From the mind of Megan Arkenberg

August 11, 2014

Snegoruchka's Ring

Posted by Megan Arkenberg with No comments
First published in Static Movement, September 2008.


“What are you doing here?” asked the Snow Maiden.

She leaned her back against the steep riverbank, her white hair flowing down to the ice at her feet. Her lips, pale purple and glistening, were pressed in a fragile little pout.

 “I…I don’t know.”

It wasn’t true—not entirely—but I couldn’t force more words past my chattering teeth. My head ached from where I’d knocked it against the underside of the bridge. Giving myself a shake that only just covered a shiver, I glanced at the blanket of ice between us, looking for a spot more sparkling than the rest. A late January blizzard would be preferable to Nadya if she knew I was talking to snow instead of looking for…

There,  at the edge of the riverbank, covered by a single strand of the Snow Maiden’s hair, Nadya’s ring glittered like a candle through a veil of fog. I started towards it, my feet slipping across the snow-dusted ice, and reached for it with fingers stiff beneath my thin woolen gloves.

The Snow Maiden blinked once, her eyelashes freezing over her wide blue eyes like strands of hoarfrost. Then, with a sound like glass rattling in the wind, she tore herself from the snow bank and clutched the ring up in her fist.

“It’s mine,” she said.

I pulled my hand back and crouched in the snow, struggling for balance. Her voice was like a gust of wind pushing me back across the river.

“There must be some mistake,” I said, in the tone I reserved for stubborn horses and Nadya’s mother. “I bought that ring from a traveling tinker last spring. It belongs to Nadya now.”

She opened her fist for a moment, examining the play of light on the ring’s silver band. Her hand was as white as a lady’s kidskin glove. “If it belongs to Nadya, why isn’t she wearing it?”

“We were up on the hill,” I explained, pointing to the steep bank behind her. “Building a snow daughter. Nadya and I made a bet to see who could throw a handful of snow the farthest.”

“I know,” the Snow Maiden said. “Someone threw snow at me over the side of the bridge. That wasn’t very polite.”

I continued as if I hadn’t heard. “Nadya won, of course. But when we went back to the snow daughter, she saw that her ring was missing and sent me to find it.”

“Why?”

I shook my head, dumbfounded. “Why what?”

“Why did she send you to get the ring back?”

“I…well, she…” I stammered for a few moments, by breath rushing out in thick white clouds. “She likes the ring, I suppose.”

“And why does she like the ring?”

“Look,” I sighed, glancing up at the bridge over my shoulder. Nadya wouldn’t wait much longer. “Why does it matter to you? She likes the ring because I was the one who gave it to her.”

“No.” The Snow Maiden smiled triumphantly. “She likes the ring because it’s silver, and none of the other girls wear silver rings, and that makes her feel important. She couldn’t care less who gave it to her.”

My patience snapped like a thread of wool spun too thinly. I wanted to take the slight figure before me and shake her until her face lost that ridiculous smirk.  “That’s my ring,” I said. “I bought it with every piece of copper I had to my name. I don’t care why Nadya wants it—it’s mine, and I want it back!”

With a small shrug, like wind through the branches of a willow, the Snow Maiden set the ring on the tip o f her thumb and flicked it across the ice. “Take it, then,” she said. “I can get better things. It’s only silver, after all.”

I scrambled for it as it landed on the ice beside me, nearly vanishing again beneath a mound of snow. When I looked back at the riverbank, the Snow Maiden was gone.

*
                
I clambered back up the hill to find Nadya standing at the top, both hands tangled in her golden hair, eyes set vacantly on the patch of snow in front of her.

“I don’t know how it happened,” she murmured. “One moment, she was sitting there just as we built her…then I looked down at the bridge, and when I turned back again…”

Her voice stopped short, but she didn’t need to say anymore. I could see for myself;  our snow daughter was gone.

I put an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. “It’s all right, love,” I said, pressing my lips to her forehead. Her skin was cold as ice. “I found the ring for you.”

Her eyes went wide, her ruby lips turning up in a smile. She shoved me away with one hand and pried my fist open with the other.

“What…” Her face slackened, lips pulled back from her teeth like a snarling wolf’s. “Where is it?” she shrieked, pounding her fists on my chest. “Where  is it?”

Bewildered, I stepped out of her reach and peered at the palm of my glove. There, where moments before the silver ring had glittered, a powdery ring of snow shifted to and fro in the wind.

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