When we entered the region of the stones, the temperature dropped 10 degrees and we knew we were now in the realm of the Ice Queen.
“She’s here, too,” Mac said.
“Feels like,” I replied, and we stopped to get our woollens out of our packs.
We’d first heard of the Ice Queen only a few years ago, when travellers from the delta had come to swap their fish for our fabric.
“Where she rules, the weather cools,” they told us, and a shiver went through the crowd as they spoke of icy streams and frosty mornings.
“But where did she come from?” asked Glenda, ever practical. “This isn’t a fairy tale. Her power comes from somewhere.”
But the travellers just shrugged and we continued on with the feast.
It was Glenda’s idea to go in search of the Ice Queen.
“Find her before she finds us,” she said.
By then, we had heard many other stories of her conquests. Frost in the deserts, snow in the rainforests. We were but poor plains people. Yes, we are numerous and our army strong, but it was our Ambassadors we first sent over the stones. Mac and I, ministers, men of words.
We found the Queen in the land of the sea dwellers, who she had just conquered. We sought her audience, and we were invited to join her at breakfast the next day.
“And what is it you want?” she said, as we ate eggs and cheese and yoghurt. She was a tall woman with broad shoulders, and cropped black hair that stuck up in spikes. Her skin was blacker than ours – she must have come from very far north indeed. That would satisfy Glenda that she was not a fairytale.
“We do not want war,” I began, but Mac stopped me with a grimace on his hard features.
“What we want,” he said. “Is a partnership.”
The Ice Queen hit her boiled egg sharply with a metal spoon, and the shell crumbled as she gently rolled it between her hands.
“I can turn you into ice this instant,” she said, without looking up. “You and all your people.”
“First, you will find us more formidable than the other foes you have encountered so far,” Mac said.
“We are merely ambassadors,” I said. “We are not soldiers.”
The Ice Queen leaned back in her chair and I could tell she understood my meaning. Mac is a behemoth of a man. And even I, a mere wordsmith, stand taller than a deltaman and can handle a sword better than a warrior of the savannah.
“And second?” she said.
“People are buying fabric from us to protect against the cold,” I said. “Trade has never been so good.”
“Soldiers, fealty, tax,” Mac said. He wiped his mouth and placed his napkin carefully on the table in front of him. He looked at the Ice Queen without fear “I’m sure we can come to an arrangement that benefits us both.”
The Ice Queen made a movement with her mouth which I took to be a smile.
“Why, you’re even colder than I am,” she said, and the deal was done.