Battle may never end, for there chaos thrives;
And only in chaos can we live our lives.

After Snow takes the Assassin's curse, she leaves to rebuild the Four Kingdoms. But she finds the Beast impossible to control and will do anything to get rid of it and spare her kingdom carnage. Enter Rumplestiltskin, one of seven equally enigmatic and long-named dwarves. Their requirement for breaking the curse? Snow must live with them for a year. She leaves a serving girl in her place, who must lie to--and fall for--an unwitting Huntsman.

But curses can never be broken. Evil can never be killed. And Snow can never stop fighting.


8. Chapter 8

Snow must have given orders for the Huntsman to be seen to even after she left the ball herself. Snow's aunt-- Jehanne--had arrived and escorted him to an empty room within the castle. 

He was near enough to Snow that he was able to fall into a deep sleep, exhausted and in pain. The bed was comfortable and the room warm. No more saddles for him. 

But when the Huntsman woke from a dream-riddled sleep, the castle seemed far too quiet. 

He stumbled out of his bed, half-noting the fresh bandages around his middle. He pushed open the door from his room and stumbled into the hall, causing a maid to drop what appeared to be a tray of cups. 

"The Queen," he said, voice thick with sleep. 

The girl appeared to be trying very hard to keep her eyes modestly on his face. He realized that the air of the castle was likely less cold than he thought; he wasn't wearing his clothes anymore. 

"The Queen left some hours ago, sir," she said meekly. 

"Where to?" he demanded. 

"Sir, she gave express orders that you were to rest, an' she could speak with you after she got back from the other kingdoms." The girl turned to face the wall, too embarrassed at the Huntsman's lack of clothing to continue looking at him. 

"I cannot wait that long," said the Huntsman, more to himself than to her. 

"If I may ask, sir, why not?" She flicked nervously at an apron tie. "I mean, all this castle knows you're eager to speak with her, an' we were wonderin' i-" 

"Because," said the Huntsman, straightening in spite of the pain. "I love her." 

The girl stiffened, then dropped quickly to gather the cups on the floor, fingers working anxiously. "S'none of my business," she muttered. 

The Huntsman stepped closer. "Please. I have to find her." 

"I can't- I mean, she 's already gone. To the Red Kingdom, with her aunt an' old general an' the like." The girl risked a quick look at the Huntsman. "Are you truly? I love, I mean?" 

"Everything I do is for her." The Huntsman leaned wearily against the door-frame to his bedroom, all at once overcome with exhaustion and pain. "I have to find her. I have to find Snow." 

"Well, she isn't exactly lost or anything," said the girl. "She's just up to the road a ways by now. But you can't keep runnin' after her with that hole in your gut." 

The Huntsman looked at the girl for the first time, actually taking note of how she looked. She was dark skinned with black hair that would never be completely smooth, and a round face and flat nose. She had likely been from a family with to many children, sent to the castle to clean and find some like-set boy to marry. She was a worker, one of good spirits and health. 

"What's your name?" he asked. "How did you come here?" 

"They call me Ella, sir," said the maid. "I was a merchant's daughter, but he came by some trouble a year or so ago an' stopped sendin' money for me an' my- my sisters. His wife sent me here, so I could make my way myself." 

Wife, not mother, he thought absently. Poor girl. Unwanted, likely. Not deemed special. We can fix that. 

"Do you have any free time?" 

She was on her own too; extra cash wouldn't be amiss, he was certain. 

"No," said Ella uncertainly. "Why do you ask?" 

"I thought I may have had a job for you," he said.

"What sort of a job?" She stood, cups forgotten. 

"Proxy. You go in my place to speak with Snow." He bit back a sigh. It was a neat plan. 

"Go to the Red Kingdom? Leave this place?" 

"Yes." Damn his stomach hurt, and now he would ride again on top of it. 

"I'll go!" cried the girl. 

The Huntsman looked at her, shocked. "You said no free time." 

"If I leave, I get fired!" The girl was beaming at him. 

"Is that cause for celebration?" 

"Wholehearted celebration." For a moment, the Huntsman thought she was going to kiss him. 

He studied her. 

"Then let me go get the message for you." 

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