An eerie silence prevailed in the mourning hall, a tranquil stillness disturbed by nothing but the occasional impact of his bottle on the hard stone floor and the faint noise of his own breathing.
Huddled up against one of the massive columns, Eric drank in this alien soundlessness, a fitting soundtrack to his grief. Apathetically, he raised the bottle to his lips and gulped down some of the liquid, anticipating, almost welcoming the bitter taste it left in his mouth. Drowning his sorrows in drink was not new to him, after all.
And sorrow there was.
Unable to look away any longer, he turned his head in the direction of the bier on which she lay.
He gazed at her slender form from afar and faltered for a moment, weighed down by the sheer magnitude of his misery, his lips a tight line as he pressed them together to stop them from trembling. He did not know if he was strong enough to approach her lifeless form. Sitting in a dark corner and drinking himself into a stupor while glancing at her out of the corner of his eye was much easier than actually walking over there. But he knew he must. He had to say goodbye. There was not much time left - soon she would be laid to rest, to sleep in the darkness for eternity.
He dragged himself up, bottle still in hand, and slowly made his way across the hall with steps as heavy as those of an old man. He looked at her, bedded on furs, clothed in a white dress. Two massive candles had been placed at the head of the bier, their dim light illuminating her pale skin and raven-black hair. She looked peaceful, serene, untroubled by his anguish.
He came to a halt right next to the bier and quipped half-heartedly, "Well, here you are, all dressed up like you're about to wake up and give me more grief. Am I right?"
He paused, looking at her rosebud mouth as if expecting one of the spirited replies that had both annoyed and amused him during their journey through the dark forest. But there was nothing. Her lips, red as blood, were now forever closed. She would never speak to him again. He choked back the tears that threatened to fall and took another sip from the bottle.
"You deserved better." He muttered, self-loathing piercing him like an arrow. He had promised to himself to protect her, and failed miserably.
Feeling the sudden urge to unburden himself to her, who would never give away his secrets, he started to talk, revealing for once the dark places of his soul.
"I once had a wife, Princess," he began. "Sara was her name. When I came back from the war I carried with me the stench of death and the anger of the lost." He shook his head. "I wasn't worth saving, that's for sure, but she did so anyway. And I loved her so much." He could see her before his mind's eye: beautiful, gracious, the only pure thing in his goddamn life.
Like one half-crazed, he began circling the bier, never taking his eyes off of Snow White as he told her of the woman who had saved him, saved him from himself and the ridiculous farce his existence had become after his return from the war: an endless row of days spent drinking and pitying himself.
"I loved her more than anyone and anything, and then I let her out of my sight and she was gone." He could remember his terror when he came home only to learn that Sara was dead and gone. It was all his fault. His sorrow was like a physical burden now, the pain of the present mingling with the bitter memories of the past he had never really left behind.
"And I became myself again, a self I never cared for." He leaned over Snow White, looking at her face.
"Until you," he breathed, "as you remind me of her. Her heart, her spirit..." She had given him hope, a peace of mind he had not known since his wife's death. And she was like her, too, in so many ways. Beeing with her had brought back some of the lightness and happiness he had shared with Sara. Her presence alone had rekindled his strength and zest for life.
"But now, you too have gone." He put a hand on her head, gently stroking the dark tresses. The sorrow was overpowering. Why, oh why had he not managed to protect her when she needed him the most? Why had he not watched her more closely and prevented her deadly encounter with Ravenna?
"You both deserved better and I'm so sorry I failed you. I'm so sorry." There was no strength left in him to suppress the tears any longer, and they ran freely down his rough cheeks.
He gazed at her, burning into his mind forever the features of her face. Skin as flawless as a fresh layer of snow, full lips, sweet upturned nose. He still remembered seeing her for the first time, when he caught her in the Dark Forest, her pale face glowing in the bluish dimness, fear in her radiant eyes. He knew the moment he looked into them that he could never hand her over to the Queen's evil brother. She truly was the fairest of them all. But it was not just her outward appearance that made him fall for her as they progressed together through danger and hardships, but her inner beauty: her strong will, her determination, the purity of her mind. She was all that was good and unspoiled in this world, deserved to live and heal this forlorn kingdom with her loveliness - but Ravenna did not play by the rules of the innocent and gentle. She had claimed Snow White's life so cruelly, leaving him, Eric, alone in the darkness. There could be no comfort for him... no comfort to ease the pain of her passing. The only consolation he had was that she would surely rest in peace, one of the chosen ones.
"But you'll be a queen in Heaven now," he told her with the faintest of smiles, "and sit among the angels."
He leaned in to her, needing to taste her, feel her, just once before they parted forever. Tenderly, he brushed her lips with his own, wishing he could give her back the life Ravenna's evil power had taken. Her lips were cold, but still the feeling of her skin on his made him tremble, and his tears fell on her soft cheeks like delicate pearls.
With one last glance he turned away from her, knowing that if he stayed longer, he would most likely kill himself to join her in the afterlife. Slowly, he made his way to the chapel's heavy oak door, forcing himself not to turn around and look at her once more.
He had to let her go... He knew this. And although life without her would be a desert, a howling wilderness, he had no other choice but to go on living and make the best of it, whatever that may be. No, he would not take the coward's route this time. He would stay alive and try to make her proud, and perhaps he would even manage to become a better man in the process.
He halted in the doorway, not turning around. Farewell, my love, he whispered into the dimness. My Snow White.
And thus he left the chapel without looking back, and he did not see what True Love's kiss had done to her. For life stirred in her again, and she opened her eyes, taking a deep breath... a breath of life.