The queen was not human in origin. Some said she was a spirit born of the Great Winter Tree, a snowdrop that walked the earth in human form. She had fair skin that glittered like frost, eyes of the most wintry blue, and hair that was soft and cold like spun snow.
She was beautiful, but she was missing something quite vital.
She did not have a heart.
Where a heart would be in anyone else she had simply a slab of ice in the shape of a snowdrop petal.
The queen did not cry when the king died. She was pleased that she would now be the sole recipient of the people’s admiration.
And admire her they did. She threw lavish balls every night where she would drift past her subjects in a mist of bells and lavender scent. She had four self-portraits commissioned in the first year, eight in the second. Only the most beautiful things were permitted to touch her being – pearls that shone even in the dark, hairpieces made of frozen snowflakes, and satins that put starlight to shame.
The funds for all this came from the palace treasury. This did not cause the queen any distress. With the king gone his wealth was hers to do with as she pleased. She was satisfied whenever she heard people gush that the queen grew more beautiful with each passing day.
When the famine came she spared what little she had left to save her people, for they were no use to her if they were dead. But many started to say this was not enough. The masses were starving. Reluctantly she parted with some of the money reserved for parties and finery, but the body carts still made their rounds every morning. She watched them rattle past, but shed no more tears for them than she had for her husband.
The situation grew worse and worse. Sickness ravaged the villages, and even some in the palace became ill. Rioters hurled rocks at anything bearing the royal emblem. The whispers about the queen were different now. “The queen is beautiful,” they said, “but she has no heart.”
The queen’s advisers insisted she cease her extravagant spending. They stressed that the people needed food more than she needed fine clothes. But she remembered how she came to be queen from a simple flower growing in the shade of a great tree, and knew she needed admiration to remain in this form.
So she continued to spend, and her people continued to starve.
One morning the queen looked in the mirror and her eyes were not quite so blue anymore. It does not matter, she thought. I am still beautiful enough.
The next week her skin had lost its frost-like glitter. I shall commission a new dress and the glitter shall return, she determined.
But it didn’t , and the next week not only had her hair turned brittle but she was forced to retreat to her bed because her limbs had become weak and flimsy.
She grew weaker as the days passed. She remembered the time when she was tied to the earth, unable to do more than bob her head of petals, and she was scared.
Soon all were forbidden to enter her chambers save for her most important advisers. No one else saw the queen, but whispers circulated in the villages. They said the queen’s hair was now green and her skin was rough and wrinkled, like withered petal.
The queen herself did not understand. Centuries ago the first human had crouched at her side and said “what a beautiful flower you are”. His words fell upon her petals like drops of dew, and nourished her like no rainfall ever had. He came to admire her every day, and every day she shone that much brighter, until her form could no longer contain the beauty she held.
The humans had always loved her. Why had their love for her died? Her beauty had not waned.
She did not understand.
When the queen failed to summon her advisers one morning the most senior of those advisers entered her chambers to check on her. Finding them empty he searched the tables and drawers for notes or any clue as to her whereabouts.
When he came to the bed he frowned. There on the pillow, tucked gently beneath the bedsheets, was a single snowdrop.
He picked up the flower and examined it. It had been beautiful once, he concluded, but now there was a jagged brown scar running down its side.
He traced the scar and his frown deepened.
It can’t be, he thought.
But it was.
If he held the flower out and tipped it just so, the scar made the shape of a human heart.