by Christina Marie
Once upon a time, the queen executed a necromancer.
Not because he’d brought someone back from the dead, blowing the breath of life into his child. The girl had succumbed to sickness before the doctor had arrived. Her father had simply bought her time so the doctor could administer his medicine.
No, the queen executed him because the use of any magic under any circumstances was forbidden. Unless it was used by her. She could be the only witch, wizard, warlock, sorcerer, what have you in the land.
She was very vain that way.
Her stepdaughter, the princess Snow White, watched the execution with annoyance. Idiot, she thought. He didn’t have to get caught. Any fear she felt was squashed, like an oversized beetle.
* * *
The trees were a myriad of sunset colors. A chill breeze ruffled the leaves and left goosebumps on everyone’s skin, but Snow White didn’t reach for her shawl. She ate her apple tarts in silence, watching the men practice swordplay in the yard while her ladies gossiped around the table.
“I hear the neighboring kingdom wants war,” one of them whispered. “The one to the west: Wessidas. They use magic there, even the commonfolk do.”
Another gasped. “That’s ridiculous!”
“I hear the prince asked for Princess Snow’s hand in marriage and was denied by Queen Recelia,” a third giggled.
Snow White gave her a look. “If a prince is chased away by that old woman, then he doesn’t deserve to be my husband.”
The noblewomen laughed. Their mirth had a sharp nervous edge.
Snow White waved away the laughter. “My royal stepmother will send me away soon enough. She likes being the only pretty girl in the room.”
“Well, then, she’ll have to banish us as well,” a lady said with a wink. “And the queen will have only ugly people to rule.”
Snow White raised her glass. “To the beautiful queen and her ugly subjects.”
There was a distinct feeling of relief when their glasses clinked, as if the day of their freedom had already arrived.
Snow White wondered if she should adopt her stepmother’s unusual methods of ruling when she became queen. She rather liked the taste of fear.
* * *
Queen Recelia sat in her chambers in front of a large, ornate mirror. It was one of only five in the whole world. Two here, one owned by another royal family, and the other two were lost.
A serving girl brushed Recelia’s blond hair. It should have turned gray and fallen out a decade ago, but it was as lush and glossy as it had been in her youth. Recelia sipped from a jeweled goblet. The serving girl tried not to look at its contents.
Behind them, servants scrubbed the last of the blood from the floor. One of them took the plate and knife that were smeared with red and bowed. “I hope dinner was to Your Majesty’s liking.”
“Redheads usually are,” Recelia replied between sips. “Such fire in their hearts. Bring me my dessert.”
The servant bowed and hurried out of the room.
Recelia drained the last of the blood from the goblet, licked her lips, and stood. “Out.”
She stood in front of the mirror, checking to make sure every strand of hair was in place. Then she chanted: “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”
The mirror’s surface rippled like a stone thrown in water, distorting the queen’s reflection. Then it stilled, reflecting a new image.
Every time she’d asked this question, Recelia’s face had re-appeared in the mirror. Usually it was a picture of her sitting regally on her throne, black crown on her head, bedecked in jewels and silks.
Now, there was a new face.
Skin as pale as snow. Lips as red as blood. Hair as black as a raven’s wing.
“Snow White,” Recelia hissed.
* * *
The huntsman doggedly cut a path through the snow, deeper into the forest.
Snow White followed, the wind whipping at her petticoat and skirts. The cold didn’t bother her. The lack of guards did.
“Why have you brought me out here?” she asked, again.
“Queen’s orders,” the huntsman answered, again.
Snow White looked back. She couldn’t see the castle through the trees.
She turned back to the huntsman and concentrated. She blew a gust of icy wind at him. She called the light snowstorm that spread over the land to her, bringing it tighter and tighter over the forest until it was a raging blizzard slicing through the trees. The huntsman shivered so violently that he dropped his hiking tools.
When he was too cold, too numb to shiver anymore, Snow White ordered the storm to cease.
Everything was still. Not one bird chirped. Not one creature stirred. Neither witch nor huntsman moved.
“Turn around,” Snow White ordered.
The huntsman obeyed, his eyes glazed with frost.
“What are your orders?”
“To bring your heart to the queen.”
Snow White shivered, and not from the cold. She knew this day would come. She just hadn’t expected Recelia to be so... dramatic.
But it made sense. Recelia didn’t have any quick way to frame Snow White for a crime that would warrant execution. Obviously she still didn’t know about the winter witchcraft; Snow White had never been more grateful for her stepmother’s lack of interest in her. The blatant murder of a royal person would compromise Recelia’s reign. It could very well be the tipping point that led to a violent uprising of the people.
Therefore, the poor princess would go for a walk in the woods and get lost, never to be seen again.
Icy hatred filled Snow White’s heart. Recelia had all but banished her from her home, her kingdom.
Snow White hadn’t noticed how cold she’d made it until the huntsman dropped at her feet.
She looked up and saw the trees coated with ice. With a sigh she raised the temperature. She prodded the huntsman with the tip of her boot.
He whimpered. Still alive, then.
“Get up,” Snow White ordered.
The huntsman pulled himself to his feet with agonizing slowness.
“Go hunting. Find and kill a deer. Bring its heart to my stepmother and tell her it’s mine. She won’t know the difference.”
“Yes.” The huntsman walked away.
He would probably die of frost sometime tonight. No matter. Either by blizzard or by murder, Snow White was officially dead.
* * *
She walked for days.
Food was easy. She just had to make it cold enough to kill what small creatures she saw, or at least slow them down so she could catch them.
Though she didn’t starve, Snow White longed for her castle, her kingdom. The ladies who served her and the gentlemen who courted her. The people who lined the streets to watch her pass, cheering and waving...
The people would rally to her cause, without a doubt. They wanted the tyrant queen gone. The problem was, they weren’t an army. Snow White needed an army to win her kingdom, and she needed money for an army.
On the third day, she changed direction and set out for the dwarves.
The cabin was easy to find. It was just west of the mines, and its heat and fire glowed in the wintery forest. Never mind that it was only a month into autumn; there was two feet of snow on the ground. A fresh burst of icy wind whipped through the trees every time Snow White so much as thought of Recelia.
Snow White knocked on the door. She smelled spiced pork roasting inside. Her stomach growled.
A dwarf opened the door and studied her with suspicious eyes. “What do you want?”
“Shelter,” Snow White answered. “Food and tea would be nice, too.”
“We don’t welcome strangers.” He closed the door.
Snow White frowned.
The door crashed open with the force of a blizzard wind. The dwarf, who hadn’t moved out of the way in time, hit the ground with a loud “Oof!”
Snow White strode into the cottage and glanced around. There were six other dwarves, seven in total. Miners, all of them. Some reached for their pickaxes.
“Don’t,” she warned. The temperature in the cottage dropped to below freezing. “It would be awfully rude of me to kill my hosts.”
One of the dwarves wore a blue coat. He huddled in it, shivering violently, and said through chattering teeth: “S-Snow W-White.”
Snow White stared at him. “How do you know my name?”
“W-We’ve h-heard rumors. And y-your d-d-dress.”
Snow White looked down at her ragged clothes. Despite the mud and tears, it was still made of the finest silk and expertly sewed. A rather obvious giveaway.
“M-make it s-stop. P-Please,” the dwarf pleaded. “We w-won’t hu-hurt you.”
Snow White breathed in through her nose, as if she could smell their fear and desperation. It was oddly soothing. No wonder her stepmother liked it.
If she wanted to, Snow White could drop the temperature so low their blood would freeze.
If she wanted to, she could summon a harsh wind to blow them out of the house and cover the cottage with a thick layer of ice, locking them outside.
But then she’d have an empty cottage. What she needed was allies.
Snow White raised the temperature to normal. All the dwarves huddled to the fire, warming their hands and shivering.
She closed the door. “Who else knows?”
“Very few people know,” Blue Coat said. “Many suspect. Your grandmother on your father’s side was a witch. Your great-grandfather on your mother’s was a sorcerer. And winter seems to agree with you; we’ve all heard of you staying outside in even the worst blizzard.” He gave a wry smile. “You’re supposed to be dead.”
Snow White crossed her arms. “My queen stepmother ordered my death.”
“Aye, I can imagine why,” another dwarf said dryly. He was the one who’d opened the door. “Why are you here?”
“Because the dwarves have been kept down by Recelia for years. None of the gold you mine makes it into your own pockets. You’re forced to work all day every day until you die.”
“And if you help me, I’ll become queen and end it.”
The dwarves smiled. “Then why didn’t you say so? Come, sit by our fire! Or... by the open window, if you prefer...”
* * *
“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”
* * *
Recelia could barely see the floor through the shattered glass and shredded linens. It only served to annoy her; she wanted bleeding flesh beneath her fingernails. Shredding the bedding hadn’t done enough to quell the blodlust. Jagged cuts tore the bottom of her feet and she relished the pain.
She took a deep breath through her nose and out of her mouth. Snow White’s damning image was still seared in her brain. Recelia shifted the mirror’s shards with her toes, lamenting the amount of time it would take the servants to clean this up and bring in the other mirror.
The braver servants peaked into her room. She turned on them. “Find the huntsman who betrayed me. And send for the executioner.”
“The huntsman is already dead, Your Majesty,” the servant said. “He died of the cold.”
Recelia cursed. You can’t trust anyone around here to even survive a simple task. You have to do everything yourself.
God, she hated this part.
“I will be leaving for the woods in seven days,” Recelia announced. “You will tell no one. When I leave, you will make sure I have a basket of fresh apples. The biggest, juiciest ones you can find. Not so much as a bruise on any of them.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” The servant hesitated. “Will you be wanting your evening meal now?”
Recelia looked at her reflection in the window. Her lush, golden locks were already showing streaks of gray, and her face was getting wrinkles.
“No,” Recelia sighed. “And I won’t eat another heart until I’m back from the forest.”
As the servants left, Recelia went to one of her smaller bookshelves. Unlike the others, this wasn’t used for books. Every shelf was covered in vials, all of various sizes and shapes and colors. Poisons. All of them.
“Let’s see...” Recelia’s hand drifted over the vials. “Which one will go best with a shiny, red apple?”
* * *
Copyright © 2016 by Christina Marie