Title: The Winter Queen Timeframe: A long, long time after Return of the Jedi. Characters: All original. *This is a revised version, more than a repost, of a story I originally wrote and posted here in the autumn of 2005. Thanks to the truncation, vast swaths of the original are gone daddy gone, which meant I have had to write much of it all over again--and of course, there isn't any way I could write the same story I did fourteen years ago. *If you have ever read my 2016 diary "Something is shining like gold, but better" aspects of this story may well seem familiar, and understandably so. *There are a few elements in here from the Legendary EU, but (as befits the story's 2005 era origins) absolutely nothing, not one thing, from anything of Disney's. *"I forget what eight is for." ---------------- The Winter Queen 1. When I arrived on Hoth, I was wearing a long black fur coat. It was made to resemble the fur of some bear roaming through some mystical wildlands. I don’t remember what it was once called. They used to hunt it down for that fur, but there isn’t any need for that sort of thing now. My coat was artificial, but it smelled like that animal must have, like its warm panting breath. Anyhow: I had known it would be cold here, the sort of knife-toothed cold I hadn’t ever experienced before, and this coat was the best I had to wear. I still wasn’t prepared for just how cold it was when I set forth into the air of the hangar, where the governmental aide was waiting for me. She watched me with a sullen locked frown: she was, I guessed, in her middle thirties, and plain, with bland brown hair and watercolor-damp blue eyes. She wore a blinding white jumpsuit that matched with the heavy snow outside, and the sleepy sky hanging over it. There was a little girl standing next to her, the first child I had seen this close in over a year. The girl stared straight ahead at me, her face a blank (a secret-hiding sneaking blank) mask, and her hands shoved into her coat pockets. Her hair was done up in two rope-knotted braids, and it was the same dull color as the aide’s hair. I wondered, without much thought, if she was her daughter. “Well, I see that your trip has been successful,” the woman said, and then: “Governor Creager wishes to welcome you to Hoth City, Miss Ving.” “Tell her I offer my gracious thanks,” I said. The hangar was a huge shadow-grey dingy cavern: it was so large that I could just make out the dayplanes parked nearby, and I couldn’t at all see the duracrete-rock ceiling up in the darkness that hovered overhead. It was kept heated for the sake of the ships—and I could smell the sunburned dry dust from what they were using—but I couldn’t feel any resulting warmth, and my breath still blew out as steamsoft white smoke. The aide had not introduced either herself or the girl. She continued to watch me, and my nightblack bear coat, in patient silence--and even with my hyperspace-dulled wits, I knew the nature of that look. It had the desired effect of making me feel silly and lumbering and somehow, overall, wrong, and I did not like that. I let her wait another moment more before I spoke. “Now that we’ve met, shouldn’t we be getting on with things?” I said. She blinked, and made the attempt to snatch her role back. “Of course,” she said. “Of course. If you will follow along with me.” She led me down a long bright white hallway through the main house. It was mercifully warm, which I hadn’t known if I should expect--and then, after a few minutes, it was too warm. The air seemed to hum from the heated overhead lights, and I was beginning to flush with a stuffy thick sweat. Several groups of varied people passed us, and one woman with elaborate dark braided hair, walking in a trot on deer-hooved black boots, turned her hard business quick eyes towards us. “Ho there,” she said, acknowledging Vittoria, and Vittoria nodded back. The little girl trotted along next to us, with a stiff bounce of her braids. It was easy for me to forget to see her there. She had yet to speak one word, and I wondered if she was (only, merely) shy—or if the aide had impressed upon her that good girls remain silent. I didn’t know much, from an adult perspective, about how children tended to behave, but now I needed to figure it out. We arrived at a parlour. Yes, a parlour: a large room with tall windows glowing with the white light outside, and a polished-bright dark wood tile floor. It looked too clean, too impossibly clean, and I would know soon enough that the house-maids clean it every day on their hands and knees. There were several older ladies sitting on one of the plump cream-white sopha, holding bone china cups locked in their little hands. They were dressed all in white, in puffy suits like the one the aide was wearing. Then behind them, on the far side of the room, several men were working on the guts of a computer-unit and talking amongst themselves. I could gather from the low murmur of their voices that they took their task to be a terribly serious one. “Well, well, well,” said one of the ladies. The aide bared her teeth in a nerf-cringing smile. This woman wasn’t the actual governor, but she was important enough for her. “This is Lysinora Ving, the new teacher,” she said. The woman set down her cup with a clockwork tick. She had grey hair in a fist-clenched chignon, with a long diamond-eyed hairpin stabbed through it, and dry dark eyes—and while she was past middle age, she was the youngest lady present. “I know. And we are all pleased to see you, Miss Ving. I do hope the asteroid field didn’t give you too much trouble. It’s been a while since I last braved it myself. We don’t tend to get out of here very often.” “The ship survived intact,” I decided to say. The woman threw off a little haha. “But I should introduce myself. I’m Erzebet Antilles. Yes, yes, I know—another Antilles. But not one from Corellia. I have proper blood, not rocket fuel, in my veins, thank you very much.” She had obviously used this line before, and I put on a politely arched smile while the aide, and one of the women, went through the motions of laughing. The little girl watched them in continued, and disinterested, silence. E.A. turned, and indicated the aide with a twitch of her hand: “And—since I know she won’t have introduced herself—you have already met my modest assistant Vittoria Sade.” The Ladies had a shared bird-pitch twitter from their places in the background, and Vittoria Sade looked down, modestly indeed, at the light blur reflected in the glossy floor. Finally, when they left off, I went through the expected pleasantries: “It’s been a pleasure to meet you.” E.A. snapped her eyes in a blink. “Now that we are all introduced, you must want something to drink. Of course, you do. You’ll learn that we take our teatimes seriously around here.” I could see that already, but I kept that thought to myself. I took advantage of that opportunity to take off the smothering weight of that coat. Vittoria was there hovering to snatch it away from me before I could think to ask. My skirts snapped with static-sparks. I was wearing an old dusk-grey dress with a velvet collar. It didn’t fit quite so well at my waist, but it was the plainest thing I owned—and since it was wool, it was also the warmest. But even then, I stood out. I don’t think it is much arrogant to say that I’m pretty. It’s only stating a fact: my mother designed me, even before I was conceived, to be that way—to be tall (because she is short for the Hapan female), and slender, with blue-tinted white skin and the graceful cold hands of an artist. Otherwise, I haven’t turned out to be what she wanted, but then, I suppose that not many people make their mumsies completely happy. That day, my hair was a dark fushia flower pink. My hair was originally grey—and yes, my mother planned that out as well—so you should be able to understand why I keep it dyed. I have it changed every several months or so. Right now, it’s purple. This may be a colony in the midst of a winter wilderness, but I can still do my hair. The Ladies were presiding over a teapot and a silver plate half filled with pink petit cookies set out on an old wooden coffin sea-trunk they used for a coffee table. The tea, which I poured for myself, was a bark-black tea that was still extremely hot after sitting in the pot. I’m not mature enough to like tea, but I made myself drink it. The little girl appeared and sat down, with a defiant kitten glare, near me on the sopha opposite the Ladies. I took one of the petit-cookies. The little girl hunched towards the table, and lifted her hand, and E.A. said: “I’m sorry, dear, but we have to follow Vittoria’s rules. Those are for ladies.” She snatched her hand back into her lap, and the other Ladies nodded with approval. I could see how things worked here. Vittoria rushed over to pour more tea for them. When she filled the one Lady’s cup, she turned away towards the windows, and took out a small perfume-sized flask and added a gulping big dash into the tea. Oh, I could see how things were. E.A. watched me from across the table. When I set my teacup down, she said: “This place takes some getting used to, Miss Ving. And one can’t really imagine it beforehand, as I should know. Vittoria knows all your details, but I can assume you’re from a temperate world--” “Of course, she is,” said one of the other Ladies. She swatted at some pink dust crumbs in her lap. “There are only a few amongst us who are not!” The men hadn’t turned their attention away from their loving care of the computer even long enough to notice my arrival, but now I remembered them as the background noise of their voices burst into a loud flock of thunder-deep hahahas. The Lady turned towards the sound with a fondly sweet smile. “That Mattio. He’s almost as amusing as they all think he is.” “She’s right,” I said, with a tossed-off shrug. “There is but one lovely and well-behaved season on the world of New Alderaan. I haven’t ever even seen snow.” “That doesn’t surprise me,” E.A. said. She squinted at my dress for a long poking-sharp minute—the plain dress with the velvet collar and the star-stone glittered buttons. I had figured out her point, but she just had to speak: “Far be it for me to dispense the false pearls of my advice. But you might wish to start your time here by—reconsidering your wardrobe.” I knew better than to actually tell her this, but I would rather take my chances, and continue to wear the clothes I had, than be dressed up like a swollen snowmaiden in the sort of get-ups they were all wearing. Really. And I could tell already that the building in general, and that parlour in particular, were kept so well heated I wouldn’t ever be that cold or that desperate. Then the little girl spoke for the first time, suddenly thrusting her hard little voice into the pause in the conversation. “There isn’t any snow at all, on your entire planet?” Before I could even decide on an answer for her, Vittoria had snapped around from her place standing behind the Ladies, and: “Adé! The ladies are having an adult conversation!” “Really? I hadn’t any idea,” I said. Then I turned to look at the girl, at Adé. I can’t say that I have a gift for knowing how to speak with children—but when I took this position, I had known that I would have to figure out some way to communicate. She had her mouth locked into a sullen frown, and she blinked in rapid wing movements, but she had heard me. I continued: “Well, there is actually some snow. But it’s all up in the mountains, and most people avoid it. That would include me, because I haven’t ever been up there.” E.A. arched her eyebrows, but refrained from actually commenting. One of the other Ladies said, with a daydreamed sigh: “Well! You should see the mountains we have.” The other Ladies nodded, and turned their attentions back to their tea, and there was merciful snowpale lit silence for a few minutes—before one of the men came over. He had an ironblack beard, and wore an indoor tan wool coat, and mountain hiking boots. “Ladies,” he said, with that manly haha lurking in his voice, and acknowledged me, and Adé, with a nod. “If I know you, and I do, you have a few extra of those cookies for me.” “Perhaps, Jasen! But you will have to ask,” said E.A. Jasen poured himself a cup of the steam-breathing tea, and took two of the cookies at once in his other hand. Vittoria met him next to the sophas, and when she held out the knife-flash of the flask held in her discreetly fisted hand, he nodded, and she dripped some into his cup. There was a thick muffled smash of sound behind the windows that I assumed came from the snow. I reached out and took up one of the last few of the cookies. The Ladies pretended not to notice.