Home > Newest Books > The Girl in the Tower (Winternight Trilogy #2)

The Girl in the Tower (Winternight Trilogy #2)
Author:Katherine Arden

One of the listeners squealed; others were clutching hands.

“Enough,” snapped Olga, turning from her place by the window. The word cut through their half-serious hysteria, and the women fell uneasily silent. Olga added, “You are frightening my children.”

This was not entirely true. The elder, Marya, sat upright and blazing-eyed. But Olga’s boy, Daniil, clutched his sister, quivering.

“And then she disappeared,” Darinka finished, trying for nonchalance and failing. “I said my prayers and went back to sleep.”

She lifted her wine-cup to her lips. The two children stared.

“A good story,” Olga said, with a very fine edge on her voice. “But it is done now. Let us tell other tales.”

She went to her place by the oven and sat. The firelight played on her double-plaited hair. Outside, the snow was falling fast. Olga did not look toward the window again, though her shoulders stiffened when the slaves closed the shutters.

More logs were heaped on the fire; the room warmed and filled with a mellow glow.

“Will you tell a tale, Mother?” cried Olga’s daughter, Marya. “Will you tell a story of magic?”

A muffled sound of approval stirred the room. Eudokhia glared. Olga smiled. Though she was the Princess of Serpukhov, Olga had grown up far from Moscow, at the edge of the haunted wilderness. She told strange stories from the north. Highborn women, who lived their lives between chapel and bakehouse and tower, treasured the novelty.


The princess considered her audience. Whatever grief she had felt standing alone by the window was now quite absent from her expression. The waiting-women put down their needles and curled up eagerly on their cushions.

Outside, the hiss of the wind mixed with the silence of the snowstorm that is itself a noise. With a flurry of shouting below, the last of the stock was driven into barns, to shelter from the frost. From the snow-filled alleys, beggars crept into the naves of churches, praying to live until morning. The men on the kremlin-wall huddled near their braziers and drew their caps around their ears. But the princess’s tower was warm and filled with expectant silence.

“Listen, then,” Olga said, feeling out the words.

“In a certain princedom there lived a woodcutter and his wife, in a little village in a great forest. The husband was called Misha, his wife Alena, and they were very sad. For though they had prayed diligently, and kissed the icons and pleaded, God did not see fit to bless them with a child. Times were hard and they had no good child to help them through a bitter winter.”

Olga put a hand to her belly. Her third child—the nameless stranger—kicked in her womb.

“One morning, after a heavy snow, husband and wife went into the forest to chop firewood. As they chopped and stacked, they pushed the snow into heaps, and Alena, idly, began to fashion the snow into a pale maiden.”

“Was she as pretty as me?” Marya interrupted.

Eudokhia snorted. “She was a snow-maiden, fool. All cold and stiff and white. But”—Eudokhia eyed the little girl—“she was certainly prettier than you.”

Marya reddened and opened her mouth.

“Well,” Olga hurriedly continued, “the snow-girl was white, it is true, and stiff. But she was also tall and slender. She had a sweet mouth and a long braid, for Alena had sculpted her with all her love for the child she could not have.

“?‘See, wife?’ said Misha, observing the little snow-maiden. ‘You have made us a daughter after all. There is our Snegurochka, the snow-maiden.’

“Alena smiled, though her eyes filled with tears.

“Just then an icy breeze rattled the bare branches, for Morozko the frost-demon was there, watching the couple and their snow-child.

“Some say that Morozko took pity on the woman. Others say that there was magic in the woman’s tears, weeping on the snow-maiden when her husband could not see. But either way, just as Misha and Alena turned for home, the snow-maiden’s face grew flushed and rosy, her eyes dark and deep, and then a living girl stood in the snow, birth-naked, and smiled at the old couple.

“?‘I have come to be your daughter,’ she said. ‘If you will have me, I will care for you as my own father and mother.’

“The old couple stared, first in disbelief, then joy. Alena hurried forward, weeping, took the maiden by her cold hand, and led her toward the izba.

“The days passed in peace. Snegurochka swept the floor and cooked their meals and sang. Sometimes her songs were strange and made her parents uneasy. But she was kind and deft in her work. When she smiled, it always seemed the sun shone. Misha and Alena could not believe their luck.

“The moon waxed and waned, and then it was midwinter. The village came alive with scents and sounds: bells on sledges and flat golden cakes.

“Now and again, folk passed Misha and Alena’s izba on their way to or from the village. The snow-maiden watched them, hidden behind the woodpile.

“One day a girl and a tall boy passed Snegurochka’s hiding place, walking hand in hand. They smiled at each other, and the snow-maiden was puzzled by the joy-like flame in their two faces.

“The more she thought of it, the less she understood, but Snegurochka could not stop thinking of that look. Where before she was content, now she grew restless. She paced the izba and made cold trails in the snow beneath the trees.

“Spring was not far off on the day Snegurochka heard a beautiful music in the forest. A shepherd-boy was playing his pipe.

“Snegurochka crept near, fascinated, and the shepherd saw the pale girl. When she smiled, the boy’s warm heart leaped out to her cold one.

“The weeks passed, and the shepherd fell in love. The snow softened; the sky was a clear mild blue. But still the snow-maiden fretted.

“?‘You are made of snow,’ Morozko the frost-demon warned her, when she met him in the forest. ‘You cannot love and be immortal.’ As the winter waned, the frost-demon grew fainter, until he was only visible in the deepest shade of the wood. Men thought he was but a breeze in the holly-bushes. ‘You were born of winter and you will live forever. But if you touch the fire you will die.’

“But the shepherd-boy’s love had made the maiden a little scornful. ‘Why should I be always cold?’ she retorted. ‘You are an old cold thing, but I am a mortal girl now; I will learn about this new thing, this fire.’

“?‘Better to stay in the shade,’ was the only reply.

“Spring drew nearer. Folk left their homes more often, to gather green things in hidden places. Again and again the shepherd came to Snegurochka’s izba. ‘Come into the wood,’ he would say.

“She would leave the shadows beside the oven to go out and dance in the shade. But though Snegurochka danced, her heart was still cold at its core.