Sharp As Spice
Gina entered her chambers, following another tiresome meeting with the gentry, and instructed Lyall to dismiss the villagers waiting to see her. As usual, Rolf waited in her room. Lounging in one of the armchairs, he turned her tablet over in his hands. The screen was off, but it continued to play music through the wireless speakers.
“Your musicians play very strange songs,” he said.
“They’re called the Beatles.”
“How unfortunate.” Rolf laid the tablet down on a side table as she took the chair next to him. “You’re back early.”
“The villagers can wait.”
“They come to you for help.”
“They come for a show,” Gina countered. “They want me to shoot fire and tell them their fortunes. The gentry are no better. Except their fortunes are a little clearer.”
Rolf’s eyes narrowed. “You’ve been spying on them again.”
Gina turned away. “They think I did it. I’ve heard them talking. They think I killed the king and banished Snow so I could take the throne.” Her eyes grew hot and her throat became suddenly tight. “And the worst part is, they’re right.”
“No,” Rolf said. “No they aren’t.” He turned Gina to face him. “We did this together, remember? To help the people. Snow isn’t banished, and you had nothing to do with the king.”
“Didn’t I?” Gina sighed and leaned against the window frame. “In the story, the king was already dead before Snow was sent away. It was my idea to take Snow, I made that happen. What if it had some kind of roll-on effect? Like the story was compensating somehow.”
“It will all work out, though, right? That’s what you keep saying, that all of this was meant to happen, and it will all come right in the end. What does it matter what the nobles think?” Rolf positioned himself in front of her, so she had no choice but to look at him. “The Gina I met wouldn’t have been put off by them. My Gina is strong. She knows what she wants, and nothing’s going to stop her getting it.”
Gina tried to smile, but the expression faded. “This isn’t a dream,” she said quietly.
“I’ve been here for a month now. I stubbed my toe last night, and now I have a bruise. You don’t get bruises in dreams, Rolf. This is real.”
“Of course it’s real. Look at me, Gina. I’m real.” He grabbed her hand and placed it against his chest. She felt his heartbeat under her palm.
“But if it’s real, what happens to me? Say we set the story straight; I’m not in the story. I don’t know if I’ll get sucked back, or just left to rot in the dungeons. Maybe they’ll just hang me.”
“I won’t let that happen,” Rolf said, his tone suddenly fierce. “I promise you, Gina. We’ll run away together, if we have to.”
Gina looked up at him. “Together?”
He lowered his eyes. “If you want to, that is--”
Gina chuckled. “It’s meant to be me who’s lost for words.”
“Then help me find them.” Rolf leaned forward and kissed her. Gina’s hands, still against his chest, moved to his neck.
Gina pulled away first, turning slightly to hide the flush in her cheeks.
“You should, uh, probably go and check on Snow. She hasn’t been back at the house all morning.”
“Snow.” Rolf turned away, his voice touched with a hint of bitterness. “Of course.” Grabbing his cloak off the back of the chair, he swept from the room.
Rolf remained in the saddle for several minutes after his horse came to a halt in front of the Cutters’ house. He had visited the cottage in the woods nearly every day for the last month, bringing reports to Gina of the things her faraway-eyes couldn’t tell her.
He remembered the look of surprise on her face when he kissed her. She had not pushed him away, but nor had she responded quite the way he had hoped. Gina may not have given much thought to the future, but he had. For the last month, his mind had been almost entirely occupied with the strange young woman who stumbled into his life, tripping over her feet and her tongue, completely unaware that she was beautiful.
The realisation that all this time she had believed herself in a dream stunned him. Was he not real enough for her? Did she view him as no more than a product of imagination?
Shaking his head, Rolf turned his attention towards the house, only then noticing that it was empty. Guessing they must have taken Snow to the markets in nearby Furrowbrook, Rolf spurred his horse back into the trees.
Furrowbrook, a town not much larger than Northwood, had once been the home of many farmers. However year after year of failed crops had seen a once thriving town become a wreck. Many of the houses Rolf passed had holes in their roofs, where the thatch had been eaten away. Rolf sighed. Gina’s gift of added food had given the villagers back some of their colour, and taken the unhealthy look from the children, but it hadn’t mended their homes or restored their farms.
Rolf rode through the main street. He saw no one, nor did he hear any voices.
A small child ran past, bare feet slapping the cold mud.
“Boy,” Rolf called out. The child stopped and looked back. “Where is everyone?”
“In the square, for the speech.” He turned and ran off before Rolf could ask more.
Nudging his horse on, Rolf came to the town square. Entering the square was impossible; it was filled with people, and they spilled out onto the surrounding streets. Many clung to the balconies of buildings around the square, or leaned out windows. A few of the more agile children had climbed onto the rooftops to watch. There were more people than Furrowbrook held, many of them men, whose clothes marked them as out of towners. He saw men from Northwood, Brackenridge, Timbergrove, Lakesend, and even Thunderfalls.
Although he couldn’t get close, from the saddle Rolf could see over the crowd. They were all turned towards the raised platform at the head of the square. Usually reserved for the town representative, the platform now held a young woman. In a row behind her, were seven stout men.
Snow’s hair billowed out about her like a midnight cloak in the tugging of the breeze. Her eyes shone bright, and her lips were dark against the pale moon of her face.
“You are given scraps,” Snow called, her voice rising high and clear over the crowd, “like swine. But you are not swine. You are people.” There were shouts of encouragement from the square. “People of the land, and of the lake. People of this kingdom.” Her voice rose. “And I say you deserve better!”
The crowd erupted into cheers. Rolf stared at the princess, stunned; the only still person in a sea of movement. He and Gina had been waiting for Snow to connect with her people. Perhaps this was the sign they needed.
“The false queen has denied you shelter, medicine, and tools” Snow continued. “She has denied to even see you; instead, forcing you to your homes with fear of her dragon. No more, I say.” There were more cheers. “Go back to your homes, to your families, and ask yourself this; is this a kingdom to be proud of? For I say that it is not! A ruler who denies the hearts of her people is no ruler at all.”
Shouts of agreement rose up and Rolf’s stomach began to sink. This was not what they had planned for. Gina was not the queen. The lie was one he had fed Snow, to keep her from returning to the palace. He had never intended for it to go so far.
He knew Snow had every reason to hate Gina. But he had expected that anger to become fuel for her transformation. He never believed she would stand before the villagers and turn them against Gina. And he never believed they would listen.
“Join me,” Snow called. “Together we can take back our kingdom from the false queen. And I promise you, my people, that we will once again have a homeland to be proud of.”
The statement was met with the loudest cheer of all. Men, women and children all took up the cry, their voices a clamouring mess of noise, but through it, Rolf was able to discern two words, repeated over and over: Snow White.
The chant broke, and with it, Rolf’s frozen state. The crowd began to disperse; men running to their horses, or simply taking off on foot back to their own villages to spread the word. The revolution had begun.
Kicking his horse’s sides, Rolf forced himself through the oncoming mass towards the stage. Snow was deep in conversation with the master blacksmiths. The Cutters followed in a winding trail behind her. Rolf pulled his horse to a halt, swung down, and placed a hand on John Cutter’s shoulder, pulling the man back.
“What is this?” he growled, keeping his voice low so the others wouldn’t hear.
John looked unsurprised to see him. “Snow wanted to do it. I couldn’t stop her.”
“You could have tried.”
“By telling her what? ‘No, Princess, the queen was doing all this for your own good’?”
“If you had to.”
“She’s been talking with the other villagers about taking back the throne all week. If Snow wasn’t at their head, someone else would be. No one’s forgotten what Thunderfalls tried to do, and there’re a lot of folks who thought they had the right idea.”
“Less than half of the Thunderfalls attackers made it home, remember? Waging war on the palace is madness.”
“There’s no part of this that isn’t mad,” John argued. “At least this way, they’re with Snow, not against her. You listen to me, Huntsman. That girl’s worked harder than anyone I’ve seen in the last month. You saw what she was like before. Look at her now; she wants to help these people. She cares about them. Snow White is going to save this kingdom.”
“We all want to help, John. That’s why we’re doing this; you, me, Gina.”
“Aye. You always said you and your lady intended for Snow to take back the crown when she was ready. Well, you can put her on the throne, but it isn’t going to mean a thing unless these people want to follow her. And now they do.”
John turned away, but Rolf tightened his grip on the man’s shoulder.
“What about Gina? If they find her, they’ll kill her.”
“Then I suggest you take this opportunity to get far away from here.”
Rolf’s jaw clenched. Climbing back into the saddle, he kicked his horse into a gallop and rode as fast as he could for the palace.