Queen: For All the Long Days to Come
“Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”
The crystal flickered, it washed with colours of silver, ice, steel; and for a moment her own face formed amongst the winter colours, but then the image changed, and the girl was there again. Ebony hair; dark eyes; pale skin a colour like washed, sun-bleached ivory; her red lips, reminiscent of new, gleaming blood. And not a mark on her clear, youthful face – that in itself defied the law.
The mirror shifted again, shot through with its ice-storm colours; it hardened into matt cloudiness, settled still, waiting for her to call on it again.
The Queen fought down her anger, she made a hard, small kernel of it and pressed it down into her heart. I should have expected nothing less – sending a man to do the job. She stopped to look at herself in an ordinary mirror, to reposition already tidy jewels in hair. She was still golden, and her eyes still passed for emeralds in the right light. She frowned a little at the lines around her eyes, at skin not as bright, not as firm as it once was. Then she waved her hand for an attendant, and the girl rushed forward with a cloak in her arms, she laid the extravagant, silver-and-purple weight over the Queen's shoulders, before falling into a curtsey that almost touched the ground.
“Come.” She descended the stairs into her throne room, taking her place on that crystalline chair, head held high as the crown was settled there, the sceptre placed into her hand. The wall behind her was of the same crystal as her mirror, but without its enchanted properties - in it she saw colours of spring and summer, violets mixed with pinks and golds, the gentlest hints of spring greens. It was said that her mirror had once had those colours, and that its colours reflected the state of the kingdom. She didn't know if that was true, she only cared that it showed her the things she had to know. Kingdom, of all the foolish words! When had a king ever made proper use of himself? Her brother had been weak, unfit to rule. She'd done what had to be done.
“Your Majesty,” the girl bowed low again. She had never been a beauty, chubby and
plain, with ratty little eyes sunk too far back into sallow skin. Her face was properly marred with numerous straight cuts, immortalised now into scars, her nose had been split and her eyebrows cut away. As befitting the Queen's closest servant.
“Speak,” she said to the girl.
“Are you ready, your Majesty?”
“Yes. Let them approach.”
Her courtiers, her councillors, servants, dandies, climbers and schemers. Her guards. When the great doors swung open they all piled into the throne room, the guards barring the the doorway with halberds to keep the rabble from trailing in after them. There was shouts and pleas ringing over the clash of steel: everyone had something they needed, a favour or a mercy to beg: Please save my son from the noose, he did not mean to steal that pig; Please excuse my son from the army, he is weak, he will die. Well, soldiers did die, and thieves should. She cared nothing about their mewling. Let somebody else take care of that nonsense.
Her herald, scurrying over to her side: “Her Majesty: Queen For All the Long Days to Come. And on cue they all bowed, heads scraping the marble floor; and the women dropped into curtseys. They were all scarred, as the law dictated: every woman who lived in her realm, upon her 14th birthday, must have her beauty destroyed, her face must be ruined, be it with knife, fire, or club. Only one woman in this kingdom would be fair.
Or so it should be.
She spoke, in a high, clear, carrying voice: “Bring forth the traitor.”
Blank stares greeted her. Oh, but she would like to have heads sometimes.... him, him, him - her advisers, and all so stupid, how nice would their heads look on pikes before her gates?
“Majesty....?” one ventured.
“The huntsman you fools!”
“Ma'am, there are many...”
“The one I sent to the woods yesterday. Must I do all the thinking in this realm?”
“Majesty. No, Majesty. Right away.”
She cooled her fury. She waited.
And the man was dragged forward. He was in chains now, as he knew he warranted, terrified, his legs barely moving, feet dragging along the floor.
“Waste not my time,” she warned him. “I will hear your excuses, be quick about it.”
“I sent you into the forest to kill a girl named Snow White.” - ridiculous, childish name - “Why have you failed me?”
“I swear, no! I brought you back her heart! You have seen it, your Majesty.”
“I have seen a lump of blood and flesh, a heart, for certain.”
“I swear it is hers!”
Then why do you quake so before me, little man? “Why, then, does my mirror still show me her wretched face?”
“Well... well, Ma'am, she has been dead barely a day. Her face has had little time for decay
to set in. It will look yet as it did in life!”
“Do you take me for an idiot?” She held up her hand to forestall the tiresome denials. “Of course it was not a dead girl I saw in my mirror. As if I could not tell. She was living and smiling, blinking – such as the dead are so disinclined to do. You have already tried my patience near to its limit. Answer me now, why have you disobeyed?”
“Oh, Madam, please forgive me! Oh, your Majesty. I could not do it. When she looked up at me with those eyes. With her tears. I felt sorry for her. I was weak.” And he fell on the ground, prostrating himself before her, wetting the marble with his tears.
These are the fools, these are the snivelling cowards, I am given to serve me. “Stand up, you fool.”
He plainly couldn't.
She stifled a sigh. “Tell me where she is.”
“I don't know!”
“Is that a lie?”
“No. No! I set her free, I told her to run and keep running, I knew that your Majesty would not give up in pursuing her.”
Indeed not. “Well, then I have no further need of you. Take this man away, you know where to.”
He struggled. If he'd thought he had nothing left in him, then he knew now that that'd been wrong. He struggled against the guardsmen with all his strength, he bit them, he kicked at their legs, and he begged them not to do this to him, if they had any pity in them at all. He promised them things he didn't have to give, things he had never had in his life, nor had any hope of having.
They were deaf to it. Or if not deaf, then too afraid. Maybe they did feel pity for his fate, but they'd not risk the same thing themselves, or for their families.
The guardsmen threw him on the floor there, and left him hurriedly. The huntsman slowly lifted himself up, dragged his head from the floor, raised himself on his shaking arms. If this was his fate he might at least face it bravely.
The mirror stood before him, glared at him, an intricacy of dark colours, and cold ice. It covered the entire wall. And as he watched it seemed to him that it began to move, that parts of it flickered the way a fire would, or the moonlight shining over the sea. Ripples spread across the surface, glints of light, its icy colours swirled and blushed, deepened, brightened, lightened. And suddenly, there was his own face staring back at him – a simple face, bearded, weathered, hardened by many long winters. A man's face.
Could the mirror itself have pity?
The huntsman got slowly to his feet. He'd faced bears in the woods, and charging boars. He'd listened at night to the branches snapping, known that there were darker things out in the forest than either bears or boars. He'd lived to survive them all. And what was this except his own reflection?
She doesn't know her own tools. She forgets what humanity is.
He walked slowly up to himself, reaching for his own hand, touching a surface that wasn't cold after all, that was rough and dry like snakeskin.
The image changed faster than he could have believed. His own faced melted in front of him, becoming red, becoming sunken, with eyes like hot coals, horns curled out of his bulging head, and
tusks shoved their way through his mouth. His skin-in-image hardened, forming scales the colour of blood. The hand he'd reached for was clawed now. And in the background a black storm swirled – it
swirled around a landscape of fire and stone, golden lava spouting out of volcano mouths, even as ash rained red down on burnt ground. Gases spewed out of rents in the earth. Nothing could survive in it.
Except – they were thin and white, almost skeletal, their transparent skin stretched across dark bones, holes where their eyes should be, their long, long fingers ending in shattered bone.
Oh, no! Oh, No-no-no-no-no-nooooo! He would have run, he would called for the Queen, he would have sworn on his life that he would hunt down Snow White and bring her back – and he'd have meant it, he'd have done it – what a weak moment of mercy had cost him! He'd have screamed all those things if his voice wasn't frozen, his tongue not turned to stone. And he might have turned and run, turned and crawled for the locked door, thrown himself against it begging, if his arms or legs could have moved. But the thing he'd become in the mirror held him with its eyes, eyes that dug into his mind, uncovered his soul, lay it bare and ugly. The reaching hand floated out from the mirror, image-made-flesh stepped onto the marble floor, its bare feet left scorch marks on the stone.
He was screaming only inside as it reached out to touch him...