“My mother taught me to dig for stars. She listened to the ice. I walked beside her but I only heard the sky – it was wind full. My furs felt thin. The world was night shapes. My steps made no sound, so I held her hand harder: I was afraid of turning into silence. The sky breathed low colours and I slowed to watch them. She said – Nishka, the stars we seek are below our feet.”
“Night lay on the ice. I tried to feel the stars through my footsteps but we walked over silence. The sky was moon melt. My mother pointed further than I could see, further than wind, so I shut my eyes until the darkness was just us. The plains were slow sounds and the mountains beyond were names I didn’t know. She spoke about star scent. But I could only smell the cold.”
“The world felt as if it was turning into moonsong. We stopped. My mother let go of my hand and crouched down. She said – the stars are here. I heard her cut the ice. But the mountains had changed the sky to shadow and I couldn’t see the lines she carved, so I tried to listen to the patterns. When she’d finished, she took my hand. I felt the ice fold and peel. Light struck through cracks.”
“The plain ice shook into dust and I saw a curve of sun colour. The star shone but it felt like coldness from long ago. It broke the night. I knew old stars turned into ice and fell, too heavy to stay in the sky. My mother told me to carry the star. It fit in my arms. I thought – I am stronger than the sky. She walked ahead of me, small against the star’s beams.”
“The plains were faster on our way back. I couldn’t feel my steps. My mother turned and talked to me, but I only heard the star’s glow. The sky shrank. The winds felt like far away. I didn’t look for our home in the distance. I knew the ice city was lit by stars my mother found – when I’d walked the passageways, the light had felt like it was mine. I jolted as my mother put her hand on my arm. She said – Nishka, let me have the star.”
“I stood under an archway but I didn’t know how long I’d been walking through the city. She took the star out of my arms. I felt dim. I stared up past the walls, over the jagged tower points, to the flowing night. I think I asked – will they all freeze? But she said nothing. Then hallways shone past and I was in my bed. Furs weighted me. I meant to scratch patterns on my walls. The sun came. I didn’t know I’d slept.”
Queen Nishka stopped talking. From the tower top, she looked across the night. Above her, over the peaks of the ice city, colours moved the sky.
“Later on, my mother took me here,” she said. “I climbed behind her – I thought the tower wouldn’t end, would go beyond the sky. The walls were falling light. I felt smaller than my footsteps. My furs were heavy. At the top, I wouldn’t hold her hand but I stood close so the winds didn’t touch me. We breathed night. The sky felt like sleep. She made me look at the city – it was moon-sharpened. Time was slow. She said – the age of ice is ending, Nishka; you will be the last. I knew then I’d never leave. I’m not going with you. You’ll find the others. You’ve been a good friend all these days.” She didn’t turn. She listened to the footsteps leaving the room and slowly descending the long spiral staircase. They sounded like long ago. They thinned into the distance and she heard empty pathways below. Her breathing was an echo. The city was filled with silence, but at the tower tops where she stood beneath fast skies, she heard the sounds of glaciers breaking far away.
She felt the world past the ice plains, beyond the mountains, unfolding and growing further away. The sky slowed. Over the city, the white towers and spirals, the wind faded into the ice. She breathed stillness. She moved without feeling her own steps, down the tower and out into the pathways. The air was cold gleam. Ice stars shone.
She walked along the starlit passageways, beside walls of ice as tall as winds. Above her, the city’s white peaks soared into the night. Her steps filled the silence. The emptiness felt solid. Below the towers and archways, her furs were moon-bright.
The paths wound in slow circles past hallways and spires under colours falling softly from the sky.
She stepped through a broad archway into a tunnel of glimmering ice. Her furs brushed the walls. The air was chill glow, but beneath the thickening silence she thought she could hear distant water sounds. Her breath was white. The tunnel opened into halls of cold stars and carved arches where spiral sheets of thin ice stretched to the ceiling, each engraved with tales of the city. They stretched back to the beginning of the age of ice. In the far reaches of the library, the sheets had already begun to melt, their words lost. She paused at a spiral and read:
‘Queen Drelder was old. Fearing the world without her, her people carved a hall to keep her voice forever. For a hundred days, they shaped the ice cavern under the blue glacier until any words spoken there would echo always. She walked the hall alone, her speech bright with wisdom. After she died, crowds knelt in the hall and listened. Many years went by. Other rulers reigned and passed and Queen Drelder was forgotten. Her words echoed unheard under the ice.’
She stopped reading. The air was weighted with stories of sky legends and long-ago Queens. She drifted slowly past the ice sheets, glancing at the tales. High above her, in the carved ceilings, the ice stars had begun to thaw. Light melted in soft silence. The ice ribbons twisted like white winds. She moved deeper through the halls. Star-melt fell on the ice sheets, lighting the words. She read:
‘Teakin walked in blue shadows. Before her, the glacier towered in chill heights. The air felt like waiting wind. The snow breathed silence. She huddled into her furs. The blue glaciers were once skies, but when coldness had cloaked the world, they’d frozen and sank. She picked up a small piece of the blue ice – it fit in her palm. She held it to her eye, peered through and saw long-ago lands and lost seas – the views from the ancient skies.’
Over the silence, the city creaked, and beyond the towers, the plains began to shift. She felt still among the stories of past ages. She gazed around the halls, her eyes full of the histories written on the ice. Pausing, she reached out and touched a melting sheet, running her fingers on the fading words. She turned to another and read:
‘The birds flew in the deep ice, our grandmothers said. They told us of flocks as wide as moon hush and fast as the skies, and they spoke of running on the ice plain while birds in colours too many to count flew beneath their steps. We looked for flock shapes below us and pressed our ears to the ice walls listening for wing beats. In my dreams, I saw birds the colour of night winds.
I closed my eyes when our grandmothers told stories. Sometimes, I fell asleep. Each morning, we watched the plains, but the ice was clear and quiet and only the winds had wings. I tried to guess how deep the ice grew. We wondered if the birds were flying far below us and we scratched patterns on the ice that looked like flight. We were afraid to ask if all the birds had gone.’
Nishka reached out and touched the sheet. It crumpled and fell. The air was damp with dripping starlight. She breathed in the glow. Her feet trembled: beneath her, the deep ice was stirring. Across the plains and the night, colours twisted from the sky, and through the city, in the passageways and over the tower points, star melt flowed through cracks in the walls. The spaces beyond the mountains sounded like slow water.
Moonlight swayed in the thawing air as chasms opened across the ice plains. The sky flowed into the city as walls of ice fell. The white spirals and hallways broke into strange shapes. In the library, starlight shivered into mist. The fading glow felt like slowed time. Nishka watched the stories and the stars melt together in the dim cold. The falling city around her felt like a long ago night carrying a star by her mother’s side.
Rebecca Harrison sneezes like Donald Duck and her best friend is a dog who can count.
Image via Pixabay