Crown of Ice
such creature will risk a broken leg, even to escape.
    Back at the stables I unhitch my domesticated animal and dry her steaming flanks before I release her into the paddock. I then turn my attention to my prize, who’s still attached to the sledge. His head hangs low, but I can see life and vigor returning to his dark eyes. I quickly tie him between two hitching rings and whistle a sparrow to me. It perches on my finger, a small cylinder attached to its tiny leg. I breathe into my hand, creating a perfect ice crystal that I place in the container, then flick my finger to send the bird on its way. I know Voss will receive and understand my message.
    He appears several minutes later, wearing a crimson cloak over his black robes. His clear eyes shine with an expression I know only too well. I have seen that look—it is carved into my soul. When he laid hands on me to imbue me with the magic I needed as Snow Queen, I stared into that ageless face far too long while pain wracked my body. Burning, yes, like liquid fire. And he smiled then, just as now.
    “I see you’ve fulfilled my demand. Very good.” Voss checks over the reindeer, who trembles violently at his touch. “You may go now, my queen. My work is best accomplished alone.”
    I depart swiftly, not meeting the reindeer’s eyes.
     
    ***
     
    Later I steal out of the palace and make my way back to the stables. I want to see what changes Voss has wrought upon the unsuspecting beast, if only to prepare myself for the first time it’s presented to me. I don’t want to give Voss the satisfaction of viewing my shock over his latest creation.
    The scent of hay and the sound of grain ground between broad teeth permeate the stables. The heat of animal bodies causes a mist to cloud the cold air. I make my way to a corner stall. The reindeer stands with his head pressed in the corner, far from the trough holding his feed and water.
    “You must eat and drink.” I can discern no obvious physical changes in the animal, but I haven’t yet seen its face.
    “Bah-h-h…” A noise erupts from the reindeer’s throat and I jump back. It doesn’t resemble the sounds I’ve heard from any animal.
    “What’s this?” I move forward cautiously, gripping the iron bar that tops the heavy wooden stall door. “What did Voss do to you?”
    “Bae,” the reindeer croaks. He wheels about to face me. “My name is Bae.”
    I stare at the creature, wondering why Voss has granted him, among all creatures, the power of speech.
    “I do not know why I am here,” Bae says. There is a strange glint in the dark eyes fixed on my face, like the blue light at the heart of a flame. “I am meant to run free across the glittering snow. Why am I trapped in this dark place?”
    I find my voice at last. “It’s the will of the master mage, Mael Voss. This is his palace, and mine. I am the Snow Queen.”
    “I know. I have seen you before. Once, many years ago, I watched your sleigh cross the sky like a shooting star. A great storm followed in its wake. Many reindeer lost their lives in that blizzard.”
    I consider telling Bae that the queen he witnessed was one of my predecessors, but think better of it.
    “It’s the way of things,” I say with a shrug.
    Bae lowers his shaggy head. “So it is, Snow Queen. I have seen worse, over many years, in the natural flow of the seasons.” He snorts and shakes his head. “But this is nothing natural, I think.”
    “No,” I agree, “it isn’t. Yet Voss has allowed you to live. It’s likely he has a use for you, but I’m afraid I can’t tell you what that is.”
    The reindeer gazes at me mournfully. “It is nothing good, I am afraid. But …” He presses his muzzle against the iron bar, brushing my fingers. “I sense that things may change. There is a scent in the air like spring, though we have yet to survive the winter.”
    “Don’t wish time away.” I speak sharply, thinking of the few months before winter ends, before my

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