hurried over and tied the belt around my waist, letting the ends hang at my hip. Thoughts of my mother made my eyes sting. She’d died two years before, yet my emotions were still too raw to process. I shook off the memories that tried to surface and focused once again on why I was being forced to leave my home in Alfheim, to go to Niflheim where it was deathly cold and ruled by frost giants.
“They invited few. Only those of the royal blood may attend. Since your father is not royal by birth, it is a privilege for you to represent your mother’s line. You must take advantage of the situation. Now, listen.” She spun my shoulders to face her. “There may be eligible young males, and it would do you good to behave with manners. Perhaps even allow one to court you.” She raised her brows to her hairline and twisted her mouth to the side.
It bothered Atta that I spent so much of my time with Micah, foraging and caring for the groves. We’d been friends since we were small, but he wasn’t royal. He was the youngling of a farmer. My mother had understood our friendship and allowed me freedom.
But my father had insisted on raising me in the style of my mother’s noble sire. We lived in a manor on his estate, and I knew what he expected of me. Perhaps that’s what made me seek friendship outside of the manor walls. With someone who didn’t care if I climbed trees or crawled on the ground searching for just the right crocus blossom among the leaves.
Atta sat me down on my cushion again to style my hair. In the mirror, I saw all the trunks ready for the wagons. “Why am I bringing so much? Will the trip take that long? I thought it was only for the wedding and then we’d be back. It looks like I’m the one preparing a trousseau.”
“Well, if you take a liking to a beau . . . I thought I should prepare you.” Atta tried to hide the smirk that crossed her face, but I swatted at her arm.
“You’re terrible. I feel bad the paccai will have to pull a laden cart all the way there and back for no reason.”
When Atta deemed me sufficiently fussed and trussed, she pulled me into a hug. Her strong arms clasped around my shoulders as if we would never see each other again. Then she pushed me toward the door, but not before I noticed the silver lining her eyes.
“We’ll see each other in no time,” I said, shaking my head and grinning at the woman who knew me better than anyone. I couldn’t imagine my life without her.
“Take care of yourself, loved one.” I heard her say as I strode down the hall to find my father.
I admired the blood-red roses growing on the arbor; fascinated by such beauty amid the snow and ice. I’d arrived in Niflheim three days prior and still waited for an audience with my cousin. A maid escorted me to the conservatory for a short time of exercise each day. It was the only contact I had with anyone.
There were books and a sewing basket in my chambers, but neither of those things interested me. I longed for a run through the fields or a chance to climb high in the branches of a nimel tree. It thrilled me to gather those juicy plums where others feared to reach. Not that I could do any of that in the ridiculous dresses I wore.
Atta must have discovered the trousers I’d hidden at the bottom of my trunk. Because the maid hadn’t found them when she’d helped me unpack.
“It’s time,” the maid said.
I slumped and inhaled once more of the sweet roses before facing her. I had to crane my neck to see the female giant’s face. “Can’t we stay a few minutes more?”
And that was that. The giantess gestured for me to leave first. Her features expressed a severe distaste for her duties—or me—at all times. Though I didn’t have the audacity to ask whether it was just her normal appearance. She wasn’t as tall as the two males that met us when we’d arrived, but close. They stood as high as two grown men, one sitting atop the other’s shoulders. Like them, she wore a belted sleeveless tunic with a fur-trimmed collar over trousers and leather boots. Corded with muscle, her bare arms never appeared cold. Long red hair hung limply down her back, and her face was plain. If she didn’t have such a large bosom, I wouldn’t have been sure she was female.
I tried to strike up a conversation several times on the first day, but she’d answered me with only one or two-word answers. All I’d learned was that the maid’s name was unpronounceable in elvish.
As I followed the large female through the frozen hallways, I adjusted my woolen cloak tighter around my shoulders.
“We should create a name I can use for you,” I said. “It’s not right otherwise. How can I call for you?”
I huffed. How could there not be a need to use someone’s name? “If you won’t help, then I’ll come up with something on my own.” The giantess didn’t respond. In Alfheim, Boreallin was the highest mountain and had a continual snow cap. I guessed it would be the only place in the realm the giantess would favor. “I’ll call you Borea. You’d like it if you knew why. Would you like me to tell you?”
We reached the door to my chamber, and when I turned to say goodbye to Borea, the door closed before I could say anything.
“Hello, Kattorah,” a female voice called from behind me.
I spun, startled by the intrusion. Before me, stood my cousin. Odd, I thought as I relaxed. Why hadn’t she called me to her chamber rather than coming to mine?
“I’ve been eager to meet you, Pirreah,” I said. It seemed so abnormal—related yet strangers.
“This is a big event. I wanted to give you time to rest. Traveling without a personal escort must have been difficult. Have you settled in?”
“I suppose. A herdsman drove the cart, so I wasn’t alone. And, it meant no one stopped me from walking next to the paccai when I wanted. I prefer to be outside. The touch of grass and the smell of trees already seems so distant a sensation. But, I suppose the snow has beauty as well.” As hard as I could, I tried to find something polite to say about the new realm she’d be living in for the rest of her life—poor thing.
A weak smile graced Pirreah’s lips, and a sad expression shadowed her face. I couldn’t blame her. She was about to marry a giant and live the rest of her life away from home. There was little wonder why her sapphire eyes held no joy.
As we tried to tiptoe our way around the awkwardness, I noticed how similar we were in appearance. We each had the same long wavy russet-brown hair, a sun-kissed complexion (though hers was growing pale), and a thin frame for our tall height. I’d always thought my straighter shape less womanly than those with more curves, but on Pirreah it looked regal.
My eyes being peridot was the only disparity I found. Except, how we carried ourselves—that was a glaring difference. Pirreah seemed nervous and withdrawn. Like a mouse coaxed out for cheese, but fears any minute the cat will slink around the corner. I’d been farouche and up for a challenge since birth; my mother had been fond of telling me.
“Are the preparations for the wedding going well?” I asked to break the silence.
“Oh yes, I think you’ll be pleased to see the hall. It’s adorned to simulate Alfheim as much as possible,” Pirreah said. She must have noticed the white-knuckled grip I had on my cloak because she turned to the empty fireplace. “It is cold in here. I’ll start a fire for you at once.”
“That’s unnecessary; I’m getting accustomed to it, a little. You needn’t trouble yourself with that.”
Pirreah stared at me for a long few seconds, to the point it became uncomfortable. It appeared she wanted to say something, more important than the simple topics we’d clung to. Then she nodded once and hurried to the door. “I have to be going.”
“Will I see you again before the wedding? At the moon feast, perhaps?” The last night before elves mated, they invited everyone to a celebration under the new moon. There was music, dancing, and feasting. It was a time for casting away inhibitions before the seriousness of bonding took place.
She stopped at the doorway and hesitated with her hand on the high handle. Then speaking over her shoulder, she said, “The moon cycle is different here. There won’t be a moon feast. Goodbye, Kattorah.”
It sounded so final.
Borea wasn’t all that helpful with my dress. Her fingers couldn’t work the buttons, and I suspected she’d never worn a gown herself. Somehow we’d made me presentable with just enough time to spare so that I wouldn’t be late to the wedding ceremony—perhaps the last to arrive, however.
The biggest issue was my hair. Borea helped brush it, but plaiting it was not an option. In the end, I opted to wear it down with only the top pulled away from my face. Traditionally only the bride wore her hair flowing loose, so I hoped Pirreah would understand. Who helped her prepare? In retrospect, I should have asked her and avoided the potential embarrassment.
I planned to slip in, join the bonding circle, and leave as soon as possible. Regardless of how much Atta had hoped I’d mingle and find a suitor, I doubted any of the visiting delegations would interest me. Since I had yet to see any other elves, I was skeptical there would be some close to my age, anyway.
“Through here,” Borea said as she stopped in front of a set of double doors.
The hallways were wider and higher than I was used to, obviously designed for larger bodies. The door handles were chest high, and I expected the giant maid to open them for me, but she strode off. Apparently, her duties finished none too soon.
I inhaled and let it out with a huff. The large handle forced me to use both hands, and I shoved my shoulder into the door enough to let me through. As I suspected, the circle was full, and I was the last to enter. Three giants loomed at the front of the room facing me. I assumed the one in the middle was the groom, but I kept my eyes down and hurried to the circle. Two elves parted giving me space. Grateful for the help though it left me directly across from the center giant. Pirreah hadn’t arrived yet, so at least I’d have a good view of her as she walked passed me.
An uncomfortable silence settled over the room. Glancing around, without trying to look like I was, the elves seemed nervous. I dared a peek at the giants. All six eyes met mine with enraged expressions. What was going on?
“Step closer,” The groom growled between clenched teeth.
“Me?” I pointed to myself. What did he want with me? Perhaps I was breaking giant protocol, and I needed to stand near Pirreah when she entered. It hadn’t escaped my notice I was the only female guest.
“Yes, you!” The floor rumbled with the force of his tone.
The giants on either side of him appeared ready to drag me if I didn’t hurry. When I tried to catch the gaze of the elves, they found more interesting places to stare. Whatever was happening, I wouldn’t be getting support from them. My heart pounded, and I held my hands, so the shaking wasn’t visible.
“Where. Is. It?” He spat when I approached.
“Where is what?” Concern crept up my spine. No one told me I should bring anything. I only knew the process of elven weddings. I knew nothing about giant customs.
The room erupted into chaos. A large hand wrapped around my waist and threw me over a shoulder. What seemed like days, but was possibly only hours later, someone deposited me on my backside into a bleak, icy cavern.
“This is tiring, for me and you. Tell me what I need to know, and I’ll find you more comfortable conditions.” The giant crouched in front of me as if he was concerned for my welfare. Yet, I huddled against a wall of ice wearing nothing more than a thin gown. I didn’t even have sleeves!
My fingers had a tinge of blue on the ends. I’m sure my nose did too. Each time I spoke it became harder as my lips grew numb.
He’d asked the same question over and over for the last two days. Where was the stone? I did not understand what he meant, but he was insistent that I should. “How would I know about this? I came to witness my cousin’s wedding, that’s all,” I said between my clacking teeth. The frigid air in the cavern had increased when the giant left the opening to the cave.
“Why do you insult me? When I saw you walking toward me without the stone, I knew. Stop this pretense and tell me.”
When I walked toward him? “You can’t still think I was your bride? I entered the chambers as a guest—like I’ve told you many times. The only reason I walked toward you was to stand in the ceremony circle as custom demands.”
The giant stared at me. His gray-blue eyes measured my words. It was the first time I’d really focused on his features—other than his size. I hadn’t eaten, my hair was a tangled mess, and I wanted to go home. In no way had I needed to grace the angry male creating my pain with my attention. But, I realized with a start that he wasn’t the ugly monster I’d always heard in stories. He was handsome if I had to say.
Dark hair, cropped on the sides, longer on top with a soft curl that fell against his full brow. A straight nose flared slightly at the tip, perfectly in proportion to his serious mouth and squared jaw.
His critical squint sent a surge of shivers through me, mixing into those already there from the frosty surroundings. He was terrifyingly angry, but the momentary thoughtfulness gave me hope. Something unreasonable, and irrational, flashed through me. I bit the inside of my cheek and tried to imitate his harsh features. I needed to stay strong if I was to survive.
“What is your name?” He growled.
“What’s yours?” I growled back with an arch to my brow. What did he mean anyway? He’d said he thought I was his bride, as ridiculous as that seemed, but wouldn’t that mean he’d think I was Pirreah? Granted, I didn’t know his, but I’d never cared to ask. Pirreah was marrying a giant. No other details had seemed necessary.
“You are not the princess they promised me, or you would know.”
“What?” Atta had said Pirreah was marrying as part of a peace treaty but did that mean she’d never met her intended? “As I’ve said, I’m not your bride.” I couldn’t help the way my eyes circled their sockets. Repeating myself was exhausting.
The giant flattened his lips in a tight downward curve. It added to his fearsome features, and I slouched backward. When he stood, he turned his back and slammed his fist into the icy wall.
A squeal tore from my throat as I covered my head. Bits of the ceiling fell around me like hail as I waited for the cave to collapse. But it didn’t. After several agonizing heartbeats, counted as they echoed through my ears, I peeked through my arms.
Kneehigh, fur-lined leather boots pointed in my direction. I let my gaze travel upward to see the giant had once again turned to face me.
The giant exhaled and I snuck a peek at his face. His piercing stare stuck on me and I held my breath.
“Take my hand!” He thrust his open palm at me.
Why should I? This giant had shown no compassion for me and I had to get away. Purposefully allowing him to seize me didn’t seem the best course. Perhaps I could dart past him and out the cave?
“Please,” he said. It actually sounded sincere.
I swallowed hard. There really wasn’t anywhere to run. I watched almost as if it were someone else’s hand that floated upward and into the palm of my captor as I sealed my fate. With a gentleness I didn’t expect, he lifted me to my feet.
“This has been a mistake. Let me take you somewhere warm and get you a meal.”
“Will you take me home?” My voice sounded small—and weak. At that moment it matched my resolve. Tired, I slumped at the offer of comfort.
“Perhaps, though there’s more to consider first. We can speak again when you’re rested.” With that, he scooped me into his arms.
Positioned against his large frame, I could tell he held me as one would an injured bird. Carefully, not wishing to cause more harm to the fragile creature. It confused me.
We headed out of the cave and into the swirling winds. Snow and ice pelted us from all directions. I never would have made it far if I’d have run alone. The giant hunched his shoulders, providing me the most protection within his ability. As unnerving as it was, I was grateful. I tucked my face into his chest and let my hair surround me. In part, for warmth but also to hide.
Not long after, I heard the latch of a door. I peeked through my tresses and found we stood inside an opulent foyer. The giant, whose name I’d still not learned, stomped the snow from his boots. It sloshed onto the shimmering tiles in sloppy clumps.
A male figure came running in our direction. Brushing my hair aside, I couldn’t help but stare. An ape dressed in livery and standing as a man hurried to help me as the giant set me on my feet. A blanket swirled around my shoulders. I stood dumbfounded and mute.
“Please show the young woman to a bower and offer her whatever comforts she desires. I’ll be in my study. Let no one disturb me.” Upon issuing his orders, he strode down a hallway to my right.
It was then I dared to take in my surroundings. A grand staircase, wide enough for four elves to walk abreast rose to a balcony on the next floor. Three massive chandeliers hung above the foyer dripping with crystals and illuminating everything in a sparkling glow. Rich tapestries depicting scenes of garden groves or peaceful canals hung from the walls.
“You are frozen, Mademoiselle. Please allow me to help you to a more comfortable chamber,” the ape said.
“Where am I?” I followed as he led me up the stairs and then down a hallway in the opposite direction the giant had gone.
The ape stopped in front of a tall white door with gilded framing. “I hope this will be an acceptable choice for you. The master can be harsh, but he is fair.” He gestured with a sweeping arm for me to enter the room, without answering my question I noticed.
“I will return when your meal is ready,” the ape said. Bowing deeply he backed away and closed the door.
Nothing could have prepared me for the sights in front of me. Lush green plants grew from pots around the room. Their thick limbs and twining vines climbed the walls and covered the ceiling. Other potted trees were scattered around creating a jungle-like atmosphere. Even the air held the sweetness of new growth and extra oxygen. Peeking between two branches I saw a pair of dark eyes blink once then continue to gaze at me.
“Hello . . . who’s there?”
Leaves rustled from several spots among the greenery, including the ceiling. I inched my way deeper into the room. The humidity and welcoming attitude from the Ape had given me a sense of security. Revitalized with warmth, the icy cave drifted from my memory.
Spinning at the sound of a loud thump behind me, I smiled. An adorable little creature with huge black eyes and fluffy gray fur gazed at me from the floor. Its large ears twitched as it stroked its own tail held between delicate paws.
I leaned down with a wide grin to introduce myself, then promptly fell to my backside. A flash of light blinded me as I scrambled backward, and the innocent-looking creature transformed before my eyes.
to be continued . . .