Once upon a time...everything went wrong.
A sleepy kingdom sat nestled between the sparkling sea and the dense forest to the east. The village, a rather dismal offshoot to the grand castle on the edge of the cliff, made its roots further up the little river which wandered up through the land from the ocean below. The people that lived there were either like the yellow grain in the fields to the west, or the weathered trees on the edge of the forest; some were ready to sway in a breeze that they hadn't gotten the chance to feel yet, and some had seen too much and planted their feet into the ground to brace themselves for the incoming storm.
Anyone walking into the village knew that hardship had fallen upon it. The houses were made of wind battered stone and the straw roofs came apart in the gentlest of breezes. The roads were muddy and unkempt, and the river, once a bright blue, was now a disheartening brown. If you were to ask how a once proud town slipped into despair, the residents would simply look at the grand, flourishing castle on the cliff, and sigh. There were rumours, they said. One of the older villagers remembered a time when the king and queen were happy, but their youngest child, a daughter, was stolen from them. The children of the village believed it was a witch, but their mothers told them to stop such fantasies.
The queen died not so long after that.
The village mourned.
The king, they said, married again and his bride, a beautiful young woman with the eyes, became the step-mother to his eldest child. The village was happy for a while. Crops were good, the timber industry was blooming, infants became more frequent in the houses of young couples, while the elder children ran around in the streets.
It was hard to tell which incident was the first to bring it all tumbling down. The king's advisor, his closest friend, perished in a terrible accident while escorting a foreign prince back home. He left behind a daughter, who lived in the village which her step-family. The village cried as it lamented over the fate of such a kind soul, and the grain harvest, which had failed that year.
The kingdom starved.
And then, in the middle of the worst famine to hit the village for over a hundred years, the king passed away. Some villagers heard rumours, that he was driven by starvation to consume poison food. Others said it was his new queen.
The village tumbled into misery, consumed by sadness at the loss of their king. The new queen did nothing to console them, nothing to return them to their once grand state. They only could look up at the stars and wish upon them, that somehow, someday, life would get better for them....
Cinderella lay on the kitchen floor, scrubbing the wood until her hands were red and the wood shined like the sun. Her step-mother and her two step-sisters were out for the day, lapping up the sun in the town market, probably trying to display their dwindling wealth while they still could. Her father's death had ruined them financially and only Cinderella missed her father for who he was, not his wealth. The door to the house suddenly opened and slammed against the wall. Her step-sisters hurried in, their faces pinched together and cheeks blown out, as if they were trying to contain their giddiness and failing. Lady Tremaine followed behind them, eyeing the kitchen as she walked through the door.
"Cinderella, you will never guess what we heard at the market!" Anastasia squealed, lying on the couch and tossing her head over the side to look at Cinderella upside down.
"Of course, she wouldn't," Drizella sniffed, "Why would she go to the market anyway?"
"You mustn't bother telling Cinderella the good news, my girls," Lay Tremaine said coolly, "She shan't be attending."
"Attending, what, step-mother?" Cinderella wondered. Anastasia looked like she was going to explode.
"The queen is throwing a ball!" Anastasia giggled excitedly, "And we are to attend it!"
She leaned over the couch to whisper quite loudly in Cinderella's ear, "Apparently she is to marry off that dreadful princess of hers."
"Which means," Drizella gloated, "There will be a whole line of suitors from exotic lands coming to meet her, and since only one can marry the princess..."
"My girls, you will make us rich!" Lady Tremaine cried. She fanned herself, smiling at the thought. Her eyes then turned to Cinderella, and she sneered.
"Unfortunately, there is no place in the castle for a cinder wretch, so you will have to stay here and clean the entire house!"
"Step-mother, please," Cinderella placed her cloth in the soapy basket and stood up, "Please, may I attend, just this once?"
Lady Tremaine resumed her smile.
"Perhaps, if this whole house is clean, by sundown, then you shall attend."
Cinderella nearly hugged her step-mother. "I'll start cleaning right away, and I have one of mother's old dresses I can wear, so it won't cost you a penny —"
Her step-mother kicked the bucket in front of her, and leaned down so her face was inches from Cinderella's, "Well then get to it."
She laughed and her daughter's joining her gleeful chorus as they left Cinderella to her work.
Up near the castle, Snow White drew water from the well in the courtyard and stared at the high wall which speared her from the freedom of the forest. It seemed like the stars had aligned when her step-mother announced the ball. The whole kingdom would be attending; therefore no one would miss her as she slipped out and made a run for the woods....
A small blue bird flew down from the trees above and perched on the edge of her bucket, dipping its head into the cool water and taking a drink. Satisfied, it disappeared with a flap of its wings.
Snow wished she could fly away into the trees.
A harsh call from inside shook her from her thoughts and she picked up the bucket and heaved it inside, where one of the other servants was waiting.
"How is she?" Snow asked.
"Impatient," the servant sighed, "And we still have four more buckets to heat up."
He shook his head. "This ball.... while it certainly is going to be fun for the royalty, it's a lot of work for us."
He handed her a bar of soap, the kind she used to use when she was little, the kind that was the colour of violets. "Take this up to her, will you?"
Snow unhappily obliged. She wrapped the soap in a clean handkerchief and stuck it in the pocket of her dress. The weight rubbed the course fabric against her skin, scratching it. The extra stairs were a new addition to the castle since her father died. They always lived as close to the servants as possibly. She supposed her stepmother wanted to remind everyone in the castle that she was always going to be one step ahead - and above - of them. The doors to her stepmother's room were beautiful; dark rosewood panels and gold inlaid in between. The handles had been painted gold, but Snow knew from the years trying to reach them as a child that they were nothing but plain old oak from the trees in the forest. How ironic; the doors that once led to her mother now led to her replacement, and unlike in her childhood, she had no desire to open these to see the woman inside.
She climbed the steps, taking deep breaths and she prepared herself to see her stepmother, but before she reached the door, she stopped suddenly. Grimhilde was talking to someone.
“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”
Snow gently placed her ear against the door and listened closely.
“Famed is your beauty, your Majesty,” The voice that spoke was unfamiliar and sounded distant and warped, “But I see another as fair as you. Hair, as dark as rosewood, lips as red as the blood you have spilled, skin as –”
“Enough!” Grimhilde bellowed, “I know who it is. Snow White!”
A chill went down Snow’s spine. She slowly backed away from the door and scuttled across the landing, crouching on the steps, grasping the bannister.
“Show me the huntsman, magic mirror.”
Snow’s eyes widened. The huntsman was bestial in nature; if Grimhilde was to set him on her, there would be no question as to her horrible fate.
“Huntsman!” Grimhilde screeched, “There is one who threatens my throne and title as the fairest in all the lands. If no prince vies for her hand in marriage tonight, you are to take Snow White away from the castle and into the woods. There you will kill her and bring me her heart!”
Snow gasped in terror and sprinted down the stairs.
Back in the village, Belle sat atop a pile of books and read to her heart’s content. The bookstore still ran, despite the hardship the village – and Belle’s family – had fallen under. The books were a welcome distraction from her provincial life, and from looming engagement to the huntsman. It had been arranged three months ago when her father’s inventions got him in trouble with the queen, and the huntsman would have been arranged to lock him away in the dungeon, or worse, if the huntsman hadn’t offered an alternative. If it financially stabilized her family, then it was worth every sacrifice, and, Belle thought, it was better than marrying that horrid Gaston.
The door to the bookstore suddenly opened. Belle turned and looked around for the shopkeeper, but he was nowhere in sight.
“I’m sorry,” she said, turning to face the customer, “He’s not –”
Adam stood in the doorway.
“– here.” Belle finished, watching as he walked towards her. In his arms was a box.
“What are you doing here? I thought you were at the castle.” She asked. She closed her book and forced herself to look into his face. It was heavily scarred from an incident involving a witch in his childhood. Belle liked to pretend it was from trying to save the lost princess, but her fiancée was not that kind. She hoped, one day, he would do something kind, on his own behalf, not because she wanted or because the queen made him do it, but that day was far in the future, if it existed at all.
“I had a moment before heading back there.” He said gruffly. He approached her and she set her book down on a smaller pile nearby.
“The queen as given me tonight off, should I do my duty well,” he told her, “I am to attend the ball.”
Belle nearly laughed. Her fiancée would look as out of place at a ball as she would.
“And you are to attend with me.”
Belle hopped off her spot atop the books as Adam placed his package on the counter beside them.
“I’ll consider it if you would be so kind as to ask me in a gentler tone.” She huffed.
He then slowly, hesitantly grabbed her hand. They were rough and calloused and his long, dirty fingernails dug into a skin a little. She winced, and he relaxed his grip ever so slightly.
“May I have the honor of escorting you to tonight’s ball, madam?” Adam’s voice was low as he looked at her through downcast eyes. Gently, he raised her hand pressed his lips against the soft skin. Belle’s stomach became a contortionist.
She politely curtsied, but kept her eyes level with his as she retracted her hand.
“You may.” She replied and watched as Adam reached towards the counter and opened the box. He pulled out the most exquisite dress Belle had ever seen. She gasped as the honey colored silk spilled over the edge of the box and into the waiting air. All those layers, all those colours – it must have cost him a fortune.
“I – I don’t know what to say,” Belle gushed, “It’s beautiful! Thank you, Adam.”
His lips almost pulled up into a smile, but it quickly disappeared.
“I have to go,” he said hurriedly, “The queen demands my presence and I know that the villagers will not put on friendly faces if they see me here.”
He folded the dress back into the box and thrust it into Belle’s arms, walking swiftly towards the door. Just before it closed, he turned to face her.
“I’ll see you tonight?” he asked.
Belle nodded as she placed the box back on the counter. The door closed with a sudden shudder.
“I’ll see you tonight,” she sighed.
Deep within the forest that grew near the village, hidden away on secret paths and shielded by ancient oak trees, sat the tower that Rapunzel called her home. She perched on the windowsill and let her long blonde hair drift in the breeze of a day's end. The leaves below scattered as the wind rolled across them, commanding the supple grasses to lay flat against the dirt. The stream that lay nearby was both the birthplace and the graveyard for the river that ebbed from the ocean. Its past, present and future laid in the wind and which way it would take the waters, from the stream to the sea, and back again, an endless cycle Rapunzel watched day after day after day. Her constant companions were the stream and the leaves and the birds and, most of all, the silence and loneliness that accompanied them.
"Rapunzel!" Her mother's voice was harsh and stern as she stood at the bottom of the tower, her arms folded over her chest. Rapunzel hurried to lean further out of the window so her mother could grab onto her plait and make her way up the tower. With each tug, Rapunzel winced as her mother pulled violently on her hair to haul herself up and over the ledge. Rapunzel slid backwards and into a nearby chair, massaging her head and smoothing out her braid.
"I thought perhaps you had abandoned me," Rapunzel sighed, "You were gone for so long we almost ran out of food."
Her mother shooed her out of the chair and sat in it herself. Her skin was clean and her hair shined in the sunlight. She never ceased to look beautiful but — maybe it was the light? — she looked more tired than usual.
"Did you leave the tower while I was gone?" Her mother asked. Her voice sounded steady, but its calm hid a storm beneath. Rapunzel knew the depth of her anger like she knew every word to every book in her house.
"No, mother," she replied, almost a whisper.
"Good. The world is dangerous and cruel. You would know better than to venture out there."
She gestured to the floor at her feet. "I'm exhausted from my journey. Rapunzel, fetch the brush."
Rapunzel hurried across the room, her long hair trailing across the clean-swept floor, and grabbed her hair brush from the dresser, leaning against the wall. She then sat on the floor in front of her mother and handed the brush to her. Her mother reached and hauled her long hair into her lap and started brushing.
"Flower, gleam and glow, let your power shine."
A warmth spread through her, from the top of her head, right down to the tip of her hair. A golden light snaked its way across the tower, twisting across the floor, climbing up to the rafters then cascading down, down, down until the edges drifted over the balcony.
"Make the clock reverse, bring back what once was mine. Heal what has been hurt, change the fates' design. Save what has been lost, bring back what once was mine."
Her mother sighed and the brush passed through Rapunzel's hair once more.
"What once was mine." Rapunzel finished the last breath of her incantation, but despite the warmth it gave, she felt only sadness, while her mother sat straighter in her chair, her face smooth from wrinkles, her joints renewed and her beauty restored.
"Very good, Rapunzel." She tapped her shoulder and she shuffled out of the way for her mother to get past. She reached for her travelling basket and opened it to reveal bundles of bright red apples.
"Now, I have some business to attend to shortly —"
"Must you leave again, Mother?" Rapunzel cried, but she was silenced with a sharp glare from her mother's eyes.
"And I know not when I'll return. These apples," she bent down and picked one of them up, admiring her reflection in the glossy skin, "Have been cast upon by a witch. They are magic and you are not to touch them, understand?"
"I understand, Mother." Rapunzel sighed. Her mother placed the apple back into the basket and threw the curtains aside to enter her room. Even with her mother's company, Rapunzel felt as alone as ever. She turned to face the window and watch the birds fly between the trees and listen to the stream laugh as it tripped over pebbles. How much she longed for freedom!
But such things weren't meant for people like her.
Cinderella could hardly contain her excitement as she prepared for the ball. Her chores were done, her step sister sewn into their gowns and now she stood in one of her mother's old dresses, standing on her tippy toes to look at her reflection in the small window in her room in the cellar.
"Please," she whispered to the stars that shone in the small patch of sky that she could see, "Please let me attend the festival."
She her hair did as best she could with her meagre supply of faded ribbons that she hid underneath her bed and tried her best smile. Then, she slipped on her least worn slippers and walked up the stairs to where her step-mother and step-sisters were waiting.
"Oh, Cinderella," Lady Tremaine fawned, "Don't you look...wretched."
Her step-sisters giggled behind their fans. Cinderella stopped at the foot of the stairs and stared down at her dress. She had fixed it up so it almost looked brand new.
"And that silly little frock simply won't do, won't it girls?" Her step-mother smiled cruelly as she walked around her, viewing the dress. She grabbed onto the sleeve of Cinderella's gown and pulled it so a horrible ripping noise could be heard. Then grabbed the fabric at the back of her dress and ripped that too. Anastasia and Drizella laughed as Lady Tremaine took off her glove, wiped it in the dirty floor and streaked it across Cinderella's face.
"We can't have such disgusting persons accompany us to the castle," Lady Tremaine put her glove back on her hand.
"But —" Cinderella protested, but her step-mother tutted and wagged her finger at her.
"There will be princes from all around the world at this ball and I need to secure a husband for my daughters and a future for myself. I simply can't have you there to twist their minds to think that we would associate ourselves with such rabble!"
Her calm demeanor disintegrated in cackling laugher, her two daughters joining her mocking chorus.
"Please, step-mother, I did everything as you have asked!"
Lady Tremaine and her daughter's stopped laughing. Anastasia and Drizella smirked as they were herded out of the door.
"If it were up to me girl," Lady Tremaine snarled, "You wouldn't even be in my household. Therefore, you shall not go to the ball. You will never go to a festival ever again!"
She slammed the door and left Cinderella standing alone in the house, her dress ruined, face smudged and hopes shattered like broken glass.
She tore away to her bedroom, tears warping her vision as she descended down the stairs and flung herself on her bed, sobbing.
"You mustn't cry, child!"
A twinkling voice, like tiny silver bells, made her turn around. Cinderella blinked her tears away as the form of a woman came into focus. She wore a sparkling blue dress that shone like starlight and in her hand was a long sort of twig, the colour of grey silk.
"Who are you?" She sniffed. The woman smiled.
"Why, I am your fairy godmother, of course!"
"My fairy godmother?" Cinderella asked as she slowly stood and leaned against the bed frame for support, "I have a fairy godmother?"
"Of course you do, child. Everyone does. I am the fairy godmother for all, but tonight I looked down and I saw that you wished upon my star for a little extra help. You spoke of a ball?"
Cinderella's eyes widened. "Oh, yes, yes, yes, fairy godmother! There is a magnificent festival to be held tonight, and —" she faltered, and her shoulders drooped, "And my step-mother has forbidden me from attending."
The fairy godmother laughed and waved her twig around. Sparkles, like tiny diamonds, spilled out of the star top. It looked like magic.
"Come now," She grabbed Cinderella's hand and pulled her up the stairs, across the house, out of the front door and into the streets. The market was beginning to close, but the pumpkin stall was still open. The fairy godmother dragged her over to the stall and paid the wonder with three enormous silver coins, worth more than the owner could make in a year. His mouth fell open and his eyes never blinked as the fairy godmother took the largest pumpkins and heaved it over to a dip in the road. She dropped it there and dusted her hands off, glitter and starlight falling off them and disappearing into the mud and filth of the street. She smiled at Cinderella before tapping her wand on the top of the pumpkin. Cinderella could only watch as a stream of stardust filtered out of the wand and encircled the pumpkin, making it grow larger and larger and change from a bright orange to a glittering gold. What once were vines and leaves, spilling down off the top of the pumpkin, became gold wheels, ready to whisk her off to the castle.
"Oh, fairy godmother," Cinderella cried, "Thank you so much!"
"You haven't even seen the best part!" The fairy godmother grinned as she danced through the muck to pick up two rats from the gutter, holding them by their tails and she lightly tapped each one with her magic wand. In a shower of stardust, they transformed into beautiful white horses. Cinderella clasped her hands over her mouth as the fairy godmother tied them to the carriage, and then scooped up a tiny beetle, which had been steadily climbing up her shoe. One tap from the wand and a dazed driver stood in front of her, shaking the stardust off their hat.
"This is more than I could ever imagine, thank you so much!" Cinderella ran and hugged her fairy godmother, tears trickling from her eyes.
"Oh," Her fairy godmother slipped out of her grasp and held her wand up high, "I forgot one more thing."
She gently leaned forward and touched the top of Cinderella's head with the wand. Stardust slid down her head and caught on her ripped and dirty gown, mending it with a twinkle that made Cinderella shut her eyes. At last, when she opened them, her plain dress had been transformed into a magnificent gown, the colour of the shining stars and the moon up above.
"It's beautiful," Cinderella whispered. She looked back up at her fairy godmother, who was taking off her shoes. She handed the blue heels to Cinderella.
"Wear these. They are extremely comfortable!"
Hesitantly, Cinderella took the shoes and placed them on her feet. She glanced at her fairy godmother's bare toes.
"Won't you need them?" She asked. Her fairy godmother winked.
"Stars don't need shoes, sweetie. Oh, and make sure to leave by midnight. The spell only lasts that long."
Cinderella bundled her dress up and sat the carriage as her fairy godmother stood in the dirty street, looking oddly out of place in her ethereal shining state. Just as the carriage pulled away, she leaned out and yelled, "Fairy godmother! I don't know your name to thank you!"
The fairy godmother just smiled. "Evangeline," she told her, and she disappeared in a burst of white light as Cinderella was whisked off towards the palace.
Snow stood by her step-mother's throne in the grand hall and watched as the guests filtered into the palace. Her step-mother had allowed her to wear her most beautiful finery, and the servants, her friends, had scrubbed off the layers of dirt on her skin before stuffing her in a gown, powdering her face, and brushing her hair. Now, she stood, with a plastic smile glazed across her face, watching the foreign dignitaries and princes and ladies walk into the hall as if they had done this a thousand times. Grimhilde sat on the throne beside her, back straight and eyes shifting through the eligible princes to see which ones displayed their wealth like a proud peacock. Out of the corner of her eye Snow caught sight of the huntsman standing up on the balcony, staring down at the crowd. Snow's chest tightened and she felt like she couldn't breathe. Then, she saw a woman walk up to him, dressed in a beautiful yellow gown, and softly hold his arm. He turned away from the crowd and he looked at the woman with such a gentle expression that Snow relaxed a little. Her step-mother suddenly rose from her throne and commanded the attention of all those in the hall.
"Welcome, everyone," Her voice echoed around the hall and reverberated in Snow's ears, "Thank you for attending our festivities this evening."
Grimhilde paused, reveling in the stunned silence of all the guests, their eyes fixed on her.
"On this happy occasion, my...beautiful...step-daughter comes of age," The queen announced, "And we are so fortunate to have so many handsome young princes vie for her hand."
A thousand eyes suddenly flicked over to her, standing in the shadow of the queen. One prince, who stood near enough for her to make out his features — glossy dark hair, bright blue eyes, rosy cheeks — looked up at her and smiled, displaying a row of perfect white teeth. She managed a faint smile back.
"Enjoy the festivities!" Grimhilde cried, and the room erupted in a sea of applauses, but all Snow could focus on was the prince in front of her. With a swish of Grimhilde's hand, the music started up and the crowd made room for dancing couples to parade around the circle. The prince, however, left his elderly dignitaries and ventured up the steps to greet Snow and her step-mother.
"Your Majesty," he bowed to Grimhilde, and then turned to her.
"Your Royal Majesty." He stooped low and pressed a kiss to her outstretched hand. When he stood back up again, he smiled at her, and Snow's heart performed a display that the court acrobats would envy.
"My name is Prince —"
The doors to the castle suddenly flung open and the most beautiful woman Snow had ever seen walked into the silenced hall. Her dress shimmered like starlight as she bowed low and then descended the stairs into the astonished crowd. She held her head up high, her blonde curls swaying, as she walked up to the steps and bowed once more before the queen. Snow's prince turned away from her and stared at the mystery girl.
"My queen, I apologize for my late arrival." She whispered. Snow glanced at Grimhilde. Her brows were furrowed, her lips pursed and her eyes narrowed. Snow's heart dropped in pity.
"Do not apologise for the time," Snow smiled, "Time forgives so long as you use it wisely," She gestured to the prince beside her, "Dance while you still can."
Beside her, the queen fumed even more as the prince who would have courted Snow instead extended his arm to the mystery princess and escorted down to the floor. Snow watched them as they danced. They both smiled. She guessed that they wouldn't get a chance like this in a long time, and she was happy, even though, moments before, it would have been her that was dancing with the prince.
She was happy, despite the murderous glance Grimhilde gave her, and she swallowed the lump in her throat and prayed that she would not receive a punishment for what she had done.
Up on the balcony, Belle stared down at the dancing guests and sighed, leaning over the railings with her head cupped gently in her hands. Soon after the mystery woman had been led onto the floor, others had soon followed.
From behind her, Adam grabbed her arm, rough at first, causing her to turn around in shock, and then slowly, gently.
"Would you like to dance?" He asked gruffly. Belle patted his hand and smiled.
"I would, thank you."
He led her down the stairs and into the swirling mass of brightly colored dresses and dark coats. The arm that linked with hers twisted and was placed on her upper back, while the other gently grasped her delicate hand. She placed her other hand on his shoulder. The orchestra struck up another tune, and Belle stepped backwards in time with the music, expecting Adam follow. His foot stayed where it was.
"Don't you know how to dance?" She teased. His face went slack, his eyes wide. Belle laughed, and gestured to where his foot should go.
"Usually, you would lead and I would follow, but I suppose it is a bit backwards, is it not?"
He stepped backwards as she stepped forward and they turned, Adam releasing the hand in her waist for her to spin out, yellow gossamer, tulle and satin flying. She giggled as Adam nearly tripped over her skirts as she came back in, slipping her hand across his shoulder once more. Adam smiled — actually smiled! — as they turned again, now on the other side of the ballroom, but then his smile disappeared. His grip around her waist tightened as he pulled her against him and bent his head down toward her ear.
"The queen demands my presence." He whispered, suddenly, as the turned once more, he let go. Her waist and hand were suddenly cold with his absence as he left her standing alone on the dance floor, watching his retreating form get lost in the sea of colours make its way to the queen up on the dais, pulling him in with a tug of her hand. She whispered something in his ear, and his eyes drifted across the room to hers, and then to the princess, little Snow White, standing alone, just like her. Adam's expression hardened, his features turned to steel, his eyes like knives, and Belle forgot how to breathe. She looked from Adam to Snow and then back to her fiancée as he prowled across the room, weaving in and out of the dancing guests, a huntsman stalking towards his prey.
Belle silently fumed. She was not about to let the queen send him further down the dark path he was on. There was still time to save him from murdering that sweet princess.
Belle raced across the dance floor as the clock struck twelve.
Up above, Evangeline watched over the castle. The clock chimes were calling in the midnight hour, and down below, four figures were emerging from the castle. Cinderella hurried out of the west gate, towards the corner where the village and the forest met. She raced down the stairs, her heart beating hard with every thundering chime. Her prince followed behind, bursting through the wooden double doors and stumbling over the threshold.
"Miss, where you are going? Please come back!" He called, carefully making his way down the stairs, watching Cinderella's retreating form. As she ran, Evangeline gasped as one of her blue slippers slid off Cinderella's foot and remained stuck to the pavement. Cinderella turned around, hitching her dress up, her hair falling out of its ribbons and flying in front of her face, and saw the prince gaining on her. She turned and fled into the night.
On a similar path, not too far away, Snow sprinted away from the castle, the huntsman hot on her trail. The forest loomed in front of her and she pushed forward, scrambling into the comforting darkness, tree branches scratching her skin and roots threatening to disrupt her footing. She allowed herself a glance behind her. The huntsman sped into the forest, his hand already at his belt, reaching for his knife.
Snow sped on into the forest.
She raced on, the sharp edges of branches and leaves cutting into her skin. She held up her arms to protect her face, but they too were ripped as she ventured deeper into the forest. The huntsman followed close behind; she could hear his footsteps, smell the sweat dripping off him as he ran, feel his breath on her skin as he narrowed in, corralling her through the trees and out into clearing. Darkness and fear blinded Snow as she stumbled into a clear, open space, the claustrophobia of the forest no longer affecting her. Thick dense tree lines, just blurs in the darkness, we're all that waited her on the other side. Her face and arms bled, the air making the deep cuts in her skin sting. Her legs cried out for rest, and her lungs gasped for air as they drowned in the midnight sea.
As she reached the middle of the clearing, her legs gave way and she collapsed on the soft grass.
"Enough!" She cried to the huntsman, standing a few feet away, "Enough of this running. Do what you have been ordered to."
Snow looked him in the eye as he approached, pulling a dagger from its sheath, standing over her like an ominous shadow.
"I forgive you with all of my heart," she whispered, "Tell my step-mother I forgive her too."
She laid herself down on the grass and stared up at the stars as breathing slowed back to normal and the pain in her legs and arms faded. The huntsman stood over her, knife raised, ready to plunge it into her chest and carve out her heart —
Belle rushed into the clearing just in time to see Adam standing over the princess, his knife in his hand. She dropped her skirts and rushed over to him.
"Please!" She screamed, "Adam, I know there is good in you. I know there is kindness in you!"
Adam raised the knife higher.
"I have my orders." He said forcefully. He wouldn't even look at her.
"Don't be the beast they all think you are!" Belle implored, "Prove them wrong and prove me right. That you are good, and kind and true, and are worthy enough to be my husband."
"I can't," Adam choked in his words as he held the dagger up high. Belle threw herself over the princess and stared up at Adam, the starlight glinting off the knife.
"Would you do it, if it was me that you were ordered to kill?" She asked softly. Adam's eyes went wide, and his hands started shaking.
"One kind deed. Just one." Belle whispered. Beneath her, Snow's muscles tensed. Her legs shifted, her arms ready to push herself up off the ground. If Adam refused to relent, Belle promised herself she would at least give this girl one last shot at survival, even if it killed her.
"You can do it, Adam. I have faith in you." Belle reached up and touched his face, and in that moment, he dropped the knife. It fell backwards and embedded itself into the grass, and Adam stumbled back. Belle suddenly launched herself off the princess and wrapped her arms around Adam, pinning him down.
"Run!" She shouted to the princess, whose eyes were wide as a deer's as she scrambled off the ground and sprinted towards the forest on the other side of the clearing. Adam yowled as the girl escaped, and struggled to remove Belle, but try he might, the bonds of love and faith were stronger than even the most beastly of huntsmen.
Rapunzel stared out at the stars that twinkled in the night sky up above. She sat on the edge of the balcony, her legs and hair dangling into botanical oblivion below. The trees were just shapes in the overwhelming darkness, made only bearable by the light of the golden stars that shone down on her. She liked to think that they were watching over her while she was alone, in place of her daytime companions. She stared at the stars a while longer, but a strange shape amidst the darkness captured her attention. It was a girl, running through the woods towards her tower, stumbling over and over again until Rapunzel was sure she'd just fall over and lay there still.
"Hey!" Rapunzel shouted, "Are you alright? Hey! Up here!"
The girl looked up and to Rapunzel's horror she saw that her face covered in blood. Rapunzel raced to lower her braid down as the girl wrapped her arms in her hair, holding on tight. She hauled her up, gasping as she retreated further into the tower to pull her heavy hair and the frail little girl in through the balcony and the window. The girl and Rapunzel's hair tumbled into the tower where they lay still on the floor. Rapunzel looked at her wearily. It wasn't the first person she had seen near the tower, but the first person she had seen up close.
The first person who wasn't moving.
Rapunzel hurried over to the girl and heaved her tiny body into her lap.
"Are you alright?" She whispered, "Can you hear me? Are you okay?"
She placed her ear near the girl's red lips and waited to hear her breathing. But no breath came. Rapunzel's heart started beating faster and harder in her chest. She stared hopelessly at the girl in her lap and something within her stirred. She felt an overwhelming urge to hold her close and keep her safe.
She still wasn't breathing, and Rapunzel started to worry that she might be dying.
"No, no, no, no," she cried, "You can't you simply can't. The forest has given you to me to protect and I am going to do just that."
She wrapped her hair around the girl's body and started to sing.
"Flower, gleam and glow. Let you power shine..."
No warmth flooded from her head. There was no glow, no magic. Rapunzel's breathing started to quicken. Her magic wasn't working. It always worked. Her magic —
Magic. She stared over at the basket of apples her mother had brought. She had told her not to touch them but she stared down at the girl in her arms, whose life was slowly slipping away, and decided that somethings were more important than her or her mother.
Some people, even strangers, were worth saving.
Rapunzel carefully scooted across the floor with the girl in her arms and grabbed one of the apples from the basket. Using her fingernails, she picked out a tiny piece of the delicious fruit and placed it in the girl's open mouth.
The girl took a breath, and Rapunzel lost hers as she stared at the magic working in her arms. The girl breathed in, and stared at Rapunzel like she had seen a ghost.
"Rapunzel," She breathed, "My sister. I finally found you."
Rapunzel stared at the girl in her arms as her eyes flickered shut. They were just like hers, as green as the grass near the flower.
"My sister," she cried, "I have a sister!"
Her sister smiled weakly and breathed in and then out, and then in one last time before she lay still, a gurgling sound in her throat.
Rapunzel stared at her in confusion and then pressed her ear to her lips once again.
No breath ticked her ear. "No, no, no, no, no," she sniffed, "You're my sister. You have to come back. I've never had a sister before. You have to breathe."
Rapunzel held her sister's head up and waited, but there was nothing. When she laid her back down again, she was still.
Rapunzel clutched her to her chest and wept, her cries sounding throughout the night.
Evangeline cried tears of silver and gold and star dust up above and the village marveled at the shooting stars that rained down upon them.
Make a wish, they told their children.
Don’t you know you are wishing on tears?
Rapunzel woke to find herself lying in her own bed, her sister’s body gone from her arms. She ripped open the seams that her dried tears had made and stared up at the ceiling, a feeling of dead in her stomach. Something wasn’t right.
“Good morning, Rapunzel.”
Rapunzel sat up and stared at her mother, who stood at the end of her bed.
“Mother,” Rapunzel croaked, “You’re back?”
Her mother slowly walked around the bed. Rapunzel’s heart beat fast. Her palms felt clammy. Her breathing became short and sharp. Without warning, her mother suddenly reached out her arms…and wrapped them around Rapunzel.
Rapunzel sat there, tense. Her mother had never hugged her before, not even as a little child.
“You disobeyed me, Rapunzel,” Her words were harsh but her tone was light, “But I am glad of that. I tested you and you passed.”
“I don’t understand,” Rapunzel muttered. Her mother pulled away. When she smiled, her skin didn’t crease.
“I told you not to touch my magic apples, but you did. You gave them to the girl,” Rapunzel tensed. Alarm bells, like the church bells that signaled a funeral, rung in her head.
“I am so very happy with you Rapunzel. For this, I’ll let you venture outside.”
She stretched out her hand, and Rapunzel hesitantly took it. Her mother dragged her out of her bed and led her over to the balcony.
“Why are you so happy, Mother?” Rapunzel asked “The apples killed that girl.”
Her mother leaned in close, her smile looking odd on her face.
“I know,” she whispered, “I wanted that to happen.”
“She was my sister!” Rapunzel cried. Her mother dropped her smile and backed away from the balcony. Her eyes narrowed and her gaze hardened.
“She had just enough breath to tell you the truth, did she?” Her mother screamed. Rapunzel took a step backwards. Her legs pressed against the balcony and she steadied herself.
“You’re not my mother, are you?” Rapunzel whispered, “You’ve never been my mother. You’re a witch, who tricked me into killing my own sister!”
“I will always be your mother,” the witch snarled, “And you will always obey me!”
“No,” Rapunzel screamed, “I’ll keep fighting you, and I won’t stop until I get away.”
The witch advanced on her and pushed Rapunzel over the edge of the balcony.
Rapunzel screamed as she fell, her arms and legs flailing in the open air, her hands grasping wildly for something to hold onto. All she could see was her mother, no, the witch, standing on the balcony, her arms outstretched, stuck in time, as if she was reaching for Rapunzel rather than pushing her. Her hair whipped around below her, and then, as she fell, her eyes caught on to the edge of her hair, wrapped around the balcony. She had a moment to process it before the hair below her snagged and her whole body stopped falling.
She yelled as her head was violently pulled upwards and her body veered sideways, just a few feet above the ground. The vines that zigzagged their way up the tower dug their thorns into her arms, blood streaming down her skin. She could feel her hair being yanked up above, and she looked up just in time to watch as her mother pulled at her hair, ripping it away from the balcony.
Rapunzel could only scream as she fell the rest of the way down, the vines tearing into her face, into her eyes.
She couldn’t understand why a starless night had come so quickly.
Rapunzel didn’t know how long she lay there, in a crumpled heap at the bottom of the tower, but with no sunlight to guide her, she could only guess at the time. She sobbed and then she sobbed because her tears stung her eyes where the thorns had blinded her and cut her face and she just lay there, in the most extreme agony she had ever experienced. Her body and her heart were broken, and nothing could be done to fix them.
“Miss, are you alright?”
She slowly lifted her head and heard the sound of footsteps approaching her.
“I can’t see,” she whispered weakly, “I can’t stand either. Please, my sister, they’ve taken my sister away to be buried, I need to see her.”
The stranger bent down and slipped his arms around her, gently hauling her up into his arms.
“Miss, I only know of one person to be buried today, and if you say you’re her sister, then you are more important than you realize.”
She buried her face into his shoulder, dampening the fine linen with her tears.
“Thank you, kind stranger.” She sobbed, “However did you find yourself in this part of the woods?”
The stranger laughed, a tired laugh. “Would you believe me if I said that I chased a princess all night?”
The village declared it a day of mourning.
Cinderella stood with her sisters' outside their house, dressed in black as a horse carried the princess's coffin through the streets. The queen had spared no expense; the coffin was to be made of pure glass, so her citizens could see the proof, that their beloved princess had passed. The foreign dignitaries and the princes were so saddened by the news, that the princess they had sworn to love and protect, had died under their watch, that they volunteered to walk her coffin down the street as an apology to the village who loved her so much. The queen walked in front, her shoes built high to stop from traipsing through the mud. The coffin followed, flanked by the foreign dignitaries who walked with an air of grace, and then the princes, who wore their tears as badges of their melancholy.
As the glass casket passed, Cinderella curtsied low, dipping her head. She kept her eyes steady as the princes walked solemnly by their house. Her step-mother and step-sisters wept and wailed loudly, but no tears marked paths of sorrow down their faces. She searched the crowd for the bright blue eyes of her prince, but found no such wonder. Cinderella began to panic; she had drawn him too deep into the woods, and now she was scared he would never return.
Belle watched as the princess’s lifeless body was carted down the winding streets of the village. Adam clung to the shadows, cloaking himself in the jagged darkness made by the eaves of the village bakery. One hand grasped tightly onto the back of Belle’s dress, his lifeline in the sea of unfriendly faces and horrified glances. They all knew his face, a scarred face like his would usually go unnoticed in a village that had born so many burdens, but his had the mark of a murderer on it.
He hadn’t killed her, Belle knew he hadn’t killed her, but the townspeople did not. He came to pay his respects for the innocent life he had spared, although it had been taken nonetheless.
“It’s alright,” she told him, when the procession had passed, “You can come out now.”
“The townspeople are still there,” Adam said gruffly.
“Come out,” Belle urged, “You have nothing to –”
She was cut off by the sound of a thousand gasps. Up ahead, she could make out the shape of two figures staggering into the village. The procession was so surprised that they halted their somber march.
“Wait here,” she told Adam, “I’m going to go see what’s going on.”
She stuck out her elbows and fought her way through the crowd until she was at the very front. Belle gasped with the rest of the village. One of the princes, the one who had danced with the mystery woman, was standing in front of the procession with a frail girl in his arms. Blood covered her face and arms, but still she breathed. The queen stared at her in disbelief.
“It can’t be,” she whispered.
Rapunzel had lost her sight, but she could still hear. Her mother’s voice reverberated around her skull.
“It can’t be,” she repeated, “I saw you die.”
“You may have taken my eyes, witch,” Rapunzel called to the darkness, “But you have not taken my ears or my voice. Snow White is my sister, and I have come to see her.”
She heard the gasps of the villagers around her.
“As of this moment, I, as the rightful heir to the throne, due to my sister’s passing, deem Queen Grimhilde unfit to rule.” Rapunzel’s voice carried over the silent crowd, “I may have lost my vision, but I have heard the truth. Grimhilde stole me from your king and queen when I was but a child. She poisoned my father. She was the one who killed my sister, your beloved Snow White!”
“The news of her treachery reached my land some time ago,” The prince said, his deep voice echoing above her, “I may not be from your kingdom, but I know the truth. A beautiful princess spoke to me of the troubles concerning her land, a land not unlike yours.”
Rapunzel could hear his smile. “Though I know is as common as you are.”
The crowd started to mumble.
“Silence!” Grimhilde, the witch, her mother, yelled at the crowd, “Don’t listen to such lies!”
“They aren’t lies!” A voice suddenly cried out, “My fiancée knows of the corruption of the crown. He can vouch for this.”
“And my father,” Rapunzel heard another voice, “My father was the king’s advisor. He warned of Grimhilde’s treachery. I can vouch for this.”
“Stop!” Grimhilde commanded, but her voice was shaking, “I command you to stop.”
Rapunzel smiled. “They no longer listen to you, Mother. They have waited many years for their revenge, and now, they will get it.”
The prince suddenly held onto her tight as screams and yell filled the air. Thousands of footsteps hammered past Rapunzel, dirt and mud flying in the raging frenzy of villagers.
“They’re chasing her into the forest!” The prince cried, “She’s gone!”
Rapunzel grabbed onto his arm and wept once more.
Once the dust had cleared, she felt him move and gently lower her down. His hands covered hers as he guided her to a cold, pallid, face.
“Your sister, your majesty,” he whispered, “Here she is.”
Rapunzel sniffled as she wrapped her hair around her sister’s body.
“She’s gone now,” Rapunzel told her, “We’re safe.”
She pressed a kiss to her sister’s forehead and began to sing.
“Flower, gleam, and glow. Let your power shine.”
Warmth flooded from head right down to the tips of her toes. Even in the darkness of her own mind, she could see the brilliant golden light.
“Make the clock reverse, bring back what once was mine. Heal what has been hurt, change the fates’ design.”
The glow grew brighter and brighter and slowly, the darkness began to crumble away from Rapunzel’s eyes.
“Save what has been lost, bring back what once was mine.”
Light flooded into Rapunzel’s eyes and she looked down to see her sister again.
“What once was mine.”
The last note left her mouth as she stared at her sister, the colour slowly returning to her face. Rapunzel gasped as Snow drew in a breath and opened her eyes, blinking slowly.
“Rapunzel,” she croaked, “My sister. You saved me.”
Rapunzel wrapped her arms around her and they lay there in a warm embrace for a long time.
Anyone walking into the village knew that it was a happy place. Children laughed as they played in the freshly paved streets. Their parents watched happily from doorways or from market stalls as they wistfully glanced up at the castle. So much had changed in the last couple of months.
Snow White was restored to the throne. She immediately began reconstructing the village and ensuring that everyone in her kingdom lived a full and happy life. The timber industry flourished. The grain harvest fed the village until they were full. The river once again flowed a beautiful blue. Apples were officially outlawed.
Rapunzel started a new life in the castle. She was always at her sister’s side, helping her rule the kingdom with a gentle hand. Her tower was torn down, and she slept soundly in the knowledge that Grimhilde was gone. Never again would anyone be subject to her torment again. Her fear of the dark never subsided, but Snow was always there beside her with a candle, ready to light her path.
Cinderella was reunited with her prince. Rapunzel watched on as the happy couple were rejoined and went for a leisurely stroll through the palace gardens, where her prince slipped her glass slipper on and reminded them both of that wonderful night. After spending some time in the village, he decided to stay there for good, buying her a house and rescuing her from the torment of her step-mother and step-sisters. They agreed to take their courtship slow; there was no use running into things, not when a shoe was bound to be lost in the process.
Belle and Adam were married at last. As his wedding gift to his new wife, Adam invited the entire village to attend. His act of kindness did not go over looked. One by one, the villages hugged him and welcomed him to the village. His scars would join the others. He would find peace and be free from Grimhilde’s control. They lived with Belle’s father but spent afternoons in the bookstore, sitting in the sun and enjoying the peace and quiet.
Evangeline looked down on them and smiled. As the last light of a new day faded into the sun, she sent a sparkle of star dust over the castle and welcomed the villagers into a new era of happiness.
As she started her climb into the sky, resting as the second star to the right, she smiled and she sighed, and wrote her best wishes for the kingdom in the sky.
“And they all lived happily ever after.”