Contrary to what Snow had promised, we had been wandering aimlessly through the woods for hours. Or at least that is what it seemed like to me. Finally my feet gave out and I dropped to her leaf covered ground, sweat pouring down my face from the unforgiving sun.
"Please," I told between breaths to Snow who had stopped a second after noticing her companion wasn't beside her, "I can't go any further."
A concerned look spread across her face and as she walked over to me, sliding her hood down. I didn't understand how she could wear those clothes. Wasn't she hot? Plus, they looked absolutely horrendous! Like she was someone from the wild. When I felt her hand touch my shoulder I pushed it away.
"I thought you said we have just a little bit to go!" I scolded.
"We've only been walking for two hours."
"Only two hours?"
My eyes lit ablaze when a roaring laugh escaped from her lips. I sat there, dumbfounded with complete irritation, staring at her. If I didn't find a way to vent my irritation without stabbing her in the eyes with a twig I was going to go insane.
"You think this is funny? I'm covered in dirt. My hair feels like straw and my feet are about to fall off!"
She covered her mouth and shook her head. Once regaining her composure she offered me her hand in which I only stared at for the longest time as if imagining it to set on fire.
Which I could very easily do if it wasn't for that dreadful imp!
"I'm sorry," she smiled at me softly, "I'm just not used to traveling with anyone. It's nice to have someone to talk to even if it is bickering."
I rolled my eyes and pushed myself up without even bothering to glance at her offered hand. I didn't need help from her…
At least that is what I wanted to believe.
"Come on, then. I'll show you how to hunt."
"Three fingers only. That's it. Now hold it straight," Snow told me, placing a hand on my elbow. I instantly flinched at the impact and let go of the arrow without thinking. Watching the arrow plummet to the dirt, she laughed and drew another from her quiver. "Relax, Wilma. Here try again."
"This is ridiculous," I scolded as I held onto the string aiming towards a tree with an "X" carved into it as a target. Who would have ever guessed that a mere princess would be teaching the Queen archery in the depths of the woods? I never saw myself learning archery in the first place, so I suppose I could have seen this as a bonus.
Hardly. I highly doubt that learning this will benefit me any bit in my coming future.
The princess remained quiet, disregarding my comments as if they were nothing but a whisper of the wind. Instructing me to keep concentration, I waited until her words and let the arrow go. Once again, it dropped like a bird from the sky almost as soon as I released it.
I heard her sigh from behind me, but when I turned around to look at her, her face wasn't irritated. Her cheeks pulled up as she displayed a bright smile. It seemed that nothing could unnerve this girl which I could not seem to fathom. What was her weakness?
"Let me show you," she held out her hand and I handed over the bow. She moved in one swift motion as she pulled out another arrow and loaded it, aiming towards the target. Flying through the air fast, it struck its mark with ease. She tried to hold it back, but a pleased smile pulled at her lips.
"It looks difficult," she told me as she handed the bow back over to me, "but after you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature."
"I can see that."
"Hm?" she tilted her head to the side.
"Back when we were running from the queen's men you were taking them down with such precision. How were you able to do that so easily?"
"Instinct simply. You pick your target and when you shoot you don't aim for where they are, but where they will be."
I nodded slowly, looking at her strangely as I took in the passion that filled her voice. It was so strange. Such words should have been foreign falling off of her lips, yet they seemed strangely natural. I would eventually have to accept that this was the new Snow not the innocent little girl I had saved from the horse so many years ago.
"Try again," she told me.
Taking another arrow, I steadied myself and drew the string back. I could feel my muscles tensing up as she stepped closer once more and placed her hand upon my elbow lightly. This time it seemed gentler than usual and without an ounce of force.
"Hold it closer to your face," she whispered, a bit closer than I should have been comfortable with, yet as she told me to relax I could only do as instructed. I took a deep breath. As the air escaped between my lips I let go of the string and watched as the arrow glided through the air, whistling softly and hit directed between the "X". My eyes widened as I felt a bizarre leap of joy rushing through me.
"…I did it," I said in a tiny breath, still shocked that I was able to do such a thing.
"Whoa, look at that! See I told you that you could do it."
I felt the bow slipping out of my hands that had grown weak and I stepped forward towards the tree ahead of me. I did it. I actually did it. It was such a tiny accomplishment – one that I should have scoffed at and claimed that of course I had done it – but I wasn't the queen. Not now at least.
"You alright, Wilma?"
My caramel eyes flickered over and met her smiling face, her bow thrown over her shoulder. I saw her as a friend for just a moment until I shook my head. What was I thinking?
"Yes, perfectly fine, dear."
"Come on," she waved with her hand, "Let's go find a place to settle down. The sun will be setting soon."
We found refuge in a small cave that Snow had deemed as abandoned. The little cavity had just enough room that we could relax freely around a fire that Snow was currently building. She had managed to shoot down a bird on our journey, but we both knew that wasn't enough to sate both of us. Me being me, I had scared off all of the other options for dinner.
I had to contain a snicker when I had seen a flash of frustration skimmer across the brunette's face when I yelled at her for almost killing a dear. I had taken more hearts of humans than I could remember, but when it came to animals I was much more compassionate. I knew we had to eat, but I couldn't help it.
"We all have to eat, Wilma," Snow had told me with a frown, "It's the cycle of life. Do you think the wolf thinks about the deer as he stabs his teeth into his flesh?"
I raised my eyebrow at the vivid description. I suppose she had a point, but I still didn't want to be around when my dinner was killed right before my eyes. Who would have ever known the Evil Queen to have a soft spot? That's because everyone chose to only pay attention to my dark actions and overlook any instances of humanity.
"In that final look, does the deer forgive the wolf?" I said almost to myself without thinking.
I looked over to see Snow's hazel eyes gazing at me quizzically.
"Nothing; it's just something I heard once from…a friend."
It was actually a quote I had heard a hunter say once, but I never thought upon it until now. Besides being a hunter the only significance he held in my life was keeping my bed warm at night when I felt the need to have him there.
"I've heard it before," Snow replied which garnered a curious raise of my eyebrow.
"Have you now, dear?"
"Mhm. You hear a lot when you travel. It's an interesting concept to think about."
"Yes, I suppose it is."
It wasn't too much longer when we had stumbled across the cave. Now I sat on top of a blanket I had laid out, thankful to finally be able to rest my legs. This day had been way too long for my liking. I watched lazily, without an ounce of care that perhaps I could have assisted, as Snow tried to start the fire.
She looked up at me with what I could have sworn was a glare.
"The wood is damp."
"How unfortunate," I replied as I examined my nails, grimacing severely at the grime and dirt building up under them. I was screaming internally, begging for a hot, steamy bath. Whenever I saw that wretched imp again I was going to make him pay. If this was some sort of joke he was trying to play I was definitely not enjoying it.
"Why don't you try and get it started while I grab something to eat?"
"I think not."
"Oh, come on. It'll be dark soon and since someone scared away our last opportunity for dinner…" I rolled my eyes and went to object, but she spoke up again. "Unless you want to go and—"
"—absolutely not!" I snapped.
Her warm laughter echoed off the rocks of the cave.
"You know sometimes I swear you act like you're royalty or something." With that I instantly froze, my heart picking up speed frantically quick. No this was too soon, but suddenly I heard her snicker lightly again before giving me a wink and saying she'd be back soon.
Once she finally departed I slumped against the cool rock and breathed a loud sigh of relief. Lifting my pant leg, I examined my wound that Snow had fixed up to find that it was healing surprisingly well. It only throbbed from the enormous amount of hiking we had done. Finally I was alone with only myself. I now had time to really think about everything. I had been with Snow for only two days now and she already trusted me. As much as I hated this way of life, the end result would be Snow's heart on a platter along with every other traitor that had taken her side.
A soft breeze swept through the cave bringing its forthcoming night chill with it. That was when I remembered that without a fire we would be wrapped in darkness and Snow wouldn't be able to find her way back. Not that I cared if she got lost – she wouldn't anyways with the moon gleaming down in its fullness, giving plenty enough light in the night – but I was hungry. My growling stomach that I tried to ignore was reaching its point of eating me from the inside.
Even though I was well aware of my situation, I still couldn't help waving my hand and urging the wood to set ablaze, but no matter how hard I tried there was nothing. If anything, my mind was smoking from irritation. Sighing, I picked up the flint and steel Snow had left and tried to get a spark.
After several tries there was a tiny flicker that caught hold of the leaves, spreading to the twigs and eventually caught hold to the logs. I found myself smiling like a fool. That would be two accomplishments in a day.
Quit it! I snapped at myself, this is ridiculous. I would have been able to have a fire an hour ago or better yet a full stomach. Or even better I would have been in my warm, silky sheets.
At the blatant reminded I shot up and stormed out of the cave, arms out in sudden rage. I called out for the pathetic little goblin that put me in this mess. I called out to him as if I were calling out for God to strike me down with a bolt of lightning.
"Rumpelstiltskin!" I hollered at the top of my lungs, not giving a care in the world at this point that Snow might hear me.
I didn't know how long I had been screaming like a fool, but I was so lost in my own world that I didn't hear the leaves crunching as something approached through the darkening forest. It wasn't until a low growl echoed across the air that I turned around, eyes wide, as a great black wolf bared his teeth. Its eyes gleamed with blood thirst as I watched crimson drip from its mouth onto the ground.
I was frozen in place staring into the golden eyes that reflected my impending death. This wasn't an ordinary wolf; its body was double the size of any of its kind I had ever seen. I remembered hearing about a giant wolf running rampant on full moons, but had only rolled my eyes. Such things were none of my concern even if the creature was devouring innocent souls. None of that mattered; they were all traitors and peasants that were keeping me away from having my true happiness.
At last I finally broke free from my shackles and I began to edge back slowly. I didn't know how I was going get away from this monster. The only idea that I had was to slip inside of the cave. The closer I got to the rocks, the louder the animal growled. As soon as I reached our encampment, realization of how stupid this move was hit me. I was now trapped between the rocks and the wolf. I was never this foolish; there had to have been a reason I chose to do this.
As I backed myself into the rocks there was a silver gleam in the corner of my eye and that's when I knew just why I had come back here. Testing faith, I leaped forward and wrapped my hands around the hilt of the sword just as I heard the giant wolf leap forward. It stopped only a foot away as I held the blade out.
"Get back!" I ordered the creature, but my voice was shaking, mixing with the ferocious growl coming from the black beast. I am your queen! "I mean it. I'll use this!"
What nonsense was I thinking? Talking to the creature of the moon as if it could hear me? I could feel wet pearls sliding down my face, but I was too proud to scream. I wouldn't allow myself, the Queen, to fall under anyone or anything. I should have called out for help; Snow could have come to my aid, but I just couldn't do it.
The wolf snarled once more before crouching down in order to leap. It was then that I squeezed my eyes shut and I swore that I saw my life flash before my eyes. I saw Daniel holding me within his arms as I leaned in to kiss him, promising that we would run away together. Unfortunately that was the only image I held onto, the rest of my life had been a cruel joke of darkness. However, I suddenly heard a loud yelp which elicited a sharp cry from the depths of my throat, but when I opened my eyes I was still there. Breathing. Very much alive. The animal was leaning forward as if it were trying to cradle its arm. An arrow had penetrated its fur and was now spilling dark crimson very similar to what had been dripping out of its mouth.
"Get away from her," said a familiar voice that I had never been happier to hear. I almost cried out for joy, but had enough sense to contain myself. She stepped towards the beast with her bow ready as the wounded animal continued to snarl. "I know you can understand me," she spoke to it, "we mean you no harm. Now go before I put an end to your ways."
The brunette archer narrowed her eyes as she firmly held her aim. Watching with caramel, teary eyes, the giant wolf let out a snarl before leaping out of the cave and back into the wild though not as graciously as it could have with its wounded arm.
I was stunned beyond belief. My life had almost ended so abruptly and just to make things even worse, my life had been saved by my enemy. I remained idle in my stance except for the sword that had slipped from my grasp, clattering with the dirt as it collided. All I saw was the image of the beast snarling, its golden eyes piercing into my soul as if it were looking into me. It knew I wasn't worth letting live. It knew that my heart was so black that I had allowed it to kill so many villagers. It knew that deep down in the depths of my heart I was alone, without anyone to care for me, and that my departure from this world would not be missed, yet somehow here I was.
I barely felt the soft hand that touched my arm. The calming words that echoed through the air seemed like nothing but a whisper. I cannot recall how it happened but somehow I had ended up leaning against the woman who had her arms wrapped around me tightly.
"Are you hurt?"
"N-no," I finally mustered as I realized the strange situation I was in and quickly pulled away, not taking a second thought that the woman's closeness had actually been comforting.
I wasn't fond at all with how things had played out, but I couldn't complain that my hunger had been sated after a long enough wait. The princess had managed to shoot down a rabbit in which she wasn't too pleased about, but I was reminded about the earlier conversation. The cycle of life.
I lay down opposite of her, the fire burning dimly between us, as she made preparations for the sleep that was soon to come. We laid there silently for what seemed like eons until I finally spoke up, curiosity getting the best of me.
"You spoke to it as if it could understand you."
I could feel her eyes on me, but I refused to meet them, keeping them firmly planting in the darkness above me.
"It was a child of the moon," she waited to see if I had anything to say, "once a month, when the moon is full, it is said that there are a cursed few who turn into wolves or better known as werewolves."
"And you just somehow knew that this so called 'werewolf' would listen to you?"
"Well, no, but there has been talk of a few wolves that have overcome their beastly manner and can use their human mind rather than animal instinct."
I couldn't help, but snicker at the ridiculousness of what she was saying. A human turning into a wolf? But then again I was one acquainted with magic and knew that if you could muster it up in your brain, it would be possible some way or another, even if the consequences were dire.
I let the conversation slip into the night as I closed my eyes, yet I couldn't seem to quiet down my mind. I was a complete stranger to this woman, yet she had saved my life two times now. Why would she risk her own life to save me?
"Why didn't you let me die?"
It was quiet for a few breaths and I immediately assumed that Snow had fallen asleep, but was surprised when I heard her shift. Looking over I saw that she had sat up, the glowing embers making her peculiar stare more irregular.
"You honestly believe I would have left you on your own?"
"Seeing as— from what I've heard about you—"
"—whatever you have heard about me is false if you even think for a second that I would abandon anyone in need," she sighed into the growing darkness, "I have heard things that the queen has accused me of, but they are far beyond the truth."
"It is said that you only care about yourself."
"No, I want to walk away from this alive and I have no one else, but that does not mean my heart is cold. As much as I would love to take back the kingdom that is rightfully mine, she has too much power on her side. At this point all I wish is to get as far away from this place as possible. Start a new life and maybe have a family of my own. So maybe that may be considered selfish, but I have done nothing wrong. On my journey I am more than willing to lend a helping hand to someone in need."
I was astounded by the response I received. Was she being completely truthful? Or was this just an act that she had told many travelers she had met.
"Would you ever consider forgiving her? The Queen I mean?"
"Of course I would."
She tilted her head to the side and smiled at me.
"Everyone deserves a second chance no matter what has been done. All I would ask of her is that she would come clean. Admit to everything that she is done and say she is sorry. That is all I ask. I know there is a heart somewhere deep down, disguised by all of that darkness that shrouds her."
I couldn't conjure up the right words to respond. If I did then my voice may have even cracked as a silent tear slid slowly down my cheek. I was thankful that the fire had finally died down to hide my astonished face. Turning away from the woman that I knew was waiting for an answer; I closed my eyes and begged for sleep.Someone saw beneath the darkness. Someone was willing to forgive me. The only question now was whether I was willing to forgive her.