- November 13, 2021
The Ice Mother
Warning to the reader: The Ice Mother contains elements of depression, thoughts of suicide, and self-harm. Read at your own pace and at your own discretion. If you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts, there is always help available. Contact help here or call a Suicide Prevention hotline at (800)-273-8255.
This is a sequel to a previous short story called The Ice Princess, also available to read for free.
I love my husband, I love my country, I love my daughter.
The midwives, the chambermaids, the King’s advisors… they all say the feelings will pass, the resentment, the anger… the air of hopelessness that hounds her.
The midwives say that sometimes new mothers grow depressed, empty of interest, fatigued beyond belief. Something to do with hormones, as if the old crones remember what such things were like.
“Ah,” the Queen gasps as Ingrid, the chambermaid, pulls too hard on her hair. She’s done this three times now in her attempt to prepare her for the child’s public unveiling. Eleanor’s unveiling…
He named her Eleanor, he named our child without me, and here I thought he said we would be partners in crime. I thought youth was supposed to last past the second decade.
She turns and takes the comb from the chambermaid, and snapping at her in the process, “If you can’t use a simple comb, I’ll do it myself!” The chambermaid stands there in shock with her jaw dropped. She should learn the art of taking a hint. “Get out!”
As she does, the Queen remembers the midwives saying that the irritability would pass too, after three days or so, or maybe they said it would start after three days. They weren’t sure, which defied their whole point.
The Queen takes to brushing her own hair, making sure it’s as cascading and as shining as the people desire, as the old ranting advisors like to say. As if the common people would actually be able to see how she looks from atop the balcony, as if they’re coming here to see her… As if they care about my well-being… as if they care about anything but the baby I shat out from between my legs.
The pain still lingers down low, not even the Queen is exempt.
Yet that pain doesn’t annoy her as much as the brush does. Somehow it’s more infuriating that she’s unable to comb the knots in her hair without feeling like her scalp is coming off.
“Aahhh!!” She finds herself screaming, throwing everything off the desk of her mirror. I’m enraged by a comb, a comb. Where’s the damn fire?
The Queen rushes to the fireplace, caring little for how the uselessly long dress drags across the floor. She throws the damn comb in, ridding herself of it.
The fire, it’s so… it’s the opposite of him. He likes water, more than one would think for a man with wings.
Fire, unlike water, is supposed to be the greatest, and most terrifying way to go, the pain of one’s nerves… I’ve seen it once, a man on fire…
Yet, despite the feat it draws from the Queen, it’s awfully alluring to her. She doesn’t hear much about smoke. She knows having too much of it would kill a healthy woman, much less a woman who just gave birth. How quick I wonder if I just held my lips to the fire? Would I suffocate before my hair caught on fire, or would I fall in and burn screaming first?
“No, no, no,” she tells herself, clutching her hands to her head. She shuffles backwards only to fall back on the bed. They said it would be like this, that these… dark thoughts, would cloud her mind, eat at her to do things she knows she shouldn’t do, but will want to. It all suddenly seems so easy, sticking my face to the fire, placing my head face down in the pillow…
Walking off the balcony.
But I can’t… I can’t. I have a baby girl, I have a daughter with a name given to her by her papa. I have a princess who’s anxiously anticipated by her people. I have a daughter I’m expected to raise myself, leave everything else to the King. The Queen’s job is the children, I’m supposed to teach her right from wrong, how to be strong or weak, whichever the advisors prefer.
I’m supposed to raise a child, I’m not an adult, I’m barely old enough to drink, and I’m raising a little girl, without her papa… I can’t do this. “I can’t do this.” I can’t do this. “I can’t do this… How, how am I supposed to-”
She lifts up my head to her husband, the King, opening the door.
“Are you all right?” he asks her. “The chambermaid was crying.”
“Am I alright?” she repeats back to him, as she turns back into herself. He’s her husband but he’s a stranger to her, even after a year. There was a point where they tried… tried to be friends, but she let that fall away. Now, she resigns herself for telling the same lie over and over again.
If it’s not obvious, instead of coming to comfort Isabell, Bryon can’t move from his place at the door, and if it is not obvious, she prefers him even farther away.
But like the midwives said, it’ll pass.
“Isabell, is there anything I-”
“Thank you, Bryon,” she interrupts him.
She can hear him swallow as he closes the door.
Lucky me, to have a husband such as King Bryon. A man I found with his lips smashed against another man’s lips the first night we met. How funny I thought it was, that such a man was the one my father was trying to marry me off to, to calm me, to control me. A funny joke that now feels in poor taste.
She thought Bryon to be a kind, gentle soul at first. She remembers how he told her he didn’t care that she was pregnant with another man’s child, how he said he would raise it as his own, and at first she was happy.
It took… a little while, to see the selfishness in that. To realize that it was so he could have everything without having to do his duty. He could go on being with any man he wants behind closed doors, and why should it be a problem? He has his daughter, his heir for everyone to see. He has his proof that he did nothing to earn or conjure up.
He’s lucky… his dear little princess Eleanor looks little like her true father…
Isabell remembers when he was there by her bedside, always present for the doctor’s visits, the tests to make sure Eleanor was safe and healthy in her belly. She felt so cared for, watched over, like Bryon truly cared for her. He wanted this to work for them to be a happy family…
But I know better now.
I know that he doesn’t care about me, that he doesn’t actually know me. He can pretend and put up his front all he wants. He can pretend to love Eleanor, he can cradle her to sleep as many nights as he wants, he can carry her throughout the castle and feed her at the dinner table, I know it’s to make sure everyone thinks she’s the product of his groin.
He can’t truly love her, I can’t believe that, or that he ever cared for me, that he was ever my friend in all this.
I… is it just me? Is any of this… these feelings, this empty sadness, the inability to rise up in morning, the inability to see anything but the terrible?
The inability to look at my daughter… with anything but disdain? Is this a feeling that’s going to pass? I… I can’t live like this forever, this can’t be the new normal.
She devolves into her usual coping mechanism, by telling herself again how she should feel, so that hopefully one day she tricks herself into believing it.
I love my husband.
“The people cheer for you,” she’s told by one of her father’s old coons, Lord Brand, a count of one of the isles at the outskirts of her country. She’s heard him call her a brat more times than she can count, and now he talks to her like it’s an honor to stand at her side.
Isabell thought motherhood would feel like an honor, like she’d done something great. Instead, she feels sick to her stomach, a cramp that won’t away as she eyes him and pictures thought of him on the stone ground below… and then what it would look like to jump off herself.
He leaves her be to speak with her husband and the event coordinators. Isabell takes the moment to stare out the window, at all the people who have come from around the palace and the city to see Princess Eleanor, a gift the country will eventually give to another prince.
The disdain for them is nothing new for her. The birth of her daughter only gives the Queen a new reason. She is the previous King’s only child, may God rest his soul. For that, and being a girl, I was hated from the start. A cursed child who killed her mother before she took her first breath. Since a male heir never followed, a foreigner had to become her husband and be king.
The idea of a foreign king disgusted these proud peasants and pissants, and yet they aren’t angry at him. They didn’t hurl tomatoes at Prince Bryon’s window, they didn’t curse Prince Bryon’s name when he came to the market, and they didn’t tell Prince Bryon’s father to spank him and have him whipped whenever he wore pants.
No, the hate between me and these people isn’t new. What’s new is the newfound worth they find in me as a child-rearing machine. They only congested into my home to see me because I gave birth.
Lord Brand tells Isabell she must look healthy, she must look unscathed by her pregnancy, or else the people will fear her death.
“No one wants to see you and think you’ll go like your mother.”
A thing they blamed me for.
I hate them… I hate them all. They would gift upon my first born the expectations that would crumble a mountain. All of them… all of them would…
No, not all of them. Isabell touches her head as she has to remind herself that. She has to remind herself that not every man, woman, and child has wronged her.
She remembers the peasant blacksmith who worked the forges and helped her come to love swords. She remembers the guard from townwatch who taught her the guard schedule so I could escape in the morning and sneak in at night.
It was her wet nurse and attending maid who taught her that princesses don’t bow to the whims and wishes of lords and common people, that hawks don’t care for the feelings of rodents.
It was a mere school teacher who taught her to read.
It was a poor winged boy in the woods who befriended her… loved her.
At the same time… it was he who gifted her with a child, and pain.
And it was he who left her a kingdom to rule.
And it was a common store owner who named her, Queenkiller.
It was the housewives who called her a whore when she was still a virgin.
And it was my love, who showed me how people suffer when the crown acts as a hawk, and at first I felt guilty. How has that helped me since?
She doesn’t like judging people off the actions of others, but she cannot know the hearts of every man, woman, and child in this country. I must be… I should be fair… as their princess- their Queen… at the very least… as a person…
She tells herself again, as she feels her heart beating with rage and confusion in her chest.
I love my country.
“It’s time,” Lord Brand tells the royal family. As he looks them up and down, Isabell feels his eyes look upon her like she’s a prize cow to show at auction… Somehow it isn’t as demeaning to her as it was the first time. How horrifying to have grown used to such a thing.
Then again, Isabell can’t remember the last time she’s worn a dress for her own enjoyment. She only ever wears them because a man in her life needs to impress another man. I guess this time I’m supposed to impress some women and children too.
It’s a beautiful dress, Isabell takes a look one last time as the modistes surround her to make sure everything is perfect. The tailors didn’t fret nearly as long on Bryon’s fancy tunic coat or the hem of his pants.
No, everyone will be focused on her dress apparently. The bedazzled bodice shines like a blood diamond, and looks like one too with its silver clear color. Its reach spreads far down her arms, wouldn’t want the Queen to grow any colder.
It’s all ridiculous honestly, I look like a gem, and it’s not as if anyone down there has even seen one. For all they’ll know, I’ll be a star shining light down upon them. A first for which they’ll cheer.
I’ll feel like a star, the gifter of light. If I had my way, we’d all be in darkness, feeling the same as I do. If I must be forced to live apart from my desires why shouldn’t they?
Or maybe such a life is more conducive to the sun, to be so high above everything, to give all to the nourishment and happiness of many, and receive nothing in return… nothing besides blame when things go wrong.
She’s heard of how the slaves that sail into the neighboring country curse the sun, that it was once their god, and how it had forsaken them all. It seems no matter where we’re from, we all expect something above us to give us what we want, for no other reason than because they can. I guess I’m not so different, asking for things like an end to suffering, judgment, and imprisonment in my own life. The only difference is that I stands alone, and I must look down to ask.
“I said it’s time,” Lord Brand says with a snap of his fingers, beckoning her like she would a servant. Isabell wonders if they feel the same sharp disdain for her as she does the count, because like them she still steps forward.
He gestures Bryon to come closer with Eleanor in his arms, so they can all walk onto the balcony as a family, but he stops Bryon with a raise of his finger.
“This is a moment of solidarity, union, and legacy, three pillars and each of you must represent one.”
He gestures to Eleanor, bending his bald head and shiny spectacle as he degrades her worth. “Our prized princess is legacy, and with her we want the people to dream of a line that will continue for many generations more.”
He gestures to Bryon, prompting him to stand up straighter. “We have the King for solidarity, the backbone that holds the kingdom together and keeps it standing. The one who protects it from the threats of war, poverty, and secession.”
His statements scream nothing of Bryon, and she could go on and on about that, but Isabell must spend more time preparing herself to be offended. “And we have the Queen for union, the glue that holds the family together, as is the role and privilege of the matriarch…” Something tells Isabell he doesn’t know what a matriarch is. “Hence why you will hold Eleanor.”
Her breath leaves her throat.
“It would be harder for Bryon to seem at all fearsome with a baby in his hand,” Brand reasons, but she’s not listening, “the mother as union bears that weight.”
I don’t need to listen to the patriarchal bullshit, when I can barely contain myself at the thought of having to hold my daughter.
Why? Every parent holds their children, every mother has held their child before they even step out of their birthing bed. Even the ones who would never get up from that same birthing bed.
Why am I upset? Troubled? A push from hysterical?
I have never held Eleanor, I… I don’t want to, it doesn’t feel right, it feels like I would stain my arms, and her in the process.
But no one else cares about that.
“If you don’t want to, you don’t have to,” someone says to her.
It’s so shocking to hear that. Isabell’s head swivels to face Bryon, her done up face feeling moist with sweat and her hairs already out of place. It happened so fast.
He looks at her with such assurance and such blatant disregard for Lord Brand’s annoyed smear of a face…
Sometimes she forgets, that maybe… maybe some of the thoughts in her head are just conspiracy. Maybe recent times have changed her in ways she doesn’t understand.
Regardless of how Bryon’s offer means the world to Isabell, both in its kindness and understanding, he shouldn’t have done it. I should be able to hold my own daughter, I should hold the child I gave life to… but I can’t.
Her hands raise above her waist, but clearly not enough to take her daughter from her husband’s hands. I should be proud to show off my child, the prize for my effort, and flaunt it in the faces of the common people I can’t stand, but I can’t.
I look at her face and wonder why she doesn’t look like him. Why doesn’t she look like the man I conceived her with? At all?
Aren’t children supposed to be the culmination of two people’s love, or even their mistakes? There’s no proof of our suffering in her. It’s like she’s been kissed by snow and I was merely the vessel the world deemed to carry her.
Isabell knows if Eleanor did look like her father, things wouldn’t be better. The housewives would finally feel validated in their name calling with a modicum of truth to it, but Isabell would have a child that was wholly hers and that of her best friend. Is it not wrong to want to look into Eleanor’s eyes and see him when she cannot see him herself?
It pains her, that she was not there when he appeared, but she knows why. I would have told him to take me with him, I don’t know if I would have asked him to take our daughter, but he wouldn’t do that. He told her once already that there was nowhere for them to go, even with those great wings on his back, let alone somewhere safe. She believes that is why he did not see her, It would have been too painful to tell me ‘no.’
It seems that even without his color, or his eyes, she still has me thinking of him. There is no cure to this ill-fate, no end to the coming hell. Life is with Bryon, it does not seem like I have any choice in the matter.
No, fate has made its decision for me a long time ago.
Isabell lifts her arms higher, finding the strength in knowing that she will always see her dreams and hopes in Eleanor’s face, even if they are caged behind it.
Bryon slowly places the Queen’s daughter in her arms, hesitant with every motion. Another woman may have found that offensive, but as she feels Eleanor’s weight in her arms… she can understand why he would be hesitant.
This little girl, with her blue eyes and her sparse platinum hair should fill her heart with joy. Her eyes flutter up at the sight of her mother with this unknowing gaze. It’s like she doesn’t know Isabell, but she’s not afraid. It’s like she knows Isabell is more afraid than an infant could ever be.
She’s most afraid because she knows that a mother is supposed to love her child. A mother is supposed to look at her newborn baby and feel her heart flutter with pride and love.
Isabell hasn’t had to get up in the middle of the night because of her crying. Isabell hasn’t had to breastfeed Eleanor at absurd hours in the day. Isabell hasn’t had to carry her around the palace.
I’ve done nothing to experience the worst that comes after childbirth, I have no reason to feel this resentment and emptiness towards her.
Why don’t I love my child?
Why can’t I look into her eyes with something other than this pit named apathy?
Is it because I have to raise her without her papa, or with another man entirely? Is it because I know she’s destined to be some political token for some foreign prince? Is it because that deep down, I’m too angry and spiteful to ever be a good mother? Should I have gotten rid of her in the womb rather than curse her to the life I may end up dooming?
I… I wish I had the answer. I need the answer.
“It’s time to go, love,” Bryon says, with a hand on her back, one that moves around her shoulder to press her forward. He’s her anchor as her legs work on their own.
“Don’t cry,” she hears him say as the chambermaids open the door, but it wasn’t Bryon.
She turns around and it’s Lord Brand, with his glasses framed over his eyes, the light that passes over them turning them white. The lenses show her a view of his true eyes for a moment, before she sees the brown pits again.
The screams and roars of the people, they tear the Queen from his gaze. She nearly trips upon taking the first step, and Bryon’s hand is there to hold Eleanor as his other holds her mother.
I need him to do this for me, to hold me steady.
Bryon… I’ve felt so much hate and anger towards him for things out of his control. I need his help to survive this life, I need someone and there is no one else. I… I must learn to believe the lie, the lie to end all lies.
The lies I shall tell myself of the people, who have chained me as their Queen. The people who cheer and throw bouquets and flowers into the air at my arrival with child in hand. The people who cheer loudly and play to the crowd pleasers.
There are no better crowd pleasers than Lord Brand.
He steps out besides the royal family, and raises his hands up on high. He presents the royal family, his prized horses.
“I give to you, the proud people of Iya, your King!” An announcement that hears more cheers and screams than the Queen’s ever heard.
“Your Queen!” As deafening as they are, she can hear the difference.
And with a final raising of both hands over his head, “Your Princess! Eleanor!”
The sky’s thunder could be challenged by the sounds these people make. It’s so deafening that Isabell can’t hear Eleanor crying. She realizes Eleanor is when she sees the tears and snot coming from her nose. She needs someone to clean her many tears.
She will need someone to clear her many tears for years to come, as Isabell must surrender the ability to do the same.
She cries in her mother’s arms, and Isabell finds herself looking forward into this sea of people.
The Queen ignores Eleanor’s cries, as she repeats to herself again and again in her head.
I love my daughter.
Lord Brand stops pandering to gaze upon Isabell’s face. “Oh look, the Queen is so happy she sheds tears.”
I love my husband, I love my country, I love my daughter.
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