They no longer had to warn her not to talk to strangers. As soon as the seven little men had left, she locked the door, drew the bolt, and slammed the shutters shut on all the windows save one. That last peek to the outside world was propped open, allowing just enough light to fall across the cold dirt floor.
She huddled beneath the window, her head brushing the ledge, too afraid of the darkness to veer beyond the pool of sunshine.
When they returned home from the mines, she still sat there. Her head lolled to one side, her mop of dark hair shadowing her face.
They glanced at one another, their lips tight. It made them jump to come back and see her on the floor, but they knew that the queen was dead. Yet it was not her they feared.
One of the men waddled up to the girl and pressed her shoulder. Her eyes flew open and she gasped a little. Then colour returned to her cheeks and she smiled. It didn't reach her large dark eyes.
"Did you have a bad dream?" one of them asked.
She shook her head.
Lies. They could see it in the trembling of her lips, the shortness of her breath.
She had escaped one nightmare to fall into another. In unison their fingers clenched into fists. Out of grief and desperate hope, they had pushed their beloved girl into the claws of a monster worse than the one that had killed her. They had ripped her from eternity in heaven to more long years on earth, at the mercy of a man whose tyranny gripped a kingdom.
"I shall love her all my days," he'd vowed.
Until she objected about the way he treated his subjects. Then she had turned into his enemy.
The girl rose to her feet and threw open the rest of the shutters. The tiny cottage glowed in the soft evening light, but she could only shiver. The seven little men took up their guard at the door. If the man who called himself a king ever came again, they would know what to do. Until then, they waited in fear, the darkness within gnawing away at the sunshine without.
It was a poison worse than any the girl had tasted. This apple killed not only the body, but the soul.