Snow White

Once upon a time, a woman stretched as she woke. She was not a princess clad in iridescent silks, nor a merchant's daughter in warm wool. She wasn't even a scullery maid wrapped in a coat of many furs and secrets tucked inside nuts within the pockets. She was merely a young woman, dressed in a rough brown homespun dress that had seen years of work. The pockets were worn nearly bare, so her fingers went through a hole in the fabric. Her hair wasn't golden or fiery red. It couldn't even be distinguished by the name chestnut or sable. It was brown and cut short so it wouldn't interfere as she went about her day.

Rather, it would be brown if not for the patina of dust that had settled upon her whole body. It whispered off as she stirred, leaving her with no more than a tacky coating and a pile a foot deep below her.

She had been working, she remembered that at least. Her father was the master of the hunt. She'd been doing him a favor, tallying the meat and bedding his hounds would need to get through the winter, although her master the seneschal had had a number of other tasks she'd needed to complete to prepare for the princess's natal celebration.

"Hounds don't care about lords," her father had been fond of saying. "They just care about the meat in their bellies and the fire on the hearth." He'd reminded her of that when she'd protested, listing her other duties.

There was a hummock of dust at her feet. The maiden brushed it off. There hadn't been dust like this when she'd fallen asleep. She couldn't even remember drowsing off, but she supposed she must have.

She screamed, loud enough to send the dust toppling off of torches and beams, but cut off as soon as she started. There was her favorite hound, dead at her feet. No, she examined the creature further. There was the slow susurration of peaceful slumber. Its rib cage expanded and contracted ever so slightly. It wasn't dead. It was asleep. It hadn't stirred when she screamed, nor when she pushed its shoulder. Not even when she fished out a prized strip of dried meat and pressed it against a sensitive nose, which was gritty with the flakes that had encrusted the once damp skin.

The stillness of the chamber encroached on her senses. There was always a hound padding around, a huntsman tending his gear, or her father berating the lackadaisies for not working quickly enough for his liking. The only things stirring were she herself and the fine particles shimmering through the golden morning sun.