Warning: some readers may not find this tale tasteful.
Once upon a time a young king and his young wife, the queen, had a little daughter whose skin was white as snow, whose lips were red as blood, and whose hair was black as ebony wood, and, while, in the everyday world, such a child would not likely be healthy, she was born in a fairy-tale land, where all things are possible. Of course, they called her Little Snow White. Since the young king was handsome as well as rich and powerful, he had been able to pick the fairest princess in all the lands surrounding his kingdom to become his queen, and, since Snow inherited their genes, she was a beautiful child. As is wont to happen unless there is an enchantment to prevent it, little Snow didn't remain a beautiful child but grew into a beautiful adolescent and was just on the verge of turning into a beautiful young woman; however, although she could have still been called Little Snow because the top of her head, even with her hair carefully arranged, reached no higher than most men's shoulders, she strongly discouraged any reference to her height. Although her skin was no longer white as snow by the time she was in her teen years, she was still paler than even the noble ladies of the court, who did everything within their powers to avoid the sun.
The king and the queen could not be called stupid; however, they were more devoted to various pleasurable but frivolous activities, always being the beau and belle of the ball, than they were to cerebral exercises and didn't shine when hard thinking was required because they had never exercised their mental muscles. People who should know better often speak of the queen's demanding from a magic mirror each day assurance that she was the most beautiful woman in the kingdom, but they are just making up tales because, while she frequently asked the king if he still found her most beautiful, he was the only person or object who was ever asked to confirm her perfection, and he was always happy to respond that she was indeed the most beautiful of them all because he still found her so. She thought that he was still the most handsome man she had ever known, and the royal pair was totally devoted to each other; however, because they were busy partying and making merry, they were poor parents and left the upbringing of Snow to servants. A couple of the servants, not much older than she, were her constant companions since her early childhood, and they were really a mere girl and a mere boy when they were given the task of caring for her day and night. Naturally, mentoring the princess fell to them because no one else answered her important questions, and the royal tutors assigned to her by the king and the queen in one of those fleeting moments when they remembered they had a child taught her nothing beyond what she had to know to survive if she joined the party circuit frequented by her parents. The young servants, Hans and Verba, shared with her everything they themselves had learned in life, including the three Rs they learned in the court school for servant children, self-defense without use of weapons, which they learned from Verba's uncle in order to protect themselves when they had to venture into the royal city's poorly policed areas as court servants, and even the special knowledge all common folk needed to outsmart the lawyers and bankers who were industriously trying to amass all the kingdom's wealth unto themselves. Snow insisted that they treat her as their equal instead of talking down to her while pretending to be subservient as they did with all other noble men and noble ladies.
One day, attended by Hans and Verba, she was present in the royal box when two young knights displayed their skill with swords in a mock duel. Although neither injured the other except for a few scratches, it was obvious to her that one knight was far superior to the other in use of the blade and in movement of his body to be where the other's blade was not while himself being in position to strike the other knight. Snow, who had tutors in all matters of dances, sent Hans with a note to ask the young knight to teach her his art. The knight feared the wrath of her royal parents if he taught her as she wished, but, after meeting with her, he feared her wrath even more if he failed to obey her. She treated the dueling as a form of ballet and was an apt student, improving with each lesson, and reached the point where the knight considered her his most highly-skilled opponent ever. He even incorporated a few of her ballet moves into his own fighting style.
Of course, the king and the queen were happily unaware of the exercise given Snow's brain cells and, had they known, they would have considered such learning as not befitting a princess just as they would have been horrified at her acquiring expertise in fighting. It is likely that they would not even have approved some of the training that she, upon reaching her late teens, requested and received from her young male servant and a few of Hans's and Verba's young male friends, but she approved heartily and was an apt student. She even got the young knight to join in the games with her and with Verba, and he was an excellent swordsman and thrilled them with several great moves.
It was at just this time, as Snow was about to move from adolescence into adulthood, that the king died while he and a party of noblemen, led by the king's cousin, the royal huntsman, were hunting a rare perfectly white boar, and, when the queen was informed that he had been gored to death by the boar, she was filled with grief and had to be restrained to keep her from throwing herself to her death from the ramparts of the castle. Although she became the sole ruler of the kingdom, not much changed on that level because neither of the royal pair had devoted a great deal of time and effort to governing; however, because the bereaved queen had nothing to occupy her days and nights after the king's death, she did spend a short time dabbling at running the kingdom before she allowed matters to return to normal under the Janissaries and other bureaucrats. An item she noted while she was so engaged, was that Snow was still being cared for and tutored by Hans and Verba, although she had reached an age where most young princesses were already wed to princes who might some day inherit kingdoms, and, before the queen turned away from her brief personal involvement in the affairs of kingdom and family, she dismissed Hans and Verba from the court's service and granted them decent benefits, perhaps the greatest favor being that she allowed them to continue living, which was not always a benefit enjoyed by those who were no longer needed by a royal family. They knew they would miss Snow, but they took the tidy sum offered them and moved to a small farm in the country, far enough from the palace that they would likely be ignored by all at court. For her part, Snow missed Hans and Verba as friends, and she missed all the activities she could no longer carry on, debating, martial arts, and games, all the games.
Although the queen missed her beloved king every minute of every day, the ache became less with passing time. She was still a young woman and, after the initial insane attempt to join her king in death, she decided to go on with life. Although no one could ever really replace her lost love with whom she had always found joy in certain pleasurable activities that required the participation of a male, when the year of mourning ended, she began looking about among unattached princes, who always seem to be available in abundance, to see if any acceptable candidate for marriage might fill at least the physical void caused by the king's death, Filling the emotional void he left would be a more-difficult task, as the queen knew well.
Princes, all of them younger than the queen, began showing up at the castle, and, in spite of the age differences, all of them praised her beauty. The queen expected to have visits from several of the handsomer princes and to choose one for her mate after reviewing and comparing the qualifications of each; however, she began to note that many of those she considered to be most-highly qualified were diverted by the diminutive Snow's beauty and begged to be allowed to marry her instead. Snow, for her part, had seen none whom she wanted to marry among the visiting princes, although she thought that she might have enjoyed some play time with a few of them if she could have arranged it; however, she knew nothing about making such arrangements because that task had always been taken care of by Hans or Verba, who were no longer in the palace. Although the queen might well have been agreeable to letting Snow play with some of the princes whom she didn't want for herself, she was extremely displeased that most or all of the men declaring their desires to woo her daughter came from those among whom she wished to make her choice. It almost seemed that some higher power was determined to thwart her plans by having them attracted to the princess, a young lady who should have already taken part in a royal wedding at least a year earlier.
The queen decided to remove Snow as a source of competition. No, a thousand times no, she didn't make plans to have her killed, and I don't know where all the busybodies who spread such rumors because they have nothing better to do get their stories. The queen was not evil, at least no more evil than other fairy-tale queens; she was merely shallow. While the queen could have accomplished her goal of removing Snow as a competitor by forcing her to marry any one of the princes who were visiting the palace, thus leaving all the others free for herself, she was determined to marry the girl to someone in a kingdom far away, in a place where any prince who became her own companion would never be tempted by her daughter's beauty.
The royal huntsman had been the late king's almost-constant companion and one of his most-trusted advisors, and it was he whom the queen picked to accompany Snow and to find her a suitable prince to marry. Accepting his charge, though not without protesting his unworthiness to carry out such a task, the huntsman and Snow set out alone to find her a new home.
Now the royal huntsman was not at all pleased by the turn of events and cursed his misfortune at having to be away from the palace at just the time he most wanted to be present. He had wanted the queen for his own ever since his cousin first brought her to the kingdom to be his bride, and, had she been inclined to give her attention to another man, he would have stolen her love for himself, but such was not to be. He had, in secrecy, prompted and cleared the way for several discontented men to kill the king, but all were slain themselves without success. He had been forced to kill two of his puppets himself, one because it appeared he might be captured alive to be questioned, and the second because that man would have cut down the queen to get to the king. Finally, on that fateful day that they hunted the white boar, he had succeeded by causing the enraged wild hog to charge the king, whom he had left defenseless when he provided him with improperly balanced arrows. The king suffered a deep wound only to his leg, but he died because the royal surgeon could not stop the bleeding. Now, after all his efforts and final success, he was being sent out of the kingdom when he should be near the queen to prevent one of the worthless princes from capturing her heart. His efforts to cause the queen's suitors to become enamored of the younger princess had worked, but all for naught it appeared, and he must now go with Snow to find a prince who would keep her forever in a far-off kingdom.
The huntsman knew that many men who were given his charge would had fled with the beautiful young woman to some distant land where they would have forced her to marry, but he found her lacking in appeal because, from the moment he met the queen many years earlier, no other woman held interest for him. He briefly considered killing Snow and burying her in an unmarked grave or leaving her to be preyed upon by the wild animals, but he rejected that idea not only because there were easier ways to dispose of her but also because he was no more evil than most of the noble lords of the kingdom except in the matter of pursuing his dream of having the queen as his own.
As an aside, one can now, through a bit of mental exercise, come to the correct conclusion that the huntsman was the secret source of the false stories about the queen's vanity, her temper, and her evil ways, which he spread in the hope that these tales would discourage the princes who were courting her. Well, it must be admitted that the queen was somewhat vain and that she had a bit of a temper, but, since she was not evil, no one had suffered greatly from these faults.
In their journey to a distant kingdom, the huntsman and Snow traveled as a commoner, though a wealthy one, and his daughter. She knew that her fate at the end of their journey of many days was to be offered as a bride to a prince who was apparently too stupid to find his own princess, perhaps too stupid to find his way to another kingdom without help, and she wanted nothing to do with such a man. Even if he could be a worthy playmate in the exciting games she had learned to enjoy and which she had missed since her mother had dismissed her mentors, she wanted more in a man who hoped to be her companion for life. Somewhere along the way, sooner rather than later, she hoped, she planned to slip away from the huntsman and seek out a man whom she considered worthy of her. She didn't know that her goal differed from that of her companion only in the type of man sought, with his aim being that of finding a nobleman who would keep her with him by force if necessary and with her desire being that of finding a man, nobleman or commoner, who would keep her too interested to think of leaving him. Each delayed until they crossed the border from her mother's kingdom into another kingdom.
One evening as Snow and the huntsman sat at their table in an inn only a day's ride inside the border of the kingdom adjoining her mother's, he saw a man he believed might fit his requirements, and she saw two men, either of whom she believed might fit hers. The man favored by the huntsman was Lord Walter, a minor nobleman but one with a huge physical presence, wide, tall, and loud, fairly good-looking but with eyes that Snow considered evil, while her men were small, as well-formed as any man but on a smaller scale, neither being even as tall as she, and it must be remembered that the top of her head did not quite reach the height of most men's shoulders. Lord Walter's home was nearby, but Jacob and Wilhelm, the small men, were travelers stopping at the inn for the night.
Lord Walter upon spotting the pale, but beautiful, young woman sitting with the older man decided quickly to have her as his own, but he had not yet decided whether to take her for his bride or for his toy. He strode to the table where she sat and, in the loud voice normal for him, said to her, "I'm Lord Walter. Come to my table and drink with me. You will belong to me after tonight."
"No, thank you," she replied calmly and, although politely, quite firmly.
Lord Walter replied to her, "I was not inviting you to my table. I was telling you to come to my table. Have you anything against your daughter joining me?" he asked the huntsman.
Now, the huntsman was no coward, and, although he rated his chance of victory as not much greater than the likelihood of defeat, meaning death for him, if he had considered the issue very important, he would have faced the big man and his party, with blades or unarmed; however, leaving Snow with a man such as this really fit his plans. He would have to do some negotiating with Lord Walter later because he didn't want her hurt badly or killed, but he suspected that the revelation that she was the daughter of the queen of the powerful next-door kingdom would be enough to restrain this little lord from excessive violence to her.
"She may sit at your table and drink with you," the huntsman replied. "Go with him, Snow."
"No!" she replied firmly.
Sensing that no one else in the inn would stop the lord from harassing the young woman, Jacob and Wilhelm knew one of them must do it, and Jacob, being older and the most-highly skilled fighter, was the one who walked boldly to Snow's table and told the big man, "She told you no. Leave her alone."
"And do you plan to make me leave her alone?" Lord Walter asked.
"If necessary," Jacob replied.
"You aren't even armed, little man. Are you of noble birth?" Lord Walter asked.
Jacob answered, "No, and I'd rather not use blades. I'm Doctor Jacob Miner, a medical doctor, often called Jake or just Doc, and I know the damage a blade can do. Since you are so much larger than I, perhaps you believe you can best me without a weapon."
"I don't brawl with commoners, and I don't cross swords with commoners, but I have nothing against lopping off your head," he told Jacob as he drew his sword and moved toward the unarmed man.
"Wait!" Snow said loudly and got the attention of Lord Walter, who believed she had decided to go with him. He might still kill the little man, but he was willing to postpone that activity.
"You'll go with me to save him?" the lord asked
"Don't if you don't wish to," Jake told her and got the renewed attention of Walter, who turned back to him to slay him before attending to pleasure with the young woman.
Snow got the attention of all when she said, "Lord Walter, you won't fight a commoner. I'm no commoner but a princess. Fight me! Choose unarmed or with swords. Pin me unarmed, or disarm me with a sword, and I'll do whatever you wish."
The huntsman spoke up, "She's right. She is a princess, but she can't fight you. I'm not a commoner; I'm a cousin of a king, and I'll fight you, if you wish. You can't do it, Snow."
Snow responded, "I can if you will lend me your sword. He'll just want to disarm me anyhow, not kill me. Or he can try to pin me without a sword."
"I don't fight women," Lord Walter said.
"You'll fight this one if you try to harm Jake," Snow told him as she pulled the huntsman's sword from its sheath on the hook where he had hung it before eating. She knew that, although it was not something she desired to do, she would not hesitate to kill the big man. The thought of killing was not new to her since she had decided earlier, while she was planning to escape the destiny to which the huntsman was conveying her, that she would probably have to kill to prevent being killed or enslaved. She cut and tore her lower garments, skirt and underskirt, from her body to free her legs for the battle and, perhaps, to provide a distraction for the huge man.
Lord Walter decided to play with her and take away her sword, but, as he advanced on her, trying to use his sword to flick hers away. she managed to keep herself and the weapon just beyond his reach, always jumping and pivoting at the last possible moment. Perhaps he would just cut her hand, he decided. Loss of a finger or two wouldn't harm her, just make her easier to control, and the little doctor could stop the bleeding. Then he would slice off the little runt's head for causing this trouble. He began to work harder to end the game as soon as possible.
Snow had watched her opponent's moves carefully and had decided quite soon that she could kill him whenever she wished, but she waited because she preferred to humiliate him, a punishment worse than death for him. In the beginning, he had held his sword too high to be most effective against even a normal-sized opponent and certainly too high with her as the opponent. She suspected that his usual practice was to chop down on the other swordsman, and, although he was not extremely slow, he was certainly too slow to touch her. His sword was lower now as he was getting tired and short of breath, but its being low did not make him a more-effective fighter because he lacked the moves she had faced with her teacher. She had decided how to end the fight, and, when she saw the opening as he swung futilely at her, she ducked below his swing and, as she moved past him, neatly sliced through his sword arm at the wrist, a move that required extreme control but one that she executed without a flaw.
As the sword and his severed hand dropped away, and as the blood spurted from the wrist, the huntsman grabbed up the fallen sword to defend Snow from any of the lord's friends or companions who might decide to take revenge; however, not even one of them was sorry to see the big man defeated and humiliated. Even his brother failed to come to his defense because he was more interested in how he could take over the role of lord. As Walter thrashed about, Jacob's brother Wilhelm, Bill, used a blow on the head from a heavy pewter plate to quiet him for Jacob to attempt to stop the bleeding, and, as the doctor bent over the injured man, Snow, without being asked, pulled a heavy metal warming pan from the fireplace and brought it for Jacob to use its heat to close the ends of the blood vessels. Lord Walter might not survive, but he would not die of blood loss. After the wound was closed and tended, Jacob used ingredients from his bag to mix some tonic and instructed the lord's men to give him large doses that would keep him only partly aware for several days.
"I'm going with Jake and Bill when they leave," Snow told the huntsman when the four of them were alone. She had wrapped her garments around her and had pinned them to hold them in place; however, she had been in no hurry to do so and had allowed Bill and Jake sufficient time to see her legs if they wished.
"You are supposed to wed a prince of some land we haven't yet reached," he told her.
"You intended to let that Lord Walter have me, and he's no prince. I'll grant that you came to my defense when you saw how awful he was, but marrying the prince is out. You don't want to take me that far, and I don't want a man who needs an attendant to dress him, and most of the princes courting Mother appear to be that stupid or that useless. I suspect many princes are. If either Bill or Jake wants me, I'll wed him. Why were you in such a hurry to be rid of me?"
"I need to be back in the kingdom to help the queen pick the right man to marry."
"So, go back. I can't argue that her suitors aren't mostly worthless. I'll be journeying with Jake and Bill if they will have me as their companion."
Jake objected, "Your Highness, we don't know how to treat a princess, and we are not equipped for any fine lady to travel with us. We ride horses and have no carriage and certainly no one to tend you. There's little privacy."
"Stuff the titles, and call me Snow. Since my mother considered being able to ride a horse well one of the things required of a noble lady, I ride well. We came this far on horses, and I have nothing against wearing a boy's clothing for riding. Where is your destination, and where is your home?"
Jake looked at Bill, who answered, "Our home is in this kingdom but many miles away, and we were heading across the border to where your mother is queen. I'm not sure we should discuss our reason for going with a young lady."
Bill stopped, but Jake took up the explanation, "I don't believe much will shock you, Your, er Snow. In our kingdom, the law has long forbidden big women to marry us, so long that no big woman would associate with us even without the law, and, as we grew up, there was only one little woman, Irina, then a little girl, Bill's age, in the land around us. When we were old enough, she came to live with us and be my bride, but the sickness, three years back, that took so many in our kingdom and yours took our Irina and took her parents too. It got no one else in our family, but our mother and our father were already dead. The local doctor, who was old, could not treat all the ill folk and took me as his student. Still, neither he nor I could save Irina, although we saved many."
Snow interrupted with, "I'm sorry about your Irina and sorry about your being forbidden to associate with big women. You seem perfect to me."
Jake continued, "Your kingdom does not have that law, but, even there, big women look down on us," with his word play evoking smiles from everyone. "Still, we were on our way to your land with the hope of finding a woman for at least one of us. Our younger brother Emil, probably a year or two younger than you and a student, is at home. The old doctor is mostly retired now, leaving treating the sick and mending wounds chiefly to me, and even the women find that acceptable when they need me. Bill studied law and advises people on how to obey the law while still doing whatever they wish."
"And now you have your woman companion. We can go to your home, which I hope is beyond the area where Lord Walter holds sway."
"Far beyond," Bill responded, "but, if you listened closely to what Jake said, you know that, if we returned home at once, you would be sharing a home with three men, and, while we hoped to find women who weren't concerned about such matters, you are a princess, and we have no servants no lady's maid, no one to protect you."
"Did I appear to need protecting when I faced Walter a short while ago?" she asked him.
"Protect you from gossip, I meant," he replied, although he didn't really know what he meant. "It would be an unusual situation even if you weren't a princess."
"Oh, we'll keep it secret about my being a princess. Does my sharing the house with you and your two brothers bother you, or are you worried about me?"
Bill opened his mouth to attempt to explain, but Jake took pity on him and overrode him, "As I said earlier, Snow, I don't believe you are easily shocked, and I suspect you have done many things most princesses never do. I believe you understand what Bill meant and are teasing him."
"I understand it well, and, if there is to be gossip, let's make sure the gossip is true, but let's wait until we reach your home." Turning to the huntsman, she asked, "Will you be sure that Mother provides me a fee each year or a dowry to present to my companions?"
"I will, Snow, if this is what you want," he promised.
"I have made my choice," she replied.
And that's how it worked out that Snow White went to live with the little men. Fairy tales often end with assurances that justice was done and with happy-ever-aftering, but there are no fairies in this tale, and what you have is what you get.
The huntsman seemingly got away with regicide, never being brought to trial and never even having his crime known; however, he paid penance most of his life. He met with Snow from time to time because he felt responsible for her situation and wanted her not to suffer. In his role as the queen's first minister, he took Snow's advice in trying to improve life for people of the realm, and the hanging of a few of the worst predators -- cheating bankers, vulturine lawyers, rapacious clergy, and corrupt politicians -- worked miracles in that respect. He devoted himself totally to his beloved queen and suffered through her marriage to a sweet-talking, handsome but worthless prince who had charmed her out of her panties, and he never complained while she was happy with her prince; however, that young man fell from a window high in the palace only an hour after he struck the queen during an argument. Following that tragic event, the huntsman could not dissuade her from marrying another useless prince, one who had a reputation for not being satisfied with one woman, but he did not even tell her of her new husband's meetings with one of the ladies at court, one of the queen's younger cousins, it must be admitted; however, after the queen found the pair together and wrote a decree of divorcement, the huntsman assumed the task of delivering both to the prince's father, alive and healthy except for certain useless bits missing from the man's body. Finally, after trying to live without a man, the queen turned to the huntsman for comfort, and those were the most-blissful years of his life. He was less than totally happy only when his mind turned to the killing of his cousin, the king, and he shared that shameful secret with no one until his final day of life, when he revealed his crime to Snow. The day of his death from a broken heart was not long after that of his beloved queen, dying because he had lost all will to live. Snow considered appropriate punishments to dole out after death but, at length, decided to let matters lie and had the huntsman buried beside the queen, on the side opposite her father. She had never been close to her parents, barely knew her father, and she considered the huntsman no worse than most men and women who believe that they were born with the right to rule and be served by others.
As for Snow, she had few regrets about life away from the royal court and felt only relief at not marrying some witless prince in some forsaken kingdom. She had three good men with whom to work, study, debate, and play. Their heads might hold brains smaller than the brains of many around them, but her little men had minds that rivaled the best among her royal tutors, and she never tired of arguing with them over the beginning and end of the starry heavens, the interaction among the rulers of a realm and those ruled, and disease and ills of the body and mind. In fact, they discussed anything and everything that popped into one of four heads. It was a good life, and all of them had almost forgotten that Snow was a princess when she was summoned to her mother's kingdom by the royal huntsman, her mother's consort, as the queen lay dying. The crown was bestowed upon her, but, although she was urged to marry a prince to help her rule, she would not because she knew she had the best men to advise her. She kept her little men by her side, and, as they had in their former modest home, they ignored the petty tales of how they lived their lives in the royal palace. She found that the huntsman, in his role as the queen's consort and first minister, had set up a well-functioning system for running the kingdom more or less justly, and she had only to tweak the system from time to time. Being loved by all the people in the realm occurs only in fairy tales that have no basis in reality, but Snow and her three little men were popular enough among both the nobles and the common folk of the kingdom.
Hans and Verba knew that even a queen who is not cruel can be ruthless when crossed while in pursuit of her goal, and they stayed away from the palace and the court even after Snow was crowned because they were wary of coming to the notice of royalty, even when the royal person was someone they had befriended and loved when she was younger. Snow, however, visited them at their humble abode, accompanied by her trio of protectors and disguised as a boy. The visit went well, with friendships renewed, although Hans and Verba could not bring themselves to treat her as just another friend from their youthful years, and they were happy and relieved that she did not want to renew their fun and games, which they limited to only themselves. There were other meetings as she continued to reign, and Hans and Verba came to the conclusion that they had done well in preparing the young princess for her life. Most of the people were happy more often than they were unhappy, and, in the real word, that is the best for which one can hope.
It's unlikely anyone would care about the fate of Lord Walter after his encounter with Snow; however, his brother did take over as lord of the little realm and was ultimately forced to kill Walter, who made several attempts on the new lord's life. It should never be thought that the brother was a good man, but, in common with most men, he was less cruel than Walter, and the people over whom he had power found him a better master than Walter. It was no longer a crime to smile, and people sometimes even had reason to smile.