A Snow White retelling set in 1920s Germany
Gingerbread Biscuits Warm the Heart
Ingeborg snapped up straight.
A smile crept on her lips.
She ran back through the maze, protecting her face from the reaching twigs with her raised hands, following the call. Out of the maze and over the grey meadow, her city shoes sinking in the damp soil. The manor re-emerged from the mists and there, on the terrace, standing next to her abandoned carpetbag, stood a lonely figure wrapped in a simple coat. Ingeborg laughed as she ran.
Small and lithe, Aunt Dagmar wore a thick coat of rough undyed wool and a matching scarf. She wore a cloche too. A startling red cloche that any women would be proud to wear in Berlin. Her bobbed hair escaped in curls from under it.
She spread her arms, a big smile on her face, and called as Ingeborg reached the stairs, “Ingebog! Child!”
Ingeborg threw herself in her arms and Dagmar embraced her in a warm, motherly hug.
They both laughed, then Dagmar pushed Ingeborg back and looked into her face. She had to crane her neck slightly to do so.
“No,” Dagmar said, a light in her eyes that spoke of pride, as well as sadness. “Not a child anymore.”
“I’ve missed you, Aunty,” Ingeborg said and squeezed Dagmar once more in her arms.
Thin wrinkles started to show at the corner of her eyes, but she still looked young. She had been many years younger than her brother. Her face looked impish under that red cloche of hers.
“I knew you would be in the maze,” Dagmar said. “When I saw your bag, I knew.”
Ingeborg sobered up, her hands still clasping Dagmar’s. “The maze is so different. It looks like a different place.”
Dagmar nodded gravely. “Many things have changed, my child.” But then she smiled. “But come inside. It’s so cold here.”
Ingeborg picked up her bag, and they crossed the terrace, an arm on each other’s waist. Inside the French door, Ingeborg stopped once more.
The ballroom. This was the liveliest room of the house when she lived here. Dad always had something going on. People would come for dancing nights, concerts, readings, social meeting, sometimes travelling hours from all the surrounding estates. All the lights would be lit and reflect on the many mirrors. There would be tables of refreshments and green plants everywhere, even in the middle of winter.
No plants, now. It was too cold and too dark. So gloomy that Ingeborg could scarcely see in the furthest corners of the big room. She could guess the gleams of the mirrors and the shine of the polished floor, but nothing resembled the joyful place she remembered.
Dagmar stood beside her. She rubbed a hand on Ingeborg’s arm.
“Don’t mind the cold,” she said, a sad, almost apologetic smile on her face. “We cannot afford to heat the entire house. I’ve just had the rooms we’ll use be heated. Come to the kitchen. We’ll have a hot cup of tea and get these cold clothes off of us.”
Ingeborg nodded slowly. What had she expected? She didn’t know. Her adult mind knew this was what it was likely to be, but a child part of her still longed for her Dad’s place. She followed Dagmar into what were once the staff’s quarters. Their footsteps clicked on the floor, the only sound she could hear. They passed under an arch and walked down a large corridor only lit by a few candles. But at the end of the corridor, Ingeborg could see a yellow, warm light coming from the kitchen.
Her heart warmed.
She had spent so many days running up and down this corridor as a child, as well as in the kitchen, stealing biscuits and getting in everyone’s way. Dad had often reproached her for this, but Hannah, the cook, would laugh. Don’t bother, Herr Weiss, she would say. All sensible people in this kitchen. Some sense will rub on her too. And Dad would shake his head and let Hannah have her way. That’s why little Inge had adored Hannah. For that… and for her cookies.
As she approached the light, she heard the sound of kitchen tools. At the door, she hesitated one moment, realising her heart had quickened its pace, then, with a sigh, she entered after Dagmar.
A big woman was making most of the noise at the stove. A girl was putting away some crockery. They both turned when Ingeborg and Dagmar entered. Hannah, at the stove, gave a little cry and pressed both hands on her mouth. She stood still for a moment, then walked toward Ingeborg, spreading her arms.
With a knot in her throat, Ingeborg let go of her bag and opened her arms too.
“Meine kleine Inge,” Hannah said. She hugged her tight, rubbing Ingeborg’s back with a big hand, then pulled back and capped Ingeborg’s face. Tears gleamed in her eyes. “My little Inge,” she said. “Look at you. Look at you.” She pressed the fingers of her right hand on her mouth, then rested her hand on Dagmar’s arm. “Isn’t she something, Dagmar?”
Dagmar chuckled and patted one hand on Hannah’s shoulder.
Ingeborg couldn’t muster her voice. Hannah was so different and still so much herself. She was bigger, more round, which gave her an even stronger air of Mother Goose. Her hair was almost all gone grey, and wrinkles had appeared around her eyes and face. But for the rest, she was the same. The same smile, the same warmth and – Ingeborg soon saw – the same down-to-earth attitude.
Hannah waved Dagmar’s hand away, sighed deeply and said, “And look at me, fussing around like an old goose.” She straightened her back. “As if I didn’t know you’d become a beautiful young woman. Of course you did. Just like your mother.”
Then she waved her hand in front of her too, as if to chase away her own words. “Ah, Got! I must be getting old and emotional. Shed that city garb of yours and get a hot cup of tea. Such a damp, cold day, today.”
She turned to get back to the stove, but stopped halfway, put her hands on her hips and scowled toward the girl.
“Elsie, shut that mouth and stop staring. That’s quite rude.”
The girl jumped and closed her mouth, which had been gaping as her eyes had widened, taking in Ingeborg’s shocking appearance. She must have been maybe fourteen.
“Hannah, if you don’t stop being so rough with the kid, rumours that you are a troll will never subside,” Dagmar joked as she sat at the big table.
“Rumours?” Hannah said. “I thought I’d settled that years ago!” Then she turned to Elsie. “Come on, gal, make yourself useful. Take Fräulein Inge’s bag to her room.”
Without a word, Elsie picked up the bag.
“Oh, there’s no need—”Ingeborg started, but she stopped when she saw Elsie’s confused look. Then she smiled. “Well, thanks, if you would do that for me.”
Elsie gave her a strange look, then disappeared out the door with her carpetbag.
“You shouldn’t confuse the kid with your modern woman’s attitude,” Hannah grinned as Ingeborg sat next to Dagmar.
“She’s already shocked by your looks,” Dagmar grinned too. “Imagine when she sees Grete.”
“She will think she’s a movie star,” Hannah said while setting two cups out for the tea. Then she raised her hands and eyes to the ceiling. “Got hilfe!”
Ingeborg playfully waved Hannah’s words away. “Anyone would think Grete’s a movie star.”
“Quite true. Quite, true,” Hannah agreed. She brought a steaming kettle at the table followed by a platter of her famous gingerbread biscuits. Their smell melted Ingeborg’s heart.
Dagmar rolled the mug between her palms, her eyes lost in the depths of the dark tea. Ingeborg sipped her own, enjoying the spiced flavour and lovely warmth. She knew what Dagmar was thinking before she spoke.
“Do you know why Grete wanted to see both of us here?”
Ingeborg shook her head.
“We don’t see much of each other these days. She’s so busy with her business and I with uni.”THE FROZEN MAZE Episode 2 – Gingerbread Biscuits Warm the Heart – When Ingeborg enters her father's home, she finds unexpected shadows, but also the warmth of a family she has long missed #readingcommunity #historicafiction #fantasy Click To Tweet
Dagmar considered the matter, her mug hovering near her lips.
“Are you worried?” Ingeborg asked.
Dagmar arched her brows. “Worried? No. Why should I be?”
Ingeborg let the warmth of the tea chase the cold away from her fingers.
“Must be about Schneezwerg, don’t you think?”
Dagmar frowned. There was some worry in the crease of her brows.
“I didn’t expect to find it like this,” Ingeborg said in a whisper. She raised her gaze to meet her aunt’s “I thought you might have moved back here. I mean. Why not?”
Dagmar shook her head slightly, almost sadly.
“Nobody has lived here since the war ended. I look after it with Hannah and a few other people’s help. But it’s such a big, empty house.” Her voice trailed off.
A short silence.
Ingeborg felt like shifting in the chair, in that silence.
“I didn’t imagine this would all be so different. And the maze,” she finally said. “It’s so wild and unkempt.”
“Takes more than a gardener to fix that,” Hannah mumbled from the stove and Dagmar shot her a warning look that Hannah met fearlessly.
Dagmar turned to Ingeborg. “Finish your tea. Then get some rest, you’ll be tired. It’s a long journey from Berlin, and not all that comfortable. I’ll tell Elsie to prepare a bath for you.”
Ingeborg nodded. “Thanks. That would be nice.”