Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar
5/21/17. After seeing that this story won the 2017 Nebula for Short Story today, I read it on the Uncanny Magazine website.
What happens when a woman who is magically tasked with walking until she wears out seven pairs of iron shoes meets a woman who is magically isolated on top of a glass hill until a suitor rides up the hill to claim her?
Tabitha walks across all sorts of terrain, hoping to wear out the soles of her iron shoes. She started with seven pairs and at the onset of the story, is around halfway through her long journey. One day, she comes upon a giant glass hill, atop which sits a girl.
Amira sits on a glass throne on a glass hill. Every day that is not too cold, lots of suitors attempt to ride horses up the hill to claim her as theirs, for her father is a king and she his only daughter. Instead of marrying her off to one of his rivals, and seeming to show favor on that one territory, Amira agreed to stay on top of this hill until someone can claim her. She is magically provided golden apples that sustain her while she waits.
When Tabitha sees the hill, she sees it as an opportunity to wear down her shoes, as it seems like unconventional materials wear the iron down faster than dirt. She reaches the top and both women are happy for the company.
Over time, as Tabitha stays for quite some time, they learn more about each other and their unique feelings of isolation come out.
Once upon a time, Tabitha fell in love with a bear. The bear turned into a man at times but he was abusive to her. Though she still loved him (or, as is the likely case, just thinks she loves him), he tells her that she may visit her mother but not speak of him, for he fears that her mother will speak ill of him. Tabitha speaks to her mother, who also sees the marks of abuse on Tabitha, and her mother suggests Tabitha burn his pelt so he will have to forever live as a man. When Tabitha does his, her husband is angry, and he gives her the pelt and seven pairs of iron shoes. It is only when she has worn out all the pairs that he will remain a man forever, he tells her. So she walks...
The two women talk through their feelings -- both in a cage of sorts that is partially of their own making. Together, they decide to help each other and to walk off the glass hill together. Amira gives Tabitha several golden apples to sustain her and hopefully help heal her mangled feet, as well as silken shoes. Tabitha agrees to "claim" Amira and help her end her life of magical aloneness.
Thoughts or Additional Info:
This story is one which really conveys how people get stuck in situations and, sometimes because they are alone, cannot see a way out or don't think there is one/they deserve one. Also, how many people strive to achieve goals only because they are what society seems to think is normal. Just because you chose something does not mean you have to live with it forever. You can choose again.
Winner of the 2016 Nebula Award for Short Story.
"Tabitha walks, and thinks of shoes."
Memorable Lines or Passages:
This whole story is very memorable and somehow achieves that fairy tale-esque vibe of being timeless.
fairy tale, literature, fantasy, iron shoes, glass hill, women, friendship, relationships, nebula winner, choice, love
I'm just a short story lover and voracious reader who wants to keep track of the shorts I read and help others remember the ones they've forgotten.