Snow White, or Learning to Love Your Stepmother, Part II

Rocky walked through the forest all night. It was dark, close, and scary. Even Rocky, who wasn’t afraid of much, soon began to get unnerved by the shadows and the silence. She had walked as far as she could when she came upon a little house. It was neat and snug, and it sat there in the middle of a small clearing, just as though a giant hand had set it down like a toy.
Rocky didn’t care if anyone was inside; she wanted to get out of the trees for a while. She cracked open the little door and sneaked inside.
She had just closed the door when she heard such a racket that she nearly wanted to run. The snoring, sighing, and belching that filled the little house made rocky wonder if she had wandered into a den of bears. But no. With the light of dawn through the windows, Rocky saw seven beds lined up against the wall, and in each bed was a form snoring and blowing and muttering.
Rocky hid herself as best she could. It wasn’t long before one of the figures got up and began tending the fire in the stove. Soon the little house was filled with the smells of fresh coffee and oatmeal porridge flavoured with cinnamon. Rocky’s stomach growled.
When Rocky peeped out from behind the barrel where she hid, she could see that all the little men were now sitting around the table, slurping coffee and shoveling in porridge. They were dwarfs, with shaggy hair and long beards.
“Brothers,” said one of the dwarfs. “I think an animal has broken into our house.”
The others looked at him and nodded. “Indeed,” said another.
“Is it a monster?” said a third.
“Or a forest demon?” said a fourth.
“Or perhaps,” said the first, “it is a naughty princess who has run away from the castle.”
“Surely not,” cried the others.
Rocky sighed. “All right,” she said, coming out from behind the barrel. “I’m right here.”
The dwarfs all gave a convincing jump. “The monster!” cried one. “The demon!” cried another.
“I’m sorry I sneaked into your house,” said Rocky, with all of the dignity of a small princess. “But could I please have some breakfast? I’ve been wandering around the forest all night.”
Laughing, the dwarfs made room for her at the table. Soon Rocky had a steaming bowl of oatmeal, a hot scone, and a mug of coffee. It was delicious.
The dwarfs of course wanted to know her story, but they waited until Rocky had eaten her fill. Then she told them about the queen.
“A bad business,” said one, shaking his shaggy head.
“You can stay here with us,” said another, “at least until you get this all sorted out.” The other dwarfs nodded.
“I’m never going back,” said Rocky, now near to tears. But it had been a long night, and she was, after all, only seven.
One of the dwarfs made her a bed in the corner, and soon Rocky was tucked up and falling asleep. The dwarfs got ready for their day in the mines, but one agreed to stay behind—to mind the Princess. He got his knitting, and sat on a chair in the morning sun, while Rocky slept.
Meanwhile, the night before, the huntsman had gone to see the old cook. But even before he came storming into the kitchen, the whole castle already knew the princess had run away. “Do you know what that woman asked me?” thundered the huntsman, as soon as he stood before the cook.
Everyone knew who that woman was. “I can guess,” said the old cook, while the under cooks and the serving lads and lasses stopped to listen.
The huntsman told his tale. “And now the princess has run off into the forest. What are we to do?”
The old cook looked thoughtful. “First,” she said, “you needn’t worry about the princess. She’ll be safe. She’ll find her way to the house of the Seven Dwarfs. You can check on her in the morning, if you like. I will deal with the Queen tomorrow.”
The next morning, the huntsman left for the forest, and soon enough he came to the house of the dwarfs. It wasn’t that far from the castle. Rocky had been going in rather a circle the night before. The huntsman found one of the dwarfs seated on a chair, his knitting needles clicking and flashing in the sun.
“Come for your princess?” asked the dwarf, glancing up at the huntsman. “She’s fast asleep inside. Help yourself to coffee.”
The huntsman knew the dwarfs well. He was relieved, to say the least. He had a quick look at the sleeping princess, and then he took another chair and a cup of coffee and joined the dwarf outside.
Back at the castle, everyone knew what had happened the night before. There was some angry muttering, but the old cook said that she would take care of the Queen. The cook was a wise woman, and she had a little magic of her own. Taking a small looking glass from her pocket, she peered into its murky depths. She spoke to it. It flashed once and went dim again. With a little smile, the old cook tucked the mirror back into her pocket, and then she went to check the bread that had just come out of the ovens.
It was the Queen’s custom to sleep late. The King had left early with a hunting party, and the morning was well under way when suddenly the whole castle heard a shriek.
“The Queen’s awake,” said the old cook.
The shriek was soon follow by another, and soon a wailing and blubbering queen came down the steps. “My mirrors!” she screamed. “What has happened to my mirrors? They’re all broken!”
It was true. Every mirror in the castle was covered with a spider web of cracks, and they were all as dull as the winter sky.
The old cook let it go on for a while, and then she went to look for the Queen. The woman was slumped on a chair in the Great Hall. The cook stood before the Queen. “Your Highness,” she said, ”you have done an unconscionable thing.”
The Queen looked up at the cook through her tears. She wasn’t especially good at listening to others, but something in the cook’s tone made her pay attention.
“What have I done,” she sobbed. “Some wicked person has broken all of my mirrors.”
“You’ve only got what you deserved,” said the Cook, “after what you tried to do to the Princess.”
“The Princess,” said the Queen. And since she didn’t have a mirror to distract her, the Queen had to think for a moment.
“Yes, the Princess. You should be ashamed of yourself. What sort of queen asks the Royal Huntsman to dispose of a little girl?”
The Queen wasn’t a bad sort, really. She was vane, and she read too many fairy tales, but she didn’t actually mean Rocky any harm.
“If you do the right thing,” said the old Cook, “maybe—just maybe—one or two of these mirrors will start working again.”
The Queen sniffed. “If you mean,” she said, with another sniff, “that I should apologize, then I suppose I could. Then I can have my mirrors back?” She looked hopefully up at the cook.
“You’ll have to do better than that,” said the Cook, glowering down.
“Very well! I suppose I haven’t been a good stepmother, so I’ll do my best to be a better one to dear little Snow White.”
“And what?” cried the Queen.
“It will be hard acting like a stepmother if all you’re doing is looking in the mirror.”
“I’ll keep my mirrors in my room,” sulked the queen.
The old cook could see she wasn’t going to get much better than that, so she let it be. She called for a footman, who escorted the Queen into the forest and to the house of the Seven Dwarfs. There, in front of all the dwarfs, the huntsman, and the footman, the Queen apologized to Rocky.
Rocky stood awhile, and then she said. “You should know that it was me hiding behind your mirror yesterday. It wasn’t your mirror talking. It was me. I wanted to play a trick on you. I’m sorry, too.”
The dwarfs and the two men held their breaths as they watched the little Princess and the tall Queen, who looked hard at one another.
“Well,” said the Queen, finally, “if you promise not to do anything of the sort again, I will do my best as your stepmother.”
Rocky gave a reluctant grin. “All right,” she said, and taking her stepmother’s hand, she led her back to the castle.
There was a great feast that night, and the seven dwarfs were invited to stay at the castle. The King smiled absently as he greeted everyone, but he wasn’t sure what had happened that day. And since finding out would have meant taking an interest, he didn’t bother.
Rocky and her stepmother sat side by side at the great table, while the seven dwarfs drank and made merry around them. “We’ll have to do something about your father, next,” said the Queen.
And Rocky nodded her head. “Good idea,” she said.