Summerseeds and Winterash

The day Joringel was born, the world froze over. Peat colored storm clouds fell like an old woman’s tattered blanket over the shivering world, the edges tucked underneath the bare branches of the forest to the east. To the west of his village, the great mountain peaks speared the grey clouds and oh, if only their veins had spilled cosy, warm blood instead of avalanches. The death toll of the great blizzard had never been confirmed.

The day Jorinda was born, the last of the snow melted to reveal yellow flowers peeking through. It had been months since that terrible storm; the memory of it was all but forgotten, the world too demanding for such foolish things as memory. Joringel would also have forgotten the snowstorm on the day of his birth if his parents hadn’t reminded him every time his cakes came out raw in the centre or his loaves lacked a golden colouring. “Not enough heat,” his mother would say, clicking her tongue. “Snow has yet to let go of you, I see.”

If the chill Joringel brought everywhere he went was unfitting for a baker, so was the warmth Jorinda spread. A warmth fitting for Joringel’s future wife, as had been determined when they were young; but unfitting for an executioner’s daughter. The old man travelled from village to village, swinging his great axe after him as he walked, striking fear into all who saw him. Joringel didn’t know how someone like that had a daughter as beautiful as Jorinda—her face as delicate as sculpted glass, her body as graceful and elegant as one of the saplings in the forest. Joringel yearned to even touch her hand, believing that it would be as if touching summer itself.

It was that, her beauty, that had convinced Joringel’s parents to allow him to be wedded to Jorinda. The daughter of an executioner and the son of two bakers wasn’t a balanced match, but neither was that of a graceful beauty with someone as mousy, stumbling, and unseemly as Joringel. So the two balanced each other out.

Jorinda had been against the idea at first. She’d hidden it well, kind and gentle as she was; no harsh words of hers had been brought against Joringel. They wouldn’t have pierced his thick hide anyways, accustomed as he was to the derision of others. But still, word of Jorinda’s loveless apathy had reached Joringel.

So every time Jorinda and her father returned to the village after a trip, Joringel was sure to greet them each morning with freshly baked bread.

Or, to be more accurate, he left it in a basket outside their door at dawn, when he knew Jorinda would rise to open the door to the morning sun. They weren’t the prettiest of loaves, but Jorinda slowly began to smile when she saw them each day.

Still, a smile was not enough; Joringel’s heart was swollen full, and he needed someone to prick his heart and deflate it, or else that very heart would bring him to his doom. So Joringel shovelled the path from Jorinda’s door to their garden, to their outhouse, and then to the street each time it snowed. The paths he made were crude; the handle of the shovel had gone a little loose after he’d used it to fend off a pair of his usual harassers.

Now, when Joringel saw Jorinda in the village, she raised her hand in greeting.

Still, waving was not enough. Joringel spent his days over the oven planning. There was so much that he could give Jorinda. He was no mere peasant but the son of a merchant. But he had yet to latch onto a single idea when the same pair who’d damaged his shovel came into the bakery one day. A pair of brutes, they considered themselves. And they only proved it when they took the red-hot poker from the fire and began poking at Joringel with it. Hurry up, they said. Our bread should be ready by now. But the fire wasn’t hot enough, the fire was never hot enough when Joringel was there. And it certainly wouldn’t grow hot enough when Joringel trembled in the corner, shielding his face, instead of tending to the flames.

A basket tumbled to the ground in the open doorway. The pair spun around. Oh, they said. We didn’t see you there.

“What are you doing to him?” What a sight she was, hair half falling out of its braid and cheeks flushed from the summer sun.

The ice king here is having some trouble with our loaves, so we thought we might encourage him.

Yellow petals were strewn at her feet, having fallen from the carefully plucked flowers that had spilled out of the basket. She swallowed hard. Clenched her fists. “I think you should leave.”

The pair glanced at each other. Then they were gone.

But Jorinda stayed, standing in the doorway and staring out into the street. Joringel had never before considered her the type to be a warrior, but now he could see no one braver. “Did your father not need you today?”

“He probably did,” Jorinda said. “But you needed me more.”

Joringel had never considered that before, that he might need someone.

She frowned as she bent over the petals on the floor, sweeping them back into the basket. “Look, those bullies crushed my flowers as they walked out.” She glanced at him. “They were intended for you.”

He felt slighted. “I have no need of a lady’s flowers, crushed or not.”

Jorinda scowled. “And I have no need of half-baked bread or crooked paths in the snow, yet you gave them to me anyway.”

“Yes, but did they not make your life a little easier? Were those not the tokens of affection befitting a future husband?”

“And are hand picked flowers not the same for a future wife? Or would you rather I only defend your honour?”

Joringel flushed. “Have you ever seen the frozen woman?” he blurted out instead of answering her question.

Jorinda slowly raised her head. “No,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to, but, well…no one is willing to walk with me. And I don’t know the way”

“I am.”

A hand landed on his shoulders, thin fingers dancing across his collarbone like it was the string of a lute. “Show me.”

The sun had long been replaced by the moon when they reached the grove where there was always at least a foot of snow, even in midsummer. Where one’s breath froze on their lips. Where the very air stung, piercing the skin with a million tiny shivers. And in the centre of it all stood what had once been a woman. She had been discovered a few years after the great blizzard, so wind had already worn away some of her features and covered the rest. But the beady eyes of the two birds on her shoulder, one dark and the other pale, still stared out at them. Even sitting in front of a roaring fire in their own homes, a blanket around their shoulders and a bowl of warm soup in their hands, those who had seen her would remember those eyes and shiver.

“Who was she?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. Some unfortunate peasant woman, most likely.”

“It’s so sad,” Jorinda whispered, running a finger across the frozen stiff edge of the women’s shawl.

“The frozen woman?”

“No,” she said. “The singing.”

Joringel paused. As Jorinda covered her ears, rocking back and forth with her eyes squeezed tight, he listened.

And there it was. The singing of birds, yet neither the cheer of robins nor the hunger of crows–only the sadness of turtle doves. From the frozen beech trees, from the bushes rising up to their waists, and worst of all, from the birds upon the frozen woman’s shoulder.

“Jorinda,” he said. “Maybe we should leave.”

“How?” she whispered, voice as hollow as a cellar at winter’s end.

How was a good question—Joringel spun in circles, pushing through jagged branches without regard to the blood streaming down his arms. But there seemed to be no end to the snow when before it had been but a single flat note in a song. The mountains no longer swelled up in the distance but crowded the pair on all sides, like ogres hungry for blood.

“Oh, my bird, with your ring of red.”

“Jorinda? Why are you singing?”

He’d always believed her lighter than a feather, but this was unreal, how her wooden clogs skimmed across the frozen snow. The nettles tore into Joringel’s hands in his haste to get to her.

“Sitting and singing your tale of woe.”

Jorinda cupped the frozen woman’s cheek in her hand. They were the same height.

“You tell us now that the poor dove is dead.”

Joringel slipped and fell into the well of snow at the base of a tree. He sank up to his waist. “Jorinda!” He reached out a hand.

“You sing your tale of woe—oh-oh, oh-oh.”

He tried to climb out but only pushed himself further in. The snow bit through his linen summer shirt. Jorinda no longer sang, or at least not in a human’s tongue; the last few notes rang out like they came from a bird’s beak. She stroked the feathered skull of what had once been a pale, small bird on a woman’s shoulder. Her eyes were lost in some other world.

A cacophonous flapping rose from the branches above Joringel’s head.


A night owl, that mess of mangy feathers, dove towards Jorinda. But what the monstrous bird claimed in its claws was not a girl but a nightingale. A bird that had suddenly remembered how to writhe and twist and buck against the talons of her cage, but all the tiny creature did was bruise her own body.

As Joringel watched the owl fly away, a now-bird, once-girl in its talons, he realised that he had a choice. Save the girl he loved or return back to the village. There were plenty of other young women who would be content with a baker and his half-raw bread, and they probably wouldn’t question him as much as Jorinda had. And how likely was it that he would succeed if he tried to rescue Jorinda? How likely was it that the girl he brought back would be the same always-cheery and almost-perfect summer child, and how likely was it that she would be somewhere else entirely?

For decades afterwards, a straw basket lay overturned in the snowy clearing, there for all to see. But the crushed yellow flowers that surrounded the footsteps leading back to the village were more easily buried.



Kai MooreKai Moore is a first year college student from Colorado. Besides writing and reading, they are also passionate about history and political science. They have previously been published in The Renaissance Review, The Snowflake Magazine, and Empyrean Literary Magazine