THE EMERALD CIRCUS by Jane Yolen preview: “Andersen’s Witch”
In celebration of the release of Jane Yolen’s THE EMERALD CIRCUS, Tachyon presents glimpses from some of the volume’s magnificent tales.
by Jane Yolen
with everyone safely snoring, the boy sat up, then stood on the
settle so he could stare out of the little window above it. The sky
was without stars, for a low cloud cover, like a well-made bed, kept
everything neat and tidy. There were few lights in the town except
far, far away at Prince Christian Frederick’s castle. It was lit up
till it sparkled as if the stone walls themselves had been carved out
perfect time for prayers, the boy thought, and he
climbed off the settle bed, slipping on his wooden shoes for warmth.
Sinking down on his knees, he began to pray—not to God, who Mama
said had done little enough for the family, but to the Ice Maiden.
Mama had told him all about the Ice Maiden, with her white hair and
snowy skin and eyes the faded blue of the sky in winter. Mama might
not be able to read like Papa, but she knew all about these things.
“The Ice Maiden can grant wishes,” Mama had said just that
morning. “Three of them.” She’d held up three fingers. “But
be careful what you wish for. If she thinks the wishes are foolish,
she can also carry you away to her cold ice palace, where there are
only polar bears and seals.”
“Is it colder than here in Odense?” the boy had asked.
“Much colder,” Mama answered. “So cold, your nose turns black
with the bite of the frost and tears freeze upon your cheeks till
they are hard as jewels.”
The boy liked seals. And polar bears. Though he wasn’t so sure
about the cold. Odense was cold enough in the winter for him. He
couldn’t imagine colder. But how the Ice Maiden could get him to
her palace was a puzzle. Would they walk? Or fly? Perhaps she had a
sledge pulled by reindeer. He liked reindeer.
“Is she a witch, then?” The boy was wary of witches, knowing that
they promised to feed you but shoved you in an oven instead.
“Ice maidens are not witches,” Mama said. “It’s a very
different thing.” Then she smiled and patted him on the head. He
could smell the schnapps on her breath. She was always happier after
her glass of schnapps. “But they do expect payment. Just like
“I have no money,” the boy said. Though not usually so sensible,
he did have some sense, especially where money was concerned. Or the
lack of it.
“She has all the money she needs already,” his mother answered.
“After all, she has a castle.”
“But don’t castles need a lot of money to maintain them? For the
chairs and the jewels and the big beds?” the boy asked. “And the
“The icicles are her jewels, she has all the chairs and beds she
needs, and she makes no wars.” His mother’s smile was broad. The
schnapps were making her very happy.
“Then how shall I pay her?” The boy had really needed to know
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