Cold as Ice
Prof. Silmarien Szilagyi
Snow falls from the gray sky in pure-white flurries, resting on the ebony hair of a woman. The contrast is sharp yet beautiful, much like the woman. She glances around at her white surroundings, a small smile, cold as ice, forming on her face. This is her domain, and she revels in it. She gazes into the distance, her thoughts in the past.
As she entered the castle of the king of Cornwall, a man caught her attention. He was speaking to her future husband in hushed tones, his gaze darting between a group of soldiers and a piece of parchment on the table.
“Ah, my dear Isolde,” the king greeted her and clasped her hands in his. “I would like you to meet Tristan, my most trusted knight.”
The knight placed a soft kiss upon her knuckles, and, as he straightened, his eyes held a mischievous twinkle.
“It’s an honor to meet you, my lady.”
Isolde’s face was devoid of emotion. She responded coolly, “Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Although her expression remained unaffected, her heart beat erratically as she spoke with the knight. Something stirred within her, and she knew her life would change irrevocably.
Isolde walks through the knee-deep snow as though it were mere air, her voluminous cloak billowing in the breeze. She touches a pale hand to a tree, which immediately ices over. For that is her power, or part of it, at least. She is the Element of Winter, as cold as the ice she brings.
They, the people she has dominion over, call her the Ice Queen. Some fear her, while others welcome her, as they fear and welcome death. That, too, she sometimes brings. She never collects the souls; that unpleasant task is left to the Element of Death, yet death and winter are nevertheless linked in the minds of humans.
As the royal wedding approached, Tristan and Isolde found it harder to keep their love a secret, for they truly were in love, from the moment they met on that fateful day. Their love would have been pure, had not fate played a cruel hand, and now they were reduced to sneaking around and meeting after dark in secluded corners of the castle.
During one such encounter, their luck had run out. A knight was returning from his own tryst with Isolde’s handmaiden and spied the two lovers embracing. He was torn. Should he report what he witnessed to the king or remain silent? If he betrayed Tristan and told the king, exile, or worse, awaited Tristan. However, if the king learned he had kept the discovery to himself, he would be the one exiled, or worse.
Unbeknownst to the knight, his decision would be made for him. Lurking in the shadows was a spy, who had been sent by the king to keep an eye on Isolde after a seer told him she would betray him.
The knight decided to hold his tongue, as Tristan was a friend, and turned on his heel, vowing never to speak of this night. But as he walked to his quarters, an ominous shiver ran up his spine.
When the king learned of Tristan and Isolde’s love, he sentenced them both to death. Neither begged; they simply accepted their fate, harsh and unjust though it was. The public, however, was not so complacent. As the two lovers were led to the stage, the crowd cheered them on. It was a romantic if tragic idea to die for love, and the crowd sympathized with them. Interspersed amongst the cheers were the cries of outrage, but the king was a prideful creature whose word was absolute.
As a noblewoman, Isolde was to be decapitated. She walked up the stairs and stood before the crowd. Her gaze was cold as ice as she glared at the king, before kneeling and placing her neck on the chopping block. The headsman read the charges. He raised his axe. Isolde’s gaze locked on Tristan’s, and, for the last time in her mortal life, a surge of love passed between them. Then the blade came down.
Tristan felt his heart claimed by death. For a moment, he struggled against the guards, wanting to run to her, but instead, he turned away. His shoulders sagged, and he allowed himself to be led to the gallows. Hard, green eyes stared at the king as the noose was slipped around his neck. Once his charges were similarly read, the hangman kicked the stool out from under his feet. He died with revenge in his heart.
After their deaths, Tristan and Isolde reunited and ruled over death and winter, respectively. The king of Cornwall, who had so cruelly parted them, received his retribution, dying at the hands of his people. When the time came for Tristan to collect the king’s soul, he delayed for a few moments to let the king linger in agony.
As Tristan reached into the king’s battered body, gripping his soul, his gaze met the king’s.
“You killed unjustly and will now meet a just end.”
With a final tug, the soul came loose, and the king’s body slumped forward, dead. Task done, Tristan vanished.
Tristan sits in a tree, untouched by the cold. He admires her handiwork, the ice-laced tree branches and the thick, snow-covered fields that stretch on towards the distant horizon. A small smile plays upon his lips.
“You’ve outdone yourself, my love.”
“I’m not finished yet.”
A fresh batch of snowflakes fall, twinkling in the waning sunlight.
Tristan leaps down from the tree and wraps an arm around her waist, placing a soft kiss on her frosted cheek.
“Come, your attention is needed elsewhere.”
Isolde smiles wanly. This would be a particularly harsh winter for Cornwall, England.