A Snow White retelling set in 1920s Germany
Sizing Them Up
“Elsie! Stop daydreaming and get some work done.” Hannah finally snapped.
Elsie startled and went back to peeling potatoes. It was crazy, she thought. How could Hannah be that easy, her usual self, when something extremely exciting was happening outside? Elsie had heard the honk, then feet shuffling in the hall – the corridor carried noises so nicely. So many people. What did this Frau Weiss need all these people for? But then, maybe all businesswomen acted like that.
A businesswoman. Elsie still marvelled at it. She had never known businesswomen even existed.
The knife scraped against Elsie’s finger rather than the potato. She jumped and raised her finger to her mouth. Then she shot a glance at Hannah, to make sure she wasn’t looking. She should really stop daydreaming before she ended up without any fingers left. She was about to go back peeling when the kitchen door opened and in strode the most beautiful woman Elsie had ever seen outside a movie screen. Her jaw dropped and so nearly did her knife.
“Hannah!” the woman said with a big smile. “How splendid to see you here.”
Hannah stood with her back straight and her face stern. “Frau Weiss,” she said as a greeting.
Thank goodness nobody was looking her way, a small part of Elsie thought. She was aware she was standing there, gapping, the knife forgotten in her hand. But she couldn’t help it. This incredible Frau Weiss was tall and lean, and her face was made-up – Elsie had never seen a real woman who made up her face. And her dress! Elsie had only seen coats with such luxury fur collar in films, and she had assumed they were just props, they didn’t really exist.
Curiosity stirred in her chest, but she barely registered it. All her awareness was taken by this vision and the thought that, so, what films showed was true?
Then she saw a movement with the corner of her eye, and she realised other people had entered the kitchen. One was Fräulein Dagmar with an amused expression on her face. The other was a man Elsie had never seen, but who clearly carried the air of the city about him. He was an elderly type, or so he looked. Lean and rod straight. A grim, stern expression on his angular face, which suggested judgment.
“This is Herr Ernst Müller, Hannah,” Frau Weiss said. “He’s my battler and the chief of my staff. I’d be grateful if you could show him around and help him and the rest of my staff settle down.”
“Of course, Frau Weiss,” Hannah said, still standing by her stove.
“We’re having a light dinner in the library,” Fräulein Dagmar added in her smooth, gentle way. “Would you prepare some sandwiches and tea for us, Hannah, please.”
“And take care of Grete’s staff. They have made a long journey, and they are tired and famished, I’m sure.”
There might have been more in Hannah’s nod, this time. Elsie noticed that exchange of glances between Hannah and Dagmar. Notice the details, Feuer always told her. Notice the little details and you’ll learn more about people than they’ll ever be willing to let you know.
“Do you want to get up in your room now, Grete?” Fräulein Dagmar asked.
“Yes,” the beautiful woman said. Then she turned to the battler. “Müller have a chat with Hannah. She knows everything about the manor. I’m sure you two can work wonderfully together.”THE FROZEN MAZE by Sarah Zama – Episode 6 – Sizing Them Up – Notice the details, Feuer always told her. Notice the little details and you’ll learn more about people than they’ll ever be willing to let you know. #readnow #fantasy Click To Tweet
Silence fell over the kitchen when the two women left.
Elsie placed the knife on the cutting board, careful not to make any sound.
Hanna was sizing Müller up and down, a frown on her face, which was quite unfamiliar to Elsie. Müller didn’t move. Not even a muscle. His chin was high, and Elsie wasn’t sure he would really see Hannah, who was an entire head shorter than he.
“So,” he finally said. “I’m sure we can make this as painless and possible for both of us.”
“Uhm,” Hannah said. “That will largely depend on you.”
Now Müller lowered his gaze and looked directly at Hannah. He had such a grim gaze.
Müller raised his chin again, but only slightly. “How many of you are there?” he asked.
“It’s just Elsie and me at the moment. We weren’t expecting an army.” Hannah raised her chin too. “What are you here for, anyway? I should have known Grete would be up to something wild.”
Müller’s back snapped straight. “Frau Weiss is a businesswoman,” He said dryly. “Running a business is a complex occupation and often involves managing people and their expectations.”
Hannah’s face flushed, her eyes burned, but she didn’t snap as Elsie expected her to.
Just at that moment the door opened and in strode a young man. He stopped with a hand on the handle and looked hesitantly from Müller to Hannah. Neither of them had moved.
“Herr Müller?” he said in a muted voice, still shifting his gaze from one to the other.
It took a few second for Müller to answer, “Yes, Klaus?” never turning his gaze from Hannah.
“Frau Weiss’s things are all settled in her room. All the rest has been unloaded. I was thinking…” he hesitated. “I was thinking maybe now we would settle in too, if someone would show us in?”
Herr Müller finally turned to him. “Yes, of course, Klaus.” Then he turned back to Hannah. “Maybe you’d make the way… Hannah?”
Hannah squared her shoulders. She moved the pots on the stove so that they would not do anything funny while she was away, then strode to the door. Passing by Müller, she craned her head toward him and said with some mischief in her voice, “It’s Frau Merchen for you!” She walked out the door without looking back. Herr Müller frowned, then turned on his heal the way a soldier would and went after her. Only then did Elsie noticed his light limp.
When they had both gone, Klaus gave a long exhale.
“Boy. What the hell was that about?”
Elsie tensed. For a moment, she tried to understand who Klaus was talking to and whether he was really asking a question or he was only commenting. But when she saw him looking at her, she realised he was actually talking to her. Then a blush rose to her face. There were so few young men in the village, and they never talk to her. What was she supposed to say to this young city man?
Again curiosity stirred in her chest. She heard a chuckle in her ears and a nagging at her ribs, but she ignored it.
Klaus rose one brow when she didn’t answer and smiled. He had such a handsome smile. He had such a handsome face, actually, with a strong jaw and high cheekbones. Blond hair, bright eyes. Broad shoulders and narrow hips. Were city young men all this handsome?
“Did I startle you?” he asked. He was still talking to her!
Uncomfortable as she might feel, it was rude not to answer a question. “You all startled me,” Elsie said truthfully in a thin voice.
Klaus chuckled. “Sorry. I suppose we Berliners tend to trample all over everything.” He looked at her, cocking his head, in a way that made Elsie’s face feel warm.
“Would you show me the way?” he asked.
Elsie hesitated, but then jumped off her stool. “Sure. The staff quarters are just next door. Come.”
In the photo Château de Chenonceau photographer unknown (from Instagram @francefr)