*My apologies! When I looked over this file it somehow went funny and things had been cut out mid paragraph so I went back in and fixed it. * So I suddenly felt inspired to go about it a slightly different way. Its mainly Huntsman POV which I hadn't anticipated but enjoyed writing. If there are any mistakes sorry! I wrote this in one sitting inspiration was leaking from my ears even lol :)
Its set roughly a couple months after the coronation in case it isn't all that clear. Enjoy! If not, then well sorry, at least it killed a couple of hours of boredom for me.
The day had been a long one for him, there had been a surprisingly large amount of tasks for him to perform and he had found himself needed everywhere. Since the princess had been brought back to her people the kingdom had embraced him, apparently grateful to him for becoming her self appointed protector, for rising up against the hateful queen Ravenna and thus returning their princess safely to the outstretched arms of her people.
It was uncomfortable and highly unexpected. The attention he had been receiving had him on edge and he longed for the open spaces of the fields, of the forests where he had felt the most at peace or even a bloody tavern where the noise would drown out the happy greetings from everyone. He had been a drunk, paying women for their flesh, drinking until he couldn't stand and more often than not fell asleep wherever he found a spot to. He was not accustomed with gratitude.
He had been a liar, and a thief for never repaying any debts he owed and just an all around slob who didn't have a single regard for anyone other than himself. No, that was a lie in itself, he hadn't had any regard for himself if drinking to the point where he was near death was any indication of his self preservation.
The fact that no matter where he went people were expressing their thanks, clapping him on the back, for keeping their precious, lost treasure safe. It was a foreign feeling and he continuously waited for someone to point their finger and cry out that he was an impostor. That he was that man who had been physically removed from taverns and thrown in the jail for starting brawls countless times.
The princess hadn't told anyone that he had originally begun by hunting her, his intent to take her away from the people that loved her and back to the devil's queen where he knew she would be killed. No one was personally hunted by the queen unless there were wanted dead by her, he knew this but admittedly was blinded with the promise of seeing his wife once more. It had been like dangling a fresh cup of water in front of a man trapped in a desert. The princess kept quiet though, allowed people to believe he was noble, above reproach and worthy of their praise, but he knew his shame and had to live with the knowledge of it.
The familiar guilt set in whenever he thought this, made him want to sink back into his tankard and drink as he used to, but he knew that she would be disappointed and and as much as he reasoned with himself that he didn't care, he did. He cared too much of what she thought of him, wanted to keep the warmth that he found in her eyes when she looked at him. Especially when she was pleased about something, when she looked at him during those times he could swear he could hear his very blood coursing through his body. It was the reason he had stayed within the castle walls, taking up residence in one of the apartments located in the quieter side of the castle, where it suited him and he was not disturbed.
Being a close companion of the Queen meant he was in constant contact with people, but he found himself slowly being able to shut them out, make them blend into the scenery behind them. The times he was not with her he was training with the soldiers, building up his strength and learning more of the military side of strategy in alliance with his huntsman skills. It was all to make him a more proficient killer if war were ever again threaten the kingdom. If he ever needed to protect her again he was going to make sure he was best equipped as possible. There had been too many close encounters with death the last time they had fought for their lives.
As it was, he had worn himself out with learning a particularly grueling maneuver today, pushing himself more than he should have but feeling the need to prove some unknown point. After that they had requested his input about hunting game now that the land was healing and the animals were returning. They questioned him endlessly which forced him to stay longer than he had intended, making the pull to escape stronger with each passing minute. Which was what led him here, to this deserted, dark part of the castle.
Walls were dark and damp, the air was chilly and somewhat stale as if the air had not been disturbed for a long time. His footsteps echoed off the bare walls and he moved slowly, looking around but not really seeing, the thoughts in his mind occupying his time. No torches outfitted the walls so the only light trickled in was from the long, narrow openings that served as windows in the space. The sun was to set soon so the light was slowly becoming fainter, bringing calm along with it and settling the kingdom with sleepiness.
Eric didn't know where he was but he figured it was some part leading near the dungeons, possibly where the soldiers or guards convened. He absently rubbed the knots in the back of his neck trying to release the tension that resided there. Walking here alone, he felt he could breathe, a small pleasure that he had taken for granted until recently. Although becoming accustomed to this new life he felt he needed reminding for why he stayed here completely out of his element. He needed to have her close, since her death he felt that ever present fear that he would lose her again build in his chest in a panic. She had beat death once but twice was unthinkable, for even God could not favor one too much.
His ears suddenly picked up a scuffling sound alerting him that he was not as alone as he had once thought. The likeliness that it was a rat was high but he slipped into the shadows nonetheless, on the off chance it was an actual person he would rather they did not know he was here. A fair hand appeared slowly first, clutching something tightly in its grasp until he realized it was only folds of a gown.
Belatedly, he released the breath he had been holding and eased his tense, fighters stance and unclenching his hands. Her face appeared then slowly from around the corner, her expression uncertain and somewhat reproachful. Even in this waning light her fair skin stood out sharply against the contrasting dark, grey stones of the walls, seeming ethereal to him. Remaining hidden in the shadows he took in her appearance while away from the eyes of the court. Her fingertips trailed along the wall, her red lips parted slightly and his gaze lingered there memories of them coming back to him.
Today her hair was loose about her shoulders, nearing her waist in thick, black waves free from the pins she abhorred and the crown they had constantly tried to have her wear. Even her gown was simple, resembling the one she had worn on her deathbed but in a deep blue, the collar lined in delicate, cream lace. It struck him then what could of compelled her to come up here, to such a dark and empty place when she had the beauty of the castle and gardens now that the land was steadily healing itself.
Curiosity got the better of him and he remained hidden, keeping his breathing even and quiet he allowed her to pass him until she reached a thick wooden door with a large iron ring she hesitantly picked up. Eric had never been through the door and he wasn't sure what was behind it, nor if she should be going there. Squaring her shoulders she appeared to be preparing herself, his fear for her and what possible evil could still be leaching in the castle's darkest corners made him move. The heel of his boot scuffed against the ground and she turned sharply to face him, gasping and having her elbow collide against the door.
The huntsman lifted his hands in the air as he revealed himself, showing he meant no harm and her features relaxed. "Eric," she breathed her tone showing her relief as she rubbed her abused joint. "You frightened me."
He grinned as he continued forward, catching hold of her small wrist while his other hand sought her elbow, his fingers gently rubbing small circles on its point.
"You alright?" he watched her face as she turned it up to look at him, those blasted lips parted once more.
She nodded and allowed him to continue, her eyes darting over his entire face as if in search for something. He chose to ignore it, being alone with her in such a remote part of the castle offered too much temptation and he reigned everything in as he kept his touch decorous.
"And what is the queen doing lurking about the dungeons when she should be doing something mind numbing such as needlepoint?" he tried to jest, coax a smile from her and find out what her secret mission was.
"I grew tired of everyone, reminding me to stand straighter, to constantly shuffle along to some new council and always sitting for hours on end." he chuckled then, keeping his hold on her arm. "So I ran away from them. They have no idea where I am." she gave him a conspiratorial smirk which made his grin become a full smile.
"And why would you run away to this ugly place? If I knew you any better I'd say you'd be hiding in the gardens, somewhere beautiful at the very least, not this dingy place."
Snow White's smile faded from her lips as she took a long moment before answering him.
"I needed to see something." she whispered, with such a look of sadness that he became concerned.
"There's nothing here that someone such as yourself should see, princess." he matched her low tone and reverted to using his term for her although she was rightly queen now.
Mouth pressed in a tight line, it quirked up at the side in a small attempt of a smile that reached nowhere near her eyes. Without answering him she turned to the door and went for the latch, when his hand grasped it first. Gently moving her out of the way, he tugged and pulled it open, the hinges creaking loudly from disuse and reverberating loudly off the walls. Peering up at the narrow stairs that led to darkness Eric was none too pleased of allowing her to go up there, and even more irritated that she wanted to in the first place.
"Well, come along then, hold onto me its darker than night up there and with no rail, one misstep and its sure to be your last." he felt her small hand fist a handful of his shirt in the middle of his back and he made his way up the steps, his arms outstretched on either side of him as his hands grazed the sides of the walls.
Their walk was silent, the rhythmic tapping of their shoes on each step was the only sounds for a long while. Darkness engulfed them completely and Eric put a hand out in front of him to feel his way through. The air was cooler here, creeping over his skin like cold water, heavy with some kind of secret. The only thing that kept him from thinking he was the only person left on this world at this moment was the tiny fist pressed between his shoulder blades.
His outstretched hand suddenly met with something solid, and he stopped feeling her step up and bump into him slightly at his sudden stop. The fingers tightened in his shirt as he ran his hands along what he assumed to be another door.
"There's a door here," he explained as he found the handle and pushed. Faint light surrounded them and he had to blink against the assault on his eyes.
There was nothing here. Just another narrow hallway, grey and empty like the one they had just left. But she seemed determined, and her mind was somewhere else entirely as she moved around him and into the passage. She seemed to know where she was going, but she was anxious about something as well, those weeks spent together in the forest had made him know her well.
So he followed, keeping as close to her as her gown would allow without having him step on it. As they passed one iron gate he found he knew where he was and his brow furrowed. Why in hell would she want to come up here? These were cells meant for prisoners, had someone been arrested and she had wanted to see? But the absence of guards struck him as odd, surely they would not leave someone here to rot. Those dark days were over...
They passed two, three, five cells until she paused in front of one, her hand pulling open the door. Eric could see over her head that it was an empty tower, one single window like the one below allowed light in and from his vantage point he could see no evidence of a person occupying the space. Snow White pulled the door wide and stepped in moving deeper into the room without a word to him. He watched her again, as she made her way to the small window hands clutching the sill as a scent of sea water wafted up to them. It was then he noticed the sound of waves, the castle was built by the water but it was louder here still.
Sensing her need of solitude and although curious, he bit his tongue from the questions he wanted to ask her and his eyes followed her as she made her way about.
There was a bed here.
It hit him with a start, the small bed pushed against the wall, unmade with its quilt half on the floor as if its occupant had rushed out with no heed to make it up. To his left was a makeshift fireplace, charred pieces of hay and wood left there as well as dozen candles which had melted together to make a larger one with multiple wicks. Someone had stayed here, and it had been for a long while it seemed.
"Do you remember in the forest when you asked me what I knew of sorrow?" the sound of her voice made him look back to her sharply, but she was not looking at him.
"Aye," he waited as she continued in her small circle about the room, seeing things he could not.
"I spent ten long, lonely years of my life in this room," she spoke quietly, hauntingly. "This was my sorrow." she looked at him then and it was only when her eyes held his that the full meaning of what she had said struck him, and it felt as if the very ceiling itself had fallen on him.
She had never spoken of her time as a prisoner, and he had never pushed her. But the very idea that they were even here made his skin crawl, his anger reared its ugly head at that bastard of a queen, at anyone capable of keeping anyone in such a place for such a time. He reached his hand out to her and called out.
"Come lass, let us get back,-"
"No. I said that I needed to come here, to see it again while I was free from it. You may leave if you wish, though I do rather that you stayed with me." she could of asked him to get her the moon at this moment and he would of found a way to do it. There was no chance she was leaving his line of sight.
"I'll stay with you then." she shot him a quizzical look before moving again.
"This space was where I lived and died each day. I would watch the water from here," she gestured to the window. "On stormy days the wind would bring sprays of water with it and how I longed to actually feel it for myself."
He could hear the longing in her voice even now, as if she was still trapped here and he hated the way she was speaking. She was queen now, never again would she suffer as she had, he had made an oath to himself that he would never allow it.
"Finn would watch me all the time from the other side of that door," his hands clenched at the thought, she had no idea how her were words were making him want to break something, and he thought for the first time that he was glad that he had actually taken someone's life.
"I hurt him you know." she continued to cut him off, push forward with her story that seemed to need telling now.
"The one day he actually entered I knew something was wrong, I could sense it stirring within me and I knew it was my only chance. That was how I escaped, I slashed him with an old nail from the tower and locked him in." a smirk tugged at her lips as she settled down onto her old bed, but there was no merriment in it.
With only a couple of strides he was in front of her and he crouched down to her level running his hand over her hair and forcing her face up to look at him.
"He's gone now lass, there is no one who can hurt you now." speaking softly to her, he chided himself in his mind for even enjoying the feel of her at a serious time as this.
"I used to think of William all of the time," Eric's jaw tensed at the mention of the other man who had admitted his feelings for the queen and like a fool Eric had prompted him to share them with her.
"I used to think of him coming up here and saving me, bringing me back to my mother and father. At night, I would watch the stars and make wishes on them, do you remember doing that as a child?" he gave her a halfhearted smile as his hand trailed down her hair to play with the tip of a strand that had curled near the end.
"But it was odd, in all my years here I never imagined him as a man. Always as that boy from when we used to play in the gardens. It is still a shock to see him at times, like a completely separate person. I have to remind myself who he is because he is such a stranger to me."
They had come here to speak of William? He shifted his position and moved to sit next to her, the small bed creaking under his weight. He had no real claim on her but felt threatened by the man all the same.
"When I died, no. More like, slept I suppose," she glanced at him for confirmation that she was explaining it properly. "I felt like I dreamed, I don't remember anything, but it felt like I had fallen asleep and just woke up, but there was a sense of dreaming. I have this lingering feeling that I was trapped here again."
"Aside from William, I thought of my parents," she was jumping from subject to subject now."how they loved so entirely. That maybe one day they would take me with them. I never had the courage to leave this earth on my own but it was such a constant thought."
Eric gripped her hand then, as if anchoring her to him so she would not have the chance of an attempt. Whatever provoked this talk from her was driving him mad, but sobering he realized her thoughts seemed eerily familiar. Did he not think the same when Sarah had parted with this world? He may not have been trapped in a tower but his own mind and grief had kept him prisoner. Her other hand covered the back of his large one and he shifted his fingers so that they interlaced with the one hand he already held.
"My mother used to read me stories at night before I slept." she continued, her voice slightly above a whisper. "Fairy tales, of princess' being saved and locked away in towers. I cannot stand to listen to them now, everything was safe and happy when written on paper but living those fairy tales," she trailed off the sadness back in her face.
Eric spoke then, "But all stories have happy endings, don't they? Yours did. You escaped from the evil queen, brought back peace to the land and became the rightful queen." it was a sad attempt on his part to alleviate some of the pain from her voice but he was not the best with words, his profession did not need for many of them.
Again she moved away from him, releasing his hand and leaving it feeling chilled, and went back to the window, watching the sky turn a faint pink as the end of another day approached.
"Not just yet I believe. From what I gather aren't the princess' supposed to fall in love and live happily ever after?" she glanced at him again and he didn't answer, he was too preoccupied with the change he had just begun to notice in her.
Gone was the girl from the woods, the knobby kneed, thin and sickly looking creature that had given him more grief than he needed back in that forest. Now well fed and her body adjusting to the comforts of royal living, she had filled out with womanly softness that had not been there before. Her cheeks were no longer hollow or angular, her figure showed a healthy curvature that her gown fit snugly, and made her far more enticing than when he had first met her.
But her eyes held the most change, they were strong and direct whereas they had skittered with fear before. She had blossomed into a woman before him. He had cared deeply for that girl in the woods, the one who he had failed and left him, but this creature in front of him now demanded something else entirely. He loved this woman before him and it was in that moment he understood just how much trouble he now found himself in.
"Come." he told her quietly as he raised himself up from the bed. "They will be missing you princess." she took his outstretched hand and allowed him to tug her along before she pulled away sharply and knelt by the small hearth.
Raising herself up just as quickly he saw the small straw woven dolls that she held almost reverently.
"These were the closest things to my parents that I had." she gazed at them fondly before tucking them in one of the pockets of her gown and took Eric's hand again.
Snow White followed him, passed through the door before she held him back once more. He looked down at her and could see her sadness. She had shifted closer to him, grasping his fingers tightly while her free hand wrapped around his arm pressing it to her. Without words she was finally putting this place behind her, saying farewell in a sense, that she had beat it. Come out the victor, but without a prize. The fact that he had been the one with her gave him a sense of peace. Although not a physical enemy, it was an enemy to her and he was keeping his promise of keeping her safe, if not body then mind.
Walking back down the staircase and the deserted passages was done in silence once more but he never released her hand. William was smart to love her, Eric thought, and any man who did not in his mind was a damn fool. His mind raced their entire walk of what he was going to do with himself with his new knowledge of her. She could never know, that was certain but he still felt a damned spark of hope in him which he would extinguish in due time.
They made it back to the occupied part of the castle, there were no feasts taking place tonight but the bustle of the place was still made its way to them. Not as heavily trafficked as other portions of the castle, their current hall had not yet been lit and they were walking in semi darkness.
"I found my father, after Ravenna had killed him." her soft voice and admission made him stop.
His jaw clenched as he pictured her as a small child, beautiful as she was now but small and lost. He had not seen Sarah's body and it had been terror enough without having to, he could not fathom what she had felt.
"My mother had died weeks earlier, some kind of illness that in the end sealed his fate as well I suppose. Her death made him grieve, which was what prompted Ravenna's attack here."
He could only listen, her voice soft and slow making him want nothing more than to take her away from all the memories. But he had tried that himself and knew it was for naught, he could only stand by her during the worst of it. He felt a tug on his hand and he turned back to face her as she help it up between her own once more.
"You will stay with me, wont you?" her tone held a slight plea that he was sure was imagined due to his own thoughts about her wanting him for entirely different reasons than the respectful ones she was implying.
"Of course." he was puzzled but reasoned it was better to agree with her than question her further.
"I mean it, I am holding you to your word; that you will stay with me."
The huntsman thought over her implication and searched for the safest route to take with her. These were dangerous waters his was treading and he had to be sure to keep in line, anything less and he was sure to shatter whatever it was that they had, had before tonight.
"Well I suppose for as long as I can, but one day you'll have more duties of your land to oversee. Your children playing along these halls will demand your attention much more than a lowly huntsman could and there will no longer be a need for me to be here." he attempted a grin before removing his hand from hers, taking a step back.
William will make her a fine husband, he thought, a fantastic addition to the dynasty she would make.
"And how will I have these children if you are not here?" the smile slipped from his face. "I believe I do in fact have great need of you." the words hung in the air as Eric slowly took them in.
"Excuse me?" his face was stoic and serious one that he usually sported was back, he had heard her but did not understand her meaning and felt like a damned idiot.
Snow White moved back into his space and took his hand up once more. "You, you fool. I choose you. I want you here with me. Need you to stay."
"Mi'lady,-' already he was tugging away from her, but she held fast.
"Don't you dare throw mi'lady at me. If it is because of rank I will you to remember what you saw in that tower. I had nothing my entire life, you with no rank had so much more than I. Lived far better and fuller. I am your equal in this sense, and I am selfish in wanting you because it brings me happiness which I am not ashamed to want or feel. Please,"
Her eyes searched his face again and she had a small, nearly desperate smile on her face. "Please stay with me, if you'll have me. If you want me." she faltered then, as if coming to some sort of realization.
"That is, if you do. Do not stay because I tell you to," she hurriedly explained as if remembering her position and that if she asked for anything it would need to be given to her. "I wish you to make your own choices and live freely here and,"
Eric grinned that his silence had misled her to believe that he did not want her or what she was offering and that the idea of it had made her chatter in a panic. He was not a vain man but took pleasure in it nonetheless.
"You silly little bird." she quieted then when his hands snaked up her arms but moved no further. His mind was reeling, he should let her be, let her marry William, but he just wanted to touch her.
"I am not silly," her relief was evident but her eyes continued to search his.
"Want you? Woman, you drive me mad with wanting you." the pure pleasure on her face made that dull ache of want for her that resided in his gut of late, spill into happiness. But her merely wanting him to stay with her was not enough to justify any of this. His fingers gripped her tighter as if she would disappear before him if he lessened his hold.
"But I am no good for you, you should go on and forget about all of this." his voice was low, making it deeper than it already was and sounding grave. He searched her eyes, her face, after this he may not be able to at such a proximity.
"I spent most of my life locked away, having everything I wanted slip away from me. I will not sit by and not try for what I want. I know you want me to marry William just as everyone else here expects me to. But he is a stranger, the little boy I used to know no longer exists and the few memories I can recall of him I can no longer separate truth from reality. What part of him is memory and what part is fantasy from when I was locked away."
She had no idea what she was asking of him, the magnitude of it all. He was not fit for the position of being by her side, essentially he would need to help her rule the land, make decisions for the welfare of people. He had no idea how to, he was not made for this.
"Listen to me now. I cannot do any of this, any of what you want me to do. I have no idea how to manage myself half the time let alone help you run a kingdom." he swallowed thickly, "William is better suited for this."
"But I do not know William. And do you believe I have any idea what I am doing? I have advisers who are making all of my decisions until I have learned enough. You could learn alongside me, and you already know so much more than I. Know the needs of the people better than anyone."
"Princess," he warned again his heart hammering in his chest. The one thing he wanted most in this world and he finally had it in reach, he was pushing it away.
"Is it not enough that you make me happy? That you make me feel things I don't understand." he finally relented it seemed, knowing her stubborn streak too well. His hands left her arms to reach around to her back, to gather her closer to him.
"And what things do you feel?"he felt her own hands working their way to encircle his waist, their difference in height making her seem all the smaller while she was tucked close to him.
"Love." she breathed. "I believe its love."
He sighed then, weary. Her councilmen were going to give her trouble over this he knew.
"You could do much better than I, princess. There are better men."
"I don't believe that." her face went serious as she addressed him."The last time you wanted me to listen to you it would of found you dead, so I believe that your advice is not sound." she managed to get a grin from him but did not relent.
Smiling down at her he leaned in close but lingered, feeling her breath softly on his face for a moment. Thinking that he could still turn back and change her mind, but he pushed the idea away, she had admitted not being ashamed of wanting happiness, why was he refusing his own? And he closed the short distance then and pressed his lips softly to hers.
They were not familiar lips, their chaste kiss from before had been quick and he had liquor and grief blurring his senses, but her scent was startlingly familiar. Her eagerness surprised him as he felt them press against his own firmly and not hesitantly as he had expected, following his instruction. Gathering her closer still until she was pressed up against him, he could feel her hands on his back trying to hold him as close as she could, her fingers pressing into his flesh.
The huntsman pulled his mouth away and mumbled lowly. "You believe its love." he wasn't sure if he was asking her a question or mimicking was she had announced earlier looking for confirmation.
"I'm sure its love." the words stirred that happiness in him again and he chuckled, never releasing her.
"You are a silly little bird."
"And you will give me nothing but grief from now on I'm also sure." his words were thrown back in his face, he had constantly told her this, more to rile her up than anything.
"Oh I'm sure I'll give you grief," she had narrowed her eyes at him then, before his voice dropped back down to the lower tones he had used earlier. "But I will also give you love."
"So you believe you love me?" he kissed her again, taking advantage now that he had the privilege to her lips.
And a little bit of fluffy cheese for you at the end! Well that was fun, even just to get my fingers typing again. Well if its met with good reviews I may add to it, if not, its the internet I can disappearwoOOooOoOoo. Sorry if it turned Mary Sue, ( I sincerely hope it didn't but this was finished in the wee hours of the morning, and everyone knows that your brain isn't really functioning then).