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.


12. Chapter 1

Part II


Ella woke up in a strange bed, surrounded by a rich room. Everything was lavishly embroidered or gold-gilded. She worked in a castle, and was not completely unaccustomed to luxury. But she had not experienced it herself for many years. She

pushed back the covers, starting when she saw her hands. They were stark white, a nearly inhuman shade. It made for a sharp contrast to her own skin. It had been dark and warm. She sat up, looking at herself in wonder in the mirror across the room. It was so odd to move, to feel, yet the person in the mirror was not herself. She had hair of slick ebony, not a kinked, dull black. And the hair and skin were only made stranger by her lips, red as dark blood stains. She moved, transfixed, for several moments.

"Ella?" A woman's voice said from behind the door, breaking her from the trance. As much as Ella was enjoying the changes brought on by morning, she was grateful to hear her real name.

"Jehanne?" asked Ella, getting out of the bed and going to the door, feeling odd in the silky night-shift she had been sent to sleep with. "Is that you?"

"Yes, it's me," said Jehanne. My aunt now, I suppose, she thought.

Ella opened the door.

Jehanne looked over Ella carefully, scrutinizing every detail. Ella couldn't tell if Jehanne was put off or impressed by Rumplestiltskin's ruse.

"I believe we can get away with this very nicely if you're as good a liar as Snow seemed to think you would be," said Jehanne. Ella was uncertain how any curse could have told Queen Snow as much about her as it did, but everything that the woman had said about Ella had been deadly accurate.

Ella was a very good liar.

"What am I to be doing today?" Ella asked. Even in the comfortable castle she was beginning to feel a chill in the air through her thin shift. Jehanne nodded slowly.

"Today you will be traveling," said the woman. "It will be a good time for us to discuss how to act like Snow." She hesitated. "Our true Snow, not the one you met."

"An uncursed Queen Snow," said Ella. She tried not to stare at Jehanne's skin. It was riddled with scars and pockmarks. She had seen her before in the White Castle, of course, but usually in brief; not this close for for so long.

"Rule one of acting like Snow," said a thick voice fro down the hall. "Snow never thinks of herself as Queen. General, perhaps, but not Queen." The fact merchant from the night before came into view. "Clergy forbid she tie herself to anything even remotely feminine."

Ella took a step back into the room, very aware of her scantily clad body.

Casin noticed. He waved a hand. "I've seen Snow in a night shift before. There's nothing new to me here." He faced Jehanne as though about to ask her something, but the woman interrupted.

"When?" she asked. The voice was serene, like the top of a lake, but a monster was swimming beneath.

"I believe it was when some boys in the army made out her true sex and ran her all the way across the camp," said Casin. "Poor girl didn't stand the chance of a turnip in a pig's pen. She took refuge in my tent, discussing the armor I'd brought to Oudin for his troops. She didn't approve of the iron grade." He sniffed at the memory.

Ella crossed her arms in front of her chest. "Still me in this body," sir," said said. Jehanne walked into the room and shut the door.

"Show a shred of respect, Casin," said Jehanne calmly.

"Rule two," said the man from behind the door. "Snow only calls Oudin sir, and that's only when she's feeling in a particularly military mood."

"Now," said Jehanne. "Let's find you some armor and we'll be on our way to the Blue Kingdom." She opened a wardrobe, completely ignoring Casin, and began pulling out trousers and blouses.

"Has Snow really been with that man in her shift?" Ella asked, being sure not to call her queen. She could feel her face going hot and wondered at what a sight it would be to see skin this pale with a blush. Perhaps I shouldn't be prying into my Queen's personal affairs, but if I'm to imitate her, I ought to know the details, she reasoned.

"Snow probably wouldn't care who she was around in her night-shift, although she'd bemoan the lack of iron and leather around her vitals," responded Jehanne. "But if you're asking if Snow is promiscuous, then no. As far as I've known, and I know her better than most, Snow has only loved one man. Even they only shared one kiss, and it was for very strategic purposes."

Ella looked up. "Will I have to court him?"

Jehanne turned, her arms full of the clothing that Ella would wear for the day. "No, that will not be an issue, Ella." She lay the clothing on the bed. "If you would put on the trousers and shirt, I'll send Odin to help with the armor."

Ella's head snapped up from the trouser's she'd been inspecting. "Oudin? A man will dress me?"

"Yes, Oudin. Don't worry, dear. If any man has seen Snow in her shift, it would be him. They've fought side by side in war. I've heard there's few purer bonds."

Oudin wouldn't' be seeing Ella in Snow's shift regardless. She put on the shirt and trousers, feeling as naked in the pants as the night wear.

"Ella?" called Oudin after some time. He sounded more unsure than either Casin or Jehanne had, as though he didn't know if this was his friend from war or a poor serving girl.

"I'm here," she called. He came into the room holding a load of armor.

Oudin looked at her for a long moment. "You're Ella?" He was looking at her intently, as though he couldn't quite bring himself to believe that this woman who looked so like Snow wasn't Snow.

"I am," said Ella with a small smile. Oudin nodded briskly.

The next half-hour she spoke only of armor and weapons, going over the very basics as he showed her how each peace was strapped to the next and what piece had what name. He was insistent that Ella be extremely knowledgeable about weaponry and warfare.

"You could never learn all that she has between now and the ball in the Blue Kingdom," said Oudin. "But if we can teach you even a little more than the basics, you'll astound any man who hasn't had the pleasure of speaking with Snow."

"She is rather unconventional, isn't she?" asked Ella, almost admiringly. At some point she would have to learn that she was Snow, and there was nothing special about her at all, since that was Snow's own viewpoint.

Oudin nodded. "No girl who'd run off to war would be otherwise. But the fact that she stayed proves something even more important."

"Tenacity?" asked Ella. "Strength?"

Oudin smiled. "Stubbornness. Which is what you'll have to have. You have to do the opposite of every rule drilled into a young woman's head about her place in society. Snow doesn't mean an average person harm, but she's never gotten the hang of deportment or etiquette."

"Loud? rude?" Ella was concerned with how little she actually knew about her Queen's behavior. And besides, this was far more than just lying. This was acting. Which, luckily, was another skill of Ella's.

"Never loud and never rude. Not on purpose, at least. Snow is logic. Snow is practicality. Gender roles get in the way of that."

Ella grinned. Oudin seemed almost taken aback at such an expression on Snow's face, which Ella noted for future reference. She put on the most guarded look she could muster.

"Well this will be interesting, in the least," she said. The man nodded.

They set out almost immediately after. Ella had never ridden a horse---an objection that nearly sent the merchant into yet another fit--so Ella had to ride with him in the carriage.

"That'll give us more time to perfect your acting, at least," grumbled Casin.

"Can't we make an act up?" asked Ella tentatively. "Will the people there now Snow? It seems it would be safer to just be myself than to get caught up in a lie."

"She said you were a good lair. Just don't get caught." Ella could tell that the merchant was not at all a fan of the plans involving Ella. She looked to her hands folded in her lap, fighting back the blush burning in her cheeks.

"What's rule three," she asked once the carriage had begun moving.

"Snow knows what she wants and is extremely practical about achieving that. Rule four, Snow has exactly three facial expressions. They are 'stony warrior,' 'small smile,' and 'well I didn't expect that but now I'm going to deal with it.' You can practice on the ride. Rule five, Snow never knows what to do with her body until she is on a horse or in battle, in which case she moves with perfect precision. She borders on awkward. She's more at ease in the presence of men, however, particularly other warriors Rule six, Snow only wears armor until forced into something else."

The man never seemed to run out of rules. Ella thought at first that perhaps he had dreamed them all up overnight, but as the one-sided conversation drew on, she came to realize that no human could recall that much; he was making them up as he went, recalling all the details of his friend. It was bitter-sweet for Ella. It warmed her strangely on the inside to see a person so well loved, and yet it hurt her because she felt that she might never be loved in the same way.

"Rule seventy-four, Snow never looks in a mirror while walking past. I'm not sure she realizes that her looks exist. Rule seventy-five, she is never at ease around children. Perhaps that's why she insists on not marrying. I do believe she wanted Jehanne to produce the heirs, but the clergy forbid that the White Royals produce normal people. also, she's not at ease around ladies of her age. They're too proper for the girl. Rule seventy-six-"

The carriage door was open to show Oudin riding along-side on his horse, his expression unchanged since when they had left.

"Jehanne told me to tell Casin that if he reaches the eight-third rule, it's time we stop for a midday lunch. I believe she's concerned for Ella's mental health."

Casin huffed. "I'm only on seventy-six, thank you. She refuses to eat carrots."

Oudin looked surprised. "She does? She ate them in the war camps."

Casin sniffed. "She hid them in her breast-plate. Oudin laughed, shutting the carriage door. Casin turned back to Ella. "How is your health?" There was an edge to his voice, a bitterness that his friend had been taken and replaced by a strange that he didn't know and couldn't trust.

"My health is fine," Ella said, biting back the 'sir'. He nodded briskly, as though approving of her attempt at a rocky tone. She smiled, breaking the temporary illusion

He continued with the rules until he hit eighty-three, when he reached over her shoulder with a walking stick to rap on the window behind her. The carriage came to a stop and the door as opened. Casin got out and Ella followed.

"Was he too difficult on you?" asked Jehanne, looking at me kindly. "I don't think so," I replied. I wasn't certain what 'too hard' would entail.

"Snow doesn't think, she knows," sniffed Casin, making his way across a wide berth of grassy space between the road and the edge of the forest.

"Like how she knew this was the best plan," said Jehanne firmly. "Have faith in Ella, Casin." Casin waved a hand dismissively over his shoulder.

As Jehanne had the servants and guards help her prepare a midday meal, Ella couldn't help but note how Jehanne avoided looking at her. Ella thought what it would be like. But no one had been to her as Snow evidently was to these people. Her father had been away so often that she never really knew him, and Ella had never been given the opportunity to make friends. She could, however, imagine what it might be like to see her step-mother's doppelganger. Ella would never not be frightened around such a person.

Jehanne did her best, though, and Ella was grateful. She didn't know how log she would have to keep up the ruse. 

Not for long, I hope, she thought to herself.

"Snow!" called Oudin once she had finished eating. Ella didn't react at first to the name, then scrambled to her feet with a start.

"Yes, Oudin?" she asked. He was holding two swords, both looking minuscule next to his massive frame.

"Oh, come now. She hasn't got a goose's chance in a butchery of learning the art of swordsmanship," said Casin with a scoff from across the wide spot i the road they had stopped at.

"Not in a day," Oudin agreed. But I can teach her basic move names and forms, and at the end of six months she'll be passable should someone expect proof of her abilities."

"This is going to be a miserable six months," said Casin with bitter conviction.

"Don't let him bother you," said Jehanne as she walked past.

Ella wasn't certain if at the end of six months she would be any better at sword-fighting than she was now, which was not at all. She would consider it an achievement to be able to hold a form properly with the weighty weapon. It wasn't too heavy at first--she had been surprised--but as training wore on, she questioned how a soldier held a sword for the whole of a battle.

She remembered the names of different moves and positions without difficulty, however. As long as execution was not required, she felt that she could carry a very basic conversation without fear of tripping up.

As long as I take lead of the conversation, Ella thought, noting it for the future. There won't be too much of an issue.

As unaffirming as her travel-mate was being, Ella still had a simmer of excitement about her. What girl didn't want the chance to play at being Queen? To be important to her kingdom. To go to balls and to be further away from her old home as she'd ever been. Ella hadn't dreamed of asking for payment for her services to the Queen, but she decided that she would ask if, after it was all over, she could remain in one of the other castles.

With a feeling of ease, Ella settled back into the carriage as they continued on their way towards an adventure and away from her past. 

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