Sweet As Poison
Rolf burst into Gina’s chambers. She looked up from her chair, brow furrowed, as he strode towards her. His usual calm demeanour was gone. His eyes were wild, his cheeks flushed, and his hair swept back from riding hard.
“What happened?” Gina rose from her seat.
“Snow, the villagers--”
“Is she alright.”
“A little too alright.” Rolf grabbed her cloak from its hook on the wall. He tossed the heavy garment to her.
Gina caught it. “What are you talking about? Rolf, what’s going on?”
“We need to leave.” He moved to the other side of the room, snatching up a leather bag. Gina followed him, grabbing his arm and pulling him around to face her.
“What’s going on?”
“Snow’s planning a revolution.”
“What?” He tried to pull away from her, but she held him in place, tossing the cloak onto the bed.
“I saw her, down in the town, she’s got them all hyped up for a rebellion. All the villagers are planning an attack on the palace. They’re going to kill the false queen and take back the throne for Snow.”
“What are you talking about? What false queen?”
“You, Gina. They’re coming for you.”
She recoiled a step, looking him up and down. “What? I’m not the queen. I wasn’t even meant to be here. I just got dragged into staying.”
“Look around you.” Rolf spread his arms wide. “Even the gentry are deferring to you now. The only thing missing is a crown.”
“But I’m not going to stop them,” Gina argued. “If Snow’s ready for the throne she can have it. Tell her; we can organise a meeting.”
“As far as she knows, you tried to have her assassinated. I don’t think she’s going to come for tea.”
Gina threw up her hands. “Well, when she comes with her little friends, we’ll just have to detain them and talk to her then.”
“Gina, she’s not coming with a couple of friends. She’s raising an army.”
“Don’t exaggerate. What are they going to attack us with? Pitchforks?”
“Even Thunderfalls has joined her. You saw what they did on their own. Now imagine them with the rest of the kingdom for backup.”
Gina folded her arms, still unconvinced.
“If you don’t believe me, look for yourself. Use your mirror.”
“Your mirror. Ask it to show you.” He darted across the room, grabbing her tablet from the side table, and handed it to her.
Gina accepted it slowly, her eyes falling down to its black glass surface. Her own face was reflected back at her.
“Mirror,” she breathed. “A magic mirror.” The tablet slipped from her fingers. Rolf caught it before it could hit the floor.
“I’m the queen,” she whispered.
“Gina, we need to leave.”
“No,” she shouted, pulling away when he touched her arm. “Don’t you get it? I’m the queen. The queen was missing from the story. But she’s here. And it’s me.”
“And Snow is coming for you. Gina, please.”
She shook her head, backing away from him. Everything seemed to be slotting into place. She felt as though she had been staring at a jigsaw puzzle, where every piece was from a different box. But now, they were rearranging, turning, and fitting together.
The queen was a necessary evil. Without her, Snow was nothing. Without the queen to do wrong, things could never be right. Gina had seen only half the truth when she had arrived. She knew Snow needed to be tested, before she could be a worthy ruler. And, like a child, she had thought she could manipulate the world in that direction without consequence. But good couldn’t exist on its own; it needed opposition. Gina had pushed Snow into the light, but someone had to go to the dark.
“I know what I have to do.”
“We need to run,” Rolf said.
Gina shook her head. “There’s one more part of the story that has to happen. The queen’s final act.”
“What?” Rolf asked.
“I have to poison Snow White.”
“What? You can’t.”
“If I don’t complete the story, it’ll find a way to compensate. I’m sure Lyall can find an appropriate poison.”
“You told me we were doing this to put her back on the throne,” Rolf growled. “You told me she’d be safe. Now you want to kill her?”
“No. I want to try. The queen gives Snow a poisoned apple. But she doesn’t die. She gets rescued.”
Rolf stared at her for several seconds.
“I doubt a magical kiss is going to work,” Gina continued. “The prince is probably a doctor. But it doesn’t matter. I have to do my part.”
“Gina, listen to yourself. This is madness.”
“That’s what you said when I first came here. I thought you believed me, Rolf.”
“I did. But this is too far. Taking Snow out to be cared for by strangers is one thing. But poison? What if your physician prince doesn’t come in time? She’ll die, Gina. How’s the story going to compensate for that?”
“I don’t know. I just know what has to happen.”
“No. I won’t let you do this. There’s still time for us to escape.”
He started towards her. Before he could cover half the distance, Gina called out, “Guards!”
Two red jacketed palace guards burst in. They grabbed Rolf, pinning his arms behind his back.
“Lock the doors behind me,” she ordered. “Don’t let him leave the palace.”
Sweeping up her cloak, Gina strode past them. She turned towards the kitchens, and as she left, Rolf called her name. She didn’t look back.
Rolf hurried to the window pushing it open to its full extent. Climbing out, he wrapped his fingers into the threaded, green ivy and climbed down the wall.
Sprinting around the castle’s perimeter, he heard the sound of bells begin to toll. The palace alarm. Guards rushed past Rolf, heading for the gate.
Rolf pushed past the oncoming flow of guards to the councilor’s chambers. He found Lyall, his hands tied with a scarf.
“Dragonkeeper,” he gasped. “She means to kill the princess.”
“What did you give her?” Rolf demanded.
“I’m so sorry,” he whimpered. “I had no choice.”
“What did you give Gina?”
“Is there an antidote?”
Lyall nodded and began to sob. Taking him by the shoulders, Rolf shook him until his eyes lifted. “Where is it?”
“The chest,” he said, pointing with his chin. “But it’s no use. You’ll have minutes before her heart stops. You’ll never reach her in time.”
Rolf raced from the room and back through the palace, shoving guards and servants out of his way. He reached the courtyard and jumped onto the back of the first horse he came to.
Guards had marched out to meet the villagers and skirmishes broke out on the roads. Though they lacked military training, they would soon overwhelm the guards with sheer numbers alone.
Rolf skirted a phalanx of soldiers, his keen eyes sweeping the landscape for the rebellion leader. Sitting astride a massive horse, a leather breastplate covering her torso, and her dark hair billowing behind her like a cloak, Snow White rode in the centre of the villagers.
The two sides loosed volleys of arrows at each other. He saw Snow dismount, disappearing into the throng of her subjects. Rolf kicked his charger forwards, closing the gap between both sides. The guards, recognising him as Gina’s consort, interpreted his charge as the order to attack. Before Rolf realised what he had done; the army was charging behind him.
Rolf barrelled through the villagers’ front lines. A swish of black hair caught his eye. Snow. When his horse reared up, Rolf jumped down and pushed through on foot, the vial of antidote clutched in his hand. He reached the place he had last seen Snow.
Reaching out a hand, Rolf grabbed Snow’s shoulder, turning her to face him. Her eyes were wide and her mouth hung open. She gave a small gasp as a tremor ran through her. Rolf looked down and saw an apple in her hand, a single bite taken out of it. Snow’s eyes rolled back and she collapsed. Rolf caught her as she fell, lowering her to the ground. There were shouts and cries from the men around him. Rolf ignored them. Wrenching the top off the vial, he poured its contents between her ruby lips.
His eyes went to the crowd. A cloaked figure moved away. A large hood covered her face as she slipped into the masses. Rolf didn’t dare call out to her.
“Traitor!” Rolf heard the shout, but could not identify its source.
Hands grabbed his shoulders and arms, pulling him back off Snow. He was hauled to his feet, but before he could open his mouth to speak, or to try and explain, a sharp pain struck him in the side, between the ribs. Rolf felt as though his chest had collapsed and gasped for breath. When he tried to cry out, blood bubbled in his throat. His legs gave way and he fell into the arms holding him.
Gina heard the shouts and looked back. She saw a young woman rise to her feet, supported by a stout man under each arm. Snow shook back her dark hair, her eyes wide and bright. Gina’s throat tightened with a twang of self-satisfaction. Snow had eaten the apple, and lived. The story was complete. All that remained now was for the queen to disappear.
As the cheers went up at Snow’s recovery, the crowd parted and Gina caught a glimpse of another figure at her feet. Gina pushed her way back through the masses. Rolf lay on the ground, his eyes closed and a dark stain spreading across his ribs.
Gina cried out, her voice lost to her own ears. She shoved through the crowd, reaching for him. But her scream had not gone unnoticed. Snow’s head whipped around to face her, eyes widening with recognition.
The villagers fell upon Gina. She struggled until a sharp blow to her head sent everything spinning into blackness.
The sound of a car horn caused Gina to wake with a start. Her hands were numb and her cheek was pressed against cold stone. Not stone, tarmac. The sky was dark, but yellow lights blinded her.
Gina shoved against the ground, pushing herself up and scrambling back as a car rolled past. The driver slowed, rolling down his window.
“Keep off the road!”
The car sped off, followed by a line of traffic. Gina backed up until she found the sidewalk, almost tripping on her skirts, as she stepped onto it. She wrapped her cloak around her as her breath turned to fog in the air. Tall buildings stretched above her, twinkling with yellow lights. Red and orange streaked the road as vehicles hummed past under amber street lamps.
“Are you alright?” A hand touched on Gina’s shoulder and she twisted, skittering away. The woman tucked black hair behind her ear and grimaced in apology. “Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you. I saw you fall down in the street. Your head.”
“What?” Gina raised a hand to her temple, it came away bloody. She winced and the woman stepped closer again, ready to catch her if she fell.
“What was it? Boyfriend? Do you want a lift to the hospital? You might need stitches.”
“What? Uh, sure.”
Gina looked around, bewildered, trying to take in the city around her. She didn’t know how, or why, but she was back. Her mind replayed the last few moments before her transportation. She saw Rolf, lying on the ground at Snow’s feet. Her stomach clenched and her throat tightened.
The woman led her to a car and helped her inside. Then they were driving, Gina staring blankly out the window as the lights streaked past.
They arrived at the hospital and the woman led Gina inside. A nurse approached them, alerted by the blood on Gina’s face, and took her away.
Gina sat on the side of the hospital bed, staring at her hands in her lap. Her cloak had been removed and lay draped over a chair in the corner. Gina couldn’t look at it. It made her think of Rolf. She should have listened and done what he asked. They should have run away. The kingdom would have been left in good hands. What did the story matter?
The door opened and a man walked in. Gina didn’t look up. “Regina Black, I’m Doctor Hunter.”
“Gina,” she replied, freezing. She knew that voice. Her eyes lifted to his face. Rolf stared back at her, a white coat about his shoulders and a chart in his hand.
“Rolf?” she whispered.
His eyes narrowed. “Is that who hurt you?”
“No,” she replied quickly. “No. Sorry, Doctor Hunter, was it?”
He nodded. “Rory Hunter.” He held out a hand. Gina couldn’t hold back the small smile as she shook it.
He smiled. “That’s quite the get-up you’re in. Party?”
She looked down at her elaborate gown. “Yeah. Work thing. Fancy dress; like something out of a story. A bit silly.”
“Not at all. Aren’t we all just stories, really?”
Gina looked at him for several seconds without replying. Rory busied himself with her chart, then took small flashlight out of his pocket.
A shrill ringing cut through the room. Gina’s hip buzzed and her hand went to the hidden pocket she’d had sewn into all her dresses. Pulling out her phone, Gina saw a call from her boss, Rob.
“Gina! Where the hell have you been? Why aren’t you answering my calls? That damned courier never showed, and when I got back to the office it was all locked up. Listen here, if you still want a job tomorrow--”
“I don’t,” she cut him off.
“I don’t want a job. At least, not for you. Goodbye.” She disconnected the call and switched her phone off.
Rory raised an eyebrow. “Must have been one hell of a work thing.”
“You have no idea. Listen,” she hopped down off the bed so she stood facing him, “I need to go to the police station and report my car stolen. I have this feeling like I’m not going to see it again. Maybe you could give me a lift?”
“Oh, uh. My shift’s not over for another hour.” Gina was sure she heard a note of disappointment in his tone. She shrugged.
“You probably need to keep me under observation for about an hour, right?”
“I suppose I do.”
“Great. And, maybe, if you know any good places to get coffee, we could get some together?”
Rory smiled. “I'd like that.”