The Grimm Brothers have it wrong. Their tales are but a wisp of what really happened. I am old and my mind grows frail, but I know this. I know this because I am the great-great granddaughter of the demonic being who was and was not the one they called Snow White.
Strange beings lurked in the Forest of Elders. Queen Anne was one such being, though not many knew it. Her mother had been a pond nymph with skin as luminous as pearl, but her father was a demon known for devouring human flesh.
In looks she took after her mother. It was her beauty that had ensnared the king. He was wandering the forest in grief for his wife when he happened upon her pearlescent form in the shadows of a pond. They say he fell to her feet in worship, and all thought of his beloved wife was lost.
The queen was a very vain woman. She had in her possession a certain mirror within which was the captive soul of an Arabian demon.
Every night she would bring her face to the mirror and ask “Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”
The demon, cursed to forever tell the truth, would reply “I swear by the heat of the desert sands, you are the fairest in all the land.”
The queen would then smile and cover the mirror with a dark cloth.
There was only one nuisance in Queen Anne’s life. The king had a daughter, the princess Arabella, who the people loved dearly. The princess had skin as white as snow, hair as black as coal, and lips as red as blood. For this she was known as Snow White.
The queen tolerated her as a child, but as Arabella grew she became more and more beautiful, and the people’s love for her grew to feverish proportions.
The queen’s window looked out upon the apple orchard where Arabella spent her days playing and reading books. The girl always had a smile on her face, which annoyed the queen. What was there to constantly smile about? One must only smile when they had good reason to do so.
More annoying was the way palace staff and visitors came to admire her as she frolicked. She would dance and laugh and twirl with joy, her billowing skirts catching apple blossoms as they floated down from the trees.
No one paid Queen Anne such attention. No one brought her gifts or blew her kisses. It made the demon blood in her veins boil.
Arabella’s sixteenth birthday was a day to be remembered. The entire palace was draped in apple blossoms, and crowds of thousands gathered to wish her well. Gifts of books and flowers were laid at the princess’s feet, so many that soldiers had to cart them away by the barrel.
Arabella’s cheeks were flushed with happiness.
And the queen’s blood boiled.
She went to her chambers, removed the cloth from the mirror, and asked one last time: “Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”
And the mirror replied, “I swear by the heat of the desert sands, you are the fairest in all the land.”
This answer enraged the queen. “Then why do they love Arabella more than I? Why?”
The being in the mirror contemplated this. “Love hath eyes that see-eth apart,” it replied slowly. “And fairest of fair is Arabella’s heart.”
”Her heart?” the queen spat. “What does that mean, demon? What is a heart to a face? That which beats but cannot be seen? Tell me!”
But for once the demon did not answer.
The queen paced back and forth, repeating the mirror’s words over and over in her mind. Arabella’s heart. Arabella’s heart.
Then I must have Arabella’s heart.
A sly smile spread across her face. “Do you not wish to see the Arabian sands once more, O djinni of the mirror?”
The mirror was silent.
“It was my father who bound you to this trinket, and only I can set you free. And I promise you this – if you bring me Arabella’s heart, I will release you from this prison for evermore.”
The demon, loathe as he was to follow the queen’s wishes, agreed. He took on the form of a huntsman and sought Arabella as she played amongst the apple blossoms.
He lured her to the Forest of Elders, where he did a terrible thing.
That evening he returned to the queen’s side with Arabella’s heart wrapped in a cloth. He watched as she devoured it, her eyes shining with a demonic light.
When she was done she kept her word and set the demon free. The magic mirror has not been seen since.
In the morning palace servants sounded the alarm that Princess Arabella was missing. Searches continued for months to no avail. Rumours circulated – Arabella had run away with her true love, she had been kidnapped by dwarves, a witch had poisoned her with an apple. Only Queen Anne knew that Arabella’s body lay limp and cold in the Forest of Elders.
As for the queen herself, she was having a bit of trouble. Debilitating emotions were beginning to intrude upon her mind. She was starting to feel things like regret and sympathy, and in all manner of inappropriate situations.
These emotions came upon her when she snapped at a servant, or when she saw the poor begging for food. She could not will them away. Seeing others unhappy made her heart hurt.
She also developed a craving for apples. Their sweetness beckoned to her from the orchard where Arabella once played, and she found herself spending more and more time there. The apple blossoms gave her an unmistakable urge to smile.
Her love for the orchard eventually overcame her. She spent her days frolicking there, dancing and laughing and twirling with joy. She smiled at the servants and blew kisses to children who had come to admire her. She accepted their gifts with gentle gratitude. Her days became a swirl of apple blossoms and happiness.
In the villages they whispered that Snow White was back.
My great-great grandmother Anne was a strange woman. She was full of joy and kindness, but sometimes at night she would cry to my grandmother about terrible things she’d done to a young girl in the Forest of Elders.
My grandmother knew her as a frail woman with little movement left in her, but even in her last years she held onto her ability to speak. And speak she did. She spoke of strange things, dark things. There was a sorrow in her, a remorse that had stayed with her all her years.
She told my grandmother of the time palace guards tried to kill her. They’d surrounded her, swords drawn, and accused her of having done something wicked to her stepdaughter Arabella.
She’d cowered, wanting to confess as the head guard put his sword to her throat. She looked into his eyes, willing him to do it, but instead he faltered. His grip grew limp and a tear sprang into his eye.
He could not do it. He could not kill her.
A part of him looked at her and saw the joyful girl he’d held as a child.
He loved her, despite the wicked things she’d done.
After all, she had Arabella’s heart.