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.


17. Chapter 6

When I woke, I was lying in a small bed, surrounded by scratchy sheets and the smell of an old house. I sat up slowly, trying to recall what reason I had for not being somewhere familiar. The memories from the long day proceeding Rumplestiltskin's taking me away returned. 

The Beast and I finally had one thing in common; we were both desperately hungry. I disentangled myself from the sheet and found the door. The handle protested as loudly as the hinges, rusted nearly past use. 

I walked down the thin corridor, passing several more very small bedrooms, before coming to the top of a small, winding staircase. It creaked as I went down, and the rail left cobwebs on my hands. 

"Snow's awake," whispered a dwarf. I couldn't see the speaker, but the voices informed me that this one was dressed in orange. 

I walked into the main room of the cottage. It was midday or so, and the seven dwarves were busy at work. I could only make out Rumplestiltskin by his yellow robes, Tandemore by his blue, and Talminage by his purple. 

"Good morning, Snow," said Tandemore serenely. "Or afternoon, I should say." 

I grimaced. It may have been a long, tiring day, but I was still surprised at how long I'd slept.

"Is there anything to eat?" I asked. "And perhaps something to wear?" 

Tandemore nodded. "Rumplestiltskin retrieved some of your armor from your home. It should be upstairs in room you woke up in. I will be in the kitchen." 

"Thank you." 

I came down moments later, feeling far better dressed in armor than in the ball gown and jewels I'd fallen asleep in. I went into the kitchen where Tandemore was rummaging in the cabinets. 

"And how did you rest?" he asked. It wasn't just a nicety, I realized. This was a sincere question. 

"I feel rested, but not like I was ever asleep," I said, sitting on the edge of a table, looking through the small window into their back lot, which was enclosed with trees. "The voices don't silence even in sleep." 

Tandemore nodded, handing me a plate with a slice of pie and bits of fruit. "Perhaps we can first focus on finding a way to curb the symptoms, if not the root of the curse itself." 

I pushed the apples to the side of the plate and started on the pie. "That would be a wonder." 

"Is the house helping at all?" asked Tandemore. I looked up from the plate. 

"The house is quieting the voices, then," I said. 

"We kept burning down the thatch roof," confessed Bandleekc, coming into the kitchen with a small cauldron. "So the magic in the cottage is dampened. Crospaltine put a charm up, but at this point, Oklaflay has remade it so often that it's mostly alchemy..." 

I thought back to Tandemore's lessons. Bandeleck was his opposite: spells. 

"That explains why I haven't tried to kill you, then," I said before taking another bite of pie. 

"Soon, soon," said the Beast. But his voice was quiet among the others. 

Bandeleck gave a laugh. "I'd like to see you try." He was the youngest of them all, by my guess, and he seemed to be the peppiest as well. I would venture at almost foolhardy. 

"The Beast isn't really someone you want to test," I said. 

Bandeleck waved a stout arm dismissively. "You underestimate us, Snow. Also, try not personifying it. It doesn't deserve to be real to you." 

"What is on the agenda for the evening, Band?" asked Tandemore. 

"Oklaflay needs fish." 

"Oklaflay always needs fish," mumbled Talminage, carrying in another pot. He sat it in the mildewed sink and left. 

"I'll do the fishing," Tandemore promised. 

"Volunteer peace-keeper Bandeleck grateful," reported the voices languidly. The pots were louder, and eager to explain Tandemore's personality. 

"I'll come with," I said, finishing my pie. 

"That is not necessary," said Tandemore. I stood and set my plate on top of the cauldron in the sink. 

"I haven't been fishing in quite some time," I said. Besides, I ought to do something with my time here. I won't be of use with your magic." 

Tandemore did not take too much convincing, and we were soon out under another grey evening sky, chill wind whipping at my hair a face. I found myself oddly excited about the fishing. The last time I had done it, I had been with Oudin in the Sawbridge war camp. 

I had just endured a mighty beating. It seemed that since women were too weak for war, any one of them daring to brave it ought to be punished with fists. 

I had been torn from a group of boys by our general, who had a steely sort of calm about him. Even the soldier boys around me wouldn't stand up to the likes of Oudin. 

He had my cuts and bruises looked to before taking me to a stream. 

"What are we doing here, sir?" I had asked. I had never been taken aside by the general before, but any stories I'd heard told that they were given special training, or good advice. 

"Fishing." He gave me a rod. 

I was fourteen at the time, and as the princess I'd never fished. So Oudin taught me. he'd been much younger then too; he had been nearly the age I was now. I found myself smiling at the memory. 

"I have to warn you," said Tandemore as we walked along a path on the levies that held back the sea. "This fishing will be different." The dock came to view, with it's dozens of little ships bobbing in the small waves and the sailors and fishermen preparing to go home for the day. 

"I'm certain," I said. "I've never fished on an ocean before." 

"No, no, it is not that," said the dwarf. He started down the stone steps to the pier, where the boats were docked. They looked almost cold and forlorn. 

"What's the difference, then?" I asked, a little hesitantly. Anything to do with these dwarves would be magic. And I was finding that not all magic could simply be run through with a sword. 

"We'll just have to be careful, is all," said Tandemore. 

"Of what?" I watched him board a small fishing boat, then followed, feeling it roll beneath my weight. 

"It rather depends. I am quite capable of handling a Siren, but should we meet a grindylow  or perhaps a selkie, I might begin to wish Bandeleck had come along." 

I nearly asked if there was a sword I could borrow when we set out. There were no apparent sails or oars propelling us along, so I had to assume magic was involved somehow. Nothing happened for the first several minutes, and then the boat came to a stop. Tandemore cast a net over the side of the boat. 

The boat rocked gently on the ocean, leaving us surrounded by grey save for the strip of vivid green land in the distance. The sound of the gulls carried from the shore, laced with the sounds of water lapping at the edges of the boat. Even though we were out of the protection of the house, the voices seemed to have fallen surprisingly quiet, lulled by the relaxing atmosphere. 

After a short time, Tandemore hauled the net back in, the whole thing dripping with water and flopping with fish. I helped him remove the wriggling creatures from the entanglement of network. He nodded, and the boat set off for land. 

"Is that it?" I asked him, surprised. The dwarf nodded. 

"We have no need for a large catch, unless we planned to sell fish. And anyone here could have all that they need within the hou-" he stopped short. 

There was a single sound that didn't match the rest. One note that was not that of the bird or the ocean. It was a voice. It was music. It was a wave nibbling at the splinters of a dock, a roll of foam dashed across the sand. It was the salt in the air and the depth, solid and hidden between layers of ocean. 

Then it was gone, leaving only silence. I realized I was leaning over the edge of the boat, fingers curled around the sodden edges, the ends of my hair trailing in the water. I sat up, ears aching for the song. 

"W-was that a Siren?" I asked. Tandemore nodded gravely. 

With the song's absence, the voices returned, enraged. I only just realized they had been silent during the song. It was as though they wanted to make up for their dissipation. 

"Where.. the song?" My words were so grating

"I... ah, hexed it away for the moment. But the hex will only stay in place so long." 

At first, I wanted it to wear away so I could hear the voice again. But as the effects faded, I was left furious. How dare anything else tamper with my mind? 

Part of the rage came from the Beast, but I was also horrified. One note had me leaning over the edge of a fishing boat, ready to dive into the ocean and to death. I had survived battles, fought, defeated sorceresses. I would not be laid low by a fish. I thought that even if Tandemore's hex wore away, no amount of pretty singing would lull my absolute fury. 

But. Even without the salt, the depth, there had been silence. One pure note proceeding a storm of voices. In the boat trip from our spot in the ocean to the dock, I knew of every person living nearby. In the time it took to get the fish to the cottage, barely a creature was stirring without my knowledge or urge to kill it. Who wouldn't trade a hurricane for a wave, a curse for a song, a thousand voices for one? 

I found myself watching the ocean through the windows as the evening passed. I could hear that Tandemore was concerned, but I let his concerns rest. I would not go out there, however tempted. But I was attracted to the thought. 

One voice convincing me to kill, the other to die, I thought. 

The evening turned to night, and grey skies to black. The dwarves never slowed their pace as they constantly moved. I had, at some point, turned my attention from the sea to my saviors. 

Oklaflay was grinding his fish bones to mix with other items, which through methods unknown to me would be magical. His opposite--and twin brother--Crospaltine, would be making charms. Or collecting charms. Or using charms? I knew less of his work than anyone else's. 

Rumplestiltskin was reading a book, pacing from the stove near where I sat to the opposite alcove as he did so. Talminage was preparing supper of the fish that Tandemore had caught, while intermittently coming to whisper a suggestion to Rumple. The two would frantically search for a new book among the clutter in the cottage. Then Rumple would go back to perusing and pacing, and Talminage would go back to the kitchen once again. 

Bandeleck never stayed at one task. One moment he was measuring out a powder for Oklaflay, the next he was enchanting a rag to dust a windowsill for five seconds or so, which explained the state of the house. Tandemore was steadily cleaning up magical spills as Bandeleck went, or muting the explosions from Flay's work in the alcove. 

The final dwarf was Grimdelwaller. He was the only still dwarf, sitting quietly at the table. Every once in a while, one could notice a pile of glowing dust growing before him. Then one dwarf would sweep it away, and it would grow again so slowly that one could hardly see it happening. He wore white robes, but they were so muddy and stained that they were hardly white anymore. 

I could have learned much about magic while watching them, no doubt. But my mind never focused on what they were doing. It would drift to Jehanne, and how she would disapprove of the messy cottage. Of how she might be caring for Ella right now. 

Or I would think of Casin, and his dozens of plans to extort the dwarves for his business. How he would disapprove of their old fashioned and ill-cleaned robes, but admire the general aesthetic of the cottage as a fantastic marketing point. 

Or I would think of Casin. This thought made me homesick. Homesick for a place with no theories, just plans. No curses, just steel. No messes involving true love, just the sense of fighting together, in this world or the one below. 

And I was still fighting. A different battle, a different enemy, and with different allies. But I would always be fighting. 

That night, I said a silent prayer for the man who made certain I could fight, and the man who made certain I would never lose. 


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