I’m sure that I hardly need to retell the macabre story of Lady Sienna Taffeta – nicknamed ‘Snow White’ by the tabloids as they dusted the fingerprints off every detail of her life, right down to the white dress she was wearing on the day she was ‘lost’ in the woods. But perhaps it bears mentioning that the reason for that vividly recounted incident started with a photo. A small, black and white over-exposed snap in the Royal Mirror of a girl with delicate features and a starburst tiara, with the caption: “Is this the fairest of them all?” The hollow question triggered indescribable, psychotic rage in Sienna’s stepmother Queen Frustra. Rage so great that the tabloids circled like seagulls around the sordid transactions that followed: the hiring of a swift dispatch; the shocking survival and the dramatic rescue. The pages shimmered with hyperbole. The Royal Mirror vied with ‘Oi!’ and ‘Good Day!’ to offer dizzying fees for exclusive photos of the eagerly anticipated wedding with the charming hero – a young prince who combined his royal duties with modeling and DJing at exclusive events. Then the shock - the sudden severing of the fairytale. Ms. Taffeta (it was reported) had run away! She had disappeared from the arched eyebrow of the media with only a suitcase and a pair of buttoned boots.
If Sienna had wanted to ‘tell all’, then the truth would have been brutal:
“Prince was just in the right place at the right time. He stumbled across that silly glass coffin of mine. Quite literally. Fell into it. That kiss was purely accidental. In return he expects absolute adoration.” She could picture the trajectory - just a photogenic face that could rest on his shoulder and stroke his fringe when he suffered from chronic self-doubt.
Two events fuelled the escape. The first was an unflattering image of Sienna in a bikini on a front page, complete with an editorial of gleeful concern about her ‘already fluctuating weight’. The second was meeting Prince’s parents, in an enforced weekend of photo opportunities. She measured her way through the first evening, counting each breath and blink steadily. She smiled whilst mentally packing a trunk. However, in the skittering chaos of her small window of opportunity (and an even smaller window to fit through), she made a mistake. Instead of the practical necessities – soft knitted jumpers, oilskins, sensible boots – several train rides later she found herself pulling out pastel dresses and purple gloves with dismay. No comforting copies of Angela Carter or Carol Ann Duffy among the puddle of lace and froth. No cooking pot or grille pinched from the over-staffed kitchen of her almost-parents-in-law (that possibility sent a spasm through her gut). No newly sharpened Swiss Army pen-knife.
At least these woods were as well known to her as a sister – the temperaments of the wind and the characteristics of each tree being predictable, safe. It was nice to fend for herself without the hassle of seven small, irascible men to cook and clean for. That time had been so far from independent she had been almost grateful for the rather deadly after effects of that sickly, lipstick-red apple cocktail. Now she could pull her grey cloak around her neck, and listen to the unexpected echoes of birds. It would be easy enough to make a den, weaving the branched walls with leaves and bracken. The luggage would be unpacked, perhaps hung on whittled hooks, and stored in stony corners.
It was a brittle winter – the trees wet green in the mornings as light coloured the sky. Water was fetched from the nearby stream, where Sienna would check her traps. Her diet was mainly composed of pheasants, turnips and winter beets scavenged from the fields around. Fruit was a luxury of summer, to be anticipated. Gradually she stopped tensing her shoulders and snapping her head at the hacking cough of faraway tractors. She pottered, layering all her clothes to keep warm, looking after the fire pit – supplying handfuls of twigs that sparked and crackled in the heat. Her purple tinted hair stuck out from under the floral fascinator; she curled her toes in the mud-crusted boots.
Somewhere, a prince was slouching on a throne – yellow velvet, with gold tassels. Tapping his manicured nails, he gave curt one-liners to the journalists lining up to ask him about his latest perfume – ‘Heartbreak’ – and sent them scurrying through the large doors. Sixty miles away, Sienna ducked out of her shelter’s hidden entrance. The air was as crisp as a paper bag, and ready to fold itself around whatever she decided to do. She might listen to the squeak of her steps in snow, while drinking coffee (the only small luxury that had successfully survived her flight from Mansion Avenues). She could sink down into the iced grass and think about the book she had rescued from a train station rubbish bin. Or she could visit her favourite tree - a dependable green fir that she could sit on and survey her domain. It truly was majestic.