For those of you reading my other two stories I promise that I'm working on the next chapters for both! But I just had to write this! Everything was so vivid in my mind. I'm going to warn you that I was crying as I wrote this and my beta cried while reading this. So fair warning while it doesn't involve character death it is very emotional!
Thank you so much to Happy Endings for All for beta-ing this! Sorry I made you cry!
Determined to Live
It was truly a relief for Snow when her stepmother had recommended that she go to the summer palace. The grief had been so strangling to her and the atmosphere at the castle had magnified it so much; to get away would be a blessing. The idea of walking there had been relieving as well, a chance to be out in the woods, breathing the clear, fresh air. If only her companion wasn't so quiet.
She knew most of the knights, but there were a few she didn't, including this one; he seemed uncomfortable with her and didn't speak much at all.
Snow bit her lip, deciding to try and break the ice. "You know, when I was a little girl, the summer palace was my favorite place." Memories of better times drifted pleasantly through her mind. "The mountains surrounding it felt like…a cradle," she glanced at him confidingly. "They always made me feel safe." She looked over at him; he said nothing but looked back at her. She looked down. "I look forward to returning to it now." She hoped that the peace and safety of it would help her out of the haze of grief that she had been living in.
The knight beside her pulled at his cowl and helmet, looking very uncomfortable.
She stopped, tilting her head to the side inquiringly. "Stuffy in there?" a teasing smile lit her face.
He couldn't seem to hold eye contact but he pulled the helmet off.
They had been walking for some time; perhaps he would like something to eat, goodness knew she was a bit hungry herself. "Here." She reached into her pouch, pulling out two apples; she kept one to herself and extended the other to him.
He looked at the offering, looking almost pained. "No," he shook his head.
Alarms that Snow hadn't noticed through the grief that was so strong in her began screaming at her so loud that she couldn't ignore them. She studied him as she put the second apple away. He wasn't wearing his armor right…and…he hadn't told her how sorry he was for her father's death…all of her father's men had done that.
She took a bite of her apple, considering him and the situation while she chewed it. She looked down, placing a finger against her lips as she swallowed and looked to the side. "You're not a knight, are you?" She looked back at him.
"What makes you say that?"
"Without fail, every one of my father's men has offered me condolences…" she kept her gaze steady on him, "except you," her eyes narrowed slightly.
"Please accept my condolences," he said automatically.
Before he had finished speaking Snow had continued, "And they all know how to wear armor." It was becoming all too clear to her what was going on. "She picked you to take me." She asked the question she already knew the answer to. "Why?"
"I think you know."
She did. "You're going to kill me." There was no fear, only resignation. Somehow she had always known this was coming, ever since she had made that one mistake and ruined her stepmother's life. In a way it was a relief that it had finally come and if in her death her people would be spared pain she would take it…but there was one thing she had to do first before she met her end. The plan was already forming in her mind.
"You have good instincts." There was a touch of admiration in his voice.
She sighed, "And you have too much armor," she stated with her signature wry humor.
He turned to pull out his hunting knife, but the armor hindered his ability to move.
Lightning fast she dropped her apple, grabbed a branch and swung it at him with all of her strength. He went down and she took off. It wasn't all that long before she heard him get to his feet but she was faster and didn't carry extra weight.
She ran and ran, as far and as fast as she could, trying to gain time and distance. She knew she couldn't escape him but at least she could buy time to complete one last act before she died. She misstepped on a rock, rolling her ankle; she went down hard, scraping her hands and chin. She pushed herself up and reached down to feel the limb; it was throbbing, but unbroken. She looked around her; she was in a small glen next to a pool, sunlight shone through the canopy onto a particular rock nearby. She hobbled over to it and sat down, still looking around. It was a beautiful place…a place she wouldn't mind being the last thing she saw. She pulled parchment and a pencil out to pen her last words to her stepmother, words of apology, of pleading and forgiveness. She prayed that the woman would take them to heart and be good to the people.
Footsteps approached; she looked up, the breath in her lungs freezing. She wasn't done yet! She began frantically writing, trying to complete the letter.
"I hunt you, yet you stop to compose a letter," he stated scornfully. "I will never understand your kind."
He probably thought her a silly little girl, but she was a rational woman who understood reality. "I don't know these woods," she stated, still writing. "You're obviously a skilled hunter. You'll find me." Her death was nearing, her voice quavered with the encroaching tears. She had so wanted to be brave, for her people and her father, but the pain and sadness was there. Her hunter was looking at her with a touch of surprise. "No matter what I do, I know how this ends," she managed to finish calmly. She would not beg, that was one thing she refused to do.
"Yes," he stated simply.
"There's one thing that I ask that you do, after you kill me," she said as she finished the letter, hoping he was honorable enough to agree to her final request. She folded the letter and held it out to him, looking at him pleadingly. "Please deliver this to the queen."
He looked at her with jaded eyes. "Your tricks won't work on me."
"It's not a trick," she told him, her voice becoming raspy with the knowledge at her death drawing ever nearer and just wanting this last thing done. "Please, give it to her." A sad smile crossed her face. "Tell her I mean every word," she finished desperately.
As he reached out and took it from her fingers, relief washed over her like a wave and she let out a sigh. Now she could die. She looked down bracing herself for what was to come. She would meet her destiny as bravely as possible. She looked back up to see him opening the letter, no, he wasn't supposed to read that! But what could she do to stop him?
She looked upward, not wanting his scornful look at what he would likely perceive as a childish gesture to be in her mind as she died. She closed her eyes, letting the sun shine down on her face and drawing as much of its warmth as she could manage. Silently she began to say her goodbyes and sorrys. She said goodbye to her friends, her people, to her kingdom; she told them all she was sorry that she wouldn't be there to be the queen she had hoped to one day be. She begged her father for forgiveness that she wasn't going to be the queen he wanted her to be, that through her own foolishness she had torn so many lives asunder. She said goodbye to the children she had always dreamed of having and now never would, her heart cracking; in her heart she held them close and told them that she loved them even though they never met and she's sorry they will never get to be born into this wondrous world. She then bid goodbye to her true love, whoever he was, her heart shattering entirely in her chest; telling him that she loved him and she was sorry that they will never get to meet, fall in love and have the life they're supposed to; she hopes that he finds happiness with someone else.
Finally she looks down again, facing her killer to see a tear sliding down his cheek; she canted her head to the side at the sight. How strange to see the man sent to murder her crying over her letter. Maybe this display of emotion meant he would be merciful and make it quick; she hoped so. He met her gaze, straight on, something in his eyes that she couldn't read. She kept looking up at him, begging him to get it over with. She prayed to whatever deity might be listening that her death would be fast, with little pain.
He drew his knife, tears still falling from his eyes.
Her heart was pounding and sobs were lodged in her throat.
He raised the blade.
Her breath was coming in panting sobs; she closed her head nodding, ready.
She tilted her head back so that the sun shone on her upturned face, the last thing she would feel, eyes closed.
He brought the knife down.
And cut a reed.
She was gasping for breath as she watched him carve small holes into the reed, confused.
He apparently finished his work and extended the reed to her. "Sound this when you need help."
She numbly reached out to accept the item, frowning in confusion. "W-what?"
"It's a whistle," he explained, "that will bring you aide. You'll be led to safety. Now go. Run."
"I don't understand. You're not going to kill me?" she looked up at him uncomprehendingly.
She didn't waste another moment at his urgent tone; she sprang to her feet and dashed off, the pain from her ankle completely dulled by the adrenaline coursing through her system. She ran blindly. Not knowing where she was going. Not thinking about the fact that she didn't know how to survive in these woods. All she could do was run.
In the days and weeks to follow she was given a crash course in survival. She learned to rely solely on herself. She often prayed for the huntsman who spared her life, hoping that he did not suffer for letting her go, but knowing her stepmother, likely she had made him suffer more than most anyone else for what she would see as a betrayal.
Snow found out through a few sources that the queen had taken the Huntsman's heart as part of her collection; in that moment she knew she couldn't ever allow his sacrifice to be in vain. So, she fought back against the queen's forces, with a tenacious willpower, determined to live and live free.
So I have been reading so many wonderful stories involving Emma and Graham from The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and you'd think that's who I'd write about, but no. For some reason Snow was the one speaking up… And the emotions that I began thinking about that she had to be feeling at facing her own death were just so vivid to me; I had to write this. I hope that you all liked it!