~ Heathen Stories and New Myths ~
The Snow Princess
On the mouth of the Volkov river lies the fortress town of Aldeigjuborg. The Jarl of Aldeigjuborg was known as Torvald Hrossbane for his fierce battles of the horse born Tartar and Bulgar nomads that had once raided the Slav settlements with impunity, and now had learned to fear the sight of Viking sails on the river, and the “walls that walk” of his mighty host. As the Slavs began to look for Torvald for protection, it was not from horsemen alone the villages lived in fear, but of witchcraft, the dread witch Baba Yaga took her tribute of children from the villages held in fear of her curses.
Torvald Hrossbane was not feared of witches, for his Swedes were beloved of Frey and Freya, and knew well the old magics and curse breakings. With his young daughter known to all as “snowflake” for her whirling laughing dances in the snow, Torvald set out to collect his tithe with his shield men from his new sworn Slav holds. When he saw a child staked out in the snow, as if bait for winter-wolves he grew angered and summoned the headman to him.
“What is this child staked out for wolf bait?” Roared Torvald
“Not Wolf, but witch” cried the kneeling headman, “This child is Baba Yaga’s price, or her curse be upon our flocks that none survive the winter, and upon our fields, that none awake in spring”
“We are the Russ!” he roared “We fear no witch living or dead!”
Torvald had dealt with the Finn and other witch-kept folk in the past, and knew the way to answer was with cold steel and the gods own blessings, not with witch-geld offerings. He set his men to lie in the snow, and at her insistence, young Snowflake took the place of the frightened child at the stake.
In the night, the strangest sight was seen, a hut on two great bird legs bestrode the snow like some giant beast, and from the hut shone strange and unhealthy lights and were heard the sounds of mad laughter most cruel. While the Jarls men lay fast beneath the snow, fur clad hands wrapped their icy spears, Snowflake danced and whirled in the falling snow, singing a lullaby of Skadi, the huntress of the ice.
When Baba Yaga strode from her hut to claim her prize, her wrinkled and hideous face was wide with wonder at the golden child who spun and twirled so lightly in the falling snow. Without fear the child danced laughing before the deathless witch, uncaring of her power, untouched by her dread gaze. As the witch stood frozen, enspelled by the child as her own sorcery had caught so many others, the Jarl and his sword-thanes sprang up from the snow like so many hunting bears and with a roar made to spit her with their spears. Screaming her rage, Baba Yaga cast a fearful curse to stop the heart of Torvald, but the Jarl was bound to the land, the wights of it turned aside her spell as a boulder turns aside a stream. Spears pierced her, but found not her hidden heart and sore pressed she fled to her hut and took to flight. Burning brands were tossed in her hut, and with magic she must quench the fires, even as strong axes hewed at her huts great legs.
Hurling curses at the village flocks, to have them turned aside by the protection of Frey, hurling curses at the land to have them shatter on Skadi’s white shield as the little Princess snowflake danced fearless and uncaring in the whirling snow, Baba Yaga spat a final promise at Jarl Torvald as she fled:
“I will take from you that which you love most, as you keep from me the children that are mine to take, so will I take yours from you”
But Torvald laughed at the witch, bleeding and shrieking as her hut smoked and staggered as it fled. He was not frightened of the witch, but not for nothing was she feared by the Slav, for her hatred like her life burned cold and undying.
In the years that followed the young Princess called Snowflake grew to fine limbed maiden, and her dancing won not just the heart of her father, but the admiration and suitors from Angland and Gotaland to Byzantium. Not just beautiful but fierce she was, taking to hunting from her ski’s on the snowfields and ice flows with her bow, or in the forests with her father’s spear. Her father’s huscarls were hard pressed to keep up with her, but her flashing smile and graceful dances stole their hearts as it had so many princes. Long forgotten was the promise of Baba Yaga, but not by the dread witch herself.
Word came to Aldeigjuborg of wolves tormenting the Slav village where her father had won his great victory. Jarl Torvald could not go, as he was sitting in judgement of a dispute between two village chieftains, but he let his Snowflake go with her guard to hunt the winter wolves that threatened the villagers and their flock. He did not know yet that the wolves were Baba Yaga’s curs, or that the hunt was for a princess and not a wolf.
When Snowflake and her guard followed the wolf tracks to the frozen stake she remembered so well, Baba Yaga sprung her trap. From the snow came the bodies of wolves, long dead but driven by her magics to hunt again, her spells whipped the wind into a whirlwind, turning the snow into a blinding veil of white so that the huscarls could not see the wolves that beset them. Even so, their swords and axes bit well, and strong spears held in place the frozen dead until their heads and limbs could be struck off. As they fought in snarling swirling snow, they did not notice as one by one the witches curses froze their very blood until of the dozen huscarls only two remained to ward the Princess known as Snowflake.
At once the wind died down, and the bodies of the frozen guard and hacked up wolves stood revealed before the ill found bird legged hut. Baba Yaga sneered down at the remaining guards as her magics bound their legs fast in the icy ground she had prepared so well for this trap.
“I take your princes precious Snowflake to be my rightful prey, and she will dance her last for me alone. You may live to carry word of Baba Yaga’s vengeance to this foreign upstart who dares to claim this ancient land” She cackled.
It was the princess who answered coldly:
Her shieldmen shouted and clashed their axes agains their shields, roaring their approval. Baba Yaga screamed her rage and worked her spells. One by one the last two huscarls blood turned to ice, their skin white as snow, their eyes the blue of glacial ice.
“Fear me” rasped Baba Yaga to the princess as she stood alone
“Never!” Snowflake laughed as she danced one last time upon the snow, her steps light and joyful as she spun and twirled like a snowflake on the wind. Baba Yaga worked her magic, and soon the princess’ boots no longer broke the snow but drifted above it, her blood red lips went blue as her eyes but never did her steps falter or slow. Baba Yaga’s magic froze her blood in her veins, but the princess spun and danced upon the wind, somehow untouched by the death the witch demanded.
Enraged, the witch raced her hut to Aldeigjuborg, that her hated foe could learn of her revenge. As she raced across the snow, the princess danced and whirled laughing after her. When she reached Aldeigjuborg Baba Yaga shouted at the walls, that Torvald should face her wrath. Torvald and his sons ran armed to the walls to face the witches fury, unknowing of their kinswoman’s fate.
“Your men lie torn and frozen in the ice, and your precious Snowflake froze with them.” Baba Yaga shrieked.
“Restore my tribute, or I will take every one of your sons as I took your daughter” She rasped
As Torvald and his sons shouted to open the gate, their huscarls and sword-theigns beside them, determined to take blood-price for their Snowflake rather than bend the knee to this darkling witch, they did not notice the snowstorm swirling behind the witches hut. As Torvald and his picked men rushed through the gate, the snow storm parted and the dread witches cackling froze in her mouth.
Across the snow, her steps not even denting the soft powder danced Snowflake. Her eyes flashing, her smile joyous and open, so strange on lips blue and cold as Skadi’s ice. She danced between her kinsmen and the witch, and her laughter stilled the battle.
“Twas Skadi and not yourself who took us” she laughed.
“The white huntress granted me to dance forever on her snow, my men to hunt forever upon her ice”
From out of the snow behind the princess moved two figures thrice man height. They were shirtless and laughing upon the ice as they jogged tirelessly. Upon their chests were tattoos of her own Huscarls, and in their hands great spears of glacial ice, and from their belts hung axes of the same. Frost beards hung from ice-blue flesh, and they laughed with the deep rumble of falling ice-bergs, as merciless as the ice itself, as tireless as the North Wind; the Snow Princess and her Frost Jottun Huscarls.
With a scream of fear Baba Yaga and her hut fled the coursing giants, running swiftly from the lands of the Russ now forever barred her. As Snowflake danced around her brothers and father, she kissed away their tears with a laugh.
“I cannot stay” she laughed,
“For my place is in the snow. But I will always watch over you when Skadi’s winter is upon you. As you defended our folk in life, so shall I defend them in death. Look for me in the dancing of the falling snow, listen for me in the winter wind.”
And then she was gone. While her father and brothers lived she would return to dance with the first snows of winter. Long after her name was forgotten, and her father’s hall torn down, still she danced upon the winter wind, and woe betide the foemen who warred upon the Russ when winter fell. For Skadi’s promise still remains, the Snow Princess and her Frost Jottun will ever ward the lands of the Russ.
© John T Mainer
This work by John T Mainer is licensed