Today's accompanying music: 'Water' by Denuo. Just play it when the title appears, bold and central.
I found her on the bed, sleep crawling all over her,
Lucid like the sheets she writhed and drowned in.
And there should be colours like red and black at times like those,
But she was as white as a pill.
Ravenna's already cold, emaciated, aged body was too much to look at.
Instead I glared into the reflective golden plate hung above her.
Purest blood, the blood of the fairest, they called it. I couldn't see any sign of blood even in my lips that were meant to be red as roses. All I saw was a deathly face. Haggard, shadowy around the eyes.
It was the first time I had looked into a mirror, a real mirror, since I could remember. I tried to convince myself that under different circumstances, I would have approved of my reflection, I would have looked as beautiful as they claimed. The metal of my armour glinted menacingly. My hair, braided back, didn't do much to decorate my face. I didn't feel at all like myself, didn't look at all like I thought I should.
The mirror was frightfully magnetic. I half-imagined I could sense a power rippling, lurking behind the innocent gold.
But the sound of my name being called brought me with a sharp stab back to reality - I stepped away from the scene of horror before me to face another. Shards of glittering black graphite lay in heaps upon the floors - and other heaps were slumped beside them. Heaps of human flesh and bright, thick bloodshed.
For a moment, I thought I spotted William among them. He was crouched face down, a small pool of crimson streaming from him.
"No," was all I could manage, barely a choke of dismay, as I fled towards him.
Not him, not when we had only just found one another. Not when he had risked his own safety so recklessly just to get to this point. It wasn't fair.
At that moment, he lifted his head and pushed himself up with shaking arms. All the breath was sucked out of my chest, my legs gave way under me, and I fell gracelessly to my knees before him.
"Are you hurt?" he demanded immediately, grasping me by my steel-clad shoulders.
"It's alright now," he pulled me into his arms, causing me to inhale again. "It's over."
My voice sounded strangely hollow. It didn't feel over.
It was then that I remembered who had called my name, in a voice like rumbling thunder. The only person whom that voice could possibly belong to...
I rose, gently shaking William off, and gazed quietly at the ragged armour-less man standing across from us. He'd received minimal injuries - even less than William. The thought lifted my heart a little. The look on his face, however, erased even this small relief.
"Are you alright?" I asked shortly, without moving towards him. His gaze held me exactly where I was.
"Fine," he answered, just like me. Hollowly.
I was going to say something more, but then I glanced about and noticed that there were other people present. Other survivors. My heart genuinely leapt when I took in their numbers, more than I'd expected.
"Are you all alright?" I asked them. I was repeating myself, just that one question spinning endlessly between all of us. Are you alright? Are you all alright?
Hoping to god that nobody was dead, that nobody was fatally hurt.
They murmured their assent, still catching their breath. But the piles of other men scattered about the room couldn't be kept waiting any longer. Somebody groaned, and without a second's thought I was on the floor bending over him, rolling him onto his back to expose the wounds.
"Help me take his armour off," I cried.
He had been stabbed in the shoulder and his side was bleeding heavily. But no organs harmed. He would survive.
"Press the wounds." I moved on immediately to the next fallen soldier.
Not soldier. Farmer. The thought pierced me more deeply than any physical hurt. All of these people, these innocents, fighting to their deaths in my honour.
Thank god we had won. At least they benefited from their sacrifice.
There were still shouts and screams going on outside. Were they of triumph, or battle? Did my step-mother's armies know they were defeated? That they had no cause to keep spilling blood? I rushed to the turret window, grabbing Ravenna's crown on the way. Just as I'd thought, the war below had not ceased.
"Stop! Stop! The Queen is dead!" I yelled as loudly and brashly as I could, waving the crown about manically above me. "The Queen is dead!"
One black-clad fighter glanced up, and then froze. He reached over to shove the soldier beside him. He in turn looked, and held up a hand to prevent his foe from attacking. The small circle of men around them paused, pair by pair. Like rows and rows of dominoes, heads turned away from the battle, upwards to the sky. Towards me.
"The Queen is dead!" I shouted once more, but with less force. There were so many bodies lying crushed in the mud, silver and black alike. I realised suddenly that my face was wet, but I held the crown aloft still, to make sure the killing had really stopped.
William's arm wound around my waist. The huntsman gazed down at the crowds, his expression tired and stern.
"All hail our victor!" he cried, in his deep, commanding tones. "All hail Snow White!"
"All hail Snow White!" returned a chorus of joyful voices.
There was a silence as their echoes disappeared beyond the castle walls. All eyes were fixated on me.
It was terrifying.
Then - as if in slow motion - a single enemy soldier sank down. At first I thought that he was dying. But he simply bent one knee into the dirt, holding his sword before him with the tip pointed into the ground. Bowing? To me? I barely believed it, until the black-garmented man beside him did the same. And another, and another. Silver soldiers joined them. Like a great wave gradually dipping, every one of them descended to their knees. For me.
I drew in a quivering breath, my throat tight and my cheeks streaming, in a pathetically unregal display of weakness.
They could forgive me my tears, though, couldn't they?
After all, I was crying for them.
"The wounded," I just managed to get out in a thick voice. "Gather the wounded. All of them. Save as many as you can."
With that I spun on my heel, feeling William's grip on me loosening, and rushed back to the fellow I had been tending.
He didn't look good. Scarlet gushing from his mouth. Pierced through his belly.
"I'm here," I rasped, clinging to his hand as his eyes fluttered wildly around. "I'm here, you're going to be fine."
His rugged, bearded, sturdy face was no less kindly even spattered in blood. Did he have a wife? Children?
"Majesty," he whispered, barely audible through the blood, his dark orbs resting on me, "stay with me."
"I'm not going anywhere."
"To look upon such a face," his expression was slackening. "At least I shall go - with beauty at my side."
He winced in agony, his words stilted. My tears soaked the front of his tunic.
"You won't die," I gasped, and all I could see in my mind's eye was small vulnerable Gus.
Gus with an arrow through his torso. Gus gazing up at me in the last moments of his life, a life I should have saved.
"Already going, m'lady," this stranger managed to smile, "it comes for me. I'm cold. Don't let go of my hand."
I felt my heart clenching into a tight protective ball, to no avail. I was helpless to the guilt and sorrow as his lids finally slid over his glassy halos, and he breathed for the last time. Why him? Why this harmless man? Why not me? I was ready to crumple into a useless heap, but somebody else was moaning, "my lady", and I knew that I had to be strong for them. I had to see them to the other side. It was all I could do.
"I'm here," I stuttered again. There were only so many words to comfort a dying soul with. This one flickered and went out the minute I got to him. One glance at me and he gave out a sigh, and that was that. Worse than the first one.
William, the huntsman and my remaining men were trying their best to aid those who could be aided, holding the cold hands of the passing until their eyes lost their light.
Victory was not so sweet as I had anticipated.