A/N: Hello everyone. This is the first chapter of the sequel to The Princess and the Prisoner. I'm sure you will all have many questions, but trust that the answers will unfold as the story progresses. I will be unable to update as frequently as I did with The Princess and the Prisoner as I currently have three running stories, but I promise my updates will still be as swift as possible.
READ THIS: The first chapter of this sequel takes place three years after the final chapter of The Princess and the Prisoner, but the second chapter will flash back ten months and unravel the events leading up to this point. I hope that makes sense. There will be bits and pieces throughout that will give you hints and ideas as to what took place in the two-year time span between The Princess and the Prisoner and Hearts of Courage. I really hope you all like it.
Make sure to read this chapter with my chosen soundtrack for which this story was named. "Heart of Courage (Extended Version)" by Two Steps From Hell. You won't regret it. I do hope that you all enjoy and that the story lives up to your expectations. XO-Chrmdpoet
Rated M for blood, violence, nudity, sex, and some language.
Chapter One: Our Land. Our Lives. Our Dignity.
Sorrow spilled through Emma's heart as she gazed upon the burning plains strewn with bodies as far as the eye could see. Dawn was approaching and the sky lightened to cast an almost ethereal glow across the devastation that left her lands as a vast vacuum, void of much of the life it once harbored, of the earth beneath her, once cultivated beautifully and now worn and marred and riddled with the blood of her people and of her enemies. She sat atop her steed, surveying the carnage, the losses reeling in her mind and only driving her determination to end this war once and for all, to claim justice for the slain and refuge for the weary and wounded.
She could hear her warriors, brave and true, standing strong behind her, their breathing rapid and their hearts heavy, but none had backed down. Few hundred remained where once there had been thousands, and yet none turned away. They fought with her, many of their loved ones slain, and still they carried on. Their loyalty moved her to tears, swelling in her heart as she breathed in the stench of burning fields, of scorched bodies, of the metallic odor of blood rising as vapors in the early morning to shade the sky a violent red.
The battle had been raging many moons, yet it was a far cry from its end, and Emma refused to claim defeat. She would bring her people to victory, and she would obliterate any and all who dared stand in her way.
The soft clicks of hooves alerted her to the presence of her wife as Regina, poised atop a midnight steed and armored from head to toe, came to a gentle stop beside her. Emma needed not visibly see her wife to know of her presence. They called to each other always through their shared bond as destined Soul Mates and each could feel the other's presence no matter the distance that might exist between them. Emma kept her eyes fixed upon the burning lands before her even as she extended an open hand to her left. She felt Regina's soft, delicate fingers slip into the spaces between her own and her heart grew fuller at the contact, her courage returning and growing with every gentle squeeze of palm against palm.
The time has come to end this, my love, Regina's sweet voice called to her, echoing in her mind, and Emma could hear the heartache in her tone. It was the same as that which throbbed within her own chest. Too many lives lost. Far too much blood spilled. They ached for their own losses and they ached for the losses of their people, and yet, they took refuge in the comfort of one another.
Their enemies had retreated in the night to gather their numbers as had they, and yet both Regina and Emma could sense the magic in the air, a signal for all that was to come—the final battle. It lingered on the horizon, waiting to see them either to victory or defeat, yet neither would accept the latter.
Indeed it has, Emma answered her softly. Look at our land, Regina, our home. It has been reduced to a wasteland. How shall we ever rebuild what has been lost? How shall we lead our people through this destruction?
We will find a way, Emma, Regina replied gently yet her voice was powerful in Emma's mind, ever strong, ever confident, and ever inspiring. But we must do this now, my love. We must carry on, forward, and finish this while our enemies are weak.
Our men, our women…they are weary, Emma whispered through their bond, and the subtle crack in her voice sounded clearly in Regina's mind, aching in her heart as she longed only to comfort her beloved wife. I know not if they can carry on. I fear they may see only defeat should we lead them forward. I fear I have failed them.
Fear not, darling, Regina told her, squeezing Emma's hand affectionately, for they are your people. You are their Queen, and they trust in you. They will follow you to the ends of the earth should you lead them. Speak to them, Emma. Give them the strength and the courage that you have given me. They will listen.
What shall I say? Emma asked meekly, turning to look into her beloved's deep, chocolate eyes, searching for answers she feared might never come.
Speak your heart, my love, Regina whispered in her mind. Speak only your heart. It is your heart that has led us this far, and I believe your heart shall see us to victory.
I love you, Regina, Emma exclaimed and the words sang in her heart and danced beautifully along the undying bond that connected her soul to that of the woman seated strongly beside her.
Regina gazed deeply into the emerald eyes of her beloved, the only person to have ever known her completely and love her despite her wicked past. She could see so much in those eyes—affection, fear, courage, strength, wisdom, sorrow, and love. They were endlessly deep and beautifully telling, and while Regina's respect and love for Emma only grew each time she looked into those eyes, her heart also ached fiercely for the suffering her wife had been made to endure at such a young age, for the speed with which she had been made to grow and mature, to rise to the challenge of leading a nation long before her time to reign was meant to come. Emma was the strongest person she knew.
And I you, Emma, Regina whispered. I am with you, my love, even unto the end.
Their hands tangled tightly for only a moment more before both pulled gently away and turned to face their army, heads held high even as their hearts weighed heavily in their chests. Tears built and lingered on the edges of Emma's eyelids as she took in the state of her people, ragged and worn, bloody and beaten, riddled with exhaustion. The light that had burned in their eyes at the start of the war had long since faded and she saw only fear, only hopelessness shining up at her now.
She gazed upon the hilltop in the distance where her remaining archers stood at the ready, Snow at the head of them, and the burning pang of loss rippled through her chest as she ached for her birthmother, for the grand loss she had endured. She then let her gaze fall to the far left, the lining of the burning forest where she knew her adoptive mother, Red, waited amongst the wolves for the final phase of the battle to begin. She could see her not, and yet she could sense her presence even from a distance, and it empowered her.
Feeling courage bloom in her chest, Emma looked upon her army once more and inhaled a heavy breath wrought with the stench of decay in the air. She allowed her wife's words to fill her mind once more and push her onward. Speak your heart, my love.
And so she did.
"My people," she called, her voice magnified in the stillness of the early morning and echoing throughout the rolling hills, furthered by Regina's magic as her wife empowered the volume of it. The men and women gathered before her, hundreds still yet dwindling, turned their eyes to her, their weapons hanging limply at their sides and their gazes filled with desperation, a need for guidance and encouragement; a need for hope.
"The dawn approaches, and with it, the final phase of our battle. I know you are weary and your hope is slim, yet fear not, for as weary as we may be, trust that our enemies grow weary as well. Trust that our enemies grow weak. Trust that they shall stand not against us another night, because we, together, shall take back what is rightfully ours this day. Our land. Our lives. Our dignity."
Regina sat atop her steed in pure awe of the light and power that was her beloved wife and Soul Mate. She watched as the hopeless hundreds before them began to stir, moved by the strength in Emma's voice, by the courage in her emerald eyes, and by the words of her heart that beat for the very people she now led, a heart so full and so deep and so endless that it could devour the world. Pride swelled in her chest as the men and women surrounding them began to stand taller, lift their heads higher, their hands curled into fists coming to beat against their chests as many shouted their courage, shouted their love for their Queen. It moved Regina like nothing ever had, and that sensation only grew as it was inspired by the love of her life.
"We have lost many these past moons," Emma continued, her voice like a lone beacon of light in a world of only shadows and chaos and death. "Our mothers and fathers, our sisters and brothers, our children, our lovers, and our friends, and yet we still are standing. We are here, and we will let not those sacrifices be in vain."
Shouts ripped through the air, calls of support and of tribute to the fallen. The cries of her men and women beat like a drum in Emma's chest and only stirred her on even as tears carved quiet paths down her dirty cheeks.
"Our numbers are small, but we are strong. We are united, and we will be not silenced. We will be not moved. We, together, will end this war. Together, we will conquer our enemies, and together, we will claim this day for our fallen soldiers."
The cheers were deafening, rekindled hope blooming in the hearts of her people and spilling into the early morning atmosphere. Emma raised her sword into the air, its gleaming point glinting in the early light, and she could feel Regina's pride burning along their bond as they watched the men and women before them follow suit. They lifted their weapons, swords, hammers, maces, mallets, and bows, as high as they could reach as they listened to their Queen's final words rip through the dawn, a solemn promise igniting the air.
"When the sun crests the hilltop, we march together a final time. And I ask only that you trust in me. Stand with me, men, women. Fight with me, and I will lead you not astray. Follow me into the fire and I promise you, all of you, that I will see you through it. I will bring you to the other side, liberated and victorious!"
As the cries of her people echoed through the hills, the support and hope of the swordsmen, of the archers, of the wolves and the fairies, the dwarves and the nymphs, Emma pressed a steady fist to her heart before lifting it to the sky. It was a symbol of loyalty and of love that she freely offered the men and women that followed her, and they returned it in full. Fists beat into chests before punching into the air as shouts of "Long Live the Queen" echoed from newly hopeful tongues.
Emma turned watery eyes to the woman she knew remained strong behind her. Her wife's fist was held high in the air and tears marred her beautiful cheeks. They locked gazes, love and devotion shining in their eyes, before they both turned to look on the horizon.
They stood strong together, and they waited. Waited for the sun to rise and peek atop the distant hills. Waited to lead their people to a victory unlike any in the history of their kingdom.