The Queen was not the type to show excitement; was usually, in fact, a study in ‘cool nonchalance’, or – as some would have it – ‘icy indifference’. But today King Leo could tell she was excited, and he visibly winced as he saw that excitement unleashed upon the palace staff.
‘Careful, you fool – drop it and I’ll have your head… Watch the walls, you idiots – one scratch in the plaster or chip in the woodwork and I’ll have your guts for pigswill…’
The mirror had cost a fortune – a King’s ransom, if you’ll excuse the pun – but King Leo thought it money well spent. Anything that brought his wife a moment’s happiness and himself a moment’s respite from her venomous tongue was an investment worth its weight in gold. This being such an extravagant gift he had played it for all of its worth, keeping the Queen guessing (and therefore keen to court his favour) for several months before finally submitting to her whim. His timing had been honed by years of experience, him gauging the point perfectly at which her favour would turn to fever, her munificence to malice. Ahhh, good while it lasted, though, and now hopefully to be followed by a period of obsessive fascination with her new acquisition that would leave her too distracted to notice him at all.
At last the Mirror was positioned in the Queen’s bedroom. The courtiers were ushered out, and with not a moment’s hesitation she ripped away the protective bubble-wrap cover.
‘Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?’ she asked.
The dark depths swam with tendrils of smoke, a pale face and mouth unfolding from the swirling mists.
The Queen had anticipated a deep, booming presence; either that or a low, sibilant hiss. She was surprised, then, by the high register and the elongated vowels, by the slight lisp and fey delivery:
‘Well, I don’t know about you, love, but I rather like the look of that stable boy who helped carry me in from the courtyard…’