(Loosely based on “Through the fire” by Mary de Morgan)
Once upon a time in the ever-wintry town of Skadingham, one household had failed to maintain its Snowguard; it had collapsed into an icy mound and was no longer capable of guarding. Its nose had fallen off and its hat and scarf had blown away. This was illegal according to the Anti-Blaze Act 1834, and the penalty was a hefty fine and a week in jail. Every child and adult feared the Fire-Spillers who sneak into their homes late at night and play with burning embers on their hearth rugs. Many houses had unfortunately been burned to the ground, but now all the residents of Skadingham took very good care of their Snowguard. Everyone knew how imperative it was to build a Sturdy Snowguard and vigilantly maintain it.
This Snowguard had performed its duties unflinchingly for years and had scared the Spillers by throwing snowballs. Now disintegrated, it was incapable, so the next-door neighbours had reported the problem to the Mayor. He had shown up within the hour to investigate and Mr and Mrs Nosebag waited for him. The Mayor stared with horror at the sight of the shrunken Snowguard in the front garden of the house next door. He shook his head and tutted loudly, thanked the couple for reporting it, then stomped through the snow to hammer on the front door of the offending house.
“Mr Waterington, this is Mr Bottomly, the Mayor. I am here on official business. Open up!” demanded the Mayor. He stood on the doorstep for a moment, then stepped back a couple of paces to look up at the upstairs windows, searching for any sign of life. “Mr Waterington!” he repeated more loudly, “Would you answer your door, this is the Mayor!”
“We saw him yesterday,” called Mrs Nosebag helpfully from where she stood on the boundary between gardens.
“Thank you, Mrs Nosebag, I’ll take it from here,” said the Mayor nodding at her and then hammered on the door again, more forcefully. “Mr Waterington!” The door opened a crack, and the young Mr Frey Waterington peered through the gap and said,
“Yes, your Worship, you’re here about my Snowguard, aren’t you?” He sounded utterly forlorn.
“I am indeed, Mr Waterington. And a sorry state of affairs this is. You must see to it that your Snowguard is front and centre before night fall,” said the Mayor firmly, “Carrot, hat and scarf in place! You know full well that a Snowguard cannot guard if not correctly attired”.
“He had his hat this morning,” said Mrs Nosebag, “but when it blew away in a gust, we had to report it straightaway”.
“Yes, thank you Mrs Nosebag,” sighed the Mayor. He looked back at Mr Waterington and again demanded to know what was going on.
“Please, do come in,” said Mr Waterington opening his door wider. He stood in the doorway with brimming eyes, his glossy black hair hanging sadly around his pale face.
”Hurrumph,” said the Mayor and stepped inside to discuss the situation, leaving Mrs Nosebag craning her neck to no avail.
Mr Waterington explained everything. By the end of the conversation Mr Bottomly was aghast and had arrested Mr Waterington on the spot. He escorted him off his premises and walked him to the town jail, muttering something about how mad it was; not caring if he were to be evaporated by the Spillers. Whatever did he mean by that? The Mayor presumed he had lost his marbles due to being in love or some such nonsense… Really! Young people these days! No appreciation of the seriousness of the situation!
Mrs Nosebag, arms folded in the garden, was annoyed that she did not know the outcome of the conversation but hurriedly fetched a fresh carrot and ordered her husband to rebuild the Snowguard next door AND furnish it with one of his own hats and scarves right away.
Mr Waterington, now in jail, stared out from his barred window. There was such sadness on his face that a passing sparrow took pity on him and brought a dry leaf to cheer him. A tear dripped down Mr Waterington’s face as he thanked the sparrow for its care. The sparrow stayed a while to talk then flew to the next town, to pass a message to Princess Eisa, the eldest daughter of Logi, the Fire King.
Mr Nosebag finished rebuilding the Snowguard then told it to get back to its duty of guarding. It nodded at Mr Nosebag and he was satisfied enough to go back to his own home where his wife questioned him on every detail of the rebuild and any conversations he overheard.
Then the sparrow arrived at the castle in Pyrester, the Fire Town, at the window of Princess Eisa. She looked as sad as Mr Waterington. The sparrow chirped its message and she instantly burst into tears. The sparrow watched the hot, flaming tears float off her face and rise to the already singed ceiling of her room and felt afraid her heart would break in two. The sparrow told her it would fly to see the wisest of all creatures, Mimir the Owl, who lived in the great ash tree. Mimir could surely help.
The sparrow arrived at the home of the owl and knocked.
“Hoo are you? Ahh, come inside sparrow,” said Mimir the owl. He noticed its tail feathers were singed. “Have you been visiting the Fire Castle? Your feathers are a little crispy.”
“Yes,” said the sparrow, “I need your advice please, Mr Mimir”. Then the sparrow told the owl all about Mr Wateringham and Princess Eisa falling in love and how both were frightened that, if they were to even touch each other, that would be the end of both of them.
Mimir nodded sagely. “Because Mr Frey Wateringham is the Prince of Water living under a pseudonym and she is the Princess of fire. I understand why they may be worried, but please dear sparrow fly back to the Princess and tell her this…” And then he whispered into the sparrow’s ear. Finally, the owl chuckled, “Hoo, hoo, hoo! Everything will all be fine, I promise them that. And on your way back, dear sparrow, drop by my tree again, and I shall give you a few of my own feathers to replace those that have been burned”. The sparrow thanked Mimir, then flew back to tell Princess Eisa what the owl had said.
The Princess listened to every word the sparrow told her, then she smiled and told it to fly back to Mimir without further ado as she did not wish for the little sparrow to get more scorched. Then she hugged her father King Logi, left the castle and headed straight to the jail. The Fire King knew the owl, being so wise and kind, would only give his daughter good advice so he informed his people there was to be absolutely no more Fire Spilling in Skadingham nor anywhere else.
The sparrow flew back to the great ash tree where Mimir kept good his promise and gave it several of his own feathers. The sparrow wove them into its tail to replace those that had been burned by the flames of Pyrester. It took a bit of practice but soon the sparrow could fly even better than before.
Princess Eisa blew on the wind all the way to Skadingham jail and begged to be allowed to see her love, Mr Frey Waterington. The guard was surprised to see the Fire Princess and was suspicious but, when he saw how sincere she appeared, he let her in. She rushed to the cell that held her prince and passed between the bars that separated them. There she stood before him, holding out her arms to embrace him, repeating the words from Mimir the owl.
“What puts out fire but water. What dries up water but fire,” she said. He looked puzzled for a moment, then they fell into each other’s arms as Princess Eisa kissed Frey’s damp cheek.
The jail guard smiled at the pair and called for the Mayor to come immediately. Then, satisfied by the explanation and the promise to henceforth stop all Fire Spilling, the Mayor called a town meeting to tell the people the joyous news. The fire King, Logi himself, attended the meeting to issue a formal and sincere apology and solemnly promised everyone that his people would no longer play with their fires. It was announced that all Snowguards would be retired with a full pension.
The sparrow with its extra-long tail flew by just then, chirping with delight as Princess Eisa and Prince Frey stood arm in arm. Her flame was not quite so bright and hot, and his hair was not quite as cool and glossy as before, but their happiness shone so brightly it filled the hearts of all the cheering townsfolk.