This story won the third prize in the Children's Fiction section of the 2003 London Writer's Competition.
The Wind’s Bride
There was something about Sanna...
She wasn’t exactly clumsy, but it was true that she did smash a lot of crockery. Well, and other things too.
Craasshh! There went a cup and plate.
‘Oh! I’m sorry!’ said Sanna, and she truly was. Her mother sighed.
Things just seemed to slip through Sanna’s hands. Windows banged against walls and smashed their panes. Doors slammed and wood splintered. Plates jumped out of her grip all by themselves and landed in a hundred pieces on the floor. Sometimes it frightened her, the way everything seemed to come apart in her hands.
She splashed across the muddy yard to shut in the geese for the night. They cackled and hissed. Sanna shooed them impatiently into their stable. She was about to shut the door when it slipped out of her fingers and banged hard against the wall.
‘Not again,’ Sanna thought, fury shooting up inside her like a flame. She stamped her foot, grabbed the door and slammed it hard. She knew she shouldn’t have done it the moment she let go. She just knew. Something terrible was going to happen.
The door crashed into its frame with a noise as loud as a clap of thunder.
The stable was an old whitewashed stone building, two or three hundred years old; it had stood there for as long as anyone could remember, surviving storms and hail and biting frost. But now there was a crack running right across it, starting from the door and shooting all the way up to where the roof began.
Sanna stared at it, horrified. The stable was going to collapse.
‘No,’ she shouted. ‘No...!’ There was a high, whining sound as the roof caved in and the whitewashed stones toppled. The whining grew louder. And Sanna sat up in bed, her heart beating as if she’d run a mile without stopping.
It had been a dream. Nothing but a dream. And the whining sound was only the wind outside, whistling round the house as if it was looking for a way in. Only a dream. Only the wind. Sanna went back to sleep. But next morning, before anybody else was up, she got out of bed, pulled on a warm jumper, and went to look at the stable to make sure it was still standing. And she took a stone and threw it upwards as hard as she could, towards the heavy racing clouds full of rain and snow, and shouted: ‘Go away!’ Then she turned around and ran back indoors, before the stone had fallen back to earth.
Before she had time to discover that it stayed up in the clouds and never fell back down at all.
It had been a long hard winter, but finally, there was a whiff of spring in the air. Sanna smelt it when she went out to feed the geese in the morning, and it went straight to her head.
The feed bucket jumped out of her hand, spilling grains all over the place. The geese hissed and milled around, flapping their huge white wings. She tripped over the bucket and fell, and tried to catch hold of the door to break her fall. It was no good. As she fell she heard the door hit the wall, and the ominous sound of wood splintering.
She had ruined the door and sprained her ankle. The bucket was so dented it was useless, so she’d ruined that as well, and the geese had all got out and it took hours rounding them up again.
She felt horrible as she lay in her bed that night. Her foot hurt. She’d bumped her head and that hurt too. But much worse than the pain was the feeling that she’d tried to be good and careful, and had failed. She’d tried all winter to get the better of this awful talent she had for destruction, and she had failed. She hated it. She hated herself and everybody else.
‘I’m awful, I’m terrible. There’s something wrong with me,’ she thought. ‘I’m all wrong here. Mum and Dad try to like me in spite of it, and that’s all wrong! I wish Auntie Mia was still there.’
Auntie Mia had been her great-aunt. She had lived with them on the farm when Sanna was little, and she had been Sanna’s special friend. When Sanna had slammed doors and knocked things over, in a temper or just because she was Sanna, Auntie Mia had smiled and nodded her old head and said, ‘Du bist eine rechte Windsbraut, Kind.’ ‘What is Windsbraut, Auntie?’ Sanna had asked.
Auntie Mia had smiled thoughtfully. ‘It means ‘wind’s bride’, child. It is what my own granny called me when I was as young and as wild as you. “What a whirlwind you are,” she always said to me. “You’re like the wind’s bride ...” ’
Sanna turned over, trying to get to sleep. The spring wind was howling outside, making the rafters creak and groan, shrieking in the trees.
What a whirlwind you are...
The window burst open. Curtains flapped wildly. Sanna's clothes whirled around, pictures flew from the walls, and her bedclothes would have followed too if she hadn’t hung on to them. She sat up in bed and hugged her knees and wondered what was going to happen next, when a boy fell down from the sky.
It was as if the ceiling had opened for a moment. Sanna looked up and saw big billowing white and gold clouds very high up, and from them fell the boy and landed right on Sanna’s desk that was whirling through the air. The bed was flying, too, Sanna noticed, but she didn’t really want to think about it. Not now.
‘Who are you?’ she asked, and would have liked to add, What do you think you’re doing, crashing into my room like this? But then she thought, What else can you expect? And was surprised.
The boy removed some green leaves from his tangled black hair, jumped to his feet on the flying desk and made her an elegant little bow.
‘I am at your service,’ he said, grandly, and sat down again, folding his long legs like a polite spider.
A bunch of flowers appeared in Sanna’s hands, summer flowers, lilies and poppies and corn flowers and roses, filling the room with their scent.
The boy grinned. He seemed to enjoy himself very much. ‘I am... ’ He made a dramatic pause. ‘The South Wind.’
Well, it made some sense at least. Sanna could not really deny that the wind seemed to be in her room, not outside where it belonged. Where ... he belonged? But...
‘But,’ she said. ‘The wind is not a person.’
‘I’m a person, aren’t I?’ the boy objected, looking hurt.
‘Exactly,’ said Sanna, quick as a flash. ‘That’s why you can’t be the South Wind!’
They stared at each other for a moment, while the furniture lurched around the room and the curtains waved about like underwater plants. The boy smiled. His teeth shone white against his dark skin.
‘I like your reasoning,’ he said approvingly. And then he was gone. The bed came down with a bump, the desk next, and then all the books and pictures and clothes landed in tidy piles on the floor. Last, the window slammed shut again.
Next morning all trace of spring was gone; it was winter once more. The snow that had begun to thaw the day before had frozen into long, glittering icicles that hung from the roof like the beard of an ice monster. The air was clear and bitterly cold. In the hearth, the flames hissed and ducked in the bleak wind that swept over the land like a giant broom. But when the sun came out, the grey landscape was transformed. Crystals of ice and snow glittered like jewels, breaking the light into a thousand tiny rainbows. Ice flowers grew in Sanna’s window. The setting sun painted pink and orange streaks in the frosty blue sky.
An icy cold draft wafted across her face. There was a smell of snow in the air, and a tinkling as if of tiny bells. That’s what snow flakes sound like when they fall to earth, Sanna thought in her sleep. I always knew they made a sound!
Then she woke up and knew that there was somebody else in the room with her. At first she could see no one, although her room was brightly lit. Then she could make out a slightly blurred outline. It was as if a person made of glass was wandering around her room, peering at the pictures on her wall, the books on her shelves.
‘Who’s that?’ she said sharply.
The shape wavered, flickered, flooded with colours. A boy. But unlike last night’s visitor, he did not in the slightest look human. He had green hair, for a start; but it did not look like hair, more like strands of green glass. Icicles tinkled from his ears, and the skin of his face and hands was much too sharp and glittering to be made of anything as soft as flesh and blood. His eyes were blue and piercing, and his teeth were blue as well, clear and pointed and sparkling like ice.
Sanna could see his teeth because he was grinning at her, and she had to close her eyes for a second, because all of a sudden the air was filled with all the sparkle and glitter of sunlight on a bright wintry day.
‘Talk about a dazzling smile,’ she thought crossly and cautiously blinked her eyes open again.
‘Who are you?’ she asked, and the ice boy’s smile widened alarmingly.
‘I’ve come to fetch my bride,’ he said.
Sanna blinked. ‘What?’
‘I’ve come to fetch my bride,’ the boy repeated.
‘Oh yes?’ she said, beginning to recover a bit. ‘And who would that be?’
‘You,’ explained the ice boy, eyes and teeth sparkling. ‘And there couldn’t be a more beautiful bride in the world but you. Don’t you agree?’
‘Oh, shut up,’ Sanna snapped. She’d suddenly had enough. ‘And anyway, you still haven’t told me who you are.’
The boy raised his snowy eyebrows. ‘How forgetful of me. Although I’m sure you already guessed. I am, at you service’ - an icy gust swept through the room and left a sparkling, tinkling layer of snowflakes on Sanna’s blanket - ‘the East Wind. Enchanted.’
He bowed his head and smiled at Sanna, and this time his smile really was very dazzling. She was just beginning to smile back when he added, ‘And you’ - another little bow - ‘are the Wind’s Bride.’
The next moment, there was a huge, blue and green, transparent serpent in the room, rustling its scales against the walls. It glistened and shone like a thousand glaciers in the sun. It was the most beautiful thing Sanna had ever seen.
‘Like it?’ asked the ice boy and became himself once more.
‘Better than you!’
The East Wind laughed.
‘What did you mean about me being the wind’s bride?’ Sanna asked.
‘That’s who you are. You belong to us. With us,’ the boy explained. ‘Has nobody ever noticed your strength? Surely you’re not like everybody else?’
‘No,’ said Sanna, suddenly bitter. ‘I’m not at all like everybody else. I’m not to be trusted with anything, because I’m sure to break it.’
‘There you are. You’re very strong, and those flimsy human things break so easily. I’m very glad we found you at last. There aren’t many of us, you know. We were always sure that there must be another one, but it’s taken us a long time to find you.’
‘It was a dream,’ Sanna told herself when she woke up in the morning, before she had even opened her eyes. ‘It was a dream, it was a dream, it was a dream.’
Her foot was getting better. That evening, she could hobble out with her mother to help feed the animals.
She hadn’t thought about the last two nights all day, but while she was balancing on one leg, holding buckets and hay-forks and absent-mindedly opening and closing stable doors, she remembered what the boy had said last night. ‘Has nobody ever noticed your strength? Those flimsy human things break so easily ...’
'If I could just try it out,' she thought. 'Then I’d know...' - what? That she was indeed the wind’s bride? ‘I’ve come to fetch my bride,’ the East Wind had said. Just like that. 'What about me?' Sanna thought. 'He didn’t even ask me! Cheek!'
The front door of the house was open, a smell of baking wafted out and mixed with the farm smells of animals and hay, wet earth and cold air. Sanna thought, 'This is my home. I don’t want to go away. I don’t want to be anybody’s silly bride.'
When she woke the next morning, she was surprised - and slightly disappointed - that there had been no one to see her in the night.
It was still cold, but not as bitingly cold as the day before. Sanna hobbled out after breakfast and sniffed the air.
‘North wind,’ she said.
Her mother shook her head. ‘There is no wind in the north, and never has been.’
'Of course,' Sanna thought. 'There is no north wind. But surely there should be?' She looked towards the north, where the mountains were rising blue and purple into the sky. The clouds were living there. So why not the North Wind too?
But of course her mother was right, there was no such thing as a wind in the north. Sanna sighed and turned to go back indoors when there was a thud and a splash, and at her feet lay the stone that she had thrown at the clouds so many weeks ago, at the beginning of winter. Now it had fallen back down to earth.
Sanna picked it up. There were signs on it now, letters, words. Somebody had engraved a message on to the stone.
Greetings to You - The West Wind
Sanna read it, then read it again. A grin spread slowly across her face, getting wider and wider. She took the stone and hurled up towards the sky.
And was not in the least surprised when it did not come back.
Raindrops drummed against her window, hurled against the panes in generous fistfuls by the wind that howled outside, whooshing down the chimney and rattling the slates on the roof.
Then the window swung open for a moment, and gliding down a slide of raindrops, the West Wind was in her room. And Sanna was very much surprised again, sitting open-mouthed on her bed, because the West Wind was a girl.
‘Here I am,’ she said, wringing water out of the hem of her long, midnight blue cloak. Her hair was long and whirled around her head, blue and grey and silver like rain clouds. Drops of water sparkled in it. Her left eye was green and her right eye was blue, and she had a smile like a rainbow.
Sanna looked at her, open-mouthed.
‘I want to ask you to come with me.’
‘You’re not the first one to ask, you know,’ Sanna said, finding her tongue.
‘It’s up to you,' said the West Wind. 'You are one of the Storm People.’ She jumped up, standing on a cloud in the air, the long cloak swirling around her legs, her wild hair flying. ‘Let me show you what the West Wind can do.’ She held out a hand to Brenda.
The window swung open and they whooshed through it, flying upwards on a gust of wet air. Ragged clouds were racing high up, and between them shone the cold white disc of the moon. The girl caught a cloud. ‘Jump up!’ she shouted to Sanna, and before she knew it, Sanna was riding a cloud like a wild horse. The air was whistling in her ears and her hands were cold, and she felt a wild exhilaration.
I’m flying, she thought. It’s the middle of the night and I’m flying through the sky!
She looked down, to the black and silver hills sleeping far below, the wild high mountains rising on the horizon, the glinting desert of the sea stretching before them.
‘This is where I live,’ the West Wind whispered in her ear. ‘I cook up storms in my cauldron’- she pointed at the sea - ‘and I chase ships and sing into their sails. I herd the clouds together and march them towards the land to bring rain and snow and hail. I whip away people’s umbrellas so that they can look up at the sky, not down at the puddles. I bring dreams and revolutions, mad wild hopes of freedom and happiness, and I bring courage too, and a longing for better times. I’m the wind of change, and I may be dangerous, but I’m never boring.’
On they went whirling through the sky, up and down and around and around, until Sanna was dizzy and breathless.
The night after that, the East Wind was back. He swept into her room on a breath of ice cold air, his icicle earrings tinkling, his green hair luminous. ‘Still as beautiful as ever, my lady, I’m glad to see.’
Sanna grinned. She was beginning to get used to them all. ‘So what do you want now?’
‘To woo you, beautiful Sanna, until you consent to come with me as my bride.’ He smiled broadly, blue teeth sparkling. ‘I want to show you the realm and the powers of the East Wind.’
They flew over ice fields and glaciers and blankets of blinding snow. Long fingers of pale golden light crept across the whiteness, making it sparkle and shine. Glaciers shone a deep green and the snow seemed to burst into flame, burning gold and red and orange against the pale blue winter sky.
‘I freeze your body,’ said the East Wind, ‘but I light a fire of beauty in your heart that keeps you warm. I shroud the dead autumn earth with a cloth of crystals. I stop rivers and even the sea, and all life has to halt and wait while I reign. I bring you time to rest and think and dream while the earth sleeps. I’ll madden you, and I can teach you patience. I bring you beauty for none but beauty’s sake alone, and I open your eyes to it.’
‘Just come in, don’t bother to knock,’ Sanna said when her window banged open and a warm breeze made the curtains flutter in the middle of the night. ‘I know what you want, and I really think you’re wasting your time, the lot of you.’
‘But,’ said a voice into her ear. ‘As you yourself pointed out to me with your admirable logic, the South Wind can’t be a person. So who am I?’
‘A nuisance,’ said Sanna, hanging on to her flying sheets. The voice laughed.
‘Would it surprise you if I told you that I was looking for a bride?’
‘Yes,’ said Sanna. ‘It would. If I were you, I’d have the sense to have given up by now.’
‘I may not have sense,’ the voice admitted, ‘but I do have eyes, you know.’ Two eyes appeared. They were a very lovely shade of warm brown, and they hung suspended in the air before her. ‘And I like what they see when they look at you.’
‘Oh for God’s sake,’ she said. ‘You’ve been watching too many soppy old films with your eyes.’
Rose petals began to rain over her from nowhere.
Sanna sighed. ‘Why don’t you just say your bit and let me go back to sleep?’
‘I think I can do better than that,’ said the South Wind and materialised to her right, complete with leaves in his hair. He smiled. ‘Let me take you to my home.’
Her room disappeared. Instead, there were gnarled old trees with dark green leaves, and tiny islands in a deep blue sea. There was a beach of white, warm sand. The sun was warm on her winter-pale face, and the air smelt of herbs and flowers.
The South Wind sat perched on a cliff above the sea. He was at that moment about ten feet long, very thin and bright blue. He was juggling with his eyes and a couple of roses. ‘I make poets mad with love and drunk with beauty, and I can make you so terribly happy that you’ll say the most embarrassing things, but you won’t notice until I’m gone again. And who cares, anyway?’ He laughed and threw the roses and his eyes upwards. ‘When I’ve just lulled you into the most glorious dream, I’ll bring along a thunderstorm to wake you up again.’ There was a sudden clap of thunder and a flash of lightning, and rain poured down on her in a solid sheet while everywhere else the sun went on shining.
‘Ooops! So sorry,’ said the South Wind, pulling a large, black, old-fashioned umbrella from the air and holding it over Sanna’s head. ‘How did that happen?’
It was very early in the morning. A cold mist hung over the hills. Sanna tiptoed down the stairs, cautiously opened the front door and slipped out. The door slammed shut behind her.
‘Oh drat,’ said Sanna, then shrugged her shoulders. She went across the yard, climbed the wall and sat on it.
‘Have you made up your mind?’
She turned her head. The West Wind was sitting next to her, a cloud balancing on her head.
‘I think I have. Will the others be coming as well?’
West Wind nodded approvingly and folded her cloud to look like a pirate’s hat. ‘You’ve got a proper sense for drama.’
The East Wind came on a cold gust of air, tinkling icicles, flashing blue teeth and all. The South Wind arrived a moment later, riding a huge tree and juggling half a dozen goats. He looked up, waved delightedly at Sanna, seemed surprised to see the goats and stuffed them quickly in his pockets.
For a while nobody said anything. There were only the sounds of icicles tinkling, of water dripping from the wet hem of the West Wind’s cloak, and muffled bleating from the pockets of the South Wind.
‘The last few weeks,’ said Sanna at last, ‘have been the oddest of my life. I always thought there was something wrong with me, until I met you. But now...’ She stretched her arms, and a breeze stirred the mist. ‘Now I think I’ve found who I am.’
‘My bride,’ said the East Wind, smiling and flashing his teeth.
‘My bride,’ corrected his brother, raining roses over Sanna.
The West Wind raised her thin blue eyebrows and said nothing.
‘No,’ said Sanna. ‘I don’t think I want to be anybody’s bride just yet.’ The breeze whispered in the trees.
‘Don’t you understand?’ she asked. ‘There’s three of you, but there should be four, shouldn’t there? East Wind, West Wind, South Wind, North Wind!’
Three pairs of eyes looked at her. Waiting.
She jumped up. The mist whirled. Trees sighed and swayed.
‘I am the North Wind!’ said Sanna. And she filled her lungs and blew the mist away; well, and other things too.
People had to close the shutters and fetch the washing in and hope for the best for the slates on their roofs. They listened to the storm howling and shook their heads in wonder. ‘North wind...’ they said. ‘How can there be a north wind?’
But there was.
She was dancing through the sky, chasing leaves and clouds and birds; tumbling, laughing, breathless: smashing things to her heart’s delight.
(c) 1997, 2003 Imogen Rhia Herrad
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