The evil queen disguised herself as an old apple seller. She took a poisoned apple to the cottage of the dwarves. But the dwarves were gone. They had delved too greedily and too deep; they had awakened something in the darkness.
Now only Snow White remained.
“He went chasing the glitter of it,” she said, “some jewel he dreamed of finding, ‘fairest of all the things under Heaven and beneath the Earth;’ but he found something else instead, and heat belched out of the tunnel that he’d been digging and fire flickered in the caverns beneath the mountain and there shall be no body in his tomb.”
“That’s terrible,” said the evil queen.
“’And I alone am returned to tell thee,’” Snow White said. She shook her head. “That’s what he said to me, and sneezed. ‘And I alone am returned to tell thee.’ Seven left, and just one returning, and even he returned not long.
“A weird remained upon him, a dreadful calling.
“’It was a thing of fire and shadows,’ he said. ‘But its eyes were jewels,’ and not three days back before . . .”
She trailed off.
“Before he’s gone.”
“Would an apple make you feel better?” offered the evil queen.
“They smell too sweet,” scoffed Snow White. “They shine too red. They are too beautiful; and I have learned the price of avarice.”
“It isn’t really avarice—” the evil queen started, but the princess interrupted.
“What’s the point in it?” Snow White demanded. “What’s the point in any of it? Of pretty things? Of apples and of jewels? Of gold all glittering? What makes even the fairest of all the jewels beneath the Earth worth seven dwarven lives?”
“It’s — it’s a really fair jewel?” the evil queen suggested.
“And what good would it have even done them?”
“There’s an intrinsic value,” argued the evil queen, “to being beautiful. Particularly the most beautiful.”
“I don’t want an apple,” the princess said. “I want justice. . . . but I will not have it.”
Her head lowered.
“It is a wraith of shade and fire,” she said, “And I am just Snow White.”
“You could,” the evil queen proposed, “go and . . . fight it . . .”
Intended as wicked, twisted advice, it came out from her mouth as sheer stupidity instead; she flushed red behind her mask. As for the princess, she did not even dignify the words with a reply.
“Or use magic,” said the evil queen.
“Ha!” said Snow White.
“It’s perfectly doable,” said the evil queen. “Dark secrets from before the age of humankind. You may command them, if you’d dare to risk your soul.”
“The superstitions of a senile old apple seller,” the princess scoffed. “I’m sure you feel quite the daring witch, but nobody actually cares about your soul. Or even mine.”
“. . . I’m not personally a witch,” the evil queen said, carefully, “as I have said. But it is not just superstition either. For instance, there are magical mirrors—”
“Oh, yes,” Snow White said. “’Magic mirrors.’ My own stepmother thinks she has one of those.”
“It’s a shameful and degrading affair,” said Snow White.
“It’s a real magic mirror,” the evil queen protested.
“I think we all have things we like to imagine speak to us,” the princess said. “Sometimes I imagine that I hear Doc’s voice—but I don’t. You see.”
“Doubt me if you like,” said the evil queen peevishly, “but you could at least eat a damned apple.”
The princess took the poisoned apple from the basket. She held it up for a moment. Then she gave it a disgusted look and tossed it aside.
“It is red,” she said.
“Red like your lips,” the evil queen pointed out. “One of your finer attributes.”
“Why the hell are you going on about the color of my lips?”
“Well,” said the evil queen, “they’re the color of blood. That’s considered very attractive by objective magical sources.”
“Get out,” the princess said. She pushed the evil queen. “Just . . . get out.” And the evil queen found herself outside the cottage, door slammed against her, and the basket of miscellaneous apples in her hand.
After a long while, she sighed.
“What am I even doing?” she asked herself. “Why does it matter?”
And she could not help the errant thought:
For I have delved too greedily, and too deep.