The Legend of the Snow Fairies

6/18/18: I wrote this story in 2013, and posted it here on the blog in 2015. I don’t write much fiction, but this story plopped itself in my lap and demanded to be written. This is part of my archive restoration project

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Yes, child. Of course it’s alright to love winter. The snow fairies love it, too.

The story you heard today was told from a wrong perspective. See, in that time, the people needed an explanation for why winter was a sad time. They didn’t like the cold because their food didn’t grow and they had to eat dried food. Today, you can play in the snow and marvel at the frost, and come inside and I will fix you a hot drink. Are you ready? I’ll tell you what really happened.

There was a fairy-child whose name was Elraen. She was over a thousand years old, but if she were human, she would be about your age. She had a special power that she wasn’t allowed to use.

Elraen couldn’t dance like the other fairies. When she flew with the other fairy-boys and fairy-girls to make the flowers bloom and sparkle, and to make the fruit in Demeter’s orchards ripe and delicious, Elraen would ruin everything. She would try to dance, but nothing worked right for her.

The first time she tried to brighten the color of an apple so it shined, Elraen couldn’t do it correctly. Another fairy flew to an apple and spun beside it, and it grew to a warm rouge, and it shined in the sun. Demeter smiled at the other fairy and held out her hand, whispering a joyful blessing to the small creature. Elraen nervously flew to an apple and made the same spin in the air, and when the magic left her hands, the apple didn’t brighten. It withered, and frothed with a white frost. Then it fell to the ground and broke into frozen pieces.

Demeter ignored Elraen, looking only at the ruined apple with distress. She had never seen a fairy freeze something before. The other fairies were astonished, and when Demeter moved on to another place, the other fairies danced around Elraen and laughed at her.

That same night, the little fairy was called into the palace of the fairies, where the high fairy priest held his ancient, purple and golden wings proudly. He addressed the child sternly, and told her she must study with the older fairies instead of working alongside the others who were her age. She must learn to make warmth.

So every day since, Elraen had no friends. She tried to work at her lessons each day, in a sunless study away from the orchards, and though the old fairies were patient with her, she was a slow learner.

Elraen was a fairy, and it is very strange to see a beautiful fairy child walking on her small feet with her head hung low. This is what she did every day, for she was afraid to dance, and thought her dance was ugly. She did not know that her white-blue hair hung in lovely ringlets down her back, or that her face was always calming to look at, even if she was so alone.

Perhaps the rarity of seeing a fairy walking with her wings unused, her head dropped, and icy tears collecting around her face was what made Persephone notice Elraen.

“Fairy-child, what troubles you?” the voice of the goddess was the first gentle, musical thing Elraen had heard since she had left her mother’s nest.

She raised her pale eyes, wiping the last of the frost from her cheeks. “I can’t make the fruit ripen,” Elraen said, though she knew she shouldn’t complain to the goddess. “And the other fairies laugh at me.”

A wave of sorrowful compassion swept across the goddess’ face, and Persephone held out her hand to the fairy. Elraen flitted up onto the warm palm held out to her, and she sat there comfortably.

“What’s your name, fairy-child?”

“Elraen, dear goddess.”

Persephone smiled, and brushed her golden locks aside. “Tell me what happened, as it happened.”

Elraen tried to calm herself as she told the story, and spoke of the weeks and weeks she’d spent trying to learn to ripen fruit.

Persephone pursed her lips when Elraen said Demeter had ignored her and mourned the frozen fruit. “I understand, little one. My mother often thinks of nothing but her fruit, and forgets the people around her. I, too, am lonely.”

“Forgive me, lady,” Elraen remembered her manners at last, “but why should you be lonely?”

Persephone’s pretty, giant face dropped a little, and Elraen took in every detail. Fairies are so small, they can see details in the large faces of the gods and goddesses. “I have not found someone to love and make a life with,” Persephone explained in simple terms so the fairy-child could understand, “and my mother never lets me leave her orchards.”

“But the orchards are beautiful,” Elraen said. “Why would anyone want to go beyond these acres and acres of good land?”

“Would you want to go to a better place, young one?”

Elraen had to admit that she did.

“We can speak of happy things, though, since we understand each other,” Persephone said. “Please, show me what happens when you dance.”

Elraen decided to trust the goddess, for she was kind. She spread her wings and lifted her head, and began to dance through the air.

The fairy-girl didn’t know how she looked, and she was very nervous. I’ll tell you what Persephone saw: flowing gestures and feeling movements, a perfect coordination of wings and arms, with tiny feet kicking with passion. Elraen’s hair moved through the warm wind with gentility, and in a few seconds the air around her began to change. The wind turned frigid, and tiny flakes of soft ice fell and swirled around her. She twirled and spun, never tiring, and when she finished, breathless, he was smiling in spite of herself. Cold droplets of water were all that was left of her work, melted on Persephone’s hands.

“It’s beautiful, and you should not be ashamed of your gift,” Persephone told her new young friend. “Come dance for me whenever the other fairies make you sad.”

So Elraen did. When she tried to ripen fruits and make flowers bloom, her dancing became rough and unnatural, but her instructors told her she was getting better. She tried to retrain herself, becoming more like the other fairies, but even when she made her first flower bloom, it felt so wrong that it immediately froze. Her teacher lost her temper and forced Elraen to sit alone for a long time as punishment for losing her focus in the dance.

But nothing the other fairies did could make Elraen unhappy anymore. She spent her afternoons with Persephone, and they told each other everything, and that was where Elraen could dance her own dance.

When Persephone started talking about meeting a god who she liked, Elraen was supremely happy for her.

“Hades makes me laugh, and he tells me I’m beautiful,” Persephone told her little friend. “I’m always expected to look so good, to be the picturesque daughter of Demeter, who just climbs trees and wears a happy smile, never wanting anything else. Hades tells me about how his brother is a tyrant, and he has rebelled against the gods and suffered banishment for it. Our orchard is on the edge of the earth, and there is an underground passage to Hades’ home from here. I wish I was brave like him.”

Elraen was curled comfortably up on Persephone’s shoulder, listening to her voice vibrate and giving encouragement next to her friend’s ear.

Hades and Persephone were a gorgeous couple, and Elraen would draw ice pictures of them together. She could only make shades of white and blue, but the god and goddess brightened when they saw each other. Hades made Persephone laugh and forget herself, and Persephone admired him for his bravery in standing up to Zeus. They fit together well, and when they were with each other, Elraen noticed the way his dark, muscled hands gently held her small white ones and comforted her.

Elraen couldn’t always spend time with the god and goddess who she dearly loved, and ferociously wanted to be together. She still spent time in the homes and palace of the fairies, learning and getting better at becoming a normal fairy.

One day, as Elraen was leaving the fairy palace where she practiced dancing like the others, she heard the cry of a much younger fairy. It tugged at her heart because she recognized it as a cry of frustration, something she’d known as a child-fairy.

Elraen listened for the sobbing, and carefully followed it to a classroom, where a small fairy-girl was crying. She had white-green hair and wore a look of utter exasperation.

“Fairy-child, what troubles you?” Elraen remembered the words Persephone had used for her.

The little child said she could only freeze things. Elraen hid her excitement at finding someone else with the same gift, after all these years. She told the little girl, whose name was Verre, that her ability to make ice wasn’t a bad thing. Together, they danced and made a whole pile of snow, and covered the whole room with delicate frost patterns.

Verre said she had never been happier, and they agreed to meet with each other again.

Back in Demeter’s orchard, Persephone was conflicted. Sometimes she would be happy and her eyes would sparkle, speaking of how funny Hades was, and how lighthearted he was when he was around her. “I want to go to the underworld with him,” Persephone told Elraen, “But it would break my mother’s heart.” And she would sometimes cry, because she wanted to be with Hades, but she would have to go against Demeter and Zeus himself to marry her love.

Elraen’s days were filled with sneaking around the palace with Verre, looking for other snow fairies. They made a club together, and practiced dancing whenever Demeter was on the other side of the orchard. Some were fairy-boys, and all of them had the same white-colored hair, and the fairy priests had never told any of them that they weren’t the only ones with the gift of ice.

After lessons on how to be normal, the snow fairies would celebrate their strange dancing style under Elraen’s leadership, and Elraen was strong enough to help the others, for she had been encouraged by the goddess.

In the ever-growing group of snow fairies, everyone was in support of Persephone and Hades. They wanted the god of the underworld and the daughter of Demeter to be together, for they were a beautiful couple, and were rebellious celebrities to look up to. If Hades could find a lover after questioning the order of things, the snow fairies, too, might live happy lives in being different. They wanted to celebrate the marriage of Hades with their dances of ice and snow, but it seemed like it would never happen.

Then came the day when Persephone told Elraen she was ready to go with Hades. “I’m going away, my dear little friend,” Persephone announced after she’d watched a beautiful dance in which Elraen formed her biggest snowflake. “Hades will come for me tonight, and we will slip away under the blessing from Selene’s cool light. You ought to come along, for the underworld is cold.”

Elraen longed to go with, but she was now the leader of an entire group of snow fairies, all in need of her attention. She was sad to tell her friend the goddess that she could not visit Hades with her.

But that night, when Elraen returned to the other snow fairies, she was indignant at the fairies who had cast out her kind. At last, Hades and Persephone would have their wedding in the underworld. If Hades and Persephone were brave enough to defy Zeus, perhaps Elraen could convince her friends to defy the fairy leaders.

“We should dance for her tonight when she leaves,” Elraen said when they had their secret gathering. “And decorate the leaves of Demeter’s trees with frost, and spread our snowflakes across the ground.”

For a moment, Elraen’s courage faltered. The snow fairies exchanged worried looks. Nobody knew what would happen to them if they cast snow on the land, and even in the fairy world, they knew of the punishment Zeus had cast upon Hades.

One fairy-man stood up and declared his support. He was old, and his dance needed much help from his wings, but he had suppressed his snow power for too long. Verre grinned at Elraen, and she fluttered to her feet, too.

“I’ll dance with you for Persephone.” Verre said.

So that night, when Persephone left Demeter a gentle kiss, and slipped away for the passage to the underworld, she was adorned with a crown of ice, carefully fashioned by her friends the fairies. As Persephone’s beautiful form disappeared into the earth, Elraen let out a laugh of victory – the signal to the others.

While the other fairies slept, Elraen’s followers danced in the moonlight, making the ground sparkle with purity and decoration. They danced until they were exhausted, and they sang together, and they celebrated.

The next morning, Demeter awoke, and saw the ice, and saw the snow. But she did not see Persephone.

The person who told you this story said the world was cold because Demeter was supremely sad. However, that is not what it is like to grieve, my child. When a mother grieves, she loses interest and joy, and finds it difficult to do anything at all. Demeter’s orchard grew cold, beautiful, and glittery because she took no notice of her orchard, which was being decorated daily by happy, free fairies.

The snow fairies had reason to celebrate, so Elraen and her friends hardly noticed when the fairy priests punished them for their ice dance. The leaders of the fairies tried imprisoning the snow fairies, but rebellion had given them the camaraderie and courage to help each other get away. The other fairies tried to re-warm the earth, but to no avail. They had lost all motivation, for Demeter no longer doted on them, encouraging them and, by her ignorance, making the snow-fairies outcasts.

As time went on, the snow-fairies’ celebration turned to a work of stealth. Elraen danced, but she also had to sneak around the palace in search of the snow-fairies who went missing, often finding them in makeshift prisons. The fairy priests had never dealt with rebellion before, and didn’t know how to react when the lesser snow-fairies banded together. The snow-fairies helped each other, and the crackdown against them was wildly inefficient.

There was one problem still: Zeus. The brother of Hades came to see Demeter, and together they searched for the missing goddess. As they walked through Demeter’s gardens and orchards, calling her missing daughter’s name, the snow fairies were careful to stay away from them. Until one little fairy was dancing, letting frost fall in intricate strands across a pine tree, and Zeus heard it. The god turned and snatched up the tiny boy-fairy in his powerful hand. He was one of Elraen’s newest adoptions, known as Oceanus, and he was still a nervous dancer. Elraen heard his cry of pain, and flew to his rescue.

When she came near, she saw the child was screaming because Zeus was demanding an explanation for Persephone’s disappearance and of the ice.

What could Elraen do? She needed to protect one of the fairy children she had led into their ice dance, but she feared Zeus. It was an agonizing moment as she heard Oceanus bravely refuse to tell the god why the snow-fairies danced.

It was too great a risk. Elraen flew in front of Oceanus and started to speak, louder than she ever had: “Let him go! I started the snow fairy dance.”

“Tell me,” Zeus’ voice sent vibrations into the air in which Elraen flew, “do you know where Persephone has gone?”

Oceanus could breathe again, and he struggled to lift his crumpled wings. He would be alright. It was a small comfort for Elraen, who only looked away briefly to check on the young fairy.

She looked back at Zeus. “Please, god of thunder,” she said, “Do not be angry with Hades. He loves Persephone, and she loves him, and we dance to celebrate their wedding.”

Zeus snatched her out of the air. “Where have they gone?” he asked.

Elraen immediately regretted having spoken, and felt as if she had betrayed her friend.

Demeter spoke. “We’ll look for them in the underworld.”

Zeus didn’t let go of Elraen, who called out to Oceanus to tell the others not to stop dancing, and to tell them what happened. That’s what leaders do when they are captured. They have to keep giving orders and arranging things even when they are frightened.

When Oceanus was far behind the running god and goddess carrying the snow-fairy, Elraen turned to see Zeus commanding the passage into the underworld to open. The earth formed a dark cave, and they began to descend into it.

Elraen could identify Persephone’s decorative touch in the way the black and red curtains were hung. She remained silent so Zeus wouldn’t remember he was holding her, but she was excited to see her old friend again.

Before the passage became completely dark from lack of sun, torches appeared to light the way. It would have been an enjoyable, mysterious place, if Zeus weren’t angrily storming through it.

Demeter suddenly picked up her pace and ran ahead, crying out for Persephone. Zeus followed, and Elraen saw a dark throne room. The furniture was carved into rich, black marble, and the thick fur of an ancient, black mammal made a rug before two thrones. Red-eyed creatures stood respectfully around, and there was Persephone, wearing an intricately patterned black dress, which provided an awe-striking complement to her beauty.

Demeter rushed to her daughter and hugged her tightly. Hades eyed his brother, but did not speak.

Zeus relaxed his grip on Elraen, and she flew with relief into the rafters which, when she got there, appeared to be carved from bones. She quietly, fearfully waited to see what would happen.

The thunder-god spoke. “What do you mean, Hades, by kidnapping this young goddess?”

“Kidnapping!” Hades was indignant. “Of course, brother, you would accuse me of doing wrong when I committed the crime of falling in love with my wife!”

“Dear, dear Persephone,” Demeter was condescending to her daughter, “Have you had an awful time here in the place of banishment and death?”

“No, mother, I haven’t,” Persephone said, pushing away. “I love Hades. Please, god of thunder, let me stay.”

It was if Zeus did not hear. “Come with us, child. Hades will receive just punishment for what he has done.” He crossed the room to Persephone and seized her hands, beginning to lead her away. Hades loudly protested, and the four gods and goddesses struggled with each other until Elraen flew down again. She had confronted Zeus once, she could do it again.

“Zeus, oh great and most powerful, god of the gods,” she said, flitting around to stay out of his reach and winking at Persephone, “you are so just, such an honest defender of the helpless. I bring to you my need for defense, for you are the god of order.”

Zeus let go of Persephone, who retreated into Hades’ arms. He seemed satisfied to hear the flattery.

“Please, Zeus, you who are great, defender of those who are oppressed,” Elraen was almost mocking now, she was so angry with him, “I ask for equality among the fairies. Many of us are suited for creating ice with our dance, and the fairies do not let us, for the orchards and fields must endlessly produce, never resting, never being preserved with ice, never decorated with the frosts.”

Demeter spoke this time. “So it’s you who have been freezing my garden, who bring the ice and cold?”

“We are celebrating, lady goddess,” Elraen explained. She looked again at Hades, who was holding something that looked like a black pomegranate out to Persephone, who hastily consumed the small gem-like fruits inside it. Elraen continued, “we were not allowed to dance with our ice and snow magic because the other fairies had no need for us.”

Zeus looked up. “My matters are with the gods and goddesses I rule, fairy. I do not meddle in the affairs of other creatures.”

He went to Persephone, who wiped dark juice from her lips just in time to conceal what she had eaten. Hades gave his wife a parting kiss, and promised in low tones to come for her. “You may take her away,” he said with resigned grimness, “if you must, my tyrant brother.”

Demeter looked relieved, and she turned to lead Persephone away.

“Wait,” Hades said. They turned to him, and he let a slight smile betray his devious reveal. “She has eaten of the fruit of the underworld, so she cannot leave this place. It is against the laws here.”

Elraen smiled and spun a snowflake. Persephone saw it and grinned at her. Zeus was furious, and the chamber echoed when he stomped in indignation at Hades.

Demeter began wailing and putting on a show of self-pity. “She’s my daughter! Why would you curse her so, you monster! She hasn’t done anything to deserve this terrible place!”

Zeus returned his brother’s gaze, and returned Hades’ wit with matching wit. “How much fruit did she eat?”

Persephone looked at Hades, who answered, “Six of the dead-world’s sweet gems.”

“Then I declare it thus,” Zeus said. “Because Persephone belongs to the underworld for eating its fruit, she will stay for a time each year. A month for each gem she ate.”

Demeter hugged Persephone again, but it was a cruel compromise. It meant half of each year would be spent away from her love.

Hades spoke. “I cannot come against your decrees, brother. I will keep my wife for the remainder of our time. As for the fairies,” he addressed Demeter, “Allow the snow fairies to celebrate our times together while Persephone is in her rightful home. Though my tyrant brother refuses to administer justice or acknowledge lovers, I demand that they are allowed to dance.”

So Zeus and Demeter left the underworld, and Elraen remained in the underworld for a short time so she could visit with her old friend. When she returned, she told all of the snow-fairies of the new arrangement for the snow fairies.

At least this way, Hades and Persephone were free to be together, if only for some parts of the year.

So now you know the way the story really goes. The winter doesn’t come because Demeter is sad, but because the snow fairies are celebrating. They remember how deep the love between Hades and Persephone was, and they dance and sing and decorate with intricate, icy patterns and mounds of snow.

It is a time of celebration, child. You don’t have to listen to the perspective from which every story is told.