The Queen's Story

My beauty is famed, and eternal. I have many names; Queen of the Spring, Mother of the Willow, Lady of the Nine Heights. The people of my land strew flowers at my feet when I pass.

My castle grows from solid rock. Its foundations tap deep into the heart of the earth, where runs the stream of life. A high tower rises up from this source, and often, under the full moon

I lie in its cold embrace and drink the energy that flows from below.

In the tower room an arched window gives a view down to the red tiled rooftops of the town, and the fertile pastures beyond, but sometimes I gaze instead into the mirror of truth that hangs on the far wall, in a niche couched with shadows. From there I am able to reach out through the ripples of time, to know the thoughts that pass through a hundred minds. No secrets are hidden from me.

Each seven years I take a husband. My new king is handsome and strong, as were they all once. He has a daughter whose skin is white as snow, whose hair is black as a raven's wing. She sings in the orchard and dances through the garden below, dreaming of a prince who will snatch her away from maidenhood and make her his own. But no lover will lie with Snow White. She will dream a long time in the greenwood, until her bones bleach and mingle with the roots of the yew tree, and when her girlish good looks have been eaten by worms I will still be Queen.

The magic mirror writhes with increasing agitation and as the ninth wave builds far out in that moon-sprinkled sea, I am flying. Over the freshly ploughed fields, dark as chocolate, over orchards heavy with ripening red apples, the cornfields where sheaves are stacked and where blood must be spilled in propitiation. I fly over the wide leagues of forest, the green leaves stirring beneath the harvest moon that lights my way, and come at last to the glade.

There she lies, cold and still; my rival, with her rosy young lips and raven hair. She is curled as if in sleep, her body cradled in earth's embrace. As I swoop down, I see her chest rise and fall, her eyelids flickering as she dreams, and I know that my huntsman has failed me. She shudders as if something evil has trodden through the landscape inside her head, and I fly up again, taking to the air, following the scent of blood to a glade where the deer lies slaughtered and gutted. In the cavity of ribs, no heart remains.

In the greenwood she has found a home. The little men who toil under the earth have taken her in. I hear her name whispered in the streets; I feel her dangerous innocence well up from the rock when I lie in my high tower, poison running through my blood. The people are changing, turning from me, and the land sickens into winter. There are fine lines now at the corners of my eyes, broken veins in my cheeks. My knuckles are gnarled as tree roots and my hair is dry and brittle, like dead leaves. With the waning moon, my power ebbs still further.

When I walk through the orchard, a rosy apple drops at my feet. Perfect and shiny it looks, but I can see into its heart, where white flesh is darkened by corruption, where the worm burrowed out a lair back in the springtime when it first formed. A shiver goes through me as I know what I have to do.

I take off my robes of state and my jewels. I strip the rings from my bony hands, age-spotted now, and put on the rags of a peasant. The mirror is dull, the future clouded as I pick up the basket and step out into the world, into the woods. A chatter of panic runs through the grove. Birds fly up from my approach. They too can feel the storm building, the high clouds that mass in ominous silence above us. The air is oppressive with tension.

The little men go off to their mine, shovels over their shoulders, hands like clods of earth. Which of them does she bed with, I wonder. What dark passions are whispered at night in the cottage that nestles here in a stream-loud valley, its grass close-cropped by the deer, its chimney sending turf-scented smoke up to the heavy sky.

I knock on the scarred door, and she opens, cringing back from me, the hag at her doorstep.

'I am tired,' I whine. 'Tired and cold.' The first splashes of rain spatter the threshold 'Will you let me in?'

She hesitates. A bird cries out in alarm.

'The storm is nearly upon us,' I plead. 'Let an old woman shelter...'

And, stupid young beautiful fool that she is, she invites me inside. I huddle by the hearth, where the apples glow warm as the flames. Can you not feel that juice in your mouth, my dear, sweet and sharp at the same time? The bounty of the goddess, ripened through long afternoons of summer sun. She stretches out a hand...

My heart is beating wildly as she bites into the flesh, shutting her eyes in delight. As she sinks to the floor the door bursts open and rain blows in, making the fire hiss madly. The little men have returned!

In the shape of a black crow I escape up the chimney with a flare of sparks and wild billows of smoke. An arrow brushes my feathers. As a hare, I am fleet-footed, but they loose their dogs on me. My strength ebbs as we climb onward and upward, where water cascades like thunder, and spray makes the rocks treacherous. Lightning sears the sky, and still they pursue.

Cornered at last, they close in on me. I stand tall, and even now they cower back, afraid of what they are about to destroy. I raise my arms and lean over the edge, falling swiftly. I see their faces recede, dissolving in water, as with the last of my power I transform again.

A salmon swims in a forest pool, forgetting everything but the movement of sunlight and shadow, the spin overhead of a fly. Seasons pass. The fish dreams of a high tower, and a beautiful woman who once ruled a land of plenty. The fish sees a prince and his young bride ride home in triumph, the cherry blossom falling at their feet. Sees too the flush at her cheek and the swelling of her belly as a child grows.

She has a craving for fresh salmon, a craving that cannot be abated. The prince sends out his fishermen and they come eventually to the ferny pool in the deep greenwood, where after a long battle, the fish succumbs. But inside there remains a spark of life, and even as she eats, swallows, it rejoices that it has found a new host.

She clutches at her abdomen.

'What is it, my love?' her husband asks anxiously.

'It's the baby,' she says, joy suffusing her features. 'I felt it quicken.'

The seed of her own destruction is planted. Her blood nurtures me. If strange thoughts sometimes flit through her empty head, then she puts it down to motherhood. Or something that she has eaten, maybe?

When she is old and grey and withered, then I will be reaching my full flowering. My time will come round again. My beauty is famed, and eternal.