New to the story? Start with Chapter 1, Briar Rose, here.
Catching up? Make sure you've read Chapter 3, Flame Rose, here.
Scent Notes: A proper English garden blooming with bright red roses, sweet honey, sea salt, and dragonsblood.
Once upon a time, there lived two queens who were married to each other. They had been together for many years, and were growing old. While Madeline had been beautiful, it was her wife, Elizabeth, who was truly stunning. Her hair had been a bright shade of orange; now, it was mostly naturally white, but Elizabeth adhered to a strict hair dying schedule. Madeline aged gracefully, embracing and openly flaunting her wrinkles, scars, and white hair; Elizabeth would sooner die than show everyone what she perceived as her faults. Really, she was still the fairest in all the land, but she couldn’t see this for herself.
One winter, Madeline took ill. While everyone thought she just had a minor bout of flu, it got worse. And worse. It soon became obvious that she would not live to see the spring. Elizabeth was beside herself. Her companion of so many years, her one true love, did not have much time left. She was terrified; Madeline had been the people’s queen. Elizabeth was the ice queen, the beauty, the slightly dark heart behind the scenes. The thought that she would now be old and alone was haunting her. The one thing she could still control was her looks, and she took even greater steps now to make certain her beauty stayed intact.
Shortly before she passed away, Madeline had a gift made for Elizabeth. Being that Madeline had been so popular, and because she had some powers of her own, she gave Elizabeth a magic mirror that would always reassure her that she was the most beautiful woman in all the lands they ruled. It was looking into this mirror and asking it, multiple times a day, if she was still the fairest one of all that gave her life some sense of distorted, narcissistic order once Madeline died. Elizabeth spent hours upon hours gazing at her reflection, applying makeup, dying her barely existent roots, anything she could see as a potential flaw that was fixable was immediately eradicated.
A few years after Madeline’s death, Elizabeth was spending yet another day transfixed in front of the magic mirror. She knew her looks were starting to fade, and she had consulted with several local witches to try and figure out the best course of action as to how to stop this dreadful aging process. One suggested a mask of honey and sea salt to scrub out and moisturize the pores. It did work, and it smelled delicious, but it didn’t seem to have any lasting effects. She used only the purest rose water to wash her face and body, and she quite liked the faint smell of rose that seemed to radiate from her very core. But still, she kept getting older. She knew on some level that she couldn’t stop the slow march towards death, and while a large part of her wanted to reunite with her dearest Madeline, she was becoming more and more obsessed and consumed by the idea of looking as youthful as possible.
It was on this day, after her honey and salt mask and rose water rinse, that the mirror told her the most horrible thing: she was no longer the fairest in the land. Far from it. A real beauty, nicknamed Snow White, had just turned 14, and what a sight to behold she had become: raven black hair, dark brown eyes, full red lips, and the smoothest, palest skin. It makes logical sense that a freshly blossoming young woman should be the fairest in all the lands, but something in Elizabeth’s brain finally snapped. Her obsession changed to this young woman: finding her, befriending her, and killing her, because only she could be the beauty. That was her one gift, and she intended to keep it, by any means necessary.
Across the forest, at the edge of the land, Snow White lived with her seven older brothers. Their parents had tragically died a few years beforehand, and Snow White became their mother from a young age. She didn’t wear makeup, she didn’t care about her clothing, and she hardly left the house. Still, she was content, as she felt it was the right thing to do. Her brothers, bless them, had their quirks, and needed looking after.
Day after day, she did the washing and the cleaning and the cooking, with nary a complaint. She enjoyed the alone time while her brothers went to the mines all day. Every night when they came home there was joy and laughter and good food, and every day she spent alone in the quiet, cleaning up the mess from the night before while singing along with the birds that nested just outside the kitchen window.
Snow had a simple, pure, easy life. She didn’t even realize how naturally beautiful she was, which only served to enhance the fullness of her lips, and the length of her eyelashes. She had no idea that you could be obsessed with beauty; that the very notion of needing to be beautiful above all else could drive you to darkness and evil.
Elizabeth, being the queen, sent spies out to find Snow White. She didn’t want to hurt the girl at first; not necessarily. (Or if she did, she didn’t admit it to herself.) But once she found out that Snow White didn’t wear makeup, didn’t care about clothing nor anything to do with appearance, Elizabeth’s hatred intensified. How could a girl who didn’t even care if she looked good be more beautiful than she? Elizabeth always cared what she looked like; it was one of the few facets of her personality now that Madeline was gone. She realized just how cruel and evil and obsessive she was becoming, but it was too late. She didn’t care. Elizabeth decided to send for the girl. She needed her, and her youthfulness, now.
The guards set out; this time, instead of gathering information, they are to bring her back to Elizabeth, alive and unharmed.
It was a quiet, normal day in Snow White’s house. Her brothers had left to mine; she was in the midst of washing the breakfast plates and had a heaping pile of laundry at her feet, when there was a knock on the door. Snow White had no fear; she’d never had a reason to be truly afraid. Once the door was opened, the guards immediately grabbed her by the arms and dragged her away. The guards, of course, were entranced by her youth and beauty, but they were not monsters. They did not harm the girl on their days walk back to the castle.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth consulted with a different local witch. This one was known to be extreme: casting horrible spells, brewing potions of incredible strength, and completely owning misogynist Twitter trolls. She was not one to be trifled with. She told Elizabeth what she could do with young Snow White: first, poison her with an enchanted apple. While she’s unconscious, take some of her blood, mix it with dragon’s blood, honey, whiskey, and a sprig of mint (to hide the blood flavor), and drink it. It would restore her beauty and extend her life by many years. Elizabeth was excited. She had a plan; she would be youthful forever.
Snow White’s arrival to the castle did not go unnoticed. The fairest of them all turned heads everywhere she went, duh. Everyone who laid eyes on her was entranced. She was brought to the queen’s chamber door. One of the guards knocked, and then they let her in.
Elizabeth had gone to great lengths to make sure she looked incredible, and not at all like she knew exactly how many pores were on her own face (19,536; she had counted multiple times). She was sitting at a table, sipping a glass of deep red wine. A cheese platter and various fruit were laid out before her. “Please, Snow White, do come in. Sit down with me and let us have a chat.”
Snow White obliged. She was not afraid, although she was confused about what she was doing here and why the queen herself wanted to personally meet with her.
“Thank you, your majesty. May I ask why I am here?”
Elizabeth smiled in a way that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Of course! You are here because you are the most beautiful girl in the lands. I feel protective over you, as I used to be in that same position myself. We are here to chat about beauty, and perhaps you will find a suitor in the court.” She picked up and nibbled on a piece of sharp cheddar. “Please, Snow White, do go ahead and eat. It’s important for a queen to feed her … appetites.”
Snow White took several pieces of cheese and ate them, because cheese calmed her down when she was nervous. (How does cheese calm her down? Don’t ask.) They were making polite small talk, and Snow White was taking in the incredible surroundings of Elizabeth’s bedroom: the plush velvet curtains; the king-sized bed; the dressing area complete with wardrobe topped with bottles of perfume and makeup of all kinds; and the most incredible mirror hanging over it. “This is the most beautiful bedroom I have ever seen,” she said to Elizabeth. “I sleep in a small bed in our living room. There’s not a lot of room in our house.”
“Yes, I’ve heard you have seven brothers; that’s quite a lot of testosterone to deal with. Poor girl. You can stay here as long as you need. Perhaps even forever.” Elizabeth smiled that creepy smile again.
Snow White nodded; yes, she would love to stay here. She got up and surveyed the room, running her hand along the beautiful objects. When she got to the mirror, she paused to look at her reflection. Wow, she thought, I am incredibly beautiful. In her mind, suddenly, a warning flashed. LEAVE NOW, it said. SHE WILL KILL YOU.
An unfamiliar feeling of panic crept into her stomach, and Snow White turned around to find the queen directly facing her. Elizabeth held an apple in one hand, and a knife in the other.
“Darling Snow White, would you care for some apple? It’s organic, straight from the orchard just behind the castle.” She took the knife and began to cut a large piece. Ripping the chunk out of the apple, she held it like she was trying to airplane-feed Snow White. “Open up, darling; take a big, big bite.”
Snow White smacked the piece of apple out of Elizabeth’s hand, and at the same time, Elizabeth moved to stab her. They began to struggle; back and forth, the knife weaving dangerously between them. “You cannot survive, child! Give up; I will not allow you to live! I AM THE FAIREST! ME!” Elizabeth screamed, her sanity completely shattering.
“You don’t have a choice, bitch; GIVE IT UP!” Snow White screamed back. They continued to struggle on the ground. Finally, Snow White managed to twist the queen’s arm enough that she dropped the knife. Snow White rolled to try and grab it, but Elizabeth went with her. Knowing there was no way out of this for her, Snow White elbowed the queen in the face, breaking her nose. “No!! This was my new nose!” the queen howled in pain. Snow White got to the knife and held it up at the queen. “I will kill you if I have to,” she said. Elizabeth snarled. “Then do it.”
Snow White threw the knife across the room, away from both of them. Elizabeth laughed. “What are you DOING, you stupid child?” Suddenly, Snow White was running at her; Elizabeth couldn’t even react as Snow White bodyslammed her into her beloved mirror, shattering both the mirror and Elizabeth’s skull.
“Who’s the fairest one now, bitch?” Snow White asked. “Me. It’s me. And it’s going to be me forever.”
News of the queen’s death spread throughout the kingdom, but nobody was very sad. While she had rescued the economy years ago, she had turned evil and narcissistic after the death of Queen Madeline. It was decided that, as Snow White had killed her (even in self-defense) that she had earned the right to be queen. Fairy tale law is a cruel mistress. Snow White was made queen of the lands, and her brothers came to live with her in the castle, and they all lived happily ever after, finally getting to sleep in separate bedrooms.
Keep the story going with Chapter 5, Black Rose, here.
Want to see the entire Steel Roses anthology? Click here!
Scent Notes: A proper English garden blooming with bright red roses, sweet honey, sea salt, and dragonsblood.