So one day I’m in this discussion about how the prince in Cinderella is obviously under the effect of fairy magic and why didn’t his parents figure that out? That inspired me to look a little deeper into fairy tales and start teasing out some deeper thread. With that said, enjoy:
That day was so clear to her. It marked the beginning of an end, though she didn’t hold that idea at the time. No… instead she felt she was in the bloom of her power; the blush of spring. Hair sun-kissed, cheeks rose-red, eyes like calm pools. He called her Beauty but she was no fool. She knew that all things could be lost with time. No, she was just herself. As beautiful as a rose. As thorned as a briar. She smiled, perfect teeth concealing a perfect tongue and she laughed, wholly and delightfully. That name she would take for her own… rose-red, briar rose; Rose.
She had been with the heir to this land some time ago, not too long past, and she was still flush from their encounter. At the end of their too brief rendezvous, he had gifted her with a bouquet of unique, magnificent thorned blooms from his mother’s garden. His tribute to her name and nature. Holding them close, she found that spot by the river she remembered from her youth, down the path that led to the hill and the People that lived beneath it. Dark and strange and faithful People. Memories from a lifetime ago. But it was a good memory and, above all, safe, so she lay there, happily exhausted by the day and she let herself drift off to sleep on a patch of soft black earth within the sound of the bubbling water.
She dreamed, restless, unexpected.
Of long ago times and far thrown futures. Her hand flung out from her as she dreamed, thorn ripped, and the flowers scattered. Three drops of blood fell to the earth from a torn thumb. And in her swollen sleep, she whispered “Skin like snow, lips like blood, hair like night.”
The ones that live under the ground and in the trees and in the water and in the good clean earth heard her. They blessed her and the words she had spoken.
Rose found herself that day with child.
‡ ‡ ‡
She had decided the child would be born alone, as was the old way, out deep in the forest, where the roots of life itself ran deep and her grunts and sounds could not be heard by her people. In customs of ancient times, her family would be waiting a short ways off to aid her after the birth and protect her should anything go wrong. But her father had died young and her mother… she didn’t talk about her mother anymore. Rose believed in herself, in her strength, in the knowledge of the forest because of her time with the people under the Hill, her cousins and aunts and uncle not by birth but by need.
So here she was, her and her swollen belly and the child inside her straining to be released, to come into the world.
The child’s head crowned as a great cat appeared at the edge of the glen. It scented the blood and, in the way that cat-kind can do, it allowed its pleasure to be known. Food was near. The cat’s opinion, of course. The child’s mother had another notion. Rose snarled, both in pain and in frustration. She saw the cat fully, knew its intent. She would not give up, this close to bringing her daughter in the world. And then she laughed. That laugh that only the mad truly understand. She howled, much to the cat’s irritation.
Her howl was answered.
A pack of wolves drawn by blood and curiosity came to see what the fuss was about. At first they challenged the cat. A meal was to be had. This meal would be theirs. Or not, if the risk was too much. Snarls were met with ears bared back, a warning hiss, and teeth bared. The great cat was not here to play with some feral things. She wanted her food and she wanted it now. Rose howled again and the first among the pack came out, old and experienced. He sniffed the air again. He growled but it was different this time. This person he recognized. She was not a meal. She was kin. She was birthing.
She would be protected.
The pack charged across the glen, meeting the cat halfway. Its heft was more than them; it was older and more powerful. But they were determined and tenacious to the point of stupidity. Back and forth, so close, at times a hair’s width away from the cat’s prey. The next moment, almost back to the forest. Rose sobbed with effort. Her cries grew louder until they overwhelmed even the sound of the fight. Then a new sound burst through the air. Young, robust, vibrant. Skin like snow, hair like the night. Her child in the world.
The first among the pack watched as a strange claw the color of his stormy eyes flew through the air and embedded itself in the cat’s neck. Surprised, the cat stumbled back and then forward, slumping down for the final time. The youngest ones in the pack, still jumpy from the fight, nipped at the corpse, ripping at the fur looking for meat or a fight. The first looked to Rose and there she was, baby on her breast, fingers frozen in the same place as when they’d thrown the knife. The two stared at each other for a while, then the first chuffed, and signaled for the pack to leave. They left her in peace, dragging the meat towards the woods. The loss of the knife was worth it.
Snow White had been born.
Rose felt it swell in her and tears fell. She was a Lady now. The land accepted her as kin and blood and her lord waited for her, impatiently, at home.
She left joyfully, her daughter sleeping close to her heart.
‡ ‡ ‡
Something was wrong.
There was a chill in the air, in a land where in living memory people only remembered summer.
Rose’s child had grown to be a wonder, a dream made flesh. She had an impact on all who knew her but none more than her father, the crowned lord of the land, and her mother, the lady of the land. There were gifts in abundance at her home, for Snow White’s birthright, for her mother to commemorate her trials, for her father in exchange for a promise to keep and protect them until Snow came of age.
Among the gifts provided were ones from the Children of the River. Tall and fair and as enchanting as a summer sunset, they had given several to the lady Rose, among them a comb that would tease out bad thoughts, a set of leather lacings that tied themselves, a set of charms that would bring only beauty to the eye, and finally Rose’s favorite gift: the silver bowl. The bowl was, more often than not, her constant companion. In quiet times it would show her reflection. In others, the spirits of the land talked to her. So many of them were ones she was familiar with, from her youth. Robust and full of life and whimsy. It took her more than a week to find one that embodied the chill that lurked at the edges.
“Lonely spirit, mirrored there, is the world not full and fair?” she asked.
“Lovely lady, kind and cruel, as your troth fades, so fails the world.”
The tones in which it delivered the news was heartbreaking. Her troth—her loyalty and her fidelity—was the core of her very being. It was reflected in her face, in her looks. Her looks… She gazed at her reflection in the bowl.
Didn’t she look tired?
The effect startled her and she took time to contemplate it. The lines she hadn’t noticed before. The shadows underneath her eyes. Her hair, losing its color. The frown at the corner of her mouth. When had she lost faith in the world?
She did not feel like a cruel person. How could she be seen as cruel?
No. She had never lost her faith in the world. She understood that now.
Her faith had been taken from her.
There was something she never told anyone about her daughter. She loved her fiercely, as any mother, but the truth was–and it was a truth she turned over and over each night—quite often she didn’t like her daughter.
They were opposite in composition. Rose was always full of exuberance, opening her home to revels and celebrations, fiercely dedicated to the health of the people of her lands. Snow, on the other hand was quiet and focused. Her eyes were sharp and clear and incisive and a single word could cut the conversation to the bone. It was not pleasant arguing with Snow, and Snow’s sporadic blustery angers were already the things of legend.
Snow was not a bad person. She was simply different. And there was nothing her mother could do about it. Often Rose prayed it was a phase Snow would outgrow. But she also understand that might never be the case. It was frustrating but not important.
Those who took care of the land reflected the land and the land reflected them. If the family was divided… the land could die.
Rose’s attention to the problem grew with a deadly focus. It did not take long for her to confirm what the spirit had touched upon. As her daughter grew in vigor, her own strength failed. Her husband, her lord, would not listen to her, even when the leaves themselves began to change color from brilliant green to other less savory hues.
When his health began to fail, she knew what she would have to do.
She resisted it for so long. She combed her hair with the magic comb, removing the thoughts time and again until the comb itself dripped with poisonous intentions. It made no difference.
She couldn’t see that she had a choice.
Snow White had to die.
‡ ‡ ‡
It had been some time since she bled on her own, so she took a knife to her palm and raised it to the wind. The moon was a silent sliver overhead. She had shed her clothing at the edge of the glen to let the world know she was there.
And they answered.
She was shocked to see him at the edge of the forest. When she’d last seen him, at the birth of her child, he was old, first among his pack. But now he was younger, an adult full in his years. Somewhere in that time, he had adopted two legs and the body of a man. A horned mask covered his face but his stormy eyes and his pack-mates, now older, gave him away.
She made her demands. He did not approve and he made it known.
But she was Briar Rose. She was the lady of the lands. She would not let her words go unanswered.
For the land to live, Snow White must be taken to the far part of the forest, where life was rooted deepest and she must die.
She heard a deep snarl come from his chest but she silenced it. With tears, she showed that the burden of this rested on her just as heavily as on him. And in the end, he gave in. She let him go.
The deed would be done.
‡ ‡ ‡
Her daughter disappeared the next day.
On her bed the next night, the Huntsman left a gift to remind her of what she had done.
A heart. Snow’s heart.
It reminded her of an innocent doe.
She cried for a week and none could staunch her pain. And then she was done with tears forever.
‡ ‡ ‡
Her husband was dying.
The world was dying.
Despite her sacrifice, nothing had changed.
Finally, she returned to the bowl. It had been an age since she’d used it and her friends, those spirits who had filled her with laughter and humor, were gone or hidden or lost.
The answer they gave to her queries was the same. It led her to only one conclusion. Snow White was still alive. Whether the Huntsman had betrayed Rose or not made no difference. Somehow, Snow had made her way to the People Under the Hill, her relatives and her aunts and uncles.
It was… frustrating, to say the least, that those same relatives had not bothered to mention this to Rose.
Snow was living currently with the dun men, who mined and crafted and worked metals and jewels for the people. It seemed to be a comfortable arrangement but it was obvious that with her still alive, her influence on the land was still spreading. The dun men, by tradition, would not interfere.
The leaves were falling, and Rose was prepared to sacrifice anything to save them. An exchange of years off her life for the land could likely bring summer again. Giving up her time wasn’t quite enough, though. She had to fool her daughter and for that, she needed to change her appearance. Rose used simple mummer’s art to disguise herself and her voice. Playing the part of the wandering trader, she gifted her daughter with the magical laces. Her hands shaking—what a relief and a horror to see her daughter so strong, so vigorous—she helped lace her daughter into a new vest… and then quietly commanded the laces to bind her. She fled as her daughter reached out for help, death swiftly approaching.
It would have worked. It should have worked. But later Rose found out that the dun men had been driven from their mine. Knockers pounding on the walls, making it unsafe. So they came home early for lunch and they found Snow not breathing. They cut the laces with a fish boning knife and brought her back.
The dun men were no fools. They knew something unseemly had happened and foul magic had deliberately entered their home. They hunted the forest for the wandering traveler but could not find her. Rose had covered her tracks well. They did not tell Snow that the actions of the lacing was intentional. Life went on, for Snow at least. The world was still dying.
‡ ‡ ‡
The next time, Rose waited until Snow went to market. While the dun men protecting Snow were distracted by apples ripe for the cidering, she appealed to Snow’s vanity and presented her with a comb, the same comb that the Lady filled with her poisonous intentions. Stunned by its lethal beauty, Snow traded for it and walked off with it in her hair. She barely made the edge of the market before the tines of the comb pierced her scalp and the poison sank deep into her.
The dun men returned her to their home as quick as they could. They pulled the comb from her head and treated her feverish state with unusual mushrooms, herbs and hot stones. Some returned to the market, suspicious, but they found no vendors selling combs.
This time they prepared. They gifted Snow with charms to protect her from magical attack. In their foolish pride, as hosts, they didn’t tell her how close she’d come to death. They were confident in their skills. That proved to be a mistake.
‡ ‡ ‡
Snow was out walking the forest when she heard unmistakable sounds of delight. Then she saw the old woman, basket full of apples, coming through the forest. The two talked and Snow was surprised how much she liked this grandmother, how much they shared in common. As the two conversed, the old woman wound a bracelet of holly and lavender and marigold around Snow’s wrist. A gift, the grandmother said, for such a fine young lady. The grandmother told Snow in the most convincing terms that she had found a branch on a tree in the forest that, for this season and this season only, produced sweet apples. It was a rare find and such a gift this late in the year! A gift she was also willing to share…
Snow knew that the charms given to her by the dun men saved her from hostile magic. She had faith in their skills and their protection. So, she picked an apple from the old woman’s basket and she bit into it with relish.
The moment the soured apple, picked from the courtyard of her dying father, hit Snow’s throat, she began to die.
The charms Rose had wound around Snow were old ones, a gift from Snow’s birth set to only allow its user to recognize beauty. Not hostile magic at all. Rose stared at her daughter’s last moments with a deep regret. She had won.
Snow White was dead.
The world was saved, wasn’t it?
‡ ‡ ‡
In a silent castle, in a silent land, a lonely woman sat on a throne of stone.
In her courtyard were the mourners for her husband’s funeral.
In her forest lay the corpse of her daughter. As was their custom, the dun men gave Snow White’s body to the river.
The lord was dead.
The world was dead.
Snow White lay silent in shallow, translucent ice as the waters froze over.
Rose’s white-haired howl of grief was enough to shake the world. Nothing grew. The forest floor was covered in a crust of snow that nothing could penetrate.
The dun men finally sought out who had broken tradition, who had come to kill their beloved Snow White, their adopted cousin. They found Rose, all alone.
When they came for her, she offered no resistance and followed them into the lands under the Hill into the Dark.
‡ ‡ ‡
The howls of his brothers and their various complaints were loud. At times like this, the Huntsman regretted giving up his fur for his current form. In his defense, it was a useful body and it was taking years off his age. He was supposed to be hunting for food for his people but the land was stubborn. Honestly, he wasn’t searching for food so much as absolution.
He had been party to a murder and the stain had never left his heart.
The sun was rising on a fruitless, bitter night when he came across the river. And much to his shock, there she was. The thorn that had turned inside him. Snow White, frozen and gone. His knees failed him and he found himself by her side, above her, weeping.
The mask—that crown he so proudly wore—he couldn’t bear it any more. He removed it and let hot tears spill like years onto the ice. And under that gentle, heartfelt pain, the ice melted. When he saw her forehead, unburdened by ice, he understood he was younger than he once was and that the mantle of the land had passed to him. Its responsibilities he shouldered and accepted gladly, in her name.
In gratitude, he placed one sun-touched kiss upon her forehead. And she awoke. Transformed… hair sun-kissed, cheeks rose-red, eyes like calm pools. She looked out and she saw him as she rose, slowly, from the water into a new life.
As spring to summer. As fall to winter.
“Beautiful.” He said. The word rolled over her. It was important but not the whole of the story.
Her love had come. The world would live again.
She would live again.
She smiled. The day was becoming so clear to her.
It marked the end of a beginning.