The Mirror by David W Landrum

David W Landrum's reimagines Snow White as a soaring fantasy tale, told from the perspective of the sorcerer's apprentice.

We should have known better. Trying to conduct an affair in the house of a sorcerer seems to me, now, supreme foolishness. But when are lovers ever rational? When you are enamored, head over heels in love, the sensible dissolves. It did for Rosfirth and me. I had been training under the tutelage of Cambyses for three years, learning the magical arts. He told me from the onset that the vocation of a sorcerer required celibacy. I nodded in agreement, though I had no intention of leading a celibate life. I thought I would play up to him by restraining myself for the seven years of training I was to undergo (an unrealistic expectation, I soon found out). Still, I hoped to tough it out - until I saw Rosfirth.

I sensed, just looking at her for the first time that she had more education than the young women who worked regularly in the castle. Maybe that was because we first met in the castle's library.

She was reading a book and was so absorbed in it that she did not hear me enter and did not sense my presence when I walked up and stood beside her. She looked down at the volume, eyes scanning the page, lips moving just slightly. Rosfirth had brown hair and eyes. She was of average height, her body pleasing, face well-formed and pretty. She turned a page and continued to read for another minute. I must have made some kind of noise, because she suddenly turned to face me.

The color drained from her face. She staggered in a faint. I caught her, taking her arms, catching the fragrance of her hair and feeling the softness of her breasts as she fell against me. I put my arms around her so she would did not collapse. After a moment's disorientation, she snapped out of her torpor, sank to her knees, and, hands clasped in front of her, began to babble out a profuse apology.

"My Lord, forgive me, have mercy upon me. I meant no disrespect. For the love of Ardwinna the Pure, spare me. I am so sorry. It won't happen again. I swear upon my maidenhood it won't."

I smiled and shushed her.

"Enough," I said gently and quietly as as I could. I put my hands on her shoulders and helped get to to her feet. "Be still," I said. "I'm not angry with you and you've done nothing that offends me - though I'll tell you it is not wise to look at the Master's books. But be assured that you are forgiven. Now. What is your name?"

"Rosfirth, my Lord."

"That's a pretty name. I am Gerith."

When I think back, I believe telling her my name began what eventually blossomed into love - and into disaster for both of us.

"Yes," she said. "Thank you. And thank you for being understanding, my Master."

My curiosity got the better of me.

"Do you work here?" I asked. "I haven't seen you before."

"No, I don't work here. I was sent by the Mother to get a book she wants to read."

"You're in training?"

"Aye, my Lord," she said. Then, once more, she spoke in a manner uncharacteristic of an unmarried girl. "Not by my choice, I might add."

As a maiden, she was not supposed to converse with men. Speaking with a man might be necessary in some cases, people recognized; but initiating conversation or continuing one after you had said all that was needed to be said was, in most people's opinion, improper.

"Are you a member of the convent here?"

"I don't like to call it a 'convent,'" she said, "but, yes, I am. My father and mother sent me there when I refused to enter the service of the Goddess."

The "convent" was a place where young women trained to be sorceresses. The building and its grounds were about a half mile away from the place where I was learning the magical arts.

"I'm sorry, Rosfirth."

"Thank you, but there is no way out as far as I can see. The Mother of the Convent - the Mother Fear - sent me here to retrieve a book. I couldn't find it. Then I got to reading another text and forgot the passing of time. Now I'm in trouble. The Mother will torment me."

"Torment you?"

"It's the punishment she gives if you do anything wrong - she inflicts pain on you by magic. It's horrible. It's worse than anything you can imagine and sometimes it continues for days on end."

I could tell by the look on her face and the tone of her voice that she had experienced what she had just described - probably more than once.

"What is the book you were sent to retrieve? I'll help you find it."

She told me the title. I knew the library well and found it for her in no time. As I handed it to her, her eyes glistened.

"Thank you, my Lord - Gerith."

"I'm happy to help."

She tucked the book under her arm.

"I will go. The Mother Fear doesn't like us to talk to people - to the other postulants or anyone else."

I nodded. We stood there a moment. The experience of speaking had been sweet. It had brought back memories of before I arrived at the castle. She extended her hand. I clasped it. She squeezed. Then she went her way.

It was a gesture that would change our lives forever.

I went back to my studies. This proved difficult after conversing with a beautiful young woman for the first time in two years. I used all my will power to put her out of my mind so that I could master the spell on which I had worked all week and perform it for Cambyses.

You might wonder how I managed to even think of Rosfirth and the Master not detect my thoughts. He could know a person's thoughts. All sorcerer's could. But as my power increased I had found ways to generate enough dark energy that he could not read my mind - a thing that told me I was becoming a formidable practitioner.

I thought of Rosfirth's beauty and sweetness. She had been forced into servitude, celibacy, and bondage to darkness, just as I had. And she detested it. I tend to be fatalistic and accept whatever Lady Fortune deals out to me, but Rosfirth's bondage rekindled something in me that made the currents of resentment I had felt when I was unwillingly sent to a fate similar to hers flow in my soul with new fierceness.

I had been training as a soldier when my father told me he was sending me to Cambyses.

"I don't want to," I protested. "And all the years I've been training to be one of the King's soldiers - all that will be wasted."

"He has spoken to me," Father said, "and the deal is settled. You, my son, will become a powerful sorcerer."

A celibate sorcerer, I had thought.

My brothers were sympathetic and, for the next month, paid for whores who visited me every night until I left for Cambyses' castle. What had seemed like a kindness, though, I soon saw as a curse. I had sported now and then with village girls. I even enjoyed a short affair with one of the noble girls in our town who liked to live on the wild side. But a sustained period of fornication that ends with the door-slam of celibacy was not good. I had mastered my desire after these two years. Now all of that had been compromised.

For the remainder of that day I had to discipline myself severely in order to perform the spell Cambyses had so carefully taught me. My thoughts kept returning to Rosfirth and it took all my strength to focus upon whatever magical incantation I had been required to learn. I somehow did it, performing various spells with an acuity that startled the Master. After this astonishment passed, he smiled and gave me the remainder afternoon hours to rest.

I returned to my quarters. Seeing a lovely young woman made me want to excel at my craft so Cambyses would suspect nothing and not become overly vigilant due to a change in my behavior. I also realized something else. I had spoken to Rosfirth. We had exchanged words. I had spoken with no one but the Master for almost two years now; and even in my exchanges with Cambyses I had spoken little. I lived mostly in silence. Silence was part of the process by which one is changed from a human being to a sorcerer outside the normal channels of human life.

The man who taught me to read - a wise man from the sect of Lollards, a Christian group that flourishes in our land - told me once to be careful in my speech. "Words are made of breath," he said, "and breath of life. Remember that what you say reflects the life within you - your soul. The mouth speaks what the soul is filled with."

I would later learn that the last part of what he told me was a quote from the Christian holy book. But now, having spoken with Rosfirth, I could see the truth of what my old teacher said. Her soul was full of fear at the "Mother" of her school of sorcery; and it was full of despair that she had been sent there against her will. I thought of the silence in which I lived. I heard no speech except for the Master's voice; I only spoke when I recited spells. Cambyses was filling my soul with imprecations, dark words, and the speech of evil magic. He kept me in silence so as to shape and occult my soul. Rosfirth's voice had made me realize, once more, the light of response. I had heard a beautiful young woman with a beautiful voice that arose from a gentle and bright soul. I had heard her speak. Hearing her had breathed life into my soul, which had become darkened and gone all but dormant.

I would see her again. Somehow, I would make it come to pass.

The occasion for seeing her arrived more easily than what I thought it would. Cambyses sent word to Thana, the sorceress of the evil convent where Rosfirth was imprisoned, that we needed another of her maidens to clean and cook. By providence or luck or the will of Ardwinna, Thana began sending Rosfirth to work at the castle three days a week.

I conjured protective spells so neither Cambyses nor Thana would know Rosfirth and I were talking. (By doing this, too, I discovered that Thana's power in fact did not amount to much.) Rosfirth and I knew what we wanted and wasted no time in bringing that about.

The sort of leisurely development of affection one reads of in the courtesy books was not a part of our experience. We could not go to banquets or balls, dance, play cards, or ride together. The preciousness of time demanded that we act quickly. Using magic and stealth, we met in a room deep in the bowels of the castle to consummate our desire.

The room, dark as a cave where the sun has never shown, suited us perfectly. We carried quilts and pads that were never used from other rooms and stacked them to make a comfortable pallet on the floor. I lightened the room with a magical dim glow so we could see each other the way a couple might on their wedding night.

I had never seen such a beautiful woman as Rosfirth. She wore a simple garment that afternoon. She let me slip it off of her. Beneath she wore a linen bra and knickers. I untied the bra. Her breasts, round with small red nipples, were paradise for me to touch; when she took off her knickers I saw the splendor of her womanhood - all of paradise I needed to know.

We began to meet in that chamber at least one time a week. To keep from getting with child, Rosfirth picked an herb of which her sister had told her. Drinking tea made from the herb prevented pregnancy.

Thana soon saw that something had occurred in Rosfirth's life. She had stopped her passive aggressiveness and began to study magic diligently. She was not sulky and resentful. Something had changed for the girl, her mistress noted. The most notable alteration in her behavior, and the one that alarmed Thana the most, was that Rosfirth was happy.

Eventually, she noticed one of the plants that grew around the building where her students lived (the plant was called "resting weed") had been picked over. Thana began stalking her when she went out with a basket, but Rosfirth noticed and, when she saw her nearby, pretended she was collecting dandelion greens to put in salads. She informed me that Thana had grown suspicious and we would have to stop until she felt it was safe again. But Thana hit upon a practical, utilitarian strategy to resolve the issue. One morning Rosfirth awoke to see her mistress and a woman she did not recognize standing at the foot of her bed. They dismissed Clarissa, Rosfirth's bedfellow, who was so frightened she ran off without getting dressed. Thana told her student to be still. The woman, it turned out, was a local midwife. She examined Rosfirth and said she was not a virgin. Thana told her to get dressed. She put her in chains and brought her to the castle. Soon I was in chains and standing beside her in Cambyses' sacred chamber - the place where he performed his spells.

Rosfirth sobbed like anyone would who knew they were going to die soon - and probably in a most unpleasant manner. Our two captors left us alone for a long space of time. Cambyses had cast a spell to surround us with invisible walls of energy. All my skill availed me nothing when I tried to penetrate it. I tried to comfort Rosfirth, but what could I say? We were at the mercy of two people who were devoid of good, who knew only cruelty, darkness, ruthlessness, and hatred. They had meant to transform us so we were like them. That we would not be so transformed, I supposed, would be some sort of consolation. Still, there would be unthinkable suffering before the death that would free us from their power over our souls. The door opened and the two of them entered.

They stood silent for a long moment, smirking, their eyes merry, enjoying our terror. Thana finally spoke.

"We have a special fate reserved for the two of you. We thought of throwing you in a den of wolves we know of and - Rosfirth - of burning you alive at the stake. But what we finally decided upon will bring more delight to us and more anguish for you, our pair of little lovers. We're going to let you live but will see to it that you will look upon each other yet never touch or kiss - or fuck - again."

Still smirking, Thana he turned to me. "First you, Gerith. You will see Rosfirth quite a lot, but you and I will be seeing each other quite a lot as well. You'll learn all about it in a moment."

They summoned guards and took us to separate cells in the castle dungeon. There, they first dealt with me.

"I'm thoroughly disappointed in you, Gerith," Cambyses said. "I had hoped you would succeed me. Now that will not be."

"I'm not sorry, Cambyses," I answered.

"That goes without saying. Maybe I was foolish to ask your father for you as an apprentice when it was obvious you did not want to make the sacrifices magic requires. Anyway, Thana has suggested a punishment for you, and I have agreed to it."

When he said no more, I asked, "And what might that be?"

"Slavery - but not in the usual sense. You will be her slave, but you will be magically imprisoned. And your captivity will be eternal."

"Where?" I asked.

He told me I would be enslaved inside a mirror. This, I soon learned, was related to Thana's plan to gain power, wealth, and love. I would be instrumental in helping her to attain these things.

She planned to wed. She would, in fact, wed a king - an ambitious king who wanted her magical powers to enhance his rule and expand the borders of his realm. One of the powers she claimed to possess was the power to see anywhere in his kingdom and the surrounding lands through the use of a magic mirror.

Cambyses did not explain it all to me. After he finished speaking, the loutish guard who had shoved me down to the dungeon stepped up. Another guard joined him. One held my nose and, when I opened my mouth to breathe, the other poured a draught of sweet wine down my throat. I sputtered, coughed, and choked. Wine spewed from my mouth and out of my nostrils. In only moments sleep fell on me like an overwhelming wave.

When I awoke I found myself in a small, egg-shaped enclosure that seemed to be made of white light. My feet stood on a solid, flat floor in the center of the space. At the front of the wall, a crystal opening stood. It looked like a large window about four feet across and eight feet tall. I remembered what Cambyses said about a mirror. The opening in the wall of light was the size of a mirror but did not reflect my image.

I probed the white oval-shaped container that enclosed me. I could put my hand into the sides of it, but when I pushed the white grew denser and thicker. I could only push into it up to half the length of my forearm.

I looked about me, puzzled - though there was not a great deal to see. A few moments later, I heard laughter and then Thana's voice, though I did not see her form.

"Welcome to your world, Gerith - your world for eternity. I have married and am Queen of Tolona."

The King of Tolona had lost his wife some years ago. He had a grown daughter but no other children. The land he ruled occupied the forests and mountains east of Eubraca. A long-time ally of our nation, it had remained quiet, being too small to make much trouble, and, in exchanged for military protection, supplied our kingdom with timber, and gold and diamonds from their mines. Quite a few of the ancient stubborn race of dwarves lived in the parts of Tolona where the mines are located.

Then a form appeared in the window. Thana. She stood in the center of it.

"You," she continued, "are imprisoned in a mirror. You are the slave of the mirror. And, since the mirror is located in my sleeping chamber, you are my slave. And you will serve me."

Beyond the mirror I could see (besides Thana) a large luxurious bed, dressers, chests, and sconces with lamps in them. Beautiful tapestries covered the walls. Thana wore the purple of royalty and a tiara crown.

"From where you are," she continued, "you can see anyone who stands before the mirror. And it is a mirror of the world. It can reflect the images from anywhere in any kingdom in our world. Besides seeing you can hear by it at as well. You can see the council rooms of Julla and Holvara. You can see the bedchambers of my enemies. You can see into the tents of armies and inform me of their plans. You can hear what the people you see are saying. By the information you provide to me, I will become the most powerful ruler in this part of the world."

She smiled a toothy smile. Becoming disgusted at her mindless pretentiousness, I scoffed.

"And what makes you think I'll freely inform you of these matters?"

Her smile became even toothier.

"That was just the thing I wanted you to ask."

The image in the window changed. I no longer saw Thana. She had vanished and in her place stood a birch tree, its white bark lovely against the background of a green woodland, its small leaves fluttering in the breeze.

"This," I heard Thana say, though I did not see her, "is your beloved Rosfirth. I thought about burning her. I thought about crucifying her. This is much more satisfactory. And, since I thought you might be somewhat obdurate and stubborn, I transformed her so I would have something that will, if need be, make you more... shall we say, cooperative."

I laughed and shook my head.

"Do you really expect me to believe that?"

"Not without proof," the voice said.

I watched the window. The birch tree transformed. The white and black trunk, the fronds of leaf, the root hugging the ground, turned into Rosfirth.

She lay on the forest floor, curled up, naked, beautiful, sleeping peacefully. A surge of pain went through me: I had seen her thus so many times after we made love, curled up the same way, smiling, her expression innocent and contented. I wanted to call to her but knew if I did she would not hear me and that Thana would laugh at my anguish.

"This is your beloved," she said. "I've allowed you to see her in her human form, but this is only her soul, her spirit. Her body is a tree. And a tree, like a human, can die. If you defy me, young man, I can have her chopped down. She would feel it as if someone were taking an ax to her legs. And she would feel agony when she was sawed up. You know how long it takes wood wood to dry so it can be used for firewood - as long as year. If this happened to her, she would feel horrible pain for many months. Poor child. And then, she would be burned. Or could have the bark stripped off of her - the equivalent of being flayed alive -"

"All right," I shouted. "I get the idea. I'll obey you."

Thana laughed merrily.

"You certainly will."

The window went dark. I heard the voice no more.

After silence fell, I turned my thoughts to Rosfirth. Soon I saw, in the mirror from which I looked out into the world, the birch tree she had become. I did not see her form - what Thana had called her "soul." But I saw the tree. I could focus on the tree at any time.

Over the next two weeks I learned my job.

My basic task was to spy. I could see anything Thana ordered me to focus on. But I soon discovered that her aims were not, as she had said, international. I did not spy on the military leaders and kings and queens of Julla or Eubraca or Novanta. Rather, I looked into the dining rooms and bed chambers of local nobility. Thana would give me an assignment. I would listen and watch then she would summon me with a rhyming stanza.

Mirror, slave to please my heart,
Let your voice knowledge impart.
Speak no falsity or lies.
Tell the truth before my eyes.

It was a silly little piece of doggerel but I soon learned magic was embedded in the words. It was a spell. I learned this when I lied about a tiny detail of something someone she had assigned me to listen in on. When I altered what I had heard someone I spied upon say, I suddenly felt like I had been stabbed in the guts with a broadsword. I fell to the floor in agony. I heard her now-familiar laughter.

"So you were lying," Thana said. "Naughty boy. Do you want to correct your statement?"

I remembered what Rosfirth said about Thana punishing her with pain when she was one of her postulants. Now I felt what she must have felt. Though I was in such agony I could hardly speak, I managed to tell her the truth. When I did, the pain ceased.

This was the nature of my slavery. I endured imprisonment, disembodiment, and reduction to abjectness.

Spying bored me. If I had been uncovering secrets of states and listening to kings and generals planning invasions and incursions it might have been interesting. But, as I said, Thana showed little interest in this. She wanted to know who might be gossiping about her.

I found out, however, that not all my magic was gone. I managed to alter her spell so that I could see into her bedchamber at all times. When the King visited her at night, I got the full spectacle of their activities. Some said Thana had not yielded herself to the King but was still a virgin. In fact, she seemed a seasoned veteran of the bedroom. Everything the women Father provided for me and my brothers did Thana also did. And she proved to the people of the kingdom that she had indeed yielded to her husband the king by getting pregnant and bearing a healthy son.

Her husband rejoiced, but his subjects were not so enthused because King Cadmon already had a child, a grown daughter, nineteen years old who, by law, would ascend to the throne when she married. The people of the land loved her. Her mother, deceased four years now, had named her Ermellina. Because of her appearance - she had coal black hair and pale skin - almost everyone in the kingdom referred to her as Snow White.

Snow White was an exemplary young woman. She was tall, strong, vigorous, and liked to ride. Wise, just, exuding virtue and wisdom, she won the love of the people in the land. They venerated and all but worshipped her.

Thana had to be careful. Everyone in the kingdom knew she wanted Snow White out of the way - a thing that immediately put the Queen in disfavor. If the young woman everyone loved so much disappeared or died under questionable circumstances the people of the kingdom would know Thana was behind it. If she killed Snow White she would have to make it appear accidental and orchestrate her death so that it did not point the blame to her. She constantly tried to think of a way to do this.

She finally saw her chance when Snow White went riding in the Southern Forest with two noble families. The families were loyal to her, but it's always possible to find a lackey who will do one's bidding. Thana paid a groom to lead Snow White away from the main group of riders and murder her. He was to besmear her garments with pig's blood, return, and claim he had found garments but no sign of Ermellina.

I was privy to all of this. Thana spoke to the groom through the mirror (it was possible to speak to someone directly through it). I heard everything they said but could do nothing to stop it.

When the day of hunting came, I decided to watch so that if I ever got free of the mirror I could be a witness to the Queen's treachery. I opened its power, saw nobles assemble, and saw Snow White mounted on the powerful mare she liked to ride. She wore a tunic and boots, her legs bare, a cloak over her shoulders. She cut a magnificent figure sitting in the saddle, radiating beauty, and - anyone who saw her could tell - the authority virtue and wisdom give. I also spotted the man Thana had suborned.

We expect villains to be ugly and decrepit, but this man was young, strong, and handsome. The Princess obviously trusted him. Thana had set the assassination up with quite a bit of skill. She did better as a murderess than she did as a magician.

Bit by bit, he led her away from the other riders. After a while, both she and her groom dismounted to let their horses drink from a small pond. Her attendant came up from behind and hit her in the back of the neck with a club.

She fell, got up, staggered a yard to two, and sank of her knees in front of a copse of maple and birch trees. The assassin had not knocked her out but stunned her. He got out a knife to finish her.

I felt the anguish of helplessness. Though the scene lay before my eyes, I could do nothing to help her.

Then something happened I could not at first understand.

One of the trees - a birch tree under which the Princess had knelt - began to shimmer. Then, in a flash of light and a rustle of leaves, the tree transformed in a human shape.


I gaped, unable to believe my eyes.

The murderer was so startled he stopped in his tracks. Rosfirth reached over and touched Snow White's shoulder. Her lips moved. I knew she was uttering the spell for healing, which I had also learned. Snow White suddenly sprang to her feet, completely recovered from the stupor the blow to the back of her head had caused. She saw the knife in the groom's hand. With a quick, strong movement, she seized his arm, twisted it behind him, wrenched the knife from his hand, and landed a blow to his right kidney. He shouted in pain and fell to the ground.

Snow White looked down at him and saw that he was completely debilitated by the blow she had struck him. Rosfirth walked up beside him.

"This man struck you from behind, Princess Ermellina," Rosfirth said. "He is in the pay of Mistress Thana and meant to murder you."

By now the groom had managed to sit up. Ermellina knelt to be even with him and spoke.

"What do you have to say, Austen? If you confess your guilt and promise to be a witness of what this young woman has said, I will give you your life - though you will be sent into exile. I swear this in the name of the Goddess Ardwinna and upon my maidenhood."

He could not speak. He only nodded. Snow White turned to Rosfirth.

"My thanks to you," she said. "Are you a spirit or one of the elven race? I am in your debt and will reward you for saving my life. Speak your will."

"My Princess, I am a mortal woman who is under enchantment. May I please have your cloak to cover my nakedness?"

Snow White gave her the cloak. Rosfirth wrapped herself in it.

"Thank you," she said.

"Thanks is more due to you. May I ask your name, Good Woman?"

"I am Rosfirth, Lady, and it please you. I have been enchanted, transformed to tree by sorcery. Somehow, just at this moment, I was able to free myself and come to your aid."

"I owe you my life. You can explain all of what happened later. For now you need to be taken where there is shelter."

Snow White walked over to her steed, picked up a horn that hung from her saddle, put it to her lips and blew three long blasts - the signal for danger and trouble. Soon the nobles who had been her hosts came riding up, riding to her rescue.

Before I complete my own tale, I will describe what happened to Rosfirth as she described it to me.

Thana had told her what she meant to do to her. She tormented her, taunting her daily that she would live out her life immobile, rooted to the ground, exposed to rain, cold, wind, and the heat of summer; to the boring of insects and, perhaps, to someone chopping her down and cutting her up. "Whatever happens, you worthless little whore, you will suffer; and you will never see your beloved Gerith again."

Thana's henchmen took her into the wood and stripped her naked. She had wondered if she would be brutalized but remembered that transforming someone to a tree required great concentration and energy. If Thana allowed the soldiers to do their will upon her it would have hindered her magic. They buried Rosfirth in the ground up to her knees and stepped back. Thana uttered an incantation and, in only moment, a white birch tree stood where a young woman had been.

"I waited," she said, "for pain, dark, and cold to envelop me."

She paused. I thought she might have been overcome by the horror of what she had experienced and could not speak of it. I took her hand. She looked up at me and smiled.

"Nothing of the sort happened."

In fact, her transformation became to her a source of joy and wonderment.

"I was blind, yes. I could not hear. But I immediately realized that there are different ways of knowing and experiencing the world - ways that are unknown to us. Animals use hearing and smell more than they use sight. Fish and whales feel motion in the water and can taste a predator's mark if one comes near. They sense things in a different way than we do. A tree senses as well. Trees are not dumb things made of dull material. They are living things, and they experience and know in ways we don't. They feel and enjoy. The breeze on your bark, the touch of gentle rain bathing you and then your drawing it up through your roots; the pleasure of a cold day, the glory of sun shining on your branches. As a tree, you rejoice at all of these things. A violent wind can strengthen you. A ferocious, pelting rain massages you. And on a hot day, your sap runs to cool to make you grow."

She had lived a year as a tree when one of the dwarves discovered her.

Dwarves lived in several settlements not far from the wood where Rosfirth had rooted. They mined, worked as smiths and builders and (besides farming, which everyone did) as carpenters and crafters specializing in war gear - bows, arrows, bolts - and as makers of shoes and leather goods. They lived among human men and women. Only about a third of their men marry, so they do not populate quickly. Besides their abilities as craftsmen, they were often sought out as mercenaries. In war, they are tough, strong, ferocious, and (sometimes) cruel. Sensible kings value them as reliable subjects who enrich the communities in which they settle.

And the dwarves know magic.

Because magic runs deep in their blood a dwarf couple walking in the woods immediately sensed, when they passed a birch tree in the forest outside their village, that it was enchanted and a human was imprisoned in it.

Rosfirth said she sensed their magic at once.

"In my form as a tree, I knew when people were near. I could feel the pressure of their tread on my roots - even though my roots went deep in the ground - and by the heat when they stepped up close to me. I began to feel their magic."

Though dwarves have a reputation of being rough and curt, she sensed kindness radiating from them. Soon she also felt magic probing her, coursing through her with gentle, questioning strength. After a few days, this ceased and stronger, more purposeful currents wove their way into the sap that flowed through her form.

One day, in the midst of this sensation, she found herself stumbling into light. At first it blinded her. When her eyes had adjusted she saw a group of dwarves standing a few feet from her. A dwarf woman hurried over and threw a blanket over her for the sake of modesty.

"Young woman, can you hear?" she asked.

Rosfirth nodded.

"Can you speak?"

She said it had been difficult, at first, to utter even simple sentences. Yet she managed to say, "Yes, I can speak."

"Listen," the woman said. "We have broken the spell that changed your form, but we did not dissolve it. We will dissolve it as we understand it better, but you will soon revert to being a tree."

"I thank you, good woman," she managed to stammer out.

"You are well met. Hear me. I can see you will soon go back to the loveliness of a birch tree. Whoever enchanted you was not skillful. There are errors in her magic. We will discover what they are and free you completely from the spell, but not at once. Be patient. You will be restored, we assure you."

Before she reverted to being a tree, Rosfirth saw seven dwarves assembled there: five men and two women. The she felt her human self recede and perceived the party of dwarves in the way a tree perceives.

The dwarves did not give up. They brought Rosfirth back to her human form four times, she said. The last two times she continued as a human for several hours and was able to tell her story to the assembled inhabitants of the village where the dwarves lived. They, in turn, told her how the people of the kingdom were murmuring against Thala. Some nobles had suggested the King divorce and exile her. Factions were forming, they said. Eventually, there might be a civil war.

For all their magic, though, the dwarves could not find a way to fully free Rosfirth from being ensorcelled. As it turned out, the element that Thala had placed to prevent her spell's undoing was virtue.

The dwarves had not thought of this. They had not assumed the magical dynamism of virtue and goodness was a necessary factor in undoing the spell. To break it required the presence of a particularly virtuous person (and the person had to be a human) - someone who was courageous, fair, just, chaste, brave, and filled with love and compassion. The dwarves had done all the things that would normally have broken the spell. They had not thought to have a saintly human man or woman standing by when they chanted to spell to undo what Thana had done to Rosfirth. "That was the only skillful piece of magic that woman did," Fundur, their most powerful practitioner of magic, would later say. "The rest of the spell was wood and straw."

When Rosfirth, still enthralled, came into contact with Snow White - when the goodness, kindness, purity, and love she incarnated completed the magic the dwarves had already infused into Rosfirth's sap (the equivalent of a human's soul) - the last clasps of the spell broke open, freeing her completely.

She told me how the local nobility appeared and took Snow White and her to the village of Braithwell, housing the Princess with the Mayor of the village, lodging Rosfirth with the dwarves who had come to her aid, and Austen in a dungeon. The nobles sent letters demanding the King remove Thala from her position and banish her both from the royal family and from the kingdom.

After the storm broke, I witnessed Thala and Cadmon's deliberations. Thala urged him to crush the rebellion, alleged that Ermellina meant to kill him and take the throne, and chided him for being weak and for vacillating; and, after every discussion, Thala tried to be persuasive by lying on her back, getting on her knees, and (once) flat on her stomach. While all of this might have pleased the King, it did not convince him. As more and more provinces, towns, and villages declared their allegiance to Ermellina, the King contacted her and said he would divorce Thala and put her in a convent. There she would live as a "guest" and finish her life obeying the disciplines and requirements of the Sisters of Ardwinna.

Ermellina - Snow White - returned to the castle in triumph. The people of the land wildly rejoiced. Knowing Thala's treachery, her supporters guarded the Princess closely. She met with her father, who asked her forgiveness and pledged to give her the throne as soon as she married (the law in that land stated that an unmarried woman could not rule the kingdom). They kissed and affirmed their love and solidarity. Next, the King had Thala dragged out of the castle, hands bound, dressed in a coarse smock, barefoot, with her hair untied. She knelt at Snow White's feet. No one feared her magic because (as I had learned in my training with Cambyses) once a major spell is broken one's ability to do magic dissipates almost to nothing. Thala knelt at Snow White's feet and asked her forgiveness.

The King announced that he and Thala were no longer man and wife, that she no longer reigned as Queen, and that she would be sent to the "quiet and sanctity" of a convent. After he spoke, his daughter asked permission to address the matter.

"This woman," she said, "has used magic to her advantage. She has a magic mirror in her chamber. Rather than confining her to a convent of the Goddess Ardwinna, I propose another course of action suggested to me by the woman who saved my life."

Snow White looked back, nodded, and out of the crowd of soldiers guarding the Princess, Rosfirth stepped forth.

Everyone knew who she was by now and knew the circumstances that enabled her to save Snow White from assassination. The crowd grew still and quiet.

"Speak," Snow White said to Rosfirth.

"Lord, Ladies, and people of this kingdom," Rosfirth said, her voice clear in the silence that had fallen, "most of you know my story - that I was under thrall, ensorcelled by this vile woman's evil magic. What you may not know is that I too possess magical powers, learned from her when I was her slave. The sentence of His Majesty is just. I think she should be sent into exile, but not to a holy place that is the abode of of women dedicated to goodness, purity, and service. I propose an exile of a different sort - a punishment that better fits her crimes. I request that I might use the magical power I learned from this dishonored soul to free the man I love - who is, as I was, a prisoner of this woman's treachery - and then send her into an exile that will continue for eternity - after which I will denounce and repudiate magic forever. But I will do this only if I am granted the King's permission."

Before he could answer, Snow White spoke.

"Father, I would urge you to give permission for this young woman to do as she has requested."

"It is granted," the King said.

Thala seemed puzzled then realized what Rosfirth planned to do. She screamed and began to beg and plead. The people, I noted, did not know what Rosfirth had in mind, but, since it had struck Thala into such terror they were entirely in favor of it.

I rejoiced that I would finally get out of the mirror.

Soon the royal bedchamber filled: Thala, bound, in rags, barefoot, blubbering and pleading on the floor before my image in the mirror; the king, Snow White, and four trusted guards; an additional group of witnesses from the clergy and nobility of the land; and my love, Rosfirth.

Some servants pulled a mirror into the center of the room, setting it up so it faced the magical mirror in which I was imprisoned.

"Thala," Rosfirth said, "you instructed me well. Too well. I know how to reverse the spell by which you imprisoned Gerith. Now you will see what a skillful teacher you were."

She stood by the magic mirror and uttered an incantation. In only a moment I was free, out of the enchantment, once more in the world of warmth, light, and air, no longer a phantom existing out of body and out of time.

Rosfirth pointed at Thala and uttered another incantation. A blaze of grey light came from the mirror, enveloped Thala, and then, with the sound of wind, it pulled her into it. The spot where she had lay, groveling on the floor, was suddenly vacant. We could see her in the mirror, looking out at us.

But Rosfirth was not finished.

She picked up a hammer that someone had placed on a chest beside the royal bed. When Thala saw Rosfirth holding it, she screamed frantically and begged for mercy. Rosfirth did not respond to her implorations. Spoke a spell, raised the hammer, and struck it against the mirror the servants had brought in - the one that faced the magic mirror. It broke, and, as it did, the enchanted looking glass - the one Thala's form showed in - broke as well, even though Rosfirth had not struck it. She hammered at the simple mirror with all her might until it was completely demolished. And the magic mirror had also come apart. We saw the frame of boards that had supported the face of the enchanted looking glass. The mirror face was completely destroyed. Shards of its reflecting silver lay on the floor. We heard no more shouting and screaming from Thala.

We stood a long moment in the grim silence. Rosfirth finally spoke.

"Now she will be imprisoned in the mirror forever."

She looked ready to weep. Snow White stepped up behind her, put her left arm on Rosfirth's shoulder and, with her right, took Rosfirth's hand.

"This woman is a saint," she said. "She will be rewarded - by the Goddess Ardwinna for ridding our land of this evil; and by me for preserving my life and the stability and wholeness of this kingdom."

A week later, Rosfirth and I were formally wed. A month after that, Ermellina married a young prince she had long loved; the same day, her father stepped down as king and she was coronated Queen. She adopted Thala's son. She rewarded the dwarves who had freed Rosfirth and gave Rosfirth and me a monetary reward so generous we would never be in need. In the months that followed I found out Cambyses had abandoned his school. What happened to the young men he had been training and the young women Thala had enslaved we never discovered.

Our first child, a daughter, was born near the Festival of Posts - a festival that honored the loom, which has four tall posts on it (the loom and cloth-making served as a symbol of the skill and dedication of women who managed households). Rosfirth named our child Aldona.

Sitting by the fire in our home one night, Aldona asleep on her lap, she reflected on what had happened to Thala.

"I've never been cruel to anyone in my life," she said. "And, yes, she deserved as much. Because I was her slave and saw some of the things she did to the girls under her tutelage who displeased her. I know her brutality better than anyone. Still, I feel remorse."

After a moment's silence, she added, "That reprehensible woman cursed the name of Thana forever. Pity. It was such a lovely name."

Over the years, other children were born to us. Ermellina and her husband ruled the kingdom wisely and judiciously. And, now and then, Rosfirth would reminisce about how lovely it had been to live as a tree.


  1. I loved this rewriting of Snow White from the perspective of the character trapped in the mirror, along with the detailed back story. Rosfirth is a compelling addition to the tale and her courage and insight give an added dimension.

  2. It was wonderful fantasy, I enjoyed it very much. I could see where you could expand this tale into a novella or even a novel. Nice work.