There were once three sisters, Spring, Summer and Winter, who loved each other very much. They lived in a turbulent land full of smoking volcanoes and roaring rivers. The countryside, subject to earthquakes, avalanches and floods, changed constantly. But they were hardy children, the daughters of Titans – rugged, immortal and wild and they thrived in their tumultuous world.
Alas, their happy idyll could not last. Unbeknownst to them, epic power struggles, played out on a cosmic scale across the breadth of the universe, were taking place as Titans went to war. Near the end of the conflict, the three unruly girls, bound, gagged, but still defiant, were dragged before the Olympic high court to learn their fate.
“So you are the infamous nieces I’ve heard so much about,” roared Zeus. “Your father begged for your lives on his knees. I licked your mother’s tears from her cheeks as she cried mercy for you. Look at you! Ragtail hoydens worth nothing, I wonder what they saw in you. “
Truthfully, the girls did resemble little goblins. Their hair, matted with dirt and leaves had tangled itself into long stiff locks that stuck out from their heads in spikes; their dry chapped lips pulled back from sharp white teeth in feral snarls; rents in their ragged clothes revealed half- healed scratches, fading bruises, and a pattern of old scars that crisscrossed their legs from scabby knees to dirty bare toes.
He hesitated, pondering what to do. The three girls were immortal, their ancestry divine. The parents’ strengths had combined to breed true. None of the girls had inherited the fatal flaws that allowed him to do away with his siblings.
“Since, you love your little planet so much, you will remain there forever! Each of you will have a third of the year to do with it as you will. But you can never meet again. I won’t have you conspiring. As soon as your time is up you will fall so deeply asleep and nothing will wake you until your turn comes round again. Now go!”
He pointed a golden finger at the door but the girls sat down on the marble floors and began to wail piteously. Tears ran down their cheeks in muddy rivulets washing the grime from their fine-textured skin. As a glimpse of the girls’ true beauty shone through, a gasp of surprise travelled round the throne room.
Instantly, Zeus’s wife stepped between them, gathering the girls into her arms, pressing their wet faces into her ample bosom.
“Couldn’t they have just one day with me to say good-bye?” demanded Hera. “They need baths and supper. They’ve lost their parents, after all. Let me cut off this dreadful hair and fit them out with proper clothes. These are royal children Zeus, blood of your blood.”
The more sentimental gods nodded in agreement. A murmur of sympathy swept through the court.
“Fine,” growled the king. He waved his hand negligently and Hera hurried off stage, dragging the girls along still clutched tight in her strong grip.
Once outside, she shoved them into the arms of her waiting maids. “Take them away, shave their heads, clean them up, outfit them with sturdy sandals and cloaks and set them outside the gates at dawn.
Never return,” she whispered fiercely in each girl’s ear.
As it happened, their last night together fell on the winter solstice. Taking advantage of the reprieve granted by Hera’s jealous nature, the girls sat up all night, pooling their wisdom and weaving it into the inherent magic of the longest night. They had many skills learned during their long sojourn on Earth; growing up they played with fire, water, earth and air. They knew how to whistle the wind and tie it up in knots. They knew how to speak the language of the birds, and they knew how to shape-shift, taking on the form of every living being that inhabited their home.
The next morning they were pushed off Olympus. Shod in servant’s sandals, wearing cast-off clothes, they tumbled head over heels down the sacred mountain. At the bottom they embraced for a long moment. Thunder rumbled, lightening flashed. Flipping defiant fingers at the mountaintop, each set out in a different direction; two of them hunting caves in which to pass the long months of enchanted sleep.
Winter trudged on alone. She had a plan to follow; soil to prepare. The days would be lonely, the nights lonelier, but with all three working diligently at their allotted tasks, eventually the Earth would bloom, life would flourish, humanity would arise. And every solstice night, the magic they had woven and the disguise each had chosen would shield them from Zeus’s oversight. Spring would appear as a young human; Summer, as an apple tree; Winter, as a white hare. Every turn of the year, on the longest night, they would meet to celebrate their sisterhood and tell the stories of their season. Together they would roam their world, consider all they had wrought, and call it good.