Red as Blood (3)

Beginning: Part 1: White As Snow

Gina and Rolf slipped into the servants’ entrance between guard rotations. It was several hours after sunset, and even the maids had gone to bed. The kitchen was silent and completely dark. Gina had left her phone to charge in the car all day, and now used its light to guide them.

“This is madness,” Rolf hissed, for the fifth time that evening. Gina didn’t bother responding; he had made his opinion on her plan clear, yet, despite that, he hadn’t left.

“This way.” She led him up the stairs and into the main palace.

The hallways were eerily quiet, and every step on the polished floor echoed. Gina was glad she had traded her heels for a pair of Margaret’s slippers, even if they were a little big. She began to retrace her steps from that morning. At every corner, she stopped, listening for the sound of guards. Rolf had been able to tell her the guards’ numbers and rotation patterns for outside the palace, enabling them to reach the servants’ entrance unseen, but she knew nothing of what to expect inside.

Gina pulled a mini security camera out of the pocket in her apron, and placed it on a pedestal, next to a painted vase. The little black device was no larger than her thumb, and in the dark, it was invisible. Switching it on, she angled it around the corner. The display showed up on her phone, revealing an empty hallway. Satisfied, she turned it back to face the way they had come, and waved at Rolf to follow her around the bend. He skirted around the corner, giving the camera a wide berth. Gina had explained what the device was, and that it was harmless. He had not been entirely convinced.

When they reached Snow’s hallway, Gina set up another camera, using it to check that there were no guards waiting beside her door. There weren’t. She and Rolf approached the carved wooden door, pausing before it. Rolf looked at her with wide eyes, and she wondered if he was hoping she would reconsider. She knew he was deciding whether or not to leave, and she knew that she could not. She had spent her childhood dreaming of being Snow White; the fairy tale princess had helped her through the loss of her own mother, taught her that friends come in all shapes and sizes, and reminded her that it was never wrong to be kind. Now Gina needed to help Snow learn those lessons for herself.

Gina was the one who had been brought into their world, and helping Snow was her quest to undertake. Rolf had agreed to help, but she wouldn’t force him into it.

“Listen–” Before she could finish, Rolf covered her mouth. She heard footsteps, and pressed her hand over the phone light to block it. Shielding the screen, she switched to camera four, and saw three guards approaching. Her heart started to race and her eyes went up and down the dark hallway, looking for somewhere to hide, but there was nowhere. Snow’s room was at the end of the hall; the only way out was back the way they had come, right towards the approaching guards.

She wore her maid’s uniform, and might be able to bluff about her presence, but there was no hiding Rolf. Armed, and in his hunting leathers, there was no question that he was not meant to be there. Rolf tensed. His hand went to the knife at his belt. Gina assumed he knew how to use it, but the guards wore chainmail and carried broadswords. No amount of fancy dagger-work was going to overpower them.

Gina’s blood pounded in her ears, and she froze in place.

*  *  *

“What exactly does that entail, setting it right?” Rolf asked as they arrived back in the village, shortly before midday.

Gina parked the car behind Margaret’s inn, near the stables. The villagers continue to stare at the car, but now that they knew it moved and growled, none were willing to approach. Gina turned to Rolf, only then realising she was still wearing the maid’s uniform Martha had given her.

“Everyone is here; the king, Snow, the huntsman.” She looked pointedly at Rolf. “But there’s one missing, the queen. The king was supposed to remarry and give Snow a stepmother. But the stepmother sent Snow away into the forest. The huntsman was meant to kill her.” Rolf’s eyes widened. “But he didn’t” Gina added quickly. “He let her go, and she went to live with the dwarfs. Only, that never happened here. Snow’s been raised in the palace and pampered her whole life, and it’s made her a spoilt brat.”

“What is this story?” Rolf growled. “You make no sense, woman.”

“Snow White. In my world, it’s a fairy tale; a story we tell children.”

“Your world?”

Gina gestured to the car they were sitting in. “I think it’s pretty obvious that I’m not from around here. I don’t know how I got here. I don’t even know if I really am here. Maybe I’m in a hospital bed in a coma or something, who knows? But somehow, I wound up in this story, and I can’t help thinking that if I was brought here, it was so I could fix it.”

“You think I’m a story?”

Gina shrugged. “Well, we’re all stories, when you get down to it.”

Rolf shook his head, as if unable to take in her words. “Your accident has affected your mind. You speak madness, Gina.”

“No, I don’t and you know it.” She shifted her weight to better face him. “You know, deep down, you know that this world isn’t right. Help me put Snow on the right path, and we can make her into a queen these people can be proud of.” She could see he was considering it, but he wasn’t convinced.

Acting on sudden inspiration, Gina jumped out of the car. “I can prove it. I can prove I’m not crazy. If the car isn’t enough to convince you, how about this?”

She opened the trunk and pulled open the Solergeni box that her boss had been so desperate to receive. Gina dug past the packets of Solergeni panels, and instead pulled out the other miscellaneous electronics they had gathered to test the panels with during the demonstration. A number of small cameras, a portable sound system, and a tablet all came out of the box.

Taking the tablet back inside the car, she switched it on and flicked to the storytime app that was loaded on it. Swiping through fables, she opened the story of Snow White. The screen displayed an image of a black haired young woman, standing in the forest, surrounded by woodland creatures. The drawing was a poor imitation of the real princess, but it was still undoubtedly her.

Rolf seemed to have lost the capacity to speak. Gina was suddenly worried he might start hyperventilating, and wondered if showing him the story had been too much.

“Rolf? Rolf, just listen to me. Forget about how crazy this sounds, okay? Just forget about that and focus on me.” His eyes moved to her face, and she took that as a good sign. “We’re going to help these people. That’s all this is about, okay? We’re doing something to help these people have a better ruler, one who will look after them. You want that, right?” After a moment, he nodded. Gina smiled. “Good. Then let’s get inside, we’ve got some planning to do.”

Gina jumped out of the car again. She had to open Rolf’s door for him, as he hadn’t quite worked out how to use the handle. He still seemed shell-shocked, but she was able to load the Solergeni box, along with its contents, into his strong arms, and point him back towards the inn.

“Oh, and listen, I think it’s probably best if we keep this between us. We shouldn’t tell your family.”

That made him pause and look at her. “I have no family.”

Gina looked back at the inn, confused. “But, Margaret and the boys…I thought–”

Rolf shook his head with a smile. “You thought Margaret was my wife? Tell me, do I look to be old enough to have Brian as my son? There’s not ten summers between us.”

“Oh, um, right. I just–” Gina blushed and turned back towards the inn. Margaret’s oldest boy looked about twenty, and Rolf was indeed closer to his age, than to his mother’s. “It’s just, you all seemed to know each other.”

“Northwood is a small town,” he said, as Gina held the front door open. He brought the box inside and set it down on the table. The switch in topic seemed to have averted his shock, for which she was glad. She had a feeling, however, that convincing him of what they had to do next would not be so easy.”

*  *  *

Rolf pushed open Snow’s door. Grabbing Gina’s wrist, he dragged her inside, closing the door again as quickly, and quietly as possible. Gina tensed and spun around. A flash of movement at the edge of her vision caused her to jump. Rolf’s arm went around her waist, and his other hand over her mouth again. The movement had only been their reflections in the many mirrors.

Gina nodded that she was okay, and Rolf released her. She took a slow breath, trying to calm her heart rate. Charging into Snow’s room had not been part of the plan. She had meant to use the cameras to check that Snow was indeed, asleep, and that no guards waited in the room with her. She sighed with relief upon assuring herself that they were alone. Snow lay in her bed, undisturbed by their entrance.

“How strong is that powder?” she whispered.

Rolf stepped up to the bed and placed a finger under the princess’s nose. “Strong enough.”

He had taken the sleeping dust from the physician earlier in the day, complaining that his injuries kept him awake. Martha had refused to allow Gina to take Snow her supper, saying she had caused her enough trouble already, but Gina had managed to slip the powder into the princess’s wine while the maid’s back was turned.

Rolf tied a cloth over Snow’s mouth, in case she should wake up, then bound her hands and feet with the practiced skill of one used to trussing up game. Gina grabbed a thick, red velvet cloak from the wardrobe, and wrapped it around Snow, before Rolf picked her up.

Seeing her, tied up and unconscious in his arms, Gina felt a twinge of guilt. She didn’t look nearly as awful when she was asleep, and Gina knew she would be terrified, when she woke up. But they weren’t going to hurt her, Gina reminded herself. She and Rolf had both agreed they would do whatever was necessary to ensure Snow stayed safe. Gina felt sure that once Snow got the chance to meet her subjects, and learn of their suffering for herself, she would do everything in her power to help them. A short stay in the woods, and the real Snow White would be ready to come home.

Gina went back to the door. Checking her phone, she made sure the hallway was clear. The guards had moved on, and there was no sign of them now. She nodded to Rolf, and the two slipped out of the room. They made it to the last hallway when Gina saw movement on her cameras again. Two guards were nearing the corner where they stood. Gina signalled to Rolf to go back. They turned and scurried back, but the guards continued to come towards them. Rolf couldn’t run, not while carrying the princess also, and in moments the guards would round the next bend and see them.

“Hide,” she mouthed. He began to back away, and Gina hurried back towards the corner, tucking her phone into her pocket.

Taking a deep breath, and hoping that she wasn’t about to get herself arrested, or worse, she strode around the corner and walked right into the nearest guard.

“Halt, who goes there?” the guard demanded. Gina stumbled backwards a few steps and did her best to look stunned. It wasn’t hard.

“Oh, um, I’m sorry.”

The two guards faced her. “Who are you, servant? What are you doing in the palace at this time?”

“I, uh….I was just.”

“Out with it, girl,” the second one bristled. “Why aren’t you in the servants’ quarters with the others.”

“Well, I was. I just–” She saw Rolf emerge from the shadows, behind the guards. Stepping lightly, he edged around the corner. Gina stepped to the side, under the pretense of shifting her weight. The guards followed her movement, angling their backs to Rolf.

“Well?” the guard prompted.

“Uh, the king,” Gina said suddenly, as Rolf tiptoed towards the tapestry that covered the servants’ door. “The king asked me to come and see him.”

The guard’s scowl turned into a knowing smirk, which he exchanged with his partner.

“Is that so? His Highness get tired of the last one already? What was her name?”

“Anabel, Analise, something.” The two laughed. “She’s still in her uniform.”

“Hasn’t even been to Matron yet,” the second replied, tutting in mock-disapproval. “That won’t do for his Highness at all. Allow us to escort you, madame.”

“Oh, uh, no. Thank you, that’s fine.”

“We insist.” The humour went from the guard’s voice, as they both moved to stand either side of Gina.

She met Rolf’s eyes briefly, pleading with him. “Go,” he mouthed. “I’ll find you.” Then he was gone.

Gina turned and let the guards march her through the palace to a separate wing. They brought her to another door. One not nearly as large or ornate as Snow’s. The first guard knocked on the door, and a moment later, it was opened by a bleary eyed old woman.

“Another one for you, Matron.” He shoved Gina into the room. Without bothering to reply, the old woman closed the door.

“Uh, I think maybe there’s been a bit of a mix-up.”

“Quiet, girl.” The Matron busied herself in the dark for a few moments. “Blast. Where’s that lamp?”

Gina pulled her phone out and switched the light on. Matron gasped at the harsh blue light, until Gina located the lantern she was searching for. Gina didn’t smoke, but she kept a lighter in her car anyway, and had brought it with her. Pulling it out of her apron, she lit the candle in the lamp and handed it to the Maton, then slipped her phone away.

The woman took it silently, staring at Gina in wonder. “Fire from her hands,” she breathed.

“Um, as I was saying. I don’t think I’m really meant to be here. So if you don’t mind–”

“No, this won’t do,” Matron said, her small eyes roaming over Gina. She prodded her ribs, grabbed the end of her hair, and pinched her chin, turning her face towards the light. “This won’t do at all. Come now, girl. I might not have you ready for the king’s presence tonight, but on my word, you’ll be fit for him by morning.

Despite her protests, Gina was bundled into another small, perfumed room. Lamps were lit, filling the room with warm, golden light. A large bath tub filled the centre of the room, and Matron began stoking the furnace next to it. Before she had fully realised what was happening, Gina was stripped and pushed into the bath, which was fragranced with rose oil. Matron proceeded to scrub her and wash her hair. Gina argued at first, but the warm, sweet water unknotted her muscles, and warmed her up more than she had been since the crash.

After a few hours of grooming, during which, Gina’s hair was brushed and styled, her fingernails, buffed, her lips painted and her clothes switched for a heavily brocaded gown in blue velvet, Gina was finally taken to a small bed chamber left alone to sleep. Her phone told her it was only a few hours to dawn, and although Gina had been up all night, but she found herself unable to rest. A guard stood outside her door, preventing her from leaving. She had ventured briefly out onto the small balcony, but her room was three floors up, and she didn’t fancy climbing the trellis in her dress and slippers.

Gina took to pacing, biting her lip as she fretted about Rolf, and what would happen when the king awoke.

A gentle tapping on the window caused her to jump in fright. She managed to stifle her scream, as she spun around. Rolf stood on the balcony. A rope trailed over the railing. Gina hurriedly opened the door, letting him in, along with a blast of cold air.

“How did you know I was here?”

“I went and found Martha. The rest of the palace may be sleeping still, but the kitchen is awake. She told me about this room.”

“And Snow?”

“I took her to the woods, like you said. Left her but a stone throw from the Cutter brothers’ home. They’re good men; they’ll take care of her. I had a word with John Cutter before I left. He knows what needs to be done.”

Gina raised an eyebrow. “The Cutter brothers? How many of them are there?”

“Seven. More than enough to handle even the most spoilt princess.”

She nodded. “Good. That’s good.” She noticed then a cloth pouch tied to Rolf’s belt. The bottom appeared to be damp with a dark liquid.

“What’s that?” she asked, feeling sure she already knew, and suddenly glad there was nothing in her stomach.

“The princess woke up while I was carrying her. She was convinced I intended to kill her. I tried to explain otherwise, but she wouldn’t listen.”

“So you killed a deer, and let her think you were sparing her life, and tricking whoever hired you?”

“How did you…?”

Gina shot him a pointed look and he lowered his gaze. Gina couldn’t tell if he was more  uncomfortable with the fact she had been right, or with his part in the whole story.

“What did you do with the deer?”

“I gave it to Margaret. She’ll make a stew to share with the villagers.”

Gina nodded her approval, and for a moment the two were silent, avoiding each others’ gaze.

“We should leave, before the dawn,” Rolf addressed the floor.

Gina agreed, following him to the balcony. Snow White may have joined the seven dwarfs, but there was still a lot to be done.

Continue: Part 4: Black As Night

 


2 thoughts on “Red as Blood (3)

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