When you have the opportunity, I highly recommend that you take a leisurely walk through the corridors in the palace at Elkendor, in the Kingdom of Ravain. There you will find a collection of art that is unparalleled in most modern realms. Keep a sharp eye, and do not leave the palace until you find the portrait of a young woman of striking countenance. The subject of the painting will have pale skin, ruby lips, hair as dark as a raven, and a sweet smile that will make you believe that you know something of her disposition. Surely, you will think, she must have been a most blessed princess. A most gracious and fair Lady.
The person depicted in this curiously arresting portrait was in fact a princess, long ago. Those who look upon the canvas often comment on the appearance of Her Highness’ skin. She was as fair as they come, and her skin as luminescent as fresh snow on a sunny morn. This quality was such a remarkable characteristic in the young lady that everyone grew to know her as Snow White, and her true name has long passed out of memory.
Now, when you find yourself lingering for hours in the dark corner of the palace where the portrait hangs, do not be tempted to believe that Snow’s life was a fairytale. There were few fairies in Ravain at the time of her story, and even they wanted nothing to do with the evil that was to engulf the royal family. Nevertheless, fairies did play their part in the events that unfolded. But that comes later.
To start with, the story of Snow White will only make sense to you if I explain about her childhood. When she was a child, Snow made friends easily and without regard for rank or privilege. Kind to animals, helpful to the servants, and possessing of a healthy sense of humour, few could deny that she made life in Elkendor all the merrier. It was not unusual to hear her singing in the stairwells, or to witness her dancing through the corridors as she went about her happy life.
Her parents, the strong and stalwart King Flynn and the elegant and generous Queen Yori, were very popular among their subjects and peers alike. Since they were wise and efficient leaders, the kingdom prospered under their reign.
The palace, the very same one where you will find Snow’s image preserved, was a bustling center of activity for the land. Elkendor, as you know, is the name of the mountain upon which is built the most impressive castle of its time. Ever the home of Ravain’s rulers, the palace of Elkendor was not simply a royal house. It was a dazzling fortress with glorious appointments. Every room, hall and closet was endowed with the best that could be wrought, woven, or carved.
And in the surrounding areas, down the slopes of Elkendor and stretching into the woods beyond, there were many towns and villages, farms and vineyards. Few had a harsh word to say about their Highnesses. You would be more likely to hear a toast to the King’s health in the tavern than a complaint about his rule.
Snow, affable child that she was, appeared to be well on her way to becoming the kind of ruler that would continue her parents’ legacy. Indeed, the citizenry took comfort in that thought each night as they laid down to sleep after a long day of honest work. They knew that when the time was right, many years in the future, Snow would be their queen. Surely she would keep the kingdom prosperous, be generous to the poor and lonely, and keep the peace with Ravain’s neighbours.
As is the way of things, such a peaceable existence was not to last. The death of Snow’s mother, sudden and violent, became the catalyst for all that would follow. Queen Yori was murdered one cold November’s eve, when Snow was fifteen years of age.
The Queen was found on the balcony of her chambers by the King himself. He held her lifeless body for several hours, wailing in a most unseemly manner and praying for a miraculous recovery to whoever would listen. It was an experience so utterly bitter as to break the hearts of all who witnessed it.
As you can imagine, the beloved King was not left to suffer alone on that night of sorrow. Snow was there, too, amongst those who were summoned by the unearthly sound of her father’s lamentations. She sat beside him on the cold stone of the balcony, her hand on his shoulder. For a long time she watched her mother’s still figure, hoping to see signs of life. Breath. The fluttering of an eyelash. Anything.
Instead, Snow saw the rose of her mother’s cheeks drain away. At first the Queen’s eyes kept a glassy sheen, yet they became duller as the hours passed. Her skin took on a blue-green pallor that could only be attributed to the dead. Reaching out, Snow felt that her mother’s flesh had grown cold as the stone that she and her father sat upon.
Contemplating these things in her heart, the Princess reached a point where she could no longer watch her mother’s body fade. The soul of the Queen had clearly left it. Neither could she observe her father in his state of misery.
She looked outward instead, to the night sky and down the hillsides of Elkendor. She saw that the moon was round and brilliant. The bare branches of the trees looked silver under its light. She knew that somewhere in this cursed night was her mother’s killer. Who or what had done this thing, and why, she did not know. All she knew was what was left behind; a body with a rough bite mark on its neck, a bereft monarch, and a half-orphaned girl.
The next days, weeks, and months were spent in mourning as a kingdom. Snow’s father, in an attempt to preserve his legacy, confined her to the palace grounds. No longer allowed to visit the towns and villages of Elkendor, she relied on travelers and merchants to bring word of the goings on in the outside world. What security there was within the palace was unclear to Snow, since her mother was killed in her own room. Yet Snow obeyed her father’s wishes as well as she could, out of respect.
Three years later there came a day when Snow was summoned to the throne room. There her father told her of his plans to remarry. “A fine noblewoman of renowned beauty and kindness, my dear,” he said. “You shall have a mother again, and there will be joy in the land.” The King’s pronouncements sounded hollow to Snow, but she did not say as much to anyone.
The princess had no way to know whether her father’s prediction would hold true. She would certainly find out soon, as the wedding was planned only a short time hence.