A Snow White retelling set in 1920s Germany
He Surprised Me
Ingeborg sank a bit further into the water, trying to suck as much warmth as she could. The water in the enamelled bathtub was getting chilly. Soon, she’d have to get out of it.
She looked around the little room. It was more an alcove, actually. Not a real bathroom, like the one she had in Berlin, in her tiny apartment. It only contained the bathtub, a small coffee table for her toilette set, the bath salt she’d brought along from Berlin, her own soap bar. On the stool nearby was the towel and her clothes.
There was space for nothing else. And since there was not even a small window, Elsie had lit a few candles that she had placed on the floor.
Ingeborg remembered how all guests praised these little alcoves that her father had wanted in all bedrooms. In a place like Schneezwerg, lost in the countryside, it had been wildly modern, before the war. Now, Ingeborg found it old fashioned and inconvenient. Such a hustle to warm the water in the kitchen and then carry it upstairs through many trips. Then Elsie would have to empty it, with more trips up and down the stairs. In her apartment in Berlin, Ingeborg could prepare her own bath, letting the water already warm from the tab and then drain it once she was done.
It was only a few years ago. Still, it seemed so far away, like everything from before the war. It was a feeling even older people had.
She looked around the alcove. The walls were tiled like they were in her own bathroom. The tiles were handpainted, she remembered, by a craftsman who lived in a nearby village. Dad had given a lot of work to a lot of people for this project of adding bathrooms to the old manor. She was a little girl back then, but she remembered people praising her dad for the work he was creating, though they thought it was just crazy to spend that much money on bathrooms. And although they understood the family wanted her own bathroom on the ground floor, everyone seemed to think that a similar room for the house staff was a crazy waste of money.
She felt sure now that Dad was planning to add plumbing to the manor like all the city buildings were getting.
He wanted to modernise Schneezwerg, not destroy it.
Ingeborg sat in the bathtub, hugging her knees.
Dad had a vision. He wanted to do something with Schneezwerg, but she had been too little to know what. Did Grete know? Did aunt Dagmar? Or had Dad kept the idea to himself until the time would come to share it with the rest of his family?
Only the time had never come for him.
Ingeborg’s eyes stung.
No, she didn’t think Grete or Dagmar knew about Dad’s dreams. He had brought those dreams to war with him, and like him, they had never come back. And now she had to carry them out, without knowing what they were.
Had she spent too much time in Berlin? Had she forgotten that there was a different life outside the metropolis? A life that did not know, and did not care about the fast cars, the cabarets, the Avant Gardes, the political movements and the veterans.
The water was cold. It was time to get out.
She wrapped herself in the soft towel, courtesy of Grete, and walked to the grate. She knelt there, reaching out with her wet hands. The fire was nice. Its light and its warmth transformed the room.
Ingeborg thought about Elsie. Twice had she found her tending to the fire, with her child’s face so focused she was almost endearing.
Ingeborg smiled at the thought, but then she sobered. There was something about Elsie. She didn’t know what, but there was. Even Florian had seen it. His face when he first saw Elsie! He might as well have seen a ghost.
Ingeborg purse her lips.
But then there was something about Florian too. Why had Elsie been so nervous about him?
She sighed loudly. She had been quite nervous about him too, hadn’t she? She had dreamed about him, and then he had appeared. And probably she was making up a big deal out of nothing.
She stood and went to her wardrobe. Opening it, she glanced at the window. The only thing she could see was the sky. There was no fog today. The sky was of a washed-out grey colour that verged on dirty white. A snow sky, if she had ever seen such a thing.
She dug a warm jumper out of her wardrobe, and a pair of wool trousers. She was about to put them on when she hesitated. Women wearing trousers were frowned upon even in Berlin. Maybe she should avoid – but then, it was still almost an hour before lunch. She would wear them in her room, surly that was fine.
She put a cardigan over everything and felt she was quite warm. The weather wasn’t as cold here as it was in Berlin, after all, not even with snow coming soon. She brushed her bob, put on the barest amount of makeup then she paused. She had brought her books with her. Should she spend some time studying while waiting for lunch? An exam was coming up next week, she should really study.
Instead, she walked to the window and looked out, toward the maze, across the meadow. She braced herself. Dad would have never destroyed it. She was sure of it. As sure as aunt Dagmar. Was it even possible that Grete didn’t know? Then why was she so set on taking it down?
She sighed again. So many questions without answer.
She was moving away from the window when a movement caught her eye.
Someone was crossing the meadow, directed to the maze. A whisk gate, purposeful. A dark figure, straight and athletic.
She placed a hand on the cold windowpane and leaned in.
What was he thinking, going to the maze alone? A surge of worry washed over her. He was going to get lost!
Then she clenched her jaw, angry. “What does he think he’s doing?” she hissed.
Quick, she grabbed her coat from the back of the chair it was lying on and put it on while running downstairs. Her city shoes clicked on the polished floor. She opened the French door and ran outside, to the edge of the terrace.
Already, she could not see Florian anymore.
Wrapping her coat tight around herself, Ingeborg crossed the meadow quickly and came to the entrance to the maze.
The arch was cleanly
opened now. Florian had pushed the twigs away, snapped a few of them and almost completely cleared the entrance. Ingeborg just had to step in, no need to wrestle her way through.
Inside, it looked as if nobody, not even her, had been there for a long time. No print on the ground which looked had packed with frost. Branches still reached for anyone passing through and didn’t show a gap at all. Had Florian not entered, after all? Had he rounded the outside of the maze walls instead of going in? No, impossible. He had entered, the arch showed it.
She walked down the path with her mind occupied with the puzzle, and soon she came to the first dwarf. It stood at his post, as he had done. As she came nearer, she became aware of a vibration in the air. A strange trembling, or maybe a pulse, like when she was in a crowded place.
She stopped in front of Weise. She looked around as if trying to catch an elusive sound. Everything was silence. So she lowered her gaze on the dwarf and rubbed the top of his head with her ungloved hand. It was rough, but warm, like always. It was becoming familiar.
“Did you happen to see anyone pass this way?” she asked because she needed to hear a voice in that eerie, dark, misty place.Dad had brought his dreams to war with him, and like him, they had never come back. Now she had to carry them out, without knowing what they were #fairytaleretelling Click To Tweet
The warmth of the stone crept up her arm, making her more comfortable. Her mind dazed in that unexpected comfort, and then an image flashed through it.
A laguna in a bitter, dark night. The water turned from clear to muddy and receded as if the water was evaporating at an impossibly fast pace. On the shore stood a woman. Or rather, the form of a woman all made up of light. The woman trembled. Sobbed. Her eyes two blue piercing light on her face. At the moment she melted in a thin rain that fell into her dying laguna, Ingeborg started. And she was back in the maze.
Her breath was fast.
“You should really stop playing those tricks on me,” she said.
The maze is magic, Ingeborg. Listen. Listen. Can you hear the magic breathing?
She stood unmoving, her hand still on the head of the warm dwarf, as Dad’s forgotten words once again crossed the years and came back to her.
Can you hear her breathing?
She let those words sink into her, then she started, snatching her hand away from the dwarf.
Magic. Magic didn’t exist. Dad sure knew that.
She needed to find Florian before he went too deep inside the maze. What if he got lost?
Brushing all other thoughts away, she went down the next path. Florian was only minutes ahead of her. He could not be very far. Of course, he might have taken any path, but she felt confident she would find him.
There was an unchanging dark inside the maze. The light was bluish, it spoke of ice. The walls were made up of deep brown, almost black branches that looked like they were never going to give a bud again. The ground almost sparkled with frozen dew.
Was she getting lost herself? She knew she should find a second dwarf soon if she was on the right path. Willkommen, Welcome, as she had always called him when she went there to meet him with Dad.
Don’t fail me, Willkommen, she silently prayed. Don’t fail me, now.
And then she felt it again, that warm current in the cold ground, brushing her feet, moving ahead. Instinctively, she followed it, rounded one bend, then another, never thinking where she went. She just had the image of Willkommen in her head – that’s why she almost missed him.
She stopped abruptly, with a gasp, when Willkonnem’s reaching hand appeared out of nothing and brushed her shoulder. His hand and arm protruded from inside a messy bush. She pushed dry branches away, snapping a few and finally uncovered the dwarf’s sever face.
Contrary to Weise, Willkommen was as high as a man, just a little bit taller than Ingeborg herself. His eyes were fixed on a faraway point. Dad once told her he looked toward the entrance.
Where Weise seemed just roughly chiselled out of a boulder – or badly damaged by time –
Willkommen was a true statue and a true warrior. True, he raised his hand in welcome, and he didn’t carry a weapon that could be seen, but he had a shield at his feet, which he kept close to himself, as if ready to use.
The exertion had made Ingeborg warm. She wasn’t cold at all now, though her heavy breath was visible in the cold air. She stepped closer to Wilkommen to better look at his face, getting inside the space created by his extended arm. His face was not damaged at all. It was the stern, clear face of a warrior wearing a helm, and as she stood practically inside his hug, she felt warmth seeping inside her.
I’ll always be here for you, her Dad told her from far far away in the past – and then she swayed as the ground trembled.
She looked around alarmed. The ground trembled again, very lightly, but in the silence of the maze, she heard a rumbling rising from the icy ground.
The sound of a snarl, like an animal showing its teeth to an enemy.
The branches of the overgrown boxwood moved and whispered though there was no breeze. The mist rose, swirling and becoming thicker on the ground.
She stood there, uncertain. What should she do? She turned inside Wilkommen’s near-hug, looking toward the exit, and at that moment another image flashed through her head. Florian, passing by Wilkommen, glancing cautiously at his imprisoned forms.
Without another thought, Ingeborg moved fast in the direction Florian had taken, knowing where to go, as if a rope pulled her thought the paths. She finally found herself at the further spot she had ever reached in the maze. The place of the third dwarf, the one that stood taller than a man, with his arms spread, as to indicate two different directions – or bar the way altogether.
Florian stood in front of him, like a child in front of an adult.
“Florian!” she called, coming to a stop. He turned, a strange expression on his face. One of defiance, almost challenge. And his eyes… they gleamed of a faint blue, an inner light in the dusky maze.
Ingeborg froze. She met Florian’s hard gaze for a moment. Then he gave her a shy smile, and Ingeborg knew she was mistaken. His eyes were dark brown, as she knew they were, even if they looked black now.
“I’m so happy to see you,” he said in his deep voice.
“I daresay,” Ingeborg said, sternly. “Why did you come here alone?”
Did Florian pale?
“Because I needed—“ He lowered his gaze and his voice. “I had to–” His voice trailed off. He glanced over his shoulder to the great dwarf. “But I suppose Grete is right. This may be a dangerous place.”
He looked back at Ingeborg, who said nothing. He turned up the collar of his coat and jammed his hands in his pockets.
“Please, lead the way.” His face was pale and unsmiling.
Ingeborg looked him right in the eyes. He didn’t flinch. He moved before she did toward the direction Ingeborg had come. Before she followed, she too glanced at the third dwarf, who she had never named because she had been here so few times. The ground didn’t tremble, but she heard that rumble, low and almost soft, now and for some reason she thought to a giant cat, lying back down and curling up to sleep.