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  It was frosty white everywhere… Winter felt at its height and didn't seem willing to hand over power to the coming Spring…

One morning, the people in the village, woke up to find their houses buried under heavy snow up to the roofs.

It was very hard for them to open their front doors and dig their way out through the loose, but heavy snow. Then they had to dig tunnels from door to door, connecting neighbours with one another. When all houses were connected, people decided to make new tunnels from every house to the village center, where the church was. When this was done too, all gathered in the church hall to discuss the situation and decide what could be done if the snow didn't stop falling, or didn't melt soon.

Many words were spoken, many opinions heard, but they still had no decision. If Winter refused to go away, Spring would never be able to come, the crops could not be sewn in the fields, and hungry times would come. And no one could even go to the snow covered forests to cut heating wood.

"Someone must go to the highest peak of the mountain." An old man suggested. "Where Grandfather Frost, the sovereign of all winter elementals lives in his palace of ice. Only he can command the snow and the blizzards."

"Easy to say," the others reflected. "But who is so willing to go? Even a very strong man wouldn't be able to dig such a long tunnel in the snow to reach the highest peak."

"No need to dig tunnels to the peak." The old man said. "I'm sure the snow up the mountain slopes is much thinner, because the whirlwinds blow it around and store it in the lower places, such as the hollow where our village is. All we have to do now is choose someone and dig a tunnel out of the village for him."

Men looked at each other, everyone hoping the other will volunteer, but none of them did. Everyone found some excuse to remain at home, by their family. And at the end they all were quiet, dropping their eyes, ashamed of themselves.

"It seems I'm the only one who can do it." the old man said. "And I would have said so at once, had I been only 20 years younger… Now, I'm afraid I might be too slow to reach the Palace of Ice on time…"

"Don't worry, grandfather, I will go!" a little girl said. She was the old man's granddaughter, an orphan, who lived with him since her parents died.

"Impossible!" people pitied her. "She doesn't even have a warm coat!", "No hat and scarf!", "Not even woolen mittens!".

"You are too young and tender for such a long walk through the frosty mountains." Her grandfather said, stroking her head gently.

"I'm not afraid! My feet are strong and I'm as fast as a mountain goat!" The girl said.

"But you'll freeze up there, with no shelter to rest in!"

"I will not." the girl said firmly. "I have a warm little heart, full of love for everyone. It will save me from the frost."

"Go, my child." the old man said. "I know your good heart and I trust it. If you're doing something for the good of others, it will never let you down."

Everyone sighed with relief, and the children gave her the warmest clothes they had:

"Here, take my coat." one of them said.

"My mittens are the warmest you can find!" said another.

"Take my hat!"

"My scarf!"

"My woolen socks!"

"My boots!" said children one after the other…|

Soon, the little girl was ready to go. All the men from the village dug a long and broad tunnel up to the nearest hill, where the snow was much thinner, and easy to wade in.

Everyone went to see her off, warning her to take care, and wishing her the best of luck.

The girl waved back at them: "Thank you all, and see you soon!"…

It was nearly dark, when she mounted the first hill...

Soon the moon lit the sky and the white snow around glowed, making everything around as visible as in daylight. The girl went on, never thinking about rest. Her heart was not only warm, it was also very strong.

She walked the whole night through, passing several high mountain hills one after the other. She only had to overcome another one, and would be at the foot of the highest peak, where the Palace of Ice stood…

But just then, the winter whirlwinds woke up and noticing the little figure screamed wildly:

"Who dares to trespass down there?", "Away with her!" "Let's blow, lets toss her around until she forgets where she's heading for!"

And they started whirling fiercely.

But the girl only huddled into her warm coat, and went bravely on.

The whirlwinds were mad with anger. They blew and blew, but the girl paid no heed. At the end they were so exhausted that they fell on the ground unable to make another move.

"What a girl!" one of them said. "We are exhausted, and she's not even tired…"

"We mustn't leave things like this!" another one said gasping for breath. "No man has ever overmastered us, let alone such a fragile little girl… Let's attack her again!"

"You may try if you wish," said another, "But I have no drop of strength left. I feel I'll need a good rest to recover…"

"So do we." some other whirlwinds agreed. "But we can not let her go unpunished. Let's call our brothers the Blizzards for help. They're stronger than us."

So, the Whirlwinds called for the Blizzards to come and punish the girl. Soon, the Blizzards heard them and rushed to see what's going on. They became furious when they learned what has happened, and even more, when they saw the girl already far away on the last slope leading to the peak.

"She will pay us for that!" They roared and threw themselves after the girl. It was a long an uneven struggle, but the girl overcame the Blizzards too, thanks to her strong warm heart, that never let her feel fear, or weariness. The Blizzards fell down one after the other, breathing heavily.

"That's-s-s -a -s-s-shame!" one of them hissed.

"It seems, she's untouchable for fury and malice. Let's try the other way round." a Blizzard said.

"What do you mean? Caress her? Or do you propose to carry her up the slope?" another one hissed.

"Nothing of the sort." the first said. "Let's call our sister, the Freezing Death. She's so polite and kind, that no one even thinks of fighting her, or even suspecting her of evil thoughts...

So, the Blizzards called their wicked sister.

She came at once. Invisible, and having no face herself, she could appear with the face of someone very dear to her chosen victim. Now, she appeared in front of the girl with the face of her dear, late mother. Then she started singing a gentle lullaby…

The girl slowed her pace and listened...

"What is this?" the girl thought. "Am I dreaming, or is this some good miracle?… I see the face of my dear mother, and I hear her voice! As sweet as in those blissful evenings, when she sang this lullaby for me before sleep… Oh, how I want to hear some more!… But the snow crunches so noisily…" She paused for a while...

"How sweet my mother's voice is… I hear it so well when I don't move. I'll sit down just for a while…" she said to herself. "I'm so near to the Palace. No more than an hour walking left…Let me just hear the song to the end and I'll be on my way again…"

The girl sat down. She was amazed how clearly she could see her mother's face as she closed her eyes…

The Freezing Death grinned with delight and flew away to tell her brothers how well she had managed to deceive the girl, whom she left freezing to death on the slope...

The little girl slept, smiling happily. But the colour of her face was changing as time passed. Her pink cheeks became at first blue, then waxy yellow… She was slowly freezing…

It seemed there was no chance of saving her from the wicked grip of the Freezing Death…

But in a while something stirred the snow. A squeaking sound was heard, then a tiny mouse peeped through a hole. Her shiny black eyes fixed on the girl's stiffening figure.

"Someone's in trouble!" the mouse squeaked . And at the very moment a number of little holes opened in the snow, and a number of mice peeped out. Then they all ran to the girl, and became busy massaging her feet and hands. But mice were so little and their labours so inefficient, that they decided to call for help. This time bigger holes opened in the snow, and a number of white rabbits peeped out and ran to the rescue. From out the snow covered pine trees, a number of squirrels jumped down, and soon the girl was covered with white and brown fur all over. The little animals warmed her up with their own furry bodies. They were extremely happy, to see her cheeks becoming pink again. The girl's lids flickered, but two frozen teardrops kept them stuck. A squirrel brushed the teardrops away with it's fluffy tail, and the girl opened her eyes…

She thanked her new friends for saving her life, and told them why she was here and where she was going.

"We are coming with you!" the animals cheered. "We also suffer very much from this never ending Winter.

Flocking around the girl, the animals accompanied her to the Ice Palace.

There, she knocked at the gate, at first furtively, then loudly, and then with all her strength… But no one answered…

"What might have happened to Grandfather Frost?" the animals wondered.

"Let's see for ourselves" the girl said, quite frightened herself.

The squirrels jumped on the pillars, then on the windowpanes, and explored each and every window, until they found one, which was slightly opened. They smuggled in, and soon were able to open the heavy gate from inside. The girl stepped in, followed by her friends. They passed a glittering ice corridor, which lead them in a big crystal hall. There, on a gorgeous throne of carved ice, Grandfather Frost was sitting with his eyes closed. He represented a majestic sight, dressed in silver embroidered clothes, with a gorgeous white mane formed by his long hair, bushy brows and splendidly curled beard.

The animals surrounded the throne, some of them climbing, or jumping in the old man's lap. A squirrel jumped right on his shoulder and dared to tickle his nose with it's tail.

A mighty sneezing sound made them all freeze with fear. But as Grandfather Frost opened his blue eyes and smiled, they forgot all about fear.

"Hello, Grandfather Frost", they sounded like a cheerful choir.

"Welcome, little ones!" he answered in a profound voice. "What unbelievable event has brought all of you here?

The girl told him all as it was.

"You mean, I have slept throughout all the winter?" Grandfather Frost asked astonished.

"It seems so." the girl said.

"I see." the old man's tone became serious. "My servants, the winter elementals! That's their deed. I've never overslept for thousands of years. I always gather my subjects when time for Spring comes, and lock them in their bedrooms until Autumn's last leaf falls. This time, I guess, they decided to outsmart me and reign over the World forever. That's why they treated me with that special aromatic tea of theirs, before I sat here for my usual nap. Thank you little ones for waking me up! Now, just stay here and watch. I'll restore the natural order and give everyone what he deserves.

For his little guests, it was an exiting experience to hear Grandfather Frost blow his silver whistle. In less than an instant, all his subjects appeared trembling with horror in the big crystal hall. He gave the ones that had done nothing wrong a toothbrush each, and sent them to their bedrooms wishing them "good-night". But to the ones, who wanted to take all power over the laws of Nature, and reign over the World forever, he was not so kind at all. He gave each of them a sip of that very tea they treated him with and left them sleeping standing like statues for as long as his anger passed away. Then he thanked his guests once again, and gave an icy lollypop each. The little girl got a special precious present for her bravery a little crystal heart, hanging on a silver chain. This little heart would help her recognize between truth and deception.

Then the big gates opened wide, and they all saw a beautiful day of Spring outside: The sun shining, the grass growing, flowers blooming, birds chirping merrily…

The way back was much easier. The new friends parted, promising to never forget each other, and be ready to help when needed.

Everyone in the village cheered, meeting the brave little girl. The Spring welcoming festivities lasted for more than a week…


/BG/ "What Shall You Give Me?"
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