Title: Met In Her Aspect And Her Eyes
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.
Summary: She stood on the balcony of the tower as he rode away, watching the tide's ebb flash up like jewels from the hooves of his borrowed destrier. He had his ghosts to lay to rest, even as she had hers. He would return. 2000 words.
Spoilers: Tag for "Snow White and the Huntsman" (2012)
Notes: For mardia in Yuletide 2012. Titled from the Lord Byron poem, "She Walks In Beauty." Happy Ending fic, of a sort.
The Huntsman went forth from the castle after the coronation: shaven, sober, the gold Snow White had promised him in his hand.
She had been expecting it. She stood on the balcony of the tower as he rode away down the stretch of sand beneath the gates, watching the tide's ebb flash up like jewels from the hooves of his borrowed destrier. He had his ghosts to lay to rest, even as she had hers. He would return.
The Queen turned and went inside. Duke Hammond waited; Ravenna might be gone, but there was much else to set to rights.
He did not write. She had expected that, as well. But as the Duke's men took the news to every corner of the kingdom, pressed into service as messengers and surveyors, some few returned with tokens from a man of his description, settling old accounts.
A feather from a magpie. A new dagger, finer than the one with which she'd drawn Ravenna's soul. A rose, red as blood, of a type that had not bloomed in the land since her mother's death.
Snow smiled, breathed deep of its scent, and turned to her lessons and duties with a lightened heart.
He returned three months after his departure, blown in on the first soft breezes of summer. Leaves sprouted from every bush, and flowers bloomed in every glade – everywhere but in the Dark Forest, last sink of all the poison Ravenna had poured into the land.
The young Queen met him on its fringes, following the birds who chattered of a formerly mud-choked spring run clear, and of a blasted tree putting forth new buds. Change came slowly in that corner of the land, but surely: a comfort to her after long days spent presiding over a fractious Court split between stubborn men who had spent the last decade following the Duke and the self-serving or venal who had bowed the knee to Ravenna. Would that the divisions in her people would heal even so quickly.
Eric dismounted and approached the last small distance on foot. He seemed almost a completely different man than the one who had pursued her at Finn's behest, but for the height and solidity of him and the hue of his eyes. Years seemed to have lifted from his shoulders, along with the stench of ale and grime. But his voice was the same, and the plain honesty with which he greeted her.
"Princess. They told me up at the castle that you would be here," he said, with a wry smile.
Snow returned the smile measure for measure, stretching forth her hands, not bothering to correct the title. He was the only one to have called her that since he left; and yet, it was still all the rank she felt comfortable owning. "It is my destiny to heal the land," she reminded him. "Muir says my presence encourages the new growth."
She saw him start a little, feeling the calluses across her palms as he clasped them each in his own; but he did not comment on the evidence of her continued martial lessons, only looked amused as he replied. "Muir says, eh? Then the dwarves have not gone back to their mines?"
"What use have they of mines, when they have Ravenna's ill-gotten gains to feed their forges?" Snow shrugged. Her stomach turned at the thought of accepting any gifts from her stepmother's legacy, but better spent to fund her kingdom's recovery than locked away where it would be of no use. "She told me she had lived twenty lives and plundered as many kingdoms; one thing I shall never run short of is gold."
"But money cannot buy everything," he mused, looking down at the fingers linked between them.
"No," she admitted, squeezing his hands. "It cannot buy lives. It cannot buy peace."
"But it has bought peace. Has it not?" he replied, his pleasure at seeing her visibly dimming in concern. "On my return, I exchanged greetings with an envoy of Stormhold bearing gifts, and every village I passed through was blooming with rekindled hope."
"Stormhold may bring gifts, as do all who have visited these last weeks; but they come not for peace, but to assess the kingdom for conquest."
He frowned at that, letting her hands fall at last. "Conquest?"
Snow's fingers curled inward at the absence of his, already missing their warmth. "Either by arms, or by marriage bed. Does it truly surprise you?" she asked, wearily. "Our neighbors did not invade during Ravenna's rule for fear of her power. But she is gone now, and much of our kingdom's strength with her. They think us weak; they think me as witch-gifted as she, but young enough yet to be tamed to a strong hand."
He had flinched away as she began to speak, as though her words were a rain of arrows; but at that last, he snorted and turned back, a wry grin curling at the corner of his mouth. "Tamed? You? Never. They would sooner break that hand against the adamant of your will."
Her cheeks warmed at the sentiment; she was still girl enough under the mantle of Queenship to feel pleased at such evidence of his regard. A girl who had spent her formative years in a tower cell, with only the usurper's brother's lascivious gaze and the activity of the castle denizens outside her window for any template more recent than faded memories of her father and mother. "Or against my army, though I pray it never comes to that. Our forces are very valiant, whatever their size, but we have buried enough of our subjects already."
"I had heard that you had made the Duke your seneschal," Eric acknowledged with a solemn nod, "and set William at the head of your knights. Why do you not wed him? Any man may see how devoted he is to you, and he would be another link to your father's reign; the people would approve."
Snow shook her head gently, not looking away from Eric's gaze. "A wedding band is a door closed; and a door closed as good as a gauntlet thrown – or a trap. The longer it stays open, the more choices remain."
"Those are words I would expect from your advisors, not you," he replied, frowning more deeply. "Where is the woman who spoke of frost and iron? Of embers turning to flame?"
"She is a Queen now, and must put her country's welfare before her own," she chided him. "I can offer no man a crown while suitors profit my people better. And – I find I have had enough of prison cells for my liking."
She extended one hand again, slowly, as though approaching the white horse again, or the Forest Lord. "Thus I have but my self to offer; and that would be poor compensation for William, whom I love now as a sister loves a brother."
His hand trembled faintly in her grasp, but he did not draw away, and her heart surged in relief. He was no more tame than she; she could not command his obedience in this.
"I will not pretend not to know your meaning," he swallowed, "for I have thought much on it in my absence. But you know what I was, as do many of those seated amongst your council. A widower, a drunkard; a man who spoke ill of your father, and abandoned you in an hour of need."
Snow took a step closer, the grass of the forest verge bending under her bare feet, until their hands pressed against their hearts. "The man who saved me, when I truly needed it," she replied. "Who taught me to defend myself."
"Who would have turned you over to the Queen for the false promise of seeing his wife again," he reminded her, lifting his free hand to her cheek to stroke it gently with the pad of his thumb.
"Who changed his mind, even before he know who I was," she countered, leaning into the touch. "And woke me from the sleep of death, when no other could."
He quailed at that, though she could see the fire in him at her words: that same bright light that had burned in his spirit at her waking, scattering the darkness that had bound her. "You knew?"
"I know that there is only one known way to break such a spell," she admitted. They may not have been long acquainted, but the deeper magics took no notice of temporal measures, only genuine intent. She would never tell him just how much awareness had remained to her in that frozen state, but neither would she ever forget the taste of his tears. "You know who and what Ravenna was, and she had the keeping of me since my childhood. There will always be those who look for her influence in my actions, who would hem me about with fine dresses and guards and then act in my name as though they knew what was best for my kingdom."
"They would be fools," he told her, firmly. "You are perilous and beautiful, it is true, but not as she was. The land loves you, and you the land; it is obvious to any with eyes to see."
"Only the land?" She laughed self-consciously. "But what of – others? Love is all I can offer – but it is also all I need."
Her awkward plea finally broke his restraint, and he bent down the last few inches separating them. He tasted now of sweat and sunshine and mead; he moved his lips caressingly against hers, a soft brush of skin against skin, sending tingles all down her spine.
She closed her eyes, savoring the moment. "Ravenna wanted my heart," she murmured as they broke apart again to breathe, "but she could not have it, for it was already taken."
He chuckled softly, shifting his thumb from her cheek to trace swollen lips instead, shortening her breath with anticipation. "The man I was died the day you did, and was reborn in the moment of your waking. Whatever else I am, my lady, though wholly unworthy – I am yours."
The castlefolk did not know what to make of the Huntsman.
The Queen gave him authority over the forests; he had a seat at the high table, though it oft went empty as he pursued his duties. He and Snow spent little time together in public – but he had rooms in her tower, adjoining the suite that once belonged to her mother.
The common folk deferred to him; the nobles largely distrusted him, though William, at least, was always respectful; Snow sought his gaze before every significant decision.
He was not – comfortable. But neither was she. They made it work.
"They're repeating the old stories of your mother in the markets, my Queen," Eric told her late one evening, murmuring in her ear. "Of the single rose blooming in winter, and her wish; and that God granted it to bring about Ravenna's downfall."
Snow grumbled, snuggling back in his arms. She had heard them as well. "They also say she paid for its fulfillment with her life; for Ravenna would not have come were my father not vulnerable."
"They will saint her within our lifetimes," he agreed.
"Small compensation for her loss," she replied. "I would rather she had lived."
Eric pressed a kiss to her bare shoulder. "Yet one thing they leave out; and that, the most important part."
"And what's that?"
"Skin white as snow, lips red as blood, hair black as a raven's wings – these, they say, were her words. They forget already that she wished also for the strength of that rose."
Snow turned within the circle of his arms, discomfort melting away under his steady regard.
"Then when the time comes, you must be the one who tells the story to our daughter," she said.
His gaze warmed – and they spoke of politics no more.