Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Reflections of Queen Snow White by David Meredith

Kindle Edition, 1 edition, 155 pages
Published October 2nd 2013 by David Meredith; 1 edition

What happens when "happily ever after" has come and gone?
On the eve of her only daughter, Princess Raven's wedding, an aging Snow White finds it impossible to share in the joyous spirit of the occasion. The ceremony itself promises to be the most glamorous social event of the decade. Snow White’s castle has been meticulously scrubbed, polished and opulently decorated for the celebration. It is already nearly bursting with jubilant guests and merry well-wishers. Prince Edel, Raven's fianc√©, is a fine man from a neighboring kingdom and Snow White's own domain is prosperous and at peace. Things could not be better, in fact, except for one thing:
The king is dead.
The queen has been in a moribund state of hopeless depression for over a year with no end in sight. It is only when, in a fit of bitter despair, she seeks solitude in the vastness of her own sprawling castle and climbs a long disused and forgotten tower stair that she comes face to face with herself in the very same magic mirror used by her stepmother of old.
It promises her respite in its shimmering depths, but can Snow White trust a device that was so precious to a woman who sought to cause her such irreparable harm? Can she confront the demons of her own difficult past to discover a better future for herself and her family? And finally, can she release her soul-crushing grief and suffocating loneliness to once again discover what "happily ever after" really means?
Only time will tell as she wrestles with her past and is forced to confront The Reflections of Queen Snow White.
 

With a shrill keen the two young hawks soared over snow-capped peaks, reveling in the newly come spring. The day was crisp and clear and even the dullest of their race would have been able to see for dozens and dozens of miles in every direction. The world spread out beneath them in helpless submission and their proud shadows ghosted across the vastness of their dominion; first over the rocky crags, then the greening slopes of the cool, grassy foothills and finally the muddy fields of the fertile bottom lands, which would soon be tilled and planted anew with wheat, hops, and barley. Together they wheeled and dove and swooped then climbed once more to do it again, rapturously sailing a sea of air a thousand feet above the dwellings of mortal men.
Lord and Lady of the sky they were, their majestic cries echoing through the clouds as they flew. Magnificent they had been separately, flying high and solitary against the azure sky, hunting for prey with sharp eyes unblinking and then with exultant cries, plummeting to Earth like deadly meteors. Together however, they were something more, so much more.
The aerial dance of the two lordly birds was joyous, triumphant. It exhibited an effervescence of being that could only come from the supreme contentment they found in doing just exactly what nature had wilt them. It would have been regarded as a beauty and a marvel, by anyone able to see it.
Sadly however, no one did.
It was not because it was a secret thing. In fact, the two mighty raptors vaunted their greatness all over the sky! They announced their approach with resonating shrieks that echoed through the upland hillocks and hummocks grandly proclaiming “Here we are! Gaze upon our majesty if you dare!” but the mortals below were simply too distracted by the hum drum comings and goings of their own mundane existence to notice. Had they but lifted their eyes just a little, their very souls would have been uplifted.
Still, the lack of an audience did not diminish their performance. Their swooping flight was not for show. The two mighty hawks whirled and soared to edify themselves. Their peerless dance was for each other and ever would be, for when a hawk takes a mate, it is for life.
On this magnificent day, high above the world, witnessed only by the sun, the clouds, and the cerulean sky they celebrated the consummation of their union. Today they had begun the lofty reel that they would continue all of the days of their life together. Together they would face the hazards and travails of these harsh lands. Together they would protect the vast territory they claimed just as they would also guard their young and each other. Together, just like today, whenever the chance might come, they would thrill again to the simple joy that they found in each other’s company as they cavorted high above the land, wild and free.  
From their lofty perspective in their revelrous marriage dance they could see, though they certainly did not understand what it was, preparations for a wedding ceremony that would be, if perhaps not quite as vigorous as their own, competing with them for magnificence. Below them sat a great fortress of men, which had been built long ago, high upon a jagged cliff. It was accessible only from one side through the single tall gate that breached the towering walls. Its spiring towers stretched skyward as if yearning for the heights that were so comfortable to the feathery king and his lady. Each minaret was hung with banners and flowers, white silks and ribbons. Every inch had been scrubbed to a brilliant sheen in anticipation of the joyous celebration to come.
The grounds were a hive of activity. Frantic workers and gaily clad nobles rushed this way and that on their urgent ways and a great multitude of artisans and merchants streamed in and out of the gate like a never-ending work line of ants. Every inch of the castle seemed busy and eager. Every corner seemed to resonate with laughter and fair speech… Except, perhaps, for one.
Had Lord and Lady Hawk been able or even inclined to gain entry into the one quiet, cavernous room in question, they might have wondered at the contrast. They might have asked; what in the world could be so impervious to the joyousness all around? Then again, perhaps they unlike any other would have understood the dysphoria all too well, shivered with dread, then gone back to their marriage nest to banish the bleakness with the comfort of each other’s warm, feathery bodies.
In a word, the chamber was vast - in fact, the ceiling soared nearly high enough to build a proper aerie in the rafters - but it was also vastly empty. It seemed strangely bereft of the blithesome decorations bursting like wild spring blossoms from every other nook and cranny around the palace. The cavernous chamber appeared a bleak island of melancholy set adrift upon a sunny, celebratory sea.
The sunlight shining through high vaulted windows was wan and sickly. The air felt stagnant and stale and an inexplicable aura of weighty despair seemed to permeate every one and everything within.
There were only a few very subdued people in the throne room. A scant half-dozen soldiers or so stood about the walls at regular intervals all correctly straight and diligent, liveried in pristine white, but even that immaculacy felt muted somehow. They may have well as been nothing more than disused and superfluous furniture, long forgotten and attracting little notice or concern. Rather, one’s attention was drawn instead to an improbable duo situated in the center of the room.
One was a small, slight figure who threatened to disappear upon a massive, intricately carved wooden throne, which was displayed proudly on a high, raised dais. The other, standing at the base of the tall platform, was even tinier and more curious still. His droning, monotone voice was the only sound, echoing hollowly across the otherwise silent chamber.
“...Have already received gifts from the nearest lords,” he said. “ It is quite a selection I must say - honestly a bit excessive if you want my opinion on the matter - but still not nearly all of it yet. I expect that the gentry from further out will simply bring theirs with them the day of the wedding, which as you know creates infinitely more work for me, but I shall endure and catalog everything received so that her Majesty may send appropriate reply in a timely manner. I do think that in particular you should make a special effort to thank Duke Gewissenhoft. The carriage he sent for the honeymoon is quite exquisite to say nothing of the horses...”
Queen Snow White was not really listening. Her mind was wandering again. She seemed to get lost in her own thoughts so easily these days! The distant cry of some far-off bird of prey startled her and she sat up abruptly on her throne.
The years had been kind to her. Her ivory skin was still supple and mostly unlined but for the tiniest hint of crow’s feet around her eyes and the thinnest of creases at the corners of her mouth. Her coal black hair was shot through with silver now, but rather than make her look elderly it simply made her seem regal. The thin circlet that Charming had set upon her brow the day of their marriage so long ago was clipped firmly in place and her long hair hung flowingly about her shoulders. The dress she wore was simple green silk but of the highest quality available and her artfully painted, brown eyes were sharp and keen.
At least, they generally were. Right now they looked a bit glazed over. She rubbed at them restlessly and realized that she had only partially heard what her diminutive steward was saying. She must have dozed off.
That, of course, was easy enough to do when being briefed by the impeccably dressed and dapper, if incredibly long-winded, little old man. The queen dearly loved him and he had been her stanch friend and indispensable advisor for many years now, but honestly! Did he have to go on so?
The wizened little counselor was reading off an extensive list of new arrivals who would be guesting at her castle for the wedding celebration and the gifts received thereof, paying careful note to those which he felt were the most deserving of a direct display of gratitude from her royal self. Even now, during what was supposed to be a patently joyous occasion, the gentry were still jostling and jockeying for her favor and that of young Princess Raven. Every gift received was more lavish than the one before as each of her nobles tried to outdo his or her fellows, hoping for some smallest crumb of royal regard to fall their way. Snow White found it to be positively exhausting.
She suddenly realized that she had totally failed to hear what the little man in front of her had just said. He was looking up at her expectantly.
“I’m sorry, Erfreut,” the queen apologized with a small, self-depreciating smile. “I’m afraid my mind was wandering... What was that last bit?”
“I said your daughter has also requested an audience with you, Majesty. I think her feelings have been hurt by your... unavailability of late. She has submitted a formal request through the Judicial Ministry.”
“She did what?!” exclaimed Snow White sitting forward abruptly. “Why on Earth would she do that? She knows she can always just come to me...”
The little man shot his queen an almost disrespectfully dubious glance and cleared his throat officiously. “If I might note, Highness, the young princess has attempted to seek your presence nearly a dozen times this week alone and has always found her mother… indisposed. If I might make so bold, I think her a bit... shall we say… frazzled. Wedding jitters perhaps, but in any case...” The elderly dwarf quickly changed the subject and barreled on with his exhaustive docket of concerns.
“Shall I put Lord Stolz in the Green Room?” He asked. “He is certainly deserving of the honor given his rank and long service to your husband, but I already have Count Bemessen in the Red Room next door, and you know how they are. Those two never get along and I would like to avoid dueling in the corridors if I can help it, but I also worry that if we put Lord Stolz further away he will feel slighted, and that would be at least as bad. What do you think?”
“I think I’m tired,” stated the queen wearily with a grimace. She put her head in her hands.
Maybe the little man before her was not the problem. It felt like another one of those days. There had been far too many of them lately. She fell positively morose and did not want to deal with anyone or anything, particularly not petty political bickering among her nobles. Snow White sighed; slumping down in the extravagantly decorated, but patently uncomfortable chair and rubbed her temples. The queen glanced at the even larger, empty chair to her left. Charming had always taken care of this sort of thing. He had been the political one.
Her eyes abruptly grew moist and her lower lip quivered. The idea of his strong, even voice not echoing through this great hall still seemed inconceivable. Over her entire reign, the queen had rarely come here without him. In fact, she so connected his comforting presence with this room that even now, she kept turning to his vacant seat to offer some comment or ask for his advice ever forgetting that he was not there. Nor would he ever be. It felt so wrong, so… unnatural.
Snow White stared at the empty chair. She shook her head, chiding herself sternly. It had been over a year after all. He had been quite a bit older than her and they had both known that this time would most likely come. They had even talked about it before - Often in fact, as they lay wrapped in the comforting warmth of each other’s arms in the enormous canopied bed that they shared for over thirty years, staring into the darkness late at night after a long session of... She sobbed loudly. Why did it then still hurt so much?
The Queen looked away from Erfreut to hide her tears. Maybe it was because back then it had always been talk of ‘what if’ and ‘someday’. The reality of his passing had proven far more difficult than anything she had ever even imagined before. She felt so alone, so positively abandoned.
Her steward did not fail to notice his queen’s distress. He ordered the guards to leave and in less than a second was at her side. Erfreut took her tiny white hand gently in his own rough, brown paw. The mantle of councilor fell from his voice and posture like a discarded cloak might have fallen from his shoulders.
“What is it, Snowy?” The elderly little dwarf asked gently. His calloused fingers stroked hers softly. “This should be a happy time. Prince Edel’s a wonderful man. Raven loves him... Couldn’t hope for better’n that...”
“Oh, I know, Erfreut.” Snow White sobbed shaking her head helplessly. “I just miss him. Charming should be here for this! It’s just not right! We were supposed to live happily ever after! I suppose we did for a very long time, but... It’s just not fair, Erfreut! He should be here. That’s all...”
“Aye, my girl.” Erfreut had cultivated his courtly speech since coming to Castle Wolfejager, but that was not really him. He spoke now in the familiar brogue he used when first they had met so long ago. In the blink of an eye he had transformed from royal steward to lifelong friend.
“Aye, he should be, lass.” He went on gently. “Ain’t fair at all, for him to miss this day comin’... Givin’ his girl away and all... But I’ve gotta say... It ain’t fair for you to miss it either. Do try to buck up, if not for yourself then for Raven at least!”
When they had first met so long ago, he was the youngest of the then princess’ seven forest companions. They were so kind to offer up shelter and companionship to a bedraggled young woman who had shown up so unexpectedly on their doorstep and the queen had never forgotten it. They too were all gone now - all of them but Erfreut that is. Snow White had been horrified at the thought of the little old man living in the forest in that big lonely cottage all by himself and so had invited him to come to the palace to work.
Erfreut had proven surprisingly adept at politics however, and rose swiftly through the bureaucracy until he became the royal family’s most trusted advisor. Ever since Charming died, he had seen expertly to the day to day running of the household and management of the various ministries. Now the tottering steward was indispensable to the bereaved queen. Snow White had no idea what she would have done without him, nor did she really want to reflect on the possibility too deeply.
“’Tis alright, Snowy,” he continued soothingly. His eyes shone with sympathy. “There be no shame in tears. God knows I shed enough for me boyos when they passed one right after the other until I was all who was left. I know what you feel lass - a big empty spot right here.”
He left off stroking her porcelain hand to thump his chest.
“It’s where the little piece of your heart used to be that ye shared with them. You don’t ever get that back, but the pain dulls in time and ye start thinking back to all the good things ye used to share together... That, My Dear One,” he smiled at her kindly. “That is when you realize that they aren’t gone all together - That they did leave little pieces of themselves with you. That’s when you can really cherish it.
“You still miss them, o’ course,” he continued. “Oh! What I wouldn’t give to have a good night o’ drinking with me boyos again and some good loud singin’ too, I tell ye! But, you find the strength to go on and even to be happy again...” He paused and sighed sadly. “What I wouldn’t give to see ye smile again, lass. I mean really smile with joy in your heart like ye used to. Bright as the sun it was....”
“Thank you, Erfreut.” The queen squeezed his larger scabrous hands with both of her tiny soft ones. She met his eyes sincerely. “You keep me going. Do you know that? I don’t know what I would do without you. I’d be all alone if not for you.”
She sighed in frustration and released him. “I just can’t seem to see any light anymore! Everything seems so dark and gray and hopeless. I want to be happy again. I want to share in my daughter’s joy at her wedding, but it just feels like a huge part of my soul is missing.
“I feel like a wraith!” she complained. “Half here, half gone… I just don’t know how to be happy anymore. Every time I start... Every time I’m doing something that ought to be fun , that should be amusing, that I used to enjoy, I just can’t help feeling it isn’t half as good as it would have been if Charming were here with me.”
“Well do I know that feeling, lass, but don’t you worry, Snowy. It’ll come. It’ll come.” He patted her hand reassuringly once more before descending the dais. He seemed suddenly to stand straighter. His voice went back to the indolent tones of royal steward. “Now, if her Highness finds herself a bit indisposed I might perhaps ask her leave to see to the additional preparations in her absence?”
The change back into the snooty timbre of the court came so abruptly that it appeared her friend had transformed into a completely different person right before her eyes. It was a necessary masquerade though, and Snow White smiled in spite of herself at how expertly the tiny oldster donned the required mask of his position.
“Thanks Erfreut,” She sighed gratefully.
These arrangements had to be made and the queen knew it, but Snow White just did not feel up to coping with them right now. Her mood was too black, too melancholy to plan any sort of joyous celebration.
“As always, I trust your judgment. I think some time alone would do me good...”
Erfreut frowned. “Now I don’t know about that, Highness. Perhaps I could organize a luncheon, or a picnic? Maybe a minstrel would make you feel...”
“Thank you Erfreut, but no.” The queen interrupted kindly but firmly. “I simply wish to be alone right now. Perhaps tomorrow...” She let the half-finished sentence trail off into silence.
Erfreut sighed. “Indeed, Majesty.” The elderly dwarf bowed low to his queen. When he spoke he did not sound very optimistic. “Perhaps tomorrow... I shall go and see to today’s wedding arrangements and inform you when they are completed.”
He bowed then hobbled his way toward the exit of the huge audience chamber. The little man rapped twice upon the enormous doors leading in, which immediately swung open under the labors of two grunting guardsmen. Then he quietly departed. The doors quickly clanged shut behind him leaving Queen Snow White alone in the cavernous throne room. It was nearly as empty as she felt right now.
Snow White had said she wanted to be alone, but that was not really true. She simply was alone, whether there were any other people about to witness it or not. Now that she was by herself in the large room however, the queen was not at all sure what to do next. This of course was her regular dilemma. It seemed difficult to do anything anymore but sit around feeling miserable and sad. She sighed dejectedly and decided to make her way to her private chambers.
Perhaps, she thought, a bit of a nap would do her some good. However, as soon as she entered her apartments and dismissed her ladies-in-waiting, Snow White knew she would find no rest here.
The candles were all extinguished and the grate was tightly shut above the cold, dark hearth. Sunlight shone in through an open window, but not directly. It illuminated the chamber with a dim, half-light. The huge four-poster bed in the far corner seemed clothed in shadow. It did not look the least bit comforting. Rather it felt lonely and sinister. The idea of it made her start crying again.
This had always been her sanctuary. She had always cherished this space for its warmth and serenity. It was perhaps the only place in the whole world free from the prying eyes of ambitious courtiers and salacious gossips - where she and her husband could truly be at ease and unguarded with each other. Neither enmity nor ill will had ever been allowed to cross the threshold of this chamber, she mused. It had always been a place of love and comfort before, but now it just seemed cold and empty and... She felt lost in here, she realized.
Snow White stared at the bed for a very long while. It was still familiar, but changed, no longer welcoming and safe. It had become strange to her somehow – as if all the life had drained out of it with the death of the king. It seemed to reflect the horrible emptiness within her that so often felt like it wanted to swallow her up from the inside. She leaned her head against the bed post, closed her eyes, and again began weeping. This was not how she was supposed to feel! Not here.
The queen abruptly realized she had no desire whatsoever for a nap. She did not want to be anywhere near that large, lonely bed. She quickly retreated.
This will never do! she thought critically, furiously rubbing at her eyes. Look at me! Going to pieces over a silly piece of furniture… The queen took a deep, calming breath. She just needed to get her mind on something else. She needed a diversion.
Snow White briefly considered taking a stroll around the gardens. It was springtime after all. The sky was cloudless and blue today and the flowers were all in bloom. The veritable legion of gardeners who cared for the grounds had been hard at work ensuring that the royal arboretum would be especially resplendent for the upcoming nuptials. The bright sunshine, beautiful flowers, and fresh spring air could hardly fail to improve her mood, could they?
Then the queen thought of the hundreds of nobles currently guesting at her palace for Raven’s wedding. The gardens were bound to be infested with them and she certainly did not feel up to all of the petty political posturing and obsequiousness that even a simple stroll among such company would entail. Especially with her frayed emotions, she did not have the patience for it today.
Still at a loss for what to do, she at length decided to simply walk around her shadowy palace until she thought of something more substantive. Snow White purposefully chose halls and corridors that she knew would be empty. The few servants she passed bowed respectfully as the queen strode by, but quickly scurried off to complete whatever chores or errands they had been assigned. She wandered aimlessly. Anyplace she might choose to go seemed equally pointless to her at the moment, but Snow White also decided that moving somewhere was preferable to sitting still with only her self-sorrowful musings to keep her company.
Twice she almost came upon a party of nobles, boisterously trooping down the hall from the opposite direction in the full gay spirit of the upcoming festivities. These, the queen scrupulously avoided - the first by quickly turning down a handy adjoining hallway and the second by ducking into a conveniently darkened door. She grimaced in distaste until she could no longer hear the clamor of them any longer.
Snow White had no desire whatsoever to converse with the likes of them at all today if she could help it. She preferred solitude to mixing with that bunch, but that particular attitude was not a product of her grief. She remembered all too well that for all of their pretty clothes and correctly courteous manners, there was not a one of them who was anybody to be trusted. Most of them, she knew, would turn on her in a heartbeat if they thought it was to their advantage and that they could get away with it. Snow White had learned that particularly hard lesson all too well.
As the last of the second group of noisy party-primped and gaily clad high-born paraded out of earshot, Snow White grimaced again, but also took a moment to collect herself and get her bearings. This was not a part of the castle that she frequented. It was honestly one that she had consciously avoided almost the entire time she had lived here with her husband and king. The narrow doorway she had randomly stepped into did not lead to a room or closet, but rather to a long and winding set of stairs. Snow White was unsure if she had come this way purely by accident or through some unconscious pull of her own melancholy, but now that she realized where she was, she had very little desire to stay.
Still, it was quiet here. This entire wing of her massive palace had only been used for storage now creeping up on nearly thirty five years, as long as she and Charming had lived here together in fact, and there was very little chance of anyone coming to disturb her. As much as the place unnerved her, Snow White realized that she was unlikely to encounter anything more unsettling than dust or rats. So ultimately, she closed the stubborn door to the main corridor behind her and began the steep climb up the long tower stairs.
David Meredith is an emerging author and veteran educator based in the Nashville area. Before returning to the US two years ago he spent nearly a decade on and off between 1999 and 2010 teaching English in Northern Japan.