Because the Wicked Queen was the queen and therefore very important and demanding, she would only eat meat from an animal whose blood still ran warm. For this reason she had a Royal Huntsman, whose job it was to provide the freshest of the fresh meat. He had to be a jolly good Huntsman as he had to catch woodland creatures each and every day, right before each meal time. Many huntsmen had been ‘sacked’ (beheaded by the Royal Executioner) before him, when they failed to meet the Wicked Queen’s meat requirements. The current huntsman at this time was a young man called Horacio. Horacio was quite new and still learning his craft, but he was determined not to get ‘sacked’ (beheaded), because he had quite the soft spot for Snow White, and saw himself as a potential suitor should he impress the Wicked Queen sufficiently. Horacio had a sneaky stash of fresh-ish meat which he’d bought from the local butcher just in case he ever failed to bring home a fresh catch (which he had done several times). He would provide the fresh-ish meat to the Royal Chef who knew no different and would turn it into a magnificent banquet for the Wicked Queen who was also unwise to the trick, busy as she was demanding new salt and pepper shakers to hurl at the poor, bruised princess.

The Wicked Queen stormed into the palace, flung the doors to her Royal Throne Room open and threw herself onto her golden throne like a petulant toddler whose parents had denied him chocolate before dinner. She ordered the Royal Gonger to summon the Royal Huntsman. The royal gonger picked up his gong stick and struck the large golden gong three times. The sound of the gong echoed throughout the palace as stone walls have excellent acoustics, and before long Horacio the huntsman was bowing at the Wicked Queen’s feet. ‘You summoned me Your Majesty?’ he asked eagerly, whilst kissing her purple velvet enclosed toes. ‘Yes,’ she replied slowly, ‘I have a rather important task of you. Royal Gonger, leave us please.’ The Royal Gonger slowly set down his gong stick and walked backwards out of the Royal Throne Room, bowing and grovelling to the Wicked Queen as he left.

Horacio tried hard not to look as anxious as he felt. Never before had he been alone with the Wicked Queen and he was nervous as to what she might ask. A woman has needs and he could tell she was probably fit in her day and he’d be flattered by an immoral request of course, but he wouldn’t want to scupper his chances with Snow White by doing the deed with her step-mother. Also, she was pushing thirty and kind of old….

‘Huntsman,’ the Wicked Queen interrupted his thoughts, ‘you will do me this one task. If you succeed you will be spared from ever being ‘sacked’ in the future.’ Horacio’s ears pricked up. That’s quite an offer given that he wasn’t that good at hunting…. ‘I have a little problem that appears to keep getting bigger and bigger.’ Horacio gulped. ‘I have decided there is only one cure for this problem.’ Is it Horacio or is it getting hot in there? ‘My problem must be removed. Do you understand?’ Horacio did not. However, it is not proper to answer a Queen (especially not a Wicked one) with a negative answer, so Horacio replied that he would love to say that he understood all of Her Majesty’s majestic words, and he was certain that they were truly magnificent words and just and true. The Wicked Queen smiled, ‘I’m glad you feel that way, huntsman. For my problem is Snow White.’ Horacio gulped again, utterly flummoxed but equally concerned (although in a different, less immoral way than earlier). ‘Snow White must die,’ the Wicked Queen graciously clarified. She pointed her long, red fingernail at him, ‘You will be the one to fix my problem,’ she continued. ‘Do you understand now?’ Horacio nodded aghast. ‘Good.’ The Wicked Queen reached under her throne and pulled out a gem encrusted box, just a little larger than a fist. ‘To ensure that you will not lie to me, you will bring me her heart in this box, she went on, as casually as though she had asked for a letter to be collected from the village. Horacio gulped a little harder. ‘Oh and you will do this,’ the Wicked Queen added menacingly. ‘Or else you will be beheaded, make no mistake about that. You have until sundown tomorrow.’

‘Your Wondrous Gracious Majesty,’ whimpered Horacio, I think perhaps I misunderstood the earlier gong. You see, I thought you’d summoned me, the Royal Huntsman, but it seems quite clear to me now that you wanted the Royal Executioner. My deepest apologies, Your Majesty, I shall fetch him for you now.’ He made to stand but the Wicked Queen stopped him with her sceptre across his shoulder blades.

‘But then should he fail, who shall execute the Royal Executioner? You have until sundown tomorrow Huntsman. Go!’ The Royal Huntsman stood and slowly backed out of the Royal Throne Room, bowing and whimpering as he went.

‘She’s a fucking psycho,’ he yelled at the Royal Gonger once the Royal Throne room doors were shut behind him. ‘Proper fucking mental!’ The Royal Gonger refused to rise to this in case it was a test of his loyalty to the Wicked Queen. But he’d been listening at the door of course and knew it to be true.

All the while, Snow White was sat in the library reading her favourite books about science, maths and feminism. The King had frowned upon women reading and had discouraged her from learning difficult manly things like reading, especially about hard things such as science. He strongly felt she should only read stories about puppies, as anything more difficult or worrying may cause unsightly lines across her forehead, which women shouldn’t have, but eventually conceded that perhaps reading would be a useful skill for reading cookery books when baking, not that Snow White ever needed to bake when the Royal Chef was there to cater to her every gastric whim. Therefore he allowed the Royal Teacher to teach the princess a little reading of pre-approved books as well as cross stitch and darning. The Wicked Queen too did not approve of her reading as she herself had been too pretty as a child to need to learn how to read and it was bad enough that Snow White was pretty, the last thing the Wicked Queen needed was to her to be clever as well.

The Royal Huntsman took himself off to his bedroom to ponder his options. Killing Snow White probably wasn’t worth a promise of never being ‘sacked’ (beheaded) by the wicked queen, when she could change her mind anyway at any time. What could he do?? All night he pondered and pondered and pondered (in between snivelling and crying), until he pondered himself to sleep, where he was haunted by dreams of Snow White’s heart beating from her chest, a pulsating white mass oozing with blue blood; and visions of staring down into a wicker basket, the swish of metal through air, then the feel of cold metal on his neck, as suddenly he stares up at the sky, then black. He awoke in a cold sweat. ‘Fuck this,’ he thought, ‘the idea of tearing out snow white’s heart is a bit awful, but the idea of losing my head is a bit worse. She’s not even that fit!’

And so come dawn the Royal Huntsman was ready. He gathered up the jewel encrusted box, his most favourite trusty dagger and practiced his most menacing looking face in the mirror and went to find Snow White.

He found her in the library. ‘Geek,’ he thought, almost glad he hadn’t succeeded in bagging himself one of those women that insist on thinking. ‘Excuse me Your Royal Highness,’ Horacio began. The princess didn’t look up. ‘Ahem,’ not so much as a flicker of acknowledgement. ‘AHEM! Your Highness?!’ Snow White slowly lowered her book and raised her eyes to him.

‘What? I’m at a good bit!’

‘Apologies your highness-‘

‘Call me Snow. I’m sure we’ve discussed this.’

‘Yes…. Snow. Erm… it’s just… I thought we could go for a walk?’

‘Oh, Stepmother won’t like that. She doesn’t like me fraternising with the help. Or anybody…’

‘Oh but it was her idea!’

‘Oh? Ok then.’ She marked her place in the book and hopped over to him giddily. ‘I’m excited to get out of the palace,’ she squealed. ‘Where are we going?’

‘Picnic,’ said the Royal Huntsman sheepishly.

***

As they walked through the kingdom to the Dark Forest Snow White chattered incessantly about her thoughts, opinions and feelings about all manner of things the huntsman didn’t care about. All the while he grew more irritated by her. He had thought that perhaps he might ask her to elope and both of them could be spared, but he decided that that would probably be a fate worse than death and he’d be much better off just hacking her heart out as the old bird wanted.

Snow White picked out the perfect spot for a picnic, under the shade of a large tree, surrounded by singing woodland creatures circling around the base of the trunk. She placed a picnic blanket on the ground at knelt down. Before she could blink she had bunny rabbits climbing up her skirt, birdies tweeting loudly down her ears and an owl nesting in her hair. ‘Eugh. I wish this would stop happening.’ She sprinkled some rat poison around the blanket and shooed the creatures away. ‘You look nervous,’ Snow White said to the Royal Huntsman. She desperately hoped the awkward, spotty little thing wasn’t about to hit on her. Awks.

‘Do I? No no. No. Not nervous. No…,’ he stuttered nervously.

Horacio plonked himself down beside Snow White. ‘Look, the thing is… your stepmother… she sort of asked me for a favour. Quite a big favour I must say.’

‘Oh huntsman, you really should do whatever she’s asked or else she’ll ‘sack’ you.’

‘Oh yes, she made that abundantly clear.’ He whipped his shiny dagger out of the picnic basket and gazed down at his reflection. ‘The thing is, I don’t know whether you’ve noticed but… she kind of hates you a bit…’

‘Oh. Yeah. Intimidated by me innit.’

‘Well, the other thing is that she sort of wants you dead.’

‘Eh?’

‘Yeah…’

Snow White glanced at the dagger the huntsman was playing with nervously. ‘You?! That’s why you bought me on this fucking picnic?! HAVE YOU EVEN GOT ANY SAUSAGE ROLLS IN THERE??!’

‘Oh. No. Kind of didn’t see the point,’ he mumbled.

‘Not even a last fucking meal, you shit?!’

‘Well…’

‘You should be ashamed, Horacio!’

‘I sort of thought we could maybe elope instead…?’ He trailed off awkwardly, trying to diffuse the situation.

‘Elope? With you?! You didn’t even bring me a slice of bastard quiche! Do you have a ring?’

‘Erm…’

‘You see fit to propose to a princess with no fucking ring?!’

‘Well it’s a marriage of convenience so…’

‘I’m not even worth a real marriage?!’ Horacio had never heard the princess get angry before and therefore never realised how shrill and sweary she became.

‘This is why women shouldn’t read and think,’ he thought.

‘Fuck that shit,’ the princess shrieked, climbing to her feet.

‘Where are you going,’ asked the huntsman.

‘Well away from you, you murderous, blood thirsty loon!’

‘That’s not fair! I wanted to try not to kill you! It’s the Wicked Queen that’s murderous and blood thirsty, it was her idea don’t forget!’

‘Oh I know that! She’s a fucking psycho!’

‘That’s what I said-!’

‘But she’s not stood in front of me pie-less and waving a fucking dagger in my face is she!’

‘Should’ve brought a pie,’ he thought.

‘Give me the dagger.’ She held out her hand expectantly.

‘What? No! Why?’

‘You dragged me out into the forest, I’m a damsel in distress who now has to flee deeper into the Dark Forest, the least you can do is give me something to protect myself.’

‘B-b-but I’m supposed to kill you, not help you escape,’ he stammered. ‘She’ll kill me!’

‘Meh, she’ll never know so long as I’m out of her hair.’

‘Oh, no. See, she wanted your heart in this box.’ He revealed the fist-sized case.

‘The sick fuck!’

‘Yeah… soooo obviously I need to kill you.’

‘Least. Romantic. Proposal. Ever.’

‘Sorry…’

‘Dagger!’

‘But what am I supposed to do?! Your heart!’

‘Oh my God. Really?! Kill a fucking pig you moron and use that heart!’

‘With what? You’ll have my dagger!’

‘THEN BUY IT FROM THE BASTARD BUTCHERS!’

He flushed. She knew his secret. Reluctantly he handed the dagger over. Show White snatched the dagger and before the huntsman knew it he was in a freakishly strong headlock with the cold dagger pressed to his Adam’s apple. ‘You do not get to live in my kingdom,’ snarled Snow White. ‘You will go to the castle and give the Wicked Queen a pig’s heart so that she doesn’t come looking for me, and then you too will flee. I don’t care where you go, but when I return to reclaim my kingdom I will not hear a whisper that you have been loitering.’

‘Y-y-yes Your Highness,’ blubbered Horacio.

‘How does he ever hunt anything? He’s such a wimp,’ wondered Snow White, rolling her eyes.

Snow White stalked off in a very cross manner, heading deeper into the dark forest. Horacio headed back to the palace feeling somewhat dejected. On his way, he called into his butcher friend and bought a pig heart, along with some venison for the Wicked Queen’s dinner.

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