The Snow Maiden (Part 3)
Natasha rode the North Wind for a long way. They sped ever northwards, to the very top of the world. They had passed by the last of the plantlife quite some time ago and the land below them was more permafrost than earth. Soon, they passed over the sea but that only last for a short while before the view below them was filled up with endless plains and hills of ice and snow. If a mortal had been riding the North Wind, they would be shivering to pieces from the plunge in temperature, not that the North Wind itself was warm on its half of the globe. But Natasha was still a snow girl, even if her substance resembled flesh more than frozen water, coldness could not bother her at all.
For a long time, Natasha didn’t see anything upon the frozen mass below, excepting the occasional polar bear or seal. But then Natasha could feel a hum in the air separate from the North Wind. They were getting close to something with a lot of magic. Then she saw something up ahead. In many ways, it was a village much like her own. Of course, its placement here at the top of the world was extremely irregular. She could even make out several pine trees though no kind of plant could possibly survive up here. She could see many people moving among the houses, though she couldn’t tell if they were adults or children. As she got nearer, she saw it was neither. They had the general appearance of adults, but the height of children. It didn’t take a lot of thought to realize they were elves.
The North Wind eventually set Natasha down in front of the largest house in the village. While Natasha was not bothered by the cold, she was able to tell how cold it was around her. Up here it should have been beyond freezing, but this village felt no colder than a pleasant winter day where the snow was not something to be dread but to play with. The North Wind circled around Natasha and then the large house before flying off again, heading off to bring cold weather where it was supposed to go.
Natasha wondered how she was going to approach the house when the door opened and someone stepped out. He could have easily been Father Frost’s twin brother, but instead of being a deep blue like thick ice, he was wearing a bright cheerful red that promised warmth and happiness. The man in red walked to Natasha and looked her up and down. “So you’re the little snow girl that my brother has brought to life,” he said in a jolly voice, “You might just be his best work yet.”
“Santa Claus?” asked Natasha.
“Who else could I be?” he asked jovially, “It’s not my original name, but everyone likes to call me that these days. Now then, the North Wind brought you up here for a reason and he barely said anything before he left. So why have you come this far?”
Natasha gulped before thinking back about Nel and her resolve became solid. She explained to Santa in great detail about how she and Nel had been together for so long but he was growing up without her. She explained that she needed Santa’s help to become a human woman so that she won’t lose him. “Because I know I’m in love with him. I don’t think I’d ever be able to fall in love again if I lost him,” she said, “If anyone can guess my wish, it would be you.”
Santa stroked his beard in thought and said, “This is no simple wish to grant. You’re already very close to being human in spirit if not in form. But to make something that was born from magic fully human, that is a rather daunting task.” When Natasha’s face fell, Santa quickly added, “But not impossible. There are ways to grant your wish, but it will take…consideration of how to go about it. You are asking for a great Gift and Gifts like these mean you have to earn them.”
“What do I have to do earn it?” asked Natasha.
“That will be the tricky part. I will need to work on that for a while,” said Santa, “But for now, you may as well enjoy the North Pole while you’re hear. Feel free to explore my little village. Once I’ve come up with an answer, I’ll call for you.”
Natasha might not have been quite a true child and there was some debate about whether she was a child at heart. But she was more than in touch with her inner child to not be able resist the change to see Santa Claus’s famous village. She spent the entire day exploring the place. She talked with the elves and even helped out a little with the decorations and the toy-making. She also got the chance to see Santa’s reindeer and they were quite receptive to her petting.
The day went by faster than Natasha would have expected. Or perhaps days were just that short up here at the North Pole. Night had fallen across the snowy land, but the sky was not dark. Above her was the legendary Northern Lights. Natasha had seen them on occasion back home, but that was a mere glimpse of their full splendor here. The way they danced and changed colors was something indescribable that mere words would not be able to properly convey.
It almost felt like it was too soon when Santa finally called for her. Natasha walked to Santa’s house with a little reluctance. If she got what she wished for, this could probably be the only time she’ll ever be up here. That just made this day even more precious to her. If she gained nothing else, she’d at least have this perfect day.
In front of Santa’s house, she saw his famous sleigh with all the reindeer rigged up. Santa was also waiting for her at the reins. “I’m guessing you won’t mind if I take you home,” said Santa casually. Natasha gasped, ride in Santa’s sleigh? Who could possibly say no? She scrambled up besides Santa and took her seat. With a crack of the reins, the reindeer started off into the sky, pulling the sleigh behind them.
Natasha wasn’t able to see the ground so well in the dark, but just riding up in Santa’s sleigh was an experience in and of itself. However, Santa wasn’t just giving her a ride back home, she had something to say to her. “Turning you into a human woman is very complicated magic, more than one spirit like myself can do alone. However, there are others who are fascinated with your story and are willing to help,” said Santa, “However, like I said, a Gift like this must be earned and sometimes a Price must be paid.”
“What do I have to do?” asked Natasha.
“You want this Gift so you can win the heart of this fellow you love, right? Well, that is basically what you’ll have to do, but it is not as simple as it sounds,” said Santa, “For starters, no one but your parents will recognize you or even remember you and you cannot tell your friend about your true origin. You must start with a clean slate and earn his love by yourself.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad,” said Natasha.
“But there are going to be Obstacles that you will have to overcome and there is a time limit,” said Santa, “Your humanity will only last as long as the rest of this winter. If you have not won your love’s heart by the time Mother Spring has come, you will melt away with the rest of the snow.” Natasha gasped and Santa gave her an apologetic look, “I’m sorry that this has to be a life or death situation, but great Gifts require great Prices. Being willing to take risks is part of being human. If you do not think you can handle it, I’ll just take you back home as you are and you can go on with your life as before.”
Natasha had begun to waver, but this last offer made her resolute. How could she go back to her old life and live in constant heartache? What good is living forever if you have to live with a broken heart? She would never forgive herself if she backed out now. “I’ll do it,” she said with determination.
Santa smiled and said, “I had a feeling you’d have a stronger will than to give up. Don’t lose your spirit and you’re sure to win.” It wasn’t long after that before they were flying over Natasha’s village. Santa set the sleigh down in front of Natasha’s house and said, “Remember, you must win him on your own, without revealing your real origin, before spring. Good luck.” With that, he took off and there was a large flurry of snow around Natasha.
As the wind died down, Natasha became of a sensation she had never truly felt before: cold. She was not incapable of feeling cold, but cold for her had always felt pleasant. This was…not comforting for her. Was she human now? She looked down at herself and saw a very different body. She was dressed in black so she wasn’t able to fully make out the details of her new body. But she was certainly taller than she had been before and of a pleasing slender build at least. Natasha also had a pair of purses in one hand and she looked inside of them. There was quite a lot of money and credit cards in there, presumably enough to get her through the winter.
Natasha walked back to her house, taking it slowly as she adjust to her new height and her new shoes. When her parents answered the door, they saw a face that was strange yet familiar to them. It didn’t take Natasha long to convince them who she was. Her parents were surprised she would risk her existence for this, but they loved Natasha as much as if she truly were their daughter. While they couldn’t help directly with her winning Lel’s heart, they could at least give her some advice to start out with.
It was rather bizarre when Natasha went to her room. She definitely had an attractive adult body and she had a sensitivity she never had before. Now she actually craved warmness instead of trying to stay as cold as possible. Fortunately, her room had been refurnished so it wouldn’t stay cold and she had plenty of new clothes for keeping warm. She wasn’t going to allow herself to freeze before she won Lel.
The next day, Natasha decided to do some shopping in the next town. She wanted to make sure she had enough clothes that will impress Lel when he eventually met her. “Hey, I don’t think I’ve seen you around before.” Natasha jumped and turned around. She had not been expecting Lel to be here this day. She felt more flustered than ever now that she had a woman’s body.
“Uh…I’ve been around for quite a while,” she said a bit shakily.
“No, I would have remembered someone like you,” said Lel, “Where do you live?” When Natasha told him her home address, he frowned a bit and said, “Huh, I thought those two didn’t have children. I would have remembered.”
“Well, I’ve been away for quite a long while. My name’s Natasha,” she said.
“Lel, hard to believe we haven’t met already,” said Lel. Natasha sighed, he really didn’t remember him then. Well, she’ll get him to know her soon enough.
Fortunately, Natasha’s memories of Lel hadn’t faded, though she couldn’t say them right now. But she was aware of many of his likes and dislikes which she happened to share. It was simple for her to start a conversation regarding that and the two of them talked for quite some time. Eventually, Lel said, “Say, I don’t just say this to every girl I meet, but you want to go get some coffee?”
“Well, it is pretty cold today, colder than I would have expected,” said Natasha.
Natasha had stayed away from coffee before, it being too warm for her liking. But now it tasted so delightful to her tongue. There were quite a few things she had been missing out on for years. Keeping up the conversation with Lel had been easy so far. He seemed to be really enchanted with her, though she couldn’t tell if it was love or not. Perhaps not yet, he barely knew her right now.
But Lel has been showing some signs, like the way he paid for her drink, the way he allowed her to hold his hand as he walked her back to her car, the looks he’s been giving when he thought she wasn’t looking. He was interested, surely, but there was no guarantee it was true love yet. But Natasha was patient. She had been waiting years to get Lel’s attention and she could afford to wait a little longer.