Bone White

HUNTER:

It is my great sin. Not that I killed her, but that I might have saved her.

I knew those woods were haunted by the dancing dead, and yet I left her there with her chest cut open. Because my queen asked for her heart. Yet, instead of slaughtering a lamb or the boar that furrowed in the meadow beside our resting place, instead of freeing her to flee alone and alive, I pressed her throat into the hard ground and slid my dagger in.

My last sight of her, splayed between twisted roots, fear a bright stain across her tiny face, remained with me. When I kissed my queen at night I saw the princess’s thin ribs jutting out of all that gore. They’d called her Snow White, but she was the white of naked bones.

DVERGR:

My brothers and I prowled for death-catchers, and instead found a child bleeding all over our woods. We encircled her, chanted songs to the earth so that the trees bent to whisper in our ears what had happened.

She was pale and beautiful, even with blood splattered over her lips. I sank my fingers into the ground and lifted a smooth stone that glittered with veins of gold. We each breathed on it, seven words from seven mouths, that her life might return, and I placed it in her empty breast. Her flesh folded back over the wound until her white skin was unblemished and shone in the moonlight.

Her eyes opened, the color of violets, and she did not shrink away. “Who are you?” she asked, with a voice sweet as a songbird’s.

“We are sons of Ymir,” I said, “who crawled forth from the bowls of his corpse at the beginning of the world.”

“We are crafters of stone,” said one of my brothers.

Another added, “We walk in the night.”

“We are cousins to trees and the hot breath of dragons.”

“We flee the sunlight, and dance with the elves.”

My sixth brother smiled. “We are collectors of children.”

And the seventh bent down and lifted her up. “We have given you new life and you will serve us.”

From his long arms, the girl studied us. “You are pale and black both, as am I, as is my mother.”

“The blood of the Underhill washes through your veins.” I stood so that she might touch the milky, taut skin of my cheek.

WIGHT:

I miss my mama.

I miss the softness of her raven hair, the gentle warmth of her snow-white skin, her smiling cherry lips. Even in the kindness of the dvergar I cannot stop thinking of her, longing for her, wanting to see her again and kiss her.

During the day, when the dvergar sleep, I curl among their bodies in the cottage made of stone and roots, and I dream of my mama. I visit her on clouds and gusts of wind, watch her combing her hair in the gilded looking-glass she so cherished, follow her as she paces with her ladies in the garden, run my fingers along her cheek as she listens to the harpist and applauds.

Sometimes, she shivers and glances my way. Never quite seeing me, but I know in those moments that she misses me, too.

The eldest dvergr is called Gryttr, and he is so kind. I prefer to lie beside him as dawn approaches and listen to his stories of alfr princes and death-dealing blades. He promises at the Long Night he will take me, along with his brothers, to the feast-hall of Nithavellir, the Dark Fields, where the dead dance with the shadow-walkers and all the food tastes of honey and heaven.

At night, my dvergar venture into the woods and often leave me with the cottage. I tend the flowers and coax robins and blackbirds closer to sing for me. They never come too near. I gather mushrooms and berries and create feasts for the dvergar as I did for my dolls at home. I brew tea and Gryttr is teaching me to make wine from the honey the bees make behind our cottage. On full moons we pour the honey-wine into the earth for the trees to lap up. We drink ourselves and dance so that our skin glows with the moon and our hair spreads out like black wings behind us.

I love my dvergar. I miss my mama.

DVERGR:

No one of us expected the queen to know magic.

We returned one dawn to find our pretty-maid, our death-girl, our honey-keeper, sprawled on the soft, grassy floor of the cottage, much as we had first discovered her.

Her lungs and liver were missing.

I lifted a hand into a tree and pulled down a broad leaf, damp with dew. We breathed on it, seven words from seven mouths, that her spirit might return, and the leaf fluttered. I placed it in her empty chest. She breathed again, and the gold veins in her heart flashed.

My youngest brother Askr ran into the woods and returned with a blood-red apple. We breathed on it, seven words from seven mouths that her desire might return, and I put it into her empty chest. She did not wake.

But we dvergar know little of desire.

PRINCE:

It is strange to see the dvergar mourn. They are such wise creatures, so staid in their actions and ways, we do not think that they might cry. Nor that their tears would be made of glass.

But when the seven brothers of the Overhill Wood processed into my palace, dripping beads of misshapen mirrors from their cheeks, all the feasting halted.

The tallest of them stepped forward. His long black hair slid against my polished floor and his shadow-rags hung off pearly, thin shoulders. “Oh, prince of the darkening meadow,” he said.

I liked his look, the twist of his lips, and was fascinated by the reflecting rainbows in his crystal tears. I stood down, off of my throne, and walked through the mass of ghouls and svartalfar watching us with unblinking black eyes. “Tell me your wish.”

“We have a child, dead and dead again, in need of your kiss. She is the victim of a foul witch, her own mother, who attacked her in our home.” His voice grated on my skin like pestle against mortar. “The child’s heart is of the earth, her breath of tree leaves, and her blood runs with the magic and beauty of Underhill. But we cannot put desire into her body.”

“Bring me the witch who has done this thing, and I shall recreate your child.” I held out my arms. “Take me to her.”

The eldest dvergr led me out of the earth and through the forest while his brethren hunted the witch. In a glade made lush with night-blooming flowers was a small, narrow coffin of pressed-dvergar-tears. The glass canopy protected a girl of such beauty I knelt by her side and lifted away the shield. Her black lashes cut across her cheeks like naked branches against a snowy field. She might have been my own sister, or kin to the dvergar. Skin like bones, like perfect ice, hair black as our nighttime halls, and lips stained with her own blood.

In death, her magic had blossomed, and she would soon dance in my feast-hall and sit at my side. I knew, with a slick satisfaction, what I would discover when the dvergar brought me the witch, her mother.

And when they threw the witch at my feet she gazed up at me with black eyes and with the same telltale beauty of all my people. A lost, vain huldrabarn, given to men by one of my cousins, or even maybe myself, in return for a human babe. “Strip her,” I said. They did, and when her flesh was bare to all eyes, we saw the proof of a thin tail ending in a tuff of coarse black hair.

She shrieked and cursed. But her words were nothing to a prince such as myself. “Hold her quiet,” I said, ignoring her cries for pity. “If she would so like to be seen, loved, give her a pair of hot iron boots and she shall dance for us tonight.” I turned again to the girl. “What have you to replace her desire?”

“An apple.” The eldest dvergr offered me a small one, bright and red.

I kissed its skin and put the red against my cheek. Eyes closed, I thought of the girl, of her ripening, as the apple was ripe. I knelt and placed the apple behind her womb. “Wake up,” I said into her mouth.

46 thoughts on “Bone White

  1. “His voice grated on my skin like pestle against mortar.”

    Yes.

    I love this. (the whole thing) So vivid.

  2. It’s so easy to get swept into this story. It’s very captivating and visual and just plain awesome.

  3. I’m so glad. I started three different stories from varied angles, before I finally just decided to bite the bullet and retell the whole thing. I’m quite relieved it seems to be working.

  4. but I also loved this. Retellings of familiar tales are some of my favorite kinds of stories; different nuances get exploited that open up new interpretations. Your interpretations are some of the most original and intriguing I’ve ever had the pleasure to read! Well done!

  5. Awww yeah!

    This will teach you to say things like, “I still want us to all write the same story one week.”

    (Of course, I can only be so glib now that I’m done. Heh.)

  6. Ummm, wow. I read this earlier today but didn’t get around to commenting before. This is. This is incredible. Seriously.
    Just…great imagery, cliche as that sounds. But a supremely great retelling. *applauds*

  7. Awesome. Pure awesome. I don’t think I’ve EVER read all points of view for this ft before.

    I loved this: “Her black lashes cut across her cheeks like naked branches against a snowy field…. Skin like bones, like perfect ice, hair black as our nighttime halls, and lips stained with her own blood.” ❤

    Ahhh. So pretty. 😀

  8. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful!

    There’s so much happening here, and it’s complex and fabulous and interesting (and dark, don’t forget dark), but my absolute hands-down favorite is that they cry glass.

    That is awesome.

  9. I figured that in my experience the Wicked Queen usually gets the reinvention, so she’s the only one I left out!

    Thank you – that was one of my favorite lines, and actually the cutting black lashes were the very first line that came to me when I started the first draft. (I started with the prince.)

  10. That was one of those things where I just thought, ok, these guys are miners, one with the earth, yadda yadda…. so where do they get GLASS? There aren’t any beaches around here. 😀

    Thanks.

  11. Oh, lovely. Awesome. You are so good at shorts and re-telling and stories and ideas and…

    Love.

  12. You’re welcome. You’re an amazing author. All three Merry Sisters are. And it’s an honour and a priveledge to get to read y’all’s work each week. It makes my day.

  13. Glass tears, our-death-girl, missing lungs and liver (just goes to show we don’t really need them), a lost, vain huldrabarn, always so poetic and bloody. Seductive. Brillaint. You make me notice words that, either, other writers don’t use or they have no poetry and impact – splayed, slick, foul, staid, mama, there’s so many. *love*

  14. I’d like to try using words to describe this story, but everybody else has already done better. So I’m going to slip into synesthesia instead. This rings like a B minor chord, high above the orchestra, on exactly the right beat. And to me that is very good. I love it.

  15. Thank you! What a fabulous compliment.

    (I’ve always wanted to write a story about someone with synesthesia!)

  16. You’re very welcome. Do you mind if I friend you on the basis of this alone?

    I love having synesthesia. Even though mine is very mild, it seems to sneak into whatever I write. But I used to try trraining myself every day to make is stronger. I stopped because I was never sure if it worked or not, or if I was just so desperate to have it I was imagining it. Either way, B minor was right for the story!

  17. You are welcome to friend me for whatever reason you like!

    What has intrigued me about synesthesia since I first heard about it (around age 13 or so) was that it seems like the brain creating metaphors! The article I was reading suggested it was some form of misfiring, and my young, artistic self was like, NO! It’s ART! It’s ART!

    (I’m glad you like the icon! It’s one of my favorite books/fav movies/fav moments in a movie EVER)

  18. I was vaguely aware that words sounded like music, and music could be colours, from the age of about ten (Which was when I realised that the A string on my violin looked and tasted like cut-grass) But I didnt really become properly aware of iut until I was on a creative writing course at sixteen with a very synesthetic girl indeed. It is ART! It is definately art!

    (Oh, mine too. The last time I watched it was the morning after my friend’s party. Ten people lounging transfixed in a room…
    Dom: Oh, its a star! Calcifer’s a star! Did you know califer w-
    8 people, in tones of agitation: shhhhhh!
    myself, happily: I love how stars sound silver, like moonlight and nighttime and metal in a forge…)

  19. (My Calcifer moment was: can I make that trade, too? Please?)

    Ok, here’s my confession: I *did* write a short story about this, right after I read that article. It was really bad, no doubt, and I don’t have a copy of it anymore, alas. It was sci-fi, and there was a rebel underground fighting against the Oppressive Regime. All the rebels were synesthetes and they communicated with music and smells and things, as there own unbreakable code!

  20. ohgodthatneverevenoccuredtome. Hot flush! Though I must admit, there are times I don’t envy Sophie. I think I might have committed matricide at some point in House of Many Ways…

    It wasn’t deliberate, but in the book of doom which I should be labouring over right now everything Subhumam (vampires, werewolves, witches, other supernatural creatures) is very, very sensory. Which means that its essentially synesthetic…. 😉

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