Snow White - Chapter 2
Chapter 2, for your reading pleasure (hopefully)
Nyeki stood, trembling, before Albin. She had just handed him the deerskin bag with a teary explanation of what Chase had told her.
Albin opened the bag and stared at what was inside. Then he closed it, held it tightly to him. His glassy eyes stared straight ahead, seeing nothing.
Nyeki reached out to touch his arm.
“Leave me.” He growled. “This is because of you. Leave me.”
Nyeki hesitated. “Albin…” a tear rolled down her check.
“LEAVE ME!” he roared.
Nyeki ran from the room.
Albin reached inside the bag and touched the cooling heart, feeling its stiffness, lifelessness. He fell to his knees, clutching the bag to his chest, soaking the hide with silent tears. Sobs heaved his broad chest and he pulled a deep breath, letting it out in a roar of misery that spoke his daughter’s name.
All night he remained so, though his knees ached and his knuckles cramped, unaware that Nyeki watched from beyond the door, weeping her own tears in silence, looking for a sign, a way to share [ain and comfort,
As the dawn glimmered through the windows, however, she retreated to her chambers and sat at her desk, watching yet not seeing the citizens go about their day. And how could they? How dare they parade their happiness, their families, their lives as though it mattered. As though Snow White still lived. How dare the sun shine, the clouds move, the breeze blow.
Albin, it seemed, felt the same. She saw him stumble out of the front door and accost all who passed, screaming into their ears. Nyeki strained her own to catch his words.
Slowly traffic, pedestrian and cart, passing the house turned into a watchful crowd of people who knew them, knew Snow. Acquaintances, friends, suitors; as the truth dawned on each, the day seemed to grow dark and heavy, as if the collective sadness cowed and dimmed the sun.
From somewhere a cry began to “Kill the bear - slit his throat - spill his blood!” and was quickly taken up. An action they could perform to counter their helplessness – destroy the beast that caused it.
Thinking of Chase, Nyeki made her way down and stood by her husband. He only looked at her coldly until she spoke. “The man who brought us this news is a hunter – the best hunter in out lands. If you can find him, ask his assistance to find this bear and prevent any more loss.” She took her husband’s arm and felt him soften, just a little, enough to look at her properly and allow himself to be led inside, though his normally warm and laughing eyes were hollow with sorrow and the blame he must fix onto her and the bear to save his own sanity.
Nyeki led him to his bed and joined him in it, holding him close and stroking his grey-white hair until he slept. She watched him weep, even in sleep, until she could bear it no longer and left him, returning to her own room.
Instead of sleeping, however, she gazed into Lerato. The mirror showed her as she was, not as what it saw, and that right now was as bad as anything else. Nyeki’s auburn hair was tousled and knotted, her blue-grey eyes bright with tears, red-rimmed and sunken with sleeplessness. Her face was almost as pale as Snow White’s and lines crinkled her mouth and forehead; smooth, before her step-daughter had taken issue with her father’s re-marriage.
Albin’s courtship had begun almost 6 years after the death of his first wife, of a fever. Encouraged by Nyeki, the daughter of a moderately wealthy trader, he had allowed himself to release the guilt and feel again. As she grew to love him and his then 12 year old daughter, Snow White grew to hate her.
Angry that Albin would ‘replace’ her mother, angry that Nyeki would dare be kind to her, she played cruel pranks as only a 12 year old could. A needle stuck in a chair, frog in a bed – harmless, yet just as hurtful as if she had stabbed Nyeki with a dagger.
Albin and Nyeki had persisted, however. Their love was strong, and they were convinced Snow would mature and learn that Nyeki would never wish to replace her mother; sure that showing Nyeki was a stable, reliable force for good in the troubled youngster’s life. One that would do nothing but love her, all faults aside, and forgive her childish jealousies would bring Snow around eventually.
When the day came that Albin proposed, the young Snow was furious. Nyeki did not see the force of her fury, only heard second hand of the tantrums, threats and thrown objects. Snow had simply refused to acknowledge her existence. She averted eyes so as not to look into Nyeki’s face, refused to move out of her path were they to meet on the stairs, ignored her even when directly spoken to. Her shoulder was as cold as ice.
Nyeki had come close to cancelling the wedding when, in tears because Snow had not only refused to eat the food cooked by her soon-to-be step-mother, had also thrown it to the floor and stormed out, calling back over her shoulder. “She’s a whore! I hate her!” as she went.
An argument ensued with Albin, who maintained that a continuation of understanding towards his daughter was the only plan, and Nyeki who begged him to make her stop. Her love for the man and, despite everything, his daughter, won through Nyeki’s tears and she awoke on the morning of her wedding with a song in her heart.
The song turned to a screech the moment she entered her dressing room and saw her maids and bridesmaids gaping at her wedding dress. It had been ripped into ruins, muddied and thrown around until it was good for nothing more than rags.
Determined to make her happy family, Nyeki held back her pain and fury – as she was to do from then on. She asked for her second dress, the less-special one always made for important occasions, to replace the finer just in case of a last minute hitch. This was brought to Nyeki with haste. It was still beautiful, and Nyeki looked beautiful in it. IF this was all Snow, in her ignorance of traditional careful measures, had under her sleeve, the day would still go well, could still be wonderful.
Dressed, Nyeki and her bridesmaids walked through the streets to the chapel, as was tradition.
Inside, Snow’s face turned purple upon seeing her plan had failed, but was held from speech or flee by Albin himself. “Stay.” He begged into her ear. “My beloved daughter, you must see the woman I also love – but never in a way that could replace you – join our family. You could love her too, if you would only allow yourself the pleasure.”
Snow slumped sulkily in her seat, staring at the floor and seeming to pay no mind to the ceremony happening before her eyes. Until, after the wedding vows, the preacher offered all present a chance to object if they had reason. At this, Snow leapt to her feet and cried “I object!”
Stunned, the Preacher almost carried on with his service before realising that somebody had actually spoken. “On what grounds?” he asked, with a nervous glance towards the equally amazed faces of the happy couple.
“O the grounds that I don’t want her to be my new mum. I want my old mum back. And I hate her.”
The Preacher could find no words to say, could only look helplessly at the groom.
Albin turned to his daughter. “Snow, I love you. Nobody can ever replace tour mother, and Nyeki would never try. I love you no less for loving her. Can’t you understand that?”
Snow shook her head, pouting.
“Pease, Snow. Let me have this one thing.” Albin pleaded.
The girl’s eyes glistened with tears and her jaw set stubbornly. Her father gave her everything, had never asked her to do anything for him. She would be quiet, now and in his presence in future. She would rid him of that woman somehow and they could be happy again. But first she would give him this day. Snow sat down again in silence and watched the rest of the service expressionlessly.
At the reception, in the largest room of her father’s house, she had done the sane, Through the banquet and into the dancing, she had sat in a corner of the room and gazed into space, waving away all who approached. As soon as she could politely claim tiredness, she had left without as much as a ‘good night’.
Nyeki skipped back to the present day. Countless Snow-initiated squabbles for which she always took the blame even if, for once, Snow had told her father the truth, Nyeki would prefer the blame to seat on her. Albin need not have his love for Snow tainted, just because his daughter had no inkling of how much it would hurt him if he knew.
And now he could never know. But somehow, Nyeki thought it may have been better for him to lose his faith a little than lose her altogether. It was Nyeki’s fault for keeping his feelings safe, for allowing it to continue, She had let Snow storm off in a tantrum and now she could storm no more. Not now, not ever.
Nyeki sat at her desk and buried her head in her arms, suddenly too overwhelmed to feel anything at all.
Chase watched Snow anxiously as he brought her into the clearing and showed off the beginnings of the palace he had promised.
Her mouth opened slightly and her eyes widened. “It’s wonderful.” She said, pleased by the look of stunned pleasure that crossed his face.
He fought against wordless stammering, turned to concentrate more fully on his palace and shakily described what he had done, what he had still to do. The room he had built would serve, for now at least, as her bedroom. It was empty, he explained, but by nightfall she would have a bed and a table, with more to come.
Snow made more pleased, appreciative noises and sat down on a moss-covered branch to watch him work.
Chase began to work, painfully self-conscious and aware of her eyes on him. More than once he dropped what he carried, slipped, fumbled and juggled. But as her gaze remained gentle and, he hoped, a little loving; as the work kicked his adrenaline into action, he slowly found himself relaxing, able to continue. Still nervous, still having to be extra careful not to show himself a fool or a klutz, but moving steadily, allowing his hands to do their work.
Snow insisted on cooking for him at noon. Chase hunted a rabbit and lit the fire and she sat him down to rest. He watched with a groan on his face as her strong, slender fingers teased the shells from nuts and skin from berries, and her hands moulded and caressed the skin from the rabbit before roasting it over a spit. Eventually, the meat brown, she pulled a tiny piece off for testing with two careful fingers and Chase watched it disappear between her full lips, heard the sensual ‘Mmm…’ of pleasure escape her throat as her eyes fixed on his.
“Food is ready.” She told him, and he thought he saw a mischievous glint in her innocent eyes.
Dismissing it, he took the tin plate she gave him and tried to taste the food, unable still to take his eyes from her obvious enjoyment of the meal he had provided.
It was a time before he found himself able – and willing – to move again, and that only because Snow had risen gracefully, Paris at her heel, and gone to wash the plates and herself.
Chase had to force his mind back to the job at hand, away from other things – the thought of Snow bathing, glistening wet hair and skin – so he could rise in comfort and return to whittling a bed from the trees. When Snow returned, carrying clean plates, her hair still wet from the water, hanging loose around her shoulders, and her white clothing clinging suggestively to her still-damp skin, he was already focussing as strongly as he could on his work.
Snow White moved silently back into the clearing, refreshed from her bathe and chuckling quietly at the expression of intensity on Chase’s face. She knew the thoughts he was hiding from and decided to leave him to it a while longer – after all, how could she sleep on an incomplete or badly made bed? She decided to take a walk.
“Worry not, dear Chase, Paris would never let me get lost..” she assured him. “Right, Paris?”
The fox licked her hand in reply and Chase, with a flash of jealousy that made Snow want to laugh out loud, reluctantly allowed her to remove herself from his sight.
Albin stood before his assembled posse – a 30-strong group of hunters, blacksmiths, farmers and even one or two traders willing to brave the beast. ‘Not exactly a ragtag bunch.’ He thought to himself, now coherent thought was possible again – at least for as long as he had a focus. Once that was gone, once his mind was no longer occupied, who knew? For now, though, he was a strong, determined leader whose visible grief only emphasised the mission, galling and harrying all who stood awaiting the speech that would send them on their way.
It came, hesitant at first, but sure of itself.
“You are all here because you know what happened to my daughter. Chase, the hunter, found her, mauled by a bear, and bore the news to us with such grief he has not returned since. IF you see him, please tell him I would be glad of his presence for a while.
But that is not why you are here. We asked all those who considered themselves able to gather and be sent to find this bear, kill it and bring it to me. I declare that each of you who go into the forest shall eat of that bear. I declare that should any of you be lost in your task, I shall be sure that your families are cared for. I declare that all who return victorious will meet with reward.
I am deeply touched that so many of you are willing to do this for me – for my daughter, who was loved by all she met.
Nothing will ever bring Snow White back to me – to us, but we can be eased by knowing the beast that took her form us is, in his turn, dead. He will hurt no other.
This is the task and deed to which I ask you to pledge yourself. Will you do so?”
There was a rousing roar of yeses and Albin nodded grimly.
“Then go, friends, and bring yon beast to me so we may flay him, roast him, devour him and leave his bones for the carrion-seeking birds!”
The roar was louder this time, tinged with fierce anger, and fading long after all present were out of sight.
Albin returned to his home, watched by Nyeki from her window. He looked old, alone. The vibrancy she had loved so was banished, perhaps forever. She turned to Lerato and spoke to it. “Lerato. Please, show me Snow White’s last moments. I wish to see.”
The glass glowed foggily, and then darkened.
Nyeki asked again. “Lerato, I beg you, show me snow White;s finl minutes.”
The mirror remained dark, silent.
“Lerato, Lerato did I offend you in some way? Please, please…I wish to see what happened after we argued, after dear Snow White left in anger for the forest.”
This time the mirror’s foggy glow remained for a few seconds and then cleared.
Nyeki watched as the events unfolded before her disbelieving eyes.
When Lerato finally darkened she remained, still, stunned, for noiw beyond all thought.
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