top of page
  • hprewettauthor

Aneira and the Seven Gnomes, Part One

Last October, I decided to change up my typical Inktober challenge by creating a fairytale retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I released one illustration and one part of the story daily for the month of October (and a little bit after, due to time constraints and story problems). Now, I've decided to put it all together here on the blog for easy reading. I've divided it into two parts (the link to part two is at the end of this post).

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed creating it!

Once upon a time, in the kingdom of Arthdodd, a young princess named Aneira lived in a beautiful castle. Her father, King Henry, was a kind, grave man who ruled his people justly. Her mother, Queen Stella, had won the king’s heart years ago after losing her slipper at a royal ball. But that is another story for another time.

Aneira’s name meant “snow princess,” as she was born in the wintertime, her mother and father’s favorite season of all. She was ten years old, and the future held only hope and light. Her mother was soon to have a baby, and she and Aneira dreamed of all the adventures Aneira and her new little sibling would have together. Her father always found time to go riding with her or climb their favorite fruit trees in the castle orchard. They picked apples as crisp as the first day of autumn and pears as tender and refreshing as a cold drink on a hot summer’s day.

Her best friend was her bear companion, Marsican.

On her eighth birthday, Aneira’s grandmother Eira had brought Marsican to her. “He will be your companion and protector, Little One. Treat him with kindness and love, and you will never have a better friend.” And then, upon Aneira’s request, she once again told the story of how she and her sister, Great Aunt Rosemunde, had met Grandfather Terrance when he was still under enchantment and forced to take the form of a bear, all because of an evil gnome who stole his treasure and put a curse on him.

“When the spell was broken and your grandfather reclaimed his throne, he banished all gnomes from the kingdom and decreed that all the bears of Arthdodd were to be regarded with honor. He even made a request to the Unseen Prince, ruler over all the land and sea, Who walks hidden among His people, to grant all bears of Arthdodd the power of speech from that day forward. And the Unseen Prince agreed.”

“And since that day,” Aneira said, “there has always been at least one bear living at our castle.”

Grandmother Eira smiled. “That is correct, Little One. Today, Marsican will receive that honor.”

Aneira and Marsican did everything together. His calm and steady nature balanced her impulsive, passionate ways, and her thrill for life and all its wonders opened his mind to all that life could be.

Marsican became even more dear to her after Grandmother Eira and Grandfather Terrance, the beloved “Bear King,” disappeared a year later on an ill-fated journey. Though Aneira’s father led numerous searches to find them, they were never discovered. When she was missing them terribly, Marsican would tell her one of Grandmother Eira’s stories or sing one of her songs to comfort her.

***

The autumn before Aneira turned eleven, her baby brother made his short appearance in the world. But there were complications, and by the end of the ordeal, Aneira’s mother and baby brother both were lost.

Her father was inconsolable in his grief for his wife and baby son, and a deep pain gripped Aneira’s own heart. First her grandparents, now her mother and baby brother. Some days, she could do no more than hug Marsican and cry. Her maids and tutors tried to comfort her. One of them said that the Unseen Prince must have had a reason to allow such a thing. If that was so, Aneira wanted nothing to do with him. She determined from that moment to close her heart to any of the ridiculous stories about him.

A year full of sorrow passed for all who loved the fair queen. But then, one day, as King Henry returned from a hunting trip, he caught sight of a beautiful woman who spoke so gently and kindly to him, he found himself captivated.

He began seeking her out every day, his heart lightening with each meeting. Within a few months’ time, they were married, and Arthdodd had a new queen.

Aneira was happy for her father, but she still missed her mother terribly. And though Queen Brenna was stunningly beautiful and seemed kind enough on most days, there were times when Aneira would see a strange glint in her stepmother’s eyes when she looked at her, or a sudden cold expression when the king’s back was turned. Aneira thought perhaps it was her imagination until Marsican made mention of it himself.

From that time on, Aneira distanced herself from her stepmother. And as her father was wrapped up in his affection for his new wife, she found herself distanced from him as well.

***

One day, in the winter of Aneira’s twelfth year, the king went on a long hunting trek in the snow with his most skilled huntsmen and guards. He returned with a deep cough that turned to a fever. Though the queen nursed him night and day, he only got worse.

Aneira tried to see him, but the queen insisted he needed his rest. He grew weaker and weaker.

Then one morning, Aneira’s tutor, eyes red from crying, woke her. She laid out a black dress for Aneira to wear. Her father, the king, was dead.

***

Aneira grew numb with her loss. Marsican faithfully stayed by her side, giving what little comfort he could. At night, he curled up outside her chamber doors and slept, only a call away should she need him.

Queen Brenna wandered the halls lethargically with dim eyes, but Aneira didn’t trust her apparent sorrow. There was a serenity to her countenance, especially when she thought no one was watching.

Aneira made sure she was always watching.


Aneira would not inherit the throne until she came of age at eighteen, meaning that for the next six years, her stepmother would serve as queen. Aneira wasn’t ready to rule a kingdom, but she wished she could be free of her stepmother before then. Now that her father was gone, the queen no longer hid behind a mask of kindness. She treated Aneira with cold indifference at the best of times. Aneira had no doubt that her stepmother hated her.

Queen Brenna spent more and more time in her own new chambers that were forbidden to anyone else. Once, when Aneira was on her way to meet Marsican, one of the Queen’s doors stood partially open. Curious, Aneira peeked inside the room.

The queen stood before a huge mirror. She gazed into it and said, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” The mirror answered back in an empty, glassy voice, devoid of all emotion. “You, oh Queen, are the fairest in the land.”

Aneira took a step forward to see more, but Queen Brenna caught a glimpse of her in the mirror’s reflection and turned on her like a wild animal.

“How dare you spy on me!” she shouted. “Never let me catch you peeking into my private chambers again or I’ll have you thrown in the dungeon!”

Aneira turned and fled in terror. Behind her, Queen Brenna slammed the door. Aneira didn’t stop running until she found Marsican outside.

***

The days, weeks, and months crawled by. Aneira studied with her tutor, rambled the orchards and forest with Marsican, and did her best to stay out of her stepmother’s way.

What little she saw of the way Brenna ruled her subjects made her furious. The queen was neither kind nor moderate, and the people and the land all suffered. Aneira vowed that when she took the throne, she would make things right again in Arthdodd. In the meantime, she did what she could to help her people without the queen’s knowledge.

The day of her sixteenth birthday, her tutor informed her that the queen required her presence in the throne room. Fighting her unease, Aneira went to her stepmother. The dark eagerness in her stepmother’s eyes filled her with apprehension.

“I’ve arranged a picnic in the forest for your birthday.”

It was unlike her stepmother to be so generous. Aneira was no fool. There was something else her stepmother had in mind.

“I’m surprised you remembered my birthday at all, Stepmother,” Aneira said evenly.

A flicker of irritation crossed Brenna’s face before her expression smoothed over. “Of course I remembered, my dear. My huntsman will accompany you, and I will join the party later.”

Aneira glanced at the huntsman, who dipped his head in a stiff bow. “Very well,” she said. Marsican and I will save you some cake.”

The queen inspected her fingernails. “Marsican is otherwise engaged. Perhaps he can join you later.”

Aneira clenched her fists. This was all wrong. But she nodded. “I will see you both when you come, then.”

She had to think of a plan, and quickly.

***

The moment they left the castle gate, the huntsman grabbed her arm. Aneira flinched and started to pull away, but his words stopped her.

“It’s a trap, your highness.”

She glared at him. “Of course it’s a trap.”

He frowned, his eyes pained. “The queen wants you dead.”

She froze.

“But I do not,” he continued. “Your stepmother told me to capture Marsican and keep him out of the way, but I’ve arranged for him to meet us just beyond the edge of the forest instead. There is a path that leads toward the mountains. Do not stop until you cross the borders of Arthdodd. Perhaps beyond our kingdom, you will be safe until this madness passes.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

He bowed his head. “I may be your stepmother’s huntsman, but I was your father’s first. I am loyal to the royal line. I will not betray my king or ignore the Unseen Prince’s ways. Please think kindly of me when you take your rightful place as queen.”

“I have no interest in the Unseen Prince’s ways,” Aneira said firmly. Then, seeing the surprise on the huntsman’s face, she grasped his hand and continued in a gentler voice. “But I thank you for your bravery. And I promise I will not forget you when I am queen.”

They hurried into the forest where Marsican stood waiting. Then, with a quick goodbye and another thank you, Aneira climbed on Marsican’s back and the two of them raced deep into the forest.

***

They traveled all that day and late into the night, until Aneira could barely keep her eyes open and nearly fell from Marsican’s back in her weariness. They crossed Arthdodd’s borders and reached a thinning, dry part of the forest at the base of the mountains.

Just when it seemed too dark to go on, a faint light appeared through the trees. A small cabin, hewn of felled logs and tucked just beside the mountains, spilled warm, golden light into the darkness.

Aneira slid from Marsican’s back and knocked at the door, hoping whoever lived inside would take pity on them and offer them rest for the night.

The door opened, and a boy only as high as Aneira’s waist answered. Not a boy, Aneira realized. A gnome.

A shiver ran through her, remembering the evil gnome who had cursed her grandfather. But she was so tired. Surely not all gnomes were evil.

“Please, sir,” she asked wearily. “Could you spare some room and a little food for two weary travelers?”

“One,” Marsican corrected. “I will shelter in the trees and find my own food.”

At the sight of the bear, the gnome’s eyes widened, and he leapt backwards.

“He means no harm,” Aneira assured him. “He is my guardian and companion.”

Two more heads popped up behind the first gnome. Then three more at the window. And then another at the other window. A female head.

“Will you all stop gawking and let her in?” she said. “The poor thing looks ready to fall over.”

“We don’t take kindly to strangers,” the first gnome said stiffly.

“Especially strangers who befriend bears and other such folk,” said another.

“Stuff and nonsense,” said the girl gnome. “We’ll sort that out later. She doesn’t look like she could harm a mouse, and the bear will stay outside. She can share my room if you’re all so frightened.” She reached out and gently took Aneira by the arm. “Come in, dear one. My name’s Maude. This way.” She turned to the others. “Mibbs, put the kettle on. And Tell, slice up some of that leftover bread and cheese from dinner.”

The two gnomes she ordered around grumbled but obeyed. Aneira had just enough time to say goodnight to Marsican before the first gnome slammed the door in his face.

She barely kept her eyes open long enough for some tea, bread, and cheese. Maude spread some soft blankets and pillows for her on the floor, and she sank into them gratefully. She heard furtive whispers in the background, but she was too tired to try to decipher them. There would be time enough to determine her plans tomorrow.

***

Aneira woke to the smell of breakfast. She left Maude’s room to find Maude and another of the gnomes at the stove cooking together. Mibbs set the table while the rest of them pulled out chairs and benches. They all looked up as she entered.

“Good morning,” Maude said cheerfully. “Breakfast is almost ready.” She flipped a hotcake and gestured around the room. “You’ve met Tell and Mibbs. This is Jib, Rust, Punt, and Angus.”

Aneira nodded. The others grunted and gave her nervous head bobs. No one but Maude smiled.

Breakfast was a delicious but awkward affair. All the gnomes except Maude avoided looking at Aneira and ate in silence. And soon even Maude gave up on conversation. Aneira couldn’t wait to finish eating and leave.

When the meal was over, the gnomes all rose and pushed in their chairs.

Aneira stood and took her dishes to the sink. “Thank you all again for your kindness. I’d best be on my way.”

She didn’t miss the looks of relief that flooded over their faces. She couldn’t blame them. She felt the same way.

“It was our pleasure,” Maude said, elbowing Tell when he scowled.

Once Aneira had collected her things, she returned to the main room of the cottage. Maude handed her a bundle. “Some food for your journey.”

“Thank you.” Aneira shifted her weight. “How far is it to the nearest village?”

Angus answered her. “There’s a road to the west. If you follow that through the mountains, you’ll find a small village near the sea three day’s journey from here.”

Aneira chewed her lower lip. It was farther than she’d hoped.

She said her goodbyes and left the cottage. Behind her, Maude said, “We could let her stay for a while.” Instant protests sprang up, and Aneira stifled a laugh. Maude was nice, but Aneira couldn’t be happier to leave this place.

***

“Did you rest well, Princess?” Marsican asked.

“Yes. You?”

He nodded.

Aneira sighed. “We should get going. There’s a village three days from here. It’s farther than I’d like, and I’m not sure a village is our best move in the first place. But we can head in that direction for now and finalize our plans as we go.” “I think that’s wise,” Marsican agreed. “And the farther we get from the queen, the better.”

They wandered through the forest until they found a lush glade protected by tall trees and bordered by a fresh, mountain stream, and spent the day there. Aneira slept in the soft grass. She ate some of the bread, cheese, and apple Maude had sent in the bundle. The apple was one of the most delicious she’d ever tasted.

For the first time in years, her heart was light. Certainly, their future was still uncertain, but at least SHE was the one to decide her path. She was free from her stepmother’s overbearing cruelty and the gnomes’ begrudging kindness. As the afternoon rolled into evening, she danced by starlight, and even convinced Marsican to join her, shuffling along with his giant bear paws. When she could dance no more, she curled up next to his warm fur.

Just before she drifted off to sleep, she wondered if perhaps she and Marsican could stay hidden in the forest until she could return and take her throne. If today was any indication, a life in the forest could be beautiful.

***

Her dream of forest life didn’t last long. She woke to a loud crash of thunder and fat raindrops pelting her body. Marsican shook his fur and ambled over to the trees, searching for a better place for shelter. But even beneath the thickest branches, the rain fell through and drenched them both. They huddled together, shivering and wet, and Aneira wished for morning.

After several hours, a faint light shone through the darkness. Aneira’s heart pounded as she watched the light come closer and closer. Was it her stepmother? A guard? Another huntsman?

But when the light finally reached them, it was only Maude, accompanied by Mibbs. She eyed them both with concern. “I told you they’d be out here in it,” she said to Mibbs. “Come on, lass, you can’t stay out here in the rain all night. Come back to the cottage.”

Aneira tried to protest, but she was so cold she could hardly form words.

“No arguing,” Maude said, grasping her by the arm and helping her to her feet. “I’ve convinced my brothers to let you stay as long as you need.” She eyed Marsican. “Your friend can stay in the stable with our pony. Just on rainy nights, mind. We don’t want him frightening poor Toby out of his wits.”

The walk back to the cottage was a blur. Once there, Maude took Aneira to her room, where a hot bath had already been drawn up for her. As Maude helped Aneira settle into the same makeshift bed of soft blankets on the floor, warm and dry at last, Aneira said, “Why are you being so kind to me?”

Maude patted her arm. “Because you’re obviously in trouble, dear one. Never let it be said that the gnomes of Dunmar didn’t help someone in need.” Her face suddenly looked pained. “Not this time, anyway.”

Aneira looked at her curiously, but Maude gave a humorless laugh and shook her head. “Never you mind. Just a foolish woman’s ramblings. Get some sleep.”

***

Aneira slept deeply the next day and didn’t wake until supper time. The meal was quiet at first, until Tell quoted a passage from the latest book he’d read, and Punt described the beautiful sunrise he’d glimpsed through the trees while capturing their dinner. Rust shared his plans to do his fall planting before the weather turned colder.

After supper was over, everyone gathered in the living area. Mibbs took a seat by Aneira. A sweet blue tabby Aneira hadn’t seen before jumped into his lap.

“This is Glimmer,” Mibbs said. “You can pet her if you like. She’s friendly.”

Aneira stroked Glimmer’s soft coat. The cat’s loud purrs echoed through the room.

Angus leaned toward Aneira. “We have agreed to let you stay with us, but in exchange, we must know your name and what details of your story you feel you can share with us. It’s only fair we know what we risk in giving you shelter.”

Aneira hesitated. Could she trust any of them? They were gnomes, after all, no matter how nice they seemed. But what other choice did she have? “My name is … Nia.” It was an old nickname, so technically not a lie. “I’m from Arthdodd. My life is in danger there, so I left the kingdom to find safety.” She directed her gaze toward Maude. “I’d rather not share more than that for now. I realize it isn’t much, but the less I share, the safer you’ll be.”

Maude smiled, but Aneira thought she saw disappointment in her eyes.

“And your companion?” Angus prodded.

“My friend and protector. He can be trusted.”

Tell said, “You speak of trust, yet you don’t trust us enough to share your whole tale.”

Aneira looked down at her lap. “If I share too much, I risk my life and the lives of anyone brave enough to help me.”

“I believe her,” Mibbs said suddenly. “She has a good face. And Glimmer likes her.”

Aneira looked up again and scratched Glimmer behind the ears. The gnomes exchanged glances with each other.

Finally, Angus nodded. “I suppose that is enough for now. Though if you stay beyond the week, you’ll need to share more of your story.”

Aneira nodded back. “That’s fair enough.” She didn’t plan on staying any longer than she needed to. A week was plenty of time to make plans and move on.

***

To Aneira’s surprise, the week ended up being one of the best she’d ever known. The gnomes took turns working at the salt mines in the mountains in teams during the day, but whoever was left at the cottage always made Aneira feel welcome.

Maude taught her how to bake rolls and souffles and all sorts of treats. Mibbs showed her which flowers and berries around the cottage were edible and how to identify poisonous plants.

Aneira helped Rust plant some seeds in his garden, browsed Tell’s books in the library, and even kept Jib company one night as he kept watch.

Her least favorite lesson was when Punt taught her how to clean a quail of its feathers for the evening meal.

Every night, Angus would entertain them with enchanting stories, mostly gnomish tales they’d grown up with as children.

Aneira sang songs she’d learned as a child and helped with the mending. She was best at embroidery, so she would always embroider tiny flowers on whatever she mended. If the gnomes wondered about this, they never said anything.

One night, another group of gnomes arrived with food and drink. They hesitated when they saw Aneira, but at the reassurance from their hosts, they relaxed and ate and sang together long into the night.

“How many gnomes live nearby?” Aneira asked Maude.

“There are hundreds of us scattered among the mountains,” she said. “We’ve spread out so as not to overwhelm the land, but we always try to meet at least once per moon.”

As Aneira looked around the room at the happy, singing gnomes of every shape and size filling the cottage, some as high as her waist, others small enough to fit into the palm of her hand, her heart grew heavy. She’d grown up thinking all gnomes were evil creatures to avoid and watch with a wary eye. Certainly, one gnome had greatly wronged her grandfather. But how could he have thought that banishing all of them was a just decision?

She listened to their songs about the deep forests of Arthdodd, of the creatures and homes and ways of life they’d left behind, and tears filled her eyes. And at that moment, surrounded by her new friends in the glow of firelight, she vowed to right this wrong when she became queen.

***

Aneira shared her decision about the gnomes with Marsican the next day.

“I think that wise, Princess. No one should have to pay for the mistakes of another.” A glint of sadness shone in his eyes at his words.

Before Aneira could ask him about it, the gnomes all stepped out of the cottage with their mining gear.

“We’re heading out,” Mibbs said.

“All of you?”

Tell nodded. “We’re short on salt for the month, and we leave to trade in the city in another two days.”

Aneira looked away. “You’ve all spent too much time entertaining me.”

“None of that. You’ve brightened our days,” Maude said. “Help yourself to some of the apples from Rust’s tree or anything in the house. We’ll be back by sunset.”

Once the gnomes had gone, Aneira told Marsican, “I’m going to surprise them with some cookies.”

Marsican looked skeptical. “Are you sure?” He’d tasted her baking before.

Aneira scowled. “Yes. Maude taught me how.” She stepped inside before he could say anything else.

She was halfway through mixing the dough when there was a knock at the door. Wiping her hands, Aneira went over to answer it.

A small older woman greeted her with a smile. “Hello, my dear. I was traveling through and saw the cottage. Are you in need of any ribbons? Jewelry? Other baubles?”

“No, thank you.”

The woman sniffed the air. “Ah, in the middle of baking. Perhaps I could interest you in this?” She held up a beautiful apron with bright red strings.

“It’s lovely, but I have no money. And I need to finish before—”

The woman waved a hand. “Of course. I won’t keep you. But the apron is perfect for you. And look, you’ve already soiled your dress.”

Aneira blushed as she looked down at her messy skirt.

“Here, take it. A gift.”

“Oh, I couldn’t—”

“I insist.” The woman held it out to her. “Put it on, and I’ll help you tie it.”

Aneira couldn’t help smiling. The woman seemed harmless enough. “Very well.” She slipped the apron on and turned around.

A sharp pain twisted her middle as the woman drew the strings into a tight knot. “It’s … a little …” Aneira gasped.

The woman must not have heard her. She pulled even tighter.

And then the world went dark.


Click HERE for part two.


59 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page