Disclaimer: I do not own Snow White and The Huntsman, nor am I affiliated with it in any way.
Snow crashed into Eric's room, not even bothering to knock. It wouldn't have mattered if she had, though, because the room was empty. All her fears had been confirmed, William's surrendering proved worthless. And her entire world came crashing down into her chest and she couldn't breathe. She fell to the floor.
And then she heard something rustling from the wind coming in from the open window. As fate would have it, the piece of parchment lifted off the bed and soared to her feet.
She read the scrawl through her glassy, tear-filled eyes:
"My dearest Snow,
It appears that William saw us together earlier, for when I left your room, he cornered me. He questioned me, and when he asked if I loved you, I could not deny it. He was very angry and he ordered me to leave at once, unaware that I was already leaving. (I was greatly tempted to punch him for threatening me, which would've been easy, but I didn't want him to show up to your wedding bloodied and bruised. You are welcome.) But that's not why I'm writing this letter, because none of that even matters. I'm writing to inform you that I won't be returning. It's better this way. I do hope you understand. William very obviously cares a great deal about you. He will undoubtedly make a great king to you. Even if you had chosen to have me, you know I am not fit to be a king. How could anyone picture me to be royalty? I know you think much too highly of me and that you will likely swear up and down that I am ruler material, but you are too kind. My place is in one of the outer villages, living amongst the commoners. I am a huntsman, and I will continue to find work in my old trade. I will not take the task of delivering the goods to the castle, for I am afraid it would pain both of us to see each other, and that would be far too unbearable. Let our love affair be a bittersweet memory... one that I will cherish forever. I hope you do not harbor any resentment towards me for anything I've written in this letter. You will do this kingdom well, my queen. Congratulations on your marriage. I love you, I love you, I love you. Forever.
"It's coming up on ten years now since you defeated Ravenna and took the throne, you know."
Snow was seated in her throne, where she had taken a liking to drinking her morning tea. It was quiet in the throne room. Peaceful. She sat alone with her parents most days, but she had begun to feel terribly lonely as of late, so she'd invited William to sit with her. She chuckled and rolled her eyes at what he'd said. "Like anyone around here could let me forget."
"We should throw a ball," he suggested casually.
She looked at William knowingly. "I am the queen. If you think I am unaware that you are already planning one behind my back, then you aren't as smart as I'd previously imagined."
He smirked and stood, wiping down the front of his trousers. "Well, I cannot deny you your observance. Or was it a bit of unfit eavesdropping that gave us away?"
"My methods are confidential, Duke. What kind of queen would I be if I gave away all of my secrets?" She smirked.
William laughed and leaned down, kissing her on the head. "I've got to be off now. I'll see you tonight, my queen." He began walking away, but stopped after a moment, not turning to her. "Aren't you curious as to whether or not we invited him?"
"You know me all too well, my William. So you must already know that I already know that you did. Just as you have to every other ball we've had over this last decade."
"Yes, well... maybe this time he'll surprise you," William said as he walked off.
A week later, the entire castle was dressed in their best, dancing and prancing and jesting and drinking and milling about, celebrating ten wonderful, plentiful, joyous years under Snow's reign. Snow wasn't much for dancing, but she didn't refuse anyone who asked. And there were plenty who did.
As the night drew darker, she retired to her chair at the front of the room, watching her people. Despite the hour, they were still as merry as ever. And who was she to put an end to their fun? She would let them continue all through the night, or at least until a wave of exhaustion swept over them.
Little Myra, who had previously been dancing and twirling around with Coll, came skipping over to Snow, her red curls bouncing up and down with each step. Snow lifted the six-year-old into her arms. "Don't you look beautiful tonight, my dear?"
"Thank you! Do you like my dress? It twirls when I dance!"
The little girl still had much energy, despite her age and the time of night, and Snow didn't have to fake the smile that came across her own tired features. "Of course, Myra! Your dress is the loveliest one here."
"Not prettier than yours!" Myra fluffed Snow's skirt beneath her. "It's so pretty! Like a plum! And I do love plums!"
Snow laughed. "I know you do, darling! Remember the plum pudding I had specially made for you on your birthday last year?"
Myra nodded vigorously. "That was the best pudding I've ever had! I hope I can have it again this year!"
"You'll just have to wait and see," Snow offered teasingly.
William came walking up then – with four-year-old Marta on his heels, gripping his hand tightly, and holding a sleeping two-year-old Henry in his arms.
"There you are, Myra," he sighed, exasperated. "I've been looking for you everywhere! Come now; it's time to be off to bed."
Myra pouted. "But Papa! You said I could stay up! You said I was a big girl!"
"You have been a very big girl! But it is very late. Look, Henry's already asleep, and your sister is to fall down any minute. So, please, come be a big girl for me and come to bed."
Myra wrapped her tiny arms around Snow's neck. "Do I have to go?"
"You should do as your father says, My. Little girls who obey their fathers grow to live a long and happy life." Snow winced at the double meaning in her words. How could she forget that awful wedding ten years ago? Her father would never let her forget.
"Well, okay." Myra planted a big, wet kiss on Snow's cheek and hopped down, taking Marta's other hand. "Goodbye, wonderful party!" she shouted, to which Snow and William laughed.
Snow rose from her seat to give William a quick kiss on the cheek. "Thank you for the delightful evening. It was truly enjoyable."
William smiled tiredly. "Of course."
Snow watched the four of them leave and then turned to retire back to her chair... when she stopped short. There, through the crowd, she saw him. His hair was shorter, his beard trimmed. He wore his usual casual attire, which was a contributing factor in helping her place him, for he stood out from the fancily-dressed crowd.
Her breath caught in her throat and her heart leapt from her chest and her stomach dropped to the floor. She had the immediate instinct to run, but she took a shaky breath and made her way through the crowd as calmly as she could.
His stance was tall and sure, but his eyes gave him away, as they were wary and afraid. He cleared his throat. "Queen," he said and bowed to her.
"Eric. How lovely to see that you've finally accepted one of my invitations." Her words were formal, void of all emotion.
"Yes, well, it has been ten years. And since William put his personal seal on this particular invite, I figured the offer was upstanding."
She was puzzled by his statement, but she lacked the energy to ask what he'd meant by it. "Well, how are you?" she asked politely.
"I'm... I'm wonderful." He forced a smile.
"Well, that's good to hear." She forced one back.
"I am wonderful, as well, thank you."
"So, um, would you like to sit?" He gestured to a few empty seats against the wall behind them. Snow nodded and allowed him to lead her to them.
"I saw you with the children."
"Oh, yes, they are quite the little partiers. They do bring so much joy into my life." Her smile was genuine this time.
"And how old are they?"
"Myra's the oldest. She will be seven this year! Marta is four, and little Henry just made two. There is another, as well. A baby girl named Rosie. Greta is nursing her tonight."
Eric was wide-eyed at first, but quickly softened his expression. "Well. You must be very proud."
Snow nodded. "I am. They are very fine children."
"Please don't take any offense in my saying this, but..." he cleared his throat again. He seemed nervous. "You look very well for having had four children in ten years."
Snow laughed a little too loudly at that. "What, do you think they belong to me? Do you think Greta is busy nursing my own child?"
"I, um, well..." he stammered, "I saw you with them, and they left with William, and I just assumed..."
"Eric, they are all red-haired and brown-eyed. Surely they cannot be mine."
"But they are William's then?"
"Yes, of course."
"And the mother is...?"
"Greta, of course!"
Eric looked ultimately perplexed. "Pardon my asking, but... are you unable to bear child?"
Snow raised an eyebrow at her former lover. "I would not know. I have never tried."
Eric shook his head. "But then why would William have them with Greta?"
"Well, he and Greta are married!"
"They're... Well what about... So you and William...?"
Snow couldn't believe what she was hearing... Had he been living in the wilderness for the past ten years? "Eric, don't you think that you would know if you had a king or not?"
"I... Well, I... I've kind of been living in the wild for the majority of the past ten years."
Oh. Well, that explains it.
"When I went back to my old village, I just couldn't find a place for myself there," he went on. "Turns out it wasn't where I really wanted to be. And I never went into the village much except to gather supplies, so I always received your invitations too late. I don't think I would've come anyway... Having my head on the king's platter didn't really seem like where I wanted to be either. But this letter had his seal on it... So I went and had a trim and had my clothes washed and pressed by some really nice elderly women, and, well... here I am."
"William is not the king, Eric."
"I know that now," he chuckled humorlessly, but stopped when he seemed to realize something. "Why isn't he?"
Snow could feel the heat behind her eyes. But she would not allow herself to cry in front of this man. Never again would he have that luxury. "On the day of our wedding all those years ago, he... saw that I was in love with another man. And William would not have me. So, he set me free."
Eric strangely looked as if he were going to cry at any moment, too. "And this other man that you loved... Why did you not go to him?"
"I did. But he was gone, and all that remained of him was a letter. One that cannot be read anymore, for it is wrinkled and worn and stained from my holding it to my chest and crying myself to sleep every night for a very, very long time... longer than I feel inclined to admit. But it need not be read, anyway. I've had its contents memorized for ten years."
A single tear fell down her cheek, and she quickly reached up to wipe it away before Eric tried to. He leaned towards her and meant to take her hands in his, but she refused him, so he ended up resting them not-too-gentleman-like on her knees. But it was strangely comforting and she didn't shrug them off.
"Why didn't you send for him? Surely had he known you had not married, he would have returned."
"The letter served as the only thing I've believed in these past years... Not love, not family, not the law. But home. That I was back home where I belonged, and that he was back home where he wanted to be."
"But it wasn't where I wanted to be," he said, dangerously switching pronouns and making the situation all too real and personal. "Had I known..."
"I didn't want you to return on account of my summoning you, Eric. I wanted it to be of your own accord."
"Well, that could have taken ten years. You know how stubborn that man can be."
Snow said nothing. She just continued to let her tears silently fall, one by one. And this time when he reached for her hands, she allowed him to.
"I can imagine how little you must think of me, how deep your disdain for me must be. But believe me when I say that you can't hate me any more than I hate myself. I lied when I said I was doing wonderfully; that answer was far from the truth. I am miserable. Lonely. Detestful. A coward. For I've loved two women in my lifetime so far, and I was stupid enough or careless enough to have lost both of them. And I am good enough for neither. But I need you to know... that I have loved you every second of every minute of every hour of every day of the past ten years, and I have spent every moment missing you."
Snow had wanted nothing more than to hear him say those words for an entire decade. And, finally, they had come. She wiped away the remainder of her tears and stood, still holding onto his hands. "Would you care to dance, Eric?"
Eric stood and gave her a weak smile, and she saw that his eyes were wet. "I would be honored, Your Majesty."
She led him out to the center of the dance floor and drew herself close to him, pressing her frail body to his and resting her head on his chest. He pressed his palm to the small of her back gently, testing the waters, and eventually he closed his eyes and rested his chin atop her head, scooting the crown backwards slightly.
They held each other and swayed to the music for a very long time – long after the people had called it a night and the music stopped and the band packed up their instruments and left and the castle went to sleep.
This is how Snow White's life was to play out had Eric not walked through the door at that very moment.
But, thankfully, he did.
Snow immediately swiveled towards the direction of Eric's voice. He stood in the doorway, his satchel around his shoulder. He threw it to the ground and crouched down next to her. His expression looking more worried than ever.
She stood at once, reaching for him as he stood, too. "Eric! I thought you'd gone!" She felt herself smile... but then remembered the contents of the letter in her hands.
"What are you doing?" he asked. "Why are you here?"
"I left the wedding... and I found this!" She shook the letter in his face angrily.
His eyes were immediately downcast. "You weren't supposed to see that until after you were married."
"I will not be getting married today." She crumpled the letter up and threw it to the ground. And when she looked back up at Eric, he no longer looked guilty. He looked angry.
"You must think me powerless to refuse you, but it is not so, Snow! You are to marry him! And I do love you, but I won't stay here and watch you live a happy life with him! And watch you start a family with him... I won't do it! So don't you dare ask it of me!"
"You're not hearing me, Eric!" She stomped her foot childlishly, much like she'd done the night she'd gone in search of him outside the gates after her coronation ball.
He knelt down to pick up his satchel. "I've said my goodbyes to you, Snow. And they we're pretty damn good ones, might I add. It'd be a shame to ruin them with these."
"I said, I will not be getting married today, you big ignoramous!"
Eric said nothing. He just stood there in the threshold, staring at her with a crazed expression. His muscles were tense – she could see the veins popping out of his neck, his arms. "William has said that he will not marry me."
"And why is that?" His voice sounded disbelieving, unconvinced. But also... accusatory?
"He was angry at first. He confronted me and I thought he might storm out, but he still went along with the whole thing... for the sake of my father, I think... Then I think he saw how sad I was and... He found a way around the will, one I had not seen before. He... he set me free!" She didn't even attempt to stop herself as she strode towards him and took his face in her hands. She could fill her eyes welling up, but she didn't care.
Eric stepped backwards, away from her touch. "And on what means did William act so selflessy?" Still angry-sounding. Still unsure.
"He loves me. He couldn't bare to see me in such pain at his expense." She stepped backwards from him, watching her feet as she did. "And there is nothing quite as lonely as being in a marriage with someone who doesn't love you back."
And when she looked back up at him, there was sadness in his eyes. "I disagree. There is something far lonelier."
Snow was immediately reminded of Eric's Sarah and frowned. "If you leave it up to me, you will never be lonely, ever again."
"I can't let you give up everything for me."
"But by giving you up, I will surely be giving up everything. Can't you see that?" And that's when it occured to her that maybe he did want to leave. Sure, they had their fun. But he was no knight, no captain. He was a commoner! A huntsman! And maybe that's all he ever wanted to be. It's what he'd said in his letter, after all. "But it's you who will be giving everything up by staying here. Your village, your home, your trade? This cannot be the life you've envisioned for yourself."
He sighed, a tired sound. "It is not."
And there it was. Confirmation. "Then do not let me keep you here any longer." She turned her back from him, not wanting him to see her tears.
"I am no good for you, Snow! I am not fit to court a queen! Or marry one... Could you picture it? Me, a king?"
Snow didn't answer him.
"I thought not," he said. "And that is why I must go. Because you can picture William a king. And not me."
"You are wrong."
"And what if I don't want to be king?" He spoke the words slowly, testing the waters.
She swiveled back to face him. "I don't know what you are trying to do, Eric! Are you trying to say anything to make me go back to the life you think I should have? Are you trying to make excuses so that I'll just let you waltz out of this room? Out of my life? Before the wedding, before the letter, before any of it... You said to me that I should do what I want for me! And damn everyone else's expectations! So when do I get to decide that? What I want for me?"
He ran a hand through his hair, rubbed it across the back of his neck. He knew she was right. She'd thrown his own words back at him, and it had obviously made him uncomfortable. "And if I asked you to hand the crown to William and run away with me? Would you do it?"
She swallowed. "Yes. I would."
"You're lying. You won't abandon your kingdom."
She stepped towards him bravely, daringly. Challenging him. "And you won't ask me to."
His voice was soft then, as he asked, "Are you absolutely certain that a life with me is what you desire?"
"Isn't it clear? I left my wedding for you, Eric. But I think the better question is... are you certain?"
He must've sensed the pain in her eyes because his brows furrowed and his lips curled downward. "My letter clearly hurt you. And I need you to know that it was full of falsehoods, I... I just wanted to make my leaving seem easier for you! I'd rather you hate me forever than miss me miserably forever... And William threatened to have my head if I ever returned. I am not afraid of him, I just wouldn't want you to ever have to witness that side of him, and that's why I kept his exact threat out of my letter. I realize that it probably wasn't the smartest thing, the letter... but I had to make up some kind of reason for... I couldn't stand the thought of you waiting and waiting and me never returning and you coming to the conclusion that I'd grown to feel indifferently, and I–"
Snow took his face in her small hands and closed the remaining space between them, silencing him with her kiss. He wrapped his arms around her as tightly as he could, holding her to him as if it were life and death.
"I will forgive you for the letter if you promise to stay," she whispered against his lips.
"Always," came his reply.
Eric snuck in the back of the throne room, which was pretty simple due to all the commotion. People had started wandering about, gossiping, asking questions which no one knew the answers to. The Duke sat on the steps to the altar, a seemingly perplexed look on his face. William was pacing the stage, hands clasped behind his back.
The room gradually fell silent as their queen walked back up the aisle, their concerns and accusations turning to whispers, and then silence, as she passed them. As she climbed the steps to the altar, the sound of her footsteps echoed through the deathly quiet room.
William rushed to her. He said nothing, but the look in his eyes spoke volumes. Snow grinned and nodded once, then darted her eyes towards the back of the room, motioning for William to look in that direction. He let out a relieved sigh when he saw that Eric was there, and when he looked back, Snow gave him a look that said, "I know what you did, and I will talk to you about it later." William grimaced and gave her an apologetic look. And then she turned to face the crowd.
They were all looking upon her – some worried and anxious, some unamused and annoyed. She took a deep breath, willing the right words to come to her, much as they had that night Eric's kiss awoke her and she marched outside to rally her troops. If she could get the people to agree with her then, maybe she could convince them to agree with her now when the matter was of slightly lesser importance.
"I thank you all for your tremendous patience, and I am sorry for alarming you all. The matter has been taken care of, and there is no need for your worry. As you may have guessed, William and I are not to be wed today. We offer our sincere apologies to anyone we might've fooled, but we are not in love. We do not wish to be married, despite what my father wrote in his will. And I truly hope that none of you resent me for disobeying him, but the last thing I want is to live a life of dishonesty before you. I hope you can respect that I want nothing more than to make each and every one of you proud to call me your honest and trustworthy queen."
All was silent for a few moments as everyone looked from Snow to each other and back, trying to decide what to make of her speech. She was beginning to think that they weren't accepting of it – of any of it – and she shot the dwarves a pleading look. Just then, someone started clapping slowly from the back of the crowd. Snow craned her neck to see who it was, but now Gort was clapping... and Duir and Quert... and then another, and then another... and before she knew it, the whole room had joined in the applause.
They were proud of her.
And then, one by one, the dwarves began kneel to her, and, one by one, everyone else followed suit. Even William was kneeling at her feet! Snow was so grateful for their approval that she didn't even realize she was crying until she tasted salty tears within her smile. How could she ever show them the deepness of her gratitude? And then she had an idea.
"Please rise, for I have another announcement." She felt William's gaze hot on her, but she didn't care. "The decorators and cooks and everyone that was involved in putting together this wedding all spent such a long time... It'd be a shame to let all their hard work go to waste! So let us make use of it all, shall we?"
The people all jumped up and cheered.
The ball room was decorated much like the throne room had been, in burgundy, navy, and gold. Two long tables stretched the lengths of opposing walls, each one holding dozens of special delicacies. The band was set up near the front of the room, and they were instructed to not stop playing until the last person left the dance floor.
Everyone was shouting and feasting and dancing and drinking and laughing, and as she looked upon them all, Snow was the happiest she had ever been.
She turned when she felt a tap on her shoulder. Eric smiled broadly and held out a hand to her. "May I have this dance, Highness?"
Snow laughed and curtsied and placed her hand in his. "Of course you may. But I thought you didn't dance, huntsman?"
He smirked. "I may have lied." When she gave him a look, he raised a brow and said, "I wasn't always a grumpy slob, you know."
Eric pulled Snow to him and began to spin her around the room, surprising her with his footwork. She laughed and squealed and held on to him for dear life, panting heavily when they eventually slowed to a waltz.
"This whole party thing was a grand idea, Snow. Really. They'd all be ridiculous not to forgive you now. Although, I believe I might've had a little something to do with it."
Snow squinted her eyes at him, but she could not cease her smile. "What do you mean?"
Eric smirked at her, and his eyes were dancing. "The slow applause added a nice touch, don't you think?"
She gasped, her smile widening even more. "That was you?"
"Well, it seems my entire rule is indebted to you, good sir!"
He leaned in closer and whispered, "I can think of a few good ways you can repay me a little later." A shiver ran up her spine.
She tore her gaze away from his, not wanting him to see how flustered his promise had made her, when she saw William dancing with another across the room. And her heart didn't flutter, and it didn't sink, and she was pleased to find that she was genuinely happy that he was enjoying himself. And then he spun the girl, and her long, red tresses waved in the air around her. Snow smiled. Greta.
She nodded towards them, showing Eric. "What do you suppose to make of that? My lady-in-waiting and the young duke?"
"How fitting," he said. "And us, the huntsman and the queen."
She turned to him, realizing he had referred to himself as huntsman instead of Captain. "Are you still the standing captain of my guards?"
"I'm afraid I cast that duty onto another early this morning."
"Well, then. What to do with you?" she asked, her smirk devilish.
"I very well cannot be on your court. I am far to wreckless and irrational, so we can rule out that option."
She laughed. "What of an advisor?"
He scoffed at her playfully. "An advisor of what? The law? I am hardly one for such a job."
"Well, there are plenty of other kinds of advisors," she said, unrelenting.
"And what of these advisors that specialize in certain kind of matters unpertaining to the law? Are there ones that advise the queen in more personal matters? Matters of the heart?"
As if on cue, Snow's heart skipped a beat. "That kind of advisor would surely shed a little light on how a huntsman should openly court the queen under the public's curious eyes."
"I think he might say..." Eric drew in dangerously close, causing Snow's breath to hitch, "to shock them."
"Are you positive?" she whispered. "Once we make our love public, there is no going back."
"Snow, the moment I met you in the Dark Forest, I knew there was no going back."
And then he pressed his lips to hers, right there in front of God and everybody. And as the queen, Snow should've broken off the kiss when the people nearby started staring and pointing and whispering to each other. She should've stepped out of Eric's embrace when a few that stood around them whooped and clapped and drew attention to them. But she hardly minded, as one delirious under the spell of being blissfully happy seldom does.
A/N: Tada! Thank you to all of my lovely readers and reviewers! I have truly enjoyed writing this story, and you lot have all been so good to me that I don't wanna leave it! But I feel like if I keep dragging it on, it will lose its point. I may come back with an epilogue... I'm not sure yet. Either way, I hope this ending was satisfactory to you all. I will really miss writing this! xo