The Snow Maid


He had dared the subject the previous evening at supper. She had laughed as he spoke, tongue-tied and stuttering, trying to ask the question without giving offense.

"Of course I'm growing younger, silly child. With your faith to sustain me, how can it be otherwise?" At his shell-shocked look, she had explained.

"Until I met and rescued you, it was the faith and belief of others which gave me existence, poor and weak though it was at the time. But now I have you, wonderful man." She brushed his cheek with her cold fingers. "You may not believe in Mother Snegurochka, or the Snow Maid herself, who dances in the winter wind and wears clothes made out of snow and jewels of ice. But you do believe in Polina, because you see and talk and eat with her every day.

"And that is a far more mighty thing that what I have had for these many years. The last sacrifice was an old man, who had heard the tales and who had lain down at the stone when my land was invaded by those who bore the hooked cross." She made a spitting noise at odds with her matronly appearance. "He passed the dark gate only a few years after he had come to the World Below.

"And then for many years I dwindled. I do not know how much longer I would have been able to carry on. But then you came, beautiful man." One finger softly stroked his cheek, and Bill forced himself to not lean into the frigid caress.

"I now have power to spare. And it is reversing the aging process. Grandmother is gone. In a few more days, Mother will also be no more, not for a long count of years. In her place the Snow Maid, Polina of the Frosts, will sit where I do."

"Do you lose who you were?" Bill asked. Polina cocked her head in puzzlement. He tried to explain. "Does another personality come when your body changes?"

Polina's eyes widened. "You are really most amazingly perceptive for one so young. No one has ever asked me that. To answer your question, the answer is no. Or at least, not really.

"The Snow Maid is Mother Snegurochka. And Grandmother as well. She will know what I know. She does not forget anything. But she has...facets...of her personality that are more pronounced, the younger she gets. For example, Grandmother was a cranky old lady, though she was fond of you.

"Mother..." she trailed off. "How odd to speak of myself as if I were a person who is going away. Mother is a mid-point. She is less cross than Grandmother, and she shares some of the same...appetite for the Snow Maid. But she is more restrained. Think of her as a well-to-do lady who only unveils herself to her most trusted friends.

"The Snow Maid?" she smiled. "You will learn about her soon enough." She stood and held out her hand. "Sit with me for a time?"


The time they sat together was the most enjoyable part of the day, Bill thought the next night. Polina sewed or carded wool, or occasionally carved tiny wooden figurines with a wickedly sharp knife. While she did that, he read or talked to her, the flames of the fire merrily melding with the candles, bathing the room in a warm glow. The work they had done on the rugs and the furniture had paid immediate dividends, as years of accumulated dust had been removed. The deep colors of the rugs contrasted beautifully with the rich, dark depth of the maple and oak furnishings.

Polina glowed as well. Rather than the sack-like dresses she had worn when they first met (perhaps, Bill had thought in a moment of snide bad temper, because her body was shaped like a sack as well) her clothing had grown more and more lovely as she had grown younger. This evening she wore a gown in various shades of red, from the palest pink at her shoulders to blood red at the hem. It was belted with a white sash at the waist, and the hems of the sleeves were the deep green of pine trees in deepest winter. The wolf-skin slippers were gone, and in their place were delicate shoes trimmed with the whitest of rabbit fur, which left a length of attractive calf open to his view.

He swallowed and turned away. As his body recovered, so had his sex drive, and he had woken up the previous morning hard and aching. His last relationship had ended several months before their ill-fated expedition, and his body was reminding him that it wanted a woman.


He had relieved himself when he took his morning bath, but Polina's slender calves and firming bust were having an effect that he couldn't ignore. She was now a strikingly attractive middle-aged woman, and his thoughts wandered whenever he shared a room with her.

Don't even think about it, Carter. The woman created an entire library out of thin air and stocked it with every book you have ever read. Or wanted to read. She could cut you into giblets if she wanted to.

He turned a page in his book, and chuckled. Dave Barry had never failed to cheer him up.

"What are you laughing at?" Polina asked. Her voice had changed as well as the days went by, becoming higher and clearer, the rasp of the Grandmother left behind.

"A humorist. A man who tells funny stories. His name is Dave Barry, and he points out how ridiculous people are."

"In what way?" Polina asked, interested.

Bill quickly leafed through the book. Much of the humor was topical, and involved concepts that Polina would not understand, unfamiliar as she was to modern technology. He grinned as he found one of his favorites and read it to her.

The story of the beach crew who had decided to blow up a dead whale with dynamite had her smiling in a few minutes. By the time he came to the end, she had slid off her chair and was rolling around on the ground, clutching her stomach with laughter.

Encouraged, he started to tell her the silly, terrible jokes which he loved.

"What's blue and smells like red paint?"

"What?" she asked, eyes sparkling.

"Blue paint," he replied, and was rewarded with more laughter.

"What's green and has wheels?"


"Grass," he said. "I lied about the wheels."

Polina laughed harder, tears rolling down her cheeks.

"What did the farmer say when he lost his plow?"


"Where's my plow?"

"Stop it stop it stop it!" she gasped, still giggling, barely able to get he words out. She slowly got control of herself. She stood up, Bill helping her. Then he stood back, looking at her with astonishment.

She was visibly growing younger before his very eyes. As he watched, the last remnants of crow's feet vanished from her eyes and the corners of her mouth. Faint age spots disappeared from her throat. Pale gold hair flowed like a molten river down her back, without even the slightest trace of gray. Her stomach shrank, the last remnants of her belly disappearing as her waist drew inwards over the curved swell of her hips. Her bosom tightened, breasts rising round, high and firm from her chest, with not the faintest hint of a sag. Even through the fabric of her dress, he could see the firm outlines of her nipples pressing into the cloth.

She was amazingly, radiantly, incandescently beautiful, as awe-inspiring and terrible as a blizzard on the plains.

She caught his shocked gaze. Her hand flew to her face and a sudden inward look came over her as she delved deep into the spirit world.

"Oh," she said. "Oh my! Oh!" Her eyes grew wide and soft, the pupils dilating with desire. She ran her hands down her body, gently wondering, mouth curving in a smile as she felt the loose fit of her dress over her belly, took in the place where the fabric of her bodice strained to contain her newly restored breasts. Her thighs shifted, rubbing against each other, and she made a pleased sound low in her throat as warmth grew in her womanly core.

She looked up again, glorious eyes shifting hues even as he looked, from ice gray to wintry blue to pale green. He flinched back in fear from her hungry gaze and she took a step away from him, eyes closing as she fought for control.

"She's here. I'm not...Bill, I'm not ready. I didn't think she would come so soon.

"My friend, please forgive me. I must leave you tonight. I must...I will see you tomorrow."

A trifle unsteadily, she walked out of the room.


She felt like howling her triumph to the heavens. She felt like weeping in despair.

She was the Snow Maid again. After decades of forced celibacy and crushing loneliness, she had it all back. Power. Youth. Beauty.

And it would all be dust in her mouth if she didn't have the love of the small, strong, impossibly courageous young man who had captured her heart with his silent bravery, in the face of challenges that would have driven most men mad.

She could take him, she knew. Overpower his mind with the strength of hers. Use his body to slake her lust and break him to her will.

She shuddered in revulsion. No. He had done every task she set him to with a willing heart. She would not betray him that way. He was fond of her, she knew. He had been courteously polite with Grandmother, and she thought that his relationship with Mother was deepening into real friendship.

If he hadn't made me laugh...

The joy she had taken in his silly, stupid jokes had torn through the barriers in the spirit world. The power that flowed from him to her had become a flood, raging through her, reversing decades of aging in an eyeblink.

Slowly, she took off her gown, taking sensual delight in the feel of the cold air on her skin. Her hands dipped low, stroking the flat planes of her stomach. She caught sight of her image in the mirror and frowned. Grabbing a small pair of scissors off her bedside table, she leaned against the headboard of her bed, spreading her legs and exposing herself to the mirror's view.

Working quickly, she quickly trimmed the golden nest of hair away from her pubis, leaving only a small patch, a grace note to accent the beauty of her vulva. She lay back on the down comforter, luxuriating in the candle-kissed glory of her body, supple skin like velvet over her flesh. So long, she thought. It has been so long. A finger traced the petals of her sex, and they opened like a flower, moist with dew. Her other hand cupped her breast, turgid nipple rising of its own accord.

It wouldn't take much. Just a nudge with your mind. He was thinking of you in the bath this morning while he took his pleasure. You felt it. He wouldn't even know. He would serve you willingly for the rest of his days.

No. I would know. And Bill could not love a person who would do that to him. And I could not live with myself.

Firmly she took her hands off her body, shaking with unfulfilled need. Slowly, how slowly, the tide of desire receded. Crawling into bed, she willed the lights off, and fell into a restless, hungry sleep.


She had to fight the same battle the next morning. A part of her, too much a part of her for her liking, wanted to simply walk into his room before he woke and to use his body for her pleasure. A somewhat saner part of her mind suggested that she show up in the kitchen for breakfast nude, and demand that he work off his debt by pleasing her.

Polina ruthlessly bludgeoned down both ideas, then opened the wardrobe.

It was all there. Every outfit, every dress and gown, every cloak and mantle, every single item a woman could use to make herself beautiful.

Slowly, carefully, Polina began to dress


Bill was standing in front of the stove, eating a toasted cheese sandwich for breakfast, when a goddess entered the room.

She was dressed all in white and silver, her feet shoeless as they whispered across the flagstones. Her gown left her shoulders and upper arms bare, and her torso rose from a froth of white lace like she was emerging, half nude, from a snowbank. Her breasts were lifted and held by the shimmering cloth, and their snow-white swells drew the eye and held it, daring any onlooker to yield to temptation and gaze into her cleavage. Below her breasts, the cloth turned silver and drew in tight, accentuating the slimness of her waist, diamonds glittering in the cloth, before dropping in sheer folds to below her knees. There it stopped, in a hem that was so stiffly embroidered in silver thread it seemed a miracle she could walk.

Polina walked up to Bill and looped her arms around his neck, smiling up at him shyly. "Good morning," she said huskily.

Swallowing through the lump in his throat and trying to ignore the rising fire in his groin, Bill smiled back shakily. "Good morning to you. Would you like a cheese sandwich for breakfast? Or I can fry up some bacon and eggs for you, if you'd like." Disengaging her gently, he turned back to the stove and cracked an egg in an iron skillet.

Polina's eyes went wide with hurt. "Damn you," she whispered.


"I dress for you. I come to you. I practically lay down on the floor and spread my legs for you. And you ask me what I want for breakfast?" she shouted. "Are you any sort of man at all? Or do you prefer boys, and my presence is repellant to you? Or are you forgetting what you owe me?"

As soon as she spoke the words, she regretted them. She flinched as the blood drained out of Bill's face and his eyes widened with pain and anger.

"And how the hell should I know what you want?!" he yelled back, patience worn to a ragged thread by the events of the last three weeks. "For all I know, you are dressed like this because this is how you prefer to be seen as the Snow Maid. It's not as if I talked to her for more than a minute before she ran out on me last night. And now you come in here, looking like a woman out of my wildest dreams and acting like I am the answer to yours. So pardon the hell out of me if I am a little confused.

"I know you have power, and can kill me as easily as look at me. If I have offended you so badly, kill me now and get it over with. As you have reminded me, my life is in your hands, and has been ever since you pulled me out of that storm."

Shaking with anger, fear, and loneliness, he turned back to the stove. Very carefully he flipped over the egg. Polina stayed silent, waiting for him to continue.

When he spoke again, it was softer. "Listen to me, Polina," he said without turning. "You can't get angry with me for not acting the way you want, especially when I have no idea why you are acting the way you are. What works for me among my own people might not work with you. And I am not going to risk your anger by taking liberties I don't deserve.

"Is this some sort of bizarre fertility ritual you didn't mention? Or are you one of those nature spirits which takes a human lover and then discards him?

"Or do you actually have feelings for me, and this was your way of making that known? If you do..." his voice broke. "If you do..." He took a deep breath and turned to her, meeting her wide gaze. "If you do, I return them.

"I love you. I love you so much it hurts. And I would never, ever hurt you. Among my people..." he swallowed, then forged on. "I was taught by my mother and father that a decent man always waits to be asked by a woman if he wishes to go to bed with her."

He smiled crookedly, anger gone, his dear sweet face so earnest her heart broke for love of him. "Now, if you were a human woman, what you just did would make me think that is exactly what you wanted. But like I said, you are an immortal nature spirit, and I can't take chances. My life is yours, which means I have to be even more careful with it."

He slid the fried egg onto her plate. "And what would you do?" she asked carefully, "if I were a human woman and you desired me?"

"Well," said Bill, stuttering a little, "I might ask you on a date."

"And what would happen on this date?"

"We might go out to a restaurant to eat. But that won't be an option for us, the World Below having a distressing lack of fine dining establishments," he said. "Instead, I might invite you to where I live and cook a meal for you. We would talk, get to know each other better. If the woman was willing and expressed an interest, and if I desired her as well, we might end up going to bed."

"And having sex, yes?" Polina asked, her eyes bright with amusement.

"Yes," Bill blushed.

"Why do you go red? Sex is very enjoyable. When I am the Snow Maid, I have it as often as I can." She flipped a hand dismissively. "This is what we will do. You will make a meal for us, and we will have a date."

She walked up to him until her breasts brushed his chest. She laid her cold hands on the sides of his head and drew his head down until she could gently kiss the corner of his mouth.

"You see, Bill, I love you too," she whispered into his ear.

She sat down and began to eat her breakfast.


Five hours later, Bill walked in on her while she was sitting in her study. She was reading a book. One of hers, Bill thought, seeing the Cyrillic lettering on the cover.

"How does the food thing work?" he asked.

"Ah," she smiled. "I was wondering when you would figure that out."

"Didn't take too long. There's always food in the pantry, even though there's no stores to buy food at, you don't keep any livestock, and this place you live in only gets above freezing for about three months every year. Is it like the library?"

"In its own way," she replied, closing the book on a finger. "It is more like my clothing." She had changed out of the sex-goddess dress she was wearing earlier, Bill was pleased to note, and was wearing a much more sensible blue gown, but even that couldn't disguise her extraordinary beauty.

"What was I wearing when I first met you?" she asked.

"Ugly old gray dress. Looked like it had been mended and patched about a thousand times."

"And what did I feed you at first?"

"Porridge. Lots of porridge. Potatoes. Beans. Some bacon. Peas." A light went off in his head. "The basics. Just like the dress. But as you grew younger, the menu expanded. And you wore nicer and nicer things. Until this morning, when you wore a dress that would cost a king's ransom.

"So if I need a certain thing to make the meal tonight?"

"You will probably find it. Not everything," she warned. "Food made by this technology of yours will probably be impossible for the house to create. But everything that people grow or herd or catch can be acquired."

"Got it," he replied, "Be ready to eat in about four hours. Me and Betty Crocker will be ready to serve you dinner by then," he said, waving a fat book in the air.

"Who the hell is Betty Crocker?" she asked, but he was already gone.


Four hours later, they sat down to eat.

Bill was almost sick with nervousness. The meal, made with natural ingredients, had been almost as easy to make here as it was back home. The only trick was keeping the stove the right temperature. But he could sense how much this meant to Polina, and he wanted to make her as happy as possible.

He had run back to his room to dress when he pulled the meal off the stove, and he wore a pair of soft trousers made of deerskin, almost sinfully tight around his thighs and calves. Above was a white shirt made of undyed cotton. Over that, one of the embroidered vests which she had given to him in the first days of his stay here in the World Below.

Polina wore a dress that was almost stark in its simplicity, pure white from her neck to her knees. But delicate embroidery in silver and ivory graced the hems at throat, wrist, and knee, giving it a vaguely Celtic feel.

She was also, Bill noted idly, not wearing a bra. He wondered if he should introduce her to the garment. Mother Snegurochka might thank him later.

He pulled out her chair and seated her, then sat down opposite her in the small dining room. Working carefully, he poured a quantity of wine into a crystal glass, then spooned her meal onto her plate.

She frowned and looked at it suspiciously. "What is this?" she asked, poking one portion.

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