The Quest: A Fractured Fairy Tale
"Bring me the head of Prince Charming!" the Wicked Queen cried out angrily from her throne, the members of the court gathered around watching anxiously.
"Mo-ther," Snow White sighed out, getting her parent's attention. The pale skinned beauty who so resembled the queen in her youth pushed her long black hair back as she coolly suggested, "Just bringing him back in chains would be enough, I think."
"Indeed," the Wicked Queen nodded thoughtfully, her own black hair now carrying a hint of silver. Her red dress clung to a well proportioned body, her face still mostly unlined by age.
'Not that mother is really all that wicked,' Snow mused as she studied her mother, 'it just seems to be a nickname she chose to embrace.' The local kings had begun to call her that name after discovering how dangerous she could be in both negotiations and politics. 'Not to mention over a card table,' Snow added impishly.
"No," the quiet voice interrupted them. Rose Red was even paler than normal, her flaming hair bolder than ever as she said to them gravely, "Simply because he rescued me and did not take advantage, does not mean we can bring him back here by force."
Snow looked at her younger sister in surprise. "You mean that he didn't even try to...." Snow trailed off disbelievingly.
With a clearly annoyed expression on her face Rose bit out the words, "He did not even come near me with his... sword."
"Damn, maybe he really is gay," the Queen blurted out without thinking.
Fighting back her sudden tears Rose Red swept from the throne room even as an awkward silence fell. Snow gave an exasperated sigh and glared up at her mother from where she stood beside the throne, the older woman having the grace to look sheepish.
'How could something so simple go so wrong?' Snow wondered as the courtiers began to speak up, making suggestions to the Queen.
Everything had started out beautifully with Rose Red being kidnapped, too. It was very nearly a tradition in this part of the world that a unwed princess would be taken captive, taken up to a mountain keep or down to a dank dungeon and there wait to be rescued by the handsomest of princes. After the rescue they'd take the long way home, get to know each other better, and often the question would be popped before they got home.
In fact poor Rose had been getting so impatient for her kidnapping to finally happen that she had even begun to hint to their mother the Queen that she might arrange something. As Rose often pointed out she was already sixteen, practically an old maid, and soon she would be losing the bloom of her princess-hood.
'Somehow I doubt that Mother helped arrange for that troll to attack,' Snow thought to herself grimly, 'she wouldn't sacrifice guards like that.'
Once a delighted Rose had been carried away they put the word out that they needed a prince, and soon one came. A wandering prince named Charming soon appeared at court and despite Snow's misgivings about the beautiful blonde boy he had ridden out to face the troll in it's keep. Clearly he had beaten it in battle for a few days later he returned to the castle with Rose, kissed her good-bye then rode away without a word, leaving a devastated Rose in his wake.
"So what can we do?" the queen scowled.
Snow puffed out a breath, adjusting her blue dress a bit uncomfortably. "If I can make a suggestion?" she offered.
"Please do," her mother gave Snow a thoughtful look, recognizing that expression on her shrewd daughter's face. 'It's too bad that seems to make the men less interested in her, not more,' the Queen thought to herself glumly.
"Sending armed forces or knights to go find our wayward prince won't make Rose very happy," Snow said seriously, "not to mention how it would spur on the gossips. But a single rider, one who is a good horseman and skilled with a blade, could go and get him much more quietly."
"You have someone in mind," the Queen didn't exactly make it a question and Snow smiled, nodding. She put two and two together quickly and smiled back as the Queen cautioned her, "It could be dangerous, daughter."
"With a bit of protective coloring it should be fine," Snow reassured her. A impish look, "And Rose knows I tend to like riding off on my own anyway, so there shouldn't be any trouble."
"Officially," the Queen stressed the word, "I can't approve of my eldest daughter going off on adventures, but as long as you don't tell me exactly what you're doing it should be fine."
Snow rolled her eyes at the deception and the Queen laughed.
Early next morning in her quarters Rose worked to ready herself for her trip, her lady's maid frowning worriedly behind her. "Are you sure this is a good idea, ma'am?" Alice asked nervously, her long blonde hair shimmering as she helped the princess pack.
"No," Snow said to her frankly, "but that's never stopped me before." She frowned as she noticed what Alice was trying to pack, "Just traveling clothes, I thought I said. A long lacey gown doesn't really work for spending days on horseback."
"You won't be stopping in at any of the local courts?" Alice asked her in surprise. She smiled shyly as she softly suggested, "I understand that Queen Cinderella is holding a ball soon, as is Queen Beauty. Both have sons that would make good matches....."
"You know I don't like that sort of thing," Snow answered her crisply, grabbing several pairs of dark colored pants and folding them into her saddlebags, "and to be honest I can't stand those two butterflies." Ignoring her maid's appalled look she stuffed matching shirts into her bags as she asked, "Can you find my heavy cloak?"
"Here," Alice hefted the bundle of brow cloth and held the princess' short sword in the other hand, "and I assume you'll be wearing this, too?"
"Thank you," Snow smiled wryly, hearing the tone of disapproval in Alice's voice. Her sword belt buckled on over her black pants, her simple red shirt crisp against her skin.
"I still can't believe that a princess of the blood would go out dressed like this," Alice shook her head with a sigh, her own dress swirling around her legs, blue eyes widened with distress. "What would your people think?"
"Oh they're used to me by now," Snow said dryly as she adjusted the braid that Alice had tied back her hair in. She smiled at the maid with surprising gentleness, "I do appreciate all your efforts at civilizing me, even if they are a little annoying."
"Of course," Alice said as she helped settle the traveler's cloak around Snow's shoulders, "you knew as soon as I was hired why I was brought here."
Snow laughed, "My mother may be subtle, but she's been despairing of my behavior for years, ever since I ran away from home and worked in that mine with the seven dwarves when I was younger." She grabbed her bags off of the bed and slung them over her shoulder, pausing a moment when she saw Alice hesitate, "Yes?"
Alice stepped forward and gently kissed the taller woman on the cheek, her breath stirring a few loose strands of Snow's hair as she said, "Good luck."
Snow looked down at Alice in surprise, "What was that for?"
"You looked so much like a young knight about to embark on a quest," Alice explained as they walked to the door to Snow's suite, "I couldn't help myself."
A faint blush colored Snow's cheeks as she smiled, "Thank you." With that she was off, striding down the hall with her cloak swirling, sword softly thumping against her side.
The queen's Councilor fell into step beside her, Jack's blonde hair falling into his eyes. Once known as an adventurer and giant killer he had retired, but there was still a dangerous twinkle to his eyes. "That rude beast you prefer has been saddled up," he cheerfully reported as they walked to the courtyard, "and we did it with only two people being maimed."
Snow sighed as she reminded him, "You know that I'm the only one who can saddle or bridle him without trouble."
"You should see what happens to the stablehands when I even mention the name Rosebud," Jack chuckled, "it's positively hilarious seeing the looks of terror on their faces."
"You are a very evil man m'lord," a smiling Snow said as they walked past the guards and out into the cool morning air. The great stallion tied up to a post glowered at everyone until it saw Snow White, only then did he whinny welcomingly as she untied him and put her saddlebags into place. Approvingly she noted the previsions and supplies had already been attached and she hoped that Rosebud hadn't been too viscous to the poor kitchen boys.
"I'll never get used to seeing that," Jack remarked as the frightening beast acted like the gentlest pony around Snow. Giver to her as a foal Snow had raised the horse, even nursing it back to health when Rosebud fell ill one winter, and the horse loved Snow dearly. Of course it hated everyone else, but that was considered a acceptable trade off.
"Tell mother I've gone," Snow smoothly pulled herself up into the saddle, "and keep an eye on Rose Red for me. I don't think she'll do anything too stupid, but I want to be sure."
"Of course," Jack executed a graceful bow before asking her, "and how long do you think you'll be gone this time?"
"I hope only two weeks," with a nudge of her heels and a tug of the reigns Snow turned the stallion towards the gate in the outer wall as she continued, "but I may be longer, it depends on how the hunting goes."
"Good luck," Jack called as Rosebud took off, mane and tail streaming behind him like a flag as he carried Snow White off on her quest.
To be continued...