ADARA liked the winter best of all, for when the world grew cold the
ice dragon came.
She was never quite sure whether it was the cold that brought the ice
dragon or the ice dragon that brought the cold. That was the sort of
question that often troubled her brother Geoff, who was two years older
than her and insatiably curious, but Adara did not care about such
things. So long as the cold and the snow and the ice dragon all arrived
on schedule, she was happy.
She always knew when they were due because of her birthday. Adara was a
winter child, born during the worst freeze that anyone could remember,
even Old Laura, who lived on the next farm and remembered things that
had happened before anyone else was born. People still talked about that
freeze. Adara often heard them.
They talked about other things as well. They said it was the chill of
that terrible freeze that had killed her mother, stealing in during her
long night of labor past the great fire that Adara's father had built,
and creeping under the layers of blankets that covered the birthing bed.
And they said that the cold had entered Adara in the womb, that her skin
had been pale blue and icy to the touch when she came forth, and that
she had never warmed in all the years since. The winter had touched her,
left its mark upon her, and made her its own.
It was true that Adara was always a child apart. She was a very serious
little girl who seldom cared to play with the others. She was beautiful,
people said, but in a strange, distant sort of way, with her pale skin
and blond hair and wide clear blue eyes. She smiled, but not often. No
one had ever seen her cry. Once when she was five she had stepped upon a
nail imbedded in a board that lay concealed beneath a snowbank, and it
had gone clear through her foot, but Adara had not wept or screamed even
then. She had pulled her foot loose and walked back to the house,
leaving a trail of blood in the snow, and when she had gotten there she
had said only, "Father, I hurt myself." The sulks and tempers and tears
of ordinary childhood were not for her.
Even her family knew that Adara was different. Her father was a huge,
gruff bear of a man who had little use for people in general, but a
smile always broke across his face when Geoff pestered him with
questions, and he was full of hugs and laughter for Teri, Adara's older
sister, who was golden and freckled, and flirted shamelessly with all
the local boys. Every so often he would hug Adara as well, but only
during the long winters. But there would be no smiles then. He would
only wrap his arms around her, and pull her small body tight against him
with all his massive strength, sob deep in his chest, and fat wet tears
would run down his ruddy cheeks. He never hugged her at all during the
summers. During the summers he was too busy.
Everyone was busy during the summers except for Adara. Geoff would work
with his father in the fields and ask endless questions about this and
that, learning everything a farmer had to know. When he was not working
he would run with his friends to the river, and have adventures. Teri
ran the house and did the cooking, and worked a bit at the inn by the
crossroads during the busy season. The innkeeper's daughter was her
friend, and his youngest son was more than a friend, and she would
always come back giggly and full of gossip and news from travelers and
soldiers and king's messengers. For Teri and Geoff the summers were the
best time, and both of them were too busy for Adara.
Their father was the busiest of all. A thousand things needed to be done
each day, and he did them, and found a thousand more. He worked from
dawn to dusk. His muscles grew hard and lean in summer, and he stank
from sweat each night when he came in from the fields, but he always
came in smiling. After supper he would sit with Geoff and tell him
stories and answer his questions, or teach Teri things she did not know
about cooking, or stroll down to the inn. He was a summer man, truly.
He never drank in summer, except for a cup of wine now and again to
celebrate his brother's visits.
That was another reason why Teri and Geoff loved the summers, when the
world was green and hot and bursting with life. It was only in summer
that Uncle Hal, their father's younger brother, came to call. Hal was a
dragonrider in service to the king, a tall slender man with a face like
a noble. Dragons cannot stand the cold, so when winter fell Hal and his
wing would fly south. But each summer he returned, brilliant in the
king's green-and-gold uniform, en route to the battlegrounds to the
north and west of them. The war had been going on for all of Adara's
Whenever Hal came north, he would bring presents: toys from the king's
city, crystal and gold jewelry, candies, and always a bottle of some
expensive wine that he and his brother could share. He would grin at
Teri and make her blush with his compliments, and entertain Geoff with
tales of war and castles and dragons. As for Adara, he often tried to
coax a smile out of her, with gifts and jests and hugs. He seldom
For all his good nature, Adara did not like Hal; when Hal was there, it
meant that winter was far away.
Besides, there had been a night when she was only four, and they thought
her long asleep, that she overheard them talking over wine. "A solemn
little thing," Hal said. "You ought to be kinder to her, John. You
cannot blame her for what happened."
"Can't I?" her father replied, his voice thick with wine. "No, I suppose
not. But it is hard. She looks like Beth, but she has none of Beth's
warmth. The winter is in her, you know. Whenever I touch her I feel the
chill, and I remember that it was for her that Beth had to die."
"You are cold to her. You do not love her as you do the others."
Adara remembered the way her father laughed then. "Love her? Ah, Hal. I
loved her best of all, my little winter child. But she has never loved
back. There is nothing in her for me, or you, any of us. She is such a
cold little girl." And then he had begun to weep, even though it was
summer and Hal was with him. In her bed, Adara listened and wished that
Hal would fly away. She did not quite understand all that she had heard,
not then, but she remembered it, and the understanding came later.
She did not cry; not at four, when she heard, or six, when she finally
understood. Hal left a few days later, and Geoff and Teri waved to him
excitedly when his wing passed overhead, thirty great dragons in proud
formation against the summer sky. Adara watched with her small hands by
SECRETS IN THE SNOW
ADARA'S smiles were a secret store, and she spent of them only in
winter. She could hardly wait for her birthday to come, and with it the
cold. For in winter she was a special child.
She had known it since she was very little, playing with the others in
the snow. The cold had never bothered her the way it did Geoff and Teri
and their friends. Often Adara stayed outside alone for hours after the
others had fled in search of warmth, or run off to Old Laura's to eat
the hot vegetable soup she liked to make for the children. Adara would
find a secret place in the far corner of the fields, a different place
each winter, and there she would build a tall white castle, patting the
snow in place with small bare bands, shaping it into towers and
battlements like those Hal often talked about on the king's castle in
the city. She would snap icicles off from the lower branches of trees,
and use them for spires and spikes and guardposts, ranging them all
about her castle. And often in the dead of winter would come a brief
thaw and a sudden freeze, and overnight her snow castle would turn to
ice, as hard and strong as she imagined real castles to be. All through
the winters she would build on her castle, and no one ever knew. But
always the spring would come, and a thaw not followed by a freeze; then
all the ramparts and walls would melt away, and Adara would begin to
count the days until her birthday came again.
Her winter castles were seldom empty. At the first frost each year, the
ice lizards would come wriggling out of their burrows, and the fields
would be overrun with the tiny blue creatures, darting this way and
that, hardly seeming to touch the snow as they skimmed across it. All
the children played with the ice lizards. But the others were clumsy and
cruel, and they would snap the fragile little animals in two, breaking
them between their fingers as they might break an icicle hanging from a
roof. Even Geoff, who was too kind ever to do something like that,
sometimes grew curious, and held the lizards too long in his efforts to
examine them, and the heat of his hands would make them melt and burn
and finally die.
Adara's hands were cool and gentle, and she could hold the lizards as
long as she liked without harming them, which always made Geoff pout and
ask angry questions. Sometimes she would lie in the cold, damp snow and
let the lizards crawl all over her, delighting in the light touch of
their feet as they skittered across her face. Sometimes she would wear
ice lizards hidden in her hair as she went about her chores, though she
took care never to take them inside where the heat of the fires would
kill them. Always she would gather up scraps after the family ate, and
bring them to the secret place where her castle was a-building, and
there she would scatter them. So the castles she erected were full of
kings and courtiers every winter; small furry creatures that snuck out
from the woods, winter birds with pale white plumage, and hundreds and
hundreds of squirming, struggling ice lizards, cold and quick and fat.
Adara liked the ice lizards better than any of the pets the family had
kept over the years.
But it was the ice dragon that she loved.
She did not know when she had first seen it. It seemed to her that it
had always been a part of her life, a vision glimpsed during the deep of
winter, sweeping across the frigid sky on wings serene and blue. Ice
dragons were rare, even in those days, and whenever it was seen the
children would all point and wonder, while the old folks muttered and
shook their heads. It was a sign of a long and bitter winter when ice
dragons were abroad in the land. An ice dragon had been seen flying
across the face of the moon on the night Adara had been born, people
said, and each winter since it had been seen again, and those winters
had been very bad indeed, the spring coming later each year. So the
people would set fires and pray and hope to keep the ice dragon away,
and Adara would fill with fear.
But it never worked. Every year the ice dragon returned. Adara knew it
came for her.
The ice dragon was large, half again the size of the scaled green war
dragons that Hal and his fellows flew. Adara had heard legends of wild
dragons larger than mountains, but she had never seen any. Hal's dragon
was big enough, to be sure, five times the size of a horse, but it was
small compared to the ice dragon, and ugly besides.
The ice dragon was a crystalline white, that shade of white that is so
hard and cold that it is almost blue. It was covered with hoarfrost, so
when it moved its skin broke and crackled as the crust on the snow
crackles beneath a man's boots, and flakes of rime fell off.
Its eyes were clear and deep and icy.
Its wings were vast and batlike, colored all a faint translucent blue.
Adara could see the clouds through them, and oftentimes the moon and
stars, when the beast wheeled in frozen circles through the skies.
Its teeth were icicles, a triple row of them, jagged spears of unequal
length, white against its deep blue maw.
When the ice dragon beat its wings, the cold winds blew and the snow
swirled and scurried and the world seemed to shrink and shiver.
Sometimes when a door flew open in the cold of winter, driven by a
sudden gust of wind, the householder would run to bolt it and say, "An
ice dragon flies nearby."
And when the ice dragon opened its great mouth, and exhaled, it was not
fire that came streaming out, the burning sulfurous stink of lesser
The ice dragon breathed cold.
Ice formed when it breathed. Warmth fled. Fires guttered and went out,
shriven by the chill. Trees froze through to their slow secret souls,
and their limbs turned brittle and cracked from their own weight.
Animals turned blue and whimpered and died, their eyes bulging and their
skin covered over with frost.
The ice dragon breathed death into the world; death and quiet and cold.
But Adara was not afraid. She was a winter child, and the ice dragon was
She had seen it in the sky a thousand times. When she was four, she saw
it on the ground.
She was out building on her snow castle, and it came and landed close to
her, in the emptiness of the snow-covered fields. All the ice lizards
ran away. Adara simply stood. The ice dragon looked at her for ten long
heartbeats before it took to the air again. The wind shrieked around her
and through her as it beat its wings to rise, but Adara felt strangely
Later that winter it returned, and Adara touched it. Its skin was very
cold. She took off her glove nonetheless. It would not be right
otherwise. She was half afraid it would burn and melt at her touch, but
it did not. It was much more sensitive to heat than even the ice
lizards, Adara knew somehow. But she was special, the winter child,
cool. She stroked it, and finally gave its wing a kiss that hurt her
lips. That was the winter of her fourth birthday, the year she touched
the ice dragon.
THE RISING COLD
THE winter of her fifth birthday was the year she rode upon it for
the first time.
It found her again, working on a different castle at a different place
in the fields, alone as ever. She watched it come, and ran to it when it
landed, and pressed herself against it. That had been the summer when
she heard her father talking to Hal.
They stood together for long minutes until finally Adara, remembering
Hal, reached out and tugged at the dragon's wing with a small hand. And
the dragon beat its great wings once, and then extended them flat
against the snow, and Adara scrambled up to wrap her arms about its cold
Together, for the first time, they flew.
She had no harness or whip, as the king's dragonriders use. At times the
beating of the wings threatened to shake her loose from where she clung,
and the coldness of the dragon's flesh crept through her clothing and
bit and numbed her child's flesh. But Adara was not afraid.
They flew over her father's farm, and she saw Geoff looking very small
below, startled and afraid, and knew he could not see her. It made her
laugh an icy, tinkling laugh, a laugh as bright and crisp as the winter
They flew over the crossroads inn, where crowds of people came out to
watch them pass.
They flew above the forest, all white and green and silent.
They flew high into the sky, so high that Adara could not even see the
ground below, and she thought she glimpsed another ice dragon, way off
in the distance, but it was not half so grand as hers.
They flew for most of the day, and finally the dragon swept around in a
great circle and spiraled down, gliding on its stiff and glittering
wings. It let her off in the field where it had found her, just after
Her father found her there, and wept to see her, and hugged her
savagely. Adara did not understand that, nor why he beat her after he
had gotten her back to the house. But when she and Geoff had been put to
sleep, she heard him slide out of his own bed and come padding over to
hers. "You missed it all," he said. "There was an ice dragon, and it
scared everybody. Father was afraid it had eaten you."
Adara smiled to herself in the darkness, but said nothing.
She flew on the ice dragon four more times that winter, and every winter
after that. Each year she flew further and more often than the year
before, and the ice dragon was seen more frequently in the skies above
Each winter was longer and colder than the one before.
Each year the thaw came later.
And sometimes there were patches of land, where the ice dragon had lain
to rest, that never seemed to thaw properly at all.
There was much talk in the village during her sixth year, and a message
was sent to the king. No answer ever came.
"A bad business, ice dragons," Hal said that summer when he visited the
farm. "They're not like real dragons, you know. You can't break them or
train them. We have tales of those that tried, found frozen with their
whip and harness in hand. I've heard about people that have lost hands
or fingers just by touching one of them. Frostbite. Yes, a bad
"Then why doesn't the king do something?" her father demanded. "We sent
a message. Unless we can kill the beast or drive it away, in a year or
two we won't have any planting season at all."
Hal smiled grimly. "The king has other concerns. The war is going badly,
you know. They advance every summer, and they have twice as many
dragonriders as we do. I tell you, John, it's bad up there. Some year
I'm not going to come back. The king can hardly spare men to go chasing
an ice dragon." He laughed. "Besides, I don't think anybody's ever
killed one of the things. Maybe we should just let the enemy take this
whole province. Then it'll be his ice dragon."
But it wouldn't be, Adara thought as she listened. No matter what king
ruled the land, it would always be her ice dragon.
Excerpted from "The Ice Dragon" by George R. R. Martin. Copyright © 2013 by George R. R. Martin. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.