The spirit of winter wakes up from a restless sleep, the taste of ashen flame bitter on her tongue. As she swings her legs from under the covers and rises from her bed, snowflakes settle on her flesh like a downy cloak. She yawns, powdery snow expelling from her breath, and she opens her eyes to a world of white.

Hers is the realm of ice, distorting and diffracting in the icicles that hang from here a chandelier and there a fireplace carved from frozen crystal. The ground rolls away towards a horizon divided by towering walls, where sculptures of wolves, foxes, and bears stand as sentinels against the Other Lands. They will be waiting for her today, to report on their sightings and – she suspects – to check on her as well. She sighs, and worlds away a fierce and deadly gale picks up.

There is time yet to seek her companions. They will always wait for her, and maybe one day she will know how to express gratitude. But for now her subjects require her attention. She turns towards the heart of her realm that stretches as far as the eye can see; she calms her mind and with the flick of a thought –

She is snow. She is snow blown by a biting wind. She is cold itself, settling onto the brittle branches of dying trees, poking into the warm confines of sleeping moles and dreaming mice. She is ice. She is annoying slush and deadly black ice. She is ice that forms on panes of glass and inside the hearts of humans. Throughout her domain she skips and swirls, concealing in fog and revealing all under sharp, unforgiving sunlight.

She passes scenes of destruction, where her ire had given rise to storms that drove whole armies to death and depression. She passes towns that try so hard to keep her at bay, but she is winter, she is persistent, and she has carried many a babe and elderly soul away from their ineffectual bodies. They call her cruel but they do not know that without her nothing can survive. They blame her for their sufferings while heaping their praise on her sisters, but she does not care. She serves under no judgement, not even that of the stars. The inevitable never do.

She is on her way towards beckoning carols and flashing lights when her heart squeezes and nearly melts right then and there in her chest. She howls through the town, careful not to topple any houses or grinning snowmen. She has sensed the oncoming heat and she hates it. Once she had clawed at the skies and won a war that extended her kingdom to a reign of tens of thousands of years. Once she would have smothered her youngest sister’s favourite companions for daring to intrude on her territory. But they are older now, their bickering more refined, and spring has grown from wilful ignorance into a quiet strength that allows her to mediate between the more tempestuous of her siblings.

She is waiting for her at the heart of winter’s kingdom, standing by a tree that is formed of snow and ice and yet pulsates with life. Their gazes lock; neither steps forward to embrace the other. Finally, spring smiles, a half, sad sort of smile. The days of her boundless laughter have become lost in memory. One day, she too will give up her crown to the most arrogant of the sisters, the embodiment of flame. She lifts her hand from the trunk of the tree, and when she is gone, she leaves behind a pool of melted ice.