They called her The Snow Queen. They said she had a heart of ice. They said to lock away your valuables on stormy winter nights lest she steal them away. They told of her dire wolf made of snow and ice. They said her stare would freeze even the warmest of hearts if you happened to see her.
She called herself Parker. She said her heart was locked away to keep all others out. She stole under the cover of storms to hide her tracks. Bunny was made of ice and snow from her magic but was harmless if you stayed clear of Parker. Her magic could freeze people but not their hearts.
They called him The Clockmaker. They said he was as mechanical as the machines he created. They told of kings who bought his work only to find their treasuries empty. They told of the clockwork beast that he rode upon. They said if he smiled it melted even the strongest of wills.
He called himself Hardison. He said only his arm was mechanical due to an accident in childhood. The clockworks he sold to kings left him openings to the treasuries only he could use. Lucille may have been clockwork, but she was no beast and was built to pull his wagon. The only thing his smile could melt was his Nana’s strictness.
They called him The Huntsman. They said killing was all he knew. They said meeting him in his woods would lead to death unless payment was provided in food. They told of his falcon made of the air who could not be heard. The said he was cursed to feel nothing until the day he met snow and fire.
He called himself Eliot. He knew more than killing but it was all he could. He needed food and took from those who passed because it was the only way deep in winter. Sugar was an ordinary falcon who he had raised to help him survive. The curse was real, and he doubted it would ever be broken.
With the storm combined with the new moon making the night as dark as it could be and on the longest night of the year Hardison made his way into the village. He normally would pass straight by, but the weather made it too treacherous. There were very few lights so he could not tell which building might be the inn where he might be able to spend the night. Even passing through the whole town did not give the answer he needed so he pulled his wagon as close to the protected side of a building as he could.
He got out and made sure that Lucille had all the important parts covered. Being clockwork meant he did not need to worry about her freezing. He only had to worry about himself. He kept blankets in the back of the wagon for just the situation of having to sleep in cold. At least he was in the village this time and had to worry less about whatever lurked in the woods.
He got in the back and pulled the blankets out. He made sure the special one Nana had made with warming magic woven in was closest to him and settled into sleep.
Parker watched the man move into town from the edge of the woods. Due to her magics the dark nor the storm bothered her. She had planned to use the storm as cover to break in and steal from the townsfolk, but this man changed her plans. There was no reason he should have. But there was something about him that spoke to her.
Once he had disappeared into the back of his wagon for long enough to be asleep Parker and Bunny moved over to it. When she came close, Parker noticed that there was something off about the horse. So, she took a closer look.
It was mechanical.
There was only one person Parker had ever heard of that had a mechanical horse.
She was stunned. He was one of two that could possibly match her.
Then she came to herself and backed away as fast as she could. But that was a mistake. She tripped and made too much noise.
The Clockmaker bolted upright and looked at her.
Hardison awoke to a crashing and sat up. He looked around and saw two figures faintly outlined is the dark. One was a person on the ground.
The other was the biggest wolf he had ever seen.
He stifled a scream and scrambled to grab anything that he could use as a weapon. All he found was his lantern that he thought was lost. He lit it.
There was more noise from outside his wagon and he looked again. He looked and now that there was light, he saw the person was a woman in all white.
And the wolf was made of snow and ice.
The Snow Queen.
He had attracted the attention of The Snow Queen.
He held his lantern and watched her. Parker didn’t know what to do. She didn’t want to look away on the chance he pulled a weapon. But now that there was light, she didn’t want to look in case he smiled.
She stared at him. Hardison knew what would come next. Either she would freeze his heart and take him as her servant or freeze him solid to be found the next morning.
He waited for his fate.
Except it didn’t come.
He looked closer at The Snow Queen and even though there was almost no expression he thought he almost saw fear.
“Are you alright?” The Clockmaker asked.
She didn’t say anything but finally got back to her feet. Bunny moved between them and stared at him.
“That fall sounded bad. Did you get hurt?” he asked again.
“No,” she said.
They kept staring at each other.
“Are you cold,” He asked next.
She had given him a couple one-word answers which is more than he had heard anyone ever getting from her before. She still didn’t look comfortable but it was less fear and more something else now.
“Do-“ he started.
There was the sound of a door opening a child screamed at the sight of them.
The Snow Queen looked straight at the child and then back at Hardison.
“Get in,” he said getting back into the driver’s seat of the wagon.
She and the wolf listened to him and by the time Lucille had begun to move they were in the back of the wagon. They took off down the road and into the woods.
Parker didn’t know why she had listened to The Clockmaker when he had told her to get in the wagon. She and Bunny could have gotten away just as fast if not faster by themselves.
Then she noticed how fast they were going. It was faster than any horse that Parker had ever encountered let alone one that was pulling a wagon. They were going as fast as Bunny could run without Parker.
“How are we going this fast?” she asked.
“Being clockwork gives Lucille a few abilities that normal horses don’t have,” he answered.
“What? Was I not supposed to give her a name? I bet your buddy has one too.”
Parker looked at Bunny.
“Yeah,” she said.
They sat in silence while they sped through the woods. After a while The Clockmaker slowed down.
Hardison slowed down the wagon when he thought they were far enough away from the village for them to catch up before giving up. He had instinctively headed in the direction of his home though it was still at least a half-day’s journey away. He then brought the wagon to a stop.
“Are we going the direction you need to go? We can go a different one if you want.”
The Snow Queen didn’t say anything.
“You can also just leave if you want. I’m heading towards home. You can come along if you’d like.”
“Okay,” she said.
Back to the one-word answers. But she had agreed to go with him which made him happier than he had expected. She was known as one of the most dangerous beings and he was happy she wanted to come with him. There was still a chance it was to kill o rob him but at the moment he didn’t care.
“I’m Hardison by the way. Do you have something you want me to call you?”
He hadn’t asked her for a name. Just what she wanted him to call her. Nobody had ever done that before. She looked at Bunny who gave her a look that told Parker she knew what she should do.
“Parker,” she told him.
Eliot watched as The Clockmaker drove past in his wagon. It was later and stormier than he usually tried to travel in but there must have been some reason. Possibly it had to do with the night being that of the winter solstice. And then as the end of the wagon came into view, he saw The Snow Queen. It was an odd sight, seeing them travel together. Neither had ever traveled with another through Eliot’s part of the woods before. If they continued this, it would be easier to keep track of them.
He followed them to see where they went. It appeared The Clockmaker was heading towards his home but there was no telling if that held true with The Snow Queen being with him.
He knew they would not see or hear him since the forest protected him and Sugar from that. Especially with these two he never bothered when they passed through. Eliot always told himself it was their magics. They could destroy him even further than the magician that had given him his curse.
Near dawn, Eliot decided that they were heading to The Clockmaker’s home and he headed back to his current camp.
Hardison pulled the wagon into the barn where it belonged and climbed out to release Lucille. She went right to the stall where he always checked over.
“I have to make sure Lucille is okay, but you can head into the main house if you’d like,” he told Parker.
She still hadn’t done anything to him, and he was going to give her his trust that far. The workshop was the only place that he didn’t want her at this time, and it was locked.
“I’ll wait for you,” Parker told him.
He heard her climb out of the wagon, but she stayed in the barn. He made his check of Lucille quicker than normal, so Parker would not have to wait very long.
When he was done, he led her to the main house.
“There’s a bed you can sleep in, in that room,” Hardison said gesturing to the room. “Nobody has used it since my Nana stopped being able to travel.”
“Thanks,” Parker said and headed into the room.
To her surprise, Parker slept. Bunny didn’t but Parker did. Under normal circumstances, she would never have been able to sleep in a stranger’s house but as she was finding out Hardison was anything but normal circumstances. She hadn’t seen him smile but maybe his abilities worked by proximity.
When Parker awoke, she could smell food cooking. She followed the smell and came across the kitchen. She had expected to find Hardison but there was no sign of him. There was just a pot of stew sitting over the hearth and a clean bowl and spoon on the nearby table.
Parker decided the bowl was meant for her and took a serving but didn’t eat it yet.
Bunny didn’t need to eat but did need water after being indoors for so long. There was a bucket of clean water and she told Bunny it was okay to drink. She would make sure to find out where to collect more and refill it when she next saw their host.
Parker then sat down and used a small magic to ensure that there were no poisons in the stew before she ate it. It was one of her only magics that did not relate directly to snow or ice. Then she ate.
It was not very good. It was edible but there was something that said the person that made it knew little about cooking. But Parker ate because it was food and it was not the worst thing that she had been given. It was only a little worse than what she was capable of.
When she was finishing Hardison walked in.
“Oh good, you found the bowl I left out,” he said. “I had to do my full check of the grounds and didn’t want you to have to wait.”
At that point, he smiled at her.
And nothing happened. She felt the exact same as she had before.
Parker had no idea what to think or do so she continued to sit and watch him. He went over to a cabinet and got out another bowl and spoon. He served himself a bowl of the stew and sat down with her.
“I know it’s not very good but anything else I could have made would have been worse,” he said.
Parker snapped out of her daze and gave him an incredulous look.
He laughed and spoke.
“Really, I am that bad at cooking. You can have more if you want.”
“Thanks,” she said and went to get more.
Hardison had seen her freeze. She didn’t mention whatever had caused it and he wasn’t going to ask. His Nana had made it clear never to upset those with magic. And pointing out a moment of weakness definitely would.
They finished their food in silence. Hardison was too hungry to talk more with food in front of him and Parker didn’t like to talk from his interactions with her.
Parker finished her second bowl and stood.
“Where should I clean this?” she asked.
“Just leave it on the counter,” he told her. “I need it for a device I’m testing.”
Another incredulous look appeared on her face.
“You need dirty bowls to test a device?”
Her skepticism brought a smile to his face. He saw her shoulders tighten a bit and tried to move past it by answering her question.
“It’s for washing dishes. I’m making it to help my Nana since it is getting harder and harder for her to do all the housework she needs to.”
That was the second time that he had mentioned his Nana. Parker was very curious about this woman. Since it appeared that she was still alive Parker decided she would ask.
Hardison opened his mouth to answer her then shut it. When he opened it again he spoke.
“Well, she isn’t really my Nana,” he said. “She found me on the outskirts of our town. Nobody knew who I was or where I came from. So, she took me in and raised me. There were a couple others that came by occasionally, but I was the only one that she kept long term.”
“Oh,” Parker said.
She knew that she needed to say more but she didn’t know what to say. She was saved by Bunny bringing the water bucket over and putting it at her feet. And she remembered her promise to make sure it got refilled.
“Where can I get more water?” she asked.
“There’s a pump out back,” Hardison told her. “Just place the bucket on the pedestal.”
Parker was about to remark that she knew how to pump water but stopped herself. He had just told her that he was building a device to wash dishes and she had seen his horse the night before. It was more likely than not that he did something to his pump too. Thinking about it she was surprised that she hadn’t seen more clockworks. He was The Clockmaker after all.
She got to the pump and saw the pedestal. It was right below the spigot and when she set the bucket on it, the pedestal began to sink. Water came out and the bucket filled. When the pedestal reached the ground, the water stopped, and the bucket was filled to a volume comfortable for carrying.
She picked up the bucket and decided that she and Bunny had to leave before it was too late.
Hardison continued to eat while Parker went to get more water. The wolf stared at him from where it sat on his kitchen floor. He was starting to wonder if it was thinking of eating him when Parker entered the kitchen.
She set the water bucket down in its usual spot and then turned to him.
“Thank you for your help last night and for the shelter and food,” she said. “But we need to get home before nightfall.”
He was surprised by the feeling of disappointment that he felt by her pronouncement. He somehow knew that asking her to stay would make her run faster and further than anything else but there was something he could say that could potentially not have that effect.
“I hope you have a safe journey. And if you are ever in the area feel free to drop by and say hello. The company is always nice.”
“I might just do that,” she said with a small, startled smile.
Then she left with her wolf following right behind.
Eliot was watching The Clockmaker’s house. He hadn’t had plans to but when he woke up that morning something drew him there. He assumed it was the possible threat that was the combined forces of The Clockmaker and The Snow Queen, but there was always a chance it was something else with his curse.
He watched as The Clockmaker went and did his daily chores. He had watched him do them on more than one occasion since he moved into this house. Eliot only saw one deviation from his routine and that was to do the check of his horse that he normally did after a long journey. When he finished he went back into his house.
Not long after The Snow Queen exited the house and filled the water bucket at the pump. She went back in. Not even a few minutes later she and her wolf left the house and headed in a direction that was not towards or opposite her current hideout. She would likely change direction back to there once she was a comfortable distance away.
Based on this Eliot assumed that they were not working together and went back to his planned tasks.