We had been hiking up the side of the mountain for about a week now, stopping when the light of day decided to leave us. As I had thought it would have, the temperatures continued to drop the higher we ascended. According to Snow, the path we were taking looped through the vastness of the mountain and directly cut through at points. It would take at least another few weeks until we reached the other side.
In all of my life I had never seen such a beautiful display of the land, the way the land rolled and seemed to never end and how the foliage of the evergreen contrasted with the snow that covered the ground. Noticing my intrigue with Mother Nature, Snow decided that we would make camp on the edge of the mountain that overlooked a valley. After helping with the tent and the fire, I sat upon a log and glanced down below noticing how different parts of the Earth changed color depending on whether it was used for farming or other purposes.
A small village sat in the distance, the barely visible smoke from a chimney rising from a few houses. I began to wonder what the people there were doing. Were they happy? Did they have a family? It was strange. During my reign, I had never taken a second to ponder upon such things, yet ever since I had been exposed to the reality of life my mind seemed to be slowly evolving.
I flinched when my mind wandered back over those two drunken men spitting my name as if it were vermin. Had I really destroyed that many lives for everyone to hate me? Wasn't power supposed to grant me with everything? It gave me everything but love.
The soft rustle of frozen leaves crunched from behind me, yet I had felt her presence behind me long before she perched on the log. A saw her gaze at me from the corner of my eyes, yet my own remained fixed on the valley bellow.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" she asked me, lacing her fingers in front of her.
"That it is. I don't believe I've ever seen something as mesmerizing."
When I turned my head, hazel eyes were still looking at me tenderly, and I felt my cheeks grow warm. Still, she said nothing and only smiled, before turning to look out over the land. We sat there for what seemed like ages, watching as the light blue horizon was painted over with an orange glow only to soon fade into the dark blackness.
With this darkness brought on the brightest stars I had ever seen in my life. Thousands of gems sparkled in the night like candles, watching over us in silence. It was then that a streak of light flashed across the sky, and I found myself wishing for something I hadn't thought about in ages. Peace.
The temperature inside of the tent was better than outside, yet only by a fraction. The cold still seeped through the fabric as if it were nothing. At least it kept us safe from the winds when they swept through. I stared into the nothingness ahead of me, tired, yet rather disturbed by the dream I had awoken from. My heart twisted with clashing emotions as my mind swirled with so many questions, yet one in particular.
What was I doing?
My first intentions involving Snow seemed to have fallen into the ash and arising from them was something new, yet not even I could decipher it. I had fallen into this role of deceit for so long that I was starting to believe it all myself. At this point I was even questioning my ulterior motives and if they even existed anymore.
Sitting up, I looked off to my side to see Snow sleeping soundly, her face innocent as if she were a child once more. A dark strand had fallen over her and I reached out my hand to move it away, yet stopped only an inch from her face. What was I doing?
I pushed myself up and slipped out of the tent, shivering when the cold air hit my face. The air was crisp as I took in a large breath. The disturbing dream from only minutes ago had stained my eyes with its vivid visualizations.
I still saw her heart in my hands, dripping with warm blood. It spilled over onto the blanket that she clung onto, begging for me not to kill her, yet as I stared into her pale face, my hand squeezing sharply, I couldn't do it. I couldn't give it that last amount of pressure that would send her off into the land of the dead.
The grass was frozen when I sat down upon it, yet I paid no mind to it. My hands went to my face, rubbing at my tired eyes and begging the vision to fade away, yet it remained. Isn't that what I wanted the most? Snow's beating heart in my hands? My body visibly cringed and I glanced back at the tent knowing that I could so easily finish what I came here to do.
Instead, I pulled the fur jacket closer against me and leaned back against the chilly earth and stared up at the stars. My fingers instinctively began to trace patterns in the soft fur, finding a soothing comfort in such a simple action. Never mind the bitter wind sweeping through the trees and wrapping around my entire being. I was used to the cold, or at least I should have been with no heart, yet I shivered.
I was up before the brunette this morning, or at least that's what Snow thought. In fact I hadn't gotten more than an hour of sleep. Every time my eyes would close, I'd fade into a terrifying world of blood and pain, at times my own.
In my wakefulness I decided to make breakfast which really was just a mixture of fruits I found in the area. Unlike most ordinary people, I was able to discern the difference between edible and poisonous, having practiced with potion-making for the last several years.
The morning remained quiet, save for the small talk when Snow made her way out of the tent. Her hair was knotty from sleep and as she stretched out her limbs I found myself watching attentively. Hazel eyes met mine with a kind, "morning," yet I only replied with a small smile that I could muster up.
If I had been able to look in a mirror I would have most likely found dark bags hanging under my eyes. Speaking of mirrors, I couldn't even remember the last time I saw my own reflection. As far as I knew I could have been the flawless queen, yet I knew that to be false. Just by simply looking at my hands, the dirt built up under my nails, I knew I would never be the same person that started out on this journey.
"You sleep alright, Wilma?"
"Well enough," I muttered a bit colder than usual, brushing my hair out with my fingers.
She gave me a look before averting her gaze to the sky which had, upon the dawning, appeared white.
"I believe we shall be seeing snow soon," she acknowledged.
I frowned in response. Could it get any colder?
"What do you suggest then?"
"We get moving. The faster we get through these mountains, the safer it will be. I'd rather not get stuck in a bad blizzard."
I opted to carry the bag, yet in return I chose to grant her with silence. Snow's eyes darted around the forest, listening to the birds sing their morning song. It seemed that she had her own connection with them and for a moment I envied her. I wish I had a way to distract my own mind.
The brunette's lips pursed several times, wishing to break the silence. However, the cold mask I wore upon my face seemed to dissuade her. I could feel the distance between as if an ice-made wall had been built around us from my own doing. I knew I should have said something, but was it needed? I didn't owe her anything.
She is not your friend, I told myself, No. of course she isn't. I then was reminded of just a week ago when she had gifted me with this jacket I was currently wearing. It shouldn't have meant a thing, yet it touched my heart in a way I couldn't explain. She wasn't my friend. Perhaps. Though to her it seemed I was.
"What is your plan once we get through these dreadful mountains?"
My voice made her jump in surprise.
"I don't really know."
"You don't have any plans to align yourself with the near kingdom? Slip your way inside in order to get back at the Queen?"
"Why would I do that?" The hurt in her voice made me turn to look at her. Had she never thought of that? "I have little desire to avenge what has been done to me."
"You can't truly mean that?"
She stopped dead in her tracks suddenly and turned to face me. Her brow furrowed as her jaw tensed, something akin to irritation flittering across her features.
"Why not? Vengeance is not the path I wish to travel. One thing will lead to another and it will all circle into my downfall. I do miss my father; I miss him terribly, yet I can do nothing to bring him back just as I can't with my mother. I shall not stain their name in blood," she shook her head, "they wouldn't want that. All I want is for all to be forgiven, yet I know she could never forgive me."
"What you did couldn't be that bad."
"It was. If it wasn't for me being so naïve…no, never mind. It's all in the past. I have you by my side and that is all I need."
My heart skipped for a second and with a quick glance I saw that her cheeks had flushed. I shook my head and began to walk again, my muscles screaming at me from lack of sleep. Not even five minutes later I let out a rather large yawn which I have to admit was embarrassing. The day had just begun; I shouldn't have been tired.
There was a large rustle in the bushes around me and my first instinct was to grab hold of my sword that I had recently strapped to my side for protection. Ever since we had escaped the prince's grasp I had been very tense, assuming they were lurking behind every corner ready to capture me and burn me alive once they found out who I was.
In my hysteria, I heard Snow laughing loudly behind me. My eyebrows furrowed in bewilderment until a deer came leaping across the path followed by a few others. I sighed.
Well, that was awkward.
"Jumpy, are we?" Snow teased and I rolled my eyes.
"I thought that…that maybe…"
"They aren't following us, I promise. If they were, they would have already had us in shackles."
She stepped in front of me and placed a hand over mine that was still gripping my sword, having forgotten it was even in my hand. Despite the cold, her hand was warm as she slowly pried my fingers away and sheathed it as if I was incapable. Soon enough, I was gazing into worried eyes as her hand still remained on mine.
"You've been acting strange. Is everything okay?"
I went to rip my hand away and walk around her, to walk away from a strange feeling that was arising inside of my chest, yet her grasp tightened.
"How much sleep did you get last night?"
"What does it matter?" I snapped, reverting back to the cold woman I knew how to play so well.
Her next actions had me holding my breath, or perhaps I had involuntarily stopped breathing altogether. She pressed a warm palm against my cheek affectionately while stepping into my personal space. I was fine with breaking all barriers with strangers, jumping into their space with furry, yet when she did so I found I was unable to move.
"Because I care about you, Wilma. Why won't you understand that?"
"You shouldn't," my intended snarl came out as a mere whisper, "you don't know who I am."
Her thumb circled my burning cheek.
"Then let me in. I know what it's like not being able to trust anyone. I may not know you well enough, but I do know you've been hurt. I can see it in your eyes when I look at you and you know what? That's okay. Pain helps people to grow. Just let me in, as I have you, and I promise I won't deceive you."
I bit back a painful choke that arose in my throat. How could I do this to her? How could I have let this companionship grow to the extent it had?
"You don't know what you're walking into," I informed her.
"That's okay. I like an adventure."
She winked before sliding her hand away. Instantly, I yearned for the warmth again as the rush of the cold flooded back in against my cheek. Pressing a hand to my temples, I tried not to think of the disastrous journey I had joined. Rumpelstiltskin had no role in this; at least not anymore. He only provided me with a disguise that I had asked for. Whatever was to come was to be blamed on me whether I wanted to admit to it or not.