It had finally come, the first real snow of winter. Robert Jeffries knew she would come with it, as she had ever since they’d met ten years ago. He had only been fifteen then. He’d gotten into another argument with Mom and stormed out the door and into the snow. He wasn’t thinking and he was over a mile from their cabin, with the town a three-hour walk away, when he realized he wasn’t going to make it back.
His feet and hands were numb. He was trembling. The sun was low on the western horizon. The worst thing was that he was lost. He’d stumbled, falling off the path, gotten turned around, disoriented. If he couldn’t make it back home by dark, he was going to die.
“Man-child, what brings you out into my Father’s domain so ill prepared?”
Robert had been hanging onto the trunk of a tree so he wouldn’t collapse in the snow. He looked toward the voice. If she had a place nearby, he was saved.
Then he saw her.
“I’ve got to be dreaming,” he said, teeth chattering between blue lips.
She was beautiful, the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. Her skin the color of alabaster, her hair long, just very slightly yellowish, or was it picking up the light of a dying sun? If her eyes had any color at all, they were blue, but the blue of a mountain stream, one just on the verge of freezing. She wasn’t wearing any clothes, not even shoes or boots, and yet she seemed perfectly comfortable and at home among the ice and snow.
“Please…please help me.” Robert couldn’t feel his hands anymore. He was still leaning against the tree but his legs were giving out. If he laid down now, he’d never be able to get up again. His vision was blurring but he thought he saw her walking toward him, her shadow somehow sheltering the teen as he lost consciousness.
He woke up back at the cabin by the fireplace. Robert’s Mom found him collapsed on the front porch. She’d heard a knock at the door and thanked God her little boy had come home safe. When she opened it, he was at her feet unconscious. There was no way he could have been the one to have knocked. Hester Jeffries looked for someone else, someone who might have brought the boy home, but she only saw what looked like barefoot tracks in the snow leading into the forest.
Mom had died of cancer six months ago. She left him the cabin and everything else she owned, which wasn’t much. He moved into the city the day he turned 18, learned a trade, and earned enough for a small place and a simple life. He visited the cabin in the mountains every winter on the anniversary of meeting her.
At first he thought she was a hallucination, that he’d been delirious, but then how did he get back home? Mom said that his footprints weren’t the ones in the snow leading to and then away from their cabin. They were smaller, bare feet, probably a woman’s. But how could a woman have carried an unconscious 15-year-old over a mile-and-a-half to safety?
A year later, aged 16, Robert went back. He told Mom he was just going for a walk. This time he was in a good pair of boots, heavy jacket, gloves, wool hat. He took a flashlight and stayed on the path, that is until he found the place where he’d fallen last year. Then he carefully made his way down toward the stream, the place where someone had built a tiny bridge.
He could hear the water trickling as it flowed downward. He could hear the crunch of the snow under his feet as he took cautious steps. It was beautiful, a crystal wonderland, a pure white paradise, lightly illuminated by the distant red and yellow orb to his right.
“You have come back, man-child. I wondered if you would visit me again.”
There she was, exactly the same as he remembered her. How could she stand being totally naked in below freezing weather?
Oh God, she was beautiful, more beautiful than any dream of loveliness he had ever imagined. The girls he thought were pretty or “hot” at school were nothing compared to her. She was everything.
“I…I wanted to know if you were real.”
“I am as real as the ice beneath your feet and the snow bedecking the trees overhead, man-child.”
“I’m Robert. That’s my name.” He felt like an idiot. What do you say to someone who might as well be a goddess?
“I am Eira, Robert. My father is Ymir.”
“Do you live around here? Aren’t you cold, I mean, dressed like that and all?”
“Am I not beautiful, oh man-child Robert?” She opened her arms and then pirouetted, laughing with delight, displaying her every favor. Robert felt embarrassed and aroused and confused and yet he couldn’t look away, couldn’t walk away from the snow princess, if that’s what she was.
“More beautiful than anyone or anything I’ve ever seen, Eira. How can anyone be as beautiful as you?” He found himself walking toward her, almost as if he were in a trance. He didn’t know what he wanted except that he wanted her, body and soul, with everything that he had, everything he was made of, as if he could capture a dream of absolute perfection and put it in a bottle.
“To possess Eira, you must pursue her. If you can catch me Robert, then I am yours.” She laughed again, turned and ran.
He ran after her, but it was like running after a gazelle, a snow-white doe, she danced on the rocks and ice as a hart might scamper across a meadow.
Compared to her, he was a clumsy, plodding thing, his boots thumping, clunking, heavy footfalls, as if his feet were made of lead. He could barely see her among the trees, but her laughter echoed back to him as clear as the shimmering brook babbling nearby.
“Come…back…Eira…” He was gasping between each word, his feet were ice and his lungs were fire, but in his eyes there was burning and smoke. He had to have her. Somehow, he had to catch her.
Robert followed Eira deeper into the woods. Only an hour or so of daylight left. If he got lost again, he could die out here, but she hadn’t let him die before. Why was she running from him? He didn’t want to hurt her, he only wanted…wanted…
One moment she had been almost invisible in the distance and shadow and then she was right in front of him as he quickly wrapped both arms around her. It was like holding onto something so cold, but also so supple. She writhed in his grasp as if trying desperately to escape, but she was still laughing. She twisted in his grip and he could see her face, her clear blue eyes. Her lips were snow and her teeth were ice. Her breath was a frozen breeze streaming down from the mountain peaks, her bare white breasts heaved against his chest.
“You are holding me, Robert. Now feel the embrace of the Frost Giant’s Daughter.”
She put her arms around him and he started shivering so badly he thought of freezing death. Then it didn’t matter. She was still as cold as the darkest night of winter, but he no longer felt the cold, he could only feel her. Young lust surged up within him, but she taught him to tame his passion as she claimed he had tamed her. They spent a precious hour making love in the snow and then she was gone with the setting sun.
Robert walked back to the cabin in silence, elation filling him at the memory of that magic hour, and then empty grief at the realization that it would be another long and hollow year before he saw her again.
It was that way every winter. He would visit Mom at the cabin after the first snow fell, go for a walk on the same day at the same time. Eira was always there, never aging, always a vision in ice crystals, always making cold and hot, passionate love to him in the snow. It was that way year after year, and now ten years had passed.
“Wait, Eira. I have something to say.”
“But Robert, we have so little time together. What can words tell you that my loving you cannot?”
“I can’t do this anymore. I can’t have you only one day a year. It’s too lonely. I can’t live my life like this.”
“What would you have me do, Robert? My home is the snow and ice. I cannot enter the world of man, especially after the thaw. My life comes from the winter. Here is where you find me and here is where I stay.”
“You can’t even live in the cabin? It’s right here in the mountains. I have to work in the city, but I’ll visit you as often as I can.”
“No, Robert. You sit by the fire to warm yourself, and I am not of the fire. You sit on the front porch at the approach of Spring and watch for the first blossoming flowers, but by then, I, my brothers, and my Father all slumber. If you live in the world of men and I in the world if ice, this night is all we can have together. I am sorry, Robert. I can change my nature no more than you can change yours.”
“Could…could I live in the world of ice, your world?”
She slowly walked forward, toward him. Eira gently embraced him and they kissed. For a moment, Robert knew what it was to be ice, to be frozen and yet alive, frost and yet fire, and then she released him.
“I must keep our love as hidden from my family as you have from yours.”
“What do you mean, Eira?”
The frost giants are not friends to men. Yes, we have retreated far from your world, driven away by your ever-increasing numbers, by your technology, and especially by how you have taken the world and made it warmer, melting the glaciers, fracturing the ice shelves. Robert, your kind is destroying our world.
She pressed a finger of ice to his lips. “I know, Robert. Not you. Never you, my love. But since before the written word of man, the frost giants have ever been your enemies and you have been ours. The Frost Giant’s Daughter was always a lure to men, to drive them to madness, those who visited our kingdom or who became lost in it. I would have them chase me, as you have chased me these ten winters, Robert. Only instead of catching me, my brothers ambushed and murdered them for the Frost Giant’s pleasure.”
“You…what? I don’t understand.”
“I love you, Robert. You are the first man I have ever loved. I saw you, the sad and lonely man-child lost in the snow, freezing, dying, and I pitied you. But then I lifted you in my arms and I thought I could love you. When you came back to me the next winter, I knew for sure. No man captures the Frost Giant’s Daughter unless she wishes it, Robert. I wished it for you.”
“I can never enter your world.”
“If you were discovered, my brothers would murder you. Be fair, Robert. If your kind discovered me, how would they treat me, a creature of myth, a daughter of fantasy?”
His chest heaved and his throat closed at the horrifying thought.
“I know. You’re right. But then, is this all we have left?”
“It is all we can have, Robert. But now look. The sun is setting. Our time is gone, gone for another year, and we have only kissed.”
“I’m…I’m sorry.” Robert hung his head low, tears streaming down his face. He was surprised they didn’t turn to ice.
Understanding, she held him again in her arms. “I love you, Robert. I always will. Even after you have become old and your hair as white as mine, I will still love you. You will be a hundred years in your grave and I will love and grieve you, Robert.”
She stepped back, one, two, three, steps. “Thank you for your gift of love, Robert. I will always miss you.” She was crying too, tiny alpine streams flowing down a waxen face.
He started to say something but remained mute as she turned and scampered away, lost among the trees in just moments. Eira was gone and now he must go, too.
Robert returned to the city and the world of men, of people. He married as most young men do and eventually had a family, three children, two boys and a girl.
They lived in a small but cozy home. He was a loving husband and a doting Daddy. Each summer they would spend a lot of time at the cabin. He took the kids hiking and they fished in that little stream by the tiny bridge. It was hard for Robert to remember her when the flowers were in bloom and the sparrows sang with joy in the warm breeze.
Once every winter, he took the family up to the cabin, but on one night each visit, he took a walk alone, back down to the stream. He walked on the tiny bridge and looked for her. Of course she wasn’t there, but he could remember her vividly, as if she manifested like a spirit or a specter of winter right before his eyes, beautiful and naked as the mountains. He would always stay for exactly one hour, and then as the sun was about to set, he turned and walked back home to his wife and his three little ones.
Robert made few demands of his wife, but the one thing he insisted upon without any compromise, was that he name their only daughter Eira.
I wrote this for the Thursday photo prompt – Magic – #writephoto hosted at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo. The idea is to use the image at the top of the page as the inspiration for writing a short story or other creative work.
When I saw the photo, I remembered times when I too walked alone in a snowy forest. I also remembered a time in such a place many years ago with a young woman and of the beginnings of warm passion amid snow and ice.
Then I thought of the classic Robert E. Howard pulp fiction story The Frost Giant’s Daughter. In that particular story, set in a fictional antediluvian era, a man named Conan, the lone survivor of a battle between two warring tribes, encounters a strange and beautiful woman in the snowy wastes. Her name was Atali and she was to use her beauty and his lust to lure him into an ambush. But he kills the two frost giants, and Atali appeals to her father Ymir for escape before the warrior can “have” her.
Was it all a dream? He thinks so as he’s revived by his companions who had been searching for him, but then he discovers he is still clutching Atali’s gossamer veil.
I decided to make my “frost giant’s daughter” a different person entirely, and renamed her Eira which is the feminine version of Eir, a Norse goddess. It also means “snow” in the Welsh language.
About fifteen months ago, I wrote a shorter story involving the frost giant’s daughter called If Aesir Should Find You In The Snow, but I left it rather vague if she were real or not, and in the end, my protagonist did freeze to death.
With this story, I provided a more satisfying if somewhat melancholy ending. Whatever Eira and Robert shared was destined to end. She could never live in his world and he would forever be denied hers.
As a side note, I even found out someone wrote a song based on Howard’s tale. Who knew?