Snow and Fire
Your mother asked me to hold up the mirror so that she could see you crowning. Already you had black down like brushwood laid in winter snow—snow strewn in the wood and snow lacing thorns, ten months ago when she cut her finger on my rosebush in the crag.
“I am in your service,” I told her, “until I am set free by iron or until your bloodline fails.”
Her lips drew in a blade of air.
“Then I will tell you my first command. Give me a child as white as snow, as black as these woods, as red as this blood.
“As beautiful as you are.”
She took me into her household then, and I was with her those long months descending into autumn. The making of a new life took her own life out of her, so that with each day she drew nearer to bringing you into being, her fire fled her. But you caught a spark in its passing.
In those later days, she brooded. She feared that ghosts waited in branches to snatch you away. She divined your troubled future in each drained cup.
“Promise me you will look after her,” she said to me. “You must keep her innocent. Then you must teach her to be strong.”
When they drew you from her with her last breath—her tether to you, her tether to life, dissolved—with a shuddering exhale she scattered and spread.
But she could not bring herself to leave you. So I opened the mirror, and she fell in.
I kept your father’s eyes away from you. I became your mother’s shade in dress and manners. I plaited my hair and wrung my gown. I kept his bed full and his hands warm.
You flickered noiselessly.
The first thing I did as queen was to banish all mirrors, save one, from the castle.
I had your mother’s mirror hung in a room made into a shrine. Votives and offerings of calla lilies and coral beads. The servants whispered.
I came to her often. We spoke in the night, voices feinting and weaving.
In the cellars, the servants heard echoes of wind multiply in the rafters.
“Who is fairer, she or me?”
“You are fairest,” she said. “But I fear the day.”
I was cold to you. I could not spare you half a pulse in a bloodless world.
No one on earth loves a pretty girl.
But don’t think I was unkind. The more you sputtered, the harder I blew. When I tested you, you roared back to life.
The day came. It was winter, like on the day you were born, a shining black seed in your mother’s mind.
The spring before, I saw your sinews wake and startle. New green unrolled in the hills. In summer, you bit a strawberry, and every man within a mile turned his head.
Your father noticed you.
When autumn mounted the equinox, a voice of rusted silver veined stone walls. “She is fairest.”
I carefully selected the one to do my bidding. A benign man, bearish and sleepy. A huntsman.
“Take her into the woods. Kill her. Bring me her heart.”
I can augur what a man will do by the manner of his stride, the slur of his speech, the busy hands. I gave him a gilded box. I made him repeat the words, willing them to reach you. I had to know you would not return.
We watched, the mirror and I, and followed your footsteps deeper into the forest.
Knowingly, willingly, I ate the boar’s heart from the urn.
“It is not enough,” said the mirror. “Still, he may find her.”
“I will give her three tests,” I said. “My final gifts to you. Her education.”
So I let my skin shrivel into wrinkles, let my lacquer-hair go white and brittle.
Three times I came into your wooden thicket, a dream to sleep, rapped you into waking. Taught you the treachery of lovely things. You, who had never even seen your own reflection.
First, the stays of ribbon, like shreds of river.
The seven little men who took you in as housekeeper, cook, and dry-nurse had gone into the monster’s belly, to dig out hidden ore. They warned you, left behind in the cottage, not to let a soul inside.
I called out my wares, and when you came to the window, I hung them before you in red and verdant curtains.
“I am not supposed to go to the door,” you said.
“No?” said I. “But you are so very pretty. And in a saggy, shapeless dress! Where is the little waist?”
“Oh, I haven’t a care for that.”
I almost knew hope. But you looked at them, and I saw your eyes shimmer as though full of tears, and I saw desire sway in your throat. You reached for them.
“Here, child,” I said. “Let me help you.”
I snaked the stays around your slender trunk.
“That is quite tight.”
“Anything for beauty,” I said, and pulled them tighter.
I snuffed the breath from you, and you sank.
We watched them, angels’ stunted parodies of man. We heard them find you on the floor, shout, cut the stays with a dull blade. We sensed you rise like smoke from embers.
“She is still the fairest.”
“It is not enough,” said the mirror. “She must know.”
I returned once more, shucked, dry, and pure.
You said, “I daren’t let anyone in.”
“But look at these pretty combs.” I held one out, carved with an ivory handle. “And your locks are in tangles.”
You put palm to head, as though only just noticing there was hair on it.
“Well,” you said, “what harm can a comb do?” My hope fled.
I ripped the comb through. You winced.
The poison seeped with each stroke, drowsing you to sleep. You settled, dead as new snow.
“Who is now the fairest?” I asked the mirror.
The little men pried the comb from your weedy hair. You drifted back to the surface.
“It is enough,” I said.
“No, no. She has never yet beheld her reflection.”
In the castle orchard, apples grew too numerous for the drooping limbs that bore them.
The one I plucked throbbed in hand.
I nursed it, brought it in. I made a solution of herbs and syrup. I dipped the apple on one side and let it sit, let the hint of poison fade.
I became like bones. I laid a bushel of the bright fruit in a woven basket. On top I placed the apple.
You had been thoroughly rebuked, washed from the inside out, scalded. You looked poised. You were alone, but you came to the window.
“Taste the ruby?”
“Not a mortal soul is to come in or out,” you said.
“Not a soul, but a ripe fruit, perhaps?”
I put the clean side to my lips and bit. Then held it out to you.
There, in its glossy skin, you saw your reflection.
You retrieved the apple. You turned away from me, but I could see the apple burn through your back. The battle between you and the red mirror.
You bent forward. Touched your lips to the ruddy skin in a kiss. Fell down dead.
I left, confident that you would, as always, spring miraculously back to life.
Only, you didn’t.
How the little men howled! With their cunning, they fashioned a gold-and-glass casket. They dressed and displayed you. Shadows lengthened; seasons spun away. Winter paid respects without sympathy.
The mirror and I sunk into silence.
Your father died. It is a pity you were sleeping then, when there was no danger of him.
In spring, a prince came by hunting. When he saw you, he said, “Give her up to me. She is a treasure, to be well looked after and adored. I will take her to my palace.”
His footmen lifted and shouldered your casket.
And, you spat out the apple.
Sat up and looked around. Let the man flatter you and coax you to his castle.
“She has learned nothing,” the mirror said. “Nothing.”
“Not nothing, no. Give it time, give it time.”
Nuptial announcements followed, scarlet heralds to all the countries, scrolls sealed with royal emblems.
I see a hall of mirrors in your husband’s house. The ladies-in-waiting dress you in embroidered finery and tell you of your loveliness.
In passing, you let slip that you know me. But your husband orders his men to seize me. The glowing iron slips easily onto my feet. Shoes that were made for me.
“Come,” says your husband. “Give me a child as white as your muslin veil, as black as the gem at your throat, as red as this fragrant, out-poured wine.
“As beautiful as you are.”
We will not leave you, and I think you know. The way you tilt your head and watch the branches, the way your mother did, wary of ghosts.
You sail, a ship on still water. Through chambers and halls. You’ve come home. Your steps resound in vaulted corridors. You catch the servants off their guard. They tip the plates and spill the water. They kneel and falter.
You enter the shrine you have never seen before. You take a lead candlestick, lift it high like an angry god, strike, and let fly splinters, so that glass shards petal the floor. The mirror’s eye goes out.
In a dark, warm place, another spark ignites.
L.C. Ricardo is a mother and aspiring writer living in Florida. She has published poems and articles in The Sandhill Review, Mirror Dance, Bolts of Silk, Enchanted Conversation, and Poppy Road Review and is forthcoming in Goblin Fruit. She has received an honorable mention for the 2013 Tuscany Prize for Catholic Fiction Short Stories category for her short story “The Debt,” which has been published in digital format here, with hard copy publication soon to follow.
Floral photography has always been a hobby for Mary Moser. She has been taking pictures for a while now for friends and family and wanted to expand to different venues.