The Magic Mirror Tells You True

"What do you mean, Blanche is the fairest?" my wife spat at me. I could almost feel the flecks of spit on my face as she half-screamed, half-hissed the words. I had known that this day would come for quite some time, though I hadn't actually seen my little daughter since she was ten years old. Even then, she'd had all the beauty of her mother, my first wife, and all of her gracefulness and charm and untiring good humor as well. The perfect child, people said when they saw her running through the palace halls with her straight black hair waving like a banner behind her.

And now she was sixteen, and by all accounts a blooming rose of loveliness. Something her jealous stepmother did not especially care for.

"I told you," I snapped back at my furious wife, "Word has reached even the farthest corners of the land that the fairest woman of all lives as a scullery maid in your castle. I wouldn't be surprised if there are knights here to rescue her by tomorrow morning."

She turned away to pace about her private tower room. "And where does that leave me?" she said, half to herself.

"Several notches down on the 'fairest' factor, in the eyes of most people."

The tiny woman before me whirled, bright eyes crackling like lightning. "Shut up! This is all your fault."

"My fault?" I choked on a bitter laugh. "I've been hung on this same wall on this same nail in this same tower for six years now, only allowed to see you in person and to gauge who the most beautiful women in the world are the rest of the time, and you tell me the fact that my daughter has finally surpassed you is my fault?"

"You fixed it somehow."

If I'd had a face other than the reflection of my wife, I'd have glared right back at her. "At the moment, I'd rather see her the most undesirable girl in the land than have her face your wrath because she's become more beautiful than you in the eyes of the populace. Of all the people in this realm, I probably know best what you can do when your wrath is aroused. The last thing I'd ever think of doing is 'fixing it', as you put it. If I could tell you anything other than the truth at the moment, I would. You wrote the spell that's keeping me here, after all."

My wife let out a hiss of annoyance. "If it weren't for the fact that you are still useful to me occasionally, I'd smash you right now."

"Do it then. I'd rather be dead for good than spend another minute as your prisoner." At that moment, I meant it. And I wished with all my heart that I hadn't been so foolish and fallen into the trap laid for me eight years earlier.

I was heartbroken when my first wife, Thérèse, died of childbed fever that took her two long years of slowly growing weaker and weaker. On the day she left, I contemplated taking my own life in my wild grief. But only for a moment. I still had Blanche to think of.

Blanche was our daughter, our little princess, and our greatest joy. While still newly pregnant with her, Thérèse had stood at our bedroom window in the castle one winter morning and looked out at the new-fallen snow against the ebony windowframe, and wished that the child she carried would be as beautiful as the sight she saw before her.

"Be careful. The faeries may hear you and grant your wish," I'd told her then, coming to stand with my hands on her shoulders. And it appeared that the faeries had heard, for when Thérèse did finally give birth it was not the son we hoped for to inherit the throne. Faeries and others who create mortals' fates are fond of playing tricks like that. But the little girl was the most beautiful child ever seen, with a shock of dark hair at birth and skin so glowing white that the midwives at first though she had been born dead. In keeping, we christened her Neige Blanche, which means Snow White, but everyone who knew her always called her just Blanche.

It took a long time for Thérèse to become pregnant again. Finally, nearly four years after Blanche had been born, she conceived, and I thought then that our happiness was complete. But it was not to be. The baby miscarried late in the pregnancy, and the little boy who should have been the heir to the kingdom was stillborn. My dear Thérèse never recovered from our son's loss, and over the next few years slowly grew thinner and thinner and paler and paler, until her pallor was even whiter than little six-year-old Blanche's. Blanche tremblingly admitted to me once in a private moment a few days after the funeral that she'd sometimes imagined she could see candlelight shining through her mother a not long before the end. Such an observation from my precocious daughter made my heart twist all the worse. I gathered Blanche in my arms and we cried together on each others' shoulders for a long time.

I met Charlotte nearly two years later, at the first formal ball I hosted at the castle since Thérèse's death. Beyond that knowledge, I have very little memory of the two subsequent years. Of course, I know why now; the answer is as glaringly obvious as the mark left after a slap in the face. Charlotte, in addition to being one of the most physically attractive (I still hesitate to say beautiful) women I've ever met, is a very accomplished sorceress. The moment we first danced together she laid a very careful spell upon me that bound my will to hers. I essentially became her puppet, doing everything as she decreed. I melted into a shadow, a mere reflection of her glory for two long years.

I remember a few incidents from that time with startling clarity. I remember kneeling at the alter beside Charlotte, holding her hand, gazing straight ahead and seeing nothing. Her strong hand clutched mine tightly, and I wanted to tell her to let go but couldn't force myself to move a muscle. It was as my mouth finally opened to form the words "I do" that the thought brushed my mind that I might be under a spell. For a moment I faltered, the words caught in my throat. Charlotte's hand tightened on mine, and my memory goes dark again.

There are other flashes here and there in my mind of the time following, brief moments of lucidity where for a second or two I could think for myself while my wife was briefly distracted by something. Most of these I'd like to forget as well: deliberately signing orders for unnecessary taxes, the hanging of one of my most trusted councilors on a false charge, turning my back on poor Blanche when she came to me for comfort after arguing with her best friend.

And then one day I woke up attached to the wall in Charlotte's tower room where she performed most of her magic. At least that's how it felt for all the time I was up there. I knew something must have happened to push Charlotte over the edge and force her to turn me into a mirror, but in the years I was trapped in that form I could never remember what it was. I was fairly certain that some drastic event must have shown her that she didn't have as much control over me as she would have liked, but that was as far as I ever got in my wonderings. Of course I could never ask Charlotte herself. And so the years passed on, until the day that my daughter surpassed her stepmother as the reputed fairest in the land.

Charlotte sighed, the anger fading slightly from her face as she controlled her temper, though the tension remained in her ramrod-straight stance. "Don't tempt me, husband. Though at the moment there's nothing I'd like more than to smash you to smithereens, that would not be helpful to me in the long run."

"Then there's nothing more that I can tell you. I refuse to help you hurt my daughter in any way. She's never done a thing to you; why can't you just leave her alone? Isn't making her a servant in her own home enough?"

"I see she still carries your full support, at least. How fitting. But that will make my triumph over her all the sweeter," Charlotte sneered. Picking up her fur-lined cloak and sweeping it gracefully over her narrow shoulders, she took a few steps towards the entryway to the tower stairs. She turned back before taking the first step down. "And don't forget, the spell that keeps you tied to that wall can only be broken by a kiss from the fairest woman in the land." With a gentle laugh, she slid down the stairs.

Of course I already knew the terms of the enchantment Charlotte had laid on me; it was one of the first things she'd told to me when I 'came to', as it were, in mirror shape. As she explained it, (when I once asked why she added the release conditional at all) every spell must have some loophole that allows it to be undone. The practical reason for such a statute that's so irritating to evildoing magic-users is in case the spell in question doesn't turn out as the caster planned, but it's is a lucky magical law for those of us who've ever been enchanted against our will. It means that the possibility of breaking free one day exists in however minutely a form. It also means it's very difficult to directly take another's life using magic, due to the fact that the loophole to undo the spell must always remain intact and thus the person who's meant to have 'died' can technically be resurrected from their appearance of breathless sleep until old age, suffocation, or other more natural forms of death set in.

The exact terms of my own enchantment were thus: I was required to tell Charlotte the exact truth of whatever she requested for as long as I remained a mirror. The lady in question usually only used this to discover if any poor soul had inadvertently gained the public reputation of greater loveliness than she. I could only be released from my imprisonment if I were kissed by the fairest lady in the land; in theory this meant I was dependant on Charlotte to remain the fairest on the infinitesimal chance that she might one day kiss me herself. I knew from the first day that this was about as likely to happen as a dragon choosing the castle as its roost, so I resigned myself to spending the rest of my life as a wall fixture with the unusual ability to speak.

It wasn't a particularly unpleasant life, being stuck as a mirror, except of course for those terrible times when Charlotte actually paid me a specific visit. The one thing I worried about the most was Blanche. Charlotte had given out the story that I had died, even going so far as to create a magical simulacrum of my likeness for the staged funeral procession, and then continuing to rule my kingdom just as she pleased. The only difference was that she no longer had to maintain the appearance of going through me to get her oppressive decrees passed. Technically she was ruling for Blanche as Queen Regent until my daughter married, but the likelihood of Blanche ever taking the throne was about as high as that of me ever regaining my true shape. Charlotte took steps to ensure that no respectable man would ever marry my poor daughter: forcing her to work as a scullery maid scrubbing the castle floors, dressing her in the most hideous rags available, and forbidding anyone to address her by her rightful title of 'princess'. In this way she hoped that the true heir to the throne would waste away in obscurity.

She was foiled in this, as our conversation on that fateful day demonstrated, by Blanche's extraordinary beauty. Blanche was a pretty child from the start thanks to her mother's wish, with jet-black hair, white skin that seemed to glow in a dark room, and lips like bright red rose petals. But there was a quality of sweetness and friendly intelligence about her spirit that she inherited directly from Thérèse, something that became more pronounced as she grew older and made what would have been an ordinarily lovely girl into an exceptional beauty even at a young age. Charlotte never made any mention of this, but I'm certain it was more Blanche's personality than her outward beauty that bothered the Queen so deeply and drove her to such vindictive jealousy.

After Charlotte swept down the stairs, I grew more and more frantic with worry for Blanche. I alone knew what Charlotte could do when pushed to it, and every moment I feared she would return to tell me that my beloved daughter was dead, or worse. I had lived with desperate worry about my kingdom and my subjects for the past six years, but it had always been a more distant sort of concern. This worry went straight to my heart, or what was left of it.

The next day or so was a torment. Never before had I longed for my true shape with such painful agony. If I were human again, even if only for fifteen minutes, I swore to myself that I'd do everything in my power to right the wrongs that had been caused by Charlotte, starting by ensuring that Blanche was somewhere safe and far away. I even prayed aloud, hoping that some passing sprite or faerie would overhear and spare my daughter from the wrath of my wife. But it seemed my prayers were in vain.

"Your lovely daughter is dead." Charlotte pronounced these words with considerable satisfaction in the light of the setting sun streaming in from the tower window the following day.

Though it was what I had been dreading, I managed to keep my voice steady. "Did you kill her yourself?"

"I am not so foolish as to kill her by magic, if that's what you're implying," Charlotte replied coolly. "No, I took the liberty of having one of my most loyal huntsmen take care of the job secretly, in a much more permanent way than I could contrive. He brought me back a trophy of the chase." She smirked and unwrapped something from a stained cloth bundle she'd been keeping behind her back.

If I'd had a mouth or eyes, I'd have either turned away or been sick. Even in mirror form I felt exceptionally nauseous as I beheld what my wife was proudly displaying in her cupped hands. It was a once-living heart still slowly oozing bright-red blood onto the white cotton cloth wrapping, a hideous distortion of Blanche's rose-red lips against her snow-white skin. Oh, Blanche, I thought in horror, I failed you, dearest sweetheart. Forgive me, please!

Oblivious of the pain in my own heart, Charlotte was still crowing, practically dancing about the tower room in her triumph. "Oh, what shall I do with this lovely, lovely thing? How fitting for such a sweet thing as she was to have such a big heart, don't you think, husband?"

"Very fitting," I choked out, as I was bound to answer her question truthfully. Images of Blanche were playing before my eyes without ceasing. Blanche as a black-haired baby, being handed to me just moments after birth still streaked in her mother's blood. Blanche as a toddler, following me everywhere on wobbly legs. Blanche learning to speak, her sweet face breaking into a delighted smile. Blanche reading her big book of faerie tales by the great hall fire, its light reflecting off her translucent skin. Blanche at Thérèse's funeral, tears flowing freely like tiny diamonds… It was all I could do to hold in a full-throated wail of despair at the loss of such a miracle as Blanche had been.

"Mirror, mirror on the wall, now who's the fairest of them all?" Charlotte had finally turned her attention back to me, finished celebrating over Blanche's heart.

"Blanche," I replied, startling even myself with the answer. I was taken aback. Blanche was dead. Wasn't she? Her heart was before my eyes, still warm and red.

"What did you say?" Charlotte's eyes narrowed to dark slits.

"Blanche," I said, growing more confident in my answer. I knew I couldn't lie, not to Charlotte. Blanche was still alive!

"Still alive?" roared Charlotte, echoing my thoughts. "Then whose heart do I hold in my hands?"

"A wild boar's heart." No wonder it was so large!

"Tell me where she is this moment!"

"Over the seven jeweled hills, beyond the seventh fall, in the cottage of seven dwarf brothers," I answered promptly, wishing I could keep that knowledge to myself. I would dearly have loved to also find out how she had gotten there, but Charlotte wasted no more time. Whirling her black velvet cape back over her shoulders, she stormed towards the steps like a midnight thundercloud.

"The heart of a boar! That traitorous fool hasn't beaten me! I'll take care of him first, and then see to that little…" her voice faded away as she descended. I heaved a sigh of relief. Blanche had survived the first test of the Queen's wrath, thanks to that loyal huntsman who had made the substitution and had likely paid with his own life. Perhaps now, impossibly, my daughter could continue to beat the odds and live.

I had plenty of time to worry and think. Charlotte did not return to the tower for at least a week. I guessed she was off dealing with Blanche herself instead of trusting the job to someone else who could betray her, and it was a long walk over the Seven Jeweled Hills. I knew that there were dwarves that mined precious metals and stones deep within those hills, but little else about the wild country that lay beyond my kingdom's borders to the east. I hoped the dwarves that Blanche now found herself living with were trustworthy. They might even help her escape Charlotte's wrath as the huntsman had helped her slip away in the first place. Without Charlotte to ask me specifically, there was no way for me to know what was happening outside the tower room. All I could do to help poor Blanche, once again, was hope and pray.

Charlotte returned, muddy and haggard but once again triumphant, certain that she had succeeded in doing away with Blanche once and for all. "I created a magical woven belt that was irresistible to a maid," she explained gloatingly as she used various potions and powders to restore her skin and hair to their usual glorious perfection, "But once she put it on it grew so tight about her waist that it became impossible for her to breathe. In that state she shouldn't have lasted more than a minute or two. A spell that takes away breath is very useful; I don't know why I haven't thought of it before now."

"What's the catch?" I asked, pretending to be resigned but in reality wild to discover if there was a chance Blanche could have survived again.

"Oh, if someone cut the belt she would have lived, I daresay. But there was no one about that isolated little sink-hole she was hiding in to do such a thing. I made certain those seven dwarf brothers you mentioned were off at their mine." My heart sank at these words. Was Blanche dead after all?

Finished with her primping, Charlotte stood up as tall as she could before me. "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?"

"Blanche," I answered, my heart leaping. Blanche had done it again!

Charlotte left forth a very unqueenly oath. "What happened this time? How did that little brat survive?"

"The dwarves returned early to check on her. They cut the belt off before the breath left her body entirely." I said, trying not to let the relief and gratefulness show in my voice.

Charlotte swore again, bitterly this time. "What can I do?" she moaned softly.

"Leave her alone and try to salvage what's left of your reputation after holding the most beautiful lady in the land prisoner?" I suggested. "After all, it's not likely she'll ever return here to torment you again."

"Shut up!" Charlotte screamed, her hand lashing out to strike my frame. It smarted, briefly, but it hurt less than I was expecting from the force of the blow. "This is all your fault. If you and that dratted first wife of yours hadn't engendered that little demon in the first place, I would be the uncontested Queen as well as the fairest. But now there's a civil war brewing, did you know that? It's all in her name, even though she's not here anymore. I could handle keeping the councilors under my thumb during peacetime, but a rebellion? There's only so much I can control at a time." She sank to her knees, weeping in earnest. "And there she is, that delicate pale little morsel with all of the men in the castle trailing after her as she carries her little bucket full of soapy water from room to room. She haunts my dreams; I can't free myself of her image. The only way I can have rest from her is if she no longer exists at all. The only way I can rest," she panted furiously.

"Just leave her alone!" I shouted back. I was past caring if Charlotte smashed me to pieces. My only thought was to shake her so hard that she'd change her mind at last about hurting Blanche. "She's never done a thing to you, not once in all her life has she wronged anyone as you have! You're just jealous of her because you knew you could never get anyone to love you as you are, so you had to resort to magic and trickery! She's beautiful as you know you could never be: beautiful in spirit as well as in looks!"

Charlotte stared at me, her eyes huge in a bone-white face. Slowly, she pulled herself up to her full height, which was not very great but intimidating nonetheless. She pointed one thin finger at me. "Be silent. You are never to speak again unless the fairest in the land makes a request of you." There was a shock like fire as the spell took, but I no longer had a voice to scream. Giving me a final glare, Charlotte turned away for a moment. When she turned back, her lovely face was composed and thoughtful. "I believe I have contrived a greater punishment for you, husband. You shall watch as I brew your child's final end. I have the perfect method for one so perfect as her." With that, she set about mixing the contents of several bottles together, all the while glaring vindictively at me. When she had finished, she carefully held up the result: an ordinary-looking apple the exact color of Blanche's lips.

"Only half is bespelled, of course," she told me after allowing me to examine her work. "So the poor trusting little dear will be lured into a sense of security as she watches me eating the other half. Oh, I know," she added with a slight smirk, "You want to know the catch, don't you? There's not a chance of her being rescued this time. This apple takes away all signs of life for six months, and no matter what curatives are used the girl will never wake until then. So the stupid unthinking dwarves will bury her alive, and she'll suffocate on her own breath when she awakens beneath the ground. Imagine that, if you dare, husband! Give you something to mull over while I'm away." And, swinging the black cloak about herself again, she descended from the tower.

I would have wept in the utter despair that overwhelmed me, if I'd had eyes or a voice anymore. Several days passed, and with each one I dreaded Charlotte's reappearance in the tower and the answer to her dreaded question of who was the fairest in the land. So wrapped up was I in my own misery that I didn't notice right away when Charlotte did not return. When I did realize that more than two weeks had passed with no sign of her, I began to wonder if she had stayed to see Blanche buried alive so that she could gloat to me about it. But when first one month and then two slowly ebbed away, I began to consider the idea that Charlotte might not ever be returning. There seemed to be no other explanation as to why she couldn't spare a moment to prod at me with her latest triumph. But what then had happened to Blanche?

The dust grew sticky-thick on everything. I could no longer read the titles of Charlotte's spellbooks through the grime on their covers. I was now experiencing an emotion that was quite new to me: loneliness. I couldn't even use my own voice to keep myself company. So I amused myself by imagining everything from scenarios of Charlotte's death to grand plans for Blanche's wedding. Still no one came up the tower stairs. I wondered whether it was out of simple neglect, or fear of what the witch-queen might have stored in her magical chamber.

The day that I'd calculated it was likely Blanche was going to awaken to suffocation in her tomb was a very anxious one for me. I couldn't concentrate on anything; my mind was too restless and edgy. If I had been human a brisk walk might have cured the edginess, but I was bound to a hard stone wall forever. Each minute was agony, as if I were taking my own final breaths along with Blanche. The shadows crawled slowly across the floor as the sun rose, and then sank towards the horizon again. I wanted to scream with the impatience and frustration of not knowing. I wanted to see Blanche once more, to see if she'd grown into the beautiful woman I'd imagined so often. If this kept up, I might even have welcomed Charlotte had she cared to return. At last, late that night with stars dotting the little of the sky I could see out the tower window, I fell into restless sleep.

The first rays of morning sun were just making patterns across the stone floor of the tower room the next day when I awoke to footsteps on the stairs. At first, I thought I had just dreamed the sounds, but the echoes of voices soon made it clear that this was not another one of my imaginings. I waited in silent suspense as the voices came closer and closer, solidifying into two distinct sounds: a man and a woman. Charlotte wouldn't have brought another man up with her, I knew. And the woman's voice wasn't Charlotte's, though it sounded achingly familiar. Thérèse! I thought desperately. She's come to visit from the Land of the Spirits to keep me company until I join her! This was insane, of course, but my dazed brain couldn't come up with any other explanation.

The young man emerged from the stairwell first. He was tall, and good-looking in a friendly sort of way with light brown hair and expressive grey eyes. His clothes were of simple material, though the cut was much better than that of an ordinary worker's. "Whew!" he exclaimed cheerfully, looking around the room. "So much dust up here!"

"The servants haven't touched it for fear she'd return and find her things disturbed," the female voice answered, and then its owner stepped into the room.

I thought I was looking at a vision, or a visitor from the Faerie Realm. The young woman was slender and graceful, with jet-black hair braided simply over one shoulder and brilliant lips that matched the red shade of her unadorned velvet gown. The sun lit up her milky white skin, turning her into a slender candle that caught the light and reflected it around the room. At first I thought it was Thérèse's ghost, but then my brain caught up with me and I realized who it must be. Blanche.

She was almost exactly as I'd imagined when I'd pictured how she would look when she was grown, but the reality of her being was much more stunning than I'd ever expected. She was no longer an innocent child who believed she would always be taken care of and loved. The gravity of her face betrayed years spent in uncertainty, worry, and sorrow. But with the leaving behind of innocence her kind face had taken on an even more radiant quality: that of a woman who had come into her own. I could see now why she was reputed to be the most beautiful of women, the fairest in all the land. In that moment, I could well believe that she truly was.

Both Blanche and the young man who'd accompanied her stood staring around at the unused room for several seconds before beginning to move about it. Little whorls of dust from the floor followed Blanche's crimson skirts and the young man's brown boots as they moved from table to bookshelves to empty cauldron and back. They touched next to nothing; they just looked solemnly at the instruments of Charlotte's black arts.

At last, Blanche laughed a little nervously. "We should have the servants up here to clean now that we can assure them that there are no goblins caged in here." She and the young man started for the stairs, but a reflection off of my grimy surface happened to catch her eye. She turned around and took a few steps back to stare at me.

"What is it?" The young man came to stand behind her and take her hand. Had Blanche fallen in love already? Were they engaged? My mind whirled with questions I longed to ask the pair of them.

"I don't know." Blanche was still staring, more quizzically than anything else. Her brow furrowed. "There's something about this mirror…it looks so familiar, yet I know I've never seen it before."

"Then you should command it to give up its secrets, like the princess you are," the man said. It was hard to tell from his tone whether he was joking or not.

Blanche turned to give him a half-smile. "What can it hurt? At the very least I'll feel foolish speaking to my reflection. I've done that hundreds of times." She paused, thought for a moment. Then she said, very softly, "Why aren't you like anything else in this room?"

It was like an eruption inside. I found my voice at last after the months of silence.

"Because nothing in this room is like me," I answered my daughter.

Both Blanche and her young man jumped about a foot. "It spoke. The mirror spoke," he said at last. He and Blanche looked at each other. "What are you?" he asked after a moment.

I couldn't answer him, and it took me a moment to realize why: Charlotte's second curse had forbidden me to speak to anyone but the fairest in the land. And that, of course, was Blanche.

"Why didn't you answer his question?" Blanche asked after a minute of silence made it clear that I wasn't going to say anything.

"I am bound to answer the command of the fairest woman in the land. I cannot speak except to answer your questions," I replied. "It wasn't always like this," I added as an afterthought, hoping to lead her to guessing who I really was.

She didn't take the bait at first. "You mean you didn't used to be bound to only speak to the fairest?"

"Yes, that too. Once I could speak as I chose."

"Who did this to you?"

"Do you have to ask?" I said, a little too sharply. Would she ever catch on?

"The Queen. I should have known. Did you know she's my stepmother?"

"Only too well. And I'm sorry for all of it, dearest sweetheart."

Her eyes narrowed suddenly, then widened. "That voice…I know that voice." Her milky skin took on an even paler cast. The young man was looking from her to me in puzzlement and growing alarm.

"Blanche, what is it? What's wrong?"

She didn't seem to hear. "It's not possible…" she whispered, clearly speaking only to herself. Her dark eyes brimmed. At last, tears falling freely like tiny melted snowflakes, she came forward and kissed my grimy silvered surface gently, murmuring, "Oh, Papa, what did she do to you?"

A soundless explosion rocked the room.

And in that moment of unbridled light, I saw for the first time the day that Charlotte transformed me. I saw Blanche, not as the woman she was now, but the ten-year-old child I had last known. She was running towards me, arms outstretched, laughing with joy. An imperious voice, Charlotte's, sounded from behind me. I ignored it and kept running, knowing obliquely that I shouldn't have been able to turn aside from that voice so lightly. But something had lifted the moment I saw Blanche running to me, a dark fog that had been on my mind for far too long.

The voice called again, sharply, bitterly, in words that I didn't quite understand. I didn't even turn back to look. I caught Blanche and swung her around, just as I had done when she was younger, and marveled at how tall she'd grown since I last remembered seeing her. My mind started to work again. What had happened in between? Then there came a tap, tap, tap, of high heels on polished marble floors. Charlotte came up behind me, the points of her golden crown barely reaching the top of my head. She seized my wrist in a grip like iron and cuffed Blanche hard across the face. Blanche fell over backwards, all gracefulness and laughter gone, her eyes filling with tears as a red welt formed on her milky white cheek. She turned and ran, sobs echoing down the corridors. I started after her, but Charlotte gripped my wrist too tightly.

I heard her voice, reverberating in my head. "Since your love for your little brat transcends all my attempts to control you any longer, I separate the two of you forever." She stepped away from me. Her hand came up, pointing a slender finger at my face. There was a flash like fire, and the world went dark. And the next day I awoke to the dim world of Charlotte's tower room, a prisoner as her magic mirror, remembering nothing of the circumstances that had led to my enchantment.

The flash in my eyes died, and I found myself looking at seventeen-year-old Blanche again. Her eyes were huge in her white face, her shock mirrored on the face of the young man standing a pace behind her. Then Blanche rushed forward, arms outstretched, kicking up more dust from the floor in her haste to embrace me. Just as I had when she was ten, I whirled her around and around before setting her gently on the floor.

"Thank you, daughter," I said when we'd parted to arm's length. "Only a kiss from the fairest in the land could undo the spell she placed on me."

"Oh, Papa, I've missed you every day since you went away. I always took some comfort in knowing you and Maman were together again, but you never died at all, did you?" Blanche crushed me to her chest again, squeezing hard, tears melting into the same suit I'd been wearing seven years previous when Charlotte had cast her spell.

"No. She staged my death and bragged to me about it afterwards. Not quite the same as attending your own funeral, but a bit too close for comfort."

"Eh…excuse me?" A tentative voice came from behind Blanche. We turned to face the young man who'd accompanied her. He cleared his throat. "Will one of you please explain what is going on?"

Blanche and I both laughed at the puzzlement etched on every line of his face. "I'm sorry, Harold," Blanche said when she could speak again, "I should have introduced you. Father, this is Prince Harold. He was, well, paying his respects when I suddenly came alive in his arms."

"In the middle of a very respectful kiss," Harold admitted, his ears turning a little red as he laughed.

"The spell your stepmother put on that apple was supposed to wear off after six months. I take it the dwarves didn't bury you?"

"How do you know about them?" Blanche asked.

"It's a long story, and best told over a hot breakfast. You will stay for breakfast, won't you?" I asked Harold with a wink.

Harold grinned, and Blanche stepped forward to take his hand. "He may be staying for a lot longer than breakfast, Papa."

"In that case, there's no place like the meal-table to begin getting acquainted. Shall we go down?" I let Harold offer Blanche his arm as we started towards the stairs I'd once so longed to descend. At the top, I turned to look back at the tower room. It looked very different from this perspective, I thought to myself.

Blanche and Harold were waiting patiently a few steps down. I smiled as I turned to face them. "Has anyone thought of what to tell the country about my sudden return from the grave?"

Blanche looked startled, and Harold let out an unguarded bark of laughter. "I can't begin to imagine their faces!" he said when we looked at him.

"Neither can I," Blanche admitted ruefully. "Well, we'll think of something spur-of-the-moment and unlikely when the time comes."

"That sounds like something your mother would have said," I told her as we began the descent from the tower. "She did love to make up bedtime stories for you."

"Good. Then perhaps when you've finished telling me your story, I'll tell you all about my life in the past seven years, and you shall have to discern what's true and what's just a faerie tale." Blanche said, sticking her tongue out at me like the child I'd once known. With a laugh, the three of us left behind the dusty tower room for the world below.