Red As Blood
Gina and Rolf slipped into the servants’ entrance between guard rotations. The kitchen was silent and dark. Gina had left her phone to charge in the car all day, and now used its light to guide them.
“This is madness,” Rolf hissed, for the fifth time that evening.
“I told you, everyone is here; the king, Snow, the huntsman.” She looked pointedly at Rolf. “But there’s one missing, the queen. The king was supposed to remarry and give Snow a stepmother. But the stepmother sent Snow away into the forest. The huntsman was meant to kill her.” Rolf’s eyes widened. “But he didn’t” Gina added quickly. “He let her go, and she went to live with the dwarfs. Only, that never happened here. Snow’s been raised in the palace and pampered her whole life, and it’s made her a spoilt brat.”
“You think us stories?"
Gina shrugged. “Well, we’re all stories, when you get down to it.” She paused by the stairwell and sighed. “Look, I don’t know how I got here. I don’t even know if I really am here. Maybe I’m in a hospital in a coma or something. But somehow, I wound up here, and I can’t help thinking that it was so I could fix this. So I could set Snow on the right path and make her a queen you can be proud of.”
Rolf didn’t answer, but he also didn’t leave.
“This way.” She led him up the stairs and into the main palace.
The hallways were quiet, and every step on the polished floor echoed. Gina was glad she had traded her heels for a pair of Margaret’s slippers, even if they were a little big. She retraced her steps from that morning, pausing at every corner to listen for guards.
Gina pulled a mini security camera out of the pocket in her apron, and placed it on a pedestal, next to a painted vase. The black device, along with a number of other small electronics, was part of the Solargen-i demo pack and was no larger than her thumb. Switching it on, she angled it around the corner. The display showed up on her phone, revealing an empty hallway. Satisfied, she turned it back to face the way they had come, and waved at Rolf to follow her around the bend. He skirted around the corner, giving the camera a wide berth. Gina had explained the device was harmless. He had not been convinced.
When they reached Snow’s hallway, Gina set up another camera, using it to check that there were no guards waiting beside her door. She and Rolf approached the carved wooden door, pausing before it. Rolf looked at her with wide eyes, and she wondered if he was hoping she would reconsider. She would not. Gina had spent her childhood dreaming of being Snow White; the fairy tale princess had helped her through the loss of her own mother, taught her that friends come in all shapes and sizes, and reminded her that it was never wrong to be kind. Now Gina needed to help Snow learn those lessons for herself.
Footsteps approached. Gina pressed her hand over the phone light to block it. Shielding the screen, she switched to camera four, and saw three guards approaching. Her heart started to race and her eyes went up and down the dark hallway, looking for somewhere to hide. Snow’s room was at the end of the hall; the only way out was back the way they had come, right towards the approaching guards.
She wore her maid’s uniform, and might be able to bluff about her presence, but there was no hiding Rolf. Armed, and in his hunting leathers, there was no question that he was not meant to be there. Rolf tensed. His hand went to the knife at his belt. Gina assumed he knew how to use it, but the guards wore chainmail and carried broadswords. No amount of fancy dagger-work was going to overpower them.
Rolf pushed open Snow’s door. Grabbing Gina’s wrist, he dragged her inside, closing the door again as quietly as possible. Gina tensed and spun around. A flash of movement at the edge of her vision caused her to jump. Rolf’s arm went around her waist, and his other hand over her mouth again. The movement was their reflections in the many mirrors.
Gina nodded that she was okay, and Rolf released her. She took a slow breath, trying to calm her heart rate. Charging into Snow’s room had not been part of the plan. She had meant to use the cameras to check that Snow was asleep. Snow lay in her bed, undisturbed by their entrance.
“How strong is that powder?” she whispered.
Rolf stepped up to the bed and placed a finger under the princess’s nose. “Strong enough.”
He had taken the sleeping dust from the physician earlier in the day, complaining that his injuries kept him awake. Martha had refused to allow Gina to take Snow her supper, saying she had caused her enough trouble already, but Gina had managed to slip the powder into the princess’s wine behind the maid’s back.
Rolf tied a cloth over Snow’s mouth, in case she should wake up, then bound her hands and feet with the practiced skill of one used to trussing up game. Gina grabbed a thick, red velvet cloak from the wardrobe, and wrapped it around Snow, before Rolf picked her up.
Seeing her, tied up and unconscious in his arms, Gina felt a twinge of guilt. She didn’t look nearly as awful when she was asleep. She would be terrified when she awoke, but they weren’t going to hurt her, Gina reminded herself. She and Rolf had both agreed they would do whatever was necessary to ensure Snow stayed safe. Gina felt sure that once Snow got the chance to meet her subjects, and learn of their suffering for herself, she would do everything in her power to help them. A short stay in the woods, and the real Snow White would be ready to come home.
Gina went back to the door. Checking her phone, she made sure the hallway was clear. The guards had moved on, and there was no sign of them now. She nodded to Rolf, and the two slipped out of the room. They made it to the last hallway when Gina saw movement on her cameras again. Two guards were nearing their corner. Gina signalled to Rolf and they both scurried back, but the guards continued to come towards them. Rolf couldn’t run, not while carrying the princess, and in moments the guards would round the next bend and see them.
“Hide,” she mouthed. Gina hurried back towards the corner, tucking her phone into her pocket.
Taking a deep breath, and hoping that she wasn’t about to get herself arrested, or worse, she strode around the corner and walked right into the nearest guard.
“Halt, who goes there?” the guard demanded. Gina stumbled backwards a few steps and did her best to look stunned. It wasn’t hard.
“Oh, um, I’m sorry.”
The two guards faced her. “Who are you, servant? What are you doing in the palace at this time?”
“I, uh….I was just.”
“Out with it, girl,” the second one bristled. “Why aren’t you in the servants’ quarters with the others.”
“Well, I was. I just--” She saw Rolf emerge from the shadows, behind the guards. Stepping lightly, he edged around the corner.
“Well?” the guard prompted.
“Uh, the king,” Gina said suddenly, as Rolf tiptoed towards the tapestry that covered the servants’ door. “The king asked me to come and see him.”
The guard’s scowl turned into a knowing smirk, which he exchanged with his partner.
“Is that so? His Highness get tired of the last one already?”
“She’s still in her uniform.”
“Hasn’t even been to Matron yet,” the second replied, tutting in mock-disapproval. “That won’t do for his Highness at all. Allow us to escort you, madame.”
“Oh, uh, no. Thank you, that’s fine.”
“We insist.” The humour went from the guard’s voice, as they both moved to stand either side of Gina.
She met Rolf’s eyes briefly, pleading with him. “Go,” he mouthed. “I’ll find you.” Then he was gone.
Gina turned and let the guards march her through the palace to a separate wing. They brought her to another door. One not nearly as large or ornate as Snow’s. The first guard knocked on the door and a moment later it was opened by a bleary eyed old woman.
“Another one for you, Matron.” He shoved Gina into the room. Without bothering to reply, the old woman closed the door.
“Uh, I think maybe there’s been a bit of a mix-up.”
“Quiet, girl.” The Matron busied herself in the dark for a few moments. “Blast. Where’s that lamp?”
Gina pulled her phone out and switched the light on. Matron gasped at the harsh blue light, until Gina located the lantern she was searching for. Gina didn’t smoke, but she kept a lighter in her car anyway, and had brought it with her. Pulling it out of her apron, she lit the candle in the lamp and handed it to the Maton, then slipped her phone away.
The woman took it silently, staring at Gina in wonder. “Fire from her hands,” she breathed.
“Um, as I was saying. I don’t think I’m really meant to be here. So if you don’t mind--”
“No, this won’t do,” Matron said, her small eyes roaming over Gina. She prodded her ribs, grabbed the end of her hair, and pinched her chin, turning her face towards the light. “This won’t do at all. Come now, girl. I might not have you ready for the king’s presence tonight, but on my word, you’ll be fit for him by morning.
Despite her protests, Gina was bundled into another small, perfumed room. She was forced into a tub of hot water and scrubbed until her skin was pink. Then her hair was brushed, her fingernails buffed, her lips painted, and her clothes switched for a heavily brocaded gown in blue velvet. Gina was finally taken to a small bed chamber and left alone to sleep. A guard stood outside her door, preventing her from leaving.
Gentle tapping on the window caused her to jump. She stifled her scream as she spun around. Rolf hung from the window sill, a rope trailed behind him. Gina opened the window, admitting him, along with a blast of cold air.
“How did you know I was here?”
“I went and found Martha. The rest of the palace may be sleeping still, but the kitchen is awake. She told me about this room.”
“I took her to the woods, like you said. Left her but a stone throw from the Cutter brothers’ home. They’re good men; they’ll take care of her. I had a word with John Cutter before I left. He knows what needs to be done.”
Gina raised an eyebrow. “The Cutter brothers? How many of them are there?”
“Seven. More than enough to handle even the most spoilt princess.”
She nodded. “Good. That’s good.” She noticed then a cloth pouch tied to Rolf’s belt. The bottom appeared to be damp with a dark liquid.
“What’s that?” she asked, feeling sure she already knew, and suddenly glad there was nothing in her stomach.
“The princess woke up while I was carrying her. She was convinced I intended to kill her. I tried to explain otherwise, but she wouldn’t listen.”
“So you killed a deer, and let her think you were sparing her life, and tricking whoever hired you?”
“How did you...?”
Gina shot him a pointed look and he lowered his gaze. Gina couldn’t tell if he was more uncomfortable with the fact she had been right, or with his part in the whole story.
“We should leave, before the dawn,” Rolf addressed the floor.
Gina agreed, following him to the balcony. Snow White may have joined the seven dwarfs, but there was still much to be done.