Of Indigo and Ice, the third tale in The Tales of the Snow Queen series is nearly ready to release. (22 October 2015. Eeep! ?) So I thought I would celebrate by sharing the first chapter. In a lot of ways, this book is topsy-turvy to the other books. Although, to be fair, the muse warned me of this from the outset. I just didn’t believe her at first. ?
So, while Of Indigo and Ice is getting all sparkly and spangly, I hope you enjoy!
The Moon frowned at the tapestry the stars had woven.
A fanciful tale, to be sure, but one edged in darkness with a wildness that unraveled into the night sky. They were usually much more optimistic than this, although even they were given to weariness and fits of bad humors every so often.
How could they not when they stared down into the face of mortality night after night?
It didn’t surprise her that the witches were involved. They had been from the beginning, and their tales were usually long and crooked.
As she puzzled over the story, moonbeams perched on her shoulders and tangled in her hair, she gradually became aware of a rather solid presence behind her that had started out impatient, and was only growing more so.
She turned her head to acknowledge it, and nearly stumbled in the sky.
“It’s about time,” one of the Babas Yaga told her.
“Aye,” the second chimed in rather severely, “we might have been waiting for an eternity, when it is the here and now that is in danger.”
The first shook her head. “Not much of an eternity if the present falls to ash.”
The third, and eldest, contented herself by simply staring at the Moon with eyes darker than night and sharper than the edge of the sky.
“To what do I owe this honor?” she asked carefully. She, like all the others of her kind, disliked having any dealings with the witches. But they, and she, had eyes enough to be wary and respectful of the power the Babas held.
The Moon had a longer memory than most, and she hadn’t forgotten what they’d done to the baby firebird, nor the oval smear of gold and white they’d hidden behind their hearth.
“An honor, she calls it!” the first huffed.
“Aye, and she treats our visit as an imposition.”
The Moon winced. Their voices were old and deep as the most ponderous and aged stone, yet they also had the quality of rusted hinges and a hint of the most querulous of sky biddies that pecked at the stardust and gossiped unhappily amongst themselves.
The third drew herself up, all thin angles and sharp curves. “We have come to admit an error.”
The Moon blinked at them stupidly for a moment. Never in the history of all the worlds had the Babas ever consented to admit they’d made a mistake on their own. Perhaps the one hadn’t been exaggerating about the end of the world, though before now, the Moon wouldn’t have thought that even the end of the world could have made them take credit for their errors.
The first giggled. “More like a fish than a moon.”
“Aye. A fish choking on moon dust and smothered by sky.”
“You understand,” the third commanded.
Blinking rapidly, the Moon found her tongue at length. “I’m afraid I don’t.”
The Babas gave her reproachful looks that made her squirm a little in her ivory shoes. She felt as though she was missing something fairly obvious, yet the world had been quiet and peaceful this night.
Except for the story the stars had woven . . .
“Haven’t you spies enough?” the first gestured to the moonbeams that had all hidden their faces and huddled against her at the first sign of witch.
The second peered down at the world, keeping her sleeves and the edge of her ragged skirts well away. “How is it you missed it from here when we could see it from no higher than our own chimney?”
The Moon bit back a hasty reply hard enough that it brought color to her cheeks.
“A heart of magic and of ice,” the third Baba said as she pointed at the northernmost Realm, “is a danger to even the most steady mind and the greatest good. We might have been a bit hasty in our revenge, but even we cannot break the bindings we have set.”
“The girl,” the Moon whispered as a sudden horrible realization spun itself out in her mind and filled in the holes of the tapestry she’d been puzzling over earlier.
The Babas nodded, and had the decency to look shamefaced—as shamefaced as ravens and witches could ever be.
Which wasn’t much.
The moonbeam had come back with her to the sky for a short time, only long enough to rest and become fully restored. Then it had demanded to be returned to the girl, and she had let it go, knowing it would be happiest tangled in the girl’s hair and whispering hope and courage to a fledgling heart.
To be truthful, the Moon had soon forgotten both the moonbeam and the girl. Until now.
She closed her eyes and called to the moonbeam. But rather than answering her from Winter’s Realm, it murmured back something from the sky’s farthest corner.
“She is a creature alone, though surrounded by friends.”
And then it did something none of her moonbeams had ever done before: it turned its face away from her.
“A mortal she was, but is no longer. And yet, neither is she of your kin, for she was not born to it and her roots began in a different world.”
The Moon frowned. What could have happened to send the moonbeam into exile?
“She cut her roots,” the first said, raising both a finger and her point.
“Aye,” the second nodded. “So it is that she is loose and adrift. Lost without knowing.”
The third pursed her lips and gave her sisters an irritable look. “To be blunt, she must be anchored.”
“Anchored?” the Moon echoed. She envisioned the girl with a new heart and untested wing buds tied to the ground, and her thoughts turned to the baby firebird the witches had kept by their hearth until Lyralind and the girl had set it free. “I don’t think—”
“Obviously,” the first snorted under her breath.
Before the Moon could forget herself, the third intervened.
“Her power is too great to be drifting. It must be anchored and balanced or it will tip the world sideways and backwards until there is little left but frost and snow and ice.”
“And a lonely little girl who has no one left to talk to,” the second wheedled.
The Moon’s breath caught in her throat. Such a story had played out once before, when the world had been new and they were all too young to be wise. It had all nearly ended, and had required the strength and might of them all combined, and even then things had been far from certain . . .
Another name framed itself on her lips and whispered out on her breath, “Indigo.”
The witches all nodded, and even they were sobered by the tale and memories the name itself invoked.
“Surely you aren’t saying—”
“What we’re saying—”
“—If you would listen—”
“Is that the girl must be brought to reason before unreason destroys us all.”
“Such a cruel fate. Is there no other way?”
The third gave her a level stare. “You remember what is at risk?”
How could she forget? The Moon shivered. Even now the memory of all that had happened, all they had done, sat in a dim and broken corner of her heart. At the time they had thought there had been no other options, and indeed there may not have been, not if they wanted to prevent the end before they’d even fully begun.
She had always wondered if they, themselves, had not acted rather hastily. It had not been fair to seal the great ice dragon away and alone forever, but it wouldn’t have been just to allow him to remain unfettered and dangerous to all he came upon either.
They had done the best that they could at the time, her heart had always protested. But a quieter voice had always silently insisted that their best had not been enough, and a better way must have existed.
Had to have existed.
Her heart rebelled at the thought of forcing the same fate upon one of the few to have ever stood strong against the witches.
“She is a child, not a monster.”
The first Baba shrugged. “You have lived long enough to see children who have grown up to become monsters.”
“Aye.” The second nodded at the tapestry of stars glittering like diamonds behind her. “And you’ve enough tales to confirm the same.”
The Moon pinched her lips together and shook her head. “She has saved too many to ever become one. It was her selflessness that compelled her to act, and her heart—”
“Her heart will be the ruin of us all if it is not contained.”
The Babas all stared at her like snakes slinking through the star-strewn paths.
“She is not the same child I stole away all those years ago,” the eldest Baba said. “Both her true world and her heart have moved on. She believes herself to be free, but the moment she traded her heart for Winter’s, she formed the bars to her own prison.”
The Moon glared at them as much as she dared. “She had much help in that regard.”
“We told you, we have acted hastily and in error.”
“Do not make us repeat ourselves a third time.”
“Wrongs must be made right if balance is to be achieved.”
“So you want me to what? Speak to the Lord of Skye so that we may rain even more wrongs down upon the head of a child who did nothing more than what she must? She is a hero.”
The first Baba grinned solemnly. “And so she must walk the hero’s path.”
The Moon frowned. The hero’s path was a narrow one, chosen by few. Many emerged stronger and better for having walked it, but there were also those who were dashed to pieces trying to follow it.
The path was littered with those who had never made it home.
The second Baba reached out a hand, but didn’t quite rest it on her shoulder. “You know as well as any that a true hero’s path is marked by pain and sacrifice.”
“Surely she has given enough. You’ve taken her home, her family, her very heart. What more can you ask for by rights?”
“That she not end the world for starters,” the eldest Baba said. “She made her choices for good or for ill, and so it must come what follows.”
The Moon pressed her lips together against the words that wanted to pour out. The Babas, after all, were the Babas, and had proven so in their latest dealings when they’d come to the Lord of Skye’s court.
“You speak of worlds ending and of magic that must be anchored, but I have seen no sign of troubles rippling up from the earth.” But even as she spoke the words, her thoughts turned to the tapestry.
Sometimes a story was simply a story. But, more often than not, a story had a seed of truth at its center. And those were the stories that tended to stick and haunt everyone later on.
The witches winked at each other before leering Cheshire grins at her, and she couldn’t help but think she’d stumbled unwittingly into a trap they’d been leading her toward all along.
“What do your stories say of heroes who have lost everything—hearth and home and kin?”
“Aye. And how long can a tree stand what has no roots?”
The third’s golden eyes gleamed as she raised her arms. “You have only to look and to listen to find the truth of the matter. When you find it, we will be here.”
“You have our promise.”
Then, before the Moon could do more than open her mouth, the witches vanished in a storm of raven black feathers and raucous laughter.
The Moon cast a troubled glance at the tapestry. Surely a visit from the witches when that particular story had surfaced was not a coincidence. With a sigh, she called three moonbeams to her.
“I need you to carry a message,” she began. “To a thief, a Teller, and the South East Wind.”