It’s been 4 months since I’ve written any stories, so I feel just a teensy bit rusty. But when I read the prompt for this weeks Flash Fiction, I immediately thought about how royalty inherit their power without having to actually earn it. Then I thought about how the evil queen married into her power in Snow White (possibly because I’ve been watching A LOT of “Once Upon a Time” on Netflix). Then I began to wonder, what if Snow White actually got to have some agency; to make the calls instead of having everything happen to her? What if she decided to rescue herself? This story is the result. Hope you like it!
Almost there. Neve pulled her cloak close around her as she reached the hallway to the queen’s bedchamber. There were two guards: one tall and skinny as a broomstick, complete with mousy blonde hair sticking up in all directions, the other, squat and fat and sound asleep, his ample backside drooping over the sides of the wooden chair in which he sat. She knew she was invisible—the magic cloak saw to that—but she still held her breath as she crept past the guards, holding the cloak against her body so as to not disturb the air.
“Eh! You feel that?” The skinny guard reached over and poked her companion with the butt end of her spear, narrowly missing Neve’s back. Neve froze. She wasn’t careful enough. Her heart stopped dead, then began to pound so furiously she was sure the guard could hear it.
“Uh?” the large guard grunted, and Neve could hear him shift in the chair. She crept forward as much as she dared, then turned her head towards him.
“Wake up, you great lazy oaf! I felt something, like someone going past. Only I don’t see anyone.”
“Jus’ a draft,” the other slurred, closing his eye again. “Castles are drafty.”
“Don’t you think I would know the difference between a draft and someone walking past?” Neve heard a creak as the slender guard rose from her chair. “I’m going to investigate, and if I find an intruder, I’ll be sure to inform her majesty that you were sleeping on the job. I’m sure she’ll be her usual understanding self.”
“All right, all right, let’s go check, then.” The larger guard slowly lumbered out of his chair, grabbing his spear. Neve had to fight every impulse to rush for the chamber door; instead, she flattened herself against the wall of the corridor, pressing her hand against her mouth to quiet her breathing. She waited until the guards passed her, then, heart still threatening to explode from her chest, she crept behind them, keeping far enough behind that hopefully they couldn’t hear the rustling of her clothing.
They paused in front of the heavy wooden door.
“After you,” sneered the fat guard. He stepped back, and so did Neve. The skinny one looked nervous.
“Er, maybe it was just a draft.” She also stepped back. “I wouldn’t dare wake the queen unnecessarily.” Damn it. Neve could go no further if one of them didn’t open the door. She would have to wait until they returned to their post; even then, they were likely to hear the door opening.
“Then again, if there is an intruder, and we did nothing, the queen would nail our nuts to the wall.” The skinny one stepped forward again, quietly easing open the door. She pointed to herself and the room, and then pointed at the other guard and further down the hallway as she slid through it.
Keeping a wide berth around the larger guard, Neve slipped past him and into the room, stopping just inside to ensure she didn’t walk into the other one. She expected it to be completely dark, but a single candle burned on a small table beside the bed. The emerald velvet curtains surrounding the bed were drawn shut.
The last time Neve had been in this room, the curtains had been a soft, white muslin. She remembered the mornings snuggled up beside her mother, watching the curtains glow brighter as the sun rose. But that was long ago.
The guard was several steps into the room, giving space for Neve to slide against the back wall to a corner without alarming her. The guard glanced around, shrugged, and then tiptoed backwards out of the room, carefully closing the door, leaving Neve alone with the queen. Her stepmother. The one responsible for every drop of misery that befell her since her mother died. The one who tormented her, turned her into a scullery maid, and then tried to have her killed. The one who robbed her of her birthright, then ruled the kingdom as a tyrant.
Neve took a couple of deep breaths, letting her anger and frustration harden into a white-hot rage. She pulled the hood of her cloak off as she drew her dagger from the sheath at her hip. Then she silently strode towards the bed.
“Snow White. I didn’t think you’d have the nerve.” The queen twitched the curtain aside, but did not rise from the bed.
“To come back here, or to kill you?” Neve raised the dagger as she neared the bed.
“Either. ‘The fairest in the land.’ ‘Pure as the driven snow.’ You were never designed to be a murderess.”
The queen’s laugh was a harsh stridor as she sat up. She looked nothing like the steely beauty she once was. Her eyes were ringed with dark circles and her entire face sagged. Her hair fell in limp grey strands over her bony shoulders. Her nightgown, the same emerald shade as the curtains, hung over her gaunt frame like a shroud. Neve gasped and took an involuntary step back.
“Happened to me? I spent so much time envying you. Your beauty. Your charm. Your goodness,” she spat. “I spent years watching you through my mirror, never noticing what it was doing to me. Not until you disappeared with those dwarves and I could no longer see you. Not until it was too late.” The queen stood, her back hunched, and raised her eyes to meet Neve’s.
“If you kill me you will get your revenge, yes, but you will set yourself on a path that leads right to this,” she croaked, pointing at her sunken chest. Neve lowered her dagger and took another step back. The queen pulled open a drawer of the bedside table and pulled out a green vial. “I never showed you a glimmer of kindness, Snow White, but allow me to offer you this one favour. My life is over; there is nothing for me now. Let me take this poison and die in peace. You get your kingdom back, but you get to keep your light. Your grace. Your beauty.”
Neve nodded. As she moved to pull the hood of the cloak on once more, the queen tipped back her head and drank the potion. Then she pulled her thin lips into an icy smile that froze Neve.
“Foolish girl! Do you think I would give up my power so easily? That I would give it to you? Your kindness, your compassion, has been your greatest weakness. Now watch what it has earned you.” Before Neve’s horrified stare, the queen grew taller and younger, transforming once again into her former self. Neve could feel her own back buckle on itself, could feel her muscles weaken. She raised her dagger but her eyes began to cloud over; she couldn’t see to aim. Her knees began to crumple; with the last of her strength, she hurled the dagger in the queen’s direction. Then she sank to the floor.
“No! You can’t! It’s not possible!” Neve didn’t have the energy to even lift her head, but she knew the blade struck home. She felt the thud as the queen fell, could smell the metallic tang of blood. Then, she felt the spell begin to wear off. Her back straightened, her limbs lengthened, and her energy returned. She sat up and looked at the dead queen. Then she pulled up the hood of her cloak just before the guards burst into the room.