Girls Made of Snow and Glass – Melissa Bashardoust

Lynet first saw her in the courtyard. Well, the girl was in the courtyard. Lynet was in a tree. The juniper tree in the central courtyard was one of the few trees still in leaf at Whitespring, and so it was one of the best hiding places on the castle grounds. Nestled up in its branches, Lynet was only visible to anyone directly beneath her. This hiding place was especially helpful on afternoons like these, when she had decided to skip her lessons without telling her tutors. The young woman who walked briskly across the courtyard did not pass directly under the tree, so she didn’t notice Lynet watching. What struck Lynet first was the girl’s clothing. Instead of a dress, the girl was wearing a long brown tunic over loose trousers, allowing her to move more freely, in a long, striding gait. She walked with purpose, dark eyes staring straight ahead. Lynet thought she knew every face at Whitespring, but she didn’t recognize the girl at all. True, they had visitors come and go throughout the year, but usually for special occasions, and even then, Lynet could recognize most of them by sight, if not by name. A stream of questions all fought for attention in Lynet’s head: Who was this girl? Where had she come from? What was she doing at Whitespring? Where was she heading now with such conviction? Why was she carrying a large bag in her hand? She was a mystery, and mysteries were rare at Whitespring, where so little changed from day to day. The stranger was certainly more exciting than the music lesson Lynet was avoiding. Now at the other side of the courtyard, the girl went up the short flight of stone steps that led to the west wing of the castle.


As soon as she’d disappeared through the arched doorway, Lynet dropped down out of the tree and hurried after her, her bare feet silent on the snow. She peeked down the hall and saw the girl starting to go up the stairwell on the left. Lynet waited until the girl was out of sight and then scurried directly across the hall to climb out the window. Whitespring’s uneven stones and ledges and sharp corners made the castle excellent for climbing, something she had discovered at a young age. She used the ledge above the window to pull herself up, careful not to snag her gray wool dress on the sharper parts of the sculpted ledge. She didn’t want to have to explain to her father why there was a tear in her dress, or to see the forced smile on her sewing mistress’s face as she asked why the embroidery on the hems that Lynet had done just last week was already coming undone. Crouching silently on the ledge, Lynet traced the young woman’s movements in her mind: after going up the stairs, she would come down the hall until she reached the first turn, a little past where Lynet was perched, at which point she could continue straight ahead or turn right down another hallway. Lynet counted the seconds, knowing that she should be hearing footsteps any moment— Yes, there they were, passing down the hallway just inside. Lynet was sure to duck her head so the girl wouldn’t see her hair peeking up past the window frame, and she listened as the footsteps continued on past the turn, straight down to the end of the hall, followed by a loud knock. She heard a voice call, “Ah, come in!” and then the sound of the door closing again. Lynet wasn’t sure who had spoken, but it didn’t matter who, as long as she knew where. She peeked over the ledge just in time to see the stranger going through the door at the very end of the hall to her left. Lynet climbed in through the window, hurried down the same hall, and went back out the last window so that she was now on the other side of the castle. She carefully skirted the ledge, counting the windows in her head. When Lynet reached the window of the room where the stranger had gone, she knelt on the ledge and peeked in through the corner.

The window was closed, but she had a clear view of the young woman, and that was what truly mattered. Lynet recognized the other person as Tobias, one of the nobles who had lived at Whitespring since before Lynet was born. Tobias was saying something now, his enormous eyebrows making him look fiercer than he really was. But the young stranger didn’t seem at all intimidated by Tobias’s intense stare—she held her head high and stared right back. In fact, the stranger didn’t seem to let anything trouble her. There were flakes of snow in the messy dark braid down her back and on the collar of her shirt, but she made no move to brush them away. The bag she was holding was bulging full, and yet even after carrying it through the castle, she showed no sign of tiring. The inky thumbprint on her jawline, the fraying edge on one sleeve … these small imperfections fascinated Lynet because the girl wore them all with such ease and confidence. Lynet had never seen a woman look so comfortable in her own skin without appearing pristine. Who was she? Lynet leaned in farther, and the young woman set down her bag and opened it. With her head bent, her sharp cheekbones were especially striking, her eyelashes casting long shadows across her pale brown skin.… She looked up suddenly, and Lynet jerked her head away from the window. She was sure the girl hadn’t seen her—Lynet had been barely visible in the corner—and yet in that brief moment, she’d thought their eyes had met. When Lynet peeked again, the girl wasn’t looking up anymore, and Lynet squinted to see what she was taking out of the bag—that would be one mystery solved, at least. And then she saw in the girl’s lean hands a long metal instrument that curved at the end like the beak of some vicious bird.

Lynet gasped sharply, and she could tell from the way Tobias was rapidly blinking that he hadn’t expected this either. The young woman was watching Tobias, waiting for some response, and Lynet couldn’t stop watching her. She wondered how this girl could stand so perfectly still, hands never trembling under the weight of that monstrous instrument she was holding. She seemed almost defiant as she held it, and Lynet longed even more to know this strange girl—not just to know who she was, but to know her, and maybe to absorb some of that boldness for herself. Tobias gave a short nod and settled down in a chair. On the table beside him was a wineskin, and he drank heavily from it before tilting his head back. The young woman took a breath and then placed the curved end of the metal instrument inside Tobias’s mouth. Finally, Lynet understood what was about to happen, but not before it was too late to look away. The young woman yanked the instrument back, and the nobleman screamed as his tooth was wrenched out of his mouth. Lynet was glad he screamed, because she had let out a small yelp herself. She ran her tongue over her own teeth, reassuring herself that they were still in place. A surgeon. The young woman must be a surgeon. Though the answer should have satisfied her, Lynet only grew more curious. She had never seen a woman surgeon before.

Lynet remained perched on her ledge until the surgeon had cleaned Tobias up and given him some herbs for the pain. When Lynet heard her leave, she abandoned her post and went back around the ledge, listening for footsteps inside. Her heart was thumping; where would the surgeon go next? What would she do? When the surgeon had gone down the hall, Lynet slipped back inside through the window just in time to see her turn a corner. Lynet silently followed, but as she rounded the same corner, she ran into the Pigeons. “Princess Lynet!” one of the women cried, and then they were all around her, and it was too late to escape. She called them the Pigeons because of their gray hair and their constant cooing, and because they always traveled in flocks. Unlike most of the nobility, who preferred to live in their own private estates in clusters throughout the North, the Pigeons lived in Whitespring permanently, having made their nests here long before Lynet was born. They were Whitespring’s oldest residents, and so they always seemed so surprised to see how much Lynet had grown, even if they had only seen her yesterday. “Her mother would be so proud,” one of them was saying now. From behind her, another of the women said, “Look at this hair. So much like the queen’s.” When she was a child, Lynet had thought they’d meant she looked like Mina when they said she looked like the queen, and she had swelled with pride at resembling her stepmother. But now she understood that when they talked of the queen, they always meant the late queen, Emilia. And the worst part was that they were right: Mina’s hair was a dark auburn, her eyes light brown, while Lynet had her mother’s thick black hair and nearly black eyes. Mina’s face was angular and defined, her skin golden-brown, while Lynet had her mother’s round face and muted olive-brown coloring.

Lynet’s cheeks, her nose, her lips, and everything else she possessed belonged to a dead woman who she didn’t even remember. The unofficial leader of this little band, a gray-haired, long-necked woman named Xenia who served on the king’s council, bent down a little—out of habit, mostly, since Lynet was now taller than her—and took Lynet’s face in her hand. “So lovely. King Nicholas must be so proud of you, my lady. You’ll be such a splendid queen, just like your mother.” Even in the shadows of the dim hallway, Xenia’s eyes shone with a suspicious gleam—she always squinted at people like she thought that they were lying to her. Lynet smiled and nodded and thanked them until the Pigeons were finished. Perhaps it was flattering to be fussed over, but she knew their fondness wasn’t for her own sake. They loved her mother, and Lynet looked like her mother, so they thought that they loved her, too. Once the Pigeons continued down the hall in a cloud of gray, Lynet wandered through a few corridors before she had to admit that she’d lost the surgeon. Still, Lynet was sure she would see her again soon enough. The castle had been without a court surgeon since the prior one had left several months ago, so the new surgeon would be in high demand for a while. Lynet would keep watch, and next time she wouldn’t lose track of her. Lynet dragged her feet down the hall until she reached the music room, where her tutor was waiting for her, seated at his harp. He was mid-yawn when she walked in, and as soon as he saw her, he straightened, swallowing the rest of the yawn with a startled chirp.

“There you are, my lady!” he said. “A little late, perhaps, but that’s no trouble.” His lined face stretched into a smile. She was more than an hour late, but he wouldn’t scold her. None of her tutors ever scolded her for anything. Lynet had once liked the idea of playing the harp. But the actual lessons were long and tiresome, and she never seemed to improve, so she didn’t see any harm in skipping them when she could. She felt less bitter about the tedious hour to follow now that she had a new project, but as she sat down at her harp, she knew she would play even worse than usual today, her mind still following the new surgeon even when her feet couldn’t.

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Updated: 19 June 2021 — 04:14

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