The Miller and the Snow Witch
Did I ever tell you of the night the miller vanished? They used to tell me, on nights like this, when they’d huddle around the hearth and overlook blood-taint for the heat a small body offered. They told me the miller was a wealthy man, before the storm took him.
Two daughters he had, and a fine son to teach the trade. How to channel the fast mountain stream to turn the wheel, or yoke pack-beasts when streams froze in winter. How to balance the scales, add a thumb’s weight to tip the payment with none the wiser. He had a pretty wife, the miller. And he had a pretty mistress.
‘Twas a night like this and twice as black, with the wind a-baying to drive the wolves to earth, ‘twas a night like this he disappeared. Snow in the pines, ice in the rocks, ale in the mug. Stay indoors child, they tell me, else the snow witch get you.
But the miller does not stay indoors, possessed of an itch as cannot be scratched alone. Just off for a pint, my lamb, and then straight home, I. So he kisses his dear wife and she takes it. He bids his daughters, his fine son goodnight, and they nod their heads and out he goes. By the warmth of his need he’ll brave the driving snow, and they’ll utter not a word of protest.
Go to your lady who awaits you across the village. Craigend, walled heart of the north. She keeps a light in the window for you. May lust guide your way.
How long the miller walked, I cannot guess, but of a surety he knew himself lost when he tumbled down the hill, though he swore the gate shut on such a night. Black torsos of pines darted about him, lunging and vanishing in the driving snow, and all around the howling, howling wind.
They say she howls over a fallen love, a lost child. They always say such things. They also say the miller fell to his knees when she appeared before him, although none were there to see it.
The snow witch. Frigid, wailing tempest of the superstitious north. Cloth spun of ice shards, hair of flying snow, eyes of the black frozen sky beyond the gale. She has no feet, for she needs none, borne upon her own storm, but her hands are cold and hard as river ice and she grabs the miller with them. Blue lips plump and grow flush as her cold penetrates his body, drinks his warmth away.
Perhaps he cried out. Perhaps he did not. He had an itch as could not be scratched alone.
The blizzard dies down. No cock crows in the dead of winter, but a pale sun rides low in the east. Snow in the pines, heaped in the branches. Bowed, bent, broken. The gate stands shut. Craigend, walled heart of the north. It is death to venture beyond those walls, and the way is shut on such a night.
Where is my husband, have you seen him? Fear wells in a wife’s eyes, or perhaps only the glare of light off new-fallen snow. It is very bright, after all.
No tracks in the village to mark a lost soul’s passage. One could not say if any had ventured about that night. The lady knew not where he might have gone; she did not know he meant to come at all. Only the pretty wife knew, two daughters and a fine son, but none say a word why the miller might have ventured out so late. Where he might have gone.
They find him in the valley, the dogs a-baying their discovery. Twisted. Frozen. Dead. Blue-lipped from the snow witch’s kiss. The widow sheds no tears; it is too cold for tears.
Stay indoors child, they used to tell me, but no spirit stopped me when I left the gate. Never looked back.
The miller was a wealthy man, before the storm took him. His family prospered.