We left little Gerda at the mercy of the Robber Queen who had drawn her dagger and was about to kill her. But this is only the start of the third and final part of this magical story by Hans Christian Andersen - so presumably she must continue on her journey North to the find her lost playmate, Kay.
The close of the story is the most magical yet, taking us across the frozen landscapes of Finland and Lapland under the dazzling Northern Lights - to the palace of the Snow Queen.
If you are looking for more illustrations, try these gorgeous ones by Vladyslav Yerko.
Proofread by Claire Deakin.
Read by Natasha Duration 19.21
"You shall not kill her!" Cried her little daughter. "She shall play with me. She shall give me her muff and her beautiful dress, and she shall sleep in my bed."
The little robber girl was as big as Gerda; but was stronger, broader, with dark hair and black eyes. She threw her arms around Gerda and said, "They shall not kill you, so long as you are not naughty. Aren’t you a princess?"
"No," said Gerda, and she told all that had happened to her, and how dearly she loved little Kay. The robber girl looked at her very seriously, and nodded her head, saying, "They shall not kill you, even if you are naughty, for then I will kill you myself!" She dried Gerda’s eyes, and stuck both her hands in the beautiful warm muff.
The little robber girl took Gerda to a corner of the robbers’ camp where she slept. All around were more than a hundred wood pigeons which seemed to be asleep, but they moved a little when the two girls came up. There was also, near by, a reindeer which the robber girl teased by tickling it with her long sharp knife.
Gerda lay awake for some time. "Coo, coo," said the wood pigeons. "We have seen little Kay. A white bird carried his sledge; he was sitting in the Snow Queen’s carriage which drove over the forest when our little ones were in the nest. She breathed on them, and all except we two died. Coo, coo!"
"What are you saying over there?" Gerda cried. "Where was the Snow Queen going to? Do you know at all?"
"She was probably travelling to Lapland, where there is always ice and snow. Ask the reindeer."
"There is capital ice and snow there!" Said the reindeer. "One can jump about there in the great sparkling valleys. There the Snow Queen has her summer palace, but her best palace is up by the North Pole, on the island called Spitzbergen."
"Oh Kay, my little Kay!" Sobbed Gerda.
"You must lie still," said the little robber girl, "or else I shall stick my knife into you!"
In the morning Gerda told her all that the wood pigeons had said. She nodded. "Do you know where Lapland is?" She asked the reindeer.
"Who should know better than I?" Said the beast, and his eyes sparkled. "I was born and bred there on the snow fields."
"Listen!" Said the robber girl to Gerda. "You see that all the robbers have gone; only my mother is left, and she will fall asleep in the afternoon – then I will do something for you!"
When her mother had fallen asleep, the robber girl went up to the reindeer and said, "I am going to set you free so that you can run to Lapland. But you must go quickly and carry this little girl to the Snow Queen’s palace, where her playfellow is. You must have heard all that she told about it, for she spoke loud enough!"
The reindeer sprang high for joy. The robber girl lifted little Gerda up, and had the foresight to tie her on firmly, and even gave her a little pillow for a saddle. "You must have your fur boots," she said, "for it will be cold; but I shall keep your muff, for it is so cosy! But, so that you may not freeze, here are my mother’s great fur gloves; they will come up to your elbows. Creep into them!"
Gerda cried for joy.
"Don’t make such faces!" Said the little robber girl. "You must look very happy. Here are two loaves and a sausage; now you won’t be hungry!"
They were tied to the reindeer, the little robber girl opened the door, made all the big dogs come away, cut through the halter with her sharp knife, and said to the reindeer, "Run now! But take great care of the little girl."
Gerda stretched out her hands with the large fur gloves towards the little robber girl and said, "Goodbye!"
Then the reindeer flew over the ground, through the great forest, as fast as he could. The wolves howled, the ravens screamed, the sky seemed on fire.
"Those are my dear old northern lights," said the reindeer, "see how they shine!" And then he ran faster still, day and night.
The loaves were eaten, and the sausage also, and then they came to Lapland. They stopped by a wretched little house; the roof almost touched the ground, and the door was so low that you had to creep in and out.
There was no one in the house except an old Lapland woman who was cooking fish over an oil lamp. The reindeer told Gerda’s whole history, but first he told his own, for that seemed to him much more important, and Gerda was so cold that she could not speak.
"Ah, you poor creatures!" Said the Lapland woman. "You have still further to go! You must go over a hundred miles into Finland, for there the Snow Queen lives, and every night she burns Bengal lights. I will write some words on a dried stockfish, for I have no paper, and you must give it to the Finland woman - for she can give you better advice than I can."
When Gerda was warmed and had something to eat and drink, the Lapland woman wrote on a dried stockfish, and begged Gerda to take care of it, tied Gerda securely on the reindeer’s back, and away they went again. The whole night was ablaze with Northern Lights, and then they came to Finland and knocked at the Finland woman’s chimney - for door she had none.
Inside it was so hot that the Finland woman wore very few clothes; she loosened Gerda’s clothes and drew off her fur gloves and boots. She laid a piece of ice on the reindeer’s head, and then read what was written on the stockfish. She read it over three times until she knew it by heart, and then put the fish in the saucepan, for she never wasted anything.
Then the reindeer told his story, and afterwards little Gerda’s, and the Finland woman blinked her eyes but said nothing.
"You are very clever," said the reindeer. "I know. Cannot you give the little girl a drink so that she may have the strength of twelve men and overcome the Snow Queen?"
"The strength of twelve men!" Said the Finland woman. "That would not help much. Little Kay is with the Snow Queen and he likes everything there very much and thinks it the best place in the world. But that is because he has a splinter of glass in his heart and a bit in his eye. If these do not come out, he will never be free, and the Snow Queen will keep her power over him."
"But cannot you give little Gerda something so that she can have power over her?"
"I can give her no greater power than she has already; don’t you see how great it is? Don’t you see how men and beasts must help her when she wanders into the wide world with her bare feet? She is powerful already, because she is a dear little innocent child. If she cannot by herself conquer the Snow Queen and take away the glass splinters from little Kay, we cannot help her! The Snow Queen’s garden begins two miles from here. You can carry the little maiden so far; put her down by the large bush with red berries growing in the snow. Then you must come back here as fast as you can."
Then the Finland woman lifted little Gerda on the reindeer and away he sped.
"Oh, I have left my gloves and boots behind!" Gerda cried. She missed them in the piercing cold, but the reindeer did not dare to stop. On he ran until he came to the bush with red berries. There he set Gerda down and kissed her mouth, and great big tears ran down his cheeks, and then he ran back. There stood poor Gerda, without shoes or gloves in the middle of the bitter cold of Finland.
She ran on as fast as she could. A regiment of gigantic snowflakes came against her, but they melted when they touched her, and she went on with fresh courage.
Now we must see what Kay was doing. He was not thinking of Gerda, and never dreamed that she was standing outside the palace.
The walls of the palace were built of driven snow, and the doors and windows of piercing winds. There were more than a hundred halls in it, all of frozen snow. The largest was several miles long; the bright Northern Lights lit them up, and very large and empty and cold and glittering they were! In the middle of the great hall was a frozen lake which had cracked in a thousand pieces; each piece was exactly like the other. Here the Snow Queen used to sit when she was at home.
Little Kay was almost blue and black with cold, but he did not feel it, for she had kissed away his feelings and his heart was a lump of ice.
He was pulling about some sharp, flat pieces of ice, and trying to fit one into the other. He thought each was most beautiful, but that was because of the splinter of glass in his eye. He fitted them into a great many shapes, but he wanted to make them spell the word "Love." The Snow Queen had said, "If you can spell out that word you shalt be your own master. I will give you the whole world and a new pair of skates." But he could not do it.
"Now I must fly to warmer countries," said the Snow Queen. "I must go and powder my black kettles!" (This was what she called Mount Etna and Mount Vesuvius.) "It does the lemons and grapes good."
Off she flew, and Kay sat alone in the great hall trying to do his puzzle. He sat so still that you would have thought he was frozen.
Then it happened that little Gerda stepped into the hall. The biting cold winds became quiet as if they had fallen asleep when she appeared in the great, empty, freezing hall.
She caught sight of Kay; she recognised him, and ran and put her arms round his neck, crying, "Kay! Dear little Kay! I have found you at last!"
But he sat quite still and cold. Then Gerda wept hot tears which fell on his neck which thawed his heart and swept away the bit of the looking glass. He looked at her and then he burst into tears. He cried so much that the glass splinter swam out of his eye; then he knew her, and cried out, "Gerda! Dear little Gerda! Where have you been so long? Where have I been?" And he looked round him.
"How cold it is here! How wide and empty!" He threw himself on Gerda, and she laughed and wept for joy. It was such a happy time that the pieces of ice even danced round them for joy, and when they were tired and lay down again they formed themselves into the letters that the Snow Queen had said he must spell in order to become his own master and have the whole world and a new pair of skates.
Gerda kissed his cheeks and they grew rosy; she kissed his eyes and they sparkled like hers, she kissed his hands and feet and he became warm and glowing. The Snow Queen might come home now; his release – the word ‘Love’ – stood written in sparkling ice.
They took each other’s hands and wandered out of the great palace; they talked about the grandmother and the roses on the leads, wherever they came the winds hushed and the sun came out. When they reached the bush with red berries there stood the reindeer waiting for them.
He carried Kay and Gerda first to the Finland woman, who warmed them in her hot room and gave them advice for their journey home.
Then they went to the Lapland woman, who gave them new clothes and mended their sleigh. The reindeer ran with them until they came to the green fields fresh with the spring green. Here he said goodbye.
They came to the forest, which was bursting into bud, and out of it came a splendid horse which Gerda knew; it was the one which had drawn the gold coach ridden by a young girl with a red cap on and pistols in her belt. It was the little robber girl who was tired of being at home and wanted to go out into the world. She and Gerda knew each other at once.
"You are a nice fellow!" She said to Kay. "I should like to know if you deserve to be run all over the world!"
Gerda patted her cheeks and asked after the prince and princess. "They are travelling about," said the robber girl.
"And the crow?" Gerda asked.
"Oh, the crow is dead!" Answered the robber girl. "His tame sweetheart is a widow and hops about with a bit of black crape around her leg. She makes a great fuss, but that’s all nonsense. But tell me what happened to you, and how you caught him."
Kay and Gerda told her all. "Dear, dear!" Said the robber girl, shook both their hands, and promised that if she came to their town she would come and see them. Then she rode on.
Gerda and Kay went home hand in hand. There they found the grandmother and everything just as it had been, but when they went through the doorway they found they were grown up.
There were the roses on the leads; it was summer, warm, glorious summer.