Read Fairest of All Online

Authors: Serena Valentino

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Fairy Tales & Folklore, #Fantasy & Magic, #General

Fairest of All

BOOK: Fairest of All
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Adapted in part from Walt Disney’s masterpiece,
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Copyright © 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. Published by Disney Press, an imprint of Disney Book Group. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Disney Press, 114 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10011-5690.

ISBN 978-1-4231-4980-4

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www.disneybooks.com

Dedicated with love to my father, who always told me I was beautiful, even when I did not see it myself. —S.V.

 

T
he apple blossom trees in the castle courtyard bloomed with the lightest of pink petals and sparkled with shimmering silver baubles, reflecting the sun brilliantly.

Garlands of wisteria and gardenia were draped over the stone well at the foot of the castle’s grand staircase, which was strewn with pink and red rose petals. One hundred attendants, fitted in the finest garments of deep blue edged in silver trim, stood along the castle’s main gate, ready to greet the royal wedding guests who were now starting to pour into the courtyard. It seemed the entire world was now assembled by the old well, waiting to see the king’s beautiful new bride—a distinguished beauty who seemed to magically appear from legend and myth, the beautiful daughter of the renowned maker of mirrors. The courtyard was bursting with royalty from neighboring kingdoms, all waiting for the wedding to commence.

T
he Queen stood alone in her chamber, staring at her reflection in the mirror—which looked back at her rather nervously. No woman could have her life so completely changed and not expect some level of anxiety. She was marrying the man she loved, becoming a mother to his daughter, and she was to be queen of these lands. Queen. She should be happy, but something about the mirror she was holding filled her with a horrid sense of dread that she could not account for.

Verona, the Queen’s lady-in-waiting, cleared her throat to announce her presence and then rushed into the chamber. Verona’s bright eyes, the color of the sky, beamed with happiness. The lady glowed with a light that seemed to come straight from her core, illuminating her fair skin and glinting off her milk-and-honey hair.

The Queen smiled weakly as Verona embraced her. The Queen had never been surrounded by such beauty. Nor had she known happiness. Not until she came to this court. And now, here was a woman she loved as a sister.

Snow White followed Verona into the Queen’s chambers. She was a lovely little creature of three or four with a joyous bounce in her step and an inextinguishable sparkle of happiness twinkling in her eyes. Her skin was fairer than a virgin snowfall, her tiny, pouty lips redder than the deepest ruby, with hair as black as a raven’s feathers. She was like a delicate porcelain doll come to life—especially this day, in her little red silk-velvet dress.

Verona held Snow by her tiny hand, hoping it would discourage the little girl from fidgeting with the beading on her delicate dress.

“Snow, my dear, stop pulling at your beads, you’ll ruin your dress before the wedding even commences.”

The Queen smiled and said, “Hello my pretty little bird of a girl; you look lovely today.”

Snow blushed and hid behind Verona’s skirts, peeking at her stepmother.

“Doesn’t your new mother look pretty today, Snow?” Verona said.

Snow nodded her head.

“Then tell her, dear,” coaxed Verona as she bent down, smiling at the coy little girl.

“You look very pretty too, Momma,” said Snow, melting the queen’s heart.

T
he Queen opened her arms to the child, and with Verona’s gentle encouragement, Snow moved forward to accept the Queen’s embrace. Snow was a little bird of a girl, such a lovely creature; it tugged at her stepmother’s heart, as if the child’s beauty hurt her deeply. As she took Snow into her arms, she was filled with a love she had never known. She thought the weight of that love might cause her heart to burst, and in a secret place buried deep within her heart she wished somehow she could absorb the beauty of this child, so she herself would truly be beautiful.

“You do look quite striking, my Queen,” Verona said, smiling knowingly, as if she had seen into the Queen’s insecure heart.

The Queen again examined herself in the mirror, and she saw something of her mother looking back at her. She remembered back to the day the King had remarked on their resemblance. Perhaps he was right. It was possible that she did look like her mother, but she had never seen it before now, standing there in the same wedding gown her mother had worn on her own wedding day.

The dress was of the deepest red, and somehow the years had done nothing to mute its brilliance. It was embroidered with a lavish pattern of blackbirds, and bejeweled with smoky black crystals that sparkled in the light. The Queen’s heart leaped, then quickly sank. How wonderful it would have been to have her mother here with her today. How wonderful it would have been to have had her there at all.

The Queen knew her mother only from the painting that decorated her father’s home. But as a child, she would stare at it, in awe of the woman’s beauty, deeply in love with her, and yearning for her embrace. She would imagine this mother she never knew taking her into her arms, dancing in circles, the jewels that adorned both their dresses catching the light while they laughed.

The Queen broke away from her reverie to look at Snow, who was playing with the tassels of the curtains at the far end of the room. For all the joy in her eyes and her heart, the Queen knew the poor child’s feelings of loss. There must have been an emptiness inside the girl, an inconsolable feeling.

The Queen frowned, knowing that there was nothing she could ever do to replace the King’s first wife. How could Snow possibly love another woman as much as she cared for her own mother? How, especially, could she care for someone like the Queen, whose life up till now had, at best, been a string of mediocre achievements surrounded by boredom and bleakness?

As the child played and Verona tended to her, the Queen’s mind drifted further, to the day she had met the King in her father’s mirror shop. Her father’s reputation as an expert craftsman had grown so wide, and his artisanship so well-respected, that the King himself felt it his duty to visit he who had been called the finest craftsman in all the lands.

After examining her father’s wares and being gifted a mirror of his own, he was ushered outside where the Queen was fetching a bucketful of water from an old well. The King ordered his attendants to halt.

“Who is this girl?” the King asked.

“The Mirror Maker’s daughter, Sire,” an attendant replied.

The King made his way over to her and took her hand. She gasped, and dropped the bucket at his feet, soaking his boots right through to his stockings.

The Queen looked up nervously, expecting a harsh rebuke, perhaps even imprisonment in his dungeons. But the King simply smiled. And then he spoke to her.

She thought he was teasing her when he told her how lovely she was. That of all her father’s creations, she was the finest.

“Please, don’t say such things to me, Your Majesty,” she said awkwardly, performing something between a curtsy and a bow as she struggled to avoid his pale blue eyes.

“And why shouldn’t I? You must be the fairest maiden in this land. Nay, surely you are fairest in
all
the lands I have ever known. It is no wonder your father makes mirrors to reflect your beauty.”

The Queen had struggled not to look into the face of the man who ruled over everything from her kingdom to the very well from which she was fetching water.

Then, as quickly as he had come, he was gone. When he ventured off, he promised a quick return. The Queen was bewildered and confused. How could the King possibly have felt this way toward her? Of all the maidens in the land.

Her.

The Queen’s father smirked. “Clearly you have bewitched him, daughter,” he said as the Queen watched the King’s convoy ride off, disappearing as it dipped below a hill, only to reemerge on the next incline, seemingly smaller and certainly farther away.

She sat in her small, spare room that evening, gazing out her window at the star-speckled sky. Could the King be thinking of her this night? she mused as she gazed at the stars, imagining her mother looking over her, flying through the darkness; the jewels of her dress sparkling, camouflaging her among the blanket of celestial lights that twinkled in the night sky. She imagined that she was flying alongside her mother, gazing at dying suns and seeing others burst to life. She was surrounded by luminescent stardust, floating in darkness dotted with brilliant iridescence. It was the memory of the King that brought her back to her humble room.

She was sure he wouldn’t come back for her.

Soon after the King’s departure, the Queen suffered a new loss—her father.

In the days following her father’s death, her own life was infused with light. It was as though in leaving this world, he brought all darkness with him and left her in a place where she might be able to find, if not love and happiness, at least something more than she had had up till now.

On the day her father died—before word had traveled to the King or anyone else in the land—the Queen brought every one of his mirrors out into the light. She hung the smaller ones from a giant maple tree on their grounds. It was remarkable. The mirrors swayed in the breeze, catching the sunlight and reflecting it in the most magnificent and unusual ways. Rays and beams of light danced upon the maple leaves. Reflections, like tiny playful sprites, dotted the house and the grounds.

Soon, travelers from far and wide came to see the beautiful tribute she was making to her father.

Including the King.

“Your eyes are sparkling brilliantly in the light reflected from your father’s mirrors,” said the King, standing under a dazzling sun.

The bright light was shining into her dark eyes, turning them a light caramel color. The King told her she was enchanting. A terror seized her.
Enchanting
. What if her beauty were just that, as her father had claimed—an enchantment? Should she deceive such a kind, loving man? Or was it possible that she really possessed some kind of beauty?

The King made his way inside her house, and unsure of what to do, she followed him.

“Is this a portrait of you?” the King asked, looking at the only decoration in the living space of the tiny home.

“That was my mother, Sire. I never knew her.”

“The resemblance is uncanny.”

“I wish I were as beautiful as she was.”

“You look almost exactly like her. You must see it.”

The Queen just looked at the portrait in wonderment, wishing his words were sincere, but unable to take them as anything but flattery from someone who must have needed something from her. Her father’s estate perhaps? The remaining mirrors? Whatever it was that the King wanted, it could not have been her.

But over time, and many visits, it seemed that she
was
all that the King wanted. Her life began to seem like a dream: light, ethereal, and breathtaking. The King’s people embraced her. Around fires to the melody of a minstrel’s harp, the entire kingdom—and even beyond—sang of the beautiful daughter of the renowned maker of mirrors, who had stolen the heart of the King.

V
erona interrupted the Queen’s thoughts, bringing her back to the present. “The court, in fact, the
kingdom
, is filled with throngs wishing to glimpse their new Queen. We had best make our way.”

The Queen smiled.

“And what a fine trio we will make walking in procession,” she remarked as she took Verona and Snow by the hands and proceeded to the wedding celebration.

Verona had not exaggerated. Huge crowds were gathered outside, and the Queen could see this through the small windows that dotted the wall as she descended the spiral stairway. Among the crowd, the Queen recognized the King’s most beloved uncle, Marcus, who caught a glimpse of her through the window and smiled. He was a large man, unkempt and jolly-looking. The Queen remembered that his wife, Vivian, had recently fallen ill. And yet—he was here for his nephew. He was standing with his dear friend, the court’s Huntsman, who was a handsome man, well built with dark eyes, hair, and beard.

There were kings and consorts from far and wide. And the King’s three strange cousins, who dressed oddly and stuck closely together. They smiled in unison and tilted their heads thoughtfully, as one. The Queen observed their weird behavior as she passed by another window—this one shaped like a huge letter
X
.

The entire castle was warmly lit with candlelight, glowing and ethereal, conjuring images of the Queen’s favorite holiday, the winter solstice. There were so many candles lit that the room felt hot.
Too
hot. The Queen’s face flushed and her head spun. Her heart pounded as she walked down the aisle toward her King. He waited by the old well, which he had ordered moved from the Mirror Maker’s home to the castle courtyard, so that he might always be reminded of where he first saw the Queen.

With Verona’s help, the Queen steadied herself and focused her attention on her King, who was smiling brilliantly. He was beautiful, but even more so in his formal attire, with his dark hair and pale eyes. His glistening sword hung at his side, and his tall boots shined in the candlelight.

The Queen felt as if she were floating in a dream. Women with faces painted white as sheets and cheeks and lips the colors of red roses were peering at her as she glided past them. She attempted not to read the looks on their faces, instead focusing her gaze on her bridegroom.

But surely they were smiling condescendingly at her as she passed, some of them with little bundles of jasmine in their hands, the scent intoxicating and slightly overwhelming. Not only would they be jealous of her marriage, but they would also think, Why her? Of all the ladies in the kingdom, why this peasant girl? There would be whispers accusing her of enchantment and evil eyes cursing her.

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