A long time ago, where stories like this often begin, in a castle. Its towers rose from the mountainous slopes like crystal spears; as cold and hard as the ice of the mountain that the castle was carved out of.
It was warm inside though, where the two sisters played. One had sun-lit blond hair, with light eyes of blue white: like frosted ice. The other’s hair was cool, white-silver. Her eyes, however, were a warm blue like the sky in flowery May.
They raced in great circles. Around and around again, they whirled and whooshed through their father’s halls. They were princesses, and he was king – their mother, a goddess. Yet all was empty except for the two girls.
Their father was gone.
Their mother was gone.
Yet the girls still played.
The servants had fled.
The soldiers had bled.
Yet the girls still played.
They had been told that everything would be okay. Their father had told them that he would come back one day. Their mother had kissed them goodnight and swore that she’d come back to play. So they hoped, and they played. The kitchens were full, and the castle large. They could feast then explore, then feast some more.
They were waiting though, for their parents and for more. They had been promised a teacher, for their powers were vast. One could control ice, the other fire. Yet who controlled which? That changed on the hour.
A traveler was coming. He walks, taking his time as he climbs the cliffs. His pack is heavy, and he is not young. Not old though, he will make it. He will just go slow. His pack is heavy. He takes his time.
Knock, Knock, Bang! Knock, Knock, Bang! The hammering came early on the day, three days before the Winter Solstice. The girls were cautious to the gates. They had said they’d return, but who could it be? Knock, Knock, Bang!
The gates heaved and groaned; its apparatus had not turned in over a year. Grim was the man who waited. It was not their father. It was not any man they knew.
“Excuse me,” Princess Xenia asked. Her pale ice blue eyes were wide in curiosity, yet they gave off intense cold. “Who are you?”
“We have food, if you need. We just want to know if we can trust you,” Maureen, the silver-haired sister added. Her warm blue eyes gave off heat like fire.
“Sisters, Princesses of Muerning; I am here by your father’s wishes and your mother’s command,” he said. He did not appear happy. He did not appear sad. He did not appear angry. He did not appear to feel much of anything at all.
“So you’re our teacher?” The Princesses said as one.
“Father promised you’d help us,” said Xenia.
“Teach us control!” Maureen said with excitement.
“More than that, more than simply that,” he said, walking through the threshold of the gate. “Now I’m not old, yet I’m not young; and my bones have grown cold in December’s icy hold.”
“Follow us,” Maureen said.
Inside the palace they went. Towards the dining hall to warm the teacher on mulled wine and hot tea. He ate pasta. He ate beans. He ate apples. He ate greens. For meat, he touched none. He was satisfied and he looked, ever so slightly pleased.
He reached for his pack. It was heavy; it was large, yet what he removed was light. Light rings of light. Tiaras for royalty: On one was a moon; on the other was a sun.
“Your power is ever changing. Switching from one to one. You cannot learn, for every time you must relearn,” the teacher said. “Now choose: One must be fire, and one must be ice.”
“Ice is cold and sucks away my love, my passion. Fire is the spark to my desires. It is warm, it is pleasant, and it’s my friend,” Maureen said as she reached out for the tiara of fire.
“Fire burns. Fire destroys. Fire consumes all and leaves only ash. Ice is clear. Ice is secure. Ice is my comfort.” Xenia reached for the tiara of ice.
Maureen placed the tiara with the sun on her head. The heat of her warm blue eyes flared. Her white silver hair lost its chill. Her hair was warmer now: silver flossed with amber. She glowed now as she never had before.
Xenia placed the tiara with the moon on her head. She blinked and her eyelashes appeared to frost over from the cold coming off her eyes. Her sun-lit blonde hair lost its sunlight. It became paler, as if frosting over to the color of snow. Even her breath held ice.
“Now children,” the teacher said. “Rest and have dreams tonight. We will begin in dreams. For my body is tired but my mind, it wakes. Go sleep children. Go rest and wait.”
They rushed through their halls with newfound glee. Carpets were singed, tapestries were frosted. One bedroom baked like an oven. The second flurried as if in the heart of winter’s cold.
First they found sleep, and then he found them. Maureen was first, Xenia second:
They were in a grassy field under a strong sun. “I believe from what I have seen of desire the world will end in fire,” said the teacher. “I believe the poet was likely right. So now I will test your rage, your passion, your love, your hunger. For those are all of what controls fire. Start by showing me rage.”
Maureen remembered those who had left her and her sister. Those who had made promises that had not been kept. Anger was what boiled in her stomach. She screamed. Rage, distraught and untamed. A fury was what she became. Fire ripped from her, and the field of grass became a field of flames. The smoke blackened the sun. Then it was gone, and Maureen was sobbing in the burnt earth.
The teacher touched her shoulder. “It is okay, child,” he said. “Promises often become harder to keep than they were to say. Rise, little girl. Keep your promises to yourself, and the world will be okay.”
Xenia and the teacher were in a craggy land under full moonlight. “From what I’ve seen of lonely days and solitary nights, ice could end the world. Yes, ice would suffice. Cold hearts and closed doors. Ignorance is blissful dying. Slowly and alone. Ice is fear, ice is caution, ice is inflexible, and ice is unyielding.” The teacher said, “Little girl, show me cool dread of lonesomeness, without love.”
Tears fell from Xenia’s face. Pearls of frozen salt water that shattered on the earth. Then the earth froze and cold shot through the world. They had abandoned her. Her and her sister. They had left them there and would never come back. Her father was gone. Her mother was gone. They had promised and lied. They had been betrayed.
The teacher touched her shoulder. His voice was haggard in the intense, life eating cold, “Child, they did not betray you. They did not know what waited.” Then the warm returned and Xenia had tears in her eyes as she hugged her teacher.
When they awoke, their rooms did not burn or freeze. They felt peace, they felt life, they felt hope, and they felt control.