Beginning: Part 1: White As Snow
The doors to Gina’s chambers burst open, admitting Rolf in a flurry of movement. Gina looked up from her chair as he strode across the room towards her. Her brow furrowed as she took him in. His usual calm demeanour was gone, and instead, his eyes were wild, and his cheeks flushed from adrenaline. His hair was swept back, the way it always was when he had been riding hard.
“What happened?” Gina asked, rising from her seat.
“Snow, the villagers–”
“Is she all right.”
“A little too all right.” Rolf moved past her and grabbed her cloak from its hook on the wall. He tossed the heavy, fur trimmed garment to her.
Gina caught it. “What are you talking about? Rolf, what’s going on?”
“We need to leave, now.” He moved to the other side of the room, snatching up a leather bag. Gina followed him, grabbing his arm and pulling him around to face her.
“What’s going on?”
“Snow’s planning a revolution.”
“What?” He tried to pull away from her, but she held him in place, tossing the cloak onto the bed.
“I saw her, down in the town, she’s got them all hyped up for a rebellion. All the villagers are planning an attack on the palace. They’re going to kill the false queen and take back the throne for Snow.”
“What are you talking about? What false queen?”
“You, Gina. They’re coming for you.”
She recoiled a step, looking him up and down. “What? I’m not the queen. I wasn’t even meant to be here. I just got dragged into staying.”
“Look around you.” Rolf spread his arms wide. “Your own wing of the palace, the staff at your beck and call. Even the gentry are deferring to your power now. The only thing missing is a crown.”
“But I’m not going to stop them,” Gina argued. “If Snow’s ready for the throne she can have it. Tell her; we can organise a meeting or something.”
“As far as she knows, you tried to have her assassinated. I don’t think she’s going to come for tea.”
Gina threw up her hands. “Well, when she comes with her little friends, we’ll just have to detain them, and talk to her then.”
“Gina, she’s not coming with a couple of friends. She’s raising an army.”
“Don’t exaggerate. What are they going to attack us with? Pitchforks?”
“Even Thunderfalls has joined her. You saw what they did on their own. Now imagine them with the rest of the kingdom for backup.”
Gina folded her arms, still unconvinced, and she knew Rolf could see it.
“If you don’t believe me, look for yourself. Use your mirror.”
“Your mirror. Ask it to show you.” He darted across the room, grabbing her tablet from the side table, and handed it to her.
Gina accepted it slowly, her eyes falling down to its black glass surface. Her own face was reflected back at her.
“Mirror,” she breathed. “A magic mirror.” Her free hand flew to her mouth, and the tablet slipped from her fingers. Rolf caught it before it could hit the floor.
“I’m the queen,” she whispered.
“Gina, we need to leave.”
“No,” she shouted, pulling away when he touched her arm. “Don’t you get it?” She turned to him appealingly. “I’m the queen. The queen was missing from the story. But now things are back on track. The queen is here. And it’s me.”
“And Snow is coming for you. Gina, please.”
She shook her head, backing away from him. Everything seemed to be slotting into place now. She felt as though she had been staring at a giant jigsaw puzzle, where every piece was from a different box. But now, they were rearranging, turning, and fitting together.
The queen was a necessary evil. Without her, Snow was nothing. Without the queen to do wrong, things could never be right. Gina had seen only half the truth when she had arrived. She knew Snow needed to be tested, before she could be a worthy ruler. And, like a naive child, she had thought she could manipulate the world in that direction, without consequence. But good couldn’t exist on its own; it needed opposition. Gina had pushed Snow into the light, but someone had to go to the dark, in her place.
“I know what I have to do.”
“We need to run,” Rolf said.
Gina shook her head. “There’s one more part of the story that has to happen. The queen’s final act.”
“What?” Rolf asked, his voice hesitant, as if he didn’t really want to know.
“I have to poison Snow White.”
“What? You can’t.”
“If I don’t complete the story, it’ll just find a way to compensate. I’m sure Lyall can find an appropriate poison.”
“You told me we were doing this to put her back on the throne,” Rolf growled. “You told me she’d be safe. Now you want to kill her?”
“No. I want to try. The queen gives Snow a poison apple. But she doesn’t die. She gets rescued.”
Rolf stared at her for several seconds. His thunderous expression didn’t change.
“Although, I doubt a magical kiss is going to work. My bet is that the prince is a doctor, or something. But at any rate, it doesn’t matter. I have to do my part, and the rest will work itself out.”
“Gina, listen to yourself. This is madness.”
“That’s what you said when I first came here. I thought you believed me, Rolf.”
“I did. But this? This is too far. Taking Snow out to be cared for by strangers is one thing. Out there, I could keep her safe. But poison? What if your physician prince doesn’t come in time? She’ll be dead, Gina. How’s the story going to compensate for that?”
“I don’t know. I just know what has to happen.”
“No. I won’t let you do this. There’s still time for us to escape.”
He started towards her. Before he could cover half the distance, Gina called out, “Guards!”
The doors burst open for a second time, and two red jacketed palace guards burst in. They grabbed Rolf, pinning his arms behind his back. He tried to twist free, but the guards held him fast.
“Lock the doors behind me,” she ordered. “Don’t let him leave the palace.”
Sweeping up her cloak, Gina strode past them. She turned towards the kitchens, and as she left, she heard Rolf calling her name, but she did not look back.
* * *
Rolf hammered on the door again, but as before, his shouts went unanswered. He kicked the door, cursing as pain shot through his toe. He turned to face the room, grabbing Gina’s mirror off the bed where it had been left. He pressed the button on top, and swiped the glass, just like she did. The tiny window showed him four different views of the palace. Swiping across them, he changed it to four more. One of them was the kitchen. Rolf touched the kitchen window, and it filled the whole frame.
He saw Martha and the other cooks and servants bustling around. A moment later, Gina entered the room. The servants all dropped what they were doing to bow. Gina ignored them. Her hand shot out and plucked an apple from a basket, and she kept walking, disappearing from view.
Rolf threw the mirror back on the bed and turned around. Gina’s chambers had no balconies — she called them a security risk — but the windows were large. Rolf hurried over to one, pushing it open to its full extent. It was too high to jump, but ivy clung to the walls. He just hoped it was strong enough to hold him. Climbing through the window, Rolf lowered himself from the sill, then wrapped his fingers into the threaded, green ivy. The plant mesh pulled away from the wall slightly, under his weight, but did not break. Deciding not to test his luck for too long, Rolf hurried down, dropping to the ground as soon as he was close enough.
Sprinting around the castle’s perimeter, he ran for the servants’ entrance to the kitchens. When he reached the alleyway, it was to find it empty. He raced back inside the palace, ignoring the calls from Martha and the cooks. As he sprinted, he heard the sound of bells begin to toll. The palace alarm. The villagers were coming, and they had been seen. Guards rushed past Rolf, heading for the gate. The Palace Keep was readying itself for battle.
Rolf kept moving, pushing past the oncoming flow of guards, back inside the palace. None were concerned with him and he managed to find the councilor’s chambers unaccosted. Rolf entered to find Lyall with his hands tied to the corner post of his bed with a scarf. A second scarf had been stuffed in his mouth. Rolf yanked it out and the councilor gasped for breath.
“Dragonkeeper,” he rasped. “She means to kill the princess.”
“What did you give her?” Rolf demanded.
Lyall’s face twisted with both fear and disgust. “Forty years serving the crown, and now I have betrayed them.”
“What was it?”
“I’m so sorry,” he whimpered. “I had no choice.”
“Listen to me, old man. What did you give Gina?”
“Is there an antidote?”
Lyall nodded, but his voice failed him again as he began to sob. Taking him by the shoulders, Rolf shook him until his eyes lifted. “Where is it?”
“The chest,” he said, pointing with his chin. “But it’s no use. You’ll have mere minutes before the princess’s heart stops. You’ll never reach her in time.”
Rolf raced from the room and back through the palace, shoving guards and servants alike out of his way. He reached the courtyard and jumped onto the back of the first horse he came to. The animal had no saddle, but Rolf twined his fingers in its mane, and kicked its sides anyway. The groom, who had been holding it, cried out as Rolf rode for the gate. The Portcullis was lowering, and he had to duck low over the horse’s neck to make it under. Guards shouted at him, but his face was well known enough now, that none loosed an arrow at his back.
He didn’t have to go far from the palace to find the villagers. Guards had already marched down to meet them, and skirmishes has broken out on the roads. Most lacked any military training, and their weapons were inferior, but the villagers seemed like they would be able to overwhelm the guards with sheer numbers alone.
Soldiers grouped together into formations, carrying out planned attacks on the approaching villagers. Rolf wondered why they bothered, but then realised that if the guards simply barricaded themselves in the Palace Keep, the villagers could starve them out in a few days. They needed to prevent them ever reaching that far.
Rolf turned his horse off the road and into the scrubland that lined it. He skirted a phalanx of soldiers, his keen eyes sweeping the landscape for the leader of the rebellion. It did not take him long to find her. Sitting astride a massive horse, a leather breastplate covering her torso, and her dark hair billowing behind her like a cloak, Snow White rode in the centre of the villager’s formation.
The two sides loosed volleys of arrows at each other. Most of the projectiles falling short. Warning shots. He saw Snow dismount, disappearing into the throng of her subjects. Rolf kicked his charger forwards, closing the gap between both sides. The villagers watched his approach with confusion. Lacking the red uniform of the guards, or a drawn weapon, they didn’t know what side he was on. The guards, recognising him as Gina’s consort, interpreted his charge as the order to attack. Before Rolf realised what he had done; the army was charging behind him.
Rolf barrelled through the villagers’ front lines, ignoring the shouts from the men as the two lines met. A swish of black hair caught his eye. Snow. He lost sight of her briefly in the squall. When his horse reared up, refusing to go further into the melee, Rolf jumped down from its back, and pushed through on foot, the vial of antidote clutched in his hand. He reached the place he had last seen Snow, shoving Jebb Cutter out of his way. The throng of people surrounding her threatened to cut him off, but Rolf managed to get through.
Reaching out a hand, Rolf grabbed Snow’s shoulder, turning her to face him. Her eyes were wide and her mouth hung open in a tiny o. She gave a small gasp as a tremor ran through her. Rolf looked down and saw an apple in her hand, a single bite taken out of it. Snow’s eyes rolled back and she collapsed. Rolf caught her as she fell, lowering her to the ground. There were shouts and cries from the men around him as the princess collapsed. Rolf ignored them all. Wrenching the top off the vial, he poured its contents between her ruby lips.
His eyes went to the crowd, pressing in on him. Only a cloaked figure moved the other way. A large hood covered her face as she slipped into the masses. Rolf didn’t dare call out to her. If the villagers saw Gina now, they would execute her.
“Traitor!” Rolf heard the shout, but could not identify its source.
Hands grabbed his shoulders and arms, pulling him back off Snow. He was hauled to his feet, but before he could open his mouth to speak, or to try and explain, a sharp pain struck him in the side, between the ribs. Rolf felt as though his chest had collapsed and gasped for breath. When he tried to cry out, blood bubbled in his throat. His legs gave way and he fell back into the arms holding him.
* * *
Gina heard the shouts and looked back. She saw a young woman rise to her feet, supported by a stout man under each arm. Snow shook back her dark hair, her eyes wide and bright. Gina’s throat tightened with a twang of self-satisfaction. Snow had eaten the apple, and she had lived. The story was complete. All that remained now, was for the queen to disappear.
As the cheers went up at Snow’s recovery, the crowd parted and Gina caught a glimpse of another figure at her feet. Recognising hunting leathers, and the dagger at his belt, Gina pushed her way back through the masses. Rolf lay on the ground, his eyes closed and a dark stain spreading across his ribs, and the trampled ground under him.
Gina cried out, her voice lost to her own ears. She shoved through the crowd, reaching for him. But her scream had not gone unnoticed. Snow’s head whipped around to face her, eyes widening first with recognition, the narrowing in anger.
“Seize her!” she ordered.
At once, the villagers fell upon Gina. Her hood was pulled back and her arms pinned. She cried out Rolf’s name, as if she could bring him back through willpower alone. He remained still and silent. Gina struggled against her captors, until a sharp blow to her head sent everything spinning in blackness.
* * *
The sound of a car horn caused Gina to wake. She gasped as biting cold sunk into her. Her hands were numb and her cheek was pressed against cold stone. Not stone, tarmac. The sky was dark, but bright yellow lights blinded her.
Gina shoved against the ground, pushing herself up and scrambling back as a car rolled past. The driver slowed, rolling down his window.
“Keep off the road!”
The car sped off, followed by a line of traffic. Gina backed up until she found the sidewalk, almost tripping on her skirts, as she stepped up to it. She still wore her velvet, embroidered gown, and her fur trimmed cloak. She wrapped the cloak around her as her breath turned to fog in the air. Tall buildings stretched above her, twinkling with yellow lights. Red and orange streaked the road as vehicles hummed past under amber street lamps.
“Oh my God, are you all right?” A hand touched on Gina’s shoulder and she twisted, skittering away. The woman pulled back her hand and grimaced in apology. “Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you. I saw you fall down in the street. Oh, God, your head.”
“What?” Gina raised a hand to her temple, it came away bloody. A pain she hadn’t noticed before set in and heat lanced through her skull. She winced and the woman stepped closer again, as if ready to catch her if she fell.
“What was it? Boyfriend? Do you want a lift to the hospital? You might need stitches.”
“What? Uh, yeah, sure.”
Gina looked around, bewildered, trying to take in the city around her. She didn’t know how, or why, but she was back. Her mind replayed the last few moments before her transportation. She saw Rolf, lying on the ground at Snow’s feet. Her stomach clenched and her throat tightened. A feeling, like her insides were being twisted, gripped her and she cried out. The woman grabbed her around the shoulders and steadied her.
“Don’t worry. He won’t find you. We can call the police.”
Gina didn’t have the strength to correct her, nor did she know what she would say if she tried. The woman led her to a car and helped her inside. Then they were driving, Gina staring blankly out the window as the lights streaked past.
They arrived at the hospital and the woman led Gina inside. It took Gina several minutes at the front desk to convince the woman that she was capable of checking in, and filing a police report, without assistance. By that time, a nurse had already approached them, alerted by the blood on Gina’s face, and took her away.
Gina sat on the side of the hospital bed, staring at her hands in her lap. Her forehead had been wiped clean of blood, revealing a cut that seemed far too small to have bled so much. Her cloak had been removed and lay draped over a chair in the corner. Gina couldn’t look at it. It made her think of Rolf. She should have listened and done what he asked. They should have run away. The kingdom would have been left in good hands. What did the story matter?
The door opened and a man walked in. Gina didn’t look up. “Regina Black, I’m Doctor Hunter.”
“Gina,” she replied.
“Gina. Let’s take a look at that cut.”
Gina froze as soon as he spoke her name, she knew that voice. As he moved in front of her, her eyes slowly lifted to his face. Rolf stared back at her, a white coat about his shoulders and a chart in his hand.
“Rolf?” she whispered.
His eyes narrowed. “Is that who hurt you?”
“No,” she replied quickly. “No, not at all. Sorry, Doctor Hunter, was it?”
He nodded. “Rory Hunter.” He held out a hand. Gina couldn’t hold back the small smile as she shook it.
“Gina. But, you already knew that.” She blushed.
He smiled. “That’s quite the get-up you’re in. Party?”
She looked down at herself, in her elaborate gown. “Yeah. Work thing. Fancy dress; like something out of a story. A bit silly.”
“Not at all. Aren’t we all just stories, really?”
Gina looked at him for several seconds without replying. Rory busied himself with her chart, then took small flashlight out of his pocket.
“Your friend said you fell down in the street.” He shined the light in her eyes. “Do you know what day it is?”
“Actually, I could do with a reminder.”
A shrill ringing cut through the room, silencing them both. Gina’s hip buzzed and her hand went to the hidden pocket she’d had sewn into all her dresses. Pulling out her phone, Gina saw a call from her boss, Rob. Thumb hovering over the accept button, she answered it.
“Gina! Where the hell have you been? Why aren’t you answering my calls? That damned courier never showed, and when I got back to the office it was all locked up?”
“Yeah, I had to duck out for a bit.”
Gina pulled the phone away from her ear. Rob’s voice shrieked across the room, “Duck out? You think you can just duck out and not answer you phone? Listen here, if you still want a job tomorrow–”
“I don’t,” she cut him off.
“I don’t want a job. At least, not for you. Goodbye, Rob.” She disconnected the call and switched her phone off.
Rory raised an eyebrow. “Must have been one hell of a work thing.”
“You have no idea. Listen,” she hopped down off the bed so she stood facing him, “I need to go to the police station and report my car stolen. I have this feeling like I’m not going to see it again. Maybe you could give me a lift?”
“Oh, uh. My shift’s not over for another hour.” Gina was sure she heard a note of disappointment in his tone. She shrugged.
“You probably need to keep me under observation for about an hour, right?”
“I suppose I do.”
“Great. And, maybe, if you know any good places to get coffee, we could get some together?”
Rory smiled. “I can think of a few.”
– End –