NOTE: If I remember correctly, Snow White lies in the coffin for months before the prince wakes her. But in my story, since he knows of Grimhilde's plot, and has animal buddies to help out, his travel time is much shorter. It seemed like both Snow White and the queen got to the dwarfs' cottage within a day or so, so that's the travel time I'm going with.
Something soft was brushing his chin. There was a distinctive cooing sound, then a gentle tap of something hard against his jaw. Florian groaned, shifting on the damp chamber floor. His eyes fluttered open and he jerked back, startled.
Standing on his chest and staring him directly in the eyes was one of the doves. The dove cocked its head to the side and gave another coo, tapping its beak against Florian's chin. There was the rustle of feathers next to Florian's ear, and he turned his head to see the second dove pacing on the floor. Seeing Florian moving, the dove hopped closer and flapped its wings urgently.
Florian slowly pushed himself into a sitting position. He bent forward, pressing the heel of his hand against his forehead to stifle the headache drumming there. Raising his gaze, he glanced about the chamber.
He was alone. The river was back to its regular level, but a heavy wetness still clung to the air, making it strenuous to breathe. The table on the other side of the canal was overturned, its contents strewn about the chamber. In the cells, the many of the decomposing skeletons had washed away, though some bones still lay scattered about. Florian grimaced, feeling sick.
Snow White! Grimhilde's threat snapped back into Florian's thoughts. Fresh panic surged in him, and he pushed himself to his feet, staggering as he sought his balance. The two doves flew free of him, hovering frantically.
He had to find Snow White before Grimhilde did. How long had it been since he had passed out? Florian reached up, running a head through his tangled hair. It was still slightly damp, as were his clothes. Normally, he would find relief in that, assuming that he had been unconscious for only a short time. But with the constant dampness of the dungeon, it was hard to tell. He could have been lying there for hours for all he knew. He growled in frustration, kicking at a molding torch handle on the ground.
Florian glanced at the two doves, who cooed urgently as they swerved towards the canal. He hesitated, looking instead at the corridor leading back to the staircase that ascended into the castle. Perhaps he could somehow make it through the castle undetected by the guards, and escape through the courtyard. He frowned. The possibility of being re-captured seemed too high.
Yet the idea of having to swim in the sewage river was not appealing. The doves flew closer to the arching tunnel Grimhilde had ridden the rowboat down. Florian assumed it led beyond the castle grounds – a perfectly undetectable escape route. But Grimhilde had taken the only rowboat, and Florian knew he was far too exhausted to swim the entire way. He looked back to the table on the other side of the canal. Perhaps he could use the surface of the table as a raft. It wasn't his best idea, but it would have to do.
Florian hurried to the river. The water's surface was only a foot below the edge of the canal, and it seemed to be moving at a much calmer pace than before. Florian narrowed his eyes, trying to see the bottom of the canal. Unsurprisingly, it was far too murky to do so.
Above him, the doves cooed again.
"Yes, yes, I know," said Florian apologetically. Lowering himself to the floor, he eased into the water and swam to the other side. The current was not strong, so he had no trouble, though by the time he hauled himself onto the wet stones, he felt thoroughly disgusting.
"I'm not sure Snow White will want to meet me again in this state," he muttered to himself. He rushed to the table and grabbed an axe on the ground a few feet away. Using the tool, he hacked away the legs of the table and cut down the surface to a smaller, more manageable size for him to maneuver. He glanced about, wishing there was a more useful weapon he could take with. But there was nothing he could carry practically, and he resolved to leave the axe on the ground as he dragged the makeshift raft to the sewage river.
Sliding into the water, Florian scrambled partway onto the raft so that his torso and head lay on the wooden surface. With the doves flying ahead, Florian propelled himself down the river, following the path Grimhilde had taken as he floated from the dungeon.
The tunnel seemed to go on endlessly. The light from the chamber torches faded behind him, and soon he was completely engulfed by darkness. Florian was left to blindly push his raft through the water, hoping that there were no branches in the tunnel that he might get lost down. Time dragged on as he moved, and often he was forced to simply lie there on the raft, catching his breath and gathering his strength as the current pushed him to freedom.
He must have passed out again, from the lack of sufficient food and water over the past few days, for when awareness came back to him he found himself blinking up at a star-speckled night sky. He was still lying on the raft, but it had run ashore amongst a tangle of weeds and cattails. The two doves were on his chest once again, plucking impatiently at his clothes.
"Alright…alright…" he croaked. Slowly, he sat up. He glanced about in confusion, until his gaze focused on the shadowed outline of the castle looming above him. It sat on top of a cliff; at the bottom of it he could vaguely make out the opening of a small tunnel, out of which the sewage river drained into the main river running beside the rocky expanse. Florian shook his head in wonder, amazed he had made it out of the castle in his dazed state.
The river lazily curved past him, trailing off into the expansive woods beyond the castle grounds. Florian felt his heart sink. How was he supposed to find the dwarfs' cottage? The forest was massive, and the queen hadn't exactly been detailed when she had mentioned Snow White's hiding place.
The doves circled Florian's head once before flying to the edge of the trees. They hovered, turning back to look at him. Florian stared at them hopefully.
"Are you…can you show me where Snow White is?" A few hours ago he would have felt he was going mad for asking doves such a question. But now he was desperate…and strangely convinced that these birds knew exactly where he needed to go.
The doves cooed, circling urgently. There was the sound of heavy steps squelching in the riverbank mud, and Florian spun around.
"Astor!" he exclaimed in relief.
Astor anxiously trotted over the mess of plant growth to her master's side. She nudged her nose against his head and he laughed softly, stroking it.
"Good girl," he murmured. He stumbled to the bags hanging from the saddle and yanked the water skin free. He gulped down the water, closing his eyes blissfully as his sore throat was soothed. Feeling more focused, he patted Astor's mane. "Come on, girl. We cannot delay any longer." He hesitated as he grasped the saddle, unsure he had the strength to mount his horse. But thoughts of Snow White revived some fervor in him, and he shakily swung up onto Astor's back.
He gently prodded Astor's side with his foot, prompting her forward. The doves swooped around Astor and Florian, then flew into the trees. Gripping Astor's reins tightly, Florian urged her to follow the birds into the forest.
Florian and Astor followed the doves for many long hours. The night dragged on, the only light provided that of the moon filtering through the overhanging tree branches. As he rode, Florian felt a growing sense of dread in his stomach. Something had gone terribly wrong, he was sure of it.
Dawn eventually broke, and morning aged into the early afternoon. Florian was weary down to his very bones, but he did not slow, knowing that time was precious. They traveled for the rest of the day, rested briefly at night, then continued on. As the second morning waned, Florian was led through a wall of trees into a small meadow.
There was a coffin made of glass in the middle of the meadow. Sunlight reflected off it, making its surface glimmer in the golden hue of the place. Kneeling before it were seven dwarfs, their heads bowed in the deepest grief. A few animals surrounded the dwarfs and coffin, still and reverent. One glance at the coffin was all Florian needed to confirm his fears.
Snow White lay inside, pale with death.
Disbelieving grief stirred within Florian as he pulled Astor to a stop. She couldn't be dead. Not after everything he had done to get here. Fate could not be so cruel to them.
The sounds of his intrusion alerted the dwarfs, and many of them turned to face him. Tears stained their faces, their eyes red from weeping. Sorrow clutched Florian's throat, making it difficult for him to swallow. He dismounted Astor and carefully walked towards the dwarfs.
"You are the prince she spoke of," said one of the dwarfs. He wore spectacles, and had a face lined with a quiet wisdom.
Florian's heart ached. She had told them about him. "Yes," he whispered. "I'm sorry. I tried to come, but the queen…" Fear throbbed in his chest. "Where is the queen?"
"Dead," said another dwarf. He wore a red cap, and a scowl flickered through his sadness at the mention of the queen.
Florian waited for further explanation, but none of the dwarfs bothered to give him any. His gaze wandered back to Snow White.
"Please," he said softly. "Please, may I see her? May I say goodbye?"
The dwarfs looked at each other. The one in the spectacles nodded, and the dwarfs obligingly parted, creating a pathway to the glass coffin.
Nodding his thanks, Florian walked forward. Two dwarfs accompanied him, and as he knelt before it they grasped the edges of the coffin lid, lifting it and setting it on the ground. With the barrier removed between Florian and Snow White, she seemed lovelier as ever. It was as though Death had forgotten to steal away her beauty when he took her breath. Or perhaps Death simply could not bear to do so.
She was so still. The vibrance in her face was gone, the carefree giddiness in her smile no longer to be seen. The fact that the world would no longer have such a bright soul in it seemed like an unforgivable crime. Florian could not leave without expressing his love for her.
Love? Did he love her? Yes. The answer rang clearly in his head, and he could not deny the truth of it. It seemed like a foolish idea, for love to grow so quickly. But Florian could not describe his feelings for her in any other way.
He conveyed his sentiment in a way that was simple, yet pure in its intention. Gently, he pressed his lips to hers. They were cold and lifeless, so unlike how Snow White had been when Florian had first seen her. He pulled away with a sob. Keeping his arm on the coffin, Florian bowed his head, tears welling in his eyes as he shared the misery of the woods around him.
Behind Florian, some of the dwarfs were weeping softly. The guilt in him intensified at the sound. If only he had come in time…
He felt something shift next to his arm on the coffin. Florian jerked his head up and stared in shock as Snow White began to stir.
It was impossible. How could she…?
Florian's thoughts flew back to what Grimhilde had said when she presented the apple to him. A Sleeping Death. Not death itself. In his exhaustion, he had forgotten that single key word.
Exhilaration and overwhelming relief rose in Florian, and he could not stop the smile spreading across his face. Snow White's arm stretched upwards in the manner of one waking from a satisfying nap. Behind them, Florian could hear the soft gasps of the dwarfs.
Snow White's eyes fluttered open. They flickered about in a daze as she gathered her surroundings, then finally focused on Florian. Confusion passed over her expression, but it was quickly doused by happy recognition.
"Florian…" she breathed. "You…how…"
Florian gently stroked Snow White's cheek. "Hello, princess," he whispered. "I'm sorry I didn't come sooner. I was delayed."
Snow White smiled at him. "You came, that's what matters." She raised her hand to brush Florian's jaw. "My Prince Buckethead." She gave a gentle laugh.
Florian made a sound that was both a laugh and sob. Grinning broadly, he swept his arms beneath Snow White's back and knees, lifting her from her coffin. He turned, and the dwarfs burst into jubilant shouts, throwing their hats into the air and jumping up and down in glee.
"Snow White! Snow White! You're alive! You're alright!" they cried, rushing forward to greet her.
Florian set Snow White down, and she hurried forward to embrace her friends. Kisses were exchanged between them all, and Florian watched happily, warmth running through him as the smile he had missed so much curved Snow White's lips once again.
Finally, she turned towards him. She held out her hand, beckoning, and Florian came to her side, taking her hand in his.
"This is Florian," she said to the dwarfs. "I've been wanting you to meet him for some time now."
The dwarfs eagerly greeted Florian, shaking his hand and giving him affectionate pats. Florian did his best to greet them all in return, but there were so many of them, and in their excitement it was difficult to get a word in. Snow White laughed as she watched the interaction, finally pulling Florian free of the swarming dwarfs.
"Now, now, don't suffocate him!" she chided with a grin. Her nose crinkled teasingly as she studied Florian's torn and stained clothes. "He already is a little worse for wear."
Florian blushed in embarrassment. In everything that had happened, he had forgotten his appearance. "I had meant to clean up before," he tried to explain. "But there were complications…"
Snow White smiled. "I understand," she said. Concern knitted her brow as she eyed the scratches on his cheek.
Florian smiled reassuringly and gently tilted her chin up to draw her attention away from the near-healed wound. "Snow White." He took both her hands in his. "Please, come with me to my castle. I'll take care of you, I'll protect you. You can meet my parents too – they'll love you." He glanced at the dwarfs, who were looking rather coy as they exchanged looks with each other. He held back a sigh; he hadn't been planning on asking her this with an audience. But he had already begun, so he had to finish. "Only if it is your wish," he added quickly. "I suppose with the queen dead, you could return to your castle. Or if you wish to stay with the dwarfs…it is your decision. But I love you…and…"
"Are you asking me to marry you?" interrupted Snow White. She looked rather amused as she watched him stutter through his string of words.
Florian grinned nervously. "Yes."
"Well then," said Snow White cheerfully. She raised herself on her toes and pecked a quick kiss on Florian's lips. "I will."
The dwarfs exploded once again into cheers and laughter. Florian laughed with them, and picked Snow White up in his arms, no longer feeling the weariness of his journey here. He carried her to Astor and helped her settle into the saddle.
"Goodbye!" exclaimed Snow White to the dwarfs. She waved at them happily at Florian led Astor away from the meadow. "Goodbye, my darlings! We'll visit very soon!"
The dwarfs waved happily, shouting their goodbyes and good wishes upon the couple. And so Florian and Snow White traveled to his castle, where they lived in great happiness for the rest of their days.