This is the first multi-part story I ever finished, and it's still one of my favorites.
The Snow Prince
The Snow Prince
It was late in the evening when Lleu Welsh finally finished his sculpture. His breath puffed in the air as he stepped back to watch the play of streetlights on the freshly-cut snow. Light and shadow flickered and danced across the carved surface, and Lleu waved his hand through the patterns, melding and distorting the shadows as he identified the source of each reflection. The flickering red light was from the Christmas lights on the store across the street. The pale green was cast from the decorated trees. The growing spot of white light was from a car heading towards him.
Lleu glanced over his shoulder only to wince as the bright headlights shone right in his eyes. Some day he would learn not to look at approaching cars in the dark. Turning back to his sculpture, he watched as the retreating taillights cast an eerie red glow on the surface of the ice.
Tomorrow was the Winter Festival in his small town. The highlight of the festival was always the snow carvings that were displayed around Town Square. Fairgoers would view the sculptures and vote on their favorites. The winners would receive a monetary award that was neither very large nor very small.
Despite being a local artist, this was only Lleu's third year participating in the competition.
Two years ago, Lleu had agreed to help a friend with her sculpture. Working with her had been one of the most frustrating experiences of Lleu's life, but their sculpture of a unicorn won an underserved third place.
Knowing better than to work with her again, Lleu entered on his own the year after that, his sculpture of a mother seal with three babies taking second place to an ugly dragon statue. Lleu was sure the dragon only won because the sculptor had slept with the judges. Never mind that the judges were anyone and everyone who went to the Festival. Thomas Riley was a notorious playboy and slut, and Lleu wouldn't put it past him to have slept with the whole town if it would've won him the prize.
Not that Lleu was bitter or anything.
But Thomas had moved away last year, and Lleu was determined to win first prize with his current sculpture, though he would only stoop so far to get it.
His sculpture this year was titled Jack Frost. He'd meant for it to be an old man, bearded and bent, but after a few imperfections in the snow and a wayward elbow nearly ruined the whole thing, Lleu had been forced to abandon the beard, and slim down the entire statue. Now, instead of a craggy old man, Lleu had a young and wistful-looking young snow prince.
He looked so sad and alone on the frozen world that he reminded Lleu of the old story of the Snow Queen, who stole a child away to keep her company in her palace of ice. The queen had been painted as cruel and cold-hearted, but it seemed that the prince Lleu was starting to think of as her son was just misunderstood and lonely.
Lleu laughed to himself, and turned to put his tools away. Here he was, on a Friday night, projecting his own loneliness onto a sculpture. He sighed as he thought of another snow-story, this one The Snowchild, where a husband and wife long so for a child that the mother creates one out of snow, and it comes to life to live with them. He wondered briefly if that would work for him, creating the perfect man out of snow, and then wishing him to life.
Lleu closed his toolbox and glanced back at his snow prince, imagining briefly what he'd look like if he were alive. It didn't take much, just some color and movement, to envision him as a flesh-and-blood human. The prince would be quite handsome, he thought, and then laughed at himself again. Wasn't there another old story about a man falling in love with a sculpture he made?
Well, no matter, Lleu was in love with this piece, even if he wasn't in love with this piece, and he really hoped it would win tomorrow.
Lleu bent to pick up his scarf, which he had removed the umpteenth time it got in his way while he worked. Running the soft fabric through his hands, Lleu hesitated for a moment before jumping onto the base of the statue and wrapping the scarf around its neck. "Smile;" he said softly to it, "if you win tomorrow, I'll take you out for hot chocolate. Until then, stay warm." He glanced around briefly before placing a peck on the snow prince's lips.
As he stepped back again, Lleu thought he saw a glitter in both of the icy eyes, but when he looked behind him, there were no lights that could be making them. He shrugged, leaving it to be one of life's little mysteries, picked up his toolbox and left to find his car.
The next day was perfect for the Winter Festival. It was sunny, but just below freezing, in that deceitful winter way. No one minded, though, because the cold helped keep the snow sculptures from melting. There were booths and games set up all around the small park in Town Square. There was ice-skating and carriage rides and kite flying on the frozen pond. There was hot chocolate and spiced apple cider for all, as well as Christmas cookies and candy.
Lleu arrived early, since he had promised a friend he would help with their booth. After retrieving his scarf, hopefully before anyone saw it, Lleu didn't get a chance to see Jack Frost until nearly noon, when he finally managed to sneak away with a cup of hot apple cider and some lunch. He leaned against the railing that kept people from damaging the sculpture, and listened to the passersby.
"Oh, look at this one, isn't it gorgeous! I think I'll vote for this." Two teenaged girls had stopped to admire his work.
"I love the crown of ice, those really are icicles, aren't they?"
"I think I like his face best, look at how happy he looks. I'll bet he loves weather like this."
"Like what? Bitterly cold and dry?" They giggled. "C'mon, let's go get some more cider before my fingers freeze off."
The two left, but Lleu didn't notice. He wondered at their comment about the snow prince being happy, and looked at the features that had seemed so lonely last night. Just as the girls had giggled over, Lleu's Jack Frost had a smile. It wasn't a giant grin, but the lips were definitely upturned. Lleu was a bit startled that the expression was so different in the sunlight, but, then again, it had been quite dark when he'd left for home last night, and those shadows had made everything look different.
Lleu shook his head, tossed his cup in a conveniently located bin, and headed back to the booth he was helping with.
Several hours later Lleu stood in the crowd waiting to hear the results of the snow sculpture competition. He'd gotten a chance to look at the other entrants, and there was only one he was really worried about; one of Santa and his reindeer. Although the miniature White House was nice, and the snow sculpture of several kids building a snowman was quite clever. Lleu was confident he would take at least second place, and, if he did, so long as he lost to Santa, he was prepared to be a good sport about it.
The town mayor, a tall and balding man, stepped up to the microphone. "Alright, alright, settle down now," he said, running a hand through what hair he had left. "You're all here to hear the snow sculpture winners I take it?"
There was a cheer.
"No? I thought they said it was this stage…" He trailed off, making a big show of walking towards the edge of the stage. The audience called after him. "Wait, what?" the mayor said in response, "It is the correct stage? You are here to hear the awards?"
There was an even bigger cheer, and the man waved his hands for silence, returning to center stage.
"Alright, alright, I was just kidding. I'd like to start by saying that there were some very lovely pieces in the running this year, and we are glad to have all of them on display from now until, well, until spring. But I'm sure you're all interested in the winners, so I'll get right to it. Without further preamble, fourth place goes to Charles Brunk's White House!"
There were cheers as Charles walked up on stage, where he received a ribbon and got to say a quick 'thank-you' into the mic.
"Our third place winner is Santa and his Sleigh by Naomi Thompson."
Too bad, Lleu reflected, as she went to the stage, he really thought Santa was going to get better than that. Then again, that insipid unicorn won three years ago, so this just further proved that people had no real appreciation of art.
"Second place goes to Alex Norman and his Children in the Snow!"
Lleu cheered with everyone else as Alex went to the stage, Alex was an old friend from school and Lleu was happy for him.
"Now, the moment you've all been waiting for, our first prize goes to-" he made a big deal about reading off the paper "-Lleu Welsh and Jack Frost!"
Lleu couldn't keep the grin off of his face as he went on stage for his reward, not that he tried.
It was both much darker and much colder when Lleu finally escaped from the well-wishers and other people who thought he should spend his reward buying them all drinks. Free at last, Lleu went to visit his sculpture before heading home for the evening.
Standing in front of Jack Frost once again, with the early darkness of winter casting shadows similar to last night's, his snow prince once more looked sad.
Lleu sighed and unwrapped his scarf, stepping to the other side of the flimsy wooden railing. He climbed onto the pedestal and wrapped the scarf around the sculpture's neck a second time. "Cheer up—we won," he whispered, gently kissing the snowy lips a second time.
"I know, I just worried you'd forgotten." Cold breath blew on Lleu's lips with each word.
"Whaaa-!?" Lleu fell backwards and landed on the ground with a whump.
"Are you okay?" The snow-prince asked Lleu, peering curiously down at him.
"Yeah, I just…yeah. Didn't expect that to happen." Lleu took a moment to catch his breath and study his now colorful and moving snow prince, which made him catch his breath again. Living color did wonders for Jack Frost.
Jack hopped off the base that he'd previously been part of, and smiled at Lleu. "Where are we going for hot chocolate?"
Lleu stood up and dusted himself off. "A little café just over there. Wait." He grabbed Jack's arm as he started to walk in the direction Lleu had pointed. Lleu held out his coat, warm enough in his sweater and down vest. "Here, take this," he said, biting his tongue before 'you must be cold' could slip out.
"I'm not cold," Jack said.
"I know," Lleu said. The man had been snow only moments before, after all. "You'll stand out if you wander around without a coat." It was more for Lleu's benefit, though. He didn't really want anyone to realize he was taking his statue out for a date.
"Oh! Thanks." Jack smiled and pulled the coat on. Then he reached up and pulled the icicle-crown off of his head, letting it drop and shatter on the ground. Lleu gave a quiet sigh for the lost work he'd put into it, then grabbed Jack's cold hand and led him down the street to the café.
They got the hot chocolate and sat down at a table near the back. Lleu removed his down vest and placed it over the back of the chair. Jack pulled off Lleu's coat, draped it over his own chair, and then started to remove Lleu's scarf.
"Will you melt?" Lleu asked suddenly.
Jack looked at him a moment. "No," he said.
"Vanish with the dawn? At the stroke of midnight? Is it the magic of the scarf?"
Jack shook his head. "No, It's the magic of companionship that keeps me here. I'll go if you want me to, or when the winter ends."
There was silence for a moment and Jack took a sip of his hot chocolate, sliding his eyes closed and smiling in delight at the taste.
"Who are you, exactly?" Lleu finally asked.
"Jokul Frosti, Jack Frost," Jack said. "You should know, you named me."
"Why are you here?"
"You said you'd buy me hot chocolate," Jack replied, as if it were the most normal thing in the world.
"So I'm not dreaming?"
"Sorry, had to ask," Lleu muttered.
There was a long moment of silence, and Lleu wondered at the blue of Jack's hair. It looked like a bad dye job that was half-faded, but persistent enough that the original color of the hair was indeterminate. Somehow the hairstyle looked good on him.
"So you're here to be my…friend?" Lleu asked.
Jack dipped his head over his cup of hot chocolate, looking up at Lleu through his eyelashes in a way that could only be described as coy. "If that's all you want," he said.
Lleu choked on his own hot chocolate. "How did this happen?" he asked, once he was able to breathe again. "Did I wish upon a star?"
Jack shrugged. "Do you know the story of the Snow Child?" he asked. "It's like that." It wasn't the explanation Lleu wanted, but Jack didn't offer anything more, and silence hovered between them.
"So, um." Lleu wondered if this could go down as the most awkward date in history. "Where are you from?"
"Oh. Is it, um, very cold there?"
"Yes it is, it's winter all year long there."
They starred at each other for a moment, and then Lleu said, "well?"
Jack looked startled. "Sorry, I'm not really used to people…" he trailed off.
Lleu smiled at him. "It's okay, I think I understand, but you've got to talk, too."
Jack stirred his hot chocolate vigorously for a moment. "You're awfully calm about this."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, last time I visited someone in a physical body, they panicked and wouldn't have anything to do with me."
Lleu shrugged. "I can't imagine why."
"Possibly because I'm just a fairy tale come to life."
"I doubt just a fairy tale, but I've always tried to take life as it came to me. I mean, I was the one who started treating my sculpture—you, that is—as a real person, so I can't be too surprised that I was right. Plus I think I'm still waiting to wake up."
Jack sighed. "You're not dreaming," he repeated patiently.
"Maybe I just need something to convince myself that this is real."
"I don't know, let me think a moment." One moment turned into two, and before he knew it, Lleu had finished his hot chocolate. "Are you done with that?" Lleu asked, nodding at Jack's cup.
Jack nodded, and the two stood up, put their winter gear back on and left the small café.
They chatted idly as they walked to Lleu's car. Jack had only partial knowledge of even the most mundane things in Lleu's life, and he was curious about everything. Lleu did his best to fill Jack in, trying hard not to laugh at his misunderstandings.
Once they reached Lleu's house, Lleu smiled and slid an arm around Jack's waist as they walked to the door.
"Still think it's a dream?" Jack asked, slowing to a stop so Lleu had to turn and face him.
"It's a good one, though," Lleu said, pulling Jack closer and leaning down for a soft kiss. It started cold and feather-light, and Jack gently sucked Lleu's lower lip between his own.
Where he promptly bit down on it.
Lleu pulled away. "Arg! What did you do that for?" he snapped, words muffled by the hand over his mouth.
"No pain in dreams," Jack said, sliding his arms back around Lleu and grinning up at him.
Lleu couldn't argue, not with Jack so close and so real. Instead he tightened his hold on Jack and leaned down for another kiss, this one warm and soft and painless.
Lleu woke the next morning when the phone rang. "h'llo?" he mumbled sleepily.
"Lleu? It's Sandy." Sandy was an old friend, and someone who worked just off Town Square. "I hate to wake you with bad news, but your sculpture's walked off."
Lleu blinked lazily, and then turned to see Jack Frost sleeping in the bed next to him, under a mound of blankets. "No, e's here," Lleu muttered sleepily.
"What? Look, the police are looking into it, but we don't know what happened."
"Know what happened," Lleu mumbled some more. "It turned into a really hot guy, except he's cold, and then he bit me so he's real."
There was a long pause. "Lleu, sculptures don't turn into people."
"Huh?" Lleu took a moment to yawn and let his brain catch up slightly. "Oh, sorry, it must have been a dream. Seemed real, though. One of those that you believe when you wake up until you really wake up, you know?"
"Yeah, I had a dream about a having a pet parakeet once, and I put bird food on the grocery list, and didn't realize how stupid that was until I almost put it in my cart that afternoon."
"Huh. I think my brain just confused my two Jacks, though." He yawned again; "I think I'll go sort it out with him. Bye." He hung up the phone before Sandy could fully sort out the conversation.
Rolling over, Lleu nudged the lump that was Jack. "You wake?" he asked.
"No," came the muttered reply.
"Fair enough," Lleu said, curling back to sleep.
An hour or so later Lleu was in the kitchen making eggs and toast. Putting them on plates, and the plates on the table, he wandered off to find Jack.
Who was standing in front of the full-length mirror, starring at himself in the boxers he'd borrowed from Lleu. Lleu wrapped his arms around Jack, studying their reflections in the mirror as well.
They weren't exactly a study in contrasts, but Jack's pale skin would make anyone look dark, and his hair, lighter in the sunlight, made him look even more washed out. Spreading a tan-looking hand over Jack's stomach, Lleu wondered at how tiny Jack was as well. Or maybe his hands were just that big.
Jack shivered slightly, and then reached out towards the mirror. "I've never seen myself like this," he said.
Lleu frowned. "Isn't that what you look like?"
"No," Jack said. "Well, maybe it is now."
"I don't understand."
"You- you always look like you. You're a physical being that is only affected by the physical world. I'm usually a non-physical being, and thus am affected by the non-physical world, meaning I change appearance as people's assumptions of what I look like change."
Lleu shook his head. "I'm not sure I understood that."
Jack shrugged. "It's not that important, I guess, since I won't change while I'm in the body you made me."
"Come get breakfast," Lleu said, deciding to simply let three impossible things go before breakfast. Taking Jack's hand, Lleu led him away from the mirror.
After they'd eaten, Lleu cleaned up while Jack drifted over to look out the window. Placing the last dish on the towel to dry, Lleu joined Jack looking out over the snow-covered yard.
"It's not all that much in the winter, I know, and in late summer it's mostly just weeds, but I think I've got more spring flowers than the rest of the city combined. It's really breath-taking and magical then."
Jack nodded sadly. "It has a certain frozen charm, even in winter. I wish I could see it in the spring, though."
"Why can't you?"
Jack sighed. "I told you last night, didn't I? I've got to leave when the snow melts, when my powers fade and I've got to return to the Winterlands."
"Then why did you come at all?"
"If you want me to leave…"
"No! That's not what I meant. It just seems like such a short time to have something so good."
"I can come back next year, if you still want me to."
Lleu slid an arm around his waist, "I think I'd like that," he said, pulling Jack closer and leaning his head on the faintly blue hair. "I'd like that."