The dwarfs huddled around a smoky table in a darkest corner of the local tavern. Their features were obscured by the flickering candlelight, and also by the tankards of mead in front of each of them. It had been a long day, and mining was thirsty work.
Doc had called a house meeting, which sounded a bit serious to the others, but the dwarfs were happy to go along with their eldest brother as long as he was getting the rounds in.
Draining his own tankard, Doc cleared his throat and brought the meeting to order. “Brothers, it is with a morose heart that I call thee all here on this miserable night …” Doc tended to be a bit long-winded. He also liked to throw in random posh-sounding words, which he believed made him sound better educated. Sadly, he didn’t always know what these words actually meant, before he started bandying them about with no respect for the common tongue.
Sleazy cut his brother’s speech short. “Spit it out man! My tankard is nearly empty.”
“Aye,” seconded Grumpy-chops.
Doc frowned. He’d been practising his speech all day. He looked toward his other brothers, hoping to find an eager audience amongst them. Dopey was in the corner, refilling his pipe with his latest batch of home-grown skunk grass. His eyes were as big as saucers. He was away with the fairies.
Lethargy was sitting to his right, head drooping. Earlier, Dopey and Lethargy has slunk off, supposedly to check out one of the disused mine shafts, but they had been gone for hours. Clearly the pair had not been digging for missed nuggets.
On Dopey’s left sat Sleazy, and beside him was Chirpy-fecker, and finally, on either side of Doc rested Grumpy-chops and Blushful. Chirpy-fecker was the only dwarf still eager-eyed, but there was nothing new about that. He’d find a ray of sunshine in the darkest phase of the moon.
“Okay, okay. The reason I’ve called this meeting to order is to discuss the latest au pair,” explained Doc.
“What about her?” asked Grumpy-chops.
“She’s been pilfering from our money chest,” Doc explained. He’d decided to skip the long-winded speech and getting right down to the issue at hand. He was thirsty too.
“Impossible!” exclaimed Chirpy-fecker, who always thought the best of everyone; even the troll who lived under the bridge at the end of the lane.
“It’s true, Chirp!” Doc insisted. “I’ve checked.”
Doc had managed to get everyone’s attention.
Dwarfs took the issue of gold, and especially their gold, very seriously indeed. They’d spent years digging around in the dark of their family mine to collect their accumulated horde.
“Why would she do that?” asked Chirpy-fecker.
“I believe she’s got a habit,” declared Doc.
“She’s a nun!?” exclaimed Blushful.
“No, not that sort of a habit!” explained Doc in an exasperated tone. Sometimes he found it hard to drag his intelligence down to the level of his brothers. “She’s a snorter. She’s been stealing from us to get her fix.”
The brothers looked blankly at their eldest and wisest kin.
Doc sighed, and tried to translate. “Look, I’m sure we can all agree that Snow White is anything but chaste, correct?”
Sleazy chuckled maliciously, “You’ll get no argument from me, brother!”
Blushful’s reaction was predictable. His cheeks blossomed like red roses. “Th…th…tha…that’s not nice!” he protested.
“What! Don’t tell me she hasn’t offered to jingle your change for a shilling, Blush, old chum!” Sleazy teased.
“A-a-a gentleman does… does … doesn’t kiss and tell,” declared Blushful, all the while glowing like a freshly-lit forge.
“Hasn’t any of you noticed her constant sniffing?” asked Doc, trying not to get distracted by Sleazy’s gutter humour.
“That poor lass. She’s constantly cursed with the flu!” lamented Chirpy-fecker.
“Cursed with the flu!” Doc spluttered. “You idiot! She’s been snorting coke!”
“That can’t be good,” replied Chirpy-fecker. “That stuff can be hard on the lungs. No wonder she always looks so pale.”
“Not that sort of coke, you dumb-ass. She’s been taking cocaine,” explained Doc with an air of exasperation.
“Daft bitch!” chirped up Grumpy-chops, adding his threepence to the discussion.
Dopey emerged from a cloud of smoke and butted in, “Hey man, dat’s not cool. Ya dig?”
“Shut ya face, hippie!” countered Grumpy-chops.
“Sorry Doc, but I’m confused,” said Lethargy. “I thought you said that stuff cost a fortune.”
“It does!” agreed Doc, though he didn’t go into any details as to how exactly he knew so much about the subject matter. Suffice to say that as the eldest brother, he was in charge of the family’s coffers. An occasional dalliance into the finer things in life was, in the Doc’s humble opinion, the price his family paid for the use of his fiscal wisdom. “That’s what I’ve been telling you all. The au pair has been stealing from us.”
“Burn the bitch!” demanded Grumpy-chops.
“That’s a bit harsh,” objected Sleazy, who was thinking with his trouser trout at the moment. Snow White might be a thief, but she occasionally gave him great head, and she was a lot cheaper than Dorla; the miller’s daughter. “I’m sure we can find a more humane solution. Perhaps she could work it off?”
“It’d take her years to pay this lot off. After all, we only pay her a penny a week to clean and cook,” Doc pointed out. “She’s snorted more than a year’s worth of gold in the past few weeks. I say we kick her out on her ear, and hope an ogre eats her.”
“Gentlemen, gentlemen, please. Let’s not be so hasty to judge the poor girl,” pleaded Chirpy-fecker. “I’m sure this is all just a simple misunderstanding.”
“I’m afraid not,” argued Doc. “I checked the money chest thrice, just to be sure. We are missing eighteen ounces of gold.”
“Eighteen!” the others exclaimed in unison.
“Shhh, keep your voices down!” urged the Doc. “We don’t want this to get about. We’d be the laughing stock of the village.”
“That dirty little slag!” muttered Grumpy-chops.
Even Chirpy-fecker was lost for words when he found out just how much Snow White had stolen.
In truth, it was probably less than half of that amount, but Doc knew an opportunity to pass the buck when he saw one. He’d recently started collecting hand-crafted model soldiers, and they cost a lot more than he was letting on to his brothers. That, and his occasional bottle of absinthe, had depleted the family’s funds quite significantly.
“As you said earlier, I think it’s time we chucked her out on her ear,” agreed Lethargy.
“Hang on, hang on. Let’s not rush into this,” urged Sleazy. “Maybe there’s another option open to us. After all, what would we gain by evicting the thieving cow? … Nothing, right? We’d still be down the eighteen ounces.”
“What do you suggest?” asked Doc.
“I say we confront her,” explained Sleazy. “Give her a chance to come clean and offer up some compensation…”
“That sounds fair,” agreed Chirpy-fecker.
“What compensation?” argued Grumpy-chops. “We all know she’s broke. Her family are trailer-trash from down in the hovels beside the tannery yard. She’s got nothing of value.”
“Tsk, tsk tsk!” Sleazy scolded. “I wouldn’t be so quick, brother dear. Gold and silver aren’t everything. I’m sure you’ll all agree that Snow is a comely lass, and not overly hampered by little scruples. I don’t know about the rest of you, but she’s jingled my change a few times since she arrived. I’m sure we could persuade her to earn her keep in more ways than just a bit of cleaning and cooking …. If you know what I mean.”
“You mean pro…pro…prostitution!” stammered Blushful, clearly shocked.
“I wouldn’t go that far, brother,” explained Sleazy, “but I like how your thinking. No, as the wise Doc said, we don’t want word of this getting out. Let’s keep this in-house, shall we? I was thinking more along the lines of keeping this in the family, if you know what I mean?” he added with a wink.
“Go on,” urged Grumpy-chops, his eyes suddenly alight with interest.
“Well, there are seven of us, right, and seven days in the week, so I was thinking maybe she could pay us back with some individual personal attention,” explained Sleazy. “I’ll take Monday nights, and the Doc here can have Tuesday nights …”
“Why do you get Mondays?” asked Grumpy-chops.
“Because this was my idea …” explained Sleazy.
“And today just happens to be Monday,” added Doc. He had already done the maths.
“What exactly do you mean by personal attention,” asked Chirpy-fecker.
“Well, that depends,” explained Sleazy. “You can get her to darn your socks and read you a bed time story if you like, but me, I’ve always had a fetish for tight-fitting lederhosen, and furry shackles myself.”
“What is she refuses?” asked Doc, who was coming around to the idea.
“Then we have no other choice but to turn her over to the fuzz, of course … but only after a good spanking,” explained Sleazy with his trademark cheeky grin.
“That sounds fair,” agreed Grumpy-chops reluctantly.
“All right. All in favour say aye,” announced Doc.
“Mmm! What? Oh! Aye, sorry, lads, I must have dozed off there. Whose round is it?”
“Yours,” the others chorused in unison.
“That’s settled then,” declared Sleazy. “We’d best make this one our last. We don’t want to arrive home pissed this evening. We’ll need to keep our wits about us this evening, brothers, or she’ll talk her way out of it.”
“Awww, I’ve been looking forward to having a few jars all day!” complained Grumpy-chops.
“You’re night is Wednesday,” prompted Sleazy, in an effort to avoid an argument.
“Okay … One for the road it is then,” responded Grumpy-chops with a rare grin.
“I call Thursday,” declared Lethargy, who wasn’t as dim witted as he made out.
Snow wasn’t a happy bunny. She’d spent the whole morning scrubbing shirts. You’d be surprised at just how dirty the dwarfs could get after a day down the mines, and then they’d go and put on a fresh tunic without having a bath first, thus spreading the muck on the second set of clothes, and probably on everything else too.
Keeping them in clean clothes was a full time job just in itself.
Once she’d finally finished the dirty laundry, she’d started on the floors. She spent most of the afternoon on her hands and knees scrubbing muddy footprints from the floorboards. She had once casually suggesting that they remove their boots at the front door, but the stubborn-minded dwarfs would have none of that. She’d even offered to make them each a pair of comfy slippers, but they had laughed at her. “We’re miners, Snow, not accountants,” objected Doc.
With the floors finally shining, she set about preparing a rabbit stew for this evening’s supper. They would be home soon after the sun set, and woe betide if their supper wasn’t on the table. Grumpy-chops could be a nasty piece of work at the best of times, but if they had to wait for their supper, even the soft spoken Chirpy-fecker could turn cranky.
The last time she’d failed to have supper ready, Sleazy had taken his belt to her, the randy little weasel, although in truth, her father had beaten her much harder when he’d arrived home after his frequent visits to the local tavern.
She knew that Sleazy had enjoyed the punishment far too much for her liking. She could feel his little trouser trout poking into her belly as he repeatedly slapped her buttocks with the leather belt.
That had been the one and only time she’d made the mistake of not having the dinner ready, but it hadn’t been a complete loss.
It had given her an idea. She’d overheard one of the other girls in the village boasting about earning a little extra coin by giving men hand jobs, but didn’t know the miller’s daughter well enough to ask her for further details.
When she had approached Sleazy the following day with the offer of rattling his pocket change for a little extra coin, he’d readily agreed. Trying to hide the grimace of disgust, she had slipped her hand into his trousers and gripped his manhood. It took a little trial and error to perfect her technique, and a few prompts from Sleazy, but she soon had him satisfied. Her weekly income had doubled overnight.
Over the next week or so, she had approached the other dwarfs, one by one, broaching the offer to each of them. None had declined her.
“Remember, not a word to the others,” she had warned. “This has to be our little secret,” she’d add with a wink. “The others would just get jealous.”
The dwarfs had all readily agreed, and Snow was gradually accumulating a stash of small coins.
All had all been on the up and up until her little brother, Hoff, got nabbed by the local militia. He’d been caught stealing a head of cabbage. Usually, such a crime was dealt with in a short and brutally swift manner. He would have his hand cut off the following Sunday. This would happen after church, in front of the whole village.
Snow’s younger sister, Vanilla, had rushed over to tell Snow, pleading with her to do something. Since their father’s death, and the long protracted illness which debilitated there mother, Snow had become the unofficial head of the household, making sure that the rent got paid each week and that there was food on the table.
“You have to do something!” pleaded Vanilla.
Reluctantly Snow agreed.
Digging up her savings, Snow had headed into the village to speak with the captain of the militia. Their conversation had been short and not so sweet. He’d made it quite clear that he’d need a much fatter bribe before he would consider interfering with the laws of the land.
She tried the womanly art of seduction, but that had even less effect that her pitiful purse of pennies. Clearly the rumours about the captain’s sexual preferences were true. He looked positively sick when she offered to fondle his truncheon.
Clearing his throat, he had dismissed her. “I think it’s about time you left, Ms Snow. I’m sorry, but my hands are tied.”
On the way back to the cottage Snow remembered the rusty iron key that she had found hidden under Doc’s pillow. It didn’t take her long to find the dwarf’s treasure chest.
She’d seen Doc sneaking down to the root cellar late at night when he thought everyone was asleep. Taking a candle, she had crept down into the cellar, and soon found the chest behind an old dresser. The key had fitted into the lock perfectly.
When she opened the chest, she couldn’t believe her eyes. It was crammed full of gold and silver nuggets. There were little pouches of gold dust too. There was enough wealth here for a king’s ransom. Surely they wouldn’t miss a few of the smaller nuggets? She had decided to borrow a few of the smaller nuggets, at least for a little while.
The next day, she had returned to the village gaol, and increased her offer substantially. The captain’s eyes grew bright when he saw the gold. “I’m not sure,” he replied, “This is more than my job’s worth.”
“I’m sure you could think of something … A mistaken identity perhaps? It was getting dark, after all…” Snow pleaded.
He grunted non-committal.
“Fine, I’ll take my gold back and speak to the Mayor instead. Maybe he’ll be interested in my offer.”
“Let’s not be hasty, girl,” said the captain. “I didn’t say that I couldn’t help. It’ll just be difficult, that’s all. Have you any more of these nuggets? I’ll need some more to bribe the rest of my crew with.”
“I might be able to lay my hands on a little more, but not much,” agreed Snow reluctantly.
Over the next few days, Snow had removed more nuggets from the chest, being careful to remove her footprints from the dirt floor of the cellar each time she raided the dwarfs’ treasure chest.
Every time she returned to the goal, the captain had wanted more. He was getting greedy. When she refused to give him any more, claiming that this was all she had, he had started asking awkward questions about how exactly she had come across such wealth.
When Sunday came, she huddled outside the church with the rest of the community, wondering whether or not the captain would keep his word.
Stepping up to stand beside the village stocks, the captain cleared his throat and announced, “Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye! The punishment of Hoff White has been temporarily postponed. Some additional information has come to my attention. This will need further investigation before I can rule on the innocence or guilt of the crime with which he has been accused.”
And that was that.
Hoff had been given a reprieve, if only temporarily.
Snow had been given an ultimatum, produce more gold or her little brother would suffer the full rigours of the law.
Today was Tuesday, and she still hadn’t decided what to do. She knew that if she continued to raid the treasure chest, someone would notice. She also knew that she was damned, one way, or another, where the captain was concerned. If she gave him more gold, he would keep demanding more, but if the ‘golden goose’ stopped laying, then all bets were off.
Placing the stew beside the fire to simmer, she opened the bag of flour and started to make some bread.
Her nose itched with an impending sneeze, and she wiped it absently with the back of a flour-stained hand, leaving a trace of white powder against her nostrils. Scrunching her nose up, she fought the urge to sneeze. She’d always been susceptible to colds, ever since her father had broken her nose during a drunken fight. He had been aiming for Snow’s mother, but the girl, only about eight at the time, had rushed to her mother’s rescue and got in the way of the swinging fist.
Later, her mother had straightened the break, but her nose had never been the same since. The first whiff of a cold and Snow’s nose would start dribbling.
Finally, with the dough rising, and the stew simmering, Snow could catch a few moments peace and quiet before the dwarfs arrived home and turned the cottage into a pigsty again.
“Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go …”
She heard them long before they arrived at the cottage. It was well after dark, so apparently they’d taken a detour on the way home from the mine.
By now, the stew was a thick tarry mush, but she served it anyway. They were probably too drunk to notice. Snow had learned at an early age that people tended to get less fussy about what they ate after their third or fourth round. They tended to get hungrier, and their taste buds suffered the full effects of too much alcohol. She could probably have served them up a few pairs of old socks, just as long as they were soaked in thick gravy, or dripping lard.
to be continued….