In Ramschied the King was mad, or so they said, for he lived and spoke with animals. Like a savage heathen he never ate meat. And some said, though these were always the people who lived farthest from the castle, that if you were to see him at night his eyes would glow like a cat's. But this was idle talk, symptoms of a kingdom at peace, for strange as he might be the King was just.
Now Kings, and this is true for all rulers, do not belong entirely to themselves like most people. They must never lose themselves in the moment for their actions will have consequences that will effect not only their children but the children of others. And kings do not live forever, so it is of the utmost importance that they provide their kingdom with heirs to rule after they are gone.
So when the King of Ramschied's eye fell on the youngest child of some count's at one of the many interchangeable events that seem required of royalty, arrangements were soon made for a wedding. The Count thought only of the connections for his family and the king spoke to the girl just once before the great event, and that was only to ask if she would have him. She said yes, knowing her father would never forgive her if she gave any other answer and truthfully it had warmed the king to her. For a brief moment he had just been a man asking for her hand and she had just been a girl who held his heart in the same hand.
The wedding was of course everything a royal wedding should be, full of pomp and pageantry. The King, a tall, severe faced man looked like he had been cut roughly out of stone. In other words he looked every inch his station. But his bride, who was really nothing more than a girl of about fifteen or thereabouts (she had just been a sickly, youngest girl so no one had seen the need to remember when she was born) looked nothing like a Queen. She looked like some sort of elfin creature woven out of moonlight and star dust. A peasant woman who saw her ride past crossed herself, for someone like her could not be long for this world.
A year passed, and though the King was gentle when he came to her bed and often sent songbirds to sing to her each morning (That much of the gossip had been true the King did speak to animals and the animals spoke back) she guessed and rightly to that she could count the number of conversations they had had on a single hand. So one night as she sat embroidering by the fire and he was busy looking over some treaty she cleared her throat to get his attention.
"Husband do you love me?" The little Queen asked a little timidly when she finally had his attention. The King looked at her then, as if seeing her for the first time. He looked into her grey eyes, which were so very unlike his own, and saw that she was still just a girl. And a lonely one at that.
"Yes," he said. "I do. Very much." And though it was not in his nature to say or show affection; he made an effort after that to spend time with her, to listen and to talk. He told her of his mother, who had been Italian and from whom he had inherited his dark colouring. He showed her the art his mother had collected from her homeland and the pieces he had added to the collection after she died. The Queen told him her favorite stories, for unlike him she very much loved to read. And he was surprised that most of them were about heroes and adventure. They made promises like children and love which for them had only been a seed waiting in the earth, blossomed. It was spring.
But time was passing for them and the Queen began to worry she might not ever have children, and a kingdom needs heirs. "I wish . . . I wish more than anything to give you a child as beautiful and dark as you." She told him one night in bed. The king had smiled and tossled her hair. "Dark? No, I'd much rather she was fair like you." During this the Queen accidentally pricked her finger, for she had once again been embroidering, and a drop of blood fell on the snowy white linen she had been working on. That night she dreamt of a child, fair like her but also dark like her husband and as red as blood.
As it often is in stories the Queen became pregnant soon after. Though the royal couple was more than pleased the royal phycicians and the mid-wives watched with worry, for she was not built for child bearing. The child would be born in winter so the King and Queen planned to travel to Italy when spring came again. Both still hoped the child would look like the other but with their gender. For the King wanted a son, believing men alone should rule and the Queen, well, her reading had made her secretly a bit more open- minded than her husband. Besides a girl would be easier for her to spoil something she had every intention of doing.
They never went to Italy.
Winter came. The Queen had her child and left this earth calling her baby 'Snow White.' It was likely those were just random words from a dying woman but no one ever thought of a better name for her. No one tried.
The seasons changed but Ramschied seemed to remain stuck in the dead of winter. The King who had never been prone to speaking before, now spoke almost not at all. He watched his daughter grow as if from a distance. Her eyes were a dull brown, like his. Her hair grew out into thick curls, like his. When she learned to speak animals understood her. And this absence of her mother in her twisted in him more than it should have. When she was older he hoped he might find her reading some adventure story in the library just so he could know some faint thread still connected him to his Queen through their child. But once again she seemed to take after him and prefered keeping her hands busy and her mind untroubled.
The King married again, loved again. And this time his Queen looked the part. She was beautiful yes, but she wasn't quite as frail or ethereal as the last one. He began negotiations with the nearby kingdoms to have the little princess be married off. One even had a prince who was no more than two or three years older than her which seemed promising.
And so the princess grew up never really knowing her father. Only occasionally receiving a pat on the head from him and a small smile. Her nurse and servants were kind to her, trying in their own ways to make up for the lack of affection given her. For many of them had children of their own and it was an affront to some instinct of theirs to see a child grow up so lonely. But the Princess would sometimes see them with their children, saw the love given them. And she began to wonder why it was never her father who did these things. So one night she snuck out of bed and crept into his study where he was going over some documents. She cleared her throat to get his attention.
"Papa," She asked. "Do you love me?"
The King looked at her then as if seeing her for the very first time, and saw in her brown eyes, which where so very like his own, something of another girl who had asked a similar question once and had looked just as lonely.
"Yes," He answered. "I do." And though it was not in his nature to say or show affection, occasionally he would tell the child stories like her mother had once told him and even managed the occasional genuine smile. And the child smiled more too and lost the lonely look she once had. Ramschied it seemed was finally shaking off the wintery feeling and it felt like spring again.
But time was passing for the King and he soon found his breath growing short and he knew it wouldn't be long before he was reunited with his first wife. And one night he fell asleep, while the snow began to fall just outside turning the dark woods just beyond into something out of a dream. He did not wake again. And Snow fell.