Series: Mirror, Mirror
By Nancy Butcher
Queen Veda, the second monarch of the royal kingdom of Ran, stood inside her enormous closet and surveyed the contents.
Her dresses were organized by occasion. On the left were the ones for affairs of state. Next to them, evening clothes. Then day clothes, then hunting clothes, then clothes for brisk exercise.
The dresses on the far right were for funerals and executions. She took one of them off its hanger and examined it. It was a long, wonderfully soft gown made out of black velvet. The collar was pure fawn, and the buttons, onyx inlaid with rubies.
The queen held the gown up to her body. The onyx was the colour of her long, shiny black hair; the rubies were the colour of her lips. She ran her fingers over the fawn collar.
She turned to the Beauty Consultant, who was sitting on his favourite stool. He was plucking apart a long-stemmed red rose.
“Well?” she demanded.
But the Beauty Consultant was engrossed in his rose. He was a tiny man, no taller than her dressing table. He had a shrivelled bald head and hooded black eyes. The queen was not sure how old he was – perhaps a hundred, perhaps older. She had inherited him from her mother, the Lady Despina.
Momi. God rest her soul, she thought.
Or maybe not.
The Beauty Consultant was still absorbed in dismembering the rose. There were red petals scattered all over his lap.
“Well?” the queen repeated, irritated.
The Beauty Consultant barely raised his head. He regarded the queen from beneath his hooded eyelids. His black eyes glowed silver for a moment, then turned bright green. The queen smiled a slow, satisfied smile. The colours never lied.
“Yes, Majesty, most becoming,” the Beauty Consultant whispered. He held the nearly beheaded red rose up to his mouth and nibbled delicately on a thorn.
Queen Veda returned the black velvet dress to its hanger, stroking the collar one last time. When was the last time she had worn this dress?
Oh, yes. Galen’s funeral. And just before that, at the funeral of Galen’s young friend, Jan or Jaffa or whatever.
“The pink one, Your Majesty!” the Beauty Consultant whispered, startling her.
The pink one. Queen Veda ran her fingertips across her dresses, searching for it. All her dresses were lined up neat as soldiers: black silk with gold brocade, brown taffeta, emerald green satin, red mohair with matching cape.
Ah, there it was. The pink lace gown was the only item of pink clothing she owned. It was a daring shade for her to wear, at her advanced age of – anyhow, it was a pale, delicate pink, the colour of a young girl’s blushing cheeks. It was a colour she herself used to favour as a young girl. Galen had liked it on her, and, of course, before Galen, the other ones.
Queen Veda held it up to her body. The lace was so delicate: wisps of pink thread engaged in a gossamer geometry of flowers, birds, hearts.
She smiled at the Beauty Consultant, waiting for an answer. He was flinging the rose petals off his lap, one by one, and muttering in his strange language which she had never understood:
“Desse ciara treffen du mara.”
“Pay attention!” the queen demanded.
The Beauty Consultant stopped muttering and stared at her. His eyes turned briefly cloudy, then settled back into their oily, inscrutable blackness. The queen felt a rush of something unexpected – disappointment, rage. She gave a snort of annoyance and jammed the gown back onto its hanger.
“It was your idea,” she muttered.
There was a ripping sound. One of her long fingernails had caught on the lace and torn part of the neckline.
The queen was about to extract her fingernail when she noticed that the Beauty Consultant’s eyes were glowing red. Fuelled by the compliment, Queen Veda continued ripping, ripping all the way down the bodice.
It was so easy. Pleasant, even.
When she was done, she was breathing hard. Her fingernails had dug into her palms, piercing the skin. But it didn’t matter. The Beauty Consultant’s eyes told her what she needed to know. They were the colour of fire, of the fallen rose petals, of the blood that streaked her hands.
“Yes, it is you. It has always been you. And it will always be you,” the Beauty Consultant whispered. “Your Majesty!”
Yes, yes, yes, she thought.
A magnificent sense of calm washed over her.
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When Queen Veda sets up the Queen’s Academy for Girls, the pretty students happily accept a wonder beauty pill, but Princess Ana is suspicious. She has always had to hide her good looks to keep her mother's affection. So why is the queen suddenly promoting beauty? As a sinister illness sweeps the school, Ana must confront the truth to save her friends. Queen Veda is the most beautiful woman in the kingdom and that's the way she wants it to stay. So when she sends all the girls of the realm to a new academy and offers them a beauty wonder pill, her daughter Princess Ana is suspicious. Echoes of the classic fairy tale "Snow White" are skillfully entwined with contemporary notions of beauty, acceptance and body-image. A lyrical and absorbing tale that resonates strongly in today's looks-obsessed world.
Nancy Butcher wanted to be a writer since the age of thirteen when she wrote her first poem. She has gone on to publish books on health and well-being as well as young adult fiction. Nancy prides herself on writing daring and brutally honest books, and is the author of the New York Times' bestselling children's book "It's Snow Problem". Nancy lives in New York with her husband and son, and likes to spend time with her cats and her rabbit.
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“This tale's twists and turns will keep you on the edge of your seat!”
April Clark (15) , South Yorkshire, Sugar magazine
“This story was a great modern twist on Snow White, and was a great read with fine description. I find the actually story LINE brilliant - the idea I mean. If I based my ratings on the idea of a book, then this would get 5/5 no problem! It didn't lack anything, as such; it was just a good book. A good read, that I would recommend. I've just said it, but I'll say it again, it was a fantastic story-line - and Nancy deserves credit for thinking up something so unique. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this!”