The thundering hoof beats retreated as the carriage clattered down the pebble strewn path through the forest.
Her eyes felt leaden and her head pounded like a million hammers. She wanted to lie down on the sodden earth and rest her head on the mulch. The events of the day came bearing down on her.
Her father, lying dead in a pool of blood!
The assailant, lance in hand with his back to her in the dim lit courtroom…
A loud wail that escaped her throat…
A sharp blow to her head from behind, that caught her unawares…
Discarded in the woods…
She knew that if she didn’t keep walking, the wild beasts which inhabited the woods would tear her into shreds in no time.
The dainty, pale girl, all of sixteen, tried to keep her eyes focused on the way ahead. Driving rains soaked her to the skin and the incessant needle-pricks of wind-sharpened raindrops assailed her face.
In the distance, a blurred outline came into view. She hobbled towards it, her feet sloshing in the mire.
A structure stood in the middle of a clearing, a grim shadow in the darkness of the night. She half-dragged herself to the barn-like dwelling.
The place was empty inside. The stone walls were sturdy and the roof was intact. There were heaps of straw on the cracked flagstones.
She found comfort on the straw. Sleep overcame her like a shroud and the damsel succumbed to exhaustion.
It was the sound of the door that woke her. She sat up sharply, peering into the gloom outside. With a foggy wakefulness and a slight refocusing of her gaze, she saw them and terror leapt through her.
Short, stocky figures stood barricading the doorway. Seven in all !
“Who are you, lass?”, one of them asked gruffly.
“They call me Snow…”, she faltered timidly.
The dwarf extended his hand and Snow shook it hesitantly.
“We’re the dwarfs of Hollyhaze Woods. Where are you headed, Snow?”
Tears welled in her eyes.
“I’ve got nowhere to go. Betrayed by my family and abandoned in the deep dark woods to be devoured by wild beasts…I…they killed my father…and perhaps Prince Eric too…”, she choked on her words.
“Say no more! Oh! You poor child, Snow from the Kingdom of Avondelle? We heard about your father, Your Highness. Come along, Hollyhaze Woods is a welcoming place and you will love it there.”
Snow walked alongside the dwarfs and soon they arrived at a glen. Mighty oak, pine and cedar trees lent shade all around it.
Multi hued butterflies came flitting up to her with tinkling laughter and music in their gossamer wings.
Hold on! They weren’t butterflies…they were fairies and pixies all dressed in colourful flower petaled gowns and bonnets!
The dwarfs told them all about Snow and they led her to Ainwe, the fairy queen.
“Your Majesty, Snow from the Kingdom of Avondelle seeks refuge in our glen. She fears for her life and safety and has nowhere to go…”
Ainwe looked at Snow solemnly. She had a regal demeanor and wore a gem-studded crown.
“And if we let you stay in Hollyhaze Woods, princess of Avondelle or not, I expect you to be up with the sun and on your feet until it goes down. Slackers are punished severely here!”
“Yes, Your Majesty, tell me what I should do and I’ll get started right away.”
“You can look around the glen today and see what work you’re best suited for. The dwarfs will show you around.” Saying so, Ainwe dismissed her.
Snow saw gnomes, elves, pixies, fair-folk of all kinds scurrying or flitting along and going about their chores. Finally, they passed by a cottage in the glen and Snow stopped right in her tracks.
“It’s big enough for me to enter. Do you think they will let me stay for a while?”
The dwarfs hummed and hawed before replying. “Snow, it belongs to us. But like our queen said, you must work for us if you want to stay.”
Snow couldn’t ask for more and agreed instantly. She cooked and kept house for the seven dwarfs and tended to the cucumbers and tomatoes in their garden patch.
When they set out for their mining work in the morning, she walked around the glen and learnt odd jobs.
One of them was to sharpen tools and weapons on tiny grindstones in the Smithy Corner owned by the elves.
Soon, the fair-folk came to like Snow. But they also sensed a melancholic look in her brown pools of eyes. They were always sad and spoke volumes.
The fair-folk decided that the ‘Seance of the Kitsune’ which was held every night in the woods would find a cure for her misery.
Snow wasn’t too keen, but she couldn’t help staring at them, setting off–floating and skimming just above the rose bushes with the fireflies lighting their way.
The dwarfs too attended the mystical ritual and Snow had the cottage all to herself every night until they returned.
The idyllic countryside surrounding her cottage looked exceptionally breath-taking this full moon night. In the distance, she could hear the waves of the foamy rough sea crashing against the steep rock face.
She stared out into the vast nothingness. Wisps of mists slowly rolled out of the hillside beyond. The moon rose higher, casting a silver glow on the coniferous treetops, and the deep dark woods looked magical.
They looked like they had all been adorned with shimmering spangles. Snow looked on with glazed eyes.
She had no one to turn to, except another loner—the moon. It listened to her, beaming at her silently with its soft glow.
Every night, her heart raced and she couldn’t sleep. All her nightmares gathered around the betrayal, the horror, riding like demons from the deep.
Snow sat on her bed, her mind in a flurry of thoughts until the skies brightened with rosy hues.
Rubbing at her sore eyes, she would trudge to the Smithy Corner.
At noon, Snow would slip away to the cove to have a meal just by herself. The lapping of waves and the roar of the sea calmed her.
I can still smell the wild roses from the meadows of Avondelle—an aroma of scarlet and damask blooms. Sitting along the shore of the cove, flutters of breeze rustle the frangipani and carry its perfumes in the salt-kissed breeze. There are only craggy shores, rocky peaks, and turbulent waters in Hollyhaze Cove.
Sunbeams dance on the wavy surface of the Chinora Sea and catch the sparkles of light…
The soft churn of water on the rocks and the solitude and tranquility of lapping surfs were steady and melodious. She listened, her ears perking up. The hackles on her neck started to rise as the waters began to rush! Something was not right…
Waves curled in frothy laces against the rocks, dashing about a spray of salt that dappled the hem of her gown.
Out of nowhere, with a splash, a seal with shiny blue-black skin landed by her side.
As the seal cocked its head, she stared into its eyes. The seal stared right back, but Snow averted the seal’s gaze and sat stone-faced staring into the distant horizon.
At noon the next day, the seal appeared again. This time, Snow pulled the crust from her rye bread and threw it down. The seal waddled forward and gobbled it.
This time, Snow glimpsed her reflection in the seal’s twinkling eyes.
A week passed and when Snow arrived at her favourite spot by the cove, she found the seal already waiting for her!
Snow’s eyes popped out and she was about to beat a hasty retreat when the seal shape-shifted right in front of her and there stood the most good-looking man she’d ever seen!
“Fear not, fair maiden! They call me a Selkie. When I discard my seal fur I become a human.”
Snow’s mind was in turmoil. The Selkie looked harmless and had a kind voice. Yet, she approached him hesitantly. He held out his palm and there was a gleaming pearl shimmering with all the colours of the rainbow. “For you…”, he said gently.
Thus began a steadfast camaraderie between the two.
Many moons passed in this manner. The Selkie tried to convince her to attend the seance at Hollyhaze Woods and chuckled, “You’ll need to go home and learn how to get some sleep first. Be bold!”
Snow was volatile! Hot tears threatened to spill out.
Didn’t the Selkie already know that she had a paranoia of tethering on the brink of oblivion? The betrayal, the abandoning that happened to her, unawares?
The Selkie nevertheless felt sorry for Snow and gave her a pair of matching shards of coloured glass.
“Dear girl, these are Cat’s Eye. Great lores of the cove speak of these magical Cat’s Eye. They belonged to the cats of the sailors whose ships never made it safely back to the shores.
Finding a pair of matching eyes will make your wishes come true if you sleep with it under your pillow.”
That night, with the dwarfs away for the seance, Snow sat for a long time in her room. She hung her coat in the cupboard and tucked a dagger in her sash. Only then did she feel safe. She snuffed out the oil lamps and slept with the Cat’s Eye under her pillow.
Fear thumped in her chest. But she held on tight to the Selkie’s words, wished for the demons in her mind to disappear and in an instant drifted to sleep.
As the sun rose the following day, Snow felt she hadn’t slept this fitfully in ages! The Selkie’s charm of Cat’s Eye had worked wonders!
As promised, Snow decided to attend the seance. She followed the fair-folk that night and they arrived at an arbour.
Next to it were ancient trees, their verdant leaves against violet sky. The rose bushes spiralled out of the soil, their branches sticking out with lush, red and pink heads. Dried petals perfumed the road up to the door.
The heavy mahogany doors opened. The marble columns inside were tinged with pastel blues and sea-green. It was lovely inside with two big lamps burning on either side and torches adorning the walls.
The oil lamps belched colourful wisps of aromatic smoke. Their flickering flames caused shadows to dance upon the thick columns. A lone figure sat on the marble stone floor facing a cauldron. Women in pointy hats and black gowns chanted Celtic hymns. Black cats walked around the cauldron in a daze.
Shortly after, several pixies entered bearing a golden platter arranged with hollyberries, slices of honey cake and a cup of Bluebell nectar for the mortal guest.
They set it down on a small table with legs twined like sinuous tree roots. They also lay a cushion stuffed with cotton-candy pink clouds down on the seat of the chair.
Snow shifted uncomfortably on her seat. She scanned the cavernous arbour. All eyes were on her. The dwarfs stood by the far end of the wall and signalled to her reassuringly.
In one fluid motion, the Oracle rose to her feet and unveiled her face. She wore a white toga draped across her left shoulder and cinched at the waist with a golden rope.
Snow saw the most beautiful Kitsune–a fox-maiden with swirling nine tails!
“You have an opportunity of a lifetime to ask a question to the Oracle of Kitsune.
Ask me what you will, mortal.
Unmask the scoundrel who killed your father ?
Find your true love…?”
The Kitsune’s last question made Snow’s brittle heartstrings snap and it tore at her inner core. A great flood of emotions washed away days of misery and grief.
Racking sobs spent her frail frame and she barely mustered a whisper, “Yes, Sacred one…yes to all..”
The Kitsune anointed her with myrhh, fennel and clove oils and the arbour started to resound with chants in varying pitch. The cats stopped walking and moved away in a single file.
“Take a peek into the cauldron and you will see the truth behind the veil cast on time.”
A hazy vision emerged along with the wisps of smoke—The king in a scuffle with the intruder and before anyone in the arbour could gather their wits about them, they saw him plunging his lance with a viciousness and the king lying in a pool of blood! A snarling face came into view—Prince Eric!
And that of her stepmother in fits of laughter…!
Snow let out a shrill screech…
The Kitsune stroked her head kindly. “Go forth and seek what you will on the Green Hill. The stars align two days from now.”
Snow bowed low and staggered out of the arbour.
Snow made her way up the Green Hill. She watched the birds, encountered scampering woodland critters and smelled fresh, fragrant pine.
A brook wound its way near the edge of the woods.
She watched the vast expanse of the meadow which were dotted with grazing herds of sheep and horses.
How I regret my foolhardiness and naivete.
A love that I invested in, turned rogue. Prince Eric, in cahoots with my stepmother killed my father in a horrible way, had sold himself to the devil for a promise of huge wealth…
The warmth of his embrace engulfing me, making me feel secure while we lay in the meadows together, entwined with each other was a falsity. A mirage in my overcooked imagination…just like the promises he made.
How many moons before I can reclaim my life, own it…
True love was not for me…
Something sounded on the slick dew. She felt a warm breath and a cold, velvety muzzle on the nape of her neck. She turned to look at a stag standing behind her.
This exceptionally huge stag looked like a billowing cloud—whiter than fresh snow!
He shone with an aura that dulled a diamond’s dazzle. His unusually long antlers were intricately shaped.
His luxuriant silver locks and mane cascading down to his hooves, blew and danced in the breeze. Something was outlandish about this stag!
Like a mystery unravelling, with the grace and manoeuvre of a ballerina, he reared on his hind legs like a tall tower and spread out—two magnificent feathery wings!!!
They were a holographic majestic span from shoulder to tip. From the saddle hung a dagger made of zythrin.
Snow felt her jaw drop! “A Peryton?!“
The Peryton followed her to the glen and the fair-folk of Hollyhaze let out whoops of delight.
“Snow! The Peryton seeked you out! It was lost to the legends. It only seeks the ones chosen by the Kitsune.” They looked at Snow with admiration.
The dwarfs came forward to rejoice as her victory was near at hand.
“Take the zythrin dagger, Snow and use it boldly.”
The Peryton nudged her to ride him and when she did, it galloped away with her at a thumping momentum through the grassy knolls, seas of green fields—a riot of wild flowers in season and entered the dark woods.
Snow hadn’t ventured this far, inside.
She had no clue what dangers lurked here. Even the light failed to penetrate the thick canopy of leaves overhead. He came to a halt at a circular clearing in the middle of the deep forest—a pool of liquid-gold sunlight surrounded by the tallest of dense trees.
The Peryton stood in the centre of the clearing where the treetops separated in a perfect circle above. He looked up, unfurled his wings and soared along with Snow through the opening. She shrieked and clung to him for dear life. With a whoosh, the boughs drew in and the portal closed as soon as they were through.
Eric! You vile thug! You’ll pay for your sins with your blood!
The Peryton glided through the midnight starry sky until they spotted the Kingdom of Avondelle beneath and landing noiselessly behind a clump of rhododendron bushes, they lay in wait. All the courtyard was in shadow. Snow found a corner to hide.
A little after midnight, Prince Eric unsteadily made his way to the palace door. He seemed sloshed beyond his wits.
She followed him up the cobblestoned path, as a predator would sniff out his quarry in the moonlight. The wind whispered through the open gate, and a shiver crept up and down her spine.
Snow emerged in front of him and threw back her hood.
How his face contorted when he saw her!
She met his gaze with steady eyes and walked towards him. For a brief moment they stood together in the darkness, and then, Snow, with a vengeance, plunged the zythrin blade into his chest without hesitation.
His heart spilled blood, hot and black, over the flagstones.
Even as Eric lay limp and lifeless on the ground, she made her way inside the palace.
Her stepmother was in for a surprise as well!
A guttural shriek rent the air and just like the voices of the wind swelled to a crescendo, it died away in a heartbeat.
The moon peeped over the turrets and bathed the courtyard in silver light as Snow emerged out of the palace with a blood-soaked dagger.
Back at the cove, Snow waited eagerly for the Selkie to show up. And he did, this time with a necklace of seashells and corals.
“Be mine, Snow and I’ll shed my seal fur forever to be with you.”
Snow leapt into his arms and after a long embrace asked, “What’s your name, Selkie?”
“I thought you’d never ask! It’s Charming, beloved!”
Snow’s tinkling laughter echoed all over cove, the choppy sea and Hollyhaze Woods.
Author Notes: Retelling version from ‘Snow-White And The Seven Dwarfs’
1. Peryton:The Peryton is a mythological hybrid animal combining the physical features of a stag and a bird.
2. Kitsune: The Kitsune is Japanese mythological fox spirit whose power is symbolized by an increase in the number of tails.
3. Selkie: In Celtic and Norse mythology, selkies are mythological beings capable of therianthropy, changing from seal to human form by shedding their skin.
4. Zythrin: A magical element for which I took liberty to create a word of my own.
5. Fair-folk: Also known as fae.
UNSPLASH: MERITT THOMAS