Once upon a time, there was a princess who had hair as black as night, lips as red as blood, and skin as white as snow, so naturally, everyone who saw her freaked out.
Her ghostly appearance created such an uproar that she often found it easier to retreat into the woods amongst the man-eating spiky bindles who were not as skittish.
One day, while gathering mushrooms and thistles (she was not the “flowers and berries” sort of princess), she happened upon a charmingly squat little cottage. Peering in through the open window, she marveled to see that all the furniture inside was very small. She counted seven little wooden chairs around a long, cluttered table. Up against the far wall, she saw a rocking chair, a broom, a mop and a basket full of moth-eaten socks.
Oh no! she thought. I’m not falling into this kind of trap. I’m not doing anyone’s cleaning or mending. I’m a proper princess! She turned to run, only to stumble over a row of neatly dressed dwarfs in fashionable suits and patent leather penny loafers. They all had abnormally good hair and capped teeth.
Immediately she knew she was in the worst danger of her life.
“Hey!” cried one of the dwarfs excitedly. “I know you. You’re Glorisplenda’s little sister.” He snapped his fingers and chewed his lip, trying to recall the name.
“Saccharine White!” offered another dwarf with cosmetically enhanced dimples.
“Ooooh!” the others said greedily. “The unwanted princess!”
Saccharine stood with her hands on her hips seriously calculating how many dwarfs she could knock over with one good swipe of her mushroom basket. “Yeah. Thanks for that, gentlemen. Always good to know I’ve kept my celebrity status. Now, if you’ll excuse me—”
“Oh, you have! We love stories like yours!” said the first dwarf winningly. His name was Charmy. The dimpled one was Smarmy. Two of the others were called Looney and Twit, and the remaining three were so like each other that no one could tell them apart.
Poor Saccharine had fallen amongst the seven dwarfs of SAGA (the Scandal and Gossip Association), infamous for trumpeting all the dirtiest royal secrets they could discover and generally creating celebrity unrest in otherwise peaceful domains far and near. (This is why they fit in so well with the man-eating spiky bindles, by the way.)
Saccharine eyed the path she’d taken through the woods and wondered what a high-speed chase through the poison ivy would do to her. Was it worth another bath in calamine lotion to get away from the paparazzi?
Saccharine chewed her lip some more, eventually peeling a layer of chapped skin and drawing blood. Irritated, she wiped her lip with the back of her hand, but not before one of the dwarfs (the one named Twit), gasped in horror. “Is she…a vampire?!”
“Ooooh! Vampires are all the rage right now!” squealed Smarmy, rubbing his hands.
“No, now it’s all about zombies,” corrected Looney.
Charmy jumped in. “Come, Miss White. Won’t you join us for an interview?”
“I’d love to chat, but I still have to—Oh my goodness! Are those cotton socks I see?” This had the desired effect of confusing the dwarfs, and Saccharine continued carefully, “Because, if they are, I’ve heard those are worth a barrel of gold nowadays.”
Saccharine smiled with artificial sweetness. “Don’t you know? All the recently domesticated momphibraks have been breaking into the cotton fields and eating the crops. The farmers are at a total loss. Cotton prices are up, up, up!”
“They are?” Twit turned slowly towards the door of the cottage.
“Indeed! I know a weaver in my brother-in-law’s kingdom that buys used cotton socks, refurbishes them, and sells them to the gentry. Why don’t you bring me your socks to wash, and I’ll go get some kindling for a fire. I’ll boil them clean in a big pot.”
The three almost identical dwarfs narrowed their eyes. “What’s in it for you?”
“Oh, the weaver gives me a kickback if I find quality cotton. Hurry now!”
There was a beat of silence before each of the dwarfs dashed into the cottage, eager to be the first to bring his socks to be washed by the celebrity goth vampire princess. While they tumbled over each other in their haste, Saccharine slipped out of the clearing and tore through the poison ivy as fast as her feet could carry her.
Saccharine’s industrial strength support hose and long skirts protected her legs from the poison ivy as she ran, but when she slipped on a fresh hair ball left by a spiky bindle, she landed flat on her back. With the wind knocked out of her, she couldn’t move in time to save her arms.
Itchity scratch itchy scratchy itchy scratch–
“Aha! There you are!” beamed Charmy. “Did you have a little mishap?”
Itchity scratchity itch itch scratch…
“Just a little one.” She raked her fingernails over her pasty white skin.
“Oh, how unfortunate.” Charmy clucked his tongue in the least maternal way imaginable. “Here, let me help you. We’ve brought the cauldron for boiling the water.”
Saccharine White allowed the dwarfs to heave her to her feet and lead her through the underbrush to a stream. She noted, with reluctant admiration, that their suits were spun from finely twined wiggledy silk, known to repel all noxious oils from plants and hair products.
Itchy itchy scratch scratch.
“Would you like to use our laundry soap, or yours?” asked a soft voice.
Saccharine turned to scan the faces of the dwarfs and realized that the voice came from one of the three nearly identical ones. Her brow wrinkled with suspicion. “Yours?”
“Are you sure?” She couldn’t tell which dwarf spoke because their lips didn’t move. They just held fast in pleasantly patronizing grins.
Scratch scratch scratchity SCRATCH!
“Well, given that I didn’t anticipate washing socks during this particular jaunt into the forest—”
“Splendid!” said Smarmy. “Our recipe helps with the poison ivy residue, too.”
“Gimme!” barked Saccharine, snatching the small box of powder from the dwarf and sprinkling it onto her arms.
Then she built a fire, kindling it with underbrush and igniting it with a gilded flint rock. As the water bubbled, Saccharine observed them observing her and tried not to shudder at the infrequency of their blinks. At last she dumped the cotton socks into the hot water and plunged her arms in afterwards. The soap powder sifted off her arms and into the water, and she began to scrub. The water actually soothed her itchy scratchy arms, and she found her mood softening. She didn’t even flinch when the dwarfs circled around her—ever so casually pulling out their parchments and quills—and began to ask seemingly benign questions about her favorite latte flavors, her relaxation techniques, her dressmaker’s quirks, and any secret vendettas she had against her sister Glorisplenda.
About the time the last of the bubbles popped, Saccharine hung the final white cotton sock on a nearby branch to dry. She realized too late what she had divulged and what had to be done to stop any ensuing scandal. She turned and smiled sweetly—which frightened the dwarfs immensely—and asked if she might sing them a song while the socks dried. Before they could answer, she belted forth in a dulcet baritone voice, “I’m wishing for the one I hate to lose me today…” The woodland ravens and spiky bindles gathered to caw and shriek in harmony, and soon the SAGA dwarfs drifted off into nightmare-ridden sleep.
Now she had to make her move—once and for all—to rid the land of the gossipmongers and ensure a little well-deserved privacy for all nonconformist royals everywhere.
Saccharine looked about for something on which to dry her hands, but found nothing. With a smirk, she eyed the coattails of wiggledy silk. “Might as well ruin their suits before they try to ruin my life,” she muttered. She knelt down and rubbed her hands on Twit’s sleeve carefully. “Hm, that’s nice stuff.” Gingerly picking up the edge of his lapel, she ran her fingers along the silk.
Twit snuffled in his sleep, moaning sadly. “Missed my calling… Wanted to run a hair salon…”
Saccharine jolted with surprise, and then realized he was only talking in his sleep. She crouched near the three nameless dwarfs and listened. “Why can’t they ever remember my name?” whined one of them softly. “If I could just break off and go solo with my lute picking act…”
Saccharine crawled to the next dwarf. “…used to be best archer…now just shooting pictures…”
His triplet scowled in his sleep. “Why can’t I just count the money? Must I work for it, too?”
Silently, she stood up and watched the circle of dwarfs sleep. Looney was humming a daffy tune in between loud snores, and Smarmy seemed to be practicing his grin. Charmy, however, was quite agitated. “Not the hair!” he squeaked. “Don’t touch the hair!”
Saccharine chuckled to herself and glanced down at her hands. They had a pinkish flush from all of the scrubbing—or was it the laundry soap? Stooping as close to Smarmy as she dared, she checked her reflection in his teeth. Black hair, red lips…but was that flesh-colored flesh?
“I’ll have to chance it.” She resumed her song for a few minutes, being careful to linger closely to each dwarf’s ear in turn. They fell all the more deeply into their dreams, and at last, she winked to the spiky bindles. “No snacking on them now,” she whispered. “I have a better idea!”
She turned and ran through the forest, this time avoiding the poison ivy paths, and eventually arrived at her father’s castle. The guards did not recognize her, but nor did they stop her. She looked quite lovely for once, flushed from the run (or was it the soap?).
“Daddy? Oh, Daddy? I think I’ve found you a new Treasurer, a couple of court minstrels, a royal barber and an archer for your army!”
Her father looked up from his newsparchments and stared. “Why, Saccharine, my little girl! When did you grow up and start taking your job as Director of Human Resources seriously? I thought you hated people!”
“Um. I’m not going to answer that right now. Can I borrow your hunting horse? I need to pack the dwarfs out of the forest.”
Her father, returning to his news, waved her away. “I never understand a word kids say nowadays…”
Back in the woods, Saccharine hefted all the sleeping dwarfs except Charmy and Smarmy onto the annoyed horse and used the clean socks to lash them together so they wouldn’t fall off. As they ambled back home, the dwarfs gradually roused themselves from her song-enchanted sleep feeling refreshed despite being mostly upside-down.
“Oh good! You’re up,” said Saccharine cheerily.
“Who are you?” asked Twit groggily.
“It’s me, Saccharine White, and I’ve got great news for you.” She explained the staff vacancies at her father’s castle, and each of them sat up with wide eyes.
“What’s the catch?” asked the triplet dwarfs in unison.
“Three things. First, you don’t write about what you see at the castle. Just live with us in peace and quiet.”
“I’m fine with that!” declared Twit.
“It’s Charmy and Smarmy that love the spotlight of the scandal business,” said Looney.
“Yes, and that leads me to the second condition. You help me teach Charmy and Smarmy a lesson.”
The three nameless dwarfs rumbled with delight. “Oh! We’ve been planning this for years. Just wait ’til you hear what we’ve got in store for them! What’s the third condition?”
“I want the recipe for your laundry soap.”
Once the dwarfs had been deposited in front of Saccharine’s father for their official post approvals, she hurried back (as per their plan) and hoisted Charmy and Smarmy onto the horse, singing to them all the way, so they’d remain in slumber. In the courtyard, she whistled for the dwarfs, who all pranced out in their new professional attire, beaming with joy.
Twit stepped forward, brazenly flourishing a long razor, as though it were a battle sword. The others kept their distance, fearing blood splatters on their fine new uniforms, but Twit’s hand was sure. Poised for the kill above Charmy, he began slicing and dicing away at the gossiping ring leader’s hair. (This was no small feat, for it had been fortified by at least three illegal chemicals.) When he finished, he bowed before the applause. Charmy’s hair now looked exactly like the hide of a spiky bindle after a particularly vicious windstorm.
Saccharine motioned for them to be quiet, and began humming softly while Twit turned his attention to Smarmy. With delicate care, he removed every last wisp of facial hair, including the eyebrows, and then pinned Smarmy’s top lip open using a hair clip. Thoughtfully and gently, he used Saccharine’s red lipstick (which he also forbade her ever to use again) to draw tiny murals of dancing cherubs on each of Smarmy’s white, capped teeth. The end result was breathtakingly hideous.
The other dwarfs now moved in with stealth, lifting Charmy and Smarmy into the fountain where they propped them in embarrassing poses.
Now came the hard part. Saccharine had to sing non-stop until the court painter had completed a four-by-eight-foot masterpiece of the spectacle. It took two weeks; Saccharine’s voice was raw, and her eyes were blood-shot, but it was worth it.
When the work was completed, she flopped forward into the fountain with a splash (she had neither bathed nor slept in all that time), and the sudden silence jolted Charmy and Smarmy awake.
Charmy tried to run his fingers through his hair and gasped.
Smarmy tried to close his mouth because his teeth felt fuzzy and dry, but he couldn’t.
“Wha haffening here?” he demanded, fumbling with the lip clip.
Twit, Looney, and the three other dwarfs (who, incidentally, were named John, David and Steve) snickered and pointed to the portrait.
Charmy took one look at the monstrosity and screamed. Smarmy whimpered. Saccharine roused herself and grinned cunningly.
“Now that we have your attention,” she said with the same tone Charmy had used so many times before announcing the secrets of the local royalty, “may I presume you would like to strike a mutually beneficial contract?”
“B-b-blackmail?” cried Charmy.
“Tsk, tsk, what a foul word. Nothing of the sort. We’d like to offer you an opportunity.” She gestured to the five rehabilitated dwarfs. “These fine gentlemen have all found lucrative and fulfilling positions in our castle and kingdom, and we would like to offer you the same.”
“I won’t dig latrines,” sniffed Smarmy.
“No, you won’t be dealing in muck anymore,” assured Saccharine ironically. “You will be the royal family’s chief publicists, with the charge of making us look Brilliant, Witty and Just at every opportunity. For this you will be paid handsomely. Any failure to do so, however, would result in the unfortunate kingdom-wide tour of this piece of art—with you gentlemen following behind in a live re-enactment.”
“Oh, that won’t be necessary!” Charmy leaped out of the fountain, struggling to muster his suavity. “Our every aim would be to please the royal persons.”
Smarmy, rubbing his lip and wiping his tears, simply nodded.
“Well then, this will all end very happily, indeed!” said Saccharine.
And it did.
The kingdom responded so favorably to the positive light in which their regents were now portrayed that they became more productive workers, singing merrily (and not at all dream-inducingly) as they labored. Charmy and Smarmy even managed to get side gigs talking up the more prominent businessmen, inserting subliminal advertisements for jelly tarts, wiggledy silk stockings, and broccoli into their weekly shows. For these efforts, they became rich beyond their fondest hopes and moved forever out of the forest of the spiky bindles. Their cottage was soon taken over by a small family of bears who were very fond of hot cereal and long walks.
Saccharine took long bubble baths in laundry soap and dabbled with softer shades of pink lipstick. It wasn’t long before people praised her beauty above that of Glorisplenda, and she had no shortage of eligible suitors for her hand in marriage. But that’s another story…