The White Mask
The young woman called “Snow White” stood over the ancient stone table, sharpened kris in hand, staring down at the kicking, bloody, malformed infant. A vortex of sickly clouds swirled above, its torrential downpour sending rivulets of pinkish water down her ankles. Her stomach clenched to a fist. She gritted her teeth and brought the wavy blade down hard, pushing until the tip of the blade clacked against the sacrificial altar.
She could hear the infant’s heart slow, the stillness of its breath echoing in her mind. Tears mixed with the rain as she unleashed a scream towards the heavens. The heavens answered back with a deafening cacophony as raw electricity belched from the sky and found its way to the stone table, sending Snow flying back into a heap.
When Snow awoke, her hands were burnt and her hair was as white as the alabaster mask she wore. The stone table was scorched black and the remains of her child were gone. As she struggled to her feet, she realized that something had changed. Snow recovered the knife that lay next to the granite slab and prepared to wince, but found that the burns on her hands were already healing. She watched enthralled as the charred flesh melted back and gave way to soft, pink healthy skin.
She was then distinctly aware of the magic in her veins, the tingle of power coursing through every nerve. Some dark god had heard her desperate plea, and her offering of blood was received.
The nameless girl who would eventually be called Snow White was born an orphan. With no parents, she was found and raised by a travelling merchant whose sole motivation was to eventually sell her to slavery. Although fed spoiled bread and sour milk, somehow she still grew lush dark hair, and full, red lips. As the girl grew into maturity, the merchant mercifully believed a virgin slave might fetch a higher price and refrained from abusing the merchandise. Soon the merchant thought she was old enough to fetch a price that would surpass his investment and took her to the capital city of Dunklenwald where he sold her to a slaver.
The slave master found a home for her as a servant in the royal family’s kitchen, where her new home was a pile of mildewy blankets in the garden shed. She shared this bed with the other female slaves during the day, and worked throughout the night. She scrubbed pots, hands cracked and bleeding, nightly for three years until one of the other slaves, the young girl tasked with serving the king and queen’s dinner, disappeared after being caught stealing a piece of candied yam.
Finally, the girl thought that she might have found a reprieve. The king of Dunklenwald was said to prefer to be served by younger girls, and the rest of the slaves were ragged and past their prime. When she was taken to be measured for a new dress suitable for the royal dining hall, she was giddy with excitement. Upon seeing the dress she held her breath. Although modest by royal standards, the green and white satin dress seemed to her softer than a dream and the silver embroidery more alluring than gold. Finally, there would be no more rags of coarse burlap that chafed and scraped. She would have to learn the iron-clad rules of the dining hall, but even the dangers of transgression were better than her bloody fingers and aching back. As she slept that night, her sleep was untroubled by nightmares for the first time in years.
Before she knew it, the girl soon found her small hands grasping an enormous silver platter. Staring back at her was the unblinking eyes of a roast pig, a crimson apple wedged in its snout. The sweet smell of roast pork caused her to salivate, but she knew the consequences of stealing food; she was smarter than that.
As the ornately carved doors opened away from her, she imagined that they were magic doors she controlled with a single incantation, even though she knew the two servants on the other side were the real reason they opened. She stepped into the grand dining room and swallowed hard.
Lush ruby velvet curtains formed sweeping shapes on the walls, their grandness punctuated by polished marbled pillars and gigantic portraits in majestic gold frames. Ebony candelabras lined the massive table that spanned nearly the full length of the room. The candlelight glistened on the gold and silver tableware and off the dripping sauces and succulent shining meats lavished over the virginal white tablecloth.
The servant girl took another step towards the table. Her harsh footsteps on the polished stone floor startled her and she momentarily paused. She quickly began her journey again, focusing on keeping her gaze averted from the king and queen. As she reached the table, she noticed the only place uncovered by other dishes and veered toward it. Her fingers were still cracked from dishwashing, and as the platter began to bite into the raw flesh of her fingers she began to struggle to keep the heavy pig held high.
“Only a few more steps,” the girl thought to herself and she found herself at the edge of the table. She realized she was holding her breath and slowly exhaled as she leaned over to deliver the tray.
The king watched, amused, as the nervous girl bent over to set the platter down. His eyes wandered from the tiny mounds on her chest, to her full lips, to her raven locks. He licked his wrinkled lips and slid his hand under the girl’s dress.
The girl yelped in surprise and stepped away, her elbow jostling one of the ornate candelabras. The queen’s eyes shot up towards the girl, her gaze piercing as she watched the servant girl fumble with the rocking candelabra, knocking over a pitcher of wine in the process.
The girl saw the purplish bloom growing on the white tablecloth, dark liquid dripping down into a pool on the ornate rug. She watched the queen rise suddenly and grasp her purple satin dress with both hands. The queen was speaking, but everything went in and out of focus and there was no sound and the girl couldn’t make out what the queen was saying. Two armored soldiers appeared on either side of the girl and an armored fist swung into the girl’s stomach. The small girl fell to the rug with a soft “whump.”
“You stupid wretch, look what you’ve done!” The queen’s emerald eyes flashed with rage. The queen absently wove a hand towards the guards and one took firm hold of the girl’s hair and jerked the girl’s head upwards. “What do you have to say for yourself?”
“I am deeply sorry,” the girl whimpered. She coughed painfully and tried to bow her head. The girl fought to stifle her tears, but her cheeks were already salty and wet.
“Now, now.” The king shaved off a slice of pork and suckled on it. “My dearest wife, let us spare the poor child. It is her first day.”
The queen’s eyes narrowed and her upper lip twisted into a momentary snarl. She gave a glare and a slight nod and the guards released the sniffling slave girl. The queen let out a quiet hiss from between her teeth and walked back to her seat. The girl looked up, hopeful.
“Come, now child. Don’t cry.” The king was standing now, his enormous belly jiggling as he stood. He motioned the guards over to him. “Take this child up to my study in the South tower. No need to be scared, anymore, dear girl.”
The queen snorted and took a sip of wine. She grimaced as if it tasted sour. She scowled across the table as she jabbed her knife into a slab of beef. Once the guards had departed, nearly dragging the girl out, the queen spoke.
“You’ll lose respect from the commoners if you continue with this leniency.”
The king chuckled. “You misunderstand me, dear wife.” He sliced off another piece of pork and stuck it in his mouth. “That last slave girl barely lasted a week out in the cabin. Our sons-”
“Your sons. Those monsters did not come from my womb.”
“My sons, if I must remind you, were only conjured because of your inability to bear me children the natural way. Regardless, they worked their way through that girl too quickly.”
“Just do what you need to do.”
The king and queen sat in silence and finished their meal.
That night, the king retired not to his bedroom, but to the chamber at the peak of the South tower. After entering, he closed the heavy door behind him and turned the anthracite key, the heavy stone lock ratcheting into place. He stepped inwards, navigating the dark room with ease, sliding past savage totems, dark crystalline amulets, and shelves of grimoires until he found himself at a crow’s cage deep in the far corner. He saw the servant girl curled up, whimpering like some pathetic rabbit cowering in front of a tiger.
“Dear girl.” The king opened the cage and offered his hand. He smiled. “ Come now, you mustn’t be afraid.”
The girl slowly turned her head. She had rarely seen kindness on anyone’s face before, and this strange gesture put her at unease. She looked at the king’s meaty hand and tentatively reached out. It was soft and warm, unlike the cold, hard fists that she was used to. The king led her slowly from the cage.
“I apologize for the dreadful cage, but I’m sure the guards were just afraid that you might up and run off.” The king sat on a stool in front of her. “Now then, why don’t you take off your clothes and let me have a good look at you.” His voice was not so kind now.
The girl shuddered and turned her head. The king took her by the wrists. “Let me see your body, I won’t hurt you.” With trembling hands, she tried to slip off her dress to comply. She fumbled with the ties, and she kept wiping the tears from her face. The king uttered a low chuckle as he removed his pants and beckoned for the girl.
The girl lay in a heap on the bed, bruises beginning to form on her wrists and inner thighs. She watched as the king yawned, and pulled on a robe. He rose and grinned at her. The king then turned and waved his hand.
“Quixo memnarius.” A small wooden box flew from some dark corner to his hand. The girl’s eyes widened. The king opened the box. “You’ve never seen magic in person before, have you?”
The girl shook her head. A thin smile spread across the king’s face. “It makes sense that a slave such as yourself would not know that I am not only king, but also the greatest wizard in these parts. Few wizards have even close to the number of spells I’ve learned.” The girl’s eyes darted around the room, and noticed all the tomes, heavy in both number and size, that lined the shelves, covered the desks, and lay in gigantic stacks on the floor.
The king removed a thin, white mask from the box. The mask was fairly plain, a featureless, dull white piece of stone with large eye holes and a small mouth carved into it. The king handed the mask to the girl.
“Take this to a cottage deep in the forest behind this castle. Deliver this safely, and you will have your freedom.”
The girl took the mask in her shaking hands. It was surprisingly light for being made of stone, and as she turned it over, she saw flakes of reddish brown staining the inside of the mask.
“Do you mean it, your majesty?” The girl wiped tears away with her forearm and stared at the mask in her hands.
“Dear girl, if you deliver this mask and return her promptly, I solemnly swear that I share grant you freedom.”
“I will not fail you,” the girl whispered, her voice still trembling.
“I know you won’t.” The king mumbled something the girl did not understand and a small ray of light flew from his hand and hit the servant girl in the middle of her chest. The girl gasped, yet realized that she felt nothing different, even though she now pulsed with a bluish glow.
“This spell will ensure no animal nor man in these woods will dare to do you harm. Leave now, as the spell will fade as the sun rises.” The king handed the girl a weathered, soiled calfskin map and unlocked the door. With a slight shove, he set her on her way, bounding down the tower stairs and off into the night. The king waited until he could see the girl running off into the forest. He laughed to himself and smiled cruelly.
As the girl made her way through the forest, she was amazed how all the buzzing, stinging insects would approach her, but would stop suddenly and turn away. Even a pack of wolves crossed her path, yet slunk off back into the shadows of the forest after only a glance. She smiled at the thought of the magic – if only she could have such an amazing power, she’d never have to scrub pots again! If only she had spellbooks, and could read them, she might be able to glean some sort of magic. As she dismissed what seemed like the impossible, she focused on what she would have very soon – her freedom.
The girl walked for what seemed like hours. She had no idea how long it would be until the sun rose, but she hoped to be at her destination before then. As she thought this, the sky began to lighten, and the girl found herself coming upon a clearing in the forest. Her footsteps began to fall quicker as she realized her charm would soon expire.
There was a large wooden hut with shuttered windows sitting in the middle of the clearing. Moss grew in clumps on the walls, and a threadbare stable with walls rotting away stood behind the cabin. For the first time, the girl wondered why she had been sent on such a delivery, and at such a late hour at that. Regardless, the girl let thoughts of her impending freedom brush aside her worries and knocked on the door.
No answer. The girl realized that the inhabitants might not be up yet, but she was afraid of what might happen if she didn’t return to the castle promptly and tentatively knocked harder.
A voice like metal grating sounded from behind the door. “Who is it and what be yer business here?” The girl trembled.
“Good sir, I..I am a servant on the king’s behalf, here to deliver a mask.”
There was silence. The girl then heard footsteps running from the door. She leaned in closer, but heard nothing. Then, there was a flurry of footsteps quickly growing closer. How many people lived in such a tiny, remote cabin? The girl heard locks being undone.
The door swung open and there, standing before the girl, were seven dwarves. The creatures stood about three feet tall, their pock-covered yellow skin exposed save for the grey loincloths saddled between their legs. Each had a long, coarse beard, and their faces looked as if they were failed pieces of ceramic that had collapsed and squished down in the kiln.
The young girl fought the urge to turn away from the squat beings, and merely offered the mask to them with one hand. “From the king, good sirs.”
One dwarf, slightly taller than the rest, stepped onto the stoop. He received the mask and grinned a crooked smile of brown, rotting teeth. “Thank ye, dear girl.” He gestured towards the cabin. “Now, come see your new home.”
The girl took a step back, but the tall dwarf leaped towards her and smashed the mask against her face. The girl screamed as a searing pain sent her into convulsions. She clawed at the mask, desperate to rip it off, but the stone seemed to liquify at the edges and melted against her skin. The girls screams echoed in her head as the mask began to harden once again, and soon her fingers were bloody from scraping at the stone visage bonded to her face.
The dwarf took her by the hair and led her into the cabin. Others shut the door and began to set the locks. The girl was thrown to the floor. Coarse, calloused hands soon tore at her dress as the dwarves stripped her naked. They threw the tattered dress into a corner as they kicked and beat her. As the girl lay on the floor, bruised and naked, the seven dwarves stood over her in a circle.
The tall dwarf spoke as he pulled aside his loincloth. “This is your baptism, girl. You are our newest Snow White.” As he began to urinate, he laughed. “Brothers, when we’re done with this, who wants her first?”
Snow White slunk through the village streets past vegetable vendors and crowds of women shouting over each other, her cloak trailing behind her as she danced in and out of the shadows. She slid past a silk-clad nobleman with a thick dark beard, her hand quick to liberate his coin purse before she spun and ducked into a doorway. Snow wove through the crowds like a fish dancing through water, her movements quicksilver and seamless, her nimble hands quick and invisible.
On her first venture out into the neighboring towns, she had to adjust to having seven perverse voices in her head, shouting instructions directly into her brain.
“Step left,” one voice would bark.
“Duck under the table to your right,” another would croak.
Snow’s bruised muscles strained as she would suddenly jerk back and forth clumsily, trying to match the demands that would spring seemingly out of nowhere. She quickly turned into an empty alley to try and catch her breath before she turned back into the streets.
A blast of pain, racked her body, nearly bringing her to her feet.
“There’s more of that if you go where we naught tell ye, or if ye make more mistakes.” The voice was deep and spiteful, yet Snow White barely heard it as the pain radiating from the mask seemed to burn the marrow from her bones.
The voices no longer bothered her, and by now, they were much less frequent. After five years, she now knew each of her captor’s unique tastes and needs. Fulgar only wanted gemstones, while Mirfkull loved nothing but gold. She knew instinctively what antiques Rizzen would crave, and would already be moving before Gork would bark commands to steal holy artifacts. Snow knew to steal poultry for Harkgoln’s fat belly before being told, and took every slab of pork for Sagnox. Crimore, of course, loved nothing more than to torture Snow, and now it was only him that would invoke the agonizing pain spell that once lashed her into obedience, but now only served for the dwarf’s sick delight at her pain.
As Snow left the town with her sack of stolen goods, she wondered why she had not yet had her monthly blood. Her monthly bleeding was the only time they would not touch her, for as relentless as they were about satisfying their carnal desires, it was at this time they found her smell to be repugnant.
Snow hoped she would start her bleeding soon, as otherwise it would be Crimore’s turn with her tonight, and he always liked to slap her around as a bit of foreplay. Unfortunately for Snow, she did not bleed that night, nor the next week, nor the next, nor the next.
When her stomach swelled to the point of being too unwieldy to do her thieving, she was cast outside to live in the stable behind the cabin, the few cows and pigs her only companions. She smelled funny, they had said, and Snow was grateful for this temporary respite from her daily torment.
Snow White made use of this time to explore the surrounding forest, taking long walks through the woods, but only at night, when she knew her captors would not be using the scrying pool to see through the mask’s eyes. Out of the corner of her eyes, she had once glanced into the pool when the dwarves were sleeping, and she was surprised to see that whatever her mask faced was reflected in the surface of the water. She then knew how the dwarves knew how to command her when she left the house, and also realized that escape would be impossible as long as she wore that damned white mask.
Snow charted the forest slowly, venturing out in different directions each night, slowly creating a mental map of her surroundings. Each night she would walk until the moon hung high in the sky, and would turn back early only if the path became too treacherous, or if she could hear the wolves in the distance.
The day her water broke, Snow heard thunder in the distance, and a gentle rain began to fall. Snow’s contractions began to shake her body, and she wedged her back against a wall and tore a strip of her cloak to stuff in her mouth. The birthing was long, painful, and bloody. She did her best to keep her face held high to steal any pleasure her captors might have in watching her in so much pain.
By the time the child was born, the full moon stood high in the sky, yet the black clouds blocked out all light. Snow stumbled through the forest, child in hand, pushing past the scraping branches and trudging through the deep mud that tried to swallow her feet. She was weak from blood loss and exhausted, but she knew she had to do her dark deed before the rise of the sun. The newborn screamed, but it’s tiny voice was lost in the roar of the wind and the rain.
Finally, Snow reached the altar. She knew this was a special place the moment she had found it days ago. Some sort of ancient power radiated from the stone tablet. Snow could still see the wine-colored stains on the rock even after centuries of weathering. She knew what this table was used for, and she prayed that this would work.
With the rain and wind howling, snow watched as her hands rapidly regenerated, the new flesh oozing and melting over the charred skin. She looked at the dagger in her hand and laughed as she threw it into the overgrowth. Snow smiled. She finally had magic.
Snow found her new powers surprisingly easy to control. She summoned a pack of wolves by merely calling out to them and she realized she could understand their language. She declared herself their queen, and when the pack leader refused, she crushed his bones with a single word.
She knew she would need more power to finally free herself and quell the vengeance brewing inside her chest. So Snow White endured living with the dwarves for another two years, hiding her magic, waiting for her chance to steal the necessary spellbooks she would need to further her craft.
Snow used the time to hone her skills of deception and stealth with her trips into town. By feigning resignation to her post in life, she convinced the dwarves to teach her how to read so she could at learn more ways to please them.
At night, she would sneak out of the cabin and practice her magic. She found that her source of power was finite, but she presumed that perhaps if she could find more sacrifices for whatever dark entity granted her power, she might replenish that mystic energy and even grow it. It was an easy thing to prove, as the nearby villagers had little protection of a thief as skilled as she, and after sacrificing a stolen newborn, she was even stronger than before. Her anger and hatred sent her back into town again and again, and over those short two years, the village had at least seven children mysteriously vanish in the night.
The day came when Snow realized she finally had the tools she needed. She had stolen ancient tombs from travelling wizards, and her powers were vast now. As the dwarves watched her pull on her cloak to head out to the village, she muttered “Dormantium mortatum.” Her torturers fell into a deep sleep and Snow realized that the first step of her revenge was almost too easy. As Snow stepped over the sleeping dwarves, she mentally prepared herself for the next, more complex spell.
She recited the incantation she had rehearsed in her head for so long and then dipped her face into the dwarves’ scrying pool. The mask which had bound her for so long slid effortlessly off her face and into the shallow stone basin. As Snow stood, she explored her own face with her hands, savoring the sudden sensation of air against her wet skin; the touch of her fingers along her cheeks. She looked down at the now-calm water and saw a face she didn’t recognize staring back up at her. She remembered herself as a young girl with dirt on her face, but the face peering up from the water was that of a woman. Snow sank to the floor and wept.
As night fell, Snow stalked through the forest in the one direction she had never taken before – towards the castle in Dunklenwald. No longer a child, Snow White arrived still under the shadow of night, and made her way to the South tower of the castle.
Snow stood before the mammoth stone edifice and closed her eyes. Mumbling incoherent phrases, she located and disarmed all the mystical cantrips and alarm spells woven around the tower. The king may have been a great wizard, but his years of book-learned power paled compared to the ancient, blood-fueled magic that Snow had sacrificed and killed for.
A cockroach was quickly summoned, and Snow send the creature to confirm the king’s whereabouts. Once confident he was elsewhere, Snow scaled the tower with ease, using little magic to enhance her practiced talents. As she finally stepped back into that dark lair, the odor of incense and must felt familiar even after so many years.
The candles lit themselves with a single utterance, and Snow surveyed the room for what she could use in her grand scheme. Eventually, her eyes settled on a bowl of fruit.
Snow took the apples in her hand and they glowed purple before settling back to their usual red luster. Snow smiled, and took a step back, melting into the shadows. Now it was time to wait.
The king awoke to find himself staring at a large wooden door, his wrists bound behind his back and tied to a stake in the ground. Confused, he realized that he was wearing a dress, and his body was taut and firm. His mouth hurt, and tasted like apples and blood. Snow walked into his field of vision.
“Finally, you’re awake.” Snow kicked open the cabin door to reveal the sleeping dwarves, still piled where they had fallen. “The first thing you must know, is that my spell has changed your body to that of a twelve-year old girl. The second thing is that you are also a cripple, so I doubt you’ll be useful to them besides for..their nightly entertainment.”
The king tried to speak, but only a garbled mess of sounds spilt forth.
“The third thing you should know is that I cut out your tongue, so no more magic spells for you.” Snow reached into her cloak and pulled out a white stone mask. She slammed the mask onto the king’s face and he shrieked as the mask wormed its way into his flesh.
As the king writhed in pain, Snow walked to the stable and brought out a squealing pig.
She tied the pig to the stake and knelt down to face the animal.
“You may think me cruel for punishing you for doing nothing. But while you sat like a pig and enjoyed your life while I suffered through Hell, you will continue to live the rest of your life as a pig.”
Snow turned to the king. “Say hello to your queen, and say good-bye to your tongue. I’m sure your wife will enjoy it.” Snow removed a sagging piece of meat from a satchel tied to her waist. She flung it to the pig, where it immediately devoured the bloody, pink organ.
Snow began to walk away, and snapped her fingers, releasing the sleep spell with a single word. “Have fun, Snow White. Enjoy your new body. I’m sure the dwarves will.” As Snow skipped into the forest, she cast one final spell. The king did not even notice the small, green, leprous pustule forming in the newly formed fleshy folds that lay between his legs. Snow wondered what the dwarves would do once their extremities began to rot off, and wondered how painful it would be to slowly decompose. She figured it wouldn’t nearly be painful enough, but it would have to do.
The seven dwarves yawned, and it was Gork who first noticed the struggling young girl tied to a post. “Who is that?” Gork stepped outside.
Fulgar followed. “It’s Snow White, stupid.” He grabbed the king’s head with his warty hand. The king whimpered, and Fulgar laughed. “She has the mask.”
“She is not the same as before.” Sagnox stepped forward and sniffed. “Smells different.”
“It doesn’t matter.” The others moved aside as Crimore walked towards their new captive. “No matter how they arrive, if she has the white mask, she is our Snow White.” The other dwarves muttered in consent.
“What about this pig?” Mirfkull took the pig’s leash and began to drag her inside. “Shall we roast it alive?”
“Let’s eat it raw,” said Harkgolin, smacking his lips.
“Agreed.” Sagnox grinned. “I like to hear it squeal as I eat.” He drew a long, thin blade.
“Are you sure about this new Snow White? What happened to the old one?”
“Shut up, Rizzen.” Crimore stepped forward and stood in front of the king. Crimore ripped off the king’s flimsy dress and pulled his own flaccid, bumpy member out from beneath his loincloth. “Perhaps father wanted that one for himself. As long as he keeps sending us new Snow Whites, why question it?”
Rizzen shrugged his pimply shoulders and took his place in the circle. His brothers followed.
Crimore laughed. “Let the baptism of Snow White begin.” The king screamed.
As she walked through the forest, Snow wondered where she would go. Perhaps she could travel to find the place where she was born? Would anything even await her there?
She could always change her appearance to that of the queen and rule the land. The king’s library would increase her powers even more, and her every need would be met. Perhaps with that power she might even find love.
Snow tried to laugh at the thought, but it was too painful to laugh at. Who would love someone dirty like her, a slave for most of her life, abused and tormented for the rest of it? Even though she had gotten her revenge, she still felt a burning rage that would never be quelled.
She spoke softly and conjured a mirror and she stared deep into her own eyes. They were still beautiful, but all she could see was the sadness and pain lingering just under the surface. Others might call her beautiful, but she knew that she would always be ugly.
As she peered deeply into the magic mirror, she examined every inch of her face, the subtle lines and contours that made her..who? Who was she? She was born an orphan, a child with no past. She was a nameless slave, after that a faceless thief. Even her name was one that was passed down. If she were to adopt the queen’s identity, it would just be another counterfeit life that she would lead.
Snow fought back tears. If she was to lead a stolen life, why not that of a queen? Better than that of a slave. Snow steeled her resolve. Queen Grimhilde. She could get used to that. She could get used to that indeed.