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Snow White in the woods

I moved ahead of the huntsman in the woods with my flower-press dangling behind me by a strap. I was not cheerful as on our previous outings. I could not look at the huntsman, who had served as my outdoor companion for much of my life. I was frightened of him.

When his shadow fell over me, my heart nearly stopped. My very bones melted and I thought I would fall down with fear. If he intended to kill me, there was nothing I might do to stop him.

When I stumbled, he took me and led me into a darkened cave. He looked anxiously behind and around himself, seemingly terrified.

"My princess," he said, "what I must tell you will fill you with grief, but it is better that you are aware of the truth. Your stepmother the Queen hates you truly. She has ordered me to kill you today and return to her with your heart. I am committed to preserve you, my princess. Therefore, you must hide in this cave until well after nightfall. Where you must go, truly I know not, but if you would choose life, it falls upon you to forage in the wilderness."

He laid before me rations of food, water and small weaponry, whereby I might sustain myself. I looked at him with horror in my eyes, but I postponed my grief until I was alone. He bade me farewell tenderly and held me, then left me to pick with nerveless fingers through the rations he had left.

I bit into an apple heartily even as my tears fell. I was abandoned, without a home. I had never been in the woods at night, or anywhere else, except my room and sometimes the refectory. I heard the din of cicadas outside of the cave and knew that it was evening. The hours slipped past quickly as I contemplated my life alone.

I crawled to the mouth of the cave and saw that the moon was high. I knew that this was the best time for me to make my way as far away from the castle as I could.

I wandered past familiar places I had visited with the huntsman on happier days, assured of my direction, till my surroundings became less and less familiar. I knew I must pass the boundaries of my kingdom in order to secure my safety. It would be nearly impossible for the Queen to harm me there.

However, I did not bargain for the stretch of wilderness that lay between myself and safety. The huntsman had not spoken lightly of foraging in the wilderness. I would have to catch my own food once my supplies ran out, and I did not relish the thought.

My fear drove me on and I wandered all night long at a steady pace I could maintain with infrequent rests. In the darkness, I thought of those I would never see again. My beloved servants in the castle, my stepmother, who hated me more than I had ever dreamed possible, and the handsome youth, whose name I did not know, and likely never would.

My heart was saddened indeed, my spirits lower than they had ever been before. I did not want to rest. My exertions were a thing of which to think, and so I continued until dawn.

There was some excitement in traveling this way and becoming intimate with all the motions of the earth from dark till dawn, when normally I slept. I was aware now as the sun rose of a deep pain behind my eyes, and I wondered how much longer I could continue before I would fall down senseless.

When I thought I could not move another step, I found a clearing with a little house. For a horrible moment I thought I had traveled in a circle and was back in my own village. However my dazed eyes quickly took in the scale: the roof, the door, the windows, were much too small, even at this distance, to belong to an ordinary house. It was like a house built for children.

I moved forward cautiously. There was no sign of life in the yard or the windows. I peered inside, about to jump out of my skin at the slightest movement. I began to suspect that the dwelling was abandoned.

The door gave easily at my push. I found myself looking into a dusty room filled with cobwebs and tumbled furniture. My suspicions that the home was abandoned became even stronger.

Normally I would not have done this thing, but I was dazed with exhaustion and desperate for any cover where I could sleep safely. I bolted the door behind me and made my way quietly through the little house. The top of my head nearly grazed the ceiling.

I crouched and nearly crawled up the staircase to find a bedroom spanning the entire upper story. There I saw seven little beds, as though for children. I peered dazedly into the gloom, not trusting my eyes. I was too tired to make much sense out of anything.

Sluggishly I schooled my limbs to push the beds together, so that I might lie across them and sleep as I so desperately wanted to do.

An orphanage, I thought as I slipped immediately into an uncomfortable, distorted sleep filled with all manner of wicked and vexing dreams.

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