Once upon a time, there lived a king and queen who longed for a child. Son or daughter, malformed or beautiful, they knew they would be content with whatever they were given. At last, they were blessed with a golden treasure of a daughter, a lovely girl who took after her mother's beauty (though everyone said she had her father's eyes).
At the princess's christening, the king invited all the wizards of the land, as the custom was, that they might bestow the new princess with magical gifts. One by one the wizards gave the princess magical trinkets or devices she would use after she had grown somewhat. Others bestowed her with beauty, intelligence, kindness, and whatever other attributes a princess would need.
As the last wizard stepped forward to give his gift, the doors to the great hall burst open. A tall, austere witch strode in and a hush fell over the entire crowd of well-wishers. The king and queen realized their grave mistake: in their eagerness to invite all the wizards of the land, they had forgotten about the witches.
Now, most witches in those days were content to keep to themselves, brewing concoctions or else riding the night skies on broomsticks, occasionally venturing forth to curse some unsuspecting traveller. However, there was one witch who was much more sinister than the others. Her greatest delight was to show up, unwanted and uninvited, at christenings, weddings, and other such happy gatherings to spread as much misery as possible. When she heard of the grand christening to be given the new princess, quite apart from being angered at not being invited, she hastened off to the christening to satisfy her own cruel desires.
So when she appeared at the princess's christening, she had formulated a perfect plan. Walking right up to the princess's crib, she said, "On the princess's eighteenth birthday, she will be turned to ice for all eternity."
"Unless," interjected the final wizard, who had not yet given his gift, "a man finds a way to melt the ice around her heart, and then the spell shall be lifted."
The witch did not consider her plan thwarted, for she knew of no way to melt the ice in her spell. Therefore, she did nothing to stop this wizard from amending it. "However," she said, "I will give you one year once she turns to ice. Then I shall return and take her away."
When the witch had left, the king and queen were filled with grief at the thought they might have to part with their beloved daughter so soon. Still, they were thankful to the wizard for giving their daughter one last chance at life. They tried to reward him, but he refused all their offers, saying, "I may have just doomed your daughter and yourselves to a misery greater than before."
The years passed quickly, and the princess grew into a beautiful young woman. She embodied all the qualities the wizards had bestowed on her at her christening. Everyone agreed it was a great pity she would not truly live past her eighteenth birthday. The princess herself was painfully aware of how short her life would be, and strove to make every year worthwhile. She left an impression with everyone she met: the impression that life is precious and fleeting.
But no matter how many people she pleased, she could not prevent the inevitable. The morning of her eighteenth birthday dawned, and she knew her time had come. Before anyone else in the castle was awake, she went out into the castle garden and sat down on a large stone where she could watch the rising sun. It was in a beautiful, secluded part of the gardens, exactly where the princess wanted to spend the rest of her days. She watched the sun rise, and as soon as it cleared the mountains, she knew no more.
When the royal family awoke, the princess was nowhere to be found. They searched high and low, eventually finding her in the garden. The princess's skin had turned into a smooth, bluish ice. She sat on the stone, shoots of ice spreading down the stone and into the grass, like a cold blue statue. Nothing anyone said or did could make her move or respond at all.
The king sent out a royal decree that any man who could find a way to restore her would be given her hand in marriage. Many princes and sons of great lords came and tried every method they could think of. Some built great bonfires right next to her in the heat of midsummer. Others sought to melt the ice by magic. One prince went so far as to try to warm her with the warmth of his own body. Yet no matter what anyone did, the princess remained as she was.
The days and weeks rolled on, and no man was able to melt even the smallest crystal of ice on the princess's body. Each great man who came had a new idea of how he might melt the princess's icy heart, but all returned home eventually, defeated. Some sang songs sweet enough to make the very stones of the castle weep from their sheer beauty. Others made rousing speeches or told epic tales. Many proclaimed their ardent love for the princess, but their words fell on deaf ears. Even in her chill, unmoving state, the princess was more beautiful than any other maiden in the entire kingdom, and often it only took one look for a young man to become inflamed with passion. But no matter how they pleaded with her or how many tears fell onto her frozen cheeks, each one finally had to leave, brokenhearted.
Gradually, the princes and lords gave up. "It is impossible," they told the king. "She will never be restored." And so the crowds that once filled the court day in and day out trickled away till none tried their luck for the princess's hand. The king and queen resigned themselves for the worst and waited for the allotted year to end.
Then one day a young man, a shepherd by profession, came to the royal court. The courtiers began to send him away, but the king stopped them. "Bring him before me," he said. "Let us see what has brought a shepherd to my court."
So the shepherd was brought before him, and the shepherd bowed low to the ground. "O King," he said. "Word of your enchanted daughter has reached even my humble village, and the princess's plight has touched my heart. I seek permission to restore your daughter."
At this, the courtiers laughed, saying, "How could this peasant hope to break the spell, when all the princes and lords of this land and other lands could not?"
But the king silenced them. "Let this man do what he will. Surely, he can do no worse than the other young men."
When the shepherd was brought to the princess, he did not weep or swoon like the other men when struck by her beauty. He merely smiled rather sadly, bowed low, and said softly, "Greetings, Your Highness."
In the days that followed, the shepherd could always be found at the princess's feet. He often played his flute, or else talked to her in his simple way, not seeming to care that she never replied. He kept his sheep with him, watching over them as he sat by the side of the princess. He did not show any signs of the desperation or impatience many of the princes had, and after almost a month the courtiers decided he must not care about the reward. It seemed he simply enjoyed sitting in the princess's presence.
Indeed, he rarely left her side, even for a minute. At night, he lay down at her feet, refusing the offers to sleep in a warm featherbed in the castle. Servants from the kitchens brought meals to him, and the shepherd assured them he was quite content to remain beside the princess. The king and queen were not completely sure this young lad would succeed in breaking the spell, but they were sure their daughter would have appreciated the company.
At last, the eve of the princess's fateful nineteenth birthday approached, and all hope abandoned the king and queen. After visiting their daughter one final time, the queen said she could not bear to look at the princess any longer, and they left. But the shepherd remained, playing his flute and talking calmly as always. He remained awake all through the night, for he knew this would be the last time he could be with the princess, and he did not want her to be alone.
Just as the sun was rising to mark the end of the promised year, the witch appeared in the garden. She strode up to the princess and the shepherd and announced, "I have come to claim the girl, as the deal was."
The shepherd stood up in front of the princess, shielding her with his own body. Over the course of the weeks he had spent with the princess, he had come to love her deeply, much more so than any of the other young men.
The witch saw the true love in his eyes, and her heart filled with fear, for she remembered the age-old idiom: Love is the undoing of every spell. Few paid this saying much heed, but the witch was not about to take any chances. With her magic, she formed an arrow with a moonbeam for the shaft and pure hatred for the head. She drove this arrow directly into the shepherd's heart, and he fell dead at the princess's feet.
The shepherd's blood, still warm, ran over the icy toes of the princess. The princess slowly blinked, and the ice surrounding one of her eyelashes melted. A tiny drop of sparkling water fell onto the shepherd's chest. For the first time in a year, her hands moved, reaching down to pick up the shepherd's body. She held him close, his warm lifeblood melting the ice around her chest. The ice melted as she held his still-warm body close, the melted water running off her like a thousand tears. The water washed away the shepherd's blood, and his face was so peaceful that he might have been sleeping. The princess's heart ached inside her as she took his head in her hands. She bent her head over his and kissed his lips, and the sun broke over the mountains.
The witch shrieked with rage as she watched her spell breaking before her very eyes, and started forward to kill the princess by whatever means necessary. But just as she stepped forward, the shepherd rose to his feet, grasped a ray of the newly-risen sun, and stuck the witch down.
Later, when the princess and the shepherd presented themselves to the king and queen, the king offered the shepherd any reward he could name.
"I ask for no reward other than my lady's love. Without it, everything is worth nothing to me; with it, nothing is worth the world."
And so the princess and the shepherd were wed, and when the old king died the shepherd ruled the land. And everyone lived happily ever after.