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.


2. Chapter 2

We drew nearer to the White Palace, now followed by a band of peasants. They had gathered behind us to watch the show, I suppose. We must have appeared impressive- the mighty band that slew the evil queen. 

Those rumors wouldn't last long, however. Rumors better twisted upon the truth would soon emerge about the huntsman and the Assassin, allied with Queen Snow. It did make for a better tale, if not as traditional as the Band of Knights trope that I and others had been raised on. 

"There is a plan, of course." 

The phrase- more of a question, really- had been posed by Oudin. He was one of  the generals I had fought under, and who now fought under me. When he had discovered me hidden among his soldiers, he had promised not to send me away. Oudin was one for calculated risks, and certainly not one for convention. 

"I will resume my usual schedule of ruling," I replied. 

"It has been quite some time since there was a usual schedule," he murmured gruffly over the creaks of saddles. 

"I daresay they won't revolt," i replied. "Who would they compare me to? Malif? King Maurice?" 

Oudin gave a shrug, armor giving a clank. 

We dismounted at the livery and I departed, leaving the others to replace their weapons and remove their armor. As confidently as I might speak of the people's love for me, it was wise to remain cautious. 

The people in the palace were delighted at my return. Each one swore they had done their duty as the Assassin and I commanded. They also informed me, almost hesitantly, that the guard who had taken my curse still lay upstairs. 

My curse had been a weak one when compared to the Assassin's. His- now mine- could only be shifted by the strongest of loves. It would have to be a self-sacrificing love, like that of pure lovers or a parent to a child. 

The curse Malif had inflicted on me was less potent. The love of a friend might shift it, or that of an adoring subject. 

Unfortunately, weak did not mean that it could ever be completely broken. That curse would always ben on someone. it was, however, and easier one to work around. One could simply trade off with a person willing to work at night. Of the curses for a loyal guard to end up with, there were certainly worse ones. 

But either way, it would be expected of me to ensure the man was not cursed forever. It would be up to me to find a person willing to exchange with the poor man. 

I went up to my room, accompanied by the ever-present voices informing me of all the going-ons of the near vicinity. I felt powerful being this armed with information, but also tired; there was no way to avoid the overload of senses. 

I opened the door to my room. 

It had been well maintained; there was not a large amount of dust or mess. The guard was fast asleep on the bed, as every person and voice had said. The window was shut, but the curtains still stirred in the dark. 

I sighed. "What a mess Malif has left us, eh?" 

The guard didn't reply. 

I nudged over his leg and sat on the edge of the bed. "You can't hear me. I recall that from when I was under the curse. But I'm going to thank you now regardless. You and your fellow guards and servants had such a certainty that I would come back and save you. And you're right. I did. And I will." 

I sighed, stretching out my legs. "No matter what curse I'm under, I'm sure as hell going to take care of you all. In battle or politics or finances." My stomach turned at the thought. "Though I might avoid that last bit as much as possible." 

The guard still remained silent. I patted his knee, feeling a bit drowsy at contact. The two curses converged in my mind, melding dreams with voices. I jerked my hand back, startled at the sudden nightmare it created. 

Note to self, I thought. Curses do not go together. 

"Two men one woman outside the door no weapons KILL THEM friendly intentions RIP OUT THEIR THROATS," the voices informed and demanded. 

That was the hardest part. Not the noise, not the ceaseless stream of data. The constant, bloody demand for slaughter. How easy would it be to give in? To allow the beast to take control and destroy. 

"You three can come in," I called. 

The door opened. 

First was Jehanne, my father's sister. She had the trademark black locks, but was the opposite of my father in every other way; she was soft-spoken and caring. Jehanne was no great beauty. A pox had claimed her skin when she was but a young woman. But she bore each spot with a patience and humility seldom found in my family. 

Following her was Oudin, now dressed in a less combative uniform. And behind him was Casin, a merchant so wily you could trust only two things. One, that he was lying to you, and two, that he took his personal loyalties very seriously. Few took him seriously at first, however. It was difficult to equate the man dressed in purple ruffles and green breeches with a snake-like businessman- a fact that came in very handy for Casin. 

"Snow," asked Jehanne. "Where do things stand?" 

Where do things stand, I echoed mentally. It was a phrase Jehanne had posed often in my lifetime. 

Malif married my father. Where do things stand, Snow? 

I was to run off and play soldier. Where do things stand? 

I had returned, the triumphant warrior princess. And where do things stand? 

"With us, for once," I replied with a small smile. 

"There may be more obstacles than you would assume at first blush," said Casin, running a thick pinky finger over his pearl-studded belt. "The people are weary of being tested, milady." 

"There are no more tests," I said in what I hoped was a soothing voice. I had little experience with being soothing. 

"The Four Kingdoms are scattered. We have been at war for over a decade, both with ourselves and other kingdoms. And famine didn't disappear in the face of more supernatural issues," Oudin said. 

"There is only one kingdom now," I said. "I cannot imagine the people revolting to unity. We will honor the fallen soldiers, but war will not be in our future. There is grief, but peace can come to be normal. And in unity, famine is no object. Tariffs need not exist when there are no more borders." 

I looked between them for objections. I knew there would be only delight from Casin; tariffs were his "sole complaint as a merchant", among many other business matters. 

"And," added Jehanne, pocked chin nestling into her collar. "The crown is without coin." 

Casin frowned. Tariffs did line our coffers, and thus the pockets of our suppliers... such as Casin. 
And while not one for war-mongering, the lack of battle would mean he was not transferring as much supply and weaponry into our stores. 

"And people are not always as accepting as logic dictates they ought to be," Oudin said. 

I stood. "And do you have a solution for these things that stand in our way?" 

Jehanne, Oudin and Casin all looked at one another. 

"Then i propose that my plan continue," I said. 

Jehanne sighed. "You cannot fight everything by charging straight at it, Snow." 

"I defeated the greatest threat this world has seen since the Assassin by that plan. And the Assassin is gone as well, by the way. So I would say that charging straight at my challenges works very nicely." 

Oudin chuckled, the wrinkles under his eyes still lined with the dried blood of his last skirmish bunching fondly. "She'll run and slay whatever may come, Jehanne." 

Casin shook his head. "This talk's not mine. Call me back in when you start on about those tariffs again. I may just have some input." 

"I'm certain you do," I said, almost cheerfully. 

Casin left. Jehanne scurried after, likely to ensure his fingers didn't get too light around the castle valuables. That wasn't really his way, but Jehanne trusted the man less than I did. 

"Really though," said Oudin, walking closer. "This won't be as clear-cut as it looks in your mind. Battles rarely are." 

"It will not be more difficult than anything else this country or I have endured in the past few years," I said, lifting my chin with child-like defiance. I was so determined to make this work. To make anything work. 

Oudin looked at me, his steel-colored eyes piercing as sharply as any blade. 

"Be certain you're not running away from as well as towards your battles." 

"I'm selecting my battles wisely," I said, feeling like a sixteen year old warrior again, called into his tent to be chastised. 

Oudin put a weapon-weathered hand on my shoulder. I felt as though I could feel it's warmth through the leather armor. 

"Someday you won't have to fight anymore," he said. 

"Well what in the world would I do with myself?" I asked with a small smile. 

Oudin laughed. "Live! Love. Instead of always seeking out some conflict or another." 

"It will be quite some time before I can live a day without some conflict or another," I replied. "And when the day comes, I do believe I will have outlived my purpose in life." 

Oudin shook his head. "I may be unconventional, but I still think you ought to give marriage and children a try, dear." 

A rough laugh rose in my throat. A warrior's laugh. "I Will when you do, Oudin. I will when you do." 

"Not a chance." Oudin raised his hand and brought it back down forcefully, patting my shoulder. "But is there a chance of us learning exactly how you did it? Rumors are abound, each about as reliable as the next." 

I stood, unsheathing my sword and unstrapping my sword. I would be safe with Oudin by my side. 

"Oh, it's a beast of a tale." 

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