Letter From The Editor - Issue 56 - April 2017

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Issue 48
Stories
Breeding True
by Orson Scott Card
Like a Thief in the Night
by Alethea Kontis
The Curie Priest
by Chris Phillips
The Price of Love
by Dantzel Cherry
For the Bible Tells Me So
by Edmund R. Schubert
Life With Slug
by Paul Eckheart
IGMS Audio
Life With Slug by Paul Eckheart
Read by Stuart Jaffe
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews
Vintage Fiction
Starsong
by Aliette de Bodard

Writing Fantasy

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-   -   -   -   P   r   e   v   i   e   w   -   -   -   -

The Price of Love
    by Dantzel Cherry

The Price of Love
Artwork by Shelby Nichols

"Take it back," I say, but my demand is weak and without conviction. Everyone knows the magic mirror would not, could not lie. Even the man in the mirror stares at me disdainfully.

"There is no part of you I have not seen, m'lady." His voice drips with condescension.

I blush but he goes on, the only man I allow to speak to me so - afterall, he loves me, and despite his cruel words, I trust him. "The usefulness of your treatments and your creams, your hairdressers and your dance tutors, are extended to their limits. If you think the girl with hair as black as the raven's wing, skin the color of freshly fallen snow, and lips red as the blood of a newly vanquished foe cannot supersede your failing beauty, then you will soon be competing for the title of court lackwit."

Again I wonder why I cannot bring myself to smash this insufferable mirror. The earnest words he once whispered to me morning and night, when I was newly wedded to the king, caressed my girlish heart. I miss those stolen nights, when I was alone in my chambers and he would step out from the mirror. But over the course of the last fifteen years, as slowly and subtly as the dust settles on my vanity table, his words have twisted my heart with an expertise that alternately causes despair and admiration.

Sometimes I miss the intimacy of the king, but I know, as the mirror knows, that the king could never know me, never love me like the mirror does.

"Snow White cannot simply disappear like the others," I tell him.

His eyebrow arches and I begin to panic. Is he angry? Disappointed? Bored? Please let him not be bored. I cannot lose him now.

"Truly," I rush on. "If my stepdaughter dies, the king will mount a man-hunt that will surely lead to me, no matter how well I hide the trail."

Still the mirror says nothing.

I venture an argument I've been saving, waiting for the right moment.

"What good is our love," I say, "If I am hanged for treason?"

At this the mirror laughs. "Oh my Queen, the value of our love has never weighed heavily on my heart. Honestly, why do I even stay?"

But he must stay. How would I cope without him? I would never have remained fairest of them all - or even queen - without him to point out my rivals.

He goes on. "Consider this: Do I not deserve the best?"

"Of course you do. But I am the best."

"Ah. Then prove it. How will you prove your love to me, other than to remove your rival?"

"Maybe there is another way," I plead.

"By all means, dazzle me with your brilliance."

"Truly," I insist. "She needn't die. What if . . . what if she just . . . loses her beauty?"

"A waiting game would make losers of you both."

"No, no waiting." I hold up my knife from my breakfast tray. "I have seen many a man suffer the terrors of war, hiding his face or his savaged hand from sight. A girl would be no different. Probably worse."

The mirror sighs. "Did you not just speak of a need for subtlety and secrecy?"

I paste a smile on my lips. "I did. And as sure as is my love for you, a traitor in the king's midst would be rooted out and punished."

I explain my plan, and the mirror's mouth curls up into a smile. Might this be the act that finally makes him love me as he did fifteen years ago?

My people did their jobs admirably.

The whispers of a traitor within the king's own circle reached the king's ears swiftly, but his concerns were not truly flared to life until our enemies to the north exploited a weakness that only the innermost circle would have been privy to. My husband raged after each loss - recouping that much gold and livestock would take years, not to mention the casualties and the country's reputation.

The king personally followed his guards around as each of our rooms were searched. Even though the king apologized profusely for the invasive search to his most beloved two ladies, myself and Snow White, the fire behind his eyes told me that he would not rest unless he found the traitor. Even if it broke his heart to do so.

And break his heart it did. Finding the damning letters in the ambassador's rooms, and subsequently in Snow White's chambers, was too much. He examined the evidence, and reexamined it again, losing hope with each word he read in her hand, for no one knew her handwriting better than he did. And in his heart, her shock upon discovery of the evidence only confirmed her guilt.

The stress was too much for him to bear. First he lost his voice. He had to ask me through notes written with shaking hand to give the orders I thought necessary to show the country that the king was just yet merciful, and he thanked me through silent, choking tears as I executed his commands.

When he saw Snow White, his only daughter, after her punishment, his heart could not stand the sight: raven hair darkened even further by black, clotted blood that matted the uneven locks into a ragged bird's nest on her scalp; the word treason cut into her cheeks, her forehead, her shoulders, and on down to her feet, assuring that anyone who saw her would know her for her betrayal; and the lips that were redder than ever with the blood that never seemed to stop dripping from the raw, gaping wound on her nose.

The king clutched at me in front of everyone, weeping soundlessly, and in that moment his heart failed him for the last time.

After the exiling and the funeral, only the mirror watches over me as I weep on my bed. It has always been so: after his tongue-lashings (and worse), after all the miscarriages, his voice wafts from the wall and whispers in my ear. At times comforting me, other times making me even more deeply aware of my flaws and weaknesses. But always he pulls me back from the brink of despair before I can give in to total darkness.

I am alone at last with my love. Now I am queen of the land, and my love can step out from the mirror to visit me any night he likes without fear of discovery. But I cannot stop asking him to show me how Snow is getting on. I know that I risk losing his love, but I cannot rest until I see that finally someone takes her in - the seven dwarf outcasts in the cottage in the woods. I watch through the mirror as they nurse her back to health and treat her wounds. After the worst of her fevers and infections have dissipated, they attempt to heal her scars: her skin is massaged with oils of every kind, and she is given a special kind of silver to drink and apply to her skin. They even rub newly mined ruby jewels on her stark white slashes.

They continue trying, but no folk remedy can make up for cuts that once showed the white of her bones. Each slash stands out, blunt and stark, against her creamy complexion. Her nose remains stunted and piggish. I am pained at her twisted upper lip, which pulls her mouth into an eternally crooked smile.

However, I did not try hard enough with her hair, or her spirit. She cuts her hair to even it out, and although the spiky hair initially resembles one of the coal miners, it regrows over the months, curlier, thicker, and shinier than before, framing her cursed heart-shaped face. Worse, her emotional damage seems to lessen under the gentle influence of her companions. At first I saw nothing but despair, shame, and hatred for herself, and I thought she might even end her own life, leaving me to live my own in peace. But the dwarves are simple folk, and they spend their time mining, singing, and teaching Snow to care for the injured forest creatures they encounter to and from the mines.

Snow latches on to these creatures, and she takes their healing quite personally. Each time an owl appears with an injured wing, or a deer with a hunter's arrow jutting from its flank, is a moment that Snow seems to forget herself. Slowly she forgets the scars, and, I suppose, the pain of her father's death, and she grows into her new face: fierce, gentle, loving, determined.

The mirror reminds me that he belongs, as always, to the fairest in the land. My stomach twists every time he repeats this.

"If you really wanted to keep me to yourself, you would not have cut off her nose; you would have killed her."

I tell myself that avoiding such a loss is worth the evil-doing, and I send Snow a basket of poisoned apples. I watch through the mirror as she shares the gift with a few of her deer friends, who die before she herself can take a bite.

And I watch her trace the guilt back to me.

It's even harder to take my eyes off the mirror now. I continue to watch as Snow raises an army of animals and citizens and marches to the castle. The mirror screams that I am an idiot, but I already know that. I stir only to order the general and guards to stand down. I do not know why I remain passive: maybe I will have my head cut off, maybe I will live in exile. Maybe Snow is as vindictive as I have become and will cut away my beauty too, though somehow I doubt it.

It matters not, none of it, because the mirror loves me. That is all I care about.

Snow storms up the stairs.

She throws my door open and finds me sitting at my vanity table with the mirror.

"Look at her confidence!" the mirror says. "That is a woman worthy of the throne. Strength and beauty."

My guts twist.

"But. Her face," I manage to say.

The mirror looks at me in a way I have never seen - with pity. "Beauty goes deeper than skin. I have been trying to tell you that for sixteen years."

The mirror looks away from me, dismissing me as simply as if I were a servant come to fetch soiled bed linens. Its gaze falls instead upon Snow, who stares back at him, transfixed. Hungry.

"Snow White," it says, bowing behind our reflections. "My Queen. How long I have waited for you. I will make you whole again."

I do not mean to punch the mirror. Or at least, I do not think I meant to.

First I saw my own hideous reflection. Then my arm just swung out.

It is possible that I was angry with the idea of losing my mirror to Snow White. It is also possible that I was trying to protect her, though that thought is ephemeral and I reject it because what would I be protecting her from?

I think I hoped to hit myself, to punish myself for being the weak, ugly, cowardly woman that I have become. But I am, of course, stupid enough to strike my beloved mirror.

He shrieks as his power is shattered, and for a single moment his cry is split into a thousand separate voices.

Snow White cries out too, as though she has also lost something precious. But what does she know of pain? I have been forced to destroy everyone I have ever loved. Her pure heart understands nothing of my pain.

Snow tries to pull me away from the mirror, but I will not be dissuaded or dragged off to prison or whatever she has planned for me, not until I have recovered every single broken piece. I know that the fragments are cutting into my skin, but I do not care. I will cradle every shard and every sliver, and press them close to my ear, in hopes of the faintest whisper from the man behind my mirror.

It is a small price to pay for love.

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