From an old Cumbrian folk tale…
There once was a young woman named Bega. She lived in England in a time before us, when the land stretched onwards for miles like a slow breath and the hills rolled quietly and the sea whispered its lullabies. She lived with her father amid tumbling hills and rumbling streams, where mountains touched the sky and valleys sank low.
One day, Bega’s father came to her and told her she was to marry. Bega’s father had chosen a man for her, he was a nobleman in a neighbouring village and he would make a good match for Bega, her father said.
Bega wore a green dress, like a summer lawn, when she was to meet the man she was to marry. The man smiled at Bega and she tried to smile back, though the smile barely grew on her face at all. Bega did not want to disappoint her father, but she knew she could not love this man.
Bega’s father was stern, and he told his daughter love didn’t matter. She was to marry this man he had chosen for her and she was to forget her childish notions of love.
Bega felt her father’s words heavy on her, as heavy as the summer heat, and with a weighted heart, she knew what she had to do.
When the light fell and the owl sat and watched from the trees and bats shimmied around the branches like paper puppets, Bega dressed in bear fur. She collected together her most intimate belongings and she pulled the bear fur closer around her neck; quietly and slowly, she left the house.
Bega walked in the evening, the light slowly fading in a colour melt of the sky, darkness closing in. A castle rose high in the ink blue sky and its turrets appeared to touch the moon.
The door opened and a butler asked Bega to enter, and when Bega was admitted into the castle, the lady who lived there came to meet her.
The lady called to her husband to come and meet Bega and the lord did so with some hesitation. The lady told him Bega’s story and the lord of the castle was unsure what to make of it. He watched as his wife took the side of Bega and felt her sadness at having to leave her home, but the lord’s heart stood with Bega’s father.
The lord loved his wife. She was his shining star, his summer sun, his light in the darkness, the lord loved his wife so much he would do anything to make her happy. The lord thought for a moment. He wished to see the smile brighten his wife’s face again like the light morning after a stormy night, so he came up with an idea that would mean he could make his wife happy and still send Bega back to her father.
The lord told Bega she could stay for the night in the big warm castle. Upon the sun rising, he said, Bega would be given her own land from his. He said she could live on this land she gained, she could settle and build her own home there, she could marry who she wanted and she could raise her family there, but…Bega would only receive the land that was covered in snowfall upon the morning. It was the middle of summer and the days were filled with heat and pure blue skies; the lord knew there was no chance of snow whatsoever, and he would keep his land and Bega would have to return home to her father.
Bega’s room at the castle that night was sumptuous and she was afforded every luxury the lord and lady enjoyed themselves, just as the lord had promised. Bega slept on goose feather pillows and a large bear skin covered her body as she dozed and dreamed. She dreamed of soft snow, snow that covered the land and everything in sight and brought calm, snow that silenced all it laid upon, thick and padded and deep like the most rest filled sleep.
In the morning Bega woke and stretched out a yawn. Bega stood up and moved over to the window. Soft perfect white snow stretched over the land around the castle. Bega gazed over the scene in front of her, the snow covered around half of the land that the lord had promised she could choose from.
The lord said he couldn’t explain how snow had covered his land in summer, but he had made a promise and he was a man of his word. Bega would receive the land that was covered in snow that morning.
Bega built her life on the land she received and she called her home Summer Snow.
Samantha Priestley is the author of the Folded Word short-fiction chapbooks Dreamers (2014) and Orange Balloon (2016). She’s a novelist, playwright, and essayist who spins words into gold from her home in Sheffield, UK.
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