A Snow White retelling set in 1920s Germany
An Unknown World of Mist
“Here we are, Fräulein,” Herr Klein said, pulling the horse’s reins in front of the manor.
Ingeborg looked up from the cart seat at the tall, stately building that had been her family’s home for centuries. The mist shrouded it, but she could still guess its shape. The white façade. The red shingles, far up high. The dark eyes of the many windows. She had known, deep inside, that one day she would come back, and still, she was almost surprised to be here, so far from Berlin. Here, in the place she remembered, after the Great War had changed so many other things.
“The old place still stands proud, ain’t it?” Herr Klein said. His battered face was still the same Ingeborg remembered from her childhood.
“I had no doubt,” she said. Those words moved something inside her chest. A warm, surprising feeling in the cold November afternoon.
She jumped off the cart. The gravel crackled sharply under her city shoes.
Herr Klein twisted on the seat to retrieve her carpetbag and handed it to her.
“You travel light,” he said. His face full of weather wrinkles didn’t add anything to the comment, yet Ingeborg was compelled to say, “It’s only a short visit”.
Herr Klein gathered the reins in his lap and nodded just once.
“The length Fräulein Dagmar had gone to make the manor comfortable again. Everyone at the dorf speaks about it.” A smile flashed on his face. “We’ve all hoped—”
He didn’t say what they all hoped, though Ingeborg guessed. It was such a puzzling feeling. Knowing so many people hoped she’d come home, and yet being unable to decide where that home was.
She smiled. “Thanks for giving me a passage.”
Herr Klein nodded again.
“It was a pleasure, Fräulein. It’s a pleasure to see you back. Herr Weiss will be smiling, wherever he be.” He crossed himself and clicked his tongue, nudging the horse to turn on the gravel path.
“Maybe I’ll see you at Schneedorf,” he said, saluting her.
Ingeborg watched him fade in the mist, then she turned to the manor.
Schneezwerg. Her Schneezwerg.
But home? Again she felt a warmth inside her. Schneezwerg was dad. And dad was home.
But Dad was no more.
The knot that clutched at her throat surprised her. She always thought about dad, even after all these years, but here in Schneezwerg it was more painful.
The manor stood in the milky mist, tall and solid and yet unreal. It was fading, she thought. And then she realised, no, it is revealing itself, emerging from the mist.
Ingeborg raised her chin. Disregarding the front door up the imposing two-winged stairway, she turned around the corner and followed the gravel path lining the side of the manor, heading to the low terrace on the back.
The terrace. That’s how they had always called it, though it was more of a tiled widening only a couple steps higher than the meadow. A big French window opened on it. That was the way the family had always gotten in and out of the manor.
Mist swirled there too, almost moving up with her. She stepped up the stairs and started to move toward the door. In the middle of the terrace, she stopped, as if a hand had rested on her shoulder, staying her. She didn’t know why, but she had to. And she turned and looked out at the meadow.
It was a great, grey expanse of mist. A mystery world she didn’t know. Gone was the lush meadow of her childhood. The sunny, lazy days spent reading and playing and laughing under the blue sky while the crows called from afar. It was always summer and always sunny in her dad’s meadow in Ingeborg’s mind.
Now all was gone, devoured by the greyness, by time. And the War.
A darker line marked the far side. A thicker, darker ribbon that marked the passage from the meadow to the sky, even if today it seemed to float in the middle of that grey, misty world.
She set the bag down and walked to the edge of the terrace.
The manor stood at her back, solid and steady, as she looked out toward the foggy, hidden horizon. Her bones started to feel it, the long journey by train from Berlin, then the trip on Herr Klain’s cart, cold and dump, no matter how tight she wrapped herself in her coat and scarf. But still, she walked down the couple of steps, her eyes on the far, dark ribbon as she entered that world of mist. The partly frozen ground crackled under her feet. Snow would come any moment in this season, she could almost smell it in the mist.
On she walked without hesitation, and slowly, details emerged and the ribbon of mist took form, the one she knew.
She came to a halt. Her heart sank.
The maze. Dad’s maze. The lush game of wits, designed with boxwood, which she always remembered green under the sun. A place neat and clean and a joy to navigate, even if she didn’t know the ways. But her father did. He would bring her there, and they would walk together, her little hand in his big one. And her dad would tell her stories of magic and little people hiding in the boxwood, and she would laugh, hoping to see one of them.
What if I get lost in the maze, dad? She would occasionally ask, without fear, because she already knew the answer.
I will find you and I’ll bring you home.
Tears stung her eyes. Home. Dad had never made it home. Not even his body.
And now she stood there. Unmoving. Cold.
The wall of boxwood that should have been green and vibrant was dark and grey. The sun had abandoned it, the cold had set in so deep it now emanated from it. Out to her. To her feet, through the semi-frozen ground. To her face, through the mist that felt like melting snow.
Ingeborg’s eyes wandered on that alien thing she didn’t recognise and wandered haltingly for the entrance she knew was there.
She almost missed it.
It used to be an elegant archway in the wall of boxwood. Now branches and twigs had almost filled the opening, barring the way. The boxwoods were limp and grey, many branches were naked.
It looked dead.
Was this meant to be a message? Had she been away for too long? Had she been cut out?
Her feet hitched to move.
Don’t go, said a voice inside her. You’ll get lost. Dad is not here anymore, and you don’t know the way.
But one day you’ll know, her father told her from those far away sunny days. When the time comes, you’ll know the way, my child.
She walked up to the barred archway and pushed the branches on one side. The cracked and snapped. She wedged inside.
She found herself in a corridor, as she expected she would. The first part of the maze was a straight path. It used to be flanked by neatly trimmed walls of boxwood open to the blue sky.
It was narrow, now. The grey boxwood had overgrown here too, eating off space from the path. Their branches reached out like skeletal hands, naked and black in parts, covered with withered, grey leaves in others. The ground here had retained the cold of the night. It had turned the soil solid and exuded chilly tendrils of mist that whirled at Ingeborg’s feet. Overhead, the boxwood had grown their branches to nearly touch each other, obscuring the sky.
This was not the place she knew. It was a foreign land she knew nothing about.
You’ll get lost.
No! I know the way up to the first bend.
And she walked on the ice-solid ground, which moaned and crackled under her city shoes. Her gloved hand pushed twigs and thicker limbs out of her way, though quite a few tugged at her woollen coat.
At the bend, she turned right.
Surely she remembered more than this. She had been here with dad so many times. She was a child, that was true. Her dad had guided her, that was also true. But they would come here every day. She couldn’t have lost everything.
She walked on, careful where she put her feet, pushing twigs away, struggling with the bigger limbs.THE FROZEN MAZE – Episode 1 – An Unknown World of Mist – Ingeborg goes back from Berlin to her homeland. In the mist and the cold, her father's maze is withered and dark #ReadNow #histfic #fairytaleretelling #readingcommunity Click To Tweet
At the first fork, she turned left and then she realised she was looking for something. Something emerging in her mind from those far away childhood days. She pushed on, turned at the bend without thinking and there, in the shadow of the mist, she saw a deeper shadow. Where the wall of boxwood bent again, a black form squatted.
The layers of mist shifted away as she came closer and what looked a boulder at first glance, which stood, taller than it was wide, right on the bend of the path, took the form of a sturdy man.
Big shoulders bent as if under a weight or if resting after a long day of toil. A long, big beard. His garment was so weathered that it was difficult to say what it was. Her father had always said it was armour and the long object the dwarf grasped in both hands and kept close to himself, ending between the tips of his feet was a sword. The headgear that made his head look round was a helmet, the rim around his eyes the slits in it.
But Ingeborg had always thought those were spectacles and the headgear must be some kind of cap. The object in his hands must be a staff, and he bent his head not weary from the fight, but ponderous of what he was learning.
Weise, the Wise One, she had always called him. And she would come here in the hot summer days, sat squatting at his feet and read books, pretending he looked over her, ready to explain whatever she didn’t understand.
He had looked an adult to her kid’s eyes, but now she saw it merely reached to her breast.
She rubbed his round head affectionately with a gloved hand then rested her cheek on the top of it. It was cold and grey and lifeless, like all the rest of the maze.
But then, warmth awoke in the cold stone and rose to her. Not as if her body had warmed the stone. It was rather as if the warmth of summer had wakened in him and lazily stirred, radiated out of the dwarf.
Ingeborg didn’t move. She kept her arms around Weise, her cheek pressed on the top of his head. And listened, trying to catch – something.
Eventually, she squatted on the ground and looked up into his face as she would do as a child.
“Were you waiting for me, Weise?” she whispered, looking right into his face. “Do you still remember me?”