The Frost King
and How the
Louisa M. Alcott
The Queen sat upon her throne, and all the fairies from the four
kingdoms were gathered for a grand council. A very important question
was to be decided, and the bravest, wisest elves were met to see what
could be done. The Frost King made war upon the flowers; and it was a
great grief to Queen Blossom and her subjects to see their darlings die
year after year, instead of enjoying one long summer, as they might have
done but for him. She had sent messengers with splendid gifts, and had
begged him to stop this dreadful war, which made autumn so sad and left
the fields strewn with dead flowers. But he sent back the gifts, sternly
refused her prayers, and went on with his cruel work; because he was a
tyrant, and loved to destroy innocent things.
"My subjects, we will try once more," said the Queen, "if any one can
propose a plan that will touch his hard heart and make him kind to the
Then there was a great rustling of wings and murmuring of voices; for
all the elves were much excited, and each wanted to propose something.
The Queen listened, but none of the plans seemed wise, and she was sadly
perplexed, when her favorite maid of honor, the lovely Star, came and
knelt before her, saying, while her face shone and her voice trembled
with the earnestness of her words, "Dear Queen, let me go alone to the
Frost King and try what love will do. We have sent presents and prayers
by messengers who feared and hated him, and he would not receive them;
but we have not tried to make him love us, nor shown him how beautiful
his land might be, by patiently changing that dreary place, and teaching
his people to plant flowers, not to kill them. I am not afraid; let me
go and try my plan, for love is very powerful, and I know he has a heart
if we can only find it."
"You may go, dear Star," answered the Queen, "and see if you can conquer
him. But if any harm happens to you, we will come with our whole army
and fight this cruel King till he is conquered."
At these brave words all the elves cheered, and General Sun, the great
warrior, waved his sword as if longing to go to battle at once. They
gathered about Star,—some to praise and caress her, some to warn her of
the dangers of her task, others to tell her the way, and every one to
wish her success; for fairies are gentle little creatures, and believe
heartily in the power of love.
Star wished to go at once; so they wrapped her in a warm cloak of down
from a swan's breast, gave her a bag of the seeds of all their sweetest
flowers, and with kisses and tears went to the gates of Fairyland to say
Smiling bravely she flew away toward the North, where the frost spirits
lived. Soon the wind grew cold, the sunshine faded, and snow began to
fall, making Star shiver under her soft cloak. Presently she saw the
King's palace. Pillars of ice held up the roof fringed with icicles,
which would have sparkled splendidly if there had been any sun. But all
was dark and cold, and not a green leaf rustled, or bird sang in the
wide plains, white with snow, that stretched as far as the eye could
see. Before the doors stood the guard, frozen to their places, who
lifted their sharp spears and let Star go in when she said she was a
messenger from the Queen.
Walls of ice carved with strange figures were round her, long icicles
hung from the roof, and carpets of snow covered the floor. On a throne
hung with gray mist sat the King; a crown of crystals was on his white
hair, and his mantle was covered with silver frost-work. His eyes were
cold, his face stern, and a smile never moved his hard lips. He frowned
as he saw the fairy, and drew his cloak closer, as if afraid the light
of her bright face might soften his heart.
Then Star told her errand, and in her gentle voice begged him to be
kind. She described the sorrow of both elves and children when his frost
killed all the flowers; she painted a bright picture of a world where it
was always summer, and asked him to let her show how lovely flowers made
any spot, by planting some in his bleak fields.
But he only scowled and ordered her away, saying harshly, "I will do as
I please; and if your Queen does not leave me in peace, I will go to war
and freeze every fairy to death."
Star tried to say more, but he was so angry that he called his people
and bid them shut her up till she would own that he was right and
promise to let him kill all the flowers he liked.
"I never will do that," said Star, as the Frost people led her away to a
dark little cell, and left her alone.
She was cold and tired and very sad because the King would not listen to
her, but her heart was brave, and instead of crying she began to sing.
Soon the light of her own eyes, that shone like stars, made a little
glimmer in the dark, and she saw that the floor of her cell was of
earth; and presently she heard the tinkle of water as it dripped drop by
drop down from the snow above. Then she smiled, so that it seemed as if
a ray of light had crept in.
"Here is earth and water, I will make the sunshine, and soon by my fairy
power I will have a garden even in Frostland." As she spoke she pulled
out the seeds and fell to work, still singing, still smiling, still sure
that in time she would do the hard task she had set herself. First she
gathered the drops in her warm hands and moistened the hard earth; then
she loosened it and planted her seeds along the walls; and then, sitting
in the middle of the narrow room, she waved her wand and chanted the
fairy spell that works the pretty miracle of turning seeds to flowers.
"Sleep, little seed,
Deep in your bed,
While winter snow
Wake, little sprout,
And drink the rain,
Till sunshine calls
You to rise again.
Strike deep, young root,
In the earth below;
Unfold, pale leaves,
Begin to grow.
Baby bud, dance
In the warm sun;
Bloom, sweet rose,
Life has begun."
As she sung, the light grew stronger, the air warmer, and the drops fell
like dew, till up came rows of little green vines and plants, growing
like the magic beanstalk all over the walls and all round the room,
making the once dark place look like a bower. Moss spread like a carpet
underfoot, and a silvery white mushroom sprung up under Star, as if she
were the queen of this pretty place.
Soon the Frost spirits heard the music and went to see who dared sing in
that gloomy prison. They were much surprised when they peeped, to see
that instead of dying in her cell, the fairy had made it beautiful, and
sat there singing while her flowers bloomed in spite of all their power.
They hurried to the King and bade him come and see. He went, and when he
saw the lovely place he could not spoil it till he had watched Star at
her work, and tried to see what magic did such wonders. For now the dark
walls were hung with morning-glories, ringing their many-colored bells,
the floor was green with soft moss, the water-drops made music as they
fell, and rows of flowers nodded from their beds as if talking together
in a sweet language of their own. Star sat on her throne still singing
and smiling, till the once dark place was as bright as if a little sun
"I am strong, but I cannot do that," said the King. "I love power, and
perhaps if I watch I shall learn some of her magic skill to use as I
please. I will let her live, but keep her a prisoner, and do as I please
about killing other flowers."
So he left her there, and often stole down to peep, and wonder at her
cheerfulness and courage; for she never complained or cried, though she
longed for home, and found it very hard to be brave and patient.
Meantime the Queen waited and waited for Star to come, and when a long
time passed she sent a messenger to learn where she was. He brought
back the sad tidings that she was a prisoner, and the King would not let
her go. Then there was great weeping and wailing in Fairyland, for every
one loved gentle Star. They feared she would be frozen to death if they
left her in the cruel King's power, and resolved to go to war as he
would not set her free.
General Sun ordered out the army, and there was a great blowing of
trumpets, beating of drums, and flying of flags as the little soldiers
came marching from the four quarters of the kingdom. The earth elves
were on foot, in green suits, with acorn cups for helmets and spear
grass for lances. The water sprites were in blue armor made of
dragon-fly scales, and they drew shells full of tiny bubbles that were
shot like cannon-balls, upsetting their small enemies by the dozen. The
fire imps wore red, and carried torches to burn, and little guns to
shoot bullets of brimstone from, which killed by their dreadful smell.
The air spirits were the finest of all; for they were in golden armor,
and carried arrows of light, which they shot from tiny rainbows. These
came first, and General Sun was splendid to behold as he led them
shining and flashing before the Queen, whose great banner of purple and
gold streamed over their heads, while the trumpets blew, the people
cheered, and the elfin soldiers marched bravely away to fight the Frost
King and bring Star home.
The Queen followed in her chariot drawn by white butterflies, with her
maids, and her body guard of the tallest elves in Fairyland. They lived
in the pine-trees, and were fine strong fellows, with little cones on
their heads, pine needles for swords, and the handsome russet scales for
chain armor. Their shields were of sweet-smelling gum, like amber; but
no one could approach the Queen when they made a wall about her, for
whoever touched these shields stuck fast, and were killed with the sharp
Away streamed the army like a wandering rainbow, and by and by reached
the land of frost and snow. The King had been warned that they were
coming, and made ready by building a fort of ice, laying in piles of
snow-balls, and arming his subjects with sharp icicles. All the cold
winds that blow wailed like bagpipes, hailstones drummed on the frozen
ground, and banners of mist floated over the towers of the palace.
General Fog, in a suit of silver, stood ready to meet the enemy, with an
army of snow men behind him, and the Frost King looked down from the
walls to direct the fight.
On came the fairy folk, making the icy world sparkle so brilliantly with
their light that the King was half-blinded and hid his eyes. The elves
shivered as the cold wind touched them, but courage kept them warm, and
the Queen, well wrapped in down, stood up in her chariot, boldly
demanding Star at the hands of the King.
"I will not give her up," he answered, scowling like a thunder-cloud,
though in his heart he wondered more and more how the brave fairy had
lived so long away from such lovely friends as these.
"Then I proclaim war upon your country; and if Star is dead we will show
no mercy. Sound the trumpets and set on!" cried the Queen, waving her
hand to the General, while every sword flashed out, and an elfin cheer
rung like music in the air.
Ordering the rest to halt, General Sun led the air spirits to battle
first, well knowing that nothing could stand long before a charge of
that brilliant troop. General Fog did his best, but was driven back
against his will; for his snow men melted away as the arrows of light
struck them, and he could not stand before the other general, whose
shield was a golden sun, without feeling himself dissolve like mist at
They were forced to take refuge in the fort, where the King himself was
ordering showers of snow-balls to be shot among the fairy troops. Many
were wounded, and carried from the field to the tent where the Queen and
her maids tended them, and by their soft magic soon made them fit to
"Now, a grand attack. Bring up the sappers and miners, Captain Rock.
Major Flash, surround the walls and melt them as fast as possible, while
the archers shall go on shooting," commanded General Sun.
Then a company of moles began to dig under the fort; the fire imps
banged away at the walls with their cannon, and held their flaming
torches close till the blocks of ice began to melt; the air spirits
flew high above and shot their golden arrows down at the Frost people,
who fled away to hide in the darkest corners, dazzled and daunted by
these brave and brilliant enemies.
It was a hard battle, and the fairies were obliged to rest, after
killing General Fog, destroying the fort, and forcing the King to take
refuge in the palace. Among the prisoners taken was one who told them
where Star was, and all she had done in her little cell. Then they
rejoiced, and the Queen said, "Let us follow her example, for these
prisoners say the King is changed since she came; that he goes to peep
at her lovely bower, and does not spoil it, but talks kindly to her, and
seems as if his hard heart might be melting a little. We will not fight
any more, but try Star's gentle way, and besiege the King till he
surrenders; so we shall win a friend, not kill an enemy."
"We will; we will!" cried all the elves; for they did not love to fight,
though brave as little lions to defend their country and their Queen.
They all took counsel together, and the Frost people were surprised next
day to see the army busily at work making a great garden round the
palace instead of trying to destroy it. Creeping to the holes in the
walls they watched what went on, and wondered more and more; for the
elves worked hard, and their magic helped them to do in a day what it
would have taken years for mortals to do.
First the moles dug up the ground, then the Queen's guard sowed pine
seeds, and in an hour a green wall fenced in the garden where the earth
fairies planted seeds of all the flowers that grow. The fire imps warmed
the air, and drove away every chilly wind, every gray cloud or flake of
snow that dared come near this enchanted spot. The water sprites
gathered drops from the melting ice palace and watered the budding beds,
after the imps had taken the chill off, while the air spirits made
sunshine overhead by flying to and fro with tireless wings, till a
golden curtain was woven that shut out the cold sky and made summer for
The Queen and her maids helped, for they fashioned birds, bees, and
butterflies with magic skill, and gave them life to sing, buzz, and
flutter in the new world, growing so fast where once all was bare and
cold and dark.
Slowly the ice palace melted; for warm airs stole through the pines, and
soon the walls were thin as glass, the towers vanished like frost-work
in the sun, and block after block flowed away in little rills as if glad
to escape from prison. The King and his subjects felt that they were
conquered; for the ice seemed to melt from them also, and their hearts
began to beat, their cold faces to soften as if they wanted to smile if
they knew how, and they loved to watch and wonder at the sweet miracles
the elves were working all about them.
The King tried not to give up, for he was very proud, and had ruled so
long it was hard to submit; but his power was gone, his palace crumbling
about him, his people longing to join the enemy, and there was nothing
for him to do but lay down his crown or fly away to the far North and
live with the bears and icebergs in that frozen world. He would have
done this but for Star. All the while the battle and the siege were
going on, she lived in her little cell, knowing nothing about it, but
hoping and waiting, sure that help would come. Every time the King
visited her he seemed kinder, and liked more and more to listen to her
songs or the stories she told him of life in Fairyland, and the joy of
being merciful. So she knew that the seeds she sowed in his heart were
beginning to grow like those planted in the cell, and she watched over
them as carefully.
One day her loveliest roses bloomed, and she was singing for joy as the
pink flowers filled the cell with their sweet breath, when the King came
hurrying down to her and falling at her feet begged her to save his
life. She wondered what he meant, and he told her of the battle, and how
the elves were conquering him by love; for the palace was nearly gone, a
great garden lay blossoming all about it, and he had nowhere to go
unless she would be his friend and ask her people to forgive and pity
Then Star felt that she had done her task, and laying her hands on his
white head, she melted the last frost from his old heart by saying in
her tender voice, "Do not fear my people; they will welcome you and give
you a home if you will promise to hurt no more flowers, but always be as
gentle as you are now. Come with me, and let us teach you how beautiful
sunshine and love and happy work can make you."
The King promised, and Star led him up to the light again, where his
people waited to know what was to become of them.
"Follow me, follow me, and do not be afraid," called Star, dancing
before them,—so glad to be free that she longed to fly away. Everything
was changed; for as they came up from the cell the ruins of the palace
melted into a quiet lake, and under the archway of the pines they passed
into a new and lovely world of sunshine, flowers, and happy elves. A
great cry went up when Star was seen leading the King, with his few
subjects behind him, and every one flew to welcome the dear fairy and
the captives she brought.
"I am your prisoner, and I submit, for I have no kingdom now," said the
King, as he bowed before the Queen.
"These are the only chains you shall wear, and this is your new
kingdom," answered the Queen, as her maids hung wreaths of flowers on
the King's arms and put a green crown on his head, while all the fairies
gathered round to welcome him to the lovely garden where he was to reign
beloved and happy, with no frost to spoil the long summer he had learned
There was a great feast that day, and then the elfin army marched home
again, well pleased with the battle they had fought, though all said
that it was Star who had conquered the Frost-King.