|Snow never realised how much danger she was in until the night her stepmother tried to have her killed. When her chauffer confessed to his lack of nerve to commit murder in the steam carriage ride home, she bolted away from him and into the outskirts of the city. She fled for her life without looking back to see if he were following. Dodging gaslamp lighters on their stilts and slow moving couples walking arm in arm, Snow never stopped moving.
Later, while running down the dark and rain slick streets, she realized she had no idea where she was going until she saw the airship. Docked atop a rundown hotel, the vessel's red and white striped sails were furled tightly to huge oak masts. Snow hurried into the building, eager to reach the airship. No one really paid much attention to her, as she was still dressed as a proper young lady in her green bustle gown even though her raven hair had slipped out of its bun.
Everyone aboard was too busy loading the ship to notice her slip onto the deck. Finding a hiding spot in its hold among great coils of rope and tarp-covered crates, she gave in at last to her exhaustion. It was her feverent hope her stepmother's automated spybird, the Bone Crow, would wait until daybreak to search for her. Snow wanted to put as much distance between her and the wretched bird as possible.
When she woke, someone was shaking her shoulder. Opening her bleary eyes, she faced a small crowd of strange short people who were staring at her.
They were dwarves.
It was soon clear she'd stowed away on a circus ship, after Tippy (who was the group's spokesman) declared that they were members of "Charm's Greatest Show on Terra". The others beamed in agreement.
Soon their smiles turned to frowns and disbelief as Snow told her tale of woe and hardship. The captain, who was named Charm, was also the ringmaster. He decided Snow could stay aboard if she proved her worth. Her job would be to help with the chores, of which there were many. Animal stalls needed to be mucked out, clothing needed repaired, and there were always dishes to wash.
Though it took some time, Snow found she was adept at cleaning and mending. After living most of her life as a pampered socialite, she discovered talents she didn't know she'd possessed. Her muscles grew strong from the hard but honest work. She really began to enjoy life with the circus.
Snow traveled with them for nearly a year before she met up with the Bone Crow again.
It happened during a performance at a seaside village. Snow was sitting backstage, sewing up a hole in Charm's coat when a croaking sound caused her to look up. The Bone Crow stared down at her from a tent support. His ivory and brass body gleamed dully in the glow of the gaslamps. He then flapped twice to build up a charge for his internal engine and flew off. Snow knew it wasn't going to be long before her stepmother would find her.
So she told Charm as soon as the show was over. They'd grown quite close, and she was almost ready to admit she was in love with him. Together, they started working on a plan.
When a little old woman stopped by a week later selling combs, Snow knew who she really was. Her stepmother had been quite the stage actress before marrying Snow's father. It was no hard feat for her to change her appearance.
The dwarves managed to chase off the false peddlar but she came back the next night, hawking corsets as a middle-aged woman.
Again, Snow's friends were able to oust her from the premises. And they made her swear not to buy anything from any traveling salespeople, no matter how harmless they seemed.
The third night, they weren't so fortunate.
It was a performance filled with mishaps. The trapeze artist, Miss Euella Bea, fell during practice and twisted her ankle. Then the bearded lady's whiskers fell out and needed to be put back on with rubber cement. The boilers for the steam engines ran low on coal. So poor Snow was kept rather busy with cleaning up and fetching things for her fellow circus friends.
At the end of the show, she was approached by a sweet-faced little girl who offered her a tankard of cold apple cider. Snow was utterly parched and accepted the drink gratefully.
Only after a couple of swallows did she notice the Bone Crow perched atop a crate. He stared at her with souless mechanical eyes. His inner workings clicked and whirred softly.
She fell to the ground, the contents of the tankard absorbing quickly into the straw on the hard-packed dirt floor. The Bone Crow squawked once before taking flight into the stormy night sky.
Charm had just stepped around the corner to witness the sweet-faced little girl pull a dagger from her apron folds. Quickly, he drew his Neuron Disrupter 2000 and the stepmother fell dead from its fatal blast. All that remained of her was a steaming pile of ash.
He barked orders out to his crew as he scooped up Snow's still form into his arms. Trying to fight tears, he hurried to the airship where the circus' own doctor declared her not dead, but in a deep coma. The cider must have contained a strong sedative, for she slept deeply.
The crew had the ship ready for flight less than an hour later. They set off into the night air, over the briney sea. The steam engines puffed and chugged as they gained altitude.
When the sun rose the next morning, it shone on the bower the dwarves had built during the night for Snow. She slept on in the bed draped in white cotton sheets that billowed in the breeze. Everyone was in agreement that the fresh air would do her some good. They all missed her easygoing smile and the way she was always eager to help them.
Charm missed her most of all. As a month passed, he spent his days aboard the ship wishing she'd open her lovely blue eyes and smile at him. He'd finally come to realize just how much she'd meant to him.
One starry night, as he sat next to her silent form, he was struck by a bit of inspiration. Acting on his whim, he leaned over and kissed her mouth gently. Her lips still tasted of apples.
Snow opened her eyes. She smiled up at him. And then she kissed him back.