by Christina Marie
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
The seven dwarves came to the cottage with big smiles and even bigger news. They arrived home without difficulty; even with the autumn blizzards, their roads were now clear of all ice and snow, compliments of their resident winter witch.
The smell of apple pie wafted through the windows of their cottage, answering the call of their grumbling stomachs.
Inside was a mess. A pile of dirty dishes in the sink. Crumbs of burned curst covered the oven. A batter-splattered Snow White sat at their table, dipping her fork into a slightly-seared apple pie.
She pointed to the oven. “There’s seven more in there, all for you.”
Five of the dwarves cheered. Markus — nicknamed Grumpy — even managed a non-judgmental “Hmph” of approval. Doc —the dwarf with the blue coat — raised a bushy white eyebrow. “How many times did it take before you learned not to burn it?”
“I lost count. I’m a princess, not a cook.” She jabbed her fork in their direction. “Lucky for you, I’m a fast learner.”
Dock hung up his coat, hat and pick. “Well, we’ll need the pies for celebrating. The dwarves are with you.”
Snow White brightened. “All of them?”
“At least two hundred miners. We’ve set a date for next week, when most of the bosses will be out of town for a convention or festival or other. And we’ve sent word to our kin in the west, hoping to get their support.” Dock pointed a firm finger at Snow White. “We’ll be relying on you to freeze the roads so the royal army doesn’t come and skewer us with their big, pointy spears.”
“We’d appreciate not dying next week,” another dwarf agreed. It was Nicholas. He was always smiling.
The dwarves all had hopeful, eager expressions. Not a drop of fear remained from when she’d broken down their door.
Loyalty, Snow White thought, tastes much better than fear.
Snow White gave them a look. “Have faith, my dears. I’m not letting the army move a finger until summer.”
“Perfect!” Dock opened the oven, filling the house with the smell of crisp, golden pie. “Then let’s celebrate!”
* * *
Seven days after learning of Snow White’s survival, four days after the dwarves’ announcement to their princess, Recelia set out in the woods with a basket of poisoned apples.
Her back was stooped. Her face was a twisted mess of wrinkles. Her gray hair was thin enough that you could see her puckered scalp, so she pulled a dark hood over her head.
At least she won’t recognize me, Recelia thought.
She reached the cottage in two days.
* * *
Snow White stood at the table, looking over a map of the kingdom and its neighbors.
A messenger from the dwarves’ kin in the west had arrived yesterday. While nothing was official, the foreigners were interested in helping. If Snow White could take the mines tomorrow, then the Wessidan dwarves’ help would be all but guaranteed. Word had even reached the royal family of Wessidas, who’d wanted an excuse to attack the queen’s kingdom for ages. They would be Snow White’s next allies, as royal support would be instrumental...
Knock knock knock.
Snow White frowned and looked at the door. The dwarves couldn’t be back already. And they never knocked.
Knock knock knock.
Snow White dropped the temperature of the cottage to an uncomfortable chill. “Who is it?”
“Just an apple-picker,” came a withered old voice. “Care to buy one?”
Snow White licked her lips.
She opened the door. A shriveled old woman stood before her, huddled in a black cloak. There was something familiar about her...
The woman held up a basket of apples. “Two shillings an apple. But for you, my dear, perhaps the first one could be free.”
Those apples...Snow White had never seen an apple more red, more ripe.
The cottage warmed. Snow White plucked the top apple from the basket and smiled at the woman. “Don’t mind if I do.”
She took a bite.
And immediately regretted it.
Putrid poison slithered down her throat. The old woman smirked. The room went spinning. Everything went dark, and so very cold.
* * *
* * *
Princess Pascale of Wessidas didn’t particularly like traveling, even with the comfort and convenience of servants and horses. She especially didn’t like traveling in snow.
Might have to get used to that, she thought with a sigh.
The dwarves had spoken of a winter witch in the east. Even better, she was the royal — albeit exiled and presumed dead — princess Snow White. Negotiating with her deserved the highest respect and honor.
Which meant sending a member of Wessidas’s royal family.
Which meant Princess Pascale got to travel. In the snow.
But lately, there hadn’t been much snow. It’d gone from knee-high to barely grazing their ankles. Not even a light flurry graced their cheeks. In fact, on some days it was warm enough that the snow was melting.
Pascale tried not to think about that.
Eventually, she and her three servants found the dwarves’ cottage. Pascale sent one of her servants to ask after the princess while the rest of them watered the horses and stretched their weary legs.
A few minutes later, the servant came back with a grim-faced dwarf.
The dwarf bowed. “Princess. My name is Dock.” He straightened. “I’m sorry, ma’am. The princess is dead.”
Pascale frowned. “How?”
“We don’t know. We suspect a poisoned apple. We threw it in the woods at the base of a tree, that one.” He pointed to the black, necrotic remains of an evergreen.
Pascale huffed. “I have the gift of resurgence. Take me to the body.”
Dock shifted his feet. “This was some time ago, ma’am. Weeks. The body... might not be...”
Pascale’s heart sank. “Did you bury her?” she asked, resigned.
Dock shook his head. “We encased her in an above-ground coffin. I’ll show you.”
Pascale almost sagged with relief. There was a chance. A slim one, to be sure. But still a chance.
After ordering her servants to stay with the horses, Pascale followed Dock through the woods. They didn’t have to go far.
The coffin was a rich mahogany red, the color of martyrs. Golden letters inscribed on the side read, Snow White, Princess of Winter.
“How did you find the money for this?” Pascale asked.
“We stole it,” Dock grumbled. “It was tricky, but we did it. She deserved far better.” He chuckled. “Even if she did try to kill us at first.”
Pascale decided to ask about that at another time. She approached the coffin.
The top was made of glass, so she could see inside. She pushed away the snow and frost that’d gathered and studied the body inside.
Snow White’s coloring, while pale, wasn’t sickly or indicating of too much rot inside. There were no signs of maggots or flies or other creatures who may have tried to get into the coffin. No external signs of decomposition. She didn’t even look dead; she was as if asleep.
Pascale stepped back. “Open it.”
Dock moved to obey, and warned, “You may want to cover your nose.”
“I’m a necromancer,” Pascale said with annoyance. “I know about bodies.”
Dock opened the coffin.
Pascale sniffed, just to be sure. Then, “There’s no smell.”
Dock also sniffed, and frowned. “That’s odd.”
Pascale went up to the coffin and gently touched Snow White’s cheek. She yanked her hand back, hissing.
“What’s wrong?” Dock demanded.
“Cold,” Pascale said. “Like ice.”
And the cold preserves.
Pascale tucked her golden hair behind her ear and took a deep breath. She called upon her magic, her life energy pooling in her belly. She leaned over Snow White, opened her mouth, and gently breathed into her.
It took seven long seconds. Pascale counted.
Snow White gasped. Her eyes flew open. She shot upright and shoved Pascale off.
Immediately the temperature dropped to beyond freezing. The wind picked up and snow dropped from the sky. Pascale had never known such cold. She curled into herself, trying to preserve her precious heat.
Dock shouted something, Pascale didn’t hear what. Something about “safe” and “friend,” though nothing here seemed safe or friendly.
After a minute, the wind stopped. The snow stopped. The temperature went up again.
Pascale was still shivering. God, she wanted to make a bed in a fireplace and roast, because she was surely made of ice right now.
A hand touched her shoulder. Pascale looked up, meeting Snow White’s cool blue eyes.
“Not used to the cold, are you?” she asked dryly.
Pascale managed a smile. “Long s-summers in Wessidas,” she admitted.
Snow White rolled her eyes, but there might have been a smile on those red lips. She pulled her up. “Come on,” Snow White said. “Let’s get you to the cottage.”
* * *
It took three months for Recelia to regain even a small measure of her lost youth. Even then, even with the bodies and blood of every young woman she could find within the city’s walls, Recelia appeared forty-five rather than her preferred twenty-five.
She looked out the window; it was better than looking in the mirror. All she could see was white. The howling of the wind was almost enough to drown out the pounding on the castle gate.
Recelia wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. This blizzard reeked of magic. It sat over the city like a white stone. People couldn’t leave their homes without a shovel and pickaxe. The stone walls of the castle wore a second skin of thick ice.
Yet an army sat outside the city walls, unruffled but for a slight chill breeze. Recelia had spied on the soldiers with her mirror, listened to their grumblings of the cold. Then they would look upon the blizzard-sieged city and remind themselves that it could be so much worse.
Recelia hadn’t looked at anything else. Not even the army’s commander. She knew they would sit there until the city starved or froze to death. Let them sit. She would die a queen. A beautiful queen.
A servant ran into her chambers, dropping to his knees more from exhaustion than respect. “Your Majes—”
“I know,” Recelia said. “The people who are strong enough to move are at the castle gates demanding my head. You’d have to be deaf not to hear that racket.” She turned to the servant, a thin boy with dark brown curls. “I would find a good hiding place if I were you.”
The boy barely remembered to bow before he left. The pounding on the gates boomed down the halls before the doors to the chambers closed behind him.
Recelia went to the mirror, shivering in her fur coat. The iron taste of the last girl’s heart was thick in her mouth. She’d hidden in the belly of the castle for days until the guards had found her. The last woman of the kingdom, besides Recelia herself.
It’s not so bad, Recelia thought, tucking her hair behind her ear. There was some gray dappling her golden locks, and a few laugh lines that were deeper than she would’ve liked. But she wasn’t ugly. Some men preferred a more mature look, anyway.
It’s not like there are any women in the kingdom who can challenge me now, she thought dryly.
It took a while to say the spell with chattering teeth, but she managed: “Mirror, mirror, on the wall. Who’s the fairest of them all?”
The mirror swirled, then turned white.
At first, Recelia didn’t realize what she was seeing. Then she made out a few snowflakes and realized she was looking through the blizzard.
The scene shifted and she was looking outside the city, just on the edge of the storm. Seven dwarves and a blonde woman stood behind a second woman. The dwarves and the blonde were all covered head to foot in coats, scarves, boots, and hats, trembling. The second woman had a blue sleeveless dress, revealing skin pale as marble. A crown of ice settled atop her black hair. A fresh gust of cold wind blew from her rosy lips.
The castle gates burst open. The queen didn’t notice.
Recelia narrowed her eyes at Snow White, the snow sorceress, the upstart. “You bitch.”
Copyright © 2016 by Christina Marie