Author's notes are at the end!
Hey baby, there's something in your eyes
Tryin' to say to me
That I'm gonna be alright if I believe in you
It's all I want to do
- Crawling Back To You, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
I'll be what you want me to be
To bring you to your knees
Your lover, your daughter
We'll move in slow motion
Falling down, down, down
Into icy water
You took a girl like me
- A Girl Like Me, The Desert Sessions
He wanted to see this through, and that meant staying for the funeral. Once she was safely buried in the ground, he would move on, finding a quiet place to spend as many months drunk as it took for him to forget the growing void in his chest. He was like a ghost at the tavern. He didn't talk to anybody. He didn't ask any questions. He only realized on the second day of his bender that no one had asked him for money and someone else was paying for his drinks. When he briefly reached a point where his intoxication ebbed long enough for him to ask a coherent question, he discovered William was covering his tab.
He'd always liked that William fellow.
It was customary in these parts for a vigil to be kept at the body's side for three days before burial, so on the third morning, he expected some news of the funeral and tried to maintain sobriety for a few hours. When he asked the barkeep, the man also expressed confusion as to what was happening. The barkeep mentioned that William had been in here the previous night and had spoken to the huntsman, but the huntsman had absolutely no recollection of any conversation at all.
Wait, he did remember one thing: he recalled looking at William and feeling the oddest sensation that he was looking at the girl for a moment instead. His heart sank because he knew this was just the beginning when it came to seeing her face everywhere it wasn't. There was something in William's expression that he couldn't quite describe, though, a similarity there...
It was probably just the look of pity and disgust he imagined she would have been giving him. He'd be disgusted with himself, too, if he'd taken the time to properly sober up.
He ventured out of the tavern unsteadily for the first time in days. The sunlight that filtered through the clouds was blinding, but he made his mind up that he was going to get answers. The first stop was the church. He walked in, expecting to see the girl's body on the altar, but it was not there. He looked around wildly for anyone. His eyes rested upon a young nun who seemed shaken by his appearance.
"Where is the girl?" he demanded with a slur.
She wrung her hands slowly as she looked to the altar, then back to him. "A most unusual thing, milord..."
"Don't," he ordered.
She looked at him, confused.
"I'm not a lord. I'm just a man," he corrected her.
"I see," she said. "I just...well, no matter." She stopped ringing her hands and looked around. "You're a friend of Sir William's, so I will tell you. The duke has forbade the priest from performing the final rites for the girl. The ironsmith has been working around the clock to fashion a casket with no walls, and Duke Hammond ordered glass to be removed from some of the windows in the small chapel in the keep." She looked around again. "William has been running the keep for the past few days while his father retires to his chambers. It is our belief that he intends to keep the girl with him...indefinitely."
"What?" the huntsman almost shouted in surprise and disgust.
The young nun shook her head. "Yes, it is disturbing, but the duke has been acting strangely ever since he saw the princess's body. I have never seen him like this. It is as if his mind is fevered, yet he is not ill." She looked over to the altar. "Though it is true that the princess did not seem, well...right, either."
"What do you mean, sister?" the huntsman pressed.
"Well, I've seen the bodies of those who have died within the walls of this keep, and after three days of vigil, it's usually high time for them to be buried and returned to the Lord once and for all. But the princess...she seemed to almost be...sleeping." She shook her head. "I've only seen a few cases like it, and in all of those cases, the person was a saint." She quickly looked up, contrite. "I don't mean to be doubting the princess's virtue! I mean canonized saints, saints who have performed verifiable miracles...like...Saint Eustace!" She looked sidelong at the huntsman and gave him a withering glance. "You are familiar with him, are you not?"
"Yes, sister. I am familiar with many saints. You're not answering my question, though. Where is the princess now?"
She sighed. "We are not sure exactly where the body is at this moment, but she is probably in the duke's chambers by now." She shook her head again. "This is a most unsettling turn of events." She looked around for a third time before leaning in close to the huntsman. She caught a whiff of the alcohol on his breath and wrinkled her nose, but continued a moment later. "It is rumored that the duke loved Queen Eleanor dearly, and the princess does so resemble her." She sighed again. "Queen Eleanor, the Lady of Light. When she died, it was said that Duke Hammond was beside himself with grief. I was too young to notice, though. Everyone was overcome with sadness at the good queen's passing."
"Are you implying that the duke's intentions are..." he didn't even know how to finish that question. What was the duke doing with the princess's body?
The nun's eyes spoke volumes, but what they said were discordant with what she spoke. "I am certain the duke is simply trying to deal with his sorrow from the loss of the princess, just like the rest of us. He's managing the best he can under the circumstances."
The huntsman tried to collect his thoughts, but he failed utterly. He mumbled thanks to the young nun, then walked back outside. The sky was grey, but the brightness of the day still hurt his eyes. He returned to the tavern, having nowhere else to go. He indulged the desire to mull over everything he had learned with another drink.
Of course, one drink led to two, and two drinks led to many more, and he didn't manage to mull over anything except his bottomless pint of ale. By the time he surfaced again, he felt pain in his head and had the vague sense of being dragged inside a building. He slurred some words, but even he wasn't sure what he was trying to say.
"Huntsman, be calm." It was William's voice. "You are inside the keep." William pulled him along the stone corridor. "You got into a fight and the barkeep was sick of watching you drown yourself in drink, so he kicked you out." They stopped in front of a door and William leaned the huntsman against the wall while he opened it. He pushed the door open, then looked at the huntsman.
William stood there for a moment with his hand on the huntsman's shoulder supporting him, trying to find the right words. "Everybody is hurting, Huntsman. You are not alone in sharing that pain, but there is a resistance to lead, and I can't keep checking in on you." He looked down the corridor, then back to the huntsman. The huntsman felt William sizing him up with a stern eye. "You probably won't even remember this tomorrow morning, will you?"
The huntsman was about to say something, but before he could, William pulled him by his vest away from the wall and pushed him into the room. William guided him to the bed, then turned and left. The huntsman leaned back on the bed. It was very comfortable, but he was too drunk to care. A moment later and he was completely passed out.
An indeterminable time later, he heard someone open his door. He looked up and saw through the window that it was still dark outside. He lifted his head and he saw the strangest sight.
He could have sworn she was standing there, peering cautiously at the hall through a slightly opened door. She was wearing a white gown and looked almost like an angel. She closed the door and proceeded to drop something on the ground, then grabbed a firm handful of the skirt and quickly pulled the garment up and over her head. She bent down and rummaged through the articles on the floor. She picked up what looked to be her dwarf shirt and pulled it on over her head, then grabbed the trousers out of the pile and quickly slipped them on. She sat on the ground to pull on some socks before wrapping her scarf around her neck, then unlacing her boots to put them on.
At this point, the huntsman groaned. This was definitely a strange thing to be imagining, but it wasn't beyond the realm of possibilities. He remembered seeing his wife in the strangest places after she had died. He sat up and rubbed his face.
He expected her to disappear, but the girl instead jumped and rapidly scooted against the door. He laughed at his own imagination. "Don't mind me, princess. I surely won't be doing you any harm." He stretched, then leaned back again, hoping she would soon disappear and he could go back to sleep.
A moment later, he heard her rise to her feet. "Um..." she whispered, "Eric?"
He opened his eyes and propped himself up on his elbows. The whole scene was a bit heartbreaking, but it also made him smile. "So we're on a first name basis, are we, princess?"
Her eyes were wide and she opened her mouth a few times, but no words came out. Tears started dripping down her cheeks. She launched herself at him and as this was just the vision of an drunken aching heart, he was expecting her to land with the weight of an invisible feather. This, however, was not what happened. She landed on him with the bodily crash of a real, corporeal being, and soon she had her arms around his neck and she was shaking and crying and pulling him closer.
Seeing visions of lost loved ones was not what would be considered by anybody to be "normal," but actually feeling the weight of one of these visions, smelling the scent of these visions, and wiping away the wet tears of these visions was beyond the pale. He sat up straight, pulling her unceremoniously with him, and she slid down into his lap. She looked at him questioningly, but hopefully.
"This...this is witchcraft," he reasoned gravely.
She put her arms around him again. "Yes," she quietly sobbed, "yes, it is!"
He pulled her away from him, pushed her onto the bed, then stood up and walked away from her. "No, I mean, you...you're dead! What are you doing here?" he was almost shouting.
"SHHHH!" she begged. "They might find out I've awoken!" She then walked closer to him, but he took a cautious step back. She stopped. Her face fell in disappointment. "It's me...it's Snow White. It's the girl you have been traveling with...the girl you saved."
He looked at her for a long while, disbelieving. Finally, he crossed his arms. "Prove it."
She looked around the room, then up to him, an expression of helplessness in her eyes. "How?" she asked.
He reached an arm out and caught a corner of the scarf. He wiggled his finger through the hole at the end. "How did this happen?"
She looked down and saw what he was referring to. "We were running through the forest and William mistook us for the queen's forces. He fired an arrow at us, but it only hit my scarf and pinned it to the tree."
He moved closer to her and brushed her hair away from her neck as he pulled the scarf lower. He traced his finger along the scabbed wound on her neck. "How did this happen?"
She looked him in the eye and swallowed. "I thought you were going to sell me after you found me."
He took a deep breath, only now beginning to hope that this was really her. He pulled the collar of his own shirt down to expose a wound that ran just beneath his collarbone. He had gotten it in the scuffle with William's men in the forest, but he hadn't mentioned it for several reasons. She saw it and her eyes filled with fear.
"I...I don't know how you got that injury." She looked down. "But I am telling the truth! It's me!" She sank onto the bed, holding her head in her hands. "I can't remember. Was it when the hill collapsed beneath us? Was it when you fought off Finn?" She began to cry again. "Please," she begged as she looked up at him. "Please, Eric, you have to help me. There's no one else here I can trust."
The huntsman's mind was spinning. "How is this possible?" he managed to ask as he stumbled over to her.
She looked up at him hopefully. "You believe me?" she asked, wiping her face with the back of her hand.
He sank to his knees in front of her. "How is this possible?" he asked again. "You're dead..."
She smiled, her eyes still full of tears. "I was tricked. The queen found me, but she disguised herself as William and gave me a poisoned apple. I would have called out to you had I known it was the queen, but I thought it really was William...until I took a bite of the apple and she transformed." She looked away and shook her head. "I have never seen anything like that." She continued in a whisper, "She changed into a flock of blackbirds."
"But you were dead. You were cold," he insisted.
"I don't know how it happened, but I was alive the whole time, and aware, too."
He looked at her, knowing he wasn't able to contain the shocked expression on his face. "You were aware...the whole time?"
She shook her head. "I mean, I was asleep for some of it, but it wasn't unnatural sleep. But yes, I was aware. I could hear when people talked to me and I could feel when they touched me. I could smell the incense of the church, and later the dusty chambers of the duke."
The huntsman looked away. So that's how she knew his name. He looked back to her, questioningly. "But...how are you here now? How did you wake up...or, snap yourself out of it? Did the spell just wear off?"
The girl shrugged. "I remembered what Clare said about belief and how it made magic stronger. I thought maybe the opposite would work, too. I concentrated on believing that the spell would end and that I would be able to find you and we would both be able to leave this place. It took two days, but it seems to have worked." She smiled at him, very satisfied with herself.
He was blown away by her answer. She had been thinking of him? She was alive and she had come back to find him? He was overcome in that instant with so much emotion. She was here. She was alive and she had returned to him. He didn't know how to handle this rush of feeling. All he could do was lean in and wrap his arms around her waist, burying his face against her torso. He shed tears of relief. He never thought in a million years this would have happened. He felt her body stiffen when he began to cry, but a moment later, he felt her hands in his hair and against his back trying to soothe him.
"I am sorry. I tried to tell you, to do something to signal that I was still alive inside, but I couldn't do anything. I was terrified that they were going to bury me alive."
He finally rolled back to look up at her. "Don't apologize. I cry because I am overjoyed that you are alive." He was startled when she leaned forward and brushed a few tears away from his cheeks. He didn't remember the last time he'd let anyone see him cry, but somehow he didn't feel foolish at all. Of everything that had happened since she had entered this room, him crying made the most sense.
He looked at her, then took a deep breath and stood. "So," he said, brushing his hair behind his ear, "what is the plan now, princess?"
She stood as well. "We have to get out of here. There is a feeling of blackness that is descending upon the keep. I can't explain it, but the duke has changed."
He noted the sound of alarm in her voice. "How so?" he asked. She blushed. That wasn't a terribly good sign.
"Duke Hammond has been saying all kinds of things, things that don't make sense." She looked away. "And...he kissed me. He kissed me and..." She closed her eyes. "I couldn't do anything to stop it."
The huntsman's relief at her untimely aliveness was crowded out by a newfound seething hatred for the duke. "What?" he nearly shouted. "What did he do to you?"
"Shhh!" she commanded quietly. "Like I said, he is not himself. He kissed me...he touched me in places. I don't know what he will do when he realizes I'm missing. That's why we have to get out of here before he finds I'm no longer in his room." She sighed to herself. "I'm just glad the coffin wasn't locked." She suddenly turned to him and gave him an evaluating glance. "Are you sober enough to ride? We have to get to the Black Queen's castle soon."
"Yes, and why are we going there?" he asked.
She smirked. "Clare was right. I know what the queen knows. Even now, she is amassing an army to bring me back to her castle. She needs me alive, and she thinks I'm here. With her forces gone from the castle, we can sneak in and finally face her."
He looked at her in shock. "Face her? You mean to fight her? The two of us?"
She took his hand in both of hers. "Eric, Huntsman. You are the only person I trust. And we have the advantage of surprise." He looked at her, unsure. "This can work. Please trust me."
He took his other hand and cupped her cheek. He stroked her face gently with his thumb. "Alright," he said, not knowing whether he had just made the right call or the worst decision of his entire life.
Author's Notes: The princess is revived! But there is danger afoot. What will happen in the next chapter? I will try to update very soon so that you will be able to find out!
RE: the kiss in the last chapter. There have been a few comments left about the nature of the kiss. Since most of these were from anonymous posters, I decided to write a response and put it on my tumblr (which is brand new and only has SWATH stuff on it anyway) instead of putting it in a GINORMOUS A/N at the end of the chapter. So, if you are curious as to why I chose to make it such a chaste kiss, look my blog up! It's inkyd00 . tumblr . com. (That's inkydoo with zeroes instead of o's. I am so leet.) It's kind of an interesting essay if I do say so myself. :)
RE: the huntsman's name. The whole story is basically centered around meaningful names. Magnus = great. Eleanor = light. William = protector. Eric = great ruler. Sara(h) = princess (as in, Eric was loved as well as royalty when he was with his wife). Hammond = either protector or home, depending on where you trace the name from. So...Jaeger. If you don't know German, then Jaeger is kind of an Anglicized version of the word Jäger, which means "hunter." I figured it would be a good name for him because it would explain why he doesn't mind being called "Huntsman" all the time. Plus, people were generally named after the things they did back in the day, so it makes sense that way. Also, the original story of Snow White is German, and it was published coincidentally (or not) in the year 1812, so that makes this the 200 year anniversary of the Grimms' version of the story. It's also meaningful because of a particular kind of alcohol named Jägermeister...(literally translating into "master hunter"). You might have heard of it before. Anyway, the label has a picture of a great deer with a cross over its head. This is the iconography of St. Eustace, the patron saint of hunters. Also, yes...in the movie, he's Scottish, but...the name Eric is Scandinavian anyway...so I don't dunno. Maybe his family is German, but they moved to Scotland when he was young, then returned once that awesome Australian/Scottish accent was firmly in place... I dunno. CHRIS HEMSWORTH!
So...yeah. That's that.
Also, the phrase "untimely aliveness" is from The Tick. It's a little cartoon about a big blue guy who shouts SPOON and his anxious accountant/rabbit/moth sidekick. I have never written anything where that was so completely apropos, though, so I stuck it in. TA DA!
Thank you to everyone who is reading, subscribing, and reviewing! You guys make this so much fun! Thanks to , Kristin04, BloodyBleedingRose, hlee0890, may cantaloupe, Wizadora1257, aredhela82, thewitherabbit, mtsnowangel, Arkansas Sweetheart, DarklyDreaming88, Kazz the 13th, LittleNK, DacilJuju, abbyli, missnh28, katandjp, imperial violets, snookems24, dramaqueen321, LenaLove, DRadcliffe11, gentlelove, EugeniaVictoria, Sepsis, C. I. TigerFan, Islandcutie, GabzHaug, and PS!